In the Inferno, sinners in Hell are totally preoccupied with achieving fame and commemoration among the living. The question of how a man is remembered after his death is a topic of serious discussion. The logic goes that if one’s memory fades or is forgotten amongst the living, one truly dies (maybe even from Hell).
Despite their crimes—or because of them?—the sinners are willing to exchange virtually anything for the protagonist’s agreement to carry news of their good names back to the living. Like every creature, man fears death, even after his body has expired.
Questions About Respect and Reputation
Consider Beatrice’s summoning of Virgil. How is his reputation at stake in fulfilling her request and helping Dante?
Why are the sinners so preoccupied with glorifying their names in the world above when they are already dead? How is memory a form of living? What might be at stake for them if they are permanently forgotten?
What does Virgil claim is necessary to gain fame in the world? How does this make him sound like Brunetto Latini? What moral implications does this have?
Chew on This
The sinners’ obsession in speaking to Dante can be explained by their desire to inflate or rescue their reputations in the world above; for them, memory is their last hope of living freely.
By falsely promising to honor the sinners’ names, Dante does indeed sin, but such behavior is condoned because God sanctions it.