In Dante’s Inferno, justice is not merely cruel and unusual punishment designed to elicit cheap shock from onlookers (although it does that, too). Inferno portrays God’s justice as springing from primal love, and thus is conditioned with compassion, however difficult it may be to recognize. Still, the point of justice is that transgressors must get their just desserts.
Dante ensures this happens using the concept of contrapasso, which translates literally as "counter-penalty." Here, sinners are punished according to the nature of their sin, so that their punishment fits their crime. Some sinners literally become the embodiment of their sins while others become victims in the afterlife of the crimes they committed while living.
Questions About Justice
- In the inscription on the Hellgate, to what other forces is Justice equated? What kinds of qualities, then, does God have? What were His reasons for creating Hell?
- How does justice work in Hell? Illustrate at least three examples of contrapasso, justice in which one’s crime is used to punish him.
- Consider the souls in Limbo. Is it just that they should be condemned forever? What sort of requirements does God’s justice have?
Chew on This
By condemning the virtuous souls in Limbo to eternal damnation, God does not hold people born before the life of Jesus Christ to the same standards as those who came after him.
In the Inferno, one’s punishment fits his crime, in a form of justice, contrapasso, that forces one’s sin to turn back on the sinner.