*Avoid summarizing the text. Use the text to argue a specific position.
*Avoid overly broad claims in your essay, especially in the opening paragraph
(e.g. Ever since time began, mankind has asked questions about the meaning
*Give canto and verse references when you cite the poem or refer to passages in the poem.
(Purg. 5, 22-47, for example)
*To test and strengthen your claim, consider (and perhaps address) possible counter-arguments.
*Do not feel compelled to provide a definitive interpretation of the poem.
Provide instead an interesting, analytical, well-grounded exploration of your
position on some aspect of the poem.
- Explore the reasons for which Dante invented the Ante-Purgatory, this subdivision not
acknowledged by theologians, scholastics, other literary treatments of the Purgatory. Consider the themes that dominate the Ante-Purgatory, the concerns
and mode of expression of its inhabitants, the pilgrim’s response to them, the
similes, temporal periphrases employed by the poet.
- What role does Aristotle’s philosophy play in the moral scheme of Inferno? How does it affect the poem’s treatment of religious doctrine and Scripture?
- The Comedy, like Augustine’s Confessions, is, in part, a book that aims to teach
its readers howto read. What does the poem suggest about the role, task, difficulty,
goal of reading and how we must read this poem, in particular? You may want to
focus on specific episodes in the poem (Inf. 3 – the pilgrim’s reading of the gates of Hell,
Inf.5 – Francesca’s reading of the Lancelot romance, Purg. 22 – Statius’ reading of Virgil).
- Examine one or more aspects of Virgil’s complex character and function in the poem.
Attempt to respond to (if not answer) the compelling questions raised by Dante’s portrayal
and treatment of Virgil ; in other words , why does Dante do what he does with Virgil?
- In what way is Infernoa work of imagination and art rather than one of religion and philosophy alone? How do the poem’s fantastic, imaginative, and dramatic elements contribute to its overall effectiveness?
- Consider carefully the pilgrim’s dreams in Purgatory; how do they function in their
immediate context; what is their role in the journey/poem at large; how do they gloss
- At the center of the Purgatory and of the poem, Virgil delivers his discourse on love.
Analyze Virgil’s speech or some aspect of it, its content and/or style. Is it cogent, effective,
convincing? Consider the ways in which it does or does not explain the poem that precedes
and that follows.
- How does allegory function in Inferno? Think about the subject on both a universal level (Infernoas an Everyman story) and a particular level (the correspondence between specific punishments and specific sins).
- Compare and contrast the structures and systems of Hell and Purgatory. In doing this,
you may consider some or all of the following: Virgil’s outline of Hell (Inf. 11) vs. his outline
of Purgatory (Purg. 17), the hierarchies that subtend the two canticles, significant
differences and/or overlaps between the two systems. You may choose to consider
purgatorial vs. infernal treatment of wrath or love or lust or gluttony.
- What are some of the styles that Dante uses in Inferno? What are some of the literary traditions to which the poem belongs? How does Dante’s stylistic diversity affect his larger presentation of Hell?