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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 18: Cantos XXIII-XXV. Hypocrisy and Theft: St. Thomas and the Interrelations of Sins 173


CHAPTER 18 Cantos XXIII-XXV Hypocrisy and Theft: St. Thomas and the Interrelations of Sins Virgil's slide brings us abruptly to the hypocrites and the tone of the poem abruptly becomes serious once again. With the grafters we have reached a point where we can begin to understand one of the great questions which the poem raises. We are now among the fraudulent, specifically those who, according to Virgil, committed fraud against those who had no special reason to hold the sinner in confidence and therefore broke "only the bond of love which nature makes" (XI, 56). Virgil's catalog in Canto XI mentions specifically hypocrisy, flattery, sorcery, lying, theft, simony, pandering, graft and in general terms "like filth" (XI, 60). The question raised here is simply what principle dictates this particular arrangement, why these sins and not others? What is meant by the category of "like filth?" Further, what is the nature of the sin of Ulysses and Guido da Montefeltro in Cantos XXVI and XXVII, fraudulent counsel, which is not mentioned at all by Virgil? On a deeper level all this refers to the real and constant question of the poem which is what is it that Dante is teaching us, on what are we to reflect? One thing that we do know now is that Virgil's catalog in Canto XI is only a summary and general ordering and we cannot expect it to guide us to the moral meaning of the poem. Many critics (notably Markulin 1982) have recognized...

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