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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 #22

[Ugolino]: "…I heard them nailing up the door
of that appalling tower; without a word,
I looked into the faces of my sons.
I did not weep; within, I turned to stone.
They wept; and my poor little Anselm said:
‘Father, you look so…What is wrong with you?’
At that I shed no tears and – all day long
and through the night that followed – did not answer
until another sun had touched the world.
As soon as a thin ray had made its way
into that sorry prison, and I saw,
reflected in four faces, my own gaze,
out of my grief, I bit at both my hands;
and they, who thought I’d done that out of hunger,
immediately rose and told me: ‘Father,
it would be far less painful for us if
you ate of us; for you clothed us in this
sad flesh – it is for you to strip it off.’
Then I grew calm, to keep them from more sadness;
through that day and the next, we all were silent;
O hard earth, why did you not open up?
But after we had reached the fourth day, Gaddo,
throwing himself, outstretched, down at my feet
implored me: ‘Father, why do you not help me?’
And there he died; and just as you see me,
I saw the other three fall one by one
between the fifth day and the sixth; at which,
now blind, I started groping over each;
and after they were dead, I called them for
two days; then fasting had more force than grief."(Inf. XXXIII, 46-75)

If silence was good for Guido da Montefeltro, it is the opposite for Ugolino. In remaining silent and refusing to offer verbal comfort to his dying children, Ugolino just as surely kills them as Archbishop Ruggieri. Here, language is compared to food and Ugolino withholds it from his children, just as Ruggieri denies them food. Ugolino’s son, Anselm, in offering his body for his father’s consumption, perverts the idea of the Eucharist, the ritual in which believers consume the body of Christ to become pure.

Quote #23

[Fra Alberigo]: … "O souls who are so cruel
that this last place has been assigned to you,
take off the hard veils from my face so that
I can release the suffering that fills
my heart before lament freezes again."
To which I answered: "If you’d have me help you,
then tell me who you are, if I don’t free you,
may I go to the bottom of the ice." (Inf. XXXIII, 110-117)

In response to Fra Alberigo’s plea, Dante makes a promise to relieve his suffering in exchange for a favor. This is a serious promise, for Dante damns himself to Hell if he does not follow through.

Quote #24

[Fra Alberigo to Dante]: "But now reach out your hand; open my eyes."
And yet I did not open them for him;
and it was courtesy to show him rudeness. (Inf. XXXIII, 148-150)

After Fra Alberigo has fulfilled his part of the bargain, Dante breaks his promise, committing a linguistic sin and -- compounding his crime -- insincerely transfiguring his words by calling the "rudeness" of lying a "courtesy." That Virgil does not reprimand Dante for this suggests that perhaps sinning against a sinner is justified in God’s eyes, but doubts about Dante’s character are planted in readers’ minds.

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