Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy: The Inferno by Carol Forman

By Carol Forman

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Extra resources for Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy: The Inferno

Example text

Before they even step off the rocks, Dante and Virgil are challenged by the guardians of the river, the centaurs, who are half horse and half man. The centaur Chiron, the legendary tutor of such Greek heroes as Achilles and Theseus, speaks to the poets and asks if, indeed, Dante is still living. Chiron employs Nessus, the centaur who fell in love with Hercules’ wife and tricked her into poisoning Hercules, to carry Virgil and Dante across the river. Virgil points out to Dante that the river is not of the same depth all around.

The sights and sounds of confusion, disharmony, and lack of dignity and distinction astound him. He begs Virgil to identify these wretched souls who run, tormented by swarms of hornets and wasps. Virgil tells Dante that these are the souls of the Opportunists, those who, on earth, could not take a stand on any issue. Here, too, are the angels who did not fight with either Michael (God’s general) or with Lucifer (the rebel Satan) in the battle of Heaven. Hell does not want to claim these souls or to confuse them with those who made a choice, even if it was the wrong choice.

Virgil is Dante’s teacher and guide, a provider of light. The Fallen Angels, in their attempts to separate Virgil and Dante, are deniers of light, if you will. They represent the loss of reason that is part of the will to sin. Had the Fallen Angels been successful in separating Virgil and Dante, this would have been the end of the guidance of reason, and Dante, literally and figuratively, would have been lost. Virgil’s faltering in this situation suggests that humanism alone, represented by Virgil, often underestimates the power of evil and is confused by the will to evil.

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