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First Year Seminar, P.


Paper 4 – Process Notes

I decided the original topic I had picked for my paper would be far too

complicated and scary to do, and I wasn’t even sure exactly what I was trying to write

about (it was a big shebang thing comparing the nature of sin and free will and the like

amongst Abrahamic religions, and then I would have ended up doing something on

numerology). I decided that, since you had put positive feedback on that journal I did on

female representation in Dante, I would work on that. It was a topic that I could focus on,

and it had the added benefit of making my advisor happy.

Not entirely wishing to give up the cross-religion focus on Dante, I researched a

little on women in Judaism and Islam. I wasn’t entirely sure how I could use it, but I

figured it would probably be good to keep in the back of my mind if I did find some place

where I could relate it. Which I didn’t really. Oh well. It was fun.

I thought about what I was trying to say with this paper. One of the key elements,

I decided, was the role that Beatrice played. She is, in many aspects, Dante’s own

personal savior, setting him up with Virgil and all, and leading him through Paradise

(though that’s another book). Then there were Saint Lucia and Rachel—who, along with

Beatrice, are somewhat reminiscent of the Holy Trinity—who also added to this view of

the female as the savior through pure love.

While I do not include this in the paper, it is interesting to note that the daughter-

in-law of Rabbi Akiba (a well-noted Jewish theologian of the 1st and 2nd centuries, who

was a main contributor to the Jewish oral tradition) was required by her marriage contract
to teach her husband the Torah.

The women of the realm of the lustful (Dido, Helen, Cleopatra, and Francesca)

represent a perversion of this ideal of the female as a divine creature, a guide to heaven.

They focused on the body, rather than mind and soul, and thus got swept up in the sin of

lust. I do not include Semiramis because I feel that her sin is not so much one of her own

lust, but of using the lust of others. I suppose in that respect I disagree with Dante’s

placement of Semiramis, which I will probably talk about in the Realm of the Seducers.

Upon further research (i.e., beyond John Ciardi’s notes) I understand Dante’s sentencing,

though I think a case can be made for placing Semiramis with the Wrathful. This stuff

gets complicated, as are, I suspect, these notes.

I also wanted to devote a passage to the feminine demons of hell. I hesitate to call

them female, as God and the angels seem to possess a space that is somewhat gender

neutral. However, many of the demons in Dante’s Hell are traditionally represented as

being female, such as the Furies and Medusa, and the Harpies. These creatures are some

of Hell’s cruelest denizens, and their perversion of the divine female makes them notable


My last subject of concentration was the Eighth Circle of Hell. This circle is

notable for two reasons: 1) It contains the last named female sinner, and 2) It contains the

seducers and the panderers. I find the latter very interesting, as in Dante’s time, women

were thought to be the more libidinous sex, and were therefore blamed for any seductions

that may have occurred. Also, prostitution, especially in Italy, was fairly common, and

actually quite widely accepted. Most prostitutes were not forced into the trade by some

pimp (or brother, as the case may be), but rather began procuring of their own accord.
Women who did become prostitutes usually did so out of financial necessity.

I think the reason why Dante focuses on this group so much is because these

people corrupt the image of the divine feminine. Dante wrote about this to make a

statement, and one that contradicted the norms of his time.

My next task, then, was to organize this in some comprehensible way, and also

address the fact that Hell was quite devoid of women. I decided that my whole paper all

stemmed from the idea of the divine feminine, and that the expressions of women in Hell

were all perversions of this. Dante represents the female through Beatrice, and, as Hell is

merely a twisted version of Heaven, then Dante’s representations of females in Hell

would be women whose characteristics were diametrically opposite to Beatrice’s. So, as

always, I went from there.