Sunday, October 19, 2008

Symbolism & Allegory

So I know we have a thread about The Inferno, but I thought perhaps another thread with a narrower topic would be fun as well.

Ciardi (the translator) and Scandizzledazzle have suggested that Dante's work can be seen in an allegorical light. To quote Ciardi in his introduction to the first Canto: "First [Dante] must ascend through Hell (The Recognition of Sin), then he must ascend through Purgatory (The Renunciation of Sin), and only then may he reach the pinnacle of joy and come to the Light of God. Virgil offers to guide Dante, but only as far as Human Reason can go. Another guide (Beatrice, symbol of Divine Love) must take over for the final ascent, for Human reason is self-limited" (1017-1018).

I was hoping we could use this topic to expound on this idea of allegory and symbolism in The Inferno-- how, for example, does Dante represent this Catholic process of repentence and divine forgiveness? How does he use symbolism in general?

28 comments:

joel derby said...

Dante is filled with symbolism every character is a symbol of something. We've discussed this in class, about Virgil representing reason, Beatrice representing divine love, and Dante representing the human race.

I don't really know what to say baout this, can someone smarter than me give me something to talk more about.....

puddlewonderful said...

Part of Dante's allegory-- or tangent to it, at least-- is the nature of the punishments for each sin. Of course there is the literal idea of Hell using symbolic retribution, but I think, if we look at the allegory of the sinner's path of repentance and acquisition of grace, his view of the sins and punishments can be interpreted differently. I thought-- this is merely a suggestion-- that perhaps Dante's journey through Hell (as the recognition of sin) involves him, well, realizing the true nature of each sin. The easiest example is the second circle, for the lusty lovers. When you surrender yourself to these irrational, sinful passions, you allow your soul-- which, when sinless/repentant was protected, perfect, unmarred-- to be thrown about, hurt, hurled with the blows of your passion. When you are violent against your neighbors, you are kind of bathing yourself in their blood-- more blood for more bloody deaths. And that blood, that death, is an icky, vile substance that drowns you in disgustingness. What I'm trying to say is, Dante sees the truth of sin in this allegorical format. He isn't just realizing that he'll go to Hell-- he's realizing what terrible, unholy things he does to his soul when he sins-- and he's going to feel bad for that, and he's going to seek divine grace/love, and find salvation-- those results will be expressed in his Purgatorio and Paradiso.

Dean Elazab said...

as you called for it joel, michelle came in with 3 pages. I think that this work is designed for symbolism and that if not, it would be an empty story. Dante wrote this for a reason and he wanted to prove something to the readers, so i enjoy the symbolism and meeting of the inferno.

Mr. Plainview said...

I hope this makes sense.
Okay, so I believe we've established that Virgil represents reason. Every time Virgil and Dante are threatened, Virgil pulls the same old God is our protector stuff--"We are on important business" (yadayadayada...)
Is this supposed to say both man AND his ability to reason are dependent on God? Because i have a problem with that. A human reasons through fact and experience. If God wants Dante to go through Hell, why can't he take him himself? It just bothers me that reason (Virgil) seems so dependent on God. Is God fact? NO. Is God experience? Arguably for some I suppose. And I guess the people who clump God and experience together may lump him with fact as well. My point is that it just seems to belittle mankind when his ability to reason is so dependent on God.

Aaron Nussdorf said...

I think that reason is part of man's free-will in the world of Dante. I think that they arent dependant on God. Here I shall stop because we will soon enter a philisophical discussion on the existance of god and that is a territory that I dont want to enter.
On a different note: I am confused on the nature of an allagory. Can someone explain what an allagory is and what is its purpose?

joel derby said...

An allegory is a story where people represent different emotions and virtues, right? It is a story that teaches people, in my opinion. It is used to teach values and morals to people.

puddlewonderful said...

According to Webster's online dictionary: "the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence."

stephen gieger said...

It seems to me that the symbolism of the story is obviously meant to warn readers of the severity of the consequences of their actions in the afterlife. The purpose is to show that without the Light of God, no one can have a purified soul in the afterlife even those pagans who are respected but were born before Jesus Christ

stephen gieger said...

Not having been in class for a few days, I wanted to comment on Dante's consciousness as he travels downwards deeper into Hell. Dante initially faints when observing some of the victims and feels sypmathy for the lovers who are in hell for lust;however, as he travels further downwards he feels less and less sympathy for the victims which acknowledges Dante's transition. The further he symbolically moves from the Light of God, the less sympathy he has for sin.

Dean Elazab said...

I have to agree that virgil is reason, but he uses god becuase he has to. He is on a mission of God, so he know that is his tool. He uses God's name to get through hell, there is nothing unreasonable about that. Virgil is not dependent on faith, but look where he is. They are in HELL, they need god to stay safe.

tmichals said...

Well, I think that Dante's time definitely viewed God in a much different sense than we do today. In my opinion, the modernistic view of God is more or a helper for people to have faith in instead of a punisher like in Dante's time. I could be wrong.. but that's kind of how I see it.

stephen gieger said...

Virgil certainly represents human reason must his usage of God's will speaks alot about the midieval thought regarding fate. It is obvious from their hierarchal class system, they believed that divine fate was the ultimate "decedion maker" in people's livs, so it makes sense that Dante would use divine will as a reason for why they should be allowed to break the rules of hell. The fact that hell's creatures are deterred by Virgil's divine will explanation portrays
Dante's position of God's ultimate power.

Mr. Plainview said...

Aaron, seeing as
A) we're talking in terms of allegories

B) we've established Virgil represents reason

HOW CAN YOU SAY "I think that reason is part of man's free-will in the world of Dante. I think that they arent dependant on God."?

According to the Webster...
"Dependence" is
1. the condition of being influenced and determined by something else
2. subjugation to another person; inability to provide for oneself
3. reliance; trust
4. something on which a person depends or relies

If you don't mind my asking, how do any of these definitions fail to describe the relationship between Dante, Virgil and God?

If you haven't noticed, Virgil always hides behind God when he and Virgil are confronted with danger. Dante must depend on Virgil. Virgil depends on God. It's quite simple. DANTE AND VIRGIL (REASON) ARE DEPENDENT ON GOD.

I'm not picking on you; I just happen to feel argumentative at the moment.

El Paco said...

PWN3D!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11

stephen gieger said...

Virgil and Dante certainly are dependent on God as they state many times throughout the Inferno when confronted by the guradians of hell. The idea of free will would not be one accepted at that time as it was thought that everything depended on the will of God as shown in their class systems that were determined by birth.

Aaron Nussdorf said...

You have me beaten sir. I must tip my hat to you. [Again, I shall attempt to refrain from a discussion on the existant of god.] Obviously, in the world of Dante, god's power was a very real thing. Thus, mankind's Free Will should be nonexistant. god's power would overshaddow Free Will. So it would seem natural that Virgil would use Scholaticism to back his arguements.
However, in modern tmes, Reason has shifted away from god and divine power.
So in light of your astringent correction, I shall suggest that perhaps Dante is upholding Scholaticism, where Reason is, as Webster defines, dependant on god.
Another question: does Dante refurte Free Will or Predestination?

JP said...

I would say Dante's Inferno doesn't necessarily make any sort of commentary on free will/predestination. The punishments these souls face in hell makes me think that they would not be so severely punished if they were just "predestined" to be sinners who burn in hell.

The harsh punishment of Dante's Inferno, and the unmerciful attitude towards sinners which Virgil fosters in Dante, seems to indicate that these sinners chose their own fate, and they chose not to repent. At least, I think so... I might be applying my own modern interpretation to Dante's work.

joel derby said...

There will always be the question of whether free will can exist in the presence of an omnipotent God, but i think Dante believes in free will, what would be the point of his journey if he did not have the free will to change his actions and become a better person. If he did not have free will, God would dimply send him to hell or make him do good things.

ndepass said...

i think that it is pretty interesting how he has real people in the levels of Hell. I know that is a different note than what yall where saying about the symbolism, but it is interesting to wonder what people's reaction would be in that time if it was a current person. I just find that very interesting

puddlewonderful said...

Besides it seeming quite obvious from the nature of his journey that he must have free will, the Catholic doctrine is and I believe always has been a strict belief in free will. Even you'd know that, Nuzz-- Calvinism, one of the earlier Protestant faiths, was radical in part because it preached predestination.

bballinsupasta said...

i agree with stephen's first comment. i think that the symbolism is not only meant to warn us, but it is also used to give the readers reassurance that their upright actions will be rewarded in the end.

bballinsupasta said...

i think that Dante and Virgil are dependent on God because God is really the only person who can protect people wherever they are, even in hell. their dependence and complete trust in God also demonstrate their faith in him. they embody the belief that anything is possible with God's help, even living people traversing through hell.

Manal said...

To me, the symbolic retribution allows the punishments to seem more realistic and plausible. There is a cause and effect situation and the punishments aren't out the blue but rather have a reason for being the punishment which makes it scarier.

Aaron Nussdorf said...

I am leaning towards the thought that Dante believed in a very limitted Free Will because of Virgil's agruements to every guard of each new level. I feel that if is nearly impossible to reconcile a completely omnipotent, omnipresent, all-knowing god; the theology must have loop-holes or gapig crevaces. Personally, Predestination is easier to follow than that type of theology. I believe that Scholaticism, which precipitated Nominalism, could lead a "logical" theological discoure, by way of 'Reason', to the concept of Predestination.

Caroline said...

I think that the symbolic retribution is extremely important because the punishments literally "fit the crime." If all the sinners simply burned in hell, there would be no hierarchy of sins and there would be no incentive for people who commit sins to not commit worse ones if theyre already resigned to the fact that they're going to hell.

JP said...

I know we're not reading the other parts of the Divine Comedy, but I just looked it up - and the Purgatori makes use of "terraces," and the Paradisio "spheres," much like the Inferno uses circles. Dante seems to have a thing for hierarchical levels of things.

I know we talked about this idea a little in class, but I don't think we really got into it. What purpose and/or cultural norm of Dante's time do these levels reflect? Are they related to the Great Chain of Being?

Manal said...

I think John is right. The circles probably do have something to do with the Chain of Being and how people during that time really liked everything to be in order. I guess by having sin organized in circles, Dante is able to include the beliefs of society into his work and to show people which sins are worse then others. Especially since the sins lower and closer to Satan would be the worst according to the Chain of Being where God is superior than all things.

Manal said...

To me it seems as if even though Virgil is reason God is still superior and powerful because reason alone could not allow the to pass through the monsters. They had to keep reminding the monsters that God said they could pass, the same God that has them imprisoned.