Dante Alighieri1265-1321 The Inferno
The Divine Comedy • If you are struggling to find humor in your reading of the Inferno, don’t worry. The whole work is regarded as a comedy in the sense that it ends happily with Dante ascending to Heaven.
Terza Rima • Dante introduced this three-line stanza probably to suggest the Holy Trinity • A-B-A, B-C-B, C-D-C, D-E-D etc. • Iambic feet are generally preferred in English • Iambic trimeter u/ u/ u/ • Iambic tetrameter u/ u/ u/ u/ • Iambic pentameter u/ u/ u/ u/ u/
Tuscan • Dante’s use of the common vernacular – the language of the people – is hugely influential in the Tuscan dialect being accepted as a unified Italian language • Chaucer had much the same effect in Britain with his use of Middle English versus French
What the Hell! • The visit to the underworld seems to say that, in the pattern of Christ, ascent first requires descent, a deeper understanding of the possibilities of degradation and of demeaned actuality before consciousness can be converted to conviction.
The hell you say! • The purpose of Hell is to explain the causes of Dante’s inability to ascend the mountain. He must recognize the values responsible for his first missteps. Hell is the place of disaffection, where many false commitments must be unlearned
La Divina Commedia • All are damned? According to Dante (and Christianity), one must surrender his soul to God, and he will be saved from Hell. He may have to suffer in Purgatory, but he can’t flunk out! His spot in Heaven is secured after he suffers his penance. • Therefore, those in Hell insisted upon it, and some show no remorse even whilst being tortured. • The Damned delight in their destruction. It is a physical reality for the sinful conscience they lived on Earth. • Purgatory– physical projection of suffering towards grace • Heaven (Paradiso)– reward for achieving grace
4 levels of reading • Literally: travelogue • Allegorically: the state of shades is symbolic of their sins on Earth • Morally: they earned what they receive • Anagogically: their physical state matches their spiritual state (Hell exists within)
Three Beasts • The Leopard, Lion, and the She-Wolf all function as allegorical representations of Dante’s sins. He must journey through Hell before he can ascend to Heaven She-Wolf: sins of excessive animal appetite BAD Lion: sins of bestial violence WORSE Leopard: sins of fraud WORST (Why is fraud the worst, you ask?)
Apocalyptic Scripture • Dante sees himself as a prophet similar to Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel • The Inferno is a journey of religious faith and salvation and a biting commentary on Italian politics • As you read, consider this: Where in Dante’s Hell do we belong and how would the poet envision us if we were there?
Seven Deadly Sins(In descending order) • Lust • Gluttony • Avarice (greed) • Acedia (sloth) • Wrath • Envy • Pride All punished with the contrapasso(“suffer the opposite”).
Structure in the Inferno • Description of area • Demon threatens/ Virgil protects • Description of sin • Interaction with sinners • Transition to next area Order can vary, but this comprises most of what happens in each circle. Because the level of Hell are predestined, Dante makes short work of these details and is left with the rest of each Canto to gossip, prophesy, chit-chat with shades, reflect on history, and analyze the French monarchy, the corruption of the Church, and the decay of Italian politics.
Description of Area • Dante’s descriptions are always vivid. We hear, feel, see, smell, touch the foulness of the place
The Threat of the Demons • Many of the demons that the travelers encounter are half-human, half beast, creatures borrowed from Virgil, who borrowed them from classical Greek sources
Find and Note the Description of the Following Characters in the Inferno • Virgil (Aeneid)– Dante’s symbol for HUMAN REASON _ “Glory and light of poets . . . my true master and first author . . . immortal sage.” • Describe who the character is. • Find appropriate passages from the poem to describe the character.
You Find Them • Charon • Minos • Dido • Paulo and Francesca • Cerberus • Minotaur • Centaurs • Harpies • Old Man of Crete
Harpies (aka the real housewives)
Construct a Map of Hell • Start at the center of Hell where Dante and Virgil climb over Lucifer to appear in the “other hemisphere.’ • Who is there and why? Satan is sealed in ice and beating his wings. He has three faces, and in the mouth of each are Judas Iscariot, Brutus, and Cassius. Each is there for betraying his master.
Lucifer • What do you notice about the image of Lucifer? • What is the significance of Lucifer, the arch-demon, weeping? • The image of Lucifer is static and remote. Why does Dante not talk to him?
Read How to Read Dantepp. ix - xvii • Prepare a page of notes/observations for a graded class discussion Sept 5th over Cantos I-X. • I will guide the discussion, but the onus will be on you to make intelligent observations regarding the work • Try to focus on the allegorical meaning of the work. The introductory essay should help you with that.
Cantos I-V • Why must Dante journey to hell? • How does this relate to other Ancient works? • Why might McCarthy thrust his heroes into hell as well? • What are Dante and McCarthy suggesting about their respective cultures? • Virgil and the pagan poets • What can we infer about Dante’s (the poet) personality? • What do you think about these poets’ damnation? Is there a positive side to it? • Dante’s swoon: 133-134 • Why must one harden his heart wholly to sin? • What differences do we see between Dante the writer and Dante the fictional character? • Why can Reason not preside/pass into Heaven?