Dantes Canto XXVIII

December 29, 2018 History

Dante’s Canto XXVIII Dante begins the opening of Canto XXVIII with a rhetorical question. Virgil and he have just arrived in the Ninth Abyss of the Eighth Circle of hell. In this pouch the Sowers of Discord and Schism are continually wounded by a demon with a sword. Dante poses a question to the reader:Who, even with untrammeled words and many attempts at telling, ever could recount in full the blood and wounds that I now saw? (Lines 1-3) The rhetorical question draws the reader into the passage because we know by this point in the Divine Comedy that Dante is a great poet. What is it that Dante sees before him on the brink of the Ninth Abyss that is so ineffable that he, as a poet, feels he cannot handle? In the following lines Dante expands on this rhetorical position. He elaborates on why it is important for any man to offer a good description of what he sees. No poet can achieve this description: ?Each tongue that tried would certainly fall short…? (L. 4) It is not just poetic talent that is at stake; poets do not have the background to give them the poetic power for such description. His reasoning is “the shallowness of both our speech and intellect cannot contain so much.” (Lines 5-6) Once again the reader is intrigued; how could a man of Dante’s stature criticize language which is the very tool he uses to create the epic work of La Commedia ? If we cannot take Dante seriously with these opening statements, we must pose the question of what Dante is trying to do by teasing us with this artificial beginning to Canto XVIII?Dante will now contradict himself and try to describe what he says is impossible. But, if he were to go right into a description of the Ninth Abyss, it would deflate his rhetorical position. Instead, Dante first sets up a quite lengthy comparison of the sights he has just witnessed with examples of bloodshed throughout human history. Were you to reassemble all the menwho once, within Apulia1’s fateful land, had mourned their blood, shed at the Trojans’ hands, as well as those who fell in the long warwhere massive mounds of rings were battle spoils–even as Livy write, who does not err– and those who felt the thrust of painful blows when they fought hard against Robert Guiscard;with all the rest whose bones are still piled up at Ceperano–each Apulian was a traitor there–and, and too, at Tabliacozzo, where old Alardo conquered without weapons; and then, were one to show his limb pierced through and one his limb hacked off, that would not match the hideousness of the ninth abyss.(Lines 7-21)Dante gives historical examples of the destruction of war. This is in contrast to the heroic qualities of war which Dante’s predecessors most often focus on. Dante is acting less as a poet and more as an historian. He takes the reader on a mini journey through these wars. His first stop are the Trojan wars (Line 9). These wars Dante refers to actually represent the final books of Virgil’s Aeneid. Part of my experience in reading the Inferno, has been that there is a great connection between the Inferno and the Aeneid. Furthermore, Dante’s guide through hell is the author of the Aeneid, Virgil. (While this topic is much too broad to address in these pages, it is important too take note of this relationship.) On the one hand it is important that Virgil is Dante’s first example because it is necessary for him to leave the world of the poet (poets do not have enough talent) and move to the world of the historian, whose objectivity is supposedly more trusted in front of this horror. By this time the reader can see the irony of what Dante is doing in this opening passage. Dante the poet must give up to historical fact, but the reader knows that Dante the poet is playing this game to entice the reader into listening to him.Dante moves on to the wars at Carthage in his next example. This is material which Virgil deliberately does not deal with in


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