Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Reader 1

Sabrina Ovan

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In his Divina Commedia, Dante Alighieri uses the contrapasso as an instrument to administer justice to the sinners in Inferno. The law of the contrapasso mandates that the punishments inflicted upon the sinners in Inferno respect the nature of the sins that they committed on earth. In Dante’s afterlife, the contrapasso is the means to fulfill the sinners’ ultimate destinies, as determined by their terrestrial choices and actions. Though he explicitly uses the term contrapasso only once, the poet invites its application in every circle of the Inferno. This thesis explores the law of the contrapasso in specific relation to Francesca da Rimini, Conte Ugolino, and Lucifero. It also evaluates the pilgrim’s ability to maintain a critical distance from the sinners.

The pilgrim’s emotions often impede on his ability to see sin for what it is, thus stalling his moral development as well as his ascent to Purgatorio. My research concludes that the poet creates a series of requirements that the pilgrim must satisfy before beginning his ascent. First, he must get close enough to the sinners to understand the nature of their sins, but not too close that he forgets the scope of his mission. Second, he must resist the tendency to be manipulated by the sinners. Third, he must dehumanize the sinners so as not to be distracted from the fact that they are personifications of evil: Francesca’s seductive façade distracts from her adulterous past; Ugolino’s sympathy-evoking role as a father distracts from his betrayal of his homeland and potential cannibalistic involvement; Lucifero’s pathetic and drooling essence distracts from his betrayal of God. Fourth, he must accept and evaluate how well the contrapasso fits the respective sin. In sum, the poet’s integration of the contrapasso into the physical and moral organization of Inferno reveals what justice the poet considers adequate for each sin.