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After reading the assigned sections of The Inferno by Dante Alighieri pages 609-663, respond to 1 of the following questions, using specific examples and direct quotation from the reading to support your answer.

  1. God or Grudges? As we’re reading The Inferno, it is helpful to remember that while Dante lived in a very religion-influenced culture (the Church had significant power at this time), he was not himself a clergyman, and his commentary on Hell should not be read as a monolithic example of Church doctrine. Why, then, would he choose Hell as his particular backdrop for attacking political and personal enemies, rather than attacking them directly? Some background reading on Dante himself is recommended for this prompt; the supplementary readings in the Week 6 lesson may be helpful here.
  1. No Fire and Brimstone Here: American popular culture often characterizes Hell as a place of heat and fire and burning, but as we go through Dante’s Hell-scape, fire does not seem to play that big of a part. Focus on one circle of Hell, and discuss its punishments; how do the punishments there relate to the crimes committed by the inmates? Support your response with specific passages from the text.
  1. Dante’s Guide: Throughout his journey—not only in The Inferno, but also as he moves higher into Purgatory—Dante is guided by the Roman poet Virgil, author of The Aeneid, the epic that details the founding of Rome. Why would Dante choose a pagan, classical poet to be the guide through a Christian Hell? Some background reading on Dante (see the supplemental reading) and Virgil may be useful here.
  1. Identifying Cultural Values: Modern readers often find some of the crime “rankings” (how far down a particular sin places an individual in Hell) in The Inferno to be puzzling. Discuss one level of Hell that caught your eye as you read through: does the punishment/placement of this particular sin seem problematic to you? Why or why not? What do you think we can learn about the cultural values of medieval Italy from this level of Hell?
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