Dante’s tone in the Inferno starts as sympathetic but ends sternly, to emphasize the seriousness of wrongdoing and the importance of justice. At first, Dante describes the people he meets sympathetically. Despite the fact that Francesca, for instance, is justly condemned for cheating on her husband, Dante describes her affair with Paolo as a “sweet and tender” relationship which unfortunately happened to land the couple in Hell. The gentle tone of Dante’s description indicates that he (incorrectly) views Francesca as innocent and has not yet learned the importance of mastering one’s desire in order to avoid sin.

Yet as Dante descends further into Hell, his tone toward sinners grows harsher, and he sees more clearly the wrong they have done. Attacked by Filippo Argenti, Dante describes the angry spirit as “accursed” and tells Virgil that he’d like to see Argenti “dunk[ed]” in the river Styx, a desire that Virgil commends, as it shows Dante’s growing appreciation for justice. Indeed, Dante’s vehement word choice indicates a shift in tone, towards criticizing real injustices and errors. In the remainder of the Inferno, Dante’s tone balances praising noble deeds with censuring wrongdoing and injustice, however sympathetic the sinner seems to be.