In The Inferno, Dante explores the ideas of Good and Evil. He expands on the possibilities of life and death, and he makes clear that consequences follow actions. Like a small generator moving a small wheel, Dante uses a single character to move through the entire of Hell's eternity. Yet, like a clock, that small wheel is pivotal in turning many, many others. This single character, Dante himself, reveals the most important abstract meaning in himself: A message to man; a warning about mankind's destiny. Through his adventures, Dante is able to reveal many global concepts of good and evil in humanity.
Dante represents mankind's potential. He falls to the temptations of this world, and then through the Grace of God, human reason, and the depths of Hell, he is able to regain the Light that he had lost. Each step of his journey represents a warning to man about the possible outcomes of his actions. The journey itself and the situation that Dante is in represents mankind's current position. And his exits from Hell gives hope to all those "who enter here" and stray from the Narrow Path. As Dante went through Hell, so must mankind, however, just as Dante had Virgil as his guide, so mankind now has reason and Faith to guide him.
Reason and Faith are not guides that will demand to be followed. Neither are they very loud in voicing their opinions. For this reason, mankind is now lost in that same "Dark Wood of Error" in which Dante found himself at the beginning of The Inferno. Too often we try to amend our wrongs by aiming for the high goal of the Mount of Joy for which Dante also aimed, but just as Dante could not reach it alone, so we are finding that our human effort...
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...re symbolic of modern society and its potential to do the same. On faith were we founded as a people, now, like Dante, we must turn to greater reason and that same faith for the strength to travel the Hell we've created in order to reach the Mount of Joy again.
Literature of the Western World, Volume 2. 4th edition by Brian Wilkie and James Hurt. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1997.
Niven, Larry and Pournelle, Jerry. Inferno. New York: Pocket Books,1976.
MacAllister, Archibald T. Introduction. Inferno. By Dante. New York: Mentor, 1954.
Pinsky, Robert. The Inferno of Dante. New York: Harper Collins, 1994.
Shippey, T.A. "Into Hell and Out Again". Times Literary Supplement, 8 July 1977, .820.
Spinrad, Norman. Introduction to Inferno, by Niven and Pournelle. Boston: Gregg Press, 1979.
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