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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 19: Canto XXVI. Ulysses: Overreaching Presumption 193


CHAPTER 19 Canto XXVI Ulysses: Overreaching Presumption Here is Ulysses, another of the great sinners of Hell in the class of Francesca, Farinata, Brunetto Latini and Pier della Vigne. Soon we will see Guido da Montefeltro and later Ugolino who also belong to this league. All of these figures are a severe challenge to the Pilgrim and as such they represent obstacles that must be overcome in order to conquer sin. A constant element of the challenge in these cases is that we have to learn to perceive truth as it lies beneath the surface of language; for instance, we had to see past Francesca' s poetic speech to the lust under it; we had to detect Farinata's rage, Brunetto's indirection and Pier's servile self-pity. There is a comparable issue here and we are alerted to expect it by the fact that Ulysses is bound in Hell to another figure, Diomedes, who does not speak. Most of the figures who thus confront our understanding are found in Hell bound to other souls who are silent or secondary in some way: Francesca to Paolo, Farinata to Cavalcante, Brunetto to his group of the unnatural. Pier della Vigne is alone, but he speaks of a time when he will be "with" his body, though separate from it. The history of the criticism of Canto XXVI is similar to the history of the other cantos in the group. Earlier critics tended to see these sinners as sympathetic and, in the most romantic cases,...

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