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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 15: Cantos XVIII-XIX. Fraud: Virgil's Limitations and the Corruption of the Church 139


CHAPTER 15 Canto XVIII and XIX Fraud: Virgil's Limitations and the Corruption of the Church "There is a place in Hell called Malebolge (XVIII, 1 )." Thus the blunt opening to the first of the cantos of fraud. The opening to XIX is equally abrupt, ·o Simon Magus! 0 you his wretched followers." The opening of Canto XX is especially singular, numbering the canto and spelling out the Poet's task, "Of new punishment I must make verses, and give matter to the twentieth canto of the first canzone, which is of the submerged. H Some commentators find this last so strange that they prefer to attribute it to another hand than Dante's. However, the fact that it is clearly a statement of the Poet (rather than the Pilgrim) makes it consistent with the introits of the several surrounding cantos. Now the Poet voice is beginning to emerge in a crescendo of virtuosity and presence which will culminate in his apparent domination of Virgil and ancient poetry in general. We become more and more aware of the poet behind the narration who strongly contrasts with the lost and ignorant soul of Canto I who could not tell what the wood was (1, 4-5). The growth and strength of the Poet will continue to the end of the poem, but it will not be without setbacks. Malebolge, where Geryon has dropped the Pilgrims in XVIII, is described as a series of ten concentric circles bridged by rock formations, •crags• (16), which seem to...

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