Over 200 literary terms, Shmooped to perfection.
Can you imagine reading 1,248 pages? Yeah, we didn't think so. But how about 80-ish cantos? You may not even know what a canto is, but we bet that sounds more appealing.
The term was popularized by Italian stallion Dante Alighieri who used them to chop up his Divine Comedy. But his cantos were more than just a way to divide up the text—they held some very special meaning. There were 33 cantos in each canticle (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso), plus one introductory canto in Inferno. You might know that the number 3 is pretty important in Christianity (as is 33) so you can imagine there's more to it than just breaking up a long, complex work.
Edmund Spenser was the first person to use the word in English. Edmund who, you ask? He's the one behind The Faerie Queene, all 1,248 pages of it, which he divided up with—you guessed it—cantos.