Divine Comedy-I: Inferno

Dante's Divine Intellect

In Canto XI of Dante's Inferno, Virgil carefully explains the layout of hell to his student, Dante. Toward the end of his speech, Virgil says that "Sodom and Cahors" are "speak[ing] in passionate contempt of God," (XI, 50-51), and divine will thus relegates them to the seventh circle. The sin of the Sodomites is clear for Dante, who poses no question on the matter, sodomy perhaps being an obvious affront to God which the bible directly addresses. However, the sin of "Cahors," namely usury, is not clear to Dante. He asks Virgil to "unravel" the "knot" in his mind, since there is no obvious reason why a usurer - a money lender essentially - deserves any punishment at all for a crime which does not necessarily involve dishonesty, and certainly is not violent in nature.

Independent of the question itself, the very fact that Dante is comfortable enough to ask Virgil anything reveals a certain intimacy between the two characters. The student-teacher relationship need not be interactive. An interaction implies an equality. Dante could very well have written a Virgil who talks but does not listen, much like the Virgil who wrote the Aeneid; there is no dialogue when one reads an epic...

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