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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 5: Canto IV. Limbo: The Strife of the Pity and Dante's Bibliography 41


CHAPTER 5 Canto IV Limbo: The Strife of the Pity and Dante's Bibliography The transition from Canto Ill is made when Dante suddenly awakes from his swoon. Dante twice faints during the first part of the Inferno, both times at moments of great intensity of feeling as here when he is startled by the sounds and strange sights of Hell. As his faint is violent, so is his awakening which is caused by a great thunderclap. On the literal level, the swoon serves to get the reader from one location, the ferry crossing over Acheron, to another, Limbo. One should always look for the allegory, however, and here it seems that Dante faints when he is not strong enough for that which he faces. Later, confronted by greater horrors and suffering, the Pilgrim does not faint and the fact that he does not do so should be taken as a sign of his increasing strength in the face of sin. In this case, we can see that the period of unconsciousness has done the Pilgrim good since, as he says, his eyes are rested (4). Again, the allegory is important as eyes are the organ of sense related to light, which signifies reason and knowl- edge. These are the two characteristics Dante's trip through Hell is intended to strengthen. His reason and analytic abilities restored, Dante is ready to face the next obstacle, but looking down, is unable to make out anything; a sign, presumably, that he is still very...

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