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.
And he [Venedico Caccianemico] to me: "I speak unwillingly;
but your plain speech, that brings the memory
of the old world to me, is what compels me;
For it was I who led Ghisolabella
to do as the Marquis would have her do –
however they retell that filthy tale."(Inf. XVIII, 52-57)
Caccianemico’s description of Dante’s words as "plain speech" contrasts sharply with Virgil’s style, an elevated "persuasive word." However, Dante’s "plain speech" seems to have as powerful (if not more so) an effect on sinners as Virgil’s words; indeed, it even compels Caccianemico to confess to his sin. Such a response suggests that a "plain," minimal, and direct speech might yield better results than Virgil’s lofty tone and fancy metaphors.
[A demon]: "Shove this one under – I’ll go back for more –
his city is well furnished with such stores;
there, everyone’s a grafter but Bonturo;
and there – for cash – they’ll change a no to yes."(Inf. XXI, 39-42)
The ease with which grafters "change a no to a yes" reveals the vulnerability of language to insincerity. Unlike physical matter, one’s words can be changed instantaneously. This mutability of language suggests that both Virgil and Dante may be wrong in putting so much stock in the way they speak and write.
When he [Vanni Fucci] had finished with his words, the thief
raised high his fists with both figs cocked and cried:
"Take that, o God; I square them off for you!"
From that time on, those serpents were my friends,
for one of them coiled then around his neck,
as if to say, "I’ll have you speak no more"… (Inf. XXV, 1-6)
Vanni Fucci’s words are so offensive to God in this passage that his punishers, the serpents, take on more human characteristics than he does. The snakes are suddenly gifted with language and reasoning power, reprimanding Fucci for his crime against God. This is similar to the role that the Centaurs play in the Seventh Circle of the violent, where the sinners are depicted as speechless. They howl like beasts, while the more animalistic creatures – Centaurs – can speak articulately, reason, and even show mercy.