“Dante’s Inferno” is a text that was published in 1320. In Canto V we see that Virgil is heading towards the Second Circle of Hell, where the people being punished for their sins are held. We hear the voice of Lustful who will be punished in this circle forever. We, later on, learn about Francesca Rimini and Paolo, who is her lover. We, even, learn that Francesca can be a liar. In Canto XIII, we are lead into a forest where the people who are there wail and moan. The trees in this forest bleeds when it cries, and can talk. This is where we meet Pier Delle Vigne who killed himself after he was set to be imprisoned. In this forest, this is where the people who have committed suicide are held. While this is being explained to us, two naked people rushes across the forest while yelling to each other. One of the people hides themselves in a thorny bush where a pack of black dogs eat the human and carry pieces of their flesh away. This canto ends with us hearing the cries of a person who has hanged himself in Florentine. The last canto we had to read, Canto XV, is where we meet Brunetto Latini who taught Dante when he was alive. Brunetto leaves his group to talk to Dante, and he figures out why the Pilgrims are on this journey. While Brunetto is talking to Dante, a new group starts to approach as a band of smoke arises from the sand. This is Brunetto’s cue to leave and he runs to catch up with his band he was with before he saw Dante.
The period this text happened to be created in is 1320. The genre of this text is it is an epic poem. This means it is a poem told in a story format, and it’s not short with the same setting. We see that the text leads us from the Second Circle of Hell to the forest of suicides, and what appears to be a desert. I found it intriguing that this text is not a story that goes here is what happened, then this happened next. It’s different than other works in its genre because of what is discussed. We notice that the sins of different people, from the cantos discussed, leads them to be in a different circle. It states in Canto V, “I learned that to this place of punishment / all those who sin in lust have been condemned” (37-38). This canto clearly tells us here is where the people who have sinned through lust stay. While, the canto where the people who have committed suicide ends with, “I turned my home into my hanging place” (152). Here, is where the man in Florence decides to hang himself. Then, we bump into Dante’s teacher who tells him, “ I see new smoke rising from the sand” (117). We’re informed that the people who arise from the new smoke are people he can’t socialize with, so Brunetto goes back to the group he is supposed to be with. These changing settings causes Dante’s text to stand out from the rest, and raise questions about the sins of other people.
On that note, one question I do have about this text is why is the form Dante’s text is created in significant? Is this form the most effective way for the plot to be discussed? And, if so why? I wondered if Dante would have been able to describe the tree in Canto XIII, “and its trunk cried: ‘Why are you tearing me?’ / And when its blood turned dark around the wound” (33-34). Here, is how we know that the tree bleeds when its weeping. But, I questioned if the form were to change would we know more about this crying tree that bleeds? Just as a side note, this tree could even represent the people who have committed suicide. In Canto XV we see this epic poem format continue when we learn, “Then he turned back, and he seemed like one of those / who run in Verona’s race across its fields” (121-122). Because Dante’s text is created in this poetry format there are details we have to fill in compared to if it were created as novel. We see how Dante appears to admire how Brunetto runs back to his group, but I wondered why he couldn’t associate with the other group moving through the cloud of sand. Overall, the three cantos we had to read were definitely a bit more of a challenging read however the topics Dante discusses are still significant now!
Written by Dante Alighieri and published in 1320, Inferno is the second oldest text on our exam. The Cantos look like poems but read like a collection of first person stories told within the same continuity. Something we might keep in mind when thinking about this text is the essential element of Christianity. Dante and Virgil’s exploration of hell brings up a few important ideas. It presupposes the reader’s belief in hell, which would not have been much of a question when it was published. However, the idea that our modern interpretation of the Cantos requires many of its readers to suspend their skepticism about the afterlife in order to enjoy the text speaks to the change in theological “givens” people have abandoned over time.
The Canto that I found most interesting is V. This is where Virgil and Dante attempt to enter the second circle of hell, meant for people who were most consumed by lust. Before they get in, Minos tries to stop them because he knows Dante is alive. In Greek mythology, Minos, the son of Zeus and Europa, is a figure known for ruling Crete and coming up with a famously successful set of laws. Needless to say, he was known for being someone who knew a thing or two about right and wrong. After he died, he became one of the judges of the underworld. People go before him and he decides which level of hell they will be sorted into by wrapping his tail around himself x amount of times (the number of times corresponds with which level of hell someone is placed in). Virgil explains to Minos that God wants Dante here and Minos lets them go. In the second level of hell, people who were lustful while they were alive are punished by being flung around by a perpetual whirlwind (which sounds pretty fun to me (god, if you’re watching, this isn’t a request)). At first, this punishment may seem strange given the reason these people were placed here because of lust, but there is an ironic twist happening here. Like the way these people were swept away by their physical desires while they were alive, now they must spend the rest of eternity being swept away by the whirlwind. A few famous figures from history who have all died because of love are said to be here; including Cleopatra, Achilles, and Helen of Troy. Dante’s attention is also caught by Francesca and Paolo, who were sentenced here because they are adulterers. Francesca was married but then fell in love with her brother-in-law, Paolo. When Francesca’s husband found out, he killed them both. Upon hearing their story, Dante deems them deserving of their punishment because they are guilty of lust. Even still, their story is so compelling that Dante faints. I think there is much to be said about both Dante’s judgement and fainting. Firstly, Dante shows the reader that his own morals are aligned with that of Minos. There may even be something to be said about the fact that this transgression is largely centered around Francesca, a woman. Why is it that she seems to be presented as the one at fault when both her and Paolo participated in the adultery? Conversely, Dante’s fainting conveys the sense that there is something compelling about their situation, so much so that it causes him to be overwhelmed by emotion. Dante, “swooned as though to die, / and fell to hell’s floor as a body, dead, falls” (Canto V, 141-142).
Canto XIII talks about the seventh circle of hell; where people whose greatest sin in life was violence are sentenced to. In this particular Canto, Dante and Virgil enter a forest where the plants are “fruitless” and have poisonous thorns. This ring is home to people who have committed suicide. There, the people are trapped by the forest and are tortured by harpies, half-human and half-bird creatures with sharp talons. Similar to the second circle, the punishment is a twist on the sin they were found guilty of. Since they committed suicide to escape their mortal lives, these souls are endlessly held hostage with no way out. It might also be the case that they are being punctured by the thorns and torn apart by the harpies to mimic the violence they inflicted on themselves. In Canto XV, Dante and Virgil are still in the seventh circle but have moved onto the ring where sodomites are put. There, he is reunited with his mentor, Brunetto Latini. Dante hears that Brunetto is suffering here because of his non-procreative sexual activity and feels sympathy towards him. He says, “O, if all I wished for had been granted…you certainly would not, / not yet, be banished from our life on earth; / my mind is etched (and now my heart if pierced)” (Canto XV, 79-80). This is the first time Dante is shown clearly disregarding the crime someone has been found guilty of, which is bold considering sodomy was very much a punishable offence in the fourteenth century. in line with the laws and attitudes of the time period.
Dante’s Inferno is the first part of his epic Divine Comedy. It covers the journey of Dante (“the pilgrim”) through the 9 circles of Hell on a trip through the underworld to Heaven. On this journey, he is guided by Virgil, who attempts to show him the true face of human sin, and the punishment and human suffering that results from this sin. Though prone, at the start, to shows of extreme pity for the condemned souls he meets, the pilgrim, by journeys end, ceases his spells of sympathetic fainting, learning the lesson of sin and punishment intended for him by God.
Dante is a seminal figure in the history of Italian literature, and is a poet whose works are of significance to scholars across disciplines. His epic Divine Comedy is considered one of the most important works of literature of the middle ages, and a foundation of Italian literature. Writing during the 14th c., Dante’s work has been noted as an inspiration on Milton (Paradise Lost), as well as on other great writers in the English language, such as Chaucer and Tennyson. Dante’s Inferno is, excluding Shakespeare’s Hamlet, likely the most “canonical” text on our exam list. The detailed journey of the pilgrim through the levels of Hell is memorialized in countless works of literature and popular media both, with explicit allusions to the work in, for example, Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. The text’s significance is not limited only to content, but also extends to form. Divided into “Cantos,” the poem is a work in the epic tradition, and builds on the conventions set forward in that genre by writers, like Homer.
My classmates above provided a thorough explanation of the events of the Cantos assigned to us, so I will instead focus on a moment of significance that stands out to me. In Canto V, the story told by Francesca is one moment that I imagine could be useful, given the topic of our course. Francesca recounts the path of the lovers to Hell to the pilgrim. They read “of Lancelot, how he had fallen in love” and of the temptation of “longed-for lips” in the story, which prompted the first kiss of the pair (“Canto V” 128; 133). Out of the sections we were asked to read, this moment is probably the most explicitly connected to the question of literary value. That the sin of lust was provoked by a work of literature is significant — what does the novel-induced condemnation of the two, sentenced forever to each other’s company — say about the value of literature? About the good it can do? Not much. Yet, looking to the endnotes included by Musa, the translator and editor of the Indiana Critical Edition of the poem, an additional insight into the moment is provided. He notes that Francesca mis-recalls (whether intentionally or accidentally, we don’t know) the details of Lancelot’s love story. While in the original Lancelot is pursued by a woman, in Francesca’s retelling it is he who is responsible fo the ultimately fatal first move. Attempting, perhaps, to absolve herself of some of the pair’s shared eternal guilt, she changes the details of the story and, in this, raises a greater question of literary power. An inspiration for action, good and bad both, literature has the power to promote and to condemn. Still, the details of certain seminal works are often lost in favor of the broader shape of the work itself. Are these changed retellings more powerful? Less? Are they different works entirely? Separated by the actual versus the memory of, what remains of literature itself? I think this question has the potential of fitting with and blending into a question about the canon and institutionalized understandings of literary value. A question along these lines would be answered well using Shakespeare, Dante, Sophocles, Melville, or Lennox.
Whilst reading Canto XIII of “Dante’s Inferno,” I was struck by what appeared to me to be thematic similarities to Milton’s “Paradise Lost:” particularly the theme of free will versus predestination. Any similarity is, as Kaitlin pointed out, likely a result of Dante’s seminal influence on Milton, but my attention to this theme inspired me to think about how it might apply to the other works on our list, as well. If we think of examples of “free will” as being an act or choice contrary to societal expectation, it becomes pretty easy to find which of our texts fit. “Bartleby,” easily. One might argue that Bartleby is exercising free will by being unwilling to become part of the industrial-capitalist machine. Or, one might argue that Bartleby is willing neither to follow his predetermined path nor to exercise his free will, resulting in his demise. Either way, the theme of free will offers a critique of the worker’s condition contemporary to the story’s publication. “Antigone’s” titular character also exercises her free will in ways that offer what we now read as societal critique. Against the King’s direct commandment, she buries her traitorous brother. She kills herself when sentenced to starvation as punishment, refusing even that. She is an individual, exercising her free will to the last. This story ties into the idea of citizenship as discussed in class – what does it mean to be a good citizen? This question leads me to More’s “Utopia.” In a society devoid of personal possession, where choices and roles are dictated by the good of the many rather than the good of the individual, is there any room for free will? And so on, and so forth. This has more or less been practice in daisy chaining texts together for use in an exam question, but its easy to see how you can tease themes out of texts.
Now, for the places I read the free will theme in Canto XIII:
In the very first stanza, Dante is walking into a forest “not marked by any path at all” (line 3). This is, I think rather obviously, metaphorical for a lack of predestination. Dante’s path through the forest will result solely of the choices he makes rather than any predetermined route.
Contrasting the pathless nature of the forest, the harpies who inhabit the treetops “forecast … their close disaster” (line 12). They literally predetermine dark fates. Pretty straightforward.
The trees on lines 37 to 39, the damned souls of those who took their own lives, are the absence of free will. They’re like Bartleby – refusing to accept his predetermined fate and refusing to make his own choices. The trees are rooted, immobile, without any agency.
Dante offers to make the tree-soul-person-thing famous in the world above in exchange for a little chat, and the trunk is moved by the offer. The implication seems to be that there is some sort of freedom in fame? I’m not sure, but it’s interesting to me. (lines 50-57)
Inferno was written by Dante Alighieri in 1320. Our class readings primarily focused on Canto V, Canto XIII, and Canto XV.
In Canto V we see that both Dante and Virgil travel to the Second Circle of Hell which focuses on a higher level of punishment than the first. They come across Minos, who warns that they should not go any further however, Virgil manages to get them both pass Minos unscathed. Minos is the beast which determines what the appropriate punishment is for the sinners at this level. He does this by wrapping his tail around himself a number of times, which then determines what level those people will be placed in. Once Virgil and Dante get past Minos, they come across the Lustful who travel through the storms and wind. In Inferno, the text states, “I learned that to this place of punishment all those who sin in lust have been condemned…never any hope to comfort them— hope not of rest but even of suffering less” (Alighieri 110-111). The Lustful are individuals who have sinned by committing a sin of flesh, for example Helen and Cleopatra are individuals who ares identified in the text. After asking Virgil for permission, Dante calls out to the souls to see if he can get a response, and he hears Francesca’s story, overwhelmed by her story Dante faints. The idea of lust, and the desire that can take over and leads to one’s decision is interesting, as it is presented in the text. The idea of lust taking over an engulfing individuals is interesting, because you see that the weather does the same with the souls that are at this level. Also, lust often causes chaos around an individual or multiple individuals and their lives, so it’s interesting to see that the weather is a reflection of that, constantly being in a chaotic state with its constant storms and winds being swept around.
In Canto XIII Dante and Virgil are in the Seventh Circle of Hell, within its Second Ring in which they travel through a forest where they hear agonizing cries from the souls there. When Virgil tells Dante to break off a branch or a twig, he does so, and the pain cries out. It is then revealed that these souls are of individuals who have brought harm to themselves, which is why we see blood coming out of the tree when the twig is broken off. The tree which Dante breaks the branch off from, then reveals its story. The tree also reveals how Minos sends the souls there, and how when something is broken off, like a twig or branch, it is the same as if a body were to be dismembered. Unable to reunite with their bodies, they trees will constantly feel the rejection, similarly to how it once rejected its own body and life. In Alighieri’s Inferno, the text states, “..inflamed the hearts of everyone against me..and my happy honors turned to sad laments…my mind, moved by scornful satisfaction, believing death would free me of all scorn, made me unjust to me, who was all just” (188). The idea of a the three branch being broken off is similar to a dismembered body is intriguing because it is literally presented like that in the text. Something that is dismembered is something that has been cut off. And that idea is directly related to these souls, as they have dismembered their own lives. You could also say that due to them making the decision to cut off their lives, they not only dismember that but also the relationships and lives around them, since it does make an impact on others around them.
In Canto XV Virgil and Dante are in the Seventh Circle of Hell, in the Third Ring, within the Seventh Zone. Virgil and Dante now come across the Sodomites who are constantly walking under fire. Dante rejects the request of Latini of them having a conversation, due to the fact that he does not believe that he will be rewarded for this. It’s interesting that even as Dante travels through Hell he doesn’t feel obligated to follow the souls request, as he doesn’t think that it will affect the decision of whether he will go to hell or not, based on this action.
The moment of Dante and Latini, and Latini’s request of having a conversation reminds me of Antigone. It reminds me of how Antigone’s voice was not heard and how that lead to her protest. This could relate Dante to Kreon, as Kreon believes he is making decisions for the state, when it really is for power. Similarly, we see that Dante is making a decision here that won’t help Latini, but selfishly helps himself as he journeys further into the levels of Hell.
The fact that in Canto XIII we see that the trees bleed could imply that their lives have not completely been cut off. Although this section does focus on the idea is dismembering, it seems likely that because they are able to bleed that may not necessarily be true. Rather, the fact that these trees are able to bleed and agonize, similarly to how they did in life, could in fact show that their life may continue on, even in Hell. Would you consider these trees to be protesting? Have their lives continued? Have their lives continued only to have them experience more suffering?
You may connect Dante’s Inferno with Sophocles’ Antigone and Rankine’s Citizen and how the idea of bloodshed is presented in the text. Claudine literally references the bloodshed that occurs with officers and gun violence that African American victims have faced. Antigone addresses bloodshed through the injustices of the system which leads to the death of Antigone herself, Haimon and Eurydices. And you can relate both of these texts to the bloodshed that we see represented with the tree and its branches when Dante breaks the branch off in Canto XIII.
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