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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 3: Canto II. The Journey Begins: The Plan of History 21


CHAPTER3 Canto II The Journey Begins: The Plan of History A few lines from the beginning of Canto II, the Poet invokes the Muses. The muses are Greek goddesses, patronesses of the arts and symbols of poetic inspiration and creative power. An obvious question is why Dante, the most Christian of poets, begins his most Christian of poems with a prayer to pagan deities? One part of the answer is a further homage to Virgil who includes several such invocations in the Aeneid, notably in VI, 264-67, where he asks for aid in telling of his hero Aeneas's own trip to the underworld: Ye gods, who hold the domain of spirits! Ye voiceless shades! Thou, Chaos, and thou, Phlegethon, ye broad, silent tracts of night! Suffer me to tell what I have heard; suffer me of your grace to unfold secrets buried in the depths and darkness of the earth! Dante says, in the Letter to Can Grande, that Canto II is the true beginning of the poem and that Canto I is introductory in nature. Therefore, the invocation goes here. That the forces that are invoked are pagan rather than Christian is due to his view of history as a plan in the mind of God (Davis 1975). The Muses, false Goddesses though they may be, do not lack a positive value and a place in the plan since God's history, being the product of perfection, does not have faults or dead ends. Therefore, it is proper for Dante...

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