Although a pun on the word pietà has been widely recognized in Virgil’s rebuke to Dante for pitying the diviners and sorcerers in Inferno20, the possibility of a double meaning for the word in the poem’s statement of the subject in Canto 2 has generally been ignored. That a pun is present, however, is supported by the source for this passage in the meeting between the hero and his father in Book 6 of the Aeneid—a context in which the word’s Latin root meaning “filial piety” is clearly implied. By the Early Middle Ages “duty to the father” had come to mean “duty to the Father,” and the pity/piety opposition expressed by the pun in Canto 2 is Dante’s definition of the moral subject of the Inferno. A trying struggle for both pilgrim and reader, the “guerra de la pietate” extends from varying degrees of theologically impermissible compassion for the souls in hell all the way to questioning the justice of God’s damnation of the virtuous pagans in the heights of heaven.
"“LA GUERRA DE LA PIETATE:” DANTE’S DEFINITION OF MORAL SUBJECT IN THE ‘INFERNO’,"
Bibliotheca Dantesca: Journal of Dante Studies: Vol. 2
, Article 2.
Available at: https://repository.upenn.edu/bibdant/vol2/iss1/2