The Divine Comedy – Telling People Off Since 1321

Inferno, Cantos VIII-X

“’If they were banished,’ I responded, ‘they returned
from every quarter both the first and second time,
a skill that Yours have failed to learn as well.’”
~Dante, Inferno, Canto X

So, I have to confess, Dante’s character is thus far rather uninspiring. He’s pretty wishy-washy on his attitude toward the sinners – he sympathizes with some to the point of tears, and others he harshly shouts down. He’s awfully quick to change his mind on Virgil about the whole ‘life-altering journey’ thing (although, he is walking through hell – I suppose we can give him a little lee-way). And he faints an awful lot. Just saying.

But there was one particular snippet of Canto X that redeemed him in my eyes somewhat. As they are walking through the sixth circle of hell, Dante gets caught up in a verbal sparring match with a past resident of Florence. The two criticize one another about their lineage. The sinner brags about how his faction ran Dante’s out of Florence twice, and Dante responds with the above quote (‘Yours’ referring to the man’s faction).

My instantaneous mental response was, “OHHHHHHH!” I mean, I couldn’t believe that the vaguely wimpy Dante had so effectively told this guy. It’s a fantastic, witty quip, and one that I appreciated. Dante may be a weak, fallible mortal, but man, can he deliver a comeback.

I realize that this is completely unrelated to the larger moral and allegorical lessons that Dante the poet is trying to deliver through his poem. But this little six-line exchange is probably my favorite so far.

Perhaps it’s because, while very vivid and interesting to read, and while featuring a number of interesting characters and a fascinating concept, Inferno is kind of depressing to read. Go figure. This little section struck me as a small break from that.

It also teaches a valuable lesson: even if you’re suffering eternal torment in hell, make sure that when you stop passerby and heckle them about their family, you don’t open yourself up to get burned!

Get it? Burned?

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Published in: on September 17, 2010 at 1:10 AM  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I know I have read this (probably in college), but I do not recall a single word of it. However, it seems that you approach “difficult” literature in much the same way that I do: knowing that somewhere in there is something redeeming, something enjoyable, and hopefully, even something to laugh at . . . even with out limited 21st century minds. It’s an attitude that will serve you well in life too 🙂 Keep it up!

    • Just because a book is old and serious doesn’t mean I have to take it seriously (at least, not entirely) 😉

      It is a lot of fun to find something in an older work that still rings true all these years later. It makes me realize that people haven’t really changed all that much. They just used fancier words.


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