Righteous Indignation and the Sin of Intemperate Anger in the Inferno
Allora stese al legno ambo le mani;
per che 'l maestro accorto lo sospininse
dicendo: 'Via costà con li altri cani!'
Then he reached out to the boat with both hands; on which the wary Master thrust him off, saying: "Away there with the other dogs!"
Dante's and Virgil's scorn seems at first glance to echo the sin of intemperate anger which infects the foul waters of the Stygian marsh. Filippo Argenti, the weeping sinner who emerges from the mire, is eternally punished for his anger. However, the pilgrim's denunciation of Filippo is not only permitted, but lauded by Virgil with the praise given Jesus: "Blessed is the womb that bore thee!" (VIII, 43-44) Even the pilgrim's further, seemingly sadistic request to see Filippo attacked by his brethren is granted and accepted as appropriate. This seeming discrepancy in behavior can be reconciled by understanding the underlying motivations of the speakers. The pilgrim and Virgil travel with Divine sanction through Hell. The pilgrim's entire being learns to become entirely subject to the will of God. Virgil's journey is in obedience to the three angelic women who are Dante's patronesses: Our Lady, St. Lucia and Beatrice. However, Filippo Argenti is described by Virgil as "full of arrogance" (VIII, 46) Filippo Argenti's primary concern is Filippo Argenti. The essential element that separates the pilgrim from the sinners in the marsh is his subservience to God. Due to their divergent natures, the treatment of Filippo Argenti by the pilgrim and Virgil reflects the supreme triumph of the righteous over evil and serves as a warning to the reader.
The nature of the sins punished in the Stygian marsh is anger. However, it is clear that some forms of anger are acceptable to the divine will. After all, Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels attacking the money changers in the temple. In Jesus' case, his anger stems from his disgust at the desecration of his Father's house. Jesus' anger is primarily concerned with his father's glory, not his own. As we know Jesus "emptied himself and took the form of a slave." (Phil. 2:7) This emptying, this subversion of the human will to the will of God is the justification of the human soul. The pilgrim admits that he is totally at the mercy of God; without divine sanction and even intervention, the pilgrim would be doomed for all eternity. Of course, Dante's situation is just an extreme example of the condition of all men and women on earth. Without God's grace, we are doomed to the ultimate damnation; we are left to our own devices. The true sin of Filippo Argenti is the refusal to submit to the divine will. Filippo's anger is concerned with his own power and prestige. Filippo's "shade is furious" because no goodness remains "to adorn his memory." (VIII, 47-48) His arrogance is offended that God would dare to punish...