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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 12: Canto XIV. Capaneus: Blasphemy and the Fall of Man 107

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CHAPTER 12 Canto XIV Capaneus: Blasphemy and the Fall of Man This canto contains two obviously difficult problems: the problem of the river which cuts across the burning plain (uThe most notable thing seen in Hell so far," says Virgil.), and the problem of the interpretation of the figure of the gran veglio, the uOid Man," which Virgil's explanation (XIV, 94-120) places inside Mt. Ida on Crete. What is the relevance of the Old Man here? In his poem, Dante has taught us to look for unity and so therefore we look for a connection between the figure and other things in the poem. Why, we also must ask, is this river so special? Can it really be more marvelous than anything so far seen? That the figure of the Old Man allows Virgil to complete the description of the river system of Hell is indeed useful, but the careful detail of the figure leads readers to suspect that there is much more than that. The river is useful too, in that in the next canto the travelers are able to walk along it protected from the falling flames, but again we expect more. I think we should begin with Capaneus, the only sinner with whom the travelers interact (although we are told there are others experiencing differing degrees of pain) and through his sin and the contrapasso, come to the Old Man and the river. Capaneus's sin is among the most easily understood in the entire Inferno. He blasphemes...

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