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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 11: Canto XIII. Pier della Vigne: The Sin of Despair 97


CHAPTER 11 Canto XIII Pier della Vigne: The Sin of Despair Like the Canto of lust, Canto XIII is much analyzed and written about. My view is that critics are attracted to it not only because suicide is a touching subject, but because, to some degree, they all recognize the canto's structural relationship to Canto V, which, as I have already suggest- ed, is central in establishing some of the formal orderings of the entire canticle. With Canto X, Farinata and the heretics, XIII joins with V as elements in one of the major architectural supports of the poem. The canto of Pier della Vigne repeats variations of many of the motives established in Canto V. As in V, part of its subject matter is the use and misuse of language. Remember that Francesca spoke beautifully in the language of the dolce stil nuove, (the sweet new style), that is courtly love, and that her speech was desperately misleading. Courtly love and its elevated language is, of course, a subject important to Dante's own story as are the issues of faithfulness and adultery which Francesca' s story raises. In the case of Pier's narration (54-78), we have another example of elevated speech. This time the style is that of Ciceronian rhetoric. Rhetoric is a subject already mentioned in this analysis since the place memory system is an element in the whole rhetorical process. The style of rhetoric utilized by Pier is the language of the courts, of diplomatic missions and...

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