INFERNO READING GUIDE

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INFERNO READING GUIDE
You should read the poem twice: once to simply enjoy and to gain familiarity with its
plot, language, style, and theme, once for deeper analysis and understanding.
As you read take notes, mark passages, keep lists of evidence for the consideration
points listed below. Come to class prepared to think through the poem and to cite
evidence for your views.
On day one, you are to bring to class a 1000 word essay explicating your favorite
passage. Why is that passage your favorite? What do you see in it? What role does it
play in the poem? Consider its poetry. See explicating poetry.
Cite the poem this way: Canto: line number/s. See LBH for citing poetry.
During the first week of school you will write an AP-style open-ended question essay
on Inferno. To do well, know facts and how to use them to analyze the poem according
to a broad literary idea. The consideration points offer possible topics.
The reading guides I've linked to on the summer reading webpage are also excellent
resources: Danteworlds and A Reading of Dante's Inferno. Each will aid your
understanding of the poem. Also read the introductory material and the notes in the
Pinsky translation of the poem.
WHAT TO KNOW
The structure of Hell. What are the key divisions? What accounts for those divisions?
How does the poem mark those divisions?
What is sin for Dante? What sins does Hell punish?
What is contrapasso? Know the “punishments” for the sins. Why are the sins
punished as they are?
Dante's interchanges with key sinners. How does Dante react to them and their sins?
Chart Dante's changing attitude toward sin and sinners. Does it change? How? Why?
How consistent is his reaction to sin and sinners?
Dante's changing relationship with Virgil.
The monsters in Hell, the keepers of the various levels. How are they well-suited to
their places?
Aspects of Dante's poetry: terza rima, simile, metaphor, periphrasis, personification,
alliteration, assonance, apostrophe, anaphora, symbolism, allegory.
Dante's use of epic conventions: beginning in medias res, invocation of muses, epic
simile, purpose of narrative. What is the nature of Dante's epic?
Define a few themes you see in the poem.
INFERNO READING GUIDE
WHAT TO CONSIDER
What is the purpose of Hell? Why was it created?
The importance of place in the poem. Notice how carefully Dante charts Hell's
geography and the place of each sin.
How does the poem define our intellectual responsibilities, our exercise of free will?
Does the poem present the dangers of this life?
What responsibilities does Dante suggest we have to ourselves, our families, our
countries, to God? Why do those responsibilities matter?
Hell is Dante's vision of a grossly dysfunctional city-state. What makes the city-state
dysfunctional?
The relationship between Dante and Virgil. Is it dynamic? How round a character
is Virgil?
Dante announces in Canto 1 that he writes the poem to convey the good he found
on his journey. What is that good?
What are the causes of human sinfulness? To what extent should we pity sinners?
Why does Dante, and not?
Why the divisions of sins? What principle determines the ranking of sin for Dante?
What is the poem's view of justice?
Is the poem Dante's personal vendetta against those who wronged him? Does he
define larger issues, larger wrongs—against the state, against God—that sinners
commit?
What are some key symbols in the poem? Where does Dante employ symbols?
How do they work?
How does the poem appeal to the senses? Where? To what senses and why?
What are some key images in the poem? Where do they appear? Where do they
repeat? Consider the significance of those images.
The theme of gifts and talents: God gives us abilities we are to use responsibly.
How do sinners misuse theirs?
How humorous is the poem? Where? What is the nature of that humor?
What sense does it make?
What is the role of irony in the poem?