Dante – Inferno/Hell from The Divine Comedy, 4-6

Canto 4

  • Dante woke up to a clap of thunder, completely confused by what he saw around him. He saw himself stood on the brink of the large pit of Hell with resounding groans echoing all around him.
    • Virgil urged him to try to keep up. Dante asked how he could do all this when he, Virgil, was himself white with fear. Virgil told him that he was actually white with pity for those in Hell.
    • They moved on to the 1st circle of Hell. There was no loud crying or complaint – just sighing & quivering. This wasn’t grief from torment but for the undying loss of death. Virgil told him what they were – not sinners but the unbaptized (Baptism is the gateway to Dante’s faith of Christianity) & those who lived before Christ. They never knew God in the Christian manner & were therefore lost.
    • Dante was sad about this & asked if the great souls who lived without knowledge of Christ would be able to make up for it.
      • Virgil told him when he was new in this part of Hell, Jesus came down into Hell. He took Abel, Noah, Moses, David, Abraham, Jacob, Rachel & many others up to Heaven with him. But most others remained & the book on their salvation was closed.
      • They walked by the remaining souls, many of whom were famous in Heaven & on earth. A few people approached Virgil, glad to see him back. Virgil pointed out many of his fellow Hell-mates: Homer, Horace & Luca. Dante was stunned to see his heroes there. They guided him to a castle with high walls & a moat. They went through a gate & spoke to the famous classical philosophers, poets & historical figures.
    • Virgil eventually took Dante on to the next place, where no sun shines at all.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • Images – After those who refused choice come those without opportunity of choice. They couldn’t choose Christ but they could & did choose human virtue. The souls have what they chose & enjoy the kind of afterlife they imagined for the virtuous dead. They failed in not imagining anything better. They are lost because they didn’t have faith in Christianity & the nature of things. The weakness of Humanism is to fall short in the imagination of ecstasy, at best, it’s noble, reasonable & cold – optimistic about balanced happiness in the world but pessimistic about rapturous eternity.

Canto 5

  • They moved on to the next circle. The woe & outcry grew louder. There, at the threshold was Minos sitting & sentencing the newly arrived souls to their proper place in Hell. There were many levels to Hell & Minos would snap his tail to whip them into their place.
    • Minos welcomed them to the house of pain but then noted that Dante couldn’t go in because he wasn’t dead. Virgil told Minos that a high will & power wanted them there & he was not to prevent their passage.
    • The sounds of grief filled Dante’s senses but there was no light. There were hell winds beating the souls stuck there, where they railed & cursed God’s wrath.
      • The carnal sinners were sent here: those who enslaved their faculties of reasoning to their lust. They moved continually without any hope of rest.
  • Dante asked if Virgil was able to see or distinguish anything in the black wind. Virgil pointed out one – Semiramis, mistress of Babel, empress of many tongues. She licensed lust by law to cover up her scandal of numerous harlotries. She killed herself for love.
    • Also there, was Cleopatra, Achilles, Paris, Tristram & thousands of others. Dante wanted to speak to one of them that passed by. The power of love was leading them around the circle. The first one expressed hope for Dante to be spared the same fate as her. She was from Ravenna & was in a relationship with her husband’s brother. The husband had her & her lover killed. The murderer was in Cain’s section of Hell himself because he’d killed his own brother.
    • Dante thought of the sweet thoughts & desires they must have had in their time together & asked how they were found out.
    • She, Francesca, & her lover were reading about Lancelot & Guinevere, & thought it was identical to their own situation. They kissed & soon forgot about the book… Then they were caught in mid-embrace.
      • Dante was so deeply affected by the story, he fainted.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • Circle of Incontinence – this circle & the next 3 are for those who sinned not from deliberate evil choice but failure to choose good resolutely. These are sins of self-indulgence, weakness of will & yielding to appetite – the sins of the leopard.
  • The Lustful – the image is sexual here but isn’t confined to sin of unchastity. Lust is a shared sin, at best (& if only just out of incontinence) – there’s mutuality & exchange in it. But while mutual indulgence only serves to push both parties to Hell, it is not wholly selfish. That is why Dante puts it at the least hateful of the deadly sins.
  • Minos – medievalized version of the classical judge of the underworld. He can appear as a guilty conscience. Souls are damned by themselves because Hell is the place of self-knowledge of sin, & there’s no self-deception. But the damned can’t benefit from this knowledge because they’ve lost the good of their intellect. For the living, this is a precursor for repentance & restoration.
  • Black Wind – as lovers drifted into self-indulgence & were carried away with their passions, here they drift forever. The bright, voluptuous sin is now seen for what it is – howling darkness of helpless discomfort.

Canto 6

  • Dante woke up feeling sad for all the people in Hell. There was a lot to take in & he was overwhelmed. Now they were in the 3rd circle. There was a ceaseless, cold & heavy rain. Mixed in were hail, sleet & snow falling constantly, making the ground slushy & very smelly.
    • Cerberus, the 3-headed dog, was there growling at the souls. He’d bite the people & rip them apart. They would try to hide from him by using each other as shields.
    • He saw Dante & Virgil coming, & started barking & snarling at them. Virgil scooped up parts of the earth & flung them into the dog’s mouths. Once Cerberus had been fed, he calmed down. The souls in the level of Hell were half-deaf from all the noise he made.
    • As they passed through, Dante saw a figure & started talking to him. He had difficulty recognizing people, so he asked him about his story.
      • He was from Florence & his nickname was Ciacco (“pig”) because gluttony was his disease. He was forced to spend all of eternity in the rain. In their discussion, Ciacoo told Dante that Florence would continue its civil war, with one side eventually winning out. There’d only be 2 righteous men left but would remain unlistened to. 3 vices of Hell would take over the city – avarice, envy & pride.
      • Dante asked him of the whereabouts of other Florentines. Ciacco told him many of them were deeper down in Hell. He requested that once Dante got back home, he’d write about him for others to know of his fate. Then he rolled away out of sight.
    • Virgil told Dante that Ciacco would stay here forever, only to be cemented in his present state after Judgment Day. From there, they followed the road to meet the great enemy, Pluto.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • The Gluttonous – the surrender to sin which began with mutual indulgence leads imperceptibly to solitary indulgence. The image of this sin is gluttony. No reciprocity & no communication – each grovels alone in the mud without heeding his neighbors – a sightless company.
  • The Rain – gluttony often masquerades on earth as a warm, cozy & jolly kind of sin. Here, it is cold sensuality, a sodden & filthy spiritual wretchedness.
  • Cerberus – Here Cerberus, the 3-headed dog from Homer & Virgil, & the story of the 12 Labors of Hercules, is the image of uncontrolled appetite. The glutton, whose appetite preyed upon people & things is seen to be the helpless prey on which appetites gluts itself.


Author: knowit68

Leave a Reply