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A Modern Reader's Guide to Dante's «Inferno»

Second Printing


Rodney J. Payton

This book is a thorough introduction to the Inferno for today's reader. It is based on Professor Payton's many years of reading Dante's masterpiece with university undergraduates and upon the work of the very best modern critics. The Guide can be used alone as a critical aid or as a reference work for further research.


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Chapter 1: Introduction 1


CHAPTER 1 Introduction Dante Alighieri' s Comedy is a poem of great length and stupendous complexity. The key to unraveling it is an understanding of some concepts which are characteristic of the culture in which it was written and some which are central features of the mind of Dante himself. These introductory comments will describe these important features of thought in order to prepare for an intelligent reading of the poem. Although the idea of describing a mind such as Dante's, one of the authentic geniuses of history, is a daunting and perplexing task, it is a surprisingly grateful undertaking, at least in its broader strokes, since the mind of Dante is so gratifyingly logical. The simple basic ideas we have to grasp lead to some breathtakingly complex constructs in the poem, but the ideas themselves are not complex and remain stable reference points to which we can always refer. Of course, to say that Dante's thinking is logical is not to imply that his logic is the same as that of the Twentieth Century, rather it only means that if we understand the premises with which Dante begins, we can understand how he reaches his conclusions even if we cannot always agree with them. A preliminary concept which we must address is so basic that some may wonder at the necessity of mentioning it at all: It is simply that Dante's age was, more than anything else, a religious age. Dante and almost all of the people he knew...

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