by Dante Alighieri
Inferno Theme of Language and Communication
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.