Dante's Inferno Questions and Answers
by Dante Alighieri

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What are two literary devices and their lines used in Dante's Inferno Canto 20?

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When Dante feels pity for the souls he meets in Canto 20 (their heads have been twisted backwards so that they are forever looking at where they have been, and never at where they are going), Virgil rebukes him with:

"Here pity most doth show herself alive, / When she is dead." (lines 26-27)

There are two techniques within this quotation. The first is the personification ("herself ... she") of pity, and the second is the seeming oxymoron of "most ... alive, / When she is dead." It doesn't at first appear to make much sense that pity can be most alive when dead. In the original Italian version of the text, however, the word was not "pity" but "pieta," which has a double meaning, meaning both pity and piety. So, with this in mind, we can deduce that perhaps Virgil is saying that the pity that lives in Dante has no place with these damned souls because they have proven themselves impious. With this interpretation, we can...

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