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The Inferno

The Inferno

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The Inferno

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  1. The Inferno Dante Alighieri

  2. The Inferno • Author: Dante Alighieri • Culture: Italian • Genre: commedia (a poetic form with both high and low registers) • ‘supreme representation of the medieval mind in European imaginative or visionary lit.’

  3. Historical Context • The city-state of Florence, Italy, had 2 political groups, the Blacks and the Whites (Dante’s group). • 1302: The Blacks seized power, exiling the Whites. Dante was banished from Florence on pain of death. • Convicted in absentia on the trumped up charge that he had misused funds when he held office (the sin of graft, see Circle 8, Bolga 5).

  4. Reaction to Changed Circumstances • Dante wrote his Divine Comedy in exile, finishing it shortly before his death in 1321. • His first love (courtly), Beatrice Portinari (1266-1290), appears in the DC as a heavenly guide whose name signifies blessedness or salvation. She stands for Divine Love.

  5. Structure • Highly wrought. Three main divisions, corresponding to the Trinity (3 is a sacred number): • Hell (shows us those who put something before God) • Purgatory (shows us those seeking to be good) • Paradise (shows us those enjoying the good) • All these are identical in length. • Opening canto (prologue to entire work), then 33 cantos for each division, totaling 100, the square of 10, a perfect number.

  6. Another Structural Pattern Each division (Inferno, Purgatory, Paradise) ends with the same word, stelle (stars) - which are the visible signs of God’s oversight. Inferno: 9 circles contain 3 types of sinners. Purgatory: Ante-Purgatory, 7 terraces, then Earthly Paradise (9 total). Paradise: 9 embedded spheres beyond which lies the Trinity.

  7. The Inferno (Hell) Lost souls are in 3 main groups and occupy 9 circles (see p.1076). The idea of eternal punishment follows Christian doctrine of the time. Dante’s journey takes him down the 9 concentric circles, from the least sins to the greatest types of evil.

  8. Ante-Hell • The abode of those who refused to choose between right and wrong; moral neutrals. • For this relatively small sin, they are punished by small annoyances (insects and such).

  9. Inferno Organization • Boundary river between the Ante-Hell and Limbo (circle of virtuous pagans who did not know Christ) is Acheron (a classical reference; a river in Hades, the Greek underworld).

  10. The Three Great Sins Circles of those guilty of Self-Indulgence (illicit lovers, gluttons, hoarders and spendthrifts, those of violent or sullen dispositions) Circles of those guilty of Violence Circles of those guilty of Fraud (treachery, treason) Bottom: Lucifer/Satan.

  11. Punishment • The punishment fits the crime - in fact, it IS the crime. • Sinners are doomed to the endless act of sinning.

  12. Roman History and Literature • To Dante, a Medieval Italian, the Roman empire had been divinely ordained: Christ first came in the reign of Augustus. • He wants to recreate the empire (a united Italy) for the second coming. • Caesar’s assassins disobeyed divine will, and so earned their place in Satan’s mouths. • Dante works with both the classical and Christian traditions.

  13. Canto 1 Unlike epic poetry, the Commedia begins with action, not a proem. Explanations occur as we go along. Main character and narrator: Dante, a wandering hero and a pilgrim. A hero going to the underworld is a staple of Greco-Roman epic (Odysseus, Aeneas) as well as of Christian theology (Christ harrowing Hell).

  14. The Inferno is an account of the effect of a journey on the man who takes it - a record of moral and spiritual experience of illumination, regeneration, beatitude (in this, it is a bit like Augustine’s works). The narrative is both literal and allegorical (full of symbols).

  15. The Dark Wood of Error Canto 1: the narrator tells us that he was 35 years old, he became ‘lost in a wood,’ ‘threatened by three beasts’ - the She-Wolf (self-indulgence), the Lion (violence), and the Leopard (Fraud).