Dante – Inferno/Hell from The Divine Comedy, 22-24

Canto 22

  • Dante had seen a lot of expeditions in his day but never anything like him & Virgil being escorted by several devils. Dante focused on the most to see what was going on. Those wallowing in the pitch would float up to the top every now & then to relieve themselves of the pain of boiling pitch on their flesh. Some laid around like frogs sticking their noses out. One went back down to avoid being prodded by a demon. One remained up & got pulled out by his hair. The demons did it over & over again.
    • Dante wanted to know who the one being pulled out was. Virgil went up to him & asked him. He was from Navarre. He grew up a servant to a lord & eventually became an advisor to Theobald II, King of Navarre, a position he used to his own personal gain.
      • A demon cut him off to jab at him. The other demons fought with each other to torture him.
      • Virgil waited until the demons stopped & asked him if he knew any Italians in this part of Hell. He knew a couple from Sardinia. He got tortured & then answered. They were Fra Gomita & Don Michael Zanche. Between the 2 of them, all of Sardinia was completely fleeced.
      • Virgil paused again because of the demons. He then asked if there were any souls from other parts of Italy. The soul asked for a reprieve from the torture, that way he could summon up at least 7 others.
        • The demons thought he was going to try something to trick them. He told them he was bringing them more souls to torment. As soon as the demons turned away, the Navarrese jumped out of the pit & moved into the neighboring bowge.
        • The demons were upset & in chasing after him, 2 demons fell into the pit. They flailed around, becoming completely covered in pitch. They started fighting & making it worse. Others tried to get them out.
    • Dante & Virgil used this occasion to move on quietly.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • The Tricked & Quarreling Demons – Thought it may present an appearance of solidarity, Satan’s Kingdom is divided against itself & cannot stand because it has no true order, & fear is its only discipline. Moreover, in the long run, the devil is a fool: trickery preys on trickery & cruelty on cruelty.

Canto 23

  • Virgil & Dante had slipped away quietly. Just as they were doing it, “The Frog & The Mouse” bu Aesop came to mind. It was similar to the situation they were in now.
    • Dante felt that the demons were not only tricked by the Navarrese but they must be as embarrassed by the fact that Virgil & he had sneaked away. Virgil felt the same way & noted how much they were thinking the same way in general. So they moved on.
    • But as soon as Virgil had finished speaking, the demons appeared to come after them swooping down on them. Virgil grabbed Dante in his arms & slid down to the next bowge. Miraculously they made it without any harm coming to either one of them.
      • There they saw people covered with paint, wearing colorful cloaks covering their faces lined with lead.
    • Dante asked if they could find some famous person there. Dante then heard someone speaking Tuscan, tell them to stay a while to speak with them. Virgil told him to wait for souls to walk & talk with them.
      • Dante waited until 2 people caught up with him. They looked at each other & then at him. They spoke to each other about Dante. He seemed to be alive. What exempted him from having to wear the heavy cloak? Then they spoke to him. They asked who he was & why he deserved to come to the hypocrite section of Hell. He told them he was from Florence & was still alive. Then he asked who they were & why they were wearing garments of guilt.
      • They answered that their garments contained lead. They were “Jovial Friars” [an order meant to promote reconciliation & to help the poor] from Bologna, named Catalano & Loderingo. They had been brought in to Florence to keep peace & calm down the warring factions.
    • Dante stated to lay into him but stopped when he saw one man lying on the ground on a crucifx. Catalano told Dante that he was Caiaphas, the one who advised the Pharisees to crucify Christ to get the Romans of the Jews’ backs. All the hypocrites in the bowge walked over him.
      • Also in this ditch was his father-in-law, Annas & all the Sanhedrin whose counsel led the Jews down the wrong path.
      • Virgil looked at Caiaphas & then spoke to the Friars asking them if there was a path to get them over the barrier to the next bowge. They answered that there used to be a bridge but it had collapsed, & they could probably climb over the rubble.
    • Virgil looked down remembering what the head demon in the previous bowge had said, promising to guide them to the “unbroken bridge”. He should have known it was a lie.
      • One Friar told him that the devil had a lot of propaganda all over Bologna. But most people knew he was a liar & father of lies. Virgil seemed upset but they carried on anyway.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • The Leaden Cloaks – The image of Hypocrisy, presenting a brilliant show & weighing like lead so as to make spiritual progress impossible, doesn’t need much interpretation.
  • Caiaphas – This image lends itself particularly well to Dante’s fourfold system of interpretation.
    • 1 – Literal – The punishment of Caiaphas after death.
    • 2 – Allegorical – The condition of the Jews in this world, being identified with the image they rejected & the suffering they inflicted – “crucified forever in the eternal exile”.
    • 3 – Moral – The condition in this life of the man who sacrifices his inner truth to expediency (e.g., his true vocation to money-making, or his true love to a political alliance), & to whom the rejected good becomes at once a heaven from which he is exiled & a rack or which he suffers.
    • 4 – Anagogical – The state, here & hereafter, of the soul which rejects God & which can know God as wrath & terror, while at the same time it suffers the agony of eternal separation from God, who is its only true good.

Canto 24

  • Dante was upset to see Virgil so angry but as they moved on to the broken bridge, he seemed to return to his jovial self.
    • Virgil examined the rubble & then lifted Dante over a large block. He gave Dante instructions to move carefully because he was unsure how Dante’s weight would after the rocks. After climbing a while, Dante was exhausted. But Virgil told him to get climbing, & that the only way to greatness was through hard work. He ha to summon up every ounce of strength in him. Eventually Dante made it up & now they had to go down into the next pit.
    • There they were able to see. The pit was filled with snakes chasing naked men around. The men had their hands & legs bound with coiled snakes.
      • One soul came running towards them but was bitten by a jumping snake. He fell over & burned to ashes. But the ashes gathered together & shaped themselves in their previous form. Dante compared what he saw to what had been said about the Phoenix.
    • The sinner woke up totally bewildered Virgil asked him who he was. He was a Tuscan named Vanni Fucci from Pistoia. Dante knew him as a violent criminal & didn’t want him anywhere near him.
      • Fucci looked ashamed. He said being there was more shameful than death. He was down so deep because he’d stone from a church’s sacristy & allowed others to be blamed & punished for it.
      • Then he gave Dante a prophecy that the Guelphs (Dante’s faction) would be purged from Pistoia, & that new men & new laws would do the same in Florence.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • The Thieves – 2 cantos are devoted to thieves, the full nature of whose punishment is not fully developed until we get to Canto 25. The old commentators point out the likeness between the subtle serpents & the creeping thief. In this Canto, we can already see how he is himself robbed of his very semblance. One must always remember that to the mind of the Middle Ages, a man’s lawful property was an extension of his personality. An exterior body, as it were, & like that body, a sacred trust to be used & not abused, either by himself or by others. This accounts for the severe view which Dante takes of offenses against property


Author: knowit68

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