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Quotes

Quote #10

The poet waited briefly, then said
to me: "Since he is silent, do not lose
this chance, but speak and ask what you would know."
And I: "Do you continue; ask of him
whatever you believe I should request;
I cannot, so much pity takes my heart." (Inf. XIII, 79-84)

In hearing Pier della Vigna’s story, Dante is so moved by pity (indeed, suicide is always pitiable) that he cannot speak. Instead, he requests that Virgil speak for him to the sinner. Instead of channeling his sympathy into words, Dante falls into silence – just as he did by passing out when talking to Francesca. Here is one place where language fails to capture the depth of human experience; Dante’s grief is simply too deep for words.

Quote #11

That scourged soul thought that he could hide himself
by lowering his face; it helped him little,
for I said: "You, who cast your eyes upon
the ground, if these your features are not false,
must be Venedico Caccianemico;
but what brings you to sauces so piquant?" (Inf. XVIII, 46-51)

For one of the only times in the Inferno, a sinner shows shame for his behavior. Venedico Caccianemico feels so mortified by his sin (pandering) that he tries to hide his face from Dante, to keep from being recognized. However, Dante – now more mature in his judgment – not only identifies Caccianemico, but mocks him for being submerged in "sauces so piquant," or a pool of excrement. His words demonstrate no sympathy for the sinner.

Quote #12

May God so let you, reader, gather fruit
from what you read; and now think for yourself
how I could ever keep my own face dry
when I beheld our image so nearby
and so awry that tears, down from the eyes,
bathed the buttocks, running down the cleft.
Of course I wept… (Inf. XX, 19-25)

Upon witnessing the grotesque punishment of the magicians, Dante is again moved to tears. He clearly values compassion for fellow human beings, but his apparently piteous tone reveals hints of scorn. His description of the sinners’ tears – initially designed to elicit pity – becomes ridiculous when he mentions them "running down the cleft" of the sinners’ buttocks.

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