Sin and Punishment in Dantes Inferno

There is a basic relationship that exists between sin and punishment in that a person who commits sins in his or her lifetime will be punished for those sins in death. However, Dante’s Inferno proves that there is a much more complex relationship between sin and punishment – the extent of punishment is directly proportional to the kind of sin which has been committed and this is revealed in the Inferno through the principle of contrapasso.

Hell as revealed by Dante, is a place where eternity catches up with the individual, it is a place where time stands still and does not pass at all because it is the sum total representation of the past, the present, and the future. An individual may commit many sins during a lifetime believing that he or she will not have to pay for them, but unlike life, the afterlife is an eternal state where a person will be held accountable for his or her sins. A sinner goes straight to hell after death but in hell, an individual’s sins are always in the forefront, they remain in the present and will not be reduced or alleviated or pass away with the passage of time. The punishment for sin is eternal, it is something that can never be escaped.

Yet, although the hell that is revealed in Dante’s Inferno is an arena where people are subjected to eternal punishment for the sins they have committed in their lives. this punishment is meted out on the principle of contrapasso or a counter penalty. i.e, the degree of punishment that a person is subjected to is proportional to the enormity of his or her sin. People relegated to the sphere of hell do not suffer in an arbitrary fashion. rather the punishment is qualitatively and quantitatively dependent upon the nature of the sin that has been committed. (Bowers, 2004). The logic behind punishment in hell is that it is no more or no less than the actual sin itself, within every sinner one may note the observed retaliation which is in accordance with the nature of the sin that was perpetrated. (Dante 38:142).