Dante’s Hierarchy of Sins

Consider the scale of the severity of sins and virtues that Dante presents for his reader.

Dante’s Inferno presents a hierarchy of punishment levels based on sins that humans have committed in their life. In the nine circles of the Inferno, Dante the pilgrim encounters the many sinners who are sentenced to these punishments for eternity, and he discovers the severity of sins they committed by conversing with them. Many of the sins that Dante mentions in the Inferno are universally relevant, while others have particular relevance to the time period in which the work was written. For example, in the eighth circle of the fraudulent, those who committed simony were sentenced to have their feet licked by flames for eternity. Simonists were those who sold indulgences or offices of the church, which was popular in the 14th century. Dante also places sorcerers and false prophets in the eighth circle. Sorcery was feared during that time, and many of those who were accused of witchcraft were burned alive. In contrast, today we do not execute those who claim to have supernatural powers. These two sins and their corresponding punishments show that during Dante’s time, there was much emphasis placed on church doctrine, and those who dared to defy it were often exiled or executed. Unlike today, there was no separation of church and state, so the church dictated their societal expectations.

One thought on “Dante’s Hierarchy of Sins

  1. You mention a very important detail about how there was no separation between church and state during Dante’s life and as a result, the church dictated societal expectations and eventually laws. What is particularly strange about Dante’s decision to include the teachings about punishment in hell in correspondence to real life behavior is the fact that Dante was actually for separation for church and state. That would indicate that while Dante probably had identical views with the church in relation to societal expectations, he probably felt that those expectations should remain a personal issue, not a issue that could lead to individuals being executed for their actions/beliefs.

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