Dante's Inferno

4-5 pages

Bring your paper to the Honors Program office (Wyatt 139)

  1. Readers of Dante's Commedia often find themselves in the uncomfortable position of admiring or feeling sympathy for the condemned souls who populate Dante's Inferno.  One thinks of Francesca, Pier Delle Vigne, Brunetto Latini and Ulysses.  Some readers have even faulted Dante for encouraging this reaction.  What is your view?  Are we intended to admire the Ulysses we meet in Inferno 26?  Why has he been condemned to Hell?  What evidence is there in his speech that he has merited his eternal fate?  In what way is Ulysses a reflection of Dante himself?  What role did Virgil's Aeneid play in Dante's decision to assign one of the heroes of the Trojan War to one of the deepest rings of Hell?

  2. The quest of Dante the Pilgrim is accompanied, for a time at least, by a faithful companion.  Give an account of Dante's companion, the Roman poet Vergil.  Why does the Florentine Christian poet Dante choose the Roman pagan poet Vergil to serve as guide for Dante the Pilgrim through Hell (and most of Purgatory)?  In order to explore the meaning of Vergil for Dante, you might begin with the meeting of the two poets in the first two Cantos of the Inferno.  How does Dante greet Vergil?  How does Vergil present himself?  Select and analyze a key scene in which the character of Vergil is especially prominent.  For example, you might want to pay special attention to: Vergil approaching and re-entering Limbo (Canto 4), Vergil before the walls of Dis (Cantos 8-9), and Vergil during and immediately after the escape from the Malebranche (Canto 23).  How fully developed is Vergil as a character in this poem?  How does he interact with the persona of Dante the Pilgrim?  How vital to our experience of the Inferno is this guide?

  3. Dante challenges us to consider the underlying causes of sin rather than its superficial symptoms. As we have seen, each canto addresss a particular sin in a unique way. Write an essay on a single canto, or some part of a canto, that discusses the nature of the sin in question by analyzing elements such as topography, microclimate, physical appearance, dialogue, narrative commentary, and of course contrapasso.