David Bruce: Dante’s INFERNO Discussion Guide: Canto 2

“Canto 2: Dante Hesitates”

  • Dante must endure a journey that he likens to a battle. Why does he make that comparison?

Dante writes that “I, one man alone, / was making ready to endure the battle / of the journey, and of the pity it involved” (Musa Inferno2.3-5).

Of course, the journey through the Inferno is difficult, so it can be likened to a battle. In addition, Dante must be on his guard against pitying the sinners, many of whom will attempt to gain his pity by telling him only part of their stories and leaving out whatever makes the sinner look bad. Dante the Pilgrim is still naïve at this point; he needs to learn that God does not make mistakes and that the sinners in the Inferno deserve their punishment.

  • Dante the Poet makes an invocation to the Muses. What is an invocation, and who are the Muses?

The Muses are ancient goddesses of the arts.

In an invocation, a poet asks the Muses for help in singing a song (such as an epic poem). Both Virgil and Homer invoked the Muses in telling their epic poems.

This is how Dante invokes the Muses:

O Muses, O high genius, now assist me!

O memory, that didst write down what I saw,

Here thy nobility shall be manifest!

(Longfellow 2.7-9)

  • In Canto 2, why does Dante have second thoughts about allowing Virgil to be his guide?

One thing to notice is that Dante has second thoughts here, although eventually, of course, he decides to allow Virgil to be his guide.

We can be sympathetic here. The Inferno is a place where many souls shriek with despair. This is not going to be a pleasant visit to a tourist destination. In fact, at one point later in the Inferno (Canto 11), Dante and Virgil have to rest to allow themselves to become accustomed to the stench that is rising from the lower Circles of the Inferno.

Another thing to notice is that Dante gets help from the outside. God is concerned about Dante, and God allows Virgil and others to guide Dante to salvation.

  • Dante the Pilgrim wonders whether his trip to the Inferno will be successful, although both Aeneas and Saint Paul have successfully made trips to the Inferno (Underworld or Hell). Who are Aeneas and Saint Paul, and what were the trips to the Inferno that Dante the Pilgrim is speaking of?

In Canto 2, Dante the Pilgrim mentions a couple of people who have visited the afterlife — people who are (he says) much more worthy than he of the visit.

Aeneas

One is Aeneas, the hero of Virgil’s Aeneid. Virgil, of course, is Dante’s guide throughout the Inferno and most of Purgatory. In Book 6 of the Aeneid, Aeneas visits the underworld in order to learn more about his destiny — his deceased father, Anchises, shows him his future descendants, who are Roman heroes. Virgil is a good guide through the Inferno; after all, he has been there before, imaginatively, while writing his Aeneid.

St. Paul

The other major visitor to the afterlife is Saint Paul, who supposedly visited the realms of the dead, a journey described in a medieval work titled Visio Sancti Pauli(The Vision of Saint Paul).

Other Heroes

Many ancient heroes visited the underworld, as described in Greek and Roman mythology. They include Orpheus, Theseus, Hercules, and Odysseus (whose Roman name is Ulysses). See below (Canto 3).

  • Explain who are the three heavenly women who are concerned about Dante.

The three heavenly women are these:

1) Mary, the mother of Christ. People of the Middle Ages regarded Mary as their spiritual mother.

2) Saint Lucia, a 3rd-century martyr. Saint Lucia was the patroness of good eyesight. After Beatrice died, Dante strained his eyes with too much crying (according to his book the Vita Nuova). Lucia was an early Christian who was persecuted for being a Christian. She was tortured, including being blinded, and eventually killed by being stabbed with a dagger. Note: Her name is pronounced with three syllables, with the stress on the second syllable.

3) Beatrice. Dante was in love with Beatrice, although they married other people. She died young, and Dante mourned her greatly.

  • Why is Virgil Dante’s guide?

Dante has three heavenly women looking after him. Beatrice came to Virgil in Limbo to ask him to be Dante’s guide. Beatrice has heard about Dante’s troubles from Saint Lucia, who in turn had heard about them from Mary. Virgil is very willing to do Beatrice a favor.

Virgil makes the persuasive point that with three such heavenly women looking after him, Dante should not be afraid to go down into the Inferno. Doing that is a necessary part of his journey.

We can also give a few other reasons why Virgil ought to be Dante’s guide through the Inferno:

• In Book 6 of Virgil’s Aeneid, Aeneas makes a trip to the Underworld. Therefore, Virgil is familiar with the Inferno.

• We will find out in Canto 9 that earlier Virgil journeyed as a soul through the Inferno. The sorceress Erichtho sent him to the bottom of the Inferno to find and bring a soul to her. Once again, Virgil is familiar with the territory.

• In the Middle Ages, Christians believed that Virgil forecast the birth of Christ in his Fourth Eclogue. Historians believe that Virgil was actually writing about the birth of a Roman.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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INFERNO: CANTO 2 RETELLING

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