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

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Dante's Inferno, Cantos XVIII thru XXIII

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

Having landed in Malebolge, Dante describes its structure as having ten concentric ditches or pockets, each for a different sin type of fraud.  Horned demons, stationed at each ditch, prevent the souls from escaping through harsh weapons and violence.  The ditches are connected by a series of bridges running toward the center.  The first ditch belongs to the pimps and seducers, where the sinners are whipped and where the pilgrims meet a Bolognese man who pimped sister and Jason the Argonaut, who in his adventures had seduced several women.  In the second ditch, the residence for flatterers, submerged in human excrement, the pilgrims meet a man from Lucca and Thais from classical literature.  (Canto XVIII)

The pilgrims come to the third ditch, where those who have sinned of simony.  Here the sinners are placed upside down in a hole that resembles a baptismal font, where only their legs stick up outside and the bottoms of their feet are flicked with flame.  This piques Dante's curiosity from above on the bridge and Virgil offers to take him down.  On the ground Dante stops to talk to one sinner, who submerged can't see who Dante is but confuses him with Pope Boniface VIII, who is expected to replace him by pushing him further down into the ground.  The sinner turns out to be a previous Pope, Nicholas III, who speaks of his sin.  Dante then rants against him telling him how all such Popes have made the world worse by their greed.  (Canto XIX)

They come to the fourth ditch, for sinners who have tried to divine the future.  Here the souls are twisted so that their heads face their back, forced ironically to walk with their heads backwards, and tears flow from their eyes and drip into their buttocks.  Virgil points out a number of sinners, but elaborates on a woman named Manto, a soothsayer, who was the legendary founder of Virgil's home city of Mantua.  In describing how Manto founded the city, Virgil gives a loving description of the natural milieu, suggestive of the poet's lyric poetry and offers a contrast to the hideous and repulsive nature of hell.  More sinners are identified and the pilgrims move on.  (Canto XX)

The pilgrims enter the fifth ditch, where those who committed barratry and other grafters reside.  The ditch is filled with boiling tar in which the sinners submerged.  A squad of demons with grappling hooks jab and carve the sinners if they try to rise up.  One demon has just arrived with a new resident, carrying him on his shoulder like a side of meat.  Virgil has Dante hide while he engages the demon, and tells him when demon is about to hook him that he's is there by the will of God.  The demon relents, Virgil has Dante come out, and the squad gathers threateningly around them.  They will let them go, but the demon tells them the next bridge is down and they will have to take a circuitous route onward.  They move on but Dante is afraid as the demons follow behind.  The squad gathers before their leader for a salute, and the leader acknowledges with a fart for a trumpet sound.  (Canto XXI)

Still in the fifth ditch the pilgrims look down into the pitch and see the sinners' nostril's as if they were frogs beneath the surface of a pond.  They scatter when the demons pass by except for one, and one of the demons grab him by the head and lift him out.  The pilgrims wish to talk to him and find out he's from Navarre, someone who had worked for the king and took bribes.  The demons slash at his being, ripping flesh off him.  He tells the pilgrims about others that reside there, and he plays a trick on the demons by leaping off to escape them.  Two of them chase him, argue and brawl, and fall themselves into the boiling tar.  While the other demons try to pull them out, the pilgrims run ahead.  (Canto XXII)

The pilgrims make an escape from the Malebranche by climbing and sliding down the back that separates the ditches, with Virgil holding Dante in his arms.  They make it over to the sixth ditch just in time as the squad of demons reach the edge of their ditch and can go no further.  The sixth ditch is where the hypocrites reside, painted souls who wear glittery vestments but filled with lead inside so that it wears them down.  They meet a pair of friars who walk and talk with them, reaching a soul staked in a crucified position on the ground.  We learn he is Caiaphus, the Jewish high priest who contrived to have Jesus crucified.  The pilgrims ask for directions to move to the next ditch and find out the Malebranche lied about the bridge being out.  (Canto XXIII)

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