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Dante's Poetics of the Subhuman: A Reading of Inferno XXXII

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-115
Number of pages17
DateAccepted/In press - 2 Aug 2019
DatePublished (current) - 31 Jan 2020


This reading of Inferno XXXII pays close attention to its meditation on language and representation. It argues that in this canto, which features an unusual concentration of bestial imagery and instances of human language collapsing into animal sound, Dante formulates a “negative” poetics in order to render the pilgrim’s journey through this bleak realm of subhumanity, a poetics that stands in opposition to the poetics of trasumanar we find in the Paradiso. Nonetheless, it takes seriously Dante’s claims that the horrors of Cocytus are ultimately beyond the expressive reach of even the most uncompromising poetry and it considers whether – in Dante’s understanding – any human language confers an improper dignity onto this part of Hell. The essay also places an emphasis on Statius’s Thebaid and Dante’s own rime petrose as important intertextual models for mediating the “subhuman” experience of Cocytus, as well as tracing the theme of contemporary political factionalism that runs through this canto of treachery.



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