Inferno Theme of Language and Communication
Language is king in Inferno... so it sucks even more to be punished by, say, having to blow bubbles of mud for all eternity. A product of the rational mind, language is considered by Dante to be a medium shared by all men that serves to unite them. As a uniquely human attribute, language—like man—is never defined as inherently good or inherently evil. Indeed, its moral standing is determined by the way in which it is used. Readers are never shown a definitively correct and moral speech.
Questions About Language and Communication
- Why is Hell full of wordless cries and lamentations? What does this suggest about the sinners’ humanity?
- What does one’s language reveal about one’s identity? Consider Dante’s Tuscan accent and Virgil’s "persuasive word."
- When and why does Virgil’s "persuasive word" break down? What kind of words solves the problem that Virgil’s can’t? What negative aspects of Virgil’s character do his words point to?
- What happened to Nimrod’s and Lucifer’s language? How is this a fitting punishment for their crimes of pride?
Chew on This
The breakdown of Virgil’s "persuasive word" affects his language in the ensuing cantos and results in a marked lessening of his pride.
Although one’s idiosyncratic way of speaking can illustrate regional pride, for Dante and the sinners, individualized speech is a cause for shame.