- Before Nessus had reached the other side of the river, Virgil & Dante got to a forest without any path through. There were no green leaves on the trees, only discolored & dark ones. The roots were twisted & gnarled. There was no fruit, only poison galls on the bark.
- Here the Harpies nested – those who chased the Trojans from the Strophades. They were bird with women’s heads & steel claws. They sat & shriek. Virgil stated they’d be in the 2nd ring until the abominable sand.
- Dante heard mournful wailing but didn’t see anyone doing it. He was very confused. He presumed Virgil was reading his mind. Virgil told him to pick off a twig to find out more. As soon as he did, the trunk cried out, asking why he was breaking his bones so mercilessly.
- The tree explained that all the trees there were once human & they ought to be gentler with them. Dante saw that blood oozed out instead of sap, & he dropped the twig, completely terrified.
- Virgil apologized to the tree & said he probably should have just told Dante about it rather than letting him harm him. Then he asked the tree for his story so Dante could say nice things about him back on earth & change people’s opinions.
- The tree was Pier delle Vigne, Frederick II’s advisor. He’d been good at his job & dedicated to his master. But envy filled up many people around him until all the honors he’d gained turned into public condemnation. He felt his only escape from the pain was to take his own life. He asked Dante, if he ever got back, to heal his memory of being falsely accused.
- Dante agreed to that. Pier continued by asking for him also to let others know what happened to suicides in order to prevent them from doing it. He said when a soul commits suicide, the soul goes down into Hell, & Minos sends it to the 7th Circle. It falls into this forest wherever it lands & spouts from the ground. The Harpies feed on its leaves causing it to suffer in agony. But the souls never regain themselves or leave the wood.
- As they stood there waiting to hear more from the tree, 2 naked souls ran by being chased by wild dogs. One got away, while the 2nd fell behind & had to hide in a bush. The wild dogs grabbed him, tore him apart & carried off the pieces.
- Virgil & Dante leaned down to look at the bush, which seemed to the one who tried to hide in it, Jacomo of Sant’Andrea, why he did so. It wasn’t his fault he’d wasted his life.
- Virgil asked the bush who it was. The bush asked for them to put his leaves back. He was from Florence & spoke of how badly things had been going for Florence since they’d knocked down the Temple of Mars & replaced it with a church dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The bush told them he’d been one of many in Florence to kill himself.
Notes According to Dorothy Sayers
- The Woods – this forms the 2nd ring of the Circle of the Violent & contains the souls who wantonly destroyed their own lives or goods, turning to weeping what was meant for joy.
- The Harpies – here again, we have a mixture of brute & human. The Harpies had bird bodies, long claws & faces of women pale with hunger. When Aeneas & his companions came to the Islands of the Strophades, the Harpies swooped down upon their food, devouring & defiling it. They are the image of the will to destruction.
- The Bleeding Trees – the sin of suicide is an insult to the body. So here, the shades are deprived of the slightest of human forms. As they refused life, they remain fixed in a dead & withered sterility. They are the image of self-hatred, which dries up the very sap of energy & makes all life infertile.
- Profligates – very different from the spendthrifts of Canto 7, who were merely guilty of extravagance. Those men were possessed by a depraved passion, who dissipated their goods for the sheer wanton lust of wreckage & disorder. They may be the image of gambling fever or the itch to destroy civilization, order & reputation.
- Dante put the leaves back under the bush. They went on to where the 2nd ring & 3rd ring meet. There they saw no foliage at all. The woods wrapped around it like a hedge. There the ground was nothing but tightly packed sand. This was God’s vengeance.
- There were great herds of naked spirits wailing about their fate, each one with a different place. Some were laid down in a supine position (those violent towards God), some squatting down (those violent towards Art), others roaming around without rest (those violent towards nature). The roamers were the most numerous but those lying down were the loudest. Flakes of fire fell from the sky like snowflakes, kindling the sand. The souls tried in vain to wave the flakes away but instead burned their hands.
- Dante asked about one soul lying on the sand. Before Virgil could answer, the soul answered for himself. He was Capaneus, condemned to lie in the sand for eternity because he was violent against Zeus & continued to be so in Hell, cursing him every chance he got.
- Virgil said all the insolence in the world wasn’t going to fix his present agony. He introduced him, Capaneus, one of the 7 kings who besieged Thebes. He was defiant to God, even in death.
- Dante & Virgil walked a while until they reached a stream that reminded Dante of the Bulicame, a reddish stream in the Red Light district of Florence. Its banks were made of stone, making him think this was their path down.
- Virgil pointed out this stream especially because it flowed toward the center, extinguishing the flames around it. He mentioned the island of Crete, whose king, Saturn, ruled it back when the world was pure. There was Mt. Ida which was the source of many waters. Now it sits forsaken & neglected. There, Rhea, his wife, took their child to hide his crying amongst all the Corybants making noise in the hills.
- An old man stood under the mountain’s pass with shoulders towards Damietta (Northern Egypt) but looking towards Rome. He towers greatly with a golden head, silver chest, arms & hands, a bronze trunk, iron legs & a clay right foot. But the golden head was cracked & tears ran down from it to the cavern floor making up the Acheron, Styx & Phlegethon downward till they made up the Cocytus, a lake at the bottom of Hell that Dante would see later.
- Dante asked about why it flowed from the upper world down to this point here. Virgil responded that Hell was round & they themselves were moving leftward but hadn’t gone around the circle completely. There were more strange things to come.
- Dante asked about the Lethe & the Phlegethon. Virgil told him the Phlegethon was the river with boiling blood they’d crossed in Canto 12. The Lethe would be coming up soon. That was where the souls went to purge their guilt once their penitence was complete. They decided to move on.
Notes According to Dorothy Sayers
- The Sand – in these circles of the violent, the reader is peculiarly conscious of a sense of sterility. The bloody river, the dreary wood, the harsh sand, which compose them, to some extent are these as symbols of unfruitfulness. The images of the sand & burning rain are derived from the doom of Sodom & Gomorrah.
- The Blasphemers – Capaneus the Blasphemer is chosen as the particular image of violence against God. He is an image of pride, which makes the soul obdurate under judgment. The arrangement of Hell, being classical, allots no special place to pride (held by Christianity to be the root of all sin) but it offers a whole series of examples of pride, each worse than the last, as the pit deepens. Farinata’s pride is dark & silent. Capaneus’s is loud & defiant but not yet so wholly ignoble as that of Vanni Fucci, far down in the 8th Circle.
- They carried on walking by the river which protected them from the fire coming down. They’d left the wood so long ago that if Dante tried to turn around & see it, he wouldn’t know where to look. As they walked along, many souls came near to see them.
- One of them reached out to touch the hem of his garment & proclaimed it to be marvelous. Dante saw that this face had been scorched & his skin shriveled & scarred. But still Dante recognized something about him. Was it Ser Brunetto Latini? Dante wanted to speak to him. Brunetto was Dante’s mentor & taught him many things. But if he stopped at all to talk Dante, he’d have to lie down in the flames for 100 years without fanning himself.
- Dante slowed down his pace to be able to walk & talk with him a while. Brunetto asked why he was there & who his guide was. Dante told him he’d lost his way & now he had to follow the path through Hell to get back home.
- Brunetto tells him to carry on & he’ll get there OK. He praised Dante’s work & understands he was favored by Heaven He told Dante those who’d defiled the rock at Fiesole & their families would be his enemy. Dante’s good words would make trouble for himself. Dante would be a great leader of his people unless he were to get corrupted. But many people would grow to hate him.
- Dante answered him saying if he had his way, Brunetto would still be alive. He thought of him all the time & saw him as a father figure in his teaching the art of how men become immortal. He’d write great words & even show them to Beatrice so she could explain them to him.
- Brunetto responded that well-heeded is well-heard. Dante asked him who the most famous person in his level of Hell was. Brunetto said there were all kinds of famous men there, including Francis of Accorse, Priscian & Andrea dei Mozzi. Brunetto excuse himself & told Dante to refer to his book, “Thesaurus” & then took off.
Notes According to Dorothy Sayers
- The Sodomites – are chosen as the image of a perverse vice which damage & corrupt the natural powers of the bodily. Their perpetual fruitless running forms a parallel, on a lower level, to the aimless drifting of the lustful in Canto 5.