John Ruskin remarked that if we were to pick an "honestly studious" three or four out of every hundred of Dante's admirers, then "we should rarely find one who knew why the Venetian Arsenal was described." Indeed, the wonderfully elaborate description of the Arsenal in Inferno XXI has long posed a problem for readers of the Commedia. This paper approaches Dante's representation of the Arsenal from a new perspective and finds that a more complete understanding of the image offers readers an original insight into what can be called the poetic purpose of Dante. For clarity of presentation, the paper is divided into three sections, each a succeeding step in the move outward from the passage to the poet. In the first section, the Venetian Arsenal image itself is examined through a close reading. It is shown that the image's origins are etymological and that it has strong ties to the Western tradition of associating ships and states. The second section builds outward from the first by integrating the image into the broader motif of nautical imagery that pervades the Commedia. Finally, the third section makes the concluding outward move by linking a new understanding of Dante's nautical imagery with a new conception of Dante that helps to clarify his role as a Christian poet.
"The Venetian Arsenal and Dante's Poetic Purpose,"
Augsburg Honors Review: Vol. 4
, Article 5.
Available at: https://idun.augsburg.edu/honors_review/vol4/iss1/5