Imagery in Dante’s Inferno
Robert Herrick, an English poet, once said, “Hell is no other but a soundlesse pit, where no one beame of comfort peeps in it. ” Picture any type of Hell with relief, happiness, or even the smallest crack of a smile. There is no place. In fact, one can only think of the complete opposite, whether it is a Hell filled with neglect, pain, disgust, or a never-ending life of horror. This is the place created by Dante Alighieri; The Inferno is exactly the type of Hell where no person would want to be. Even those who acted upon the lightest of sins suffered greatly.
While each realm contained a different sinner, the punishment that each were forced to face was cruel, repulsive, and sometimes rather disgusting. Through grieving tears without an exit, unbearably itchy scabs, and a putrid, slushy ground, Dante uses vivid imagery to describe the various realms of Hell. As Dante passes through each realm, he uses organic and visual imagery to describe the sinners’ lives in Hell. When people feel an immense amount of pain, physically or mentally, they usually cry.
Those treacherous to their country could not bear to handle their grief. However, as freezing rain and wind whipped their faces, their tears froze in their eyes. Dante used organic imagery to give a clear impression of the suffering these sinners dealt with: “Their very weeping closes up their eyes; / and the grief that finds no outlet for its tears / turns inward to increase their agonies” (Alighieri XXXIII. 94-96). Dante made it apparent that the sinners’ actions made their bodies filled with grief, a feeling that is painful enough for anyone.
However, as if mental pain is not enough, Dante assures the reader that the sinners’ grief was thrown directly back into their bodies since they could not cry. Because of this, the reader cannot picture the sinners’ pain, but actually feel what it would be like to be unable to release grief through tears. In the realm of the alchemists, Dante uses visual imagery to portray their horrific pain. Cursed with leprosy and irritating scabs, the alchemists constantly picked at themselves in hopes of relieving their bleeding, itchy skin. Dante gives a picture perfect example of their torment.
It was said that, “And as they scrubbed and clawed themselves, their nails / drew down the scabs the way a knife scrapes bream / or some other fish with even larger scales” (Alighieri XXIX. 82-84). The impression that Dante gives forces the reader into picturing the sinners drag their dirty nails into their prickly, scabbed skin, so rapidly and intense, that he compares it to a knife grating the scales of a fish. Dante also uses visual imagery to describe the lives of the gluttons. Since the gluttons spent their lives consuming massive amounts of food and drink, they represented themselves as garbage.
Therefore, they were treated as such in Hell. The reader is able to visualize the punishment of a glutton through Dante’s vivid expression: “Huge hailstones, dirty water, and black snow / pour from the dismal air to putrefy / the putrid slush that waits for them below” (Alighieri VI. 10-12). The reader can obviously picture the clean ground beneath all of the disgusting dirt, mold, mud, and rancid slush. Dante also puts the image of the rotting gluttons that lie under this filthy mess into the reader’s mind. Each realm contains something different, and Dante clearly proves to give the sense of a different image every time.
While every person has a different depiction of Hell, Dante provides fascinating imagery of his portrayal, so the reader can truly experience the same sense as he did. It may seem shocking, but even Dante was surprised to see what he found in each realm. Imagery not only creates a picture, but it also tells a story. When Hell is involved, both are needed to understand the full effect. Through grief, scabs, and garbage, Dante takes the reader on a horrifying, yet interesting ride through Hell that no one would ever believe he or she could imagine.