Dante – Inferno/Hell from The Divine Comedy, 31-34

Canto 31

  • Finally they reached the end of the 8th Circle but didn’t see very much. However, they did hear a very loud horn echoing around. Dante saw tall towers in the distance & asked Virgil about them.
    • Virgil told him his eyes were playing tricks on him. They weren’t towers but giants sitting in a ring frozen from the waist down in the 9th Circle. The giant they saw was enormous. It started to peak in gibberish & Virgil told it either to speak sense with his little horn or to keep it quiet. Virgil told Dante the giant was Nimrod who was to blame for our lack of a common language after building the Tower of Babel.
    • They turned to the next giant. Dante found it hard to believe that anything could restrain it but he had an iron chain wrapped around him 5 times. His name was Ephialtes & he’d challenged Jove. He tussled around causing an earthquake which scared the life out of Dante.
    • They went on to see the 3rd giant, Antaeus. Virgil explained that he’d been very strong & had done great things but now was fixed from the waist down in the Cocytus’s frozen stream. Virgil called out him asking him for help. Antaeus reached out to pick them up both in one hand & put them down to the bottom of the Well.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • The Giants – From the point of view of the story, it is easy to see that Dante placed the giants here, not merely to furnish a means of transport from Malbowges to the depth of the Well, but, artistically, to provide a little light relief between the sickening horrors of the last bowges of Fraud Simple & the still greater, but wholly different, horrors of the pit of Treachery. But allegorically, what do they signify? In one sense, they are images of pride. The Giants who rebelled against God. But they may also be taken as the images of the blind forces which remain in the soul, & in society, when the “general bond of love” is dissolved & the “good of the intellect” wholly withdrawn & when nothing remains but blocks of primitive mass-emotion, fit to be the “executives of Mars” & the tools of treachery. Nimrod is a braggart of stupidity. Ephialtes, a senseless rage. Antaeus, a brainless vanity. One may call them the doom of nonsense, violence & triviality, overtaking a civilization in which the whole natural order is abrogated.

Canto 32

  • Dante’s previous verse used to described the different levels of Hell & the people who lived there. But how he had to write about the deepest part of Hell. He looked up at the walls of Hell & heard a soul tell him not to step on the heads of those trapped in ice of the 9th Circle. He saw a large frozen lake so clear it looked like glass.
    • There they saw souls frozen into the ice. Virgil & Dante walked up to one pair pressed up against each other. Dante asked them who were there. They were mostly frozen. They didn’t answer but butted their heads together. Then another one, who had lost his ears, asked Dante & Virgil why they were staring at them. He told them the 2 were the brothers, Napoleone & Alessandro degli Alberti who’d killed each other over land in the Bisenzio River Valley. They had split into Guelph & Ghibelline partisans.
      • The man without ears also said Sassol Mascheroni, who’d killed his uncle’s son to get the inheritance, was around. He himself was Camicion de Pazzi & he’d murdered his own kinsmen.
    • He saw thousands of faces shuddering in the cold. As they walked around, Dante accidentally kicked one soul in the head. The soul asked him why he’d done that. Was Dante there carry out Montapenti’s vendetta? Dante asked him who he was. The face replied he wanted to be left alone.
      • Dante got upset by the soul’s insults & grabbed him by the hair, & told him that if he didn’t give his name, he’d scalp him. The head didn’t care what Dante threatened him with, he wasn’t saying anything. Dante grabbed a tuft of hair & started yanking on it. The head yelled but remained defiant. Another soul called out for him to shut up, using his name, Bocca. Dante attacked him by calling him a traitor & promised the world would learn of his fate.
      • Bocca didn’t care but told Dante not to forget to write about the one who’d tattled on him, Buoso da Duera, who’d allowed the French forces safe passage in his region for a fee. Also in the area was Beccaria, Gianni de’ Soldaner, Ganelon, Tibbald & many more.
    • Dante & Virgil left the unpleasant Bocca behind & Dante spotted 2 souls frozen together in one hole. One of them was chewing the other in the head. He’d been able to get to his brains. Dante said the one really must have hated the other to gnaw at his skull, Dante would write that down.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • Cocytus – Beneath the clamor, the monstrous circlings, the fires of Hell, here at the center of the lost soul & lost city, lie the silence, rigidity & eternal frozen cold. It’s perhaps the greatest image in the whole of the Inferno. Charles Williams says “Dante scatters phrases on the difference of the place. It is treachery but it is also cruelty. The traitor is cruel.” A cold & cruel egotism, gradually striking inward till even the lingering passions of hatred & destruction are frozen into immobility – that is the final state of sin. The conception is Dante’s own. Although the Apocalypse of Paul mentions a number of cold torments, these are indiscriminately mingled with torments by fire & their placing has no structural significance. (It’s interesting, however, that in the 17th Century, the witches who claimed to have had to do with Satan sometimes reported that he was ice-cold).
    • Cocytus, the “river of mourning”, is the 4th of the great rivers of Hell. Caïna is named after Cain who slew his brother. Antenora is named after Antenor of Troy, according to medieval tradition, betrayed his city to the Greeks.

Canto 33

  • The sinner wiped his messy face on the other head’s hair & spoke. He said that if Dante was looking for him to express his grief, it would be very painful indeed. He would tell him about the traitor he was munching on. He was trusting Dante to be fair in his judgment of him.
    • He was Count Ugolin. He had been the head of a Guelph party & allied with Cardinal Roger Ubaldini (who was now his lunch) to kill his nephew, Nino. Once Nino had been taken care of, he continued to trust Roger but fell into a trap, seized & killed. But there was more to the story. Roger put him & his 4 sons in a dungeon & starved them. Once his sons had died, he started eating their bodies. He stopped talking to Dante & went back to eating.
      • Dante railed on about Pisa being a sinful place & never having to pay the price for it. Count Ugolin may have taken its lands but doing that to his children was way worse.
  • Dante & Virgil moved along & found people lying on their backs frozen in the ice. Any grief they had turned inward to drive their anguish deeper. Their tears turned to ice frozen to their faces. Dante was feeling the cold as well. He asked why it was so cold. Virgil told him him it would be revealed to him soon enough.
    • One of the souls stuck in the ice asked them to remove the tears frozen from his eyes so he could cry some  more. Dante told him he’d only do it if he told them about himself.
      • He answered he was Friar Alberigo. Dante was surprised that he was dead. The news hadn’t gotten out yet back in the living world. Alberigo answered that that was a special feature about this section of Hell, Ptolomaea. Souls bad enough were sent there before they were even dead. Their bodies were currently being possessed by demons until they died.
      • Alberigo told Dante that Branca d’Oria had been there for many years. Dante was sure that the Friar was telling tales because he knew for a fact that Branca was still alive. Branca had invited his father-in-law, Michael Zanche (Dante visited in Canto 22) to a banquet & murdered him. Zanche had yet gotten to the Barrators’ Bowge when Branca had been thrown down there. Alberigo asked him to fulfill his promise & clear the ice off his eyes. Dante declined, stating that rudeness was a form of courtesy that far down in Hell.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • Ugolin & Roger – are the last of those pairs of shades who image partnership in sin. In each case, only one of them speaks. Francesca speaks of sharing the sin & offers excuses for Paolo along with herself. Ulysses ignores Diomede (partnership is lost). Ugolin justifies himself at Roger’s expense (treachery can share nothing but a mutual hatred). There is a deliberate parallel between the Paolo-Francesca pair & the Ugolin-Roger pair. In both cases, the lines that introduce their respective stories are drawn from the same passage of Virgil, & there are other minor correspondences. This is Dante’s way of indicating that here in the ice of Cocytus, we have the last state of the corruption of love, that every devouring passion, sexual or otherwise, that sets itself, against the order of God & the City, bears in itself the seeds of treachery & a devouring passion of destruction.
  • Ptolomaea – The 3rd region of Cocytus is probably named after Ptolemy, captain of Jericho, who invited Simon the High Priest & his sons to a banquet & there slew them. Here lie the Traitors to Hospitality. They who denied the most primitive of human sanctities are now almost sealed off from humanity before they die. That which seems to live in them on earth is only a devil in human form – the man in them was withdrawn out of reason into the cold damnation.

Canto 34

  • Virgil asked Dante if he could see “him” as they were moving forward. Virgil saw a shadowy mass & then moved behind Virgil to shield himself from the cold. There he saw souls frozen into the ice in various positions – upright, prone, twisted. Finally they were able to see “him”.
    • Virgil introduced Dante to “Dis” or Satan. He warned Dante to be strong. Dante had never felt such cold. There he felt neither life nor death. He was the emperor of the sorrowful realm half frozen into the ice. Satan had 3 faces on his head – one red, one yellow & one black. Underneath that he had a pair wings like a bat that flapped the wind around causing all the severe cold in Hell. Satan wept from his 6 eyes with tears dripping down his chin. Each of his 3 mouths had a sinner in it chewing on him – Judas Iscariot, Brutus & Cassius. Virgil told Dante that the tour of Hell was now over (no gift shop, sadly). Dante climbed on Virgil’s back & they climbed down Satan between the wing flaps.
      • They climbed down & down but Dante felt like they were climbing back through Hell. But they climbed down & down until they could see only Satan’s legs.
      • Virgil mentioned they had to get moving. Dante wanted to know what had happened to all the ice, & how they got turned upside down. Virgil explained that since Satan was at the core of the earth, going beyond him was to climb upwards to the Earth’s surface one the Southern Hemisphere. When Satan had fallen from Heaven, the land in the Southern Hemisphere moved to the North forming the mountain. They climbed back up to where they started, eventually coming out to see the stars.

Notes According to Dorothy Sayers

  • Judecca – The region of the Traitors to sworn allegiance is called Judecca after Judas, who betrayed Our Lord. Here, cut off from every contact & every means of expression, those who committed the final treason lie wholly submerged.
  • Judas, Brutus & Cassius – Judas, obviously enough, is the image of the betrayal of God. To us, with our minds dominated by Shakespeare & by “democratic” ideas, the presence here of Brutus & Cassius needs some explanation. To understand it, we must get rid of all political notions in the narrow sense. We should notice, first, that Dante’s attitude to Julius Caesar is ambivalent. Personally, as a pagan, Julius is in Limbo. Politically, his rise to power involved the making of civil war, & Curio, who advised him to cross the Rubicon, is in the 8th Circle of Hell. But, although Julius was never actually Emperor, he was the founder of the Roman Empire, & by his function, therefore, he images that institution which, in Dante’s view, was divinely appointed to govern the world. Thus Brutus & Cassius, by their breach of sworn allegiance to Caesar, were Traitors to the Empire, i.e. to World-Order. Consequently, just as Judas figures treason against God, so Brutus & Cassius figure treason against Man-in-Society. Or we may say that we have here the images of treason against the Divine & the Secular government of the world.
  • Dis, Pluto –  being the name of the king of the Classical Underworld. But to Dante, he is Satan of Lucifer or Beelzebub – or, as we say, the Devil. “He can see it now – that which monotonously resents & repels, that which despairs… Milton imagined Satan, but an active Satan. This is beyond it – this is passive except for its longing. Shakespeare imagined treachery. This is treachery raised to an infinite cannibalism. Treachery gnaws treachery, & so inevitably. It is the imagination of the freezing of every conception, an experience of which neither life nor death can know, & which is yet quite certain, if it is willed.” – Charles Williams.


Author: knowit68

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