Suggested Topics for Dante Essay
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Topics chosen Thursday, December 6
Thesis and outline due Thursday, December 13
Essay due Friday, December 21
This paper will thoroughly explore a theme or motif of the Inferno. Begin by looking through the text and finding ALL passages that relate to your theme. This exercise will enable you to arrive at a thesis. Your completed paper will present your thesis, and then carefully analyze the passages that support your thesis. You will end by summing up your arguments and conclusions.
1. Dante’s character and biography as revealed in the Inferno. Who were his friends? What was he proud of? How did he feel towards his city and his country?
2. Dante’s transformative journey. At what points can we see the pilgrim learning and changing on his trip through Hell? At the beginning of the story, Dante is lost, fearful and tentative. How, where and when do we see him change?
3. Couples who are coupled for eternity: Compare the lives, the sins and the punishments of Francesca and Paolo and Ugolino and Ruggieri. You could also consider other couples from the malebolgias: Ulysses and Diomede, the two alchemists, Sinon and Potiphar’s wife.
4. Women in Hell: the sinners. Who are the female sinners and what are their sins? What might this tell us of Dante’s understanding of and attitude towards women? How do Beatrice, Mary, Lucia and Rachel fit into Dante's portrayal of the feminine?
5. Women in Hell: the guardians. Who are the female monsters and guardians? Are they different in any way from the male ones?
6. The rivers/waters of Hell. They all share one source (tears), but appear in different places and different ways. How do they fit together? How are they different? What different roles do they play? What is the significance of the statue in Crete?
7. The role of Satan in the Inferno? Is he the lord of hell? Does he have any control? Why is he spoken of as a king? Is his presence felt in the parts of hell where he is not visible? Is his presence foreshadowed in any way before we see him?
8. The four elements in the Inferno: earth, air, water, fire. Where does each one play a part? Are certain elements associated with certain sins?
9. Storytelling as a motif in the Inferno. Who needs to tell their story? Who would rather go unnoticed? Which stories does Dante want to hear? Whose stories does he promise to tell?
10. Popes and priests in Hell. How can Dante’s devout Christianity reconcile with placing so many servants of the church in hell. (He places four consecutive popes – nearly all the popes of his lifetime – in hell!) Which parts of hell seem to have particularly high concentrations of churchmen?
11. Christian and pagan elements in hell. Does Dante blend these elements successfully?
12. Heat and cold in Hell. Where does each appear? Does this make physical sense? Is there logic to the sinners who are punished with heat and the sinners who are punished with cold?
13. The character of Virgil. Does Virgil emerge as a distinct personality? What is he like? Does his relationship with Dante change or develop? Some critics see Virgil as a symbol of human reason. Do you agree with this interpretation?
14. The city of Limbo and the city of Dis. What is similar and dissimilar about these two places? Along these lines, you might also compare the two gates of Hell.
15. Guardians of Hell. Which ones try to block Dante and which ones help him on his way? Do the characters of the guardians change as Dante penetrates deeper into Hell? Are the guardians sinners or God’s servants? Do they suffer in Hell?
16. The helpful guardians. What do Nessus, Geryon and Antaeus have in common and how are they different?
17. Changing ideas of sin. Dante included sins that aren’t considered so sinful today: sodomy, blasphemy, usury. Why did Dante find these acts to be evil or threatening? On the other hand, what sins did Dante omit that we find threatening to human happiness today? Where might these sins be placed in Dante's conception of Hell?
18. The role of pity in the inferno. Where does Dante feel it, where does he not? What about Virgil? Where does Virgil approve Dante for showing pity, and where does he reprove him? As Dante moves lower and lower in Hell does he show more or less pity for the sinners? Is this because of a change in Dante or a change in the sinners?
19. Dante the proud Florentine. What can we learn from the Inferno about Dante’s love for his home town. What aspects of Florence is he proud of? What aspects cause him frustration and despair? What does he hope for his city?
20. Florence and Beatrice, Dante’s two loves. How does each inspire and motivate him?
21. The changing relationship between Dante and Virgil. When, where and why do we see trust and affection grow between these two? Where does Virgil protect Dante, where does he push him to go out on his own, where does he teach him?
22. I am open to any further suggestions you might have. Just let me know.