Divine Comedy-I: Inferno

The Lustful: A Close Reading from Dante's Inferno College

The most puzzling circle of hell in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno is also one of the first. It is here, in the second circle, where the lustful spend eternity. Canto V is filled with contradictions, puzzlements, and curious word choices. At first glance, Dante’s account of the lustful sinners appears to be entirely one-dimensional: these are men and women who succumbed to sexual desire and longing and whose cruel punishments are deserved. However, closer inspection reveals that Dante empathizes with these sinners, awarding them with the least severe of all of hell’s punishments, and even occasionally overlooking the souls’ other sins to ensure them a place in the tamest circle of hell.

One possible first impression of Dante’s second circle is that lust is not a legitimate sin. Perhaps this logic is a product age and culture; many 21st-century readers might consider list, especially in comparison to more violent sins, trivial and commonplace. Everyone has felt sexual desires, or at the very least has been infatuated with someone, suggesting that lust is intrinsic to human nature and should not warrant its own level in hell.

Philosophers of antiquity, however, disagree. The Desert Fathers included lust in their list of the seven...

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