Perception Dante Alighieri’s in The Inferno
In The Inferno, Dante Alighieri, the poet, places a strong emphasis on perception; it is through sight that Dante the pilgrim can acknowledge and learn from his experience in hell. Sight plays an especially crucial role in the work because Dante, the pilgrim, is often captivated by an image of some kind. The sight of the sinners transfixes Dante; and the sinners are, in turn, captivated with Dante and Virgil. It would seem that everything Dante observes through his journey would be enlightening. However, through the admonishments of Virgil, it becomes apparent that there exist two distinct ways of perceiving: practical, active observation and unreceptive, disadvantageous perception. It is through practical and active observation that Dante comprehends the lessons of his journey. Unreceptive perception fails to provide valuable information for Dante to use during his life on Earth. In addition, with practical, active observation, Dante not only learns about the sinners but he learns about himself when his journey is reflected by a living soul in hell. Dante successfully completes his journey of enlightenment though hell by learning through active observation and self-reflection about himself and his journey. With the beneficial observation and reflection, Dante learns from the sinners and gains knowledge about himself.
There is a strong emphasis on perception throughout the novel. It is through sight that Dante acknowledges hell and learns from it. At the commencement of his journey into hell, Dante says to Virgil, "lead me to witness what you have said . . . and the multitude of woes" (Inferno 9).1 Dante’s purpose is to witness and learn from the perils of hell so he can live better on Earth. With each new sight, Dante, the pilgrim, gains advances toward his goal of enlightenment. Through his active perception, he acquires information that he can take back with him to use in his earthly life. With this type of perception, comes recognition, awareness, and self-knowledge. For instance, in Canto XVIII, Virgil advises Dante to look and learn from a sinner:
Then my leader gave me advice:
‘Extend your gaze a little farther ahead,
So that your eyes may fully observe the face
Of that disheveled strumpet.’ (149)
This moment illustrates Virgil’s idea of good perception as seeing and learning because it is one of the rare times Virgil calls for Dante to observe a specific figure. According to Virgil, Dante is to learn from the penalties of the sinners so he can improve his life on Earth. This method of perceiving differs from a vulgar stare. In Canto XVI, Virgil advises Dante: "One must take care with those who have the wit / not only to observe the action, but see / the thought as well" (133). This advice suggests that in observing one must look further than the superficial. The correct...