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by Dante Alighieri

Inferno Theme of Primitivity

In Dante’s philosophy, the most basic and most forgivable category of sin is incontinence, or a lack of self-control. The incontinent sinners constantly indulge their impulses. Often, they commit sins to sate their physical and materialistic urges. The core of the incontinents’ wrongdoing lies in their failure to use their God-given minds to judge their actions as good or evil. Because they do not think and act on their feelings, the incontinent sinners deny their human civility. This is why Dante often paints them in animal imagery. In the sinners’ defense, however, incontinence is instinctive and primitive; lust, hunger, and wrath are universal urges, felt by all human beings and even animals.

Questions About Primitivity

  1. Why is incontinence considered the most fundamental and forgivable sin?
  2. How do the incontinent sinners’ punishments emphasize their helplessness? What does that imply about their will and self-control in their lifetimes?
  3. Why are the incontinent sinners engulfed in animal imagery?
  4. What does Dante’s swooning or fainting suggest about his own emotion and restraint? How is he being affected by all the incontinence around him?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In Dante’s Inferno, the text suggests that the incontinent sinners behave in a more bestial fashion than a human one.

If Nature is an expression of God’s will and the incontinent sinners only follow their natural instincts, then the incontinent sinners did not really sin.

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