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Question: ​​​​​​​DANTE’S INFERNO, CANTO 26

06 Dec 2023,6:21 PM


1/Dante' Biography:

The above link provides with foundational biographical information on Dante who is your next subject and reading assignment due November 21. From this reading it should become clear: Who is the poet? WHEN and WHERE did he live? Which are the main characteristics of his time period (The Middle Ages) in comparison to Homer's time you have just read about? In which language is his work written?

The following video will provide you with additional information and perspectives on the author’s life and historical period.

2/Dante's Inferno

Inferno is the first part of the poet's well-known trilogy Divine Comedy, one of the foundational texts of the European literary imagination that came after Homer. Inferno consists of 33 chapters, or CANTOS, as Dante calls them. From Inferno  you are only reading Canto 26 (XXIV). In 26, Odysseus reappears, and that's what you should be paying attention to. Select and read Canto 26 (XXVI) here:


3/Inferno's Nine Circles of Hell

In this link you will find explanations and drawings about the mental geography of Dante's Inferno which is divided in 9 circles.



Dante (1265-1321) is perhaps the most important literary figure of the Italian Middle Ages. As already discussed in class, part of your task is to look up the Middle Ages (5th century AD – 15 century AD) and underscore some of the characteristics of this long historical time period that lasted over a millennium and had an everlasting effect on society, culture and art. The Middle Ages rose from the ashes of the ancient world whose traditions, ideals and pagan religions were overshadowed and undermined by the emerging intolerant monotheistic establishment and the prevalence of Christianity as the official state religion of the Roman Empire since 380AD.


Some of the most important aspects of Dante’s works discussed in the notes and videos posted here today, among others, you should be paying attention are:


1/How Dante’s poetry reflects the spirit of the Middle Ages.


2/The influence of Homer and epic poetry on Dante.


3/The religious and ideological differences between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines in

    Dante’s Florence and how this division formed Dante’s life and informed his work.


4/The experience of exile and its impact on Dante’s life and work.


5/The overall structure of the Divine Comedy and Dante’s choice to use the Italian epic poet Virgil as a guide in the Underworld. Who is Virgil, when did he live and why did Dante choose him as a guide? All this is explained in your notes, as well as in this short video -make sure you keep notes:


6/Dante is among the very first poets to write in the vernacular (common language) addressing thus common people as opposed to exclusively writing for the elite and the educated class. He is writing in Italian.


7/The entire Divine Comedy  follows the journey of a lost traveler back to his ultimate homeland. In the medieval, Christian notion of Dante’s time, that homeland is not Ithaca, but Heaven.


8/The depiction of the Underworld in Dante’s Inferno. We read about the Underworld in a different context, in chapter 11 of the Odyssey where Odysseus goes under connecting with the dead and searching for divination and knowledge. Dante’s approach is inspired by Homer’s Underworld, but at the same time brings in a whole new perspective of death, repentance and redemption in the Christian era.


9/The structure and layout of Inferno  and its division into 9 circles (see related video below and 2 images on the next 2 pages, as well as the link with analytical information and explanatory images pasted above ):


Make sure you are able to define each word corresponding with each Inferno circle all the way from limbo to treachery. Also, be aware to which of the above circles Dante has placed Ulysses and why?


10/What is Ulysses doing in Dante’s Hell and what is his sin that justifies his presence in Inferno? Who is Ulysses’ companion in Inferno? In which circle do we find them? What does Ulysses have to confess about his life to Dante? What is the difference in tone and context between Homer’s Odysseus and Dante’s Ulysses?


Finally, how does Ulysses’ confession in a way anticipates the excitement, anxiety and limitations of the modern traveler we read in Cavafy, Whitman, Walcott and Baudelaire? Does Dante’s Ulysses connect with modern poetry’s depiction of modern man as an ever striving adventurer and explorer in a sea of history that mirrors modernity’s ambition for quest and discovery?


Once you have read Canto 26 and have drawn some personal conclusions watch the video below for additional information.

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