Dante – Inferno/Hell from The Divine Comedy, 7-9

Canto 7

  • Pluto spoke out in gibberish & Virgil said to Dante that he ought not to be worried because Pluto wouldn’t do him any harm. Then he spoke to Pluto & told him to shut up. They were there because it was willed to be that way from high above. That was from him.
    • They went on to the 4th Circle. Dante spoke of God’s justice that the damned by damned by their own guilt. Those in the 4th Circle were running into each other & then turning around to run into each other again.
    • Dante asked for an explanation of what was going on. Those on the left had tonsured heads. Were they priests? Virgil explained that many people in life had no moderation in money in either direction. Some spent life like crazy & others never spent a penny.. Many of those people were clergy – cardinals & popes, who made covetousness an art form.
    • Dante figured that he would know someone in there but Virgil told him there no distinctions about any of them. They’d fight over nothing forever. Hoarding & squandering was a blight on the world’s glee. These people weren’t wroth talking about. Luck may have gotten them money from time to time but all the money in the world would never buy them peace.
      • Dante asked him more about Luck & its nature. Virgil told him that God spread light to each side of luck. He supplied us with a general minister & guide that would allow all vain wealth beyond the hindrance of human wit. Some nations dwindle, some amass great power according to her code which likes like a snake in the grass.
      • There is no science to luck but she has her own laws & judges just as gods do. There’s no relief from her & we all have to deal with her as long as we’re alive. That’s why men revile her & blame her for bad things. But she can’t heart it & pays it no attention.
  • They moved on to a bubbling spring out of which flowed the River Styx – the sad stream flowing in a crescent. As Dante looked around, he saw mud-stained figures, naked with looks of savage discontent. They were at each other’s throats & trying to rip each other apart.
    • Virgil pointed out that these were the souls who had yielded to wrath. Some had jumped into it willingly & came up to cause it to froth. Other souls were sullen & took no joy from the pleasant air or sun, & their hearts smoldered with a sulky smoke. Now they were stuck in the black mud.
    • They walked around the pool staring at what they saw, when they came to the foot of a tall tower.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • Hoards & Spendthrifts – Mutual indulgence has already declined into selfish appetite. Now the appetite is aware of its incompatibility with the selfish appetites of others. Indifference is now mutual antagonism between hoarding squandering.
  • The Joust – A community of a perverted form. These irrational appetites are united by a common hatred, waging a futile war on each other. Nations, political parties, businesses, classes, gangs, etc. sometimes display a spurious comradeship in opposition.
  • The Wrathful – community in sin is unstable & soon disintegrates into anarchy of hatred – all against all. Dante distinguishes between 2 kinds of wrath. The first is active & vents itself in sheer lust for inflicting pain & destruction on others, & on itself. The other is passive & sullen, & withdraws into a black sulkiness which can find no joy in God or man, or the universe.
  • The Marsh – Both kinds of wrath are a muddy slough. On the surface, the active hatred attacks & snarls at others. At the bottom, the sullen hatred lies gurgling, unable to express itself. This is the last of the Circles of Incontinence. The savage self-frustration is the end of that which had tender & romantics beginnings in the dalliance of indulged passion.
  • The Path Down the Cliff – For the first time, Dante’s passage from one circle to the cliff is described in death. We weren’t told where exactly he found the Hell-Gate. You can encounter it at any moment. The crossing of Acheron – assent to sin – is made unconsciously. From Limbo to the 2nd circle – from the lack of imagination that inhibits the will to the false imagination that saps it – the passage is easy & unnoticed. From the 2nd to the 3rd – from mutuality to separateness – the soul is carried as though in a dream. From the 3rd to the 4th, the way is a little plainer – as one continues in sin, one becomes uneasily aware of inner antagonism & resentments, but without any clear notion of how they arise. As antagonism turns to hatred, the steps of the downward path begin to be fearfully apparent. From this point on, the descent is mapped out with precision.
  • Styx – (“hateful”) – is the 2nd of 4 major rivers in Hell. It does double duty as the 5th Circle & as a boundary between Upper & Lower Hell.

Canto 8

  • At the foot of the tower, they looked up to 2 flames. They were 2 beacons answering one another. Dante asked what this was all about. Virgil told him to turn around & find out for himself. Dante obeyed & there was a small boat coming towards them.
    • Virgil asked the pilot, Phlegyas, to calm down. They were not new entrants but just looking for a ride across the river. Phlegyas felt tricked & cheated, so he became angry. When Dante got in the boat, it was clear that he was the only in Hell with any weight to him because he was still alive. The boat began its crossing.
    • As they crossed, a mud-soaked head popped up asking who he was & why he wasn’t dead yet. Dante said he wasn’t going to be there long. The head started talking back to him & his hands to tried to grab a hold of the boat.
      • Virgil beat him back & told him to wait for someone else to attack. Virgil told Dante that the man was an arrogant brute back on earth & never had a tender moment in his life. So he was there to roil for all of eternity. Many people who strut around like kings will wallow there in the river.
      • Virgil told him that on the far shore he’d be able to see more. There in the river was another soul fighting the one who had tried to attack Dante. It got out that he was a Filippos Argenti, & then he began to attack himself.
        • Virgil spoke of where they were going – the City of Die, & see all of its sad inhabitants. Dante saw the mosques on the other side & red glowing furnaces. Virgil told him the flames were unquenchable because the fire that made them burn came from within. The moats kept the city apart & its walls seemed to be made of iron.
        • Soon they arrived on the other side, & Phlegyas kicked them out of the boat. There were hoards of people waiting to get in. But the fallen angels noticed the 2 new arrivals & cried out asking why an undead man wanted to get in.
        • Again Virgil tired to schmooze his way in but they weren’t having it. Dante was terrified that he’d never see the light of day again. He begged Virgil not to leave him there alone. If they couldn’t go forward, couldn’t they at least back track?
        • Virgil told the angels that a great will & power wanted this journey to happen. Virgil was going to leave him there for a moment & sort this mess out. Dante was nervous & afraid that Virgil wouldn’t come back or couldn’t fix things. Virgil came back telling him they’d have to wait for help to get them through the gate.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • Phlegyas – In Greek mythology was a king of Boetia, son of Ares, the war god by a woman mother. His daughter, Coronis was loved by Apollo, which made Phlegyas set fire to Apollo’s temple in anger. Apollo killed him with arrows & he was condemned to Hades. So he is an appropriate ferryman to go between the Circle of the Wrathful & the City of the Impious.
  • The City of Dis – This comprises the whole of the Nether Hell & its ramparts, moated by the Styx, forming a complete circle of the pit. The sins of the tormented within the city are those in which the will is actively involved (sins of violence & fraud) & its iron walls are the image of a rigid & determined obstinacy in ill-doing.
  • Virgil’s Repulse at the Gate – Humanism is always apt to underestimate & to be baffled by the deliberate will to evil. Neither is it any sure protection against heresy. The allegory is further developed in the next canto.

Canto 9

  • Dante was disturbed by Virgil’s nervousness as he came back empty-handed. He told Dante that they had to figure it out somehow. If not, all this effort would be for naught. Virgil was cryptic in his words but inferred that God or Christ would help.
    • Dante asked if anybody from his part of hell ever came down this far. Virgil told him that it was very rare. Erictho had conjured him up with a spell when she called up the souls to their dead bodies She made him go all the way down to Judas’s circle for someone. This was a deep & dark it got & as far away from Heaven as possible but he knew the way. The only way into the city was with wrath & ire.
    • Virgil carried on talking over Dante’s head while Dante studied the tower & the walls. Suddenly, 3 figures approached. They were the Furies, covered with blood, surrounded by green hydras, asps & adders. Virgil introduced them: Alecto, Megaera & Tisiphone.
      • They shrieked out, summoning Medusa to turn Dante to stone to avenge themselves for what Theseus had done to her.
    • Virgil instructed him to close his eyes. If Medusa showed her face to him, Dante would never get out of Hell. Virgil held his hand to comfort him. Over the tide came a crash & a roar echoing from shore to shore – the sound of a violent wind like an oncoming storm.
    • Virgil got him to open his eyes. He pointed out someone in the distant lake marching on the Styx with unwet feet. He waved away the thing & foul air from his face. Dante knew right away this man had been sent by Heaven. Virgil indicated to Dante that he should bow & stay quiet. There was a look of scorn on the man’s face & he touched the gate with a wand, & it flew open.
    • He spoke to the fallen angels, asking why they remained so insolent, resisting the great will. He reminded them of how Cerberus tried & failed. He turned around & left without saying anything to Virgil or Dante, as if he’d had more pressing matters elsewhere.
  • They walked through the gate relieved they’d been protected by Heaven. As they moved on, Dante was stunned by the size of the defensive works. He looked out & saw a spacious pain filled with woeful & tormented despairs.
    • On the ground, there was an enormous number of graves, with flames shooting up all around them. The gravestones had all been knocked over & there was crying & wailing coming from within the graves. Virgil pointed out that these were the purveyors of heresies.
      • They carried on, while trying to avoid the flames.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • The Furies (Erinyes) – in Greek mythology were the avenging goddesses who haunted those who had committed great crimes. In the allegory, they are the image of fruitless remorse which doesn’t lead to penitence.
  • Medusa – was a Gorgon whose face was so terrible that anyone who looked upon it was turned to stone. In the allegory, she is the image of despair which hardens the heart that it becomes powerless to repent.
  • The Heavenly Messenger – He is the image of Divine Revelation, A- stirring the conscience, B- safeguarding the mind against false doctrine.


Author: knowit68

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