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Literary Devices in Dante's Inferno

Literary Devices Examples in Dante's Inferno:

Canto 2

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"I enter'd on the deep and woody way..."   (Canto 2)

This entrance into "the deep and woody way" is meant to contrast with the first lines of the poem, in which Dante expresses his fear while entering the dark wood. Now that he understands the protection being afforded him by Virgil and the three divine women, he has much more confidence in this journey.

"O Muses! O high genius! now vouchsafe Your aid! O mind! that all I saw hast kept Safe in a written record, here thy worth And eminent endowments come to proof...."   (Canto 2)

This is an invocation of the Muses, the traditional way to begin an epic poem. The first Canto is generally agreed to function as a sort of introduction, and the epic truly begins here in Canto 2, before progressing through a total of thirty-four cantos through Hell.  The other works in the trilogy, "Purgatorio" and "Paradiso," are each thirty-three Cantos in length, creating one hundred total Cantos across the three poems. 

"Where light was silent all..."   (Canto 5)

This is an interesting line because light cannot, in a literal sense, be silent. This is an example of synesthesia, a technique by which two or more senses are combined or blended. Dante most likely means that the light is muted or low.

"MY theme pursuing, I relate that ere We reach'd the lofty turret's base, our eyes Its height ascended, where two cressets hung We mark'd, and from afar another light Return the signal, so remote, that scarce The eye could catch its beam..."   (Canto 8)

There has been much speculation by scholars that a significant period of time had passed between Dante's penning of cantos 1-7 and this canto. Although the question has been pondered for centuries, there is no definitive proof that a delay took place. Using a flashback, however, is an unusual literary technique for Dante's time. 

"E'en as the river, that holds on its course..."   (Canto 16)

The following passage is great example of Dante creating verisimilitude, or the semblance of reality. Dante depicts this area of the underworld in terms that readers who are familiar with Italian geography will be able to visualize.

"But that the wind, arising to my face..."   (Canto 17)

In an example of verisimilitude—creating the semblance of reality—Dante takes great care to describe the flight of Dante and Virgil on Geryon realistically. As they descend, the air rushes up into Dante's face.

"so God Fruit of thy reading give thee..."   (Canto 20)

In one of the occasions in which Dante breaks the fourth wall and addresses readers directly, he expresses the hope that God might allow readers to fully understand what they have read. Dante makes such direct addresses to draw readers more deeply into the narrative.

"Raphel bai ameth sabi almi..."   (Canto 31)

dThese words, spoken by a Giant, are essentially a string of Hebrew gibberish. Scholars suggest that this reflects Dante's refusal to allow the Giants to say anything intelligible. They are symbols of brute power, not intellectual capacity.

"COULD I command rough rhimes and hoarse, to suit That hole of sorrow..."   (Canto 32)

Dante and Virgil are in the First Ring of the Ninth Circle in which they find those who betrayed their families. The condemned are immersed in ice, their heads bent downward.

Dante laments that he does not have "rough rhymes[...] to suit/That hole of sorrow." By claiming not to possess the poetic power to describe the events at hand, Dante lends the events added reality and horror. This is a technique Dante uses throughout the Divine Comedy.

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