Divine Comedy-I: Inferno

Canto IX as a Microcosm of Dante's Inferno

Canto IX of Dante's Inferno is remarkably representative of the work as a whole. It includes a number of prominent themes, among them the role Virgil plays as the manifestation of human reason and the argument that faith can achieve what reason cannot, as well as contrapasso or the matching of sins on Earth to punishments in Hell. Canto IX also demonstrates the marked divide between the first five circles of Hell, housing the Incontinent, or relatively minor sinners, and the next circlethe Violentwhose damned God despises much more. A microcosm of the entire epic, the importance of Canto IX lies in the themes and values it reflects.

Canto IX begins with Virgil's failure to penetrate the gates of Dis. His attempts at reason with its demon guards are useless; Dante fears desertion. He is rightly frightened by Virgil's sudden weakness. In the first eight cantos, the shade is a surefooted, confident guide; he surmounts obstacles with ease and disarms all challengers handily. His abrupt impotence leads a pallid Dante to ask discreetly for reassurance that Virgil is still in command of their journey. Virgil begins to explain that he is, but the anxious poets are interrupted by a fearsome sightthree Furies tearing at their...

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