Levi’s Intertextual Reference to Inferno Canto XXVI

25 Nov

While Primo Levi aids Jean in his task to carry the soup rations to the kitchen Jean appeals to Levi to teach him some Italian. During the course of their long journey from the well to the kitchen, Primo attempts to teach Jean, a French Haeftling Italian. Throughout their conversation Primo is repeatedly seen to refer to Dante’s “Inferno”, thus referring to Homer’s “Ulysses”.

                Levi clarifies “I have to tell in prose – a sacrilege” meaning that he is paraphrasing the Ulysses. Levi considers the Ulysses a scene under God which shouldn’t be translated or paraphrased. Levi also explains why he is paraphrasing by stating “I have only rescued two lines, but they are worth stopping for.” Levi introduces the idea that he does not remember exactly the lines of the “Inferno” and obviously does not have access to it.

                Primarily Primo to the XXVI Canto of the “Inferno” because it is following climax where action falls and Ulysses is sent to hell. During the stages Levi’s adaptation to the camp he states “It is not possible to sink any lower than this; no human condition is more miserable than this, nor could it conceivably be so.” Signifying Levi’s degeneration into hell, and Levi later through his life in the camp refers to Dante’s “Inferno”. Replacing himself with Ulysses Primo rescues a few lines which he can remember from the “Inferno”, “Consider ye the seed from which ye sprang; Ye were not made to live like unto brutes, But for pursuit of virtue and of knowledge.”

                In general Levi refers to Ulyseus of Dante because Ulyseus has descended into hell and then ascended above all those who have caused him to sink. This foreshadows that Primo Levi will escape the horrors of the camp alive and live a prosperous life following his departure.


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