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

Second Printing

Series:

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 4: Canto III. The River Crossing: God's Justice and Aristotelian "Place" 35

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CHAPTER4 Canto Ill The River Crossing: God's Justice and Aristotelian ,Place" The transition between Canto II and Canto Ill is abrupt and ambiguous. Dante enters "along the deep and savage way" concluding Canto II, and at the beginning of Canto Ill is confronted with the enigma of the inscription that we do not know is an inscription until he and we have finished reading it (Eiwert 1971 ). In contrast, the transition between Cantos I and II is a smooth continuation broken only by Dante's meditation on the strife of the journey and the pity and the invocation to the Muses. It is well to notice how the Poet makes these transitions since through them he unites separate cantos into groups, leaves them disjunctive from their neighbors, or in other ways arranges things in order to influence the ways in which the reader experiences Hell. Here the fragmentary and confused nature of the experi- ence which the Pilgrim (and the reader) is undergoing is both produced and symbolized by the way Dante moves from one canto to another. The words of the inscription are striking and, indeed, they are some of the most memorable in the Comedy. A good deal of medieval theology lies behind them and they foreshadow some important messages of the poem. First of all, from the first line we can see that Hell is depicted as a city (called Dis, after the similar city in Aeneid). In structure it is like a medieval Italian city with a...

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