Dante – Inferno/Hell from The Divine Comedy, 16-18

Canto 16

  • They had reached the point where the water was going down to the Circle below. Then 3 shadows came running towards them.
    • One of them recognized Dante’s Florentine dress. Dante was shocked at their burns & scars. Virgil warned Dante to be courteous to them since they approached him & not the other way around. They renewed their grief over what had become of Florence.
    • Then they formed in wheel around Dante to continue moving & still be able to talk to Dante. These were the men that Ciacco had spoken of in Canto 6 – Guido Guerra, Tegghiai’ Aldobrandi & Jacopo Rusticucci.
      • Dante didn’t really want to talk to them because it pained him to see them in such agony. He was very familiar with their lives & he told them of his journey with his guide, Virgil.
      • They wished him happiness & fame back in the living world & asked him how Florence was doing. A recently arrived soul in the ring had told them Florence was falling apart. Dante confirmed that. They told him he should use his words to praise them back on earth. They ran off, the poets moved on.
  • They came to a waterfall that reminded Dante of one in the Apennines. He had a rope girdle around his waist that used to wear to try to catch the “leopard” with painted skin”. Virgil threw it over the ledge.
    • Dante was thinking about what weird thing that would happen next, when Virgil, reading his mind, told him something would be happening soon. Dante saw a shape rising up soaring towards them.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • The Girdle – Much controversy has raged about this. In the story, something was needed as a signal & it was convenient to use something a person was likely to have on him. But Dante went out of his way to tell us he had once hoped to catch the leopard from Canto 1 with rope. The leopard is the image of the sins of youth or incontinence. It probably has something to do with chastity or a failed vow. The Circles of Incontinence are left behind & the girdle is now available for another use. This time it does catch something – something multi-colored & bright like the leopard but infinitely more dangerous, brought from the Circles of Fraud. Allegorically, this may suggest that when the earlier & more obvious temptations seem to have departed, they may recur, disguised & more insidious, provoked by the very safeguards originally used against them.


Canto 17

  • Virgil warned Dante of the stinging forked tail that passes mountains & breaks weapons & walls, polluting the world. This was a 2-legged dragon with painted ring-knots more colorful than anything Arachne could ever make. It sat on the cliff with its tail waving around in the void.
    • Virgil told Dante they ought to change their path to avoid the creature. They descended on the right away from the cliff towards the sand. They saw souls off in the distance, Virgil left Dante alone to speak with them for a moment while he tried to get the beast to give them a ride down to the next level.
    • Dante went off to see those who were sitting there suffering in the sand. He didn’t recognize any of them. But he did recognize the coats of arms belonging to various families In Italy. He did see that they had purses around their necks that they all stared at. They weren’t very welcoming to him & told him to go away.
    • Virgil returned & told him to mount the beast while it was still calm. Dante was terrified, so much so that when he tried to ask Virgil to hold on to him, the words wouldn’t come out right. But Virgil sensed his fear & held onto him, & then called out to the Geryon to move. They flew down into the black void. It was so dark that Dante couldn’t see where they were going.
    • Dante was more terrified of the land than the flight. He heard wailing & saw tall fires shooting up. The Geryon landed at the bottom, shrugged them off & then flew away.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • The Geryon – In Greek mythology, Geryon was a monster who was killed by Hercules. He was usually represented as having a human form with 3 heads or 3 conjoined bodies. But Dante has given him a shape compounded of 3 natures – human, bestial & reptile. In the allegory, he is the image of fraud, with the face of a just man & an iridescence of beautiful color but with the power of a beast & a poisonous sting in his serpent’s tail – not needing interpretation.
  • The Usurers – These, as we’ve seen, are the image of the violent against Nature & Art derived from nature. They sit looking upon the ground because they have sinned against that & against the labor that should have cultivated its resources. The old commentator, Gelli observes brilliantly observes that the Sodomites & Usurers are classed together because the 1st make sterile the natural instincts which result in fertility, while the 2nd make fertile that which by nature is sterile – i.e. “they make money breed”. More generally, the Usurers may be taken as types of economic & mechanical civilizations which multiply material luxuries at the expense of vital necessities & have no roots in the earth or in humanity.

Canto 18

  • The next part of Hell is a region called the Malbowges, made up of iron-grey walls of each sublevel. It makes a downward cone of 10 bowges/trenches like channels.
    • As soon as they’d gotten off the Geryon, Virgil moved to the left & Dante followed. There they found more souls being torments by horned fiends whipping them to get them to move.
    • Dante wondered to himself who one of the souls was. Virgil let him follow his urge to speak to the soul, who was trying to hide his face. But Dante was able to recognize him – Venedico Caccianemico, Why was he here?
    • Venedico told him that he had sold Ghisola to the Marchese to satisfy his lust. There were, in fact, more there from Bologna than actually were in Bologna in the living world. Before he could continue the conversation, a demon cracked the whip to move him on.
    • Virgil & Dante saw a slope & climbed up to see those who were moving in the opposite direction. Virgil pointed out Jason who had swindled the Colchi king to get the Golden Fleece by convincing his daughter, Medea to betray her father & run off with him. He later dumped her for another woman. Medea took revenge on him by killing their children & his new wife. The pit was filled with plenty others like him
  • They crossed the 2nd bank over a bridge. There they saw countless souls wallowing in a lake full of shit that seemed to be filling up. Dante had difficulty determining who they were because they were so dirty.
    • Dante peered carefully & recognized Alessio Interminei of Lucca being yelled at another. Virgil also wanted to point out the harlot, Thaïs, who belonged there because of her flattery of Alexander.
    • They moved on.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • The 8th & 9th Circles – these are Circles of Fraud or Malice – sins of the wolf.
  • Malbowges – The 8th Circle is a huge funnel of rock, round which run at irregular intervals, a series of deep, narrow trenches called “bowges”. From the foot of the Great Barrier at the top of the Well which forms the neck of the funnel run immense spurs of rock (like the ribs of an umbrella) raised above the general contour of the slope & except that the distances from bowge to bowge are greater, & the rock surfaces much steeper & craggier than it is possible to suggest in a small diagram.
    • Malbowges are the image of the City in corruption. The progressive disintegration of every social relationship, personal & public. Sexuality, ecclesiastical & civil office, language, ownership, counsel, authority, psychic influence & material interdependence – all the media of the community’s exchange are perverted & falsified, till nothing remains but the descent into the final abyss where faith & trust are wholly & forever extinguished.
  • The Panders & Seducers – In the Circles of Fraud (the abuse of the specifically human faculty of reason), the ministers of hell are no longer embodied appetites, but actual devils, those who deliberately exploited the passions of others & so drove them to serve their own interests, are themselves driven & scourged. The image is sexual one, but the Panders & Seducers allegorically figure the stimulation & exploitation of every king of passion, e.g. rage or greed – by which one may makes tools of other people.
  • The Flatterers – These too exploit others by playing upon their desires. Their weapon is that of abuse & corruption of language which destroys communication between mind & mind. Here they are plunged in the slop & filth which they excreted upon the world. Dante did not live to see the full development of political propaganda, commercial advertisement & sensational journalism, but he had prepared a place for them.


Author: knowit68

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