by Dante Alighieri
Inferno Wisdom and Knowledge Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto.Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.
And I to him: "Master, among this kind
I certainly might hope to recognize
some who have been bespattered by these crimes."
And he to me: "That thought of yours is empty:
the undiscerning life that made them filthy
now renders them unrecognizable." (Inf. VII. 49-54)
Having denied "the good of the intellect" by abusing their relationship to money, the avaricious and prodigal have not only forfeited their places in Heaven, but have also lost their identities, since their faces have been "render[ed]…unrecognizable." An intellectual sin can thus lead to compromising one’s identity, appropriate since – in Dante’s eyes – one’s mind and the way one uses it are the only things that distinguish man from animals.
[Dante to Virgil]: "Master," I asked of him, "now tell me too:
this Fortune whom you’ve touched upon just now –
what’s she, who clutches so all the world’s goods?"
And he to me: "O unenlightened creatures,
how deep – the ignorance that hampers you!
I want you to digest my word on this.
Who made the heavens and who gave them guides
was He whose wisdom transcends everything;
that every part may shine unto the other,
He had the light apportioned equally;
similarly, for worldly splendors, He
ordained a general minister and guide
to shift, from time to time, those empty goods
from nation unto nation, clan to clan,
in ways that human reason can’t prevent;
just so, one people rules, one languishes,
obeying the decision she has given,
which, like a serpent in the grass, is hidden.
Your knowledge cannot stand against her force;
for she foresees and judges and maintains
her kingdom as the other gods do theirs.
The changes that she brings are without respite:
it is necessity that makes her swift;
and for this reason, men change state so often." (Inf. VII, 67-90)
For the first time since the Hellgate, Virgil insists that Divine proceedings can exceed the grasp of human intellect. Fortune, or the seemingly random shift of wealth and fame from one nation to another, can "stand against [the] force" of man’s reason because she is God’s minister. His "wisdom," of course, "transcends everything" – even human intellect. Thus, the fact that man cannot understand or predict Fortune’s vicissitudes is natural.
[Dante]: "Within my memory is fixed – and now
moves me – your dear, your kind paternal image
when, in the world above, from time to time
you taught me how man makes himself eternal;
and while I live, my gratitude for that
must always be apparent in my words.
What you have told me of my course, I write;
I keep it with another text, for comment
by one who’ll understand, if I may reach her." (Inf. XV, 82-90)
Here, Dante shows one of his naïve intellectual fallacies. Brunetto Latini, as Dante’s tutor, "taught [him] how man makes himself eternal"; namely, that man’s name can continue into eternity only through the quality of the works he creates during his lifetime. Thus, as the only way man can gain mortality, this philosophy denies the existence of the immortal soul. It seems that this sin – not sodomy – is the sole reason Latini resides in Hell. Dante, too, by adoring and even continuing to record Latini’s words, runs the peril of falling into the same trap as Latini.