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.
Individual Fame ThemeTracker
Individual Fame Quotes in Inferno
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.
Keep handy my Thesaurus, where I yet
Live on; I ask no more.
So may thy soul these many years abide
Housed in thy body, and the after-light
Of fame shine long behind thee.
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.
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.