Pity and Indignation in Dante’s Inferno

If you have read Dante’s Inferno, you will have noted Dante’s ongoing struggle with pity. Should one pity the damned, or should one hate them, perhaps even rejoice in the sufferings of their just punishment? C. S. Lewis addressed this question in The Great Divorce, where he insisted that the sufferings of the damned cannot affect the happiness of the Blessed.

Notes from the Wasteland

A profound tension between the movements of the heart and the demands of reason marks Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. This tension is felt in passages describing the pity Dante feels for the damned in Hell. Should Dante feel such pity? In one passage in Canto XX of the Inferno, the answer to this question seems to be a definite no. Dante has passed into the Fourth Bolgia of the fraudulent, where the shades of fortune tellers and diviners appear to him “hideously distorted,” their faces so twisted on their necks that “the tears that burst from their eyes ran down the cleft of the buttocks.” Seeing “the image of our humanity distorted,” Dante is overcome with weeping, for which Virgil rebukes him:

“Still? Still like the other fools,” says the stern Mantuan poet, the personification of reason:

“… There is no place

for pity here. Who is more arrogant
within his…

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One Response to Pity and Indignation in Dante’s Inferno

  1. I’ve always had a problem with Lewis’ description of that. Yes, it made a certain kind of “sense,” but it didn’t sit well on my heart. I’m reasonably sure that his “master,” George MacDonald, is still twitting him about the words he put in poor George’s mouth, and George dead and unable to defend himself!

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