Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dante's Inferno

When Dante Alighieri proposed to write his epic treatment of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven -- under the collective title The Divine Comedy, it was not the subject matter that was revolutionary -- it was his decision to write in the vernacular (Italian) rather than Latin, which until then had been thought of as the only language suited to such serious poetry. It was not just that Italian wasn't as prestigious, but also that it had no standard form at that time; Dante tackled this problem in a treatise written in Latin, De Vulgari Eloquentia ('On Eloquence in the Vernacular'). In it, he argued that one's native language, because one learns it in infancy 'sine omnia regula' (without any rules), and because it is the language of love, is in fact far closer to the soul, and to the heart, than any 'secondary' language such as Latin.

The vernacular revolution had started a generation earlier, with the Troubadours, whom Dante greatly admired; among them was Arnaut Daniel, whom Dante honored by calling him 'il milgior fabbro del parlar materno' ("the better craftsman of the mother tongue"). The key difference was his taking this language from the enigmatic love-lyrics of the Troubadours to the epic architecture of a massive three-volume journey beyond the grave. In this, as in other things, Dante, though an innovator, saw himself as a follower of those who came before, chiefly Virgil, who appears here as his guide.

Dante was no theologian -- but he did take care that his representations of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise sorted sin with precision. Generally, Hell was for those who had committed "mortal sins" -- willful violations of God's commandments -- and had not obtained absolution; as to "venial sins" -- lesser sins, or sins committed out of ignorance or carelessness, these could be 'burnt and purged away' in Purgatory, with the length of one's stay proportionate to the sin. Those who were fully shriven and absolved could skip that step and head straight to Heaven (For a fuller explanation of moral vs. venial sin, see the Vatican's helpful website).

In the Inferno, which we'll be reading, the sins are therefore of the kind that can no longer be forgiven; aptly it is written over the gate, "Abandon Hope, Ye Who Enter Here." And yet, though damned, the habitants of Hell still have their pride; almost without exception, they ask Dante if, back among the living, their names are still remembered. And, when it came to the punishment fitting the crime, Dante's imagination was boundless: trees that bleed their speech in bloody sap; men hurled upside-down in latrines; rivers of blood and excrement, clothing wrought of solid lead. He was not above putting quite a few of his enemies -- and even a couple of his friends -- in Hell.

The influence of Dante's verse has been enormous -- on poets, illustrators, and writers of every kind. Even Bob Dylan, in "Tangled up in Blue," speaks with awe of Dante's words:
She opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the fifteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burning coal
Pouring off of every page
Like it was written in my soul, from me to you.
And that's the way literature in the vernacular works -- it's not business, it's personal. From me to you.


  1. In the middle of Dante’s life, he became lost in a forest. He came across the sight of a hill, and attempted to climb it when a leopard, lion, and she-wolf blocked his way. Therefore, he headed back to the forest, and met Virgil on his way. Virgil was going to take Dante to salvation, which meant they were going to pass through hell. Upon arriving to the gates of hell, Dante passed out after hearing all of the noises coming from hell. Once he woke up, Virgil began telling him that it would be okay. They continued through the gates and found men, women, and even infants along the way. Virgil told Dante that the people they were seeing had never been baptized, therefore, they had no choice but to remain in hell.
    Submitted by: Rebecca Flores

  2. In the reading Dante's Inferno Canto I-IV, Dante encounters Virgil who is his guide through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. Later, Dante learns that his lover Beatrice went to speak to Virgil, in Hell to take care of Dante. One stanza supports this, "Fly to him and with your high counsel pity, and with whatever need be for his good and soul's salvation, help him, and solace me." As Dante traveled further through the gates of Hell, he learned about the opportunists, the Laws of Dante's hell, where when they sin, they are punished, and the denying of people into Heaven or hell because of the way they lived in the past. These souls have been rejected, where they remain in Limbo. It is interesting to see Dante travel through these levels, where both Dante and I learn more about the three gates and other obstacles that are about to come.

    Response done by: Jennifer Gesualdi

  3. Dante's error is what caused him to be where he is, in the first circle of limbo. The three beasts "drive him..into the darkness of error" (pg.3) , and he has a long way to go, but has Virgil's guidance to help him along the way. The metaphor of a shipwrecked swimmer (pg.4) is presented to show the feeling of confusion and being lost. Also, to show the complications of how hard it will be to overcome such things. Dante is out of his "norm" and everything happening around him is not what he could have ever thought. While going through the phase of limbo, where the souls of people were neither "blame nor praise" (pg.21) he blacks out. After he awakes he starts to move along. Every move he does make brings him deeper and deeper into the circle phases of hell.

  4. Dante is walking through the dark forest when he comes across a leopard, lion, and she wolf in the light. These characters tell him to turn around. On Dante's way back he meets Vigil and they go through hell, purgatory, and heaven together. Vigil's stays in purgatory regularly due to not being baptized. When they reach the Acheron river and faints, when he wakes up he realizes someone took him across it. It is here they reach purgatory.
    Gianna Penta

  5. Enormous amounts of controversy come with Dante’s inferno, whether it be the overall content in the story or the language it was originally written in. In my opinion Dante was trying to make a statement about the church as well as create a piece of literature that was way ahead of it’s time. I believe that the having characters like Virgil as well as other poets and philosophers represent the fact that people who thought differently than the church would automatically go to hell. With that in mind, it makes me question if Dante felt he would end up in hell based on the book he created that strayed away from the Church’s beliefs.
    Nicole Grammas

  6. In Dante’s Inferno Canto I-IV Dante encounters an angry lion, she-wolf and a leopard as he attempts to climb up a hill. However, these beings force him to turn around. Later he finds the Roman poet Virgil who will guide him through salvation, better known as Hell. Upon reaching the gates of Hell Dante faints, and wakes up inside. He notices men women, infants and famous philosophers who could not be saved and neither hell nor heaven have not accepted them. This is just the beginning of Dante’s journey and there are certainly many more obstacles to overcome.

  7. in Dante's the Inferno Cantos I-IV, Dante finds himself lost in the Dark Forest where he cant recall how he became lost here. He is looking for a way out where he notices a Great Hill where he believes he can escape the forest from. When Dante comes to the top of the Great Hill he encounters three beasts, one being a lion, another a leopard and lastly a She-Wolf. These three beasts demand/force Dante back into the Dark Forest from which he came from. Traveling back into the Dark Forest, Dante encounters a Roman poet Virgil, who is the one who is supposed to guide Dante through hell. on their travels they come across the Phase of Limbo, where Virgil informs Dante, these are individuals, men, women, infants and famous philosophers who could not be saved due to not being accepted from hell nor heaven.
    Tyler Thomas

  8. Throughout the first four cantos of Dante’s Inferno, Dante outlines his journey through hell and introduces his guide, Virgil. Dante is terrified to experience hell and he notes that only two people have ever returned from the afterlife, however, Virgil reassures him. They encounter the souls of those who were not good or evil, therefore denied by heaven and hell. After fainting while crossing the Acheron river, Dante wakes up in the first circle of hell, or limbo. Souls that were virtuous but not baptized remain in limbo, including famous poets, philosophers, and mathematicians. After admitting his fear to travel through the afterlife, I am interested to learn how Dante survives the remaining circles of hell.
    Mary Beth Mennucci

  9. I find The Inferno an interesting read, definitely not the easiest, I found myself having to read some pages twice, but thank God for Notes! I am not sure how Dante’s journey begins, is it a dream? Is he dead and is this journey one takes to get to the heavenly gates? So this is what I got from Canto I; throughout life one is presented with the leopard, malice and fraud, the lion, violence and ambition, and the she- wolf of incontinence. To reach the gates of Purgatory and enter Heaven one must fight these temptations with the help of human reasoning and divine love. This is just what I got from it, I may be totally wrong, may be it’s a little more literal. Another question, is Virgil male or female? I kind of got confused in Canto II; it’s hard to tell who is speaking at times. Anyways, in Canto II, as Dante loses interest in continuing his journey, Virgil goes on explaining Dante the reason he is here to help him reach the golden gates. Beatrice, Divine Love, was sent by the prayers of the Virgin Mary to Hell to get Virgil, Human Reason, to help Dante escape Hell and find his way to Heaven. Virgil then asks why Dante is “lagging” (lines 119-123, page 14) and then Dante realizes what a fool he is (lines 130-135, page 15) and insists they lead on! In Canto’s III and IV Dante and Virgil are traveling through the levels of Hell, which are composed of circles and each circle is a ledge and each ledge is a category of sin. So far they have gotten up to the first circle, which is for virtuous pagans (born without the light of Christ – page 28), this is also the circle Virgil belongs to. I liked the illustration on the map of Hell, very interesting; never thought of Hell as being so “organized”.

  10. Canto’s I-IV of Dante’s Inferno serve as a glimpse of what Dante is about to endure as he travels through the levels of hell. He introduces Virgil as his guide for as far as human reason can go and from there Beatrice will have to guide Dante’s final ascent. I was most interested in the instances where Dante explains ways to get stuck in hell, actions in people’s past lives that have condemned them to this afterlife. Also the three beasts of hell that Dante faced as soon as he entered being the three divisions of hell; incontinence, violence, and fraud. The Law’s of Dante explain that if people sin that they are punished and the levels of hell are showing the levels of punishment. Those who did not believe in a God or an afterlife had no hope of death, they were nameless and envied every other fate as they had no death to look forward to. Dante will face numerous levels of hell on the rest of his journey and the levels he already reached are just the beginning.
    Ashley Surran

  11. Cooper Ferreira
    John Ciardi translates or rather transposes the Italian triple rhyme scheme of Dante Alighieri in The Inferno. The first two Cantos outline Dantes setting in the dark forest and introduce Virgil, Dantes symbol of human reason, who will be his first guide through the depths of hell. In Canto III the travelers pass through the gate of hell and meet The Opportunists as seen in line 20 “…and with a gentle and encouraging smile he led me through the gate of mystery”. These people are classified as neither in hell nor out of it, for they were not good or evil but only for themselves, as Ciardi would put it in his beginning notes. I also found it interesting in line 123 when Dante writes “they yearn for what they fear”. Saying that these people actually wish for this was very interesting to me and put it into a different perspective. In Ciardi’s notes on page 24 he writes “Hell is their actual and deliberate choice, for divine grace is denied to none who wish for it in their hearts.” In Canto IV Dante enters the first circle of hell where his guide, Virgil, has his place in hell. In this first circle these people were born without the light of god and therefore are not tormented but rather are given no hope for anything else. Dante will further pass through the rest of the levels of hell.
    Cooper Ferreira

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  13. in Dante's the Inferno Cantos I-IV, Dante finds himself lost in the Dark Forest where he cant remember how he got lost there. He is looking for a way out and then notices a hill where he thinks he can get out of the forest. Dante comes across a lion, a leopard and a She-Wolf. They tell Dante to go back into the Dark Forest where he came from. Traveling back into the Dark Forest, Dante comes across a Roman poet. He is supposed to guide Dante through hell. The laws of Dante say if people sin then they are punished. In hell, the levels of hell depend on the levels of punishment. The first circle of hell is Virgil's place in hell. Dante will then pass through the rest of the levels of hell.
    Haley Grenier

  14. In the Inferno, Dante passes through a series of obstacles containing various souls. He is guided through hell by Virgil, a poet whom was sent to Dante by Beatrice. Beatrice was deeply concerned for Dante. Dante is obviously disturbed by the all the souls he encounters. The souls are separated for different reasons based on the sins they have committed. I am interested in how the book was organized. It is very complex and detailed. While the book is a little hard to understand, it is a fascinating story and I’m very curious to see what the other circles hold.

  15. Dante is the main character in The Inferno. The setting takes place in a dark forest where Dante is lost. When Dante realized he is lost he comes across a little hill. Dante is filled with hope to leave the dark forest but he is blocked by three beast of worldliness: the leopard, the lion, and the she wolf. The three beast frighten Dante and push him back in dark error. Feeling lost Dante has a figure appear to him, Virgil. Virgil is Dante's symbol of human reason. He was sent to see what hell was like. There are different levels of hell and Dante will be witnessing them. Dante witnesses the sins of people and their punishments. It was noisy, loud, and detrimental. The souls in hell are punished by what they did to go against God and other people. The book is a challenged read but it is very interesting how Dante could walk through the gates of hell witnessing every soul that sinned.
    --- Lina Nop

  16. In the first five Cantos of Dante's Inferno. I honestly find myself lost at more than one part of the book. Although the notes do help to keep the reader on the right track, I find it to be a difficult read. It makes me wonder if that was almost Dante's intention as I could imagine that traveling through the layers of Hell could make one feel lost and confused. It is definitely a quality that could and/or would immerse the reader in the story as it progresses. I am very interested to see how my feelings unfold as Dante progresses in his journey.

    Jessica Lako

  17. Cantos I-IV
    In this story Dante is guided through hell by Virgil. Dante himself is still alive but the people he comes across are dead and either passing through hell to reach heaven or were sent to hell for sins, however Virgil claims these souls are neither good nor evil. Dante goes through the levels of hell, waking up in the first circle. He admits to being afraid to pass through the circles of hell, but continues on anyway.
    Some of the things I find interesting while I'm reading are the descriptions, the wording, and the clash of themes. Dante doesn't describe things as they truly are. Instead of calling something a simple sunset he describes a hill with shoulders glowing. Also, despite this being a translation from a different language Ciardi is able to include rhyme. If Ciardi translated it word for word the rhymes wouldn't exist. The mixed themes from Catholic and pagan beliefs I think makes the story more interesting than just reading from one point of view. This read is not an easy one but I think that once the story picks up I will find myself more interested in it and hopefully have a better understanding as well.

  18. When I first found out that we were going to be reading Dante’s Inferno, the first thing I did was take a sigh of despair. I thought it was going to that I dreaded to pick up and read, but after reading the first five Cantos, I am very intrigued to see where the story is going to go from here. I know that I would have never read this book on my own free will, but I am glad that it was assigned because I am thoroughly enjoying this story. Word of mouth from a few of my friends quickly made me turn a blind eye to this book, but I am eager to read more. The moral of this, as cliché as it sounds, is too never judge a book by its cover. I was never much a fan of narrative poetry but I think this book might do the trick.

    -Cameron Evans

  19. In this book Dante's Inferno cantos I-IV Dante has strayed from his path and finds himself in dark woods, lost. He finds his way to the bottom of a hill that lit up at the top like Christmas tree lights, it looked like heaven, but first he'd have to get through hell. Dante was guided by one of his idols who died and was now in hell, Virgil. Along the way he has to fight a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf. This book intrieves me to read more and find out what happens to Dante.

    -Anna Root

  20. I have read Dante's Inferno in the past. And have heard of the other books as well; along with a good enough explanation as to where Dante's journey leads him. It is a book that definitely gets a reaction out of people; some good and some bad. Also along with a lot of shock factor. It becomes easy to forget that Dante himself is really pulling the strings as the author and in a way cheating, guiding things along and adding people in as he saw fit.
    The first five Cantos set the stage, explaining how Dante wakes up in the dark woods and finds himself lost. Well, at least until Virgil (one of Dante's idols) comes along. From there on they begin their journey through hell. Along the way Dante runs into many different people. Some of which he knows and others strangers. But each one he comes across has a great effect on him; whether it be sadness, anger, or a mixture of both with fear tagged along with it.

  21. In Dante's Inferno, Canto I-IV, Dante introduces his guide and provides us with an overall outlook on his first initial reaction to his entrance into hell. Dante sees a hill that he believed to be heaven, he then becomes lost in forest that he was forced back into. He can't remember how he got there in the first place. He then suddenly meets his guide named Virgil. His guide shows him through the different sections and levels of hell. He first enters limbo where all of the woman, infants, philosophers, and men are; where everyone is neither accepted into heaven or hell. Dante is the only one that is alive where all of the others are dead. He seems scared. I was interested in seeing how he would react to all the other levels of hell. Another thing that I found interesting was how Dante first met Beatrice when she was 9 years old and saw her for all of 2 or 3 times and fell for her. That is something that is unthought of and rare in today's day and age. The wording and feel of Dante's writing is different from what I am use to.

    - Jennifer Praticante


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