The seventh circle of Dante’s hell houses the violent, the assassins, the tyrants and the war-mongers. The violence in this circle takes on three forms; violence against others or one’s neighbor, oneself, or God. Those who commit violence against other people or their property, the murders and thieves, are punished in the first ring of the seventh circle, which is a river of blood. Those who commit violence against themselves or their own poverty, suicides and squanderers, populate the second ring which is a horrid forest.
The third ring is a sandy plain where it is raining fire. In this third ring there are three separate groups of violent offenders against God: blasphemers, those who offend God directly; the sodomites, those who violate nature or God’s offspring; and the usurers, those who harm industry and the economy (Alighieri).
Dante’s uses the term “Violent Against Art and Nature” when he is describing the seventh circle in his Inferno, which can have two different meanings (Alighieri).
The first meaning of the word art is referring to artisanship. The working of natural resources and the products of its labor. By using this definition abusing industry by cheating it out of money is a crime of the seventh circle, third ring. It falls under the definition of usury. The word usury during Dante’s time did not mean the charging of an enormous interest on loans of money, but the charging of any interest at all. The idea that money makes money was impertinent to Dante, because he believed that profits should come from work.
This is why the usurers are sinners against industry and should be punished appropriately.
The second definition of violence against art is very different from the first one because it refers to art as the idea of personal creative expression. Art requires a skill which includes painting, sculpture, architecture, music and literature. Dante believes that he is an artist because he writes poetry and therefore dedicates the inner edge of the seventh circle to people who have been violent against it. This violence against art is so important to Dante that he places it in the seventh circle of the Inferno out of nine circles. The sinners Dante encounters are guilty of usury and are forced to wear money purses around their necks (Alighieri). Each one of the sinners had a coat of arms in life and now they are forced to stare at what should have been a reminder of God’s greatness but to them was a symbol of greed. Mocking art is the same as mocking God and his works, and in Dante’s eyes any person who would commit this sin should suffer in hell. However, this creates quite a plight for Dante.
There are two things that Dante wants in his life and that is an eternal life in art and in heaven, but he soon begins to realize that he might not be able to finish his comedy and still go to heaven. Dante realizes that he has condemned people who are blasphemous, fraudulent, harmful, but yet he may be one of them. He hopes that his comedy is divinely accepted, so he stays within his limits as a poet. He takes what he thinks the course he has chosen is not out of ignorance or pride, which were the downfalls of Arachne, Daedalus, and Phaeton (Lindemans). Arachne was a young woman from Lydia and was very gifted in the art of weaving, which offended the goddess Athena. Daedalus was a great architect, inventor, and craftsman; his son was killed when he flew too close to the sun while they tried to escape the Minotaur. Phaeton was the son of the sun god Helios and when Phaeton discovered this he went east to meet his father. He convinced his father to allow him to drive the chariot of the sun across the heavens for one day. He lost control of the chariot and came close to burning the entire earth (Lindemans).
Dante relates himself to the character Arachne because she was a talented artist. Just as she angered the goddess Athena, Dante fears angering God. Arachne was said to be a common woman who did not come from a noble family and what gave Archne her fame was her ability to weave beautiful tapestry. Neither was Dante born of noble birth; he received his fame through his skills as a writer (Lindemans). As Arachne tried to create the most beautiful tapestry, Dante strives for perfection in his comedy; but is weighed down with the question if is an insult to God by doing so. If striving for perfection is an insult to God than Dante worried he would suffer punishment because of his own pride.
Dante also compares himself to Daedalus and Phaeton, because both men tried to fly and as a result hurt themselves and others around them. Like Phaeton, Dante fears that he may be ignorant and incapable, therefore, become a detriment to himself and others. Or like Daedalus because Icarus died after Daedalus gave him wings. What if Dante’s readers harm themselves or others after reading his poem. Dante makes several references to the harm people can do to one another when they ply words. Dante uses the example of Guido Da Montefeltro, who led hundreds of Christians to death because of Pope Boniface VIII (Alighieri). In distinguishing the faults of these characters Dante is able to remove himself from them. He also believes that he has the power to achieve greatness in life and in the afterlife, where these other characters do not.
Dante realizes that his dichotomous situation borders upon condemnation and acclamation in the eyes of his readers. He wishes his works to be the perfect representation of the afterlife but perfection is to be godly and he does not want to be viewed as a god. He only wishes to recreate in words what God has made with his own hands. He only wishes to help the world understand God’s intentions and not to misinterpret or misconstrue them. He does not want to be mistaken for another person attempting to become God or to better himself so as to be on an equal footing with God. He has only been granted a view of God’s work because God’s disciples deemed him worthy of sharing this knowledge. Ultimately, Dante must decide whether his work is for the betterment of himself or the people.
It is this argument which reoccurs throughout all of the cantos. Dante must come to terms with the fact that he is straddling a thin line between mimicking and interpreting God. He is the first mortal that has walked the halls of Hell. As such, Dante must fear and worship God in all his wisdom for choosing him for this exhausting task. He cannot make light of the situation however he can also not place his readers in a panic over what he has seen. He must reaffirm their belief in God’s plan and uphold his values in their lives so as to spare themselves from the horrors Dante’s eyes have laid witness to in the depths of Hell.
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