Ney 3 - 1 A Reflective Journey: The Inferno Rebecca Ney...

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A Reflective Journey: The Inferno Rebecca Ney IECS 140a March 26, 2009 Dante’s Inferno explores the nature of sin in Dante’s descent through hell. His journey as a whole represents the human quest for eternal salvation. As a penitent and a pilgrim, Dante addresses his sins and vices by learning from the sinners, such as Virgil, Farinata, Brunetto, and Ulysses. Dante assumes the role of Christ the Judge as his interactions are in the form of confessions during the Last Judgement. With each interaction, Dante shares a common ground with the sinner that enables him to relate to them: Farinata shares Dante’s passion for Florentine politics, Brunetto shares his desire for literary acclaim, Ulysses shares his intellect, and Virgil shares his epic legacy. From these commonalities, Dante sees his own flaws reflected in the sins of these characters: family and local politics consumed Farinata, personal reputation concerned Brunetto, personal desire for knowledge motivated Ulysses, and pagan beliefs dominated Virgil. Through these, Dante learns to see beyond the sinners’ self-contained, earthly lives to have faith in God and the universal bonds of humanity. Dante’s interactions reflect aspects about himself that he must change once in Purgatory as part of the process of self- perfection for eternal salvation in Paradise. In Canto 1, Dante strays from the correct path, and Virgil, the classical epic poet, rescues him from the approaching beasts. Virgil is the personification of reason, yet reason, as Dante learns, can only take the two of them so far in their travels throughout hell. On a literary basis, Dante sees his future as part of Virgil’s epic legacy. Homer, Horace, Ovid and Lucan further this belief when they invite him to join their group in the first canto. In recognition of this, Dante says to Virgil, his mentor both as a writer and a guide, “you are my master and my author, you alone are he from whom I have taken the pleasing style that has won me honor” ( Inf. 1.85-87). 1
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Dante’s future as a renowned poet is reflected in Virgil’s identity as a Roman author living through and depicting historical moments. While they share this connection, Dante sees Virgil’s paganism as a flaw reflected in his own moments of doubt. As a pagan, Virgil is located within Limbo because he lived before Christ’s death and therefore did not believe in God; Virgil is faithless and values reason above all else. Virgil’s role as a teacher and a guide awakens the idea of faith within Dante upon saving him early in canto 1 and continuing to protect him throughout hell. Virgil, however, is unable to travel with such ease, for example, when he is unsure of the way to enter Dis. On the other hand, Dante’s growing faith enables him to move throughout all levels of hell as a living being and to ultimately leave hell for Purgatory. Virgil’s enlightening and instructive role brings Dante to the point of taking on a
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Ney 3 - 1 A Reflective Journey: The Inferno Rebecca Ney...

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