Dante’s Inferno and the McGill Pain Questionnaire


Aims of the study: To study the images which depict the damned’s sufferings in Dante’s Inferno, in their expression of the several meanings of “pain”, the semantics of “pain” in the poem has been analyzed, eventually trying to determine whether the organization of punishments of Inferno may somehow mirror a disability scale. Methods: A detailed analysis of the text was carried out, which proved a valuable tool for interpreting the organization of punishments as a possible disability scale. The semantics of pain in the Divine Comedy was studied through all the forms of the pain descriptors (included the archaic terminological forms) from the Italian version of the McGill Pain Questionnaire (MGPQ) by Maiani and Sanavio. Results and Conclusions: In Dante’s Inferno a classification of pain is provided, based on the experience of sufferings; Dante’s images seem not only instrumental to investigating the sensorial but also the affective and intellectual spheres by introducing a number of characters and describing the impact of punishment onto their souls. Our research highlighted that 46 out of 78 terms from the MGPQ are present in Inferno, though with different forms; the Groups the MGPQ is divided into are also represented with the exception of Group XII, the most frequently detected being Groups XIII-which studies the fear-related sensations in the emotional sphere - XIV, XIX and XX. The great attention emerges that Dante devoted to describing simple sensorial experiences as well as the way punishments affected the soul. As a whole, the terms pertaining to the sensorial sphere are the most frequently encountered. The lack of motion which increases circle after circle in Hell, well matches the progressing physical and psychological impairment caused by some invalidating diseases. Noticeably, Dante created such a complex system centuries before the studies were released on the impact of pain and its quantitative and mostly qualitative definition. In conclusion, this interpretation suggests that the writing on the door to Hell which leads Dante into the inaccessible world of “the miserable race, those who have lost the good of intellect”, may well be the title of a precise and incredibly up to date classification of painful sensations which are wonderfully described with simple and suggestive examples each time transforming into powerful images. …“Through me road to the city of desolation, / Through me the road to sorrows diuturnal, / Through me the road among the lost creation”.



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How to Cite
Tonelli, N., & Marcolongo, R. (1). Dante’s Inferno and the McGill Pain Questionnaire. Reumatismo, 59(2), 173-183. https://doi.org/10.4081/reumatismo.2007.173