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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 #25

O reader, do not ask of me how I
grew faint and frozen then – I cannot write it:
all words would fall far short of what it was.
I did not die, and I was not alive;
think for yourself, if you have any wit,
what I became, deprived of life and death.
The emperor of the despondent kingdom
so towered from the ice, up from midchest,
that I match better with a giant’s breadth
than giants match the measure of his arms…(Inf. XXXIV, 22-31)

Language fails Dante in the last circle of Hell; the experience of witnessing Lucifer suffering is so indescribable that Dante simply cannot articulate it. Indeed, his words illustrate their inadequacy by losing their coherence and by becoming contradictory: "I did not die, and I was not alive." All of this incoherence works to create an aura of alienation and the impression that Lucifer is something so far beyond human comprehension that language cannot hope to capture his condition. He is utterly alien.

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