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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes
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If we start from his predecessors, Dante's language is a well-
nigh incomprehensible miracle. There were great poets among
them. But, compared with theirs, his style is so immeasurably
richer in directness, vigor, and subtlety, he knows and uses
such an immeasurably greater stock of forms, he expresses the
most varied phenomena and subjects with such an
immeasurably superior assurance and firmness, that we come
to the conclusion that this man used his language to discover
the world anew.

Erich Auerbach, Mimesis, 1953


If this journey to God begins in the figure of an Exodus, and
then leaves that figure, to return to it after a long descent
through Hell, the reason for this is clearly a matter worthy of
attention. What we have here, in its simplest statement, is a
first attempt to climb that fails, then a long descent that returns
the wayfarer to a second attempt that succeeds. Can this
configuration of event in the journey beyond be pointing to
the truth that it is necessary for us to descend that we may
ascend (this being, in the moral allegory, our journey)?

Charles Singleton, Dante: A Collection of Critical Essays,


The Comedy, among other things, is a didactic poem of
encyclopedic dimensions, in which the physico-cosmological,
the ethical, the historical political order of the universe is
collectively presented; it is, further, a literary work which
imitates reality and in which all imaginable spheres of reality
appear: past and present, sublime grandeur and vile vulgarity,
history and legend, tragic and comic occurrences, man and
nature; finally, it is the story of Dante's-i.e., one single
individual's-life and salvation, and thus a figure of the story
of mankind's salvation in general. Its dramatis personae
included figures from antique mythology, often (but not
always) in the guise of fantastic demons; allegorical
personifications and symbolic animals stemming from late
antiquity and the Middle Ages; bearers of specific
significations chosen from among the angels, the saints, and
the blessed in the hierarchy of Christianity; Apollo, Lucifer
and Christ, Fortuna and Lady Poverty, Medusa as an emblem
of the deeper circles of Hell, and Cato of Utica as the guardian
of Purgatory. Yet, in respect to an attempt at the elevated
style, all these things are not so new and problematic as is
Dante's undisguised incursions into the realm of real life
neither selected nor preordained by aesthetic criteria. And,
indeed, it is this contact with real life which is responsible for
all the verbal forms whose directness and rigor-almost
unknown in the elevated style-offended classicistic taste.

Erich Auerbach, Mimesis, 1953

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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes

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