Medieval and renaissance civilization


Views of religion in Inferno by Dante and The Song of Roland

During the medieval period, religion was highly perceived as a tool of prejudice and criticism between the Christians and the Muslim. Two influential poems written during these poems were Dante’s “Inferno” and “The Song of Roland” which explored the theme of religion focusing on faithfulness, punishment, atonement, sin and redemption. All these concepts are defined as divine justice based on the type of sin committed. The theme of justice emerges in the “Inferno” where Dante walks through the circles in hell and sees people beings punished for the evils they have done. In “The Song of Roland”, divine justice is represented by the analysis of good versus evil. In both pieces, religion is very important as the will of God is for the people to overcome the dark shadows and fears to live righteous lives as the choices made on earth will determine one’s fate of eternity.

Both “Inferno” and “The Song of Roland” acknowledge the benevolence of God as the most powerful supernatural beings and is all good. In this case, God watches over all and intervenes in all situations to ensure that good is rewarded and evil in punished. All the characters in the medieval times in “The Song of Roland” believed in this perception. For instance, when Ganelon commits treason against the Frank army, it is perceived to be a sin because he made that choice knowing that it was against Christianity. In this case, the fate of Ganelon and the entire trial is already determined from the moment that sin is committed as divine justice is perfect. Dante also realizes the concept of perfection of divine justice when he walks in hell and is able to draw a connection between the choices he makes on earth and the impending punishment in hell. Using the nine circles of hell, Dante illustrates that hell was created by justice. As such, one is sent far away from God to the devil based on the severity off the sin committed.

Worth noting is the fact that  in “The Song of Roland”, the theme of good and evil is explored mainly in terms of the war while Dante explores the same in terms of individual deeds. The moral justification in this case is mainly ambiguous as the intensity of the war is blurred to bring into effect the glamour of the war, rather than compassion for the enemy. The losers in the war are perceived to be villains and are treated with no grief nor compassion. The Frank army, on the other hand, is perceived to be the spotless followers of the will or God and have pure hearts. In this case, they are perceived to be among those who will go to heaven for doing good deeds while on earth. On the same light, the Saracens are perceived to be evil and non-deserving of the goodness of life eternity. It is believed that when they die, the devil would drag their souls to hell. However, Dante shows that the perfection of divine justice is based on separation of punishment based on the severity of the evil committed. Christians are supposed to exhibit compassion and love even for their enemies so that they can see Christ and have divine love. In this case, even the heroes suffer punishment for the evil deeds they did while on earth. For instance, while walking through the first circle in hell, he saw many great heroes. As opposed to Roland who views the nature of God’s punishment and hell as a matter of evil and good, Dante reveals that He is a merciful and caring Gog capable of redemption.

In both poems, human beings are given the free will and the ability to make a choice between good and evil, which is the key to God’s mercy or God’s separation. In “The Song of Roland”, the true act of goodness is in choosing loyalty in battle and fighting in the Frank army till death. Despite the fact that Ronald is arrogant, it is his loyalty to the community and especially the King that makes him a Christianized hero. Ronald believed that the choices that the heroes made to fight to the extent of giving up their lives assured them of eternal life and God’s divine love. However, his efforts to covert the Muslims to Christianity were characterized by violence, deception and war. In this case, everyone he does in the name of Christianizing the Muslims is perceived to be a noble choice of a true Christian deserving of divine love. In “Inferno”, goodness is measured by the extent to which human beings are able to control their desires and stay close to God. While people who live free are perceived to be miserable, God perceives them to be happy as He is the creator of everything including happiness. This raises the question of what separates divinity from love? Dante assumes the role of God in his poem to show the acts that separate people from the love of God, and leads them to eternal punishment. According to him, love moves the stars and the sun and creates a great level of unhappiness. In this case, engaging in deeds that could harm others is a choice that one makes knowing it would lead to separation from God, and consequently unhappiness. Dante emphasizes that ego is the leading causes of separation of humans from the real love of God, which leads to unhappiness. This is because people acting on their ego leads to corruption and rot for not only an individual, but also the entire society.

Despite the fact that Ronald fights the Muslims in order to ensure that all people are Christians and hence will eternal life, there is a lot of controversy regarding his action compared to the qualities of God as exemplified in Dante’s “Inferno”. The Christianized heroic type in “The Song of Roland” are mainly barbaric warriors who are crowned knights due to their loyalty and prowess in the battle. The poem shows old heroic tradition that has been modified to show the transformation of new Christin ideals. Even the church leaders such as the archbishop is related to the war and therefore, give sermons of being faithful in the battle. These warriors are believed to be the ideal Christians because of their heroic actions. On the other hand, Dante explores a Christianity where the picture of hell and eternal life is justifiable and unsettling. A scale is used to judge the level of punishment from small to large. There is a great contrast from Ronald’s perception of hell and punishment as even those who have not sinned are placed in limbo for not having not known baptism “…souls are these you see around you…, they have not sinned. But their great worth alone was not enough, for they did not know Baptism,” (32-35). Despite the fact that the souls of these people have not sinned, they are not considered clean according to true Christianity. In this case, the actions of true Christians are aimed at ensuring that they remain faithful until they see Christ.

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  1. Alighieri, Dante. The Inferno. New York, New York: NAL PENGUIN INC, 1954. 288. Print.
  2. Burgess, Glyn S. The Song of Roland. London, England: Penguin Books, 1990. Print.
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