"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Dante's Inferno, Cantos XII thru XVII

Continuing on with the summary of Dante's Inferno.  First installment was here. Second installment here.  

The pilgrims enter the seventh circle, where the souls are punished for their acts of violence.  The Minotaur guards the entrance, and after a stern rebuke from Virgil, lets them in.  The seventh circle is divided into three circlets, each for a different form of violence.  The first is for those who committed violence against others, and it’s protected by the Centaurs.  The circlet is mostly made up of the river Phlegeton, a boiling stream colored red by the blood of the sinners forever feeding the stream.  After some discussion, the Centaurs agree to carry Dante and Virgil across.  (Canto XII)

Across the river, the pilgrims are dropped into the second circlet, a dark forest where the suicides reside, those who did violence on themselves.  The souls of the suicides have here been transformed into trees and shrubbery, forever to be broken and munched on by the Harpies.  Virgil tells Dante to break a twig off a tree, and so they encounter a soul who is never named but can be identified as Pier della Vigna, a fellow poet and a minister to the Emperor Frederick II.  Further the pilgrims meet two other souls who in life did not commit suicide but destroyed their material possessions.  These two souls are being chased by dogs who shred them with their teeth.  (Canto XIII)

The pilgrims reach the final circlet, a barren field of burning sand where flames fall down from the sky like snowflakes.  Here is the third section of the circle of violence, those who did violence against God.  The pilgrims only walk on the safe edge of the burning sand since the sand would destroy Dante’s feet.  The barren field is also divided into sections for different types of sinners against God, and here first is that of the blasphemers.  They meet the ancient Theban King who in his victory boasted he was greater than Jupiter himself.  Finally the pilgrims come to a waterfall where they stop and Virgil explains the geography of the rivers in hell and how their source is up above on earth.  (Canto XIV)

The pilgrims continue on a road within the barren field and come across a group of souls forever forced to run on the field.  Here the sin of sodomy is punished, and to Dante’s shock he comes across his beloved teacher and model for one who combines the poetic life with the life of political leadership, Ser Brunetto Latini.  Dante and Brunetto have perhaps the most gentile and affectionate conversation of any Dante has in hell, which shows just how much Dante loved him.  They discuss the wickedness of Florentine politics and Dante’s career as a man of letters.  Dante asks who else is there with Brunetto, and he says mostly other clerics and poets.  (Canto XV)

The pilgrims continue on on the field and come across another group of sodomites, these being famous Florentine politicians and soldiers.  All three he meets were former Guelphs and Dante feels a connection so strong with this group he nearly jumps in with them.  But the pilgrims move on and they come to a waterfalls that drops down deep into the pit.  Virgil has Dante unstrap his vestment cord, hand it to Virgil, and Virgil flings it into the stream.  Rising from the stream as if it were the cord transformed was a serpentine monster.  (Canto XVI)

The beast turns out to be the three parted creature from Greek mythology, Geryon, a monster that was part man, part serpent, and part bird.  While Virgil tries to command Geryon for their use, Dante goes to examine the last type of sinners in the section of those who did violence to God, this being the usurers.  While the sodomites were destined to be in forever motion, the usurers are destined to be forever sedentary.  When Dante returns to Virgil, he finds his guide on Geryon’s back, and Dante hops on.  They will use Geryon to descend down to the eighth circle, which is now too steep to descend on foot.  (Canto XVII)

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