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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 16: Canto XX. Fortunetelling: The Pilgrim's Triumph 151


CHAPTER 16 Canto XX Fortunetelling: The Pilgrim's Triumph The issue of foretelling the future is an important and complex one for Dante since, because his poem contains predictions, he is open to the charge of divination (fortunetelling) or of false prophecy (claiming to be a spokesman for God). While divination was not necessarily illegal, (many of the great courts had resident prognosticators, some of whom Dante places among the sinners of this bolgia) it certainly was a sin; a sin in which the diviner attempts to preempt the power of God to know the future, a power largely denied to mankind. Dante believed divinely inspired prophesy possible, but I do not think he claims that power for himself. In Canto XIX he is concerned with illegitimate prophesy, either fraudulent or misguided and with separating himself from either sort. The canto also has important lessons concerning the relationship of Christian and pagan poetry. There are many statements about the future in the Inferno. Most of them are "poetic predictions" such as those about the rule of Clement V and the Avignon captivity of the papacy in the last canto, which had, by the time the Poet put the prediction in a character's mouth, already happened. Certainly any attempt to pass predictions such as these off as real would be unsuccessful since the date of the poem's composition was well known. Clearly we are to be as aware of their symbolic and poetic nature as we are to be aware of the...

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