"What is fame? Fame is but a slow decay Even this shall pass away." Theodore Tilton The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri, is a poem laden with such Christian themes as love, the search for happiness, and the desire to see God. Among these Christian themes, however, is Dante's obsession with and desire for fame, which seems to be a surprising departure from conventional medieval Christian morality. Indeed, as the poem progresses, a striking contradiction emerges. Dante the writer, in keeping with Christian doctrine, presents the desire for fame and glory among the souls of Inferno in order to replace it with humility among the souls of Purgatorio. Yet this purification of desire is not entirely embraced by Dante, who seems preoccupied with his own personal fame and glory. Therefore, how do we reconcile the seemingly hypocritical stance that the souls must strip themselves of pride and become humble, yet Dante can continue in his quest for fame and glory and still be saved? This contradiction is developed as the reader and the character Dante travel through Inferno and Purgatorio and is resolved in the second sphere of Paradise. It is this sphere, which allows for fame and glory for honorable reasons, that permits us, as readers, to resolve this tension. It is in this sphere that Dante elucidates that fame is not always bad, but only becomes so when one's motives are impure.
The power of fame and glory is nowhere more powerful than among the souls of Inferno. The importance of earthly fame is particularly apparent in the figures of the several shades who have asked Dante to recall their names and stories on Earth. In fact, it is this promise of fame that induces most of the souls to ...
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... of Paradise when we find that fame can have a place in paradise if it is sought for righteous reasons.
Ciardi, John, trans. The Divine Comedy. In The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, Expanded Edition. Vol. I. Ed. Maynard Mack. New York: W.W. Norton, 1995.
Bergin, Thomas Goddard. Dante. New York: Orion P, 1965.
---. Dante's Divine Comedy. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice, 1971.
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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