Incontinence In Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno” which is the part of a greater poem Divine Comedy incontinence is the sin which is mentioned to be punished in the second circle of hell through the fifth circles. Incontinence is a feeling of desire of sex, power, wealth and food in which an individual lacks in self-control. It is described as an unchecked desire. In his philosophy Dante views incontinence as the most forgivable category of sins. The incontinent sinners constantly allow their urges (desire) to control them. Sinners have no control over themselves. They often commit sins to overcome their physical and materialistic urges.
They do not think and act on their feelings, as the incontinent sinners deny their human civility. Dante often describes them in animal imagery. In his poem Dante uses symbolism to mirror the negative significance we people are consumed with and have a bad effect in our life. Dante uses, the lion, leopard, and the she-wolf, which symbolizes sins which are divided into three categories of severity, as followed the sins of being malicious and fraud represented by the Leopard, the sins of violence represented by the Lion, and the sins of incontinence represented by the She Wolf, respectively.
One of the 3 animals Dante encounters on the path is the she-wolf. In the article” The Divine Interpretation: A Study Of Metaphor in Dante’s Inferno” by Melanie Barker, Melanie talks about Dante’s first meeting with beast and why he has related She-wolf with incontinence. She writes “she is mysterious and because wolves tend to hunt in packs. In relation, sins of this irresistible nature tend to be coupled, as the wolves hunt together. ”
She explains that he chooses the she-wolf as she is very strange and ysterious and wolves are known to hunt in packs. In relation, sins of this irresistible feeling tend to mirror the analogy as the wolves hunt together in packs as she states in the article. Incontinence in this case being the sin of excessive animal appetite. In canto 5 Virgil and Dante enter the second circle of hell and witness for the first time sinners to be punished for the sins they committed. Dante writes, I came into a place where all light is silent, that groans like the sea in a storm, when it is lashed by conflicting winds.
The infernal whirlwind, which never rests, drives the spirits before its violence; turning and striking it tortures them. (Canto 5 line 28-33)(Infermo) Dante sees a place with no light and sounds of a storm at sea. He hears the shrieking sounds of the spirits being punished. Dante learns that these spirits are punished for the unfortunate lustfulness. Dante asks Virgil if he could identify some of the souls and he tells him of some known people such as Cleopatra, Helen, Semiramis and Dido.
Dante talks to Francesca (soul) and hears her tragic story of how she and her lover ended up in hell. Francesca was married an old and deformed man named Gianciotto however she fell in love with Paolo da Rimini Gianciotto’s. She tells Dante how they confessed their love for each other as it states in the book, We were reading one day, for pleasure, of Lancelot, how Love beset him; we were alone and Without any suspicion. When we read……. And I fell as a dead body falls( Canto 5 line 127-142)(Inferno)
One day, she and Paolo sat reading an Arthurian legend about the love of Lancelot and Guinevere, both of them began to feel as the s story was speaking of the secret love between them. As they read the story and came to an exceptionally romantic moment in the story, they could not resist kissing. Unfortunately Francesca’s husband discovered his brother and wife’s relationship and had both of them killed. As a result Paolo and Francesca were punished to spend eternity in the Second Circle of Hell.
Their uncontrolled love proved to be very costly for both of them as she was clearly married to her lover’s brother. She knowingly spent time with him and Paolo couldn’t respect the fact that Francesca was his elder brother’s bride. It’s not wrong to love someone but people need to take precautions on a given situation. In Francesca and Paolo’s case they both knew Gianciotto would cause harm to both of them. Gianciotto did found out and had both of them killed. Incontinence describes as a lack of self-control which Francesca and Paolo were victims of.
In the midst of Dante and Virgil’s conversation, Virgil tell Dante about Helen and how she was the sole reason of The Trojan War. He states, Behold Helen, who brought such evil times and see the great Achilles, who battled against Love at the end Behold Paris, Tristan; and more than a thousand shades he showed me, and named them, pointing, whom Love parted from our life(Canto 5 lines 64-490)(Inferno) In the article “Circle 2 Canto 5”, the author writes ‘acclaimed as the most beautiful mortal woman…… she was abducted by Paris and brought to Troy as his mistress’.
Virgil tells Dante about Helen who was the wife of Menalaus, King of Sparta at that time. Helen was said to be as the most beautiful woman. She was kidnapped by Paris and brought to Troy and was forced to be his mistress. As Helen was beautiful, Paris was the victim of incontinence and couldn’t control his urge. He ultimately decided to kidnap her and forced to be his mistress. His actions proved to be detrimental not only for himself but for the city (society) and caused the Trojan War as Dante wrote ‘Behold Helen, who brought such evil times’.
During the Trojan War, Achilles who was known to be the most fearsome Greek warrior against the Trojans as the author states, ‘The “great Achilles” was the most formidable Greek hero…….. after being tricked into entering the temple of Apollo to meet the Trojan princess Polyxena'( Circle 2 Canto 5). Similarly to Francesca Achilles despite being a menacing warrior lost his self-control over polyxena and died by the hands of Paris Incontinence is described as to show lack of self-control and desire for sex, power and wealth.
Incontinence could be very unfortunate not for just an individual but for society too. Dante while visiting hell with his mentor Virgil sees souls who were victims of lustfulness being punished. He meets Francesca who tell her how she and her Paolo’s unfortunate affection for each other lost them their lives and punished for all eternity in the second circle of hell. Helen who was the queen of Sparta was abducted by Paris because she was very beautiful and Paris was the victim of incontinence. Paris’s selfish actions triggered The Trojan War and proved to be detrimental for the society.