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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 9: Canto XI. Virgil's Lecture on Hell: A Review of Landmarks 79


CHAPTER9 Canto XI Virgil's Lecture on Hell: A Review of Landmarks In contrast to the vibrant tensions of the preceding canto, Canto XI is characterized by unity of purpose on the part of the travelers and even a sense of real comradeship. It is as if the struggle with Farinata, Virgil's admission of his limitations (the limitations of human reason), and Dante's recognition of Virgil's proper leadership has focused everyone's attention on the real goal of the journey, the salvation of the Pilgrim, rather than the gratification of various egos. Canto XI is a kind of interlude in the progress of the poem, static in terms of physical progress, but dynamic in the growth of intellectual understanding. It has few of the elements (the rebuke of demons, interaction with sinners, etc.) seen in previous cantos, as it is given almost entirely to an elaborate explanation by Virgil of the organization of Hell. As we have come to expect, the explanation contains several references to the authority of Aristotle. It resolves many of the uncertainties which the Pilgrim, and through him, the reader have found in the journey to this point and presents the plan of what is to follow. The beginning of the canto continues the motives with which the previous canto concluded: the walk into the valley, the increasing stench of the Hmore cruel pen" (XI, 3) and the open tombs of the heretics. At the tomb of Pope Anastasi us the travelers are in an area where the...

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