Divine Comedy-I: Inferno

Fear and Pity in the Inferno: Challenging God’s Judgment College

In the Inferno, Dante responds to the sinners’ torments with fear and compassion. Compassion comes from the Latin root meaning “to suffer with” and Dante often engages in the sinners’ suffering. He cries for the magicians in Canto XX, lamenting that, “tears, down from the [sinner’s] eyes, / bathed the buttocks, running down the cleft. / Of course I wept” (XX, 23-25). His pity for the suicidal renders him speechless as he says, “I cannot [speak], so much pity takes my heart” (XIII, 84). Dante deeply empathizes with Francesca and Paolo’s love story writing, “while one spirit [Francesca] said these words to me, / the other [Paolo] wept, so that – because of pity - / I fainted, as if I had met my death” (V, 139-41). In Dante’s reactions to the sinners’ plights, we observe him literally feel and participate in their pain. By pitying the suffering, Dante forgets that the sinner’s punishment is self-procured. His compassion seems to question the morality of God’s judgment.

Canto II opens with Dante remembering, “I myself / alone prepared to undergo the battle / both of the journey and of the pity” (II, 3-5). This introduction isolates pity as a complex emotion that Dante will unpack on his pilgrimage through hell. In fact, pity is the...

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