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.
…when I faced that restless beast,
which, even as she stalked me, step by step
had thrust me back to where the sun is speechless. (Inf. I, 58-60)
One of Dante’s more famous literary devices is "synaesthesia," in which he describes something by confusing two of our five senses together for a unique effect. Here, Dante confuses sight and sound, when he describes the sun as "speechless." Because the sun cannot speak to begin with, readers may interpret this as "dark," so that the beast makes Dante retreat into a dark area, both physically and metaphorically. Or one could read this as Dante being rendered "speechless" with fear.
When I saw him [Virgil] in that vast wilderness,
"Have pity on me," were the words I cried,
"whatever you may be – a shade, a man." (Inf. I, 64-66)
Dante’s response on spying Virgil’s ghost in the wilderness is one of instinctive fear. His actual plea, "have pity on me," in the original text forms the words "miserere di me." "Miserere" is actually Latin, not Italian, and comes from a famous psalm often sung on Ash Wednesday. In speaking Latin, Dante the pilgrim identifies himself as a steadfast Christian and, appropriately, sets himself up for recognition by Virgil, a Roman poet who was, of course, fluent in Latin. It is interesting that Dante the writer would use a liturgical Latin phrase to address a speaker of pagan Latin.
[Dante]: "And are you then that Virgil, you the fountain
that freely pours so rich a stream of speech?"
I answered him with shame upon my brow.
"O light and honor of all other poets,
may my long study and the intense love
that made me search your volume serve me now.
You are my master and my author, you –
the only one from whom my writing drew
the noble style for which I have been honored." (Inf. I, 79-87)
Dante recognizes Virgil as his artistic idol, "the only one from whom my writing drew [a] noble style." Thus, Dante acknowledges that all the epic similes, epithets, and larger-than-life characters stem from the epic tradition -- one that Virgil solidified in his epic poem, the Aeneid. Note that Dante calls Virgil "my author," as though Virgil’s poetry, or his writing style, directly informed Dante’s. Indeed, Dante acknowledges this creative debt by making constant allusions to the Aeneid.