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by Dante Alighieri

Inferno Language and Communication Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto.Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.

Quote #10

[The Heavenly messenger]: "O you cast out of Heaven, hated crowd,"
were his first words upon that horrid threshold,
"why do you harbor this presumptuousness?
Why are you so reluctant to endure
that Will whose aim can never be cut short,
and which so often added to your hurts?
What good is it to thrust against the fates?"...
After that he turned and took the filthy road,
and did not speak to us, but had the look
of one who is obsessed by other cares
than those that press and gnaw at those before him;
and we moved forward, on into the city,
in safety, having heard his holy words. (Inf. IX, 91-105)

The heavenly messenger offers an alternative to Virgil’s "persuasive word," offering instead "holy words." And unlike Virgil’s speeches, the heavenly messenger’s is very short and direct. Readers begin to suspect that the "holy word" surpasses Virgil’s style in its effectiveness.

Quote #11

[Farinata]: "O Tuscan, you who pass alive across
the fiery city with such seemly words,
be kind enough to stay your journey here.
Your accent makes it clear that you belong
among the natives of the noble city
I may have dealt with too vindictively." (Inf. X, 22-27)

One’s speech becomes an important factor of one’s identity. Dante, as a Florentine, apparently speaks with a Florentine (or Tuscan) accent. When someone recognizes him as a Florentine, this immediately conjures up in his mind a number of stereotypes linked to Florence, both good and bad.

Quote #12

Faced with that truth which seems a lie, a man
should always close his lips as long as he can –
to tell it shames him, even though he’s blameless;
But here I can’t be still; and by the lines
of this my Comedy, reader, I swear –
and may my verse find favor for long years –
that through the dense and darkened air I saw
a figure swimming, rising up, enough
to bring amazement to the firmest heart,
like one returning from the waves where he
went down to loose an anchor snagged upon
a reef or something else hid in the sea,
who stretches upward and draws in his feet. (Inf. XVI, 124-136)

Dante points out a number of inadequacies in language. At the first sight of Geryon, Dante is struck dumb. For one of the first times in the Inferno, his vocabulary lacks words to describe what he beholds. In trying to describe Geryon, Dante says his best option is to "close his lips as long as he can." Later, in comparing Geryon to a diver, Dante commits a linguistic sin. He tries to affirm the veracity of his statement by swearing on his own work. As a process, swearing or taking an oath cannot function properly if one swears on one’s own words; this demonstrates circular reasoning. By doing this, Dante shows either his arrogance or a breakdown of reasoning at beholding a sight as wondrous as Geryon.

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