(Hell and Purgatory) Dante's Divine Comedy FIGURE 91. Dante's Scheme of the Universe . Slightly modified from Michelangelo Caetani, duca di Sermoneta, La materia della Divina Commedia di Dante Alighieri dichiarata in Vi tavole, Monte Cassino, 1855 . (From Studies in the History and Method of Science , ed. by Charles Singer, 1917, Vol. I, Fig. 4.)
Why does Dante have the pilgrim's story begin "Midway along the journey of our life" (p. 67)?
What is the relationship between the pilgrim and Virgil?
Why is it specifically the sounds made by the damned that give the pilgrim his first impression of Hell?
Why does the pilgrim meet only eminent sinners?
Why are the damned allowed knowledge of only the past and future, but not the present?
In Canto VIII, why does the appearance of Filippo Argenti provoke an angry outburst from the pilgrim: "May you weep and wail,/ stuck here in this place forever, you damned soul" (p. 139)? Why is Virgil pleased by the pilgrim's reaction?
Why does the poet still grieve when he thinks of the three sinners who greet him in Canto XVI even though, following his journey through Hell, he is supposed to have come to appreciate the justice of God's punishments?
In light of the poet's repeated assurances to the reader of the truth of what he writes, in what sense does Dante intend us to accept Inferno (and the whole Comedy) as "true"?
After the autobiographical reference in Canto XIX to an incident in which Dante smashed a baptistery to save someone from drowning, what does Dante mean when he writes, "let this be mankind's picture of the truth" (p. 240)?
How are we meant to understand the journey of Ulysses, which he narrates in Canto XXVI, in relation to that of the pilgrim?
What does Virgil mean when he says that the pilgrim is in Hell so that "he may have full experience" (p. 326)?
Why does Dante describe the pilgrim as "deprived of life and death at once" when he finally encounters Lucifer (p. 380)?
To what extent does Dante intend us to see Inferno as a representation of this life, in addition to—or instead of—the afterlife?
If the pilgrim's journey through Hell is meant to be instructive, what is the most important thing he has learned by the end of it?
For Further Reflection
Are we more likely to be deterred from wrongdoing because of the consequences to others or the consequences to ourselves?
What is significant about the midpoint of a life? Is the significance of the concept undermined by the fact that the midpoint of a life can never be precisely determined until death?