In the Inferno, Dante attributes only a small portion of the last canto to Satan. In this section, Dante describes him trapped in a lake of ice from the waist down. This description has prompted scholars such as T.S. Eliot to describe the last canto as underwhelming. He says, “perhaps it is better, on our first reading of the Inferno, to omit the last canto and return to the beginning” (Eliot, 212). He believed that this treatment of Satan was not fitting for the ruler of Hell. I propose a counterargument to Eliot’s view of Satan and the last canto. Satan’s punishment contains certain aspects that are reflected in other sections of the Inferno, specifically, his eternal punishment, self-inflicted encasement in ice, and removal from Heaven. I took those aspects and imposed them onto varying punishments within the other circles of Hell and looked at how those aspects are reflected in circles beyond the ninth, where Satan resides. These aspects betray Satan’s role as the sinner on which all punishments are based and not its ruler. Furthermore, looking primarily at his size compared to his small role in the poem and the brief time that Virgil and Dante spend directly discussing him, I have outlined his role as a prisoner in Hell. Finally, I compare Satan’s image to other beings of authority in the Inferno and illustrate how Satan’s depiction is different. I argue then that this is a fitting description of Satan because in the Inferno, he is not intended to be a ruler of Hell, but instead another trapped sinner being punished by God.

Waldyn Benbenek, ’16
Minneapolis, MN

English & Creative Writing

Sponsor: Michelle Mouton