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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 6: Canto V. Francesca: The Sin of Love and the Pilgrim's Failure 47


CHAPTERS Canto V Francesca: The Sin of Love and the Pilgrim's Failure Canto V of Inferno is one of the very most important cantos of the entire Divine Comedy. It has at least four functions: First, the story of Paolo and Francesca continues the problem of the strife of the pity which began with the question of Virgil's fate earlier in the poem. It is typical of Dante to put important issues in both a pagan (that is Virgil) and a Christian (Francesca) frame. The device both appeals to the medieval sense of com- pleteness (related to plenitude) and emphasizes Dante's theory of history which mandates the necessary existence of both the Christian era and its pagan past. Second, the canto raises two new motives (issues which will occur again in the poem). One is the entire question of the corruption of language and its contribution to human sinfulness and misery. Dante was critically aware of the destructive potential that exists in the misuse of language and raises the issue several times in Inferno. Each time he does so there is some sort of reference that refers the reader's memory back to Francesca's narration. The other is the issue of figures who, in a sense, can be thought of as enemies of God's plan of history, people who either act against the Children of God, the Hebrews, or Christ or who can be seen as opponents of the Roman Empire or the Trojans whom the Romans consid- ered to be...

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