Study Guide

Inferno Time

By Dante Alighieri

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In Inferno, Hell is all about stasis, or an unchanging permanent state, on a number of levels. First, the very structure of Hell—a series of concentric circles—gives an impression of inescapability, since circles have no ends or edges and one can only continue tracing their arcs in a futile attempt to find a way out.

Secondly, sinners cling to their sinister ways and refuse to repent. In their refusal to change, they condemn themselves to an unending stream of punishment. When the protagonist finally does escape Hell and emerges on earth’s surface, the position of the sun in the sky seems not to have changed at all... giving the impression that no time has passed since he went to Hell and back.

Questions About Time

  1. How does Hell’s structure defeat movement and promote stasis?
  2. How do the sinners experience time? Is there any sense in which they change or develop?
  3. How is Dante’s experience of Hell affected by the sinners’ experience of time? Are there moments when it is difficult for him to make forward progress?
  4. Why is it significant that the sun is in the same position when Dante escapes from Hell as when he entered it?

Chew on This

As the levels of Hell deepen, the sinners within each successive circle become more entrapped and more immobilized; in a parallel vein, it becomes increasingly difficult for Dante to move forward through the Hell.

At the boundary between each circle, Dante experiences a period of paralysis, suggesting that Hell discourages movement and enforces stasis on its prisoners.

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