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Dante’s Inferno Research: The Fifth Circle

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In Dante’s Inferno, there are nine levels of Hell which are distinguished based upon the specific sin of a mortal being. In the Inferno, the fifth circle is the realm where the wrathful and the sullen sinners reside. “Wrath and sullenness are basically two forms of a single sin: anger that is expressed (wrath) and anger that is repressed (sullenness)” (danteworlds.com). These sinners are the beings who chose a vengeful path in order to get back at those that they envied or felt wronged by. As punishment “the sinners of wrath will constantly try to rip each other’s throats out as they fight in the mud” (shmoop.com). As for the sullen sinners they “are forced to recite hymns while submerged in this mud [Marsh of Styx] so that their words come out only as gurgles” (shmoop.com). These punishments are ironically fitting in relevance to the sins which these inhabitants have committed.

The idea of contrapasso explains that “punishments must arise from the crime itself, not from the damage it has caused” (wordnik.com). The punishment of the wrathful fits contrapasso because while the sinners were alive, they were always trying to get their revenge on somebody else. As punishment, they will spend eternity in hell experiencing pain from other sinners whom will always be trying to seek revenge on each other. The punishment of the sullen fits contrapasso because they were “resentfully silent” in life, so as punishment they must recite hymns and struggle to sing them beneath the mud remaining unheard eternally (shmoop.com).

When Dante investigates the Fifth Circle, he recognizes a familiar face—one he despises. The man Dante sees is someone who knew Dante in his lifetime. This man’s name is Filippo Argenti. Filippo was a violent and arrogant political enemy of Dante whose family had opposed a movement to allow Dante to return from exile (freewebs.com). Filippo is enraged because he died with no honor and with nothing good to be remembered by. He reaches for Dante’s throat and speaks very arrogantly to him when Dante and Virgil sail past him (everypoet.com). Filippo is considered one of the wrathful sinners of the Fifth Circle because he expressed his harsh political views against Dante. In his lifetime, he was more concerned with his own pride and therefore he had shown no mercy for Dante. As punishment for his sin, he will spend eternity with the other wrathful sinners and tear at their throats as they tear at his.

Dante quotes, “And I…saw people mud-besprent in that lagoon, all of them naked and with angry look” (Alighieri 112-114). This quote represents the people of wrath who were consumed in their own pride. The concept of them being naked is most likely to symbolize the shame and humiliation that they experience in Hell as punishment for their pride. Their angry expressions signify the life that they had lived in anger on earth and as punishment they will forevermore live in anger in Hell. Virgil quotes, “Son [Dante], thou now beholdest the souls of those whom anger overcame; and likewise I would have thee know for certain beneath the water people are who sigh and make this water bubble at the surface” (Alighieri 118-122). This quote represents the silent anger known as sullenness. This quote mentions those who were silently angry in life and as punishment they will live in silence forever. The sighs represent the silent disdain that they felt throughout their lives. In Hell, their sighs are said to make the water bubble at the surface because they do it so often.

Works Cited

“Contrapasso- Definition and Meaning”. Wordnik: All the Words. Web. 09 Feb. 2012.

“Dante’s Divine Comedy; Poetry of Dante Alighieri; Full Text of Dante’s Divine Comedy – Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso, at Everypoet.com.” .: Poems and Poets :. .: Classic Poetry, World’s Largest Critical Poetry Forums, Poetry Links from Everypoet.com Web. 13 Feb. 2012. <http://www.everypoet.com/Archive/poetry/dante/dante_i_08.htm>.

“Dante’s Inferno- Circle 5- Cantos 7-9.” Danteworlds. The University of Texas at Austin . Web.
08 Feb. 2012. http://danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/circles.html.

Shmoop Editorial Team. “Inferno Canto VII (The Fourth Circle: the Avaricious and Prodigal; the
Fifth Circle: the Wrathful and Sullen) Summary” Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc.,
11 Nov. 2008. Web. 8 Feb. 2012.

“SparkNotes: Inferno: Cantos VII–IX.” SparkNotes: Today’s Most Popular Study Guides. Web. 13 Feb. 2012. <http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/inferno/section4.rhtml>.

“Welcome to Hell: Cantos VIII, IX.” Freewebs.com. Web. 13 Feb. 2012. <http://www.freewebs.com/dante-inferno/cirlcefive.htm>.

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