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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 17: Cantos XXI-XXII. The Grafters: Humor in Hell 165


CHAPTER 17 Cantos XXI-XXIII The Grafters: Humor in Hell Two themes strongly addressed in the last several cantos are also important elements of Canto XXI-XXIII. These are the issues of the vindication of the Pilgrim from his purported sins (divination in the last canto, barratry here) and the by now thematic issue of the Pilgrim's relationship to his mentor, Virgil. Dante was exiled from Florence accused of corruption in office and takes the opportunity, in the place where that sin is punished, to proclaim his innocence. On the older theme, Dante continues to delicately indicate the fallibility of his model while at the same time preserving the sense of respectful admiration and indebtedness with which the relationship began. Cantos XXI-XXIII contain the longest sustained episode in the entire Inferno. The narration of the adventurers' doings with the military demons lasts for 34 7 lines or two and one-half cantos. Even then the subject is not really put to rest until the very end of Canto XXIII. For many commentators the first striking characteristic of the episode is the barbarity of the language, the cruelty and coarseness foreshadowing the thoroughly debased speech of the still more bestial damned to come. One has only to remember the courtly speech of Francesca or Pier della Vigne to understand much of Dante's point about the hierarchical nature of sin. Yet even so, maybe because of the self- conscious crudeness, the reader cannot help but recognize this episode for the burlesque it is. As the...

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