Dante's The Inferno paints an incredibly vivid picture of what Hell is like. The journey Dante undertakes in order to progress past his 'lost' stage and escape Hell can be likened to the 12-Step Program a recovering alcoholic must complete in order to finally escape from the clutches of drinking to excess. This paper endeavors to explore Dante's journey through the perspective of this 12-Step Program. By going through each step, one can witness the introspective and emotional self-examination Dante goes through, with a little help from his support group, in order to get out of Hell.
The first step that every recovering alcoholic must take involves the process of admitting his or her problem. Alcoholics must acknowledge that they are helpless when battling their addiction and they must admit that this addiction to drink has wreaked havoc on their lives to the point where they have lost control (Alcoholic Anonymous, 1955, 59). Dante's predicament is no different to that of an alcoholic struggling to regain control over his or her life. At the beginning of the poem, Dante is portrayed as having gotten lost on the path of life and trying to get back on the right path (http://www.*****/essays/Literature/danteinferno.shtml,2).Using imagery, Dante recalls that "in the middle of his life, he [finds] himself lost in a dark forest, having lost the right path while half asleep." (http://www.gradesaver.com/ClassicNotes/Titles/inferno/fullsumm.html,1).Many historians believe The Inferno was penned during Dante's exile from Florence, specifically the night before Good Friday, 7 April 1300. The dark forest symbolizes Dante's disillusionment of the period. Dante's disillusionment stemmed from his thoughts of inner conflict and transgression, the flawed material (in comparison with Heaven and God), corrupt politicians and popes, lack of genuine leadership, and so on (http://www.gradesaver.com/ClassicNotes/Titles/inferno/fullsumm.html,2).
Similar to the character of an alcoholic just embarking on his journey to regular sobriety, Dante's character at the beginning of the poem is one of contradictions. His character isn't particularly defined, illustrating the confusion and conflict he is feeling. Although the reader is made aware that Dante has committed a transgression, the reader is not illuminated on what that sin is. Although the reader is told of Dante's participation in Florentine political life, the reader does not know much else. Dante's characteristics are generalized. He frequently empathizes with others as well as unleashes his anger when the mood takes him. He cries upon witnessing the suffering of the Hell-dwellers, and rejoices when one of his adversaries suffers the same fate. He prides himself on his inclusion among the renowned poets in human history residing in Limbo; yet he also humbly wishes to be reunited with his first love Beatrice. Dante often shows his fear of the beasts and demons he encounters in Hell but he also displays great courage by following his guide Virgil without fail. Dante is emotionally vulnerable, often fainting or paralyzed with fear (http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/inferno/terms/charanal_.html,1).Alcoholics harbor just as many contradictions in their psyche as they struggle to muster the courage to face their addiction and the demons that have enslaved them to the bottle for so long.
Hell can be compared to an alcoholic's torrid journey into regular sobriety, a process of purification and truth, of escaping the confusion of dependency and finding the courage to live life without such a destructive crutch. Hell can be seen as "the state of man who has lost the good of his intelligence, a state of man dominated by his passions." (Pound, 1968, 129). Dante desires to emerge from his confused state to enlightenment, just as a recovering alcoholic wishes to emerge from the confines of his or her addiction to independence from it. However, not unlike the recovering alcoholic, Dante encounters impediments or temptations attempting to weaken his resolve (http://www.*****/essays/Literature/danteinferno.shtml,2)in the form of a leopard (representing worldly pleasure and lust), a lion (representing ambition) and a wolf (representing avarice). (Thompson, 2000, 4). Dante wishes to rise above his foggy misdirection but realises he cannot do this on his own.
This realization of knowing that outside help is necessary for success is the second step of the program: the addict must come to believe that a power bigger than themselves can take them back to sanity (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1955, 59). The addict must travel beyond the parameters that contain the familiar. They must venture beyond their comfort zone. Similar to a recovering alcoholic acknowledging the need for a sponsor or guide to keep them on the right track, Dante realizes he requires outside assistance. This assistance comes in the form of a spirit called Virgil. Virgil sees Dante retreat back into the dark forest upon encountering the leopard, lion and wolf, and restores Dante's resolve. Virgil, not unlike any sponsor for a recovering alcoholic, reminds Dante of the true prize, reaching Heaven (enlightenment) and being reunited with his first love, Beatrice, whose concern for Dante prompted Virgil to come for him.
Virgil is depicted in The Inferno as "[t]he shade... that... has been condemned to an eternity in Hell because he lived prior to Christ's appearance on Earth (and thus prior to the possibility of redemption in Him). Nonetheless, Virgil has now received orders to lead Dante through Hell on his spiritual journey. Virgil proves a wise, resourceful and commanding presence, but he often seems helpless to protect Dante from the true dangers of Hell." (http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/inferno/characters.html,1).Analysts believe that Virgil is a manifestation of human reason, in particular its huge power and its subordination to belief in God. (http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/inferno/characters.html,1).Virgil embodies the view that reason is lacks strength or conviction without faith (http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/inferno/terms/charanal_1.html,1).
Virgil is an appropriate guide for Dante. Because he is a soul lacking the encasement of a worldly life, Virgil is able to understand Hell and all its intricacies that a living man would not. However as a poet and as one who once walked the earth and conversed with other living beings, Virgil is able to communicate relatively easily with Dante about everything Dante encounters. He is able to help Dante digest all his observations and evaluate the merits of each (Thuleen, 1992, 3). "Virgil acts as Dante's guide, showing him not only the physical route through Hell but also reinforcing its moral lessons. When Dante appears slow to learn these lessons - such as when he sympathizes with sinners or attempts to remain too long in one region of Hell - Virgil often grows impatient with him, a trait that humanizes this otherwise impersonal shade." (http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/inferno/terms/charanal_1.html,1).
With the assistance of a sponsor, it is possible to progress to the third stage of the 12-Step Program. Alcoholics must decide to relinquish the control of their will and their life and defer this control to God as they know Him to be (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1955, 59). In other words, to readily hand over the fate of their lives to an entity greater than themselves (God), in conjunction with conducting an intensive self-examination. Dante readily gave control of his will and life to Virgil, who in turn had divine sanction from God. What made Dante readily follow Virgil/God without question? The fact that hid guide came in the form of Dante's literary hero helped. Yet it was more about the support he was informed he had from people who were genuinely concerned for his welfare which made him agree to follow Virgil through Hell to reach Heaven. "In order to give him heart, Virgil said that Beatrice herself had descended from Paradise to Limbo to find him (Limbo is the place in Hell for worthy Pagans who lived before Christ). Concerned about Dante, she had asked Virgil to lead him to safety. Gallantly, Virgil had agreed. He discovered that not only Beatrice, but two other blessed ladies, Lucia and Rachel, were also concerned for Dante, having been warned by 'a gentle lady' [Virgin Mary] that he risks damnation. Hearing that his love had not forgotten him, Dante was much encouraged, and he resolved to Unflinchingly follow Virgil wherever he would lead him." (http://www.gradesaver.com/ClassicNotes/Titles/inferno/fullsumm.html,2).Just like a recovering alcoholic who draws strength from the love and support of the people around him, Dante derives much strength and courage from the knowledge that Beatrice and others care for him greatly. The love and concern Beatrice, the two blessed ladies, Virgin Mary and God have for Dante is what is being greater than Dante himself. It is this love and support that Dante must trust in order to get through Hell and come out the other side unscathed. Also, as Virgil guides Dante through the nine circles of Hell, the adventures and people they encounter along the way all point to the assertion that "Dante's well-being depends on a favourable divine will." (http://www.gradesaver.com/ClassicNotes/Titles/inferno/fullsumm.html,10).For instance, in Canto IX, Virgil and Dante require the help of Heaven's messenger to allow them passage through the gate of Dis where previously the fallen angels had sought to prevent their entrance. (http://www.gradesaver.com/ClassicNotes/Titles/inferno/fullsumm.html,10).Not even Virgil informing the fallen angels that he possessed divine sanction in the mission would move the fallen angels to allow them to…