Final thought hell week


The songs of the “Commedia” are linked together by a narrative progression that develops along the temporal axis of the holy week of 1300 and the spatial axis of Dante’s journey from the abyss of hell to the height of heaven. The continuity of the story obviously presents some leaps, such as, for example, the one between c.

III and c. IV, when Dante character loses consciousness due to an earthquake and a very violent glow, a circumstance that allows the poet to escape the account of his crossing of the Acheron. Between c. I and c. II there is not a narrative leap but a twist. At the end of the first canto Dante entrusts Virgil to lead him away from the dark forest, through the circles of hell and the frames of purgatory, as Virgil himself had promised him.

With this request from Dante the song ends. But in the following canto the first to speak between the two is still Dante, who now, contrary to what has just been said, declares himself inadequate to face that journey. What happened between the two distinct moments from the separation between the two songs? No external fact seems to have pushed back Dante’s first intention.

It cannot be the impression aroused by the vision of the setting day, which, as the durative imperfect suggests (Lo giorno se n’andava), does not come suddenly, like getting lost in the dark forest, the appearance of the sunlit hill and the appearance of the three wild beasts, narrative junctions marked by the use of the perfect (I found myself; I looked up and saw; I was about to return; the sight that appeared to me; it gave me so much gravity).

So Dante is not surprised and conditioned by the sunset of the day. The change of purpose corresponds to an internal motion, to a thought that Dante will explain only in a subsequent passage and which presupposes the recognition that the providential order coincides with a rational system, of which Virgil is the guarantor.

With the help of reason, Dante can finally overcome any residual doubt and affirm that the two greatest institutions of his time, empire and papacy, concur, albeit in different ways, to make possible the full realization of human beings. The decisive importance of reason to reach this conviction is proclaimed by Dante’s specular allocution towards Virgil:

Tu se ‘lo mio maestro e’ my author (I, 85) and tu duuca, tu sigore, e tu maestro (II , 140). Dante, therefore, repeats the definition of master, while duke reflects the author, in which we can find both AUTOR, connected in the Middle Ages to AUTENTICUS, or ‘exemplary model’, and AUCTOR (from AUGĒRE, ‘integrate’, ‘strengthen’), which it is ‘guide’. And, in the second canto, in an atmosphere that evokes the world of chivalry, he adds the epithet signor.

It is again the reason-Virgil that in the two cantos, symmetrically, makes explicit a couple of questions to underline Dante’s moral weakness: But why do you return to so much boredom? / Why don’t you climb the delightful mountain / which is the beginning and cause of all joy? (I, 76-8) and So: what is it? Why, why did I stay / […] / and my speaking promises you so well? (II, 121-6).


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