THE VIEW OF HELL IN THE MEDIEVAL AND ROMANTIC ERA 5
The View of Hell in the Medieval and Romantic Era
The View of Hell in the Medieval and Romantic Era
Contemporary scholars and theologians have conceived varied views ofhell over the years. The medieval period was dominated by intenseChristian thought and analysis and thinkers indulged in explainingdifferent phenomena associated with the deity and life after death.The works of Goethe and Dante offer cosmological interpretations thatprovide explanations of heaven and hell (Pucher, 2013). Their piecesof literature outline their perception of the association betweenhuman beings and the afterlife. Their thoughts and explanations areantagonistic since Goethe does not believe in the consequences ofone’s action in the afterlife while Dante presumes that theexperiences that individuals go through in hell befitted theircharacter when they were alive.
Religion took center stage in the medieval era, and this is evidentin The Inferno authored by Dante. During the era, hell wasperceived as a real place where people went. Dante argues that thereare nine places in hell inhabited by different people depending ontheir conduct and character while they were alive on earth. There wasthe Limbo which was inhabited by virtuous non-Christians. However,they were pagans and unbaptized. In this place, he saw philosophersand other epics including Homer, Socrates, Aristotle, Cicero,Hippocrates and Julius Caesar (Pucher, 2013). The second circle wasfull of lustful men who were blown towards either side by violentgusts. The third category held gluttonous individuals who wereconstantly hit by acidic rain. Also, Dante saw a fourth circle withgreedy men who were forced to push heavy stones against their chests.Interestingly, the author saw renowned clergymen, cardinals, andpopes indicating that majority of them were fully involved in thevice during their service on earth.
Anger was another attribute that was gravely punished. In the poemThe Inferno, Dante saw the victims of anger fighting in asullen river that was gurgling from beneath. In this section, hefinds a prominent Florentine who had confiscated his property. Thiswas the people’s perception of hell in the era that the evilactions have dire consequences during the after-life. Besides, he sawheretics who were condemned to burning tombs. He saw the agony ofinfluential people including Pope Anastasius and Emperor Frederick II(Pucher, 2013).
In the medieval era, people regarded murder as a grave sin that wasseverely punished in hell. Dante came across murderers and those whohad engaged in violence (Markos, 2013). They were being torn apart bydogs while the blasphemers and sodomites were condemned to a desertwith burning rain. According to Dante, fraudsters, seducers andflatterers were condemned to stony ditches in the eighth circle andwere under the watchful eyes of a flying monster. As the author putsit, “Sullen were we in the air made sweet by the Sun in the gloryof his shining, our hearts poured a bitter smoke. Sullen were webegun sullen we lie forever in this ditch. The ninth and finalsection was dominated by treacherous individuals who were engulfed inan icy lake” (Markos, 2013, p.69).
Dante’s view of hell in this piece of work does not reflect thesins that individuals considered grave and which could lead them tohell. It also emphasizes on the Christian doctrine that wasinstrumental in the medieval era. Although he digresses toaccommodate his fictional approach, he provides Inferno as a symbolicrepresentation of hell. Also, the various sections that the sinfulpeople and condemned to correspond to the Biblical and theologicalteachings. For instance, he finds virtuous people in hell as theycould not go to heaven due to their pagan tendencies and faith. Thisteaching is still central to the Catholic Church, and this depictsthe position of the denomination in the medieval era.
The romantic era was very that began in the later 18th and enteredthe 19th century was dominated by the literature that reiterated onindividualism and freedom of imagination. Faust, which wasauthored by Goethe, was prime representation of people’s thoughtstowards heaven and hell. First, Goethe believes that the scripture’spresentation of the afterlife is superstitious. He gives therationale that one can salvage religion by subjecting it to extremerationalism. Therefore, hell, as signified by the word, cannot beentirely described by the same scriptures. According to him, “It iswritten in the beginning was the Word! Even now I balk. Can no onehelp? I truly cannot rate the word so high. I must translate itotherwise” (Thalheim, 2013, p56).
Goethe gives the rationale that without the grace of God, individualscannot atone their sins to avoid punishment. According to him, hellis a place for those without any goal in life. The souls in hell, asobserved during romanticism, cannot repent (Pucher, 2013). Also, theview of religion and its contribution towards salvation is weak.Goethe observes that individuals with righteous goals will be savedregardless of their stance on religion. This is unlike in themedieval era when religion played a central part in thought andbehavior and those who were perceived to have no affiliation toreligion, particularly Christianity, would only end up in purgatoryif they were righteous (Pucher, 2013).
Conclusively, a comparison between the medieval and romantic eraviews on hell differ on the role of religion in determining the placewhere an individual ends up in the after-life. The Inferno providesnine circles that are a reflection of the sins that people commitwhen on earth. The gravity of the sins also differs. In the Faust,Goethe is categorical that people who lack righteous goals will notgo to hell regardless of their religious stand. The changing thoughtsand discoveries between the two periods are evident in the authors’works.
Markos, L. (2013). Heaven and hell: Visions of the afterlife inthe Western poetic tradition. Oregon: Cascade Books.
Pucher, M. (2013).The Norton anthology of world literatureEdition: Shorter Third Edition, Volumes 1 and 2. New York: W. W.Norton.
Thalheim, B. (2013). Entity-relationship modeling: foundations ofdatabase technology. New York, N.Y.: Springer Science &Business Media.