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Themes

Dante considers the quality of compassion, defined as having pity for another man’s suffering, an essential human trait. Sometimes Dante’s compassion for the sinners’ plights reaches such a depth that Dante himself seems to suffer or empathize with them. Compassion in the Inferno often comes across as weakness and improper sympathy for an evildoer. But it is one of Dante’s most effective ways of creating a connection with the reader, appealing to his or her sense of pathos and ideas about human decency. In Hell, however, compassion can indeed mislead men into wrongly sympathizing with true villains. As the protagonist’s journey continues, he learns to harden his heart and to distinguish between various levels of sin.

Questions About Compassion and Forgiveness

  1. Is Dante an overly compassionate character?
  2. How does the portrayal of the "noble sinners" (like Francesca, Pier della Vigna, Brunetto Latini, and Ulysses) encourage readers to sympathize with them? What is the danger in doing so?
  3. How is the Harrowing of Hell an example of Christ’s compassion? Is it just?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Throughout the Inferno, Dante’s compassionate character renders him vulnerable to the sins surrounding him.

Although the alleged "noble sinners" initially arouse Dante’s sympathy, he grows less and less sympathetic as his journey continues.

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