by Dante Alighieri
Inferno Lies and Deceit Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto.Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.
When I had journeyed half of our life’s way,
I found myself within a shadowed forest,
for I had lost the path that does not stray.
Ah, it is hard to speak of what it was,
that savage forest, dense and difficult,
which even in recall renews my fear:
so bitter – death is hardly more severe!
But to retell the good discovered there,
I’ll also tell the other things I saw.
I cannot clearly say how I had entered
the wood; I was so full of sleep just at
the point where I abandoned the true path. (Inf. I. 1-12)
From this opening passage, one can see that the nature of sin (or "abandon[ing God’s] true path") is inherently treacherous because its path is "shadowed," "savage," "dense and difficult." As a road overcast with darkness, it limits Dante’s sight, both literally and metaphorically, making it difficult for him to ‘see’ the boundary between good and evil. Dante has already been tricked into his present predicament because he "cannot clearly say how [he] entered / the wood." Sin – deceptively innocuous at this point – has only made Dante "full of sleep," so that he cannot remember when he strayed off the straight road to God.
[Cavalcanti]: … "If it is your high intellect
that lets you journey here, through this blind prison,
where is my son? Why is he not with you?"
I answered: "My own powers have not brought me;
he who awaits me there, leads me through here
perhaps to one your Guido did disdain."
His words, the nature of his punishment –
these had already let me read his name;
therefore, my answer was so fully made.
Then suddenly erect, he cried: "What’s that:
He ‘did disdain’? He is not still alive?
The sweet light does not strike against his eyes?"
And when he noticed how I hesitated
a moment in my answer, he fell back –
supine – and did not show himself again. (Inf. X, 58-72)
For the first time, we see Dante infected by the deceit that runs rampant in Hell. He lies to Cavalcanti about his son. Whether this is a deliberate attempt to spite the sinner or a mere slip of the tongue is ambiguous. However, he does mislead Cavalcanti by "hesitat[ing] a moment" in revealing the truth. And it is significant that Dante’s lie comes in the circle of the heretics, those who deceive themselves about God’s existence and supremacy. By denying the existence of God, they deny man’s immortal soul; if a loved one dies, the heretic does not expect her to have the privilege of an afterlife. Thus, if Guido is dead and Cavalcanti does not know about it, he is either utterly gone (as the Epicureans believed) or, possibly worse, in Heaven – as far from his sinning father as possible.
Then, as if penitent for my omission,
I said, "Will you now tell that fallen man
his son is still among the living ones;
and if, a while ago, I held my tongue
before his question, let him know it was
because I had in mind the doubt you’ve answered." (Inf. X, 109-114)
Dante, unlike the sinners, repents of his lie and contritely reveals the truth. His sense of shame, readers feel, is well-deserved because he has fallen to the spiteful level of the sinners. And it takes a conversation with a so-called "noble sinner, Farinata, to bring Dante to his senses.