In The Inferno - Dante’s Immortal Drama of a Journey Through Hell, Dante allows the reader to experience his every move. His mastery of language, his sensitivity to the sights and sounds of nature, and his infinite store of knowledge allow him to capture and draw the reader into the realm of the terrestrial hell. In Canto 6, the Gluttons; Canto 13, the Violent Against Themselves; and Canto 23, the Hypocrites; Dante excels in his detailed portrayal of the supernatural world of hell. In each canto, Dante combines his mastery of language with his sensitivity to the sights and sounds of nature to set the stage. He then reinforces the image with examples that call upon his infinite store of knowledge, and thus draw a parallel that describes the experience in a further, although more subliminal, detail to the reader.
Through his mastery of language, Dante allows the reader to see what he sees, to hear what he hears, and to feel what he feels, and thus experience his sensitivity to the sights and sounds of nature. In Canto 6, Dante introduces the vicious monster, Cerberus and details his grotesque features to the reader. He states, “His eyes are red, his beard is greased with phlegm, / his belly is swollen, and his hands are claws / to rip the wretches and flay and mangle them” (66). This quote vividly depicts the man-beast Cerberus that Dante encountered, and allows the reader to feel present in the scene with Dante. He further emphasizes the sights and sounds to portray the hellish environment when he states “Huge hailstones, dirty water, and black snow/ pour from the dismal air to putrefy/ the putrid slush that waits for them below” (66). This example is one of many that illustrate Dante’s ability to exhibit the sights that he encounters. Dante adds another dimension by providing the ability for the reader to hear the sounds present in Circle III of Hell. An example of this is when he states “and they (the victims), too, howl like dogs in the freezing storm” (66). Furthermore Dante greatly describes how the victims are feeling about their whole situation with the statement “I lie here rotting like a swollen log” (67). This quote helps the reader to not only understand how the victims of gluttony are feeling, but also to picture them laying in the sodden mush of garbage. The picture is almost complete. Dante uses his infinite store of knowledge of Greek mythology, the history of his life, and knowledge of the intricacies of the small town of Florence to complete the picture of the Gluttons. Dante displays his arsenal of knowledge by selecting Cerberus to stand guard over the gluttons. Cerberus is a three-headed man-beast from Greek mythology. His three heads, and obvious yet subliminal ability to indulge, mock the victims. At this point Dante transitions from subliminal messages to overt statements. His knowledge of the history of the society is evident when he asks of Ciacco “Farinata and Tegghiaio, men of good blood, / Jacopo Rusticucci, Arrigo, Mosca, / and the other who set their hearts on doing good-/ where are they now whose high deeds might be-gem / the crown of kings?” (68). Had Dante not been so well versed he would not have been able to reference specific names. To further this theme, Dante expresses knowledge of Florence, his hometown. He states through the words of Ciacco “O you who are led this journey through the shade / of hell’s abyss, do you recall this face?” (67) This quote proves Dante’s knowledge of Florence - Ciacco would not have questioned if Florence were not such a small town. He is aware that Florence is so small that it would be hard to live there and not know, or at least recognize, the other members of the society. By the conclusion of Canto 6 Dante provided the reader a complete understanding and visualization of his experiences. The reader enters Canto 13 prepared for a...
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