LIT101: Notes on Canto IV (Inferno)

Do you still remember our Inferno Discussion? I'll now post the thoughts and notes I have regarding Canto IV from Dante Alighieri's Inferno. Please Click Here to refer you to the first thread of this discussion. :)

"For these defects, and for no other evil, we now are lost and punished just with this: we have no hope and yet we live in longing." IV, 40-42
Are these people to be blamed if they lived in a society that believes in a heaven that is made up of earthly glory? 

Canto IV*

The kindly master said: "Do you not ask
who are these spirits whom you see before you?
I'd have you know, before you go ahead,
they did not sin; and yet, though they have merits,
that's not enough, because they lacked baptism,
the portal of the faith that you embrace.
And if they lived before Christianity,
they did not worship God in fitting ways;
and of such spirits I myself am one.
For these defects, and for no other evil,
we now are lost and punished just with this:
we have no hope and yet we live in longing."

*This version of the text is taken from Allen Mandelbaum's translation (2004) of Dante Alighieri's Inferno.


These spirits in Limbo did not sin. They even received great honor and merits when they were alive, yet their achievements on earth are not enough. Because of that, they are now being punished in hell with no hope and with longing. You may ask:
  • How could they be in hell if they didn't sin? 
  • Could they be faulted for the culture they had--a pagan culture? (Remember: these spirits were born before Christianity
  • And what did Dante mean by "we have no hope and yet we live in longing?" 
  • Is that even a punishment?

Okay guys, let's go through this together! :) Let's take it little by little :)

Have you ever experienced feeling empty? That there's something within you that longs for something, though you don't what it is? I bet you know I what I mean. That was the same experience the spirits had when they still alive. They felt there was no contentment; that there was something missing in their lives. If you have that kind of longing and you are faced before a breathtaking beauty, what would you do? I guess you'll grab that beautiful object before you and marvel at it for who knows until when. Let me give a concrete example. Let's say you are sitting on the most expensive couch and then you realize that you are not happy. You begin to reflect that you are not satisfied. Can you believe that? You are sitting on the most expensive couch in the world and you are not satisfied? It's true. It happens. Then your friend invites you to a party. You go to the party and have the time of your life! After dancing from night till morning, you are exhausted. Then all the excitement and adrenaline begin to subside and you're left unsatisfied once again. Have you had the same experience? I believe all of us had. That constant feeling of being unsatisfied is what we can call "Sehnsucht.It's a German term that doesn't have an English counterpart, but it's near "constant longing, ardent yearning, or intense craving." These English terms do not, however, grasp the true meaning of Sehnsucht. But it's close. That's what we and the spirits experience. Whatever beauty, achievement, or honor we get, there's always a feeling of dissatisfaction. There's always a desire to want more because what we have in our hands don't satisfy us. That's what Dante meant by "we live in longing."

But what did he mean by "we have no hope?"

The spirits in hell at Canto IV experienced the same Sehnsucht that we all are experiencing now, but they lost hope. They settled for what they had and believed that their longing could never be satisfied. If we'll look into their culture before Christianity, honor is everything they desired. They believed that it could give them a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. That's why they captured cities, collected booties, and overthrew kingdoms. But in every victory and honor they got, they knew they weren't still fulfilled. However, they chose to get rid of whatever hope they had and simply settled to the kind of living that they knew won't ever satisfy their longings. That's what Dante meant by "we have no hope."

Is it a punishment?

Oh yes. Try believing that there's nothing that could ever give you peace, fulfillment, and satisfaction. I'm sure it'll torment you because Sehnsucht will never leave you until it is satisfied. Dante is trying to tell his readers that human beings are capable of desiring more, but he also makes a point that earthly glory nor material things can fulfill this intense desire. 

Don't settle for these things. Don't do the same mistakes that the spirits in hell did. Don't settle for the things that the world gives. Nourish your spiritual life.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments! :D


Clarareads said...

Hi I nominated you for the Versatile Award!

laurice-with-love said...

Hi Clara! :) Thank you so much for nominating me! :D It's an honor! :D Godbless!

Ace Mercado said...

oi anu okay na?

laurice-with-love said...

nope. :(

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Thanks for your comments! I would like to hear more from you soon! :') God bless you! :')

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