Inferno

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Themes and Colors
Sin, Justice, Pity and Piety Theme Icon
Paganism vs. Christianity Theme Icon
Individual Fame Theme Icon
This World vs. the Afterlife Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Inferno, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Individual Fame Theme Icon

Dante repeatedly stresses the importance of fame throughout his epic poem. Souls often ask Dante to remember their names and to speak of them on earth, and several times Dante promises to do this in return for information. Probably the most repeated scene in the poem is that of naming or identifying. Virgil and Dante are often asked to name themselves, and they themselves continually point out, identify, and ask about individual sinners. Some of these are already famous, including mythological heroes like Jason, but many are simply Florentine or Italian citizens, whose names live on through Dante's words. The idea of fame is so important in the poem because it offers a kind of immortality, a small compensation for the eternity of suffering sinners face in hell. Even after their deaths, people can live on, in some sense, through their famous reputations. Brunetto Latini, for example, asks Dante to mention his great work, the Thesaurus, because he lives on through it. However, fame is not always a positive thing. By naming individual sinners, Dante gives them everlasting fame, but this also means placing them in hell. They may live on forever in Dante's poem, but they do so as wicked sinners. Bocca degli Abati seems to recognize this in Canto 32. He does not want to live on in infamy, so he refuses to tell Dante his name (though Dante learns it anyway from another spirit).

Dante guarantees not only the fame of the various sinners named in his poem, but also his own fame by writing the Inferno. By telling his own story, he is able to cement his fame both as a literary character and as a masterful poet and storyteller. One way he does this is by surpassing other great poets. In the first circle of hell, Dante joins the great poets of ancient Greece and Rome, and over the course of his own epic poem he outdoes these models. He replaces the heroic journeys of Homer's Odysseus and Virgil's Aeneas with the ultimate journey through the afterlife, and specifically says in Canto 25 that he is describing things even more amazing than Ovid or Lucan (two famous Roman poets) ever described. Dante's epic poem is, in a sense, in constant competition with the great epics of classical antiquity. By including the authors and characters of these works in his own epic poem, he subsumes and surpasses them, guaranteeing his own immortal fame as a great poet. After all, we are still speaking of Dante and reading his words now, hundreds of years after his death.

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Individual Fame Quotes in Inferno

Below you will find the important quotes in Inferno related to the theme of Individual Fame.
Canto 4 Quotes

And greater honour yet they [Homer, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan] did me—yea,
Into their fellowship they deigned invite
And make me sixth among such minds as they.

Related Characters: Dante (speaker), Homer, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan
Page Number: 4.100-102
Explanation and Analysis:

In Limbo, Dante meets a number of important classical artistic figures. He describes, here, how these five ancient poets welcomed him into their fold.

Despite the earlier renunciations of these poets for being pagan, Dante here speaks in admiring, almost worshipful terms. He considers recognition to be “greater honour” and calls them “such minds,” which emphasizes their intellectual accomplishments as opposed to their religious flaws. Using the somewhat pretentious language of “fellowship” and “deigned invite,” Dante stresses the deep significance of their welcome, and so elevates himself to their level. Indeed, to be accepted into the arms of these five poets would place Dante at the pinnacle of classical Western culture.

Yet as his text is written in Italian, as opposed to Greek or Latin, and since it conforms to the necessities of Christian doctrine, his work would actually be of a far greater cultural significance to his time and place. Furthermore, Dante will be able to leave behind the Inferno, unlike these poets, and progress to Heaven. By placing his speaker-character in the company of these figures, Dante the poet has also written himself into their company on a symbolic level. The Inferno thus establishes itself, within its very pages, as a classic that would be “sixth” in the set of other canonical works.

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Canto 15 Quotes

Keep handy my Thesaurus, where I yet
Live on; I ask no more.

Related Characters: Brunetto Latini (speaker), Dante
Page Number: 15.119-120
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Dante speaks to the shade of his teacher Brunetto Latini. As their conversation finishes, Latini asks Dante to recall and continue to use his book: the Thesaurus.

Latini repeats and develops the pattern of characters asking Dante to honor their memory outside of Hell. This repeated theme indicates that the characters in Hell maintain a vested interest in the Earth even after their demise—and that, more specifically, they want to protect their reputation and memory beyond their death.

That Latini wishes this to take place through his Thesaurus offers a slightly different spin on the theme. Whereas other characters have requested that Dante speak of them as people, Latini focuses on the written work he has produced. There he can “yet live on”: he will continue to exist through its pages—existing, in fact, beyond the confines of Hell. Dante establishes, then, the way that inscribed language grants a version of immortality to its writer. And, of course, this is precisely what the Divine Comedy is permitting Dante to do: crafting his own "thesaurus" of the divine spheres that will allow him to persist beyond death, and even beyond his own personhood.

Canto 16 Quotes

So may thy soul these many years abide
Housed in thy body, and the after-light
Of fame shine long behind thee.

Related Characters: Guido Guerra, Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, and Jacopo Rusticucci (speaker), Dante
Related Symbols: Light and Dark
Page Number: 16.64-66
Explanation and Analysis:

Dante speaks to three Florentine noblemen, who give him advice on how to act when he returns to earth. They encourage him, particularly, to seek fame so that he will be more immortal than a common man.

The exchange reveals the fraught relationship that Dante as both poet and speaker has to the idea of fame. If one were to take Jacopo’s comments at face value, one might believe that “the after-light of fame” is an essential end for Dante to pursue. That is to say, that while he should try to “abide” in the world for an extended period of time, more important is seeking a fortune and renown that persist “long behind” him. Similar recommendations have been offered by other characters, and they repeatedly request that Dante aid their fame in shining beyond the confines of Hell.

Yet one must also note that these recommendations come from Florentines who have been condemned to Hell. Though Dante may treat them with interest and respect, the fact that they have sinned should cause their advice to be received skeptically. Too much pride and ruthless seeking of fame is, indeed, staunchly opposed to the universal love and humility so repeatedly lauded by this poem. Thus while Dante’s characters often place value on immortality through fame—and the Divine Comedy itself could be seen as the fulfillment of that project—the work also implies that egoistically searching for immortality will be self-defeating in the end.

Canto 24 Quotes

Put off this sloth [...]
Sitting on feather-pillows, lying reclined
Beneath the blanket is no way to fame—

Fame, without which man's life wastes out of mind,
Leaving on earth no more memorial
Than foam in water or smoke upon the wind.

Related Characters: Virgil (speaker), Dante
Page Number: 24.46-51
Explanation and Analysis:

Dante and Virgil climb an arduous set of rocks, which winds the speaker. Virgil scolds him in response and reminds him of the dangers of laziness.

Virgil returns to the complicated theme of fame in the Divine Comedy, here linking it to the value of active work. He likens the physical “sloth” of Dante in the moment to the broader sins of sloth: this would be practiced by those who would simply be “sitting on feather-pillows” instead of pursuing any true end. Though Virgil could have finished his reproach by noting how sloth is a sin in the eyes of God, he instead links it to notoriety, pointing out that “fame” will require active effort on Dante’s part.

Thus Virgil further valorizes the importance of being famous on earth after one’s death, because it will grant a type of immortality. With the metaphor of “foam in water or smoke upon the wind,” Virgil summons two poetic images of ephemerality—to which he juxtaposes the potential sturdy immortality granted by “fame.” Dante thus presents his journey through hell and the corresponding task of writing the Divine Comedy to be intensely arduous, but also to be his way to leave a “memorial” upon the earth that will outlast his life (while, at the same time, condemning the excessive desire for earthly fame).

Canto 26 Quotes

Florence, rejoice, because thy soaring fame
Beats its broad wings across both land and sea,
And all the deep of Hell rings with thy name!

Five of thy noble townsmen did I see
Among the thieves; which makes me blush anew,
And mighty little honour it does to thee.

Related Characters: Dante (speaker)
Page Number: 26.1-6
Explanation and Analysis:

After meeting a number of shades that hail from Florence, Dante gives this ironic set of comments on his city. He simultaneously glorifies Florence and disparages it for producing these agents of sin.

Dante plays on a traditional way of exalting cities: by recounting their fame and how they have emissaries spread throughout the world. Thus he notes the “soaring fame” of the city whose metaphorical “wings,” or broad presence, are a fixture in “both land and sea.” Yet by adding the detail “all the deep of Hell rings with thy name,” Dante makes this praise ironic—turning their fame into infamy. For a presence in Hell would speak to a fame due to sinning. This condemnation becomes more explicit when he hones in on the specific characters—“five of thy noble townsmen”—he encountered. He says explicitly that they brought “mighty little honour” to their city. This passage differentiates, then, between different forms of fame that a city or a person may experience. Dante shows that one may indeed remain significant beyond one’s death, but that “little honour” is accrued if the reason for that fame is having sinned.