Saturday, July 10, 2010

Inferno, Cantos 27-34

Whooo! Home stretch! The final eight cantos of Inferno for Richard's Divine Comedy read-along! So apparently, when you Google "Dante" you mostly get pictures of this guy, the protagonist of the Devil May Cry video games from Japan. Dante is a half-demon, half-human mercenary who specializes in paranormal assignments. Other characters include the beautiful Lucia, highly skilled in the use of ornate daggers, and Dante's evil twin brother Vergil, who embraces his demonic heritage.

Dante is not to be confused with Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), the author of The Divine Comedy. This is a totally different person.

Moving right along. . .

Canto 27

After Ulysses finishes his story, Dante encounters another burning soul who makes a strange roar Dante compares to the righteous anger of the Sicilian Bull towards one who has injured him. This is a story of a trickster being tricked. This particular soul is finding it difficult to speak while on fire but the tip of the flame forms a sort of tongue. He identifies Dante as a fellow Italian and wants to know if his homeland Romagna has found peace or war. He is referring to the conflict between the Guelph and the Ghibelline factions.

Dante tells him that Romagna is never without war but there is no open conflict at the moment. He goes on to discuss the region's seven cities: Cervia, Forli, Verrucchio, Lamone, Santerno, Faenza, and Cesena, who are all suffering under the yoke of various tyrants, mostly members of powerful families twisting the law for their own benefit. He then asks the soul who is he is. The soul replies:
"If I believed that my reply were to a person who
would ever return to the world, this flame would
remain without further shaking;
but since never from this depth has any one
returned alive, if I hear the truth, without fear of
infamy I answer you." (61-66)
This comes from the beginning of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." While Guido talked when he shouldn't have, Prufrock did not speak when he should have. T.S. Eliot was great poet. Dante and I are huge fans of T.S. Eliot.

The soul goes on to say that he is a "man of arms" (67) who became a Franciscan because he believed doing so would absolve him of his misdeeds. This might've worked too, if it wasn't for that Pope Boniface, the "high priest, may evil take / him!" (70-71). The notes to my edition identify him as Guido de Montefeltro, the most successful mercenary captain of his era. Guido adds that he was more sneaky (fraudulent) than outright aggressive (that is, more fox than lion). He was indeed notorious for his ability to manipulate and mislead people. But he eventually grew tired of this life and realized it was wrong. He would have given it up and retired peacefully but then Pope Boniface, the "prince of the new Pharisees" (85), had the nerve to make another war! And not even against the Jews, Muslims, or merchants who did business with the Turks, but against his own fellow Christians!

But of course, Guido's conversion probably wasn't as sincere as he claims it was.

Boniface asked Guido for advice on how to "raze Palestrina to the ground" (100) but Guido didn't believe this guy was for real and stayed silent. In doing so, Boniface was disregarding both his high office and Guido's vows as a Franciscan. Then Boniface assured him that he had the keys to Heaven and that he had henceforth absolved Guido, who believed him. But you cannot absolve someone of a crime they have not yet committed.

In other words, Guido (and Boniface) tried to trick God by fighting against the Church, getting excommunicated, and welcomed back when he became a priest. Like just about everyone in Hell, however, he blames another (Boniface) for his own misdeeds: "and it would have worked." (Recall, for instance, Francisca from the Second Circle blaming a book for her adulterous affair). The reason they're in Hell is because they didn't repent and take responsibility for their own actions. But both Dante and Guido are highly critical of Boniface for interfering with secular affairs and using physical force against other Christians (although Guido, ironically, did the same thing). This recalls Dante's discussion of Constantine in Canto 19 and the separation between office and person.

This canto also continues with the metaphor of life as a sea voyage from Canto 26, and which also appeared in Canto 1 with the image of the shipwreck. Although Guido wasn't nearly as famous as he presents himself, Dante wanted to set up a parallel to Ulysses.

Also: the sinners in the Eighth Circle are sometimes called those who were "violent against art." In this context, "art" refers to any purposeful human activity, be it politics, farming, shipbuilding, etc.

Canto 28

This is the one with Muhammad and the Sowers of Discord in the Ninth Bolgia. I'm going to skip it not because of the present-day controversy but because it contains torture and gore, neither of which sits well with my stomach.

Canto 29

Despite Virgil's warning that they don't have much time, Dante remains to speak with an ancestor his who died unavenged. This violation of chivalric ethos makes him angry with Dante. Virgil says not to bother but Dante is compassionate because he understands the soul's feelings. Recall that Dante discussed revenge earlier in the episode with the Furies outside the gates of Dis. It is a diabolical tyranny of memory, an obsession that imprisons us and precludes forgiveness. Dante was a knight who had been in battle, and here he is juxtaposes chivalry with Christian morality. Contrapasso, the punishment of the souls in Hell, is based on revenge: you do something wrong and are paid in kind. But this is God's job, not ours.

Dante and Virgil move on to the falsifiers in the Tenth Bolgia. Dante meets two Italians and offers them fame in the world of man in exchange for their stories. Griffolino of Arrezzo and Capocchino the Florentine were burned at the stake for heresy but landed here due to their practice of alchemy. This is actually the First Zone of the Tenth Bolgia, which holds the Falsifiers of Metals. The alchemists' production false appearances in a fraudulent attempt to imitate Nature parallels the condemnation of the usurers and sodomites in the Seventh Circle, whose sterile, unproductive work also offended Nature.

Dante has the opportunity here to mock Siena as a foolish. Griffolino says he was executed for claiming he could fly. This demonstrates the animosity Dante has towards other cities for their alleged character.

(Technically there is no hope in Hell but the preservation of one's memory among the living is a hope the damned are nevertheless allowed.)

These souls are strewn about the ground and covered with scabs they constantly scratch at. This goes back the idea that sociopolitical bodies, like human bodies, can become sick and deformed. Pursuant to the concept of contrapasso seen throughout Inferno, the souls' position reflects what they did to themselves and/or to society. Everyone in the Eighth Circle was an alchemist, impersonator, false witness, counterfeiter, hypocrite, and so forth. Their falsifications violated the trust that holds the human community together.

Canto 30

Upon seeing the Second Zone of the Tenth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle, Dante brings up Classical tales of humans whose immense suffering caused them to turn on one another like animals. But that is nothing compared to what he witnesses here: the Falsifiers of Others' Persons tear at one another relentlessly with their teeth. Dante recognizes one Myrrha, who disguised herself as another woman to sleep with her own father. Some of the Falsifiers of Coins, who are mostly in the Third Zone, are mixed in here. Dante speaks with a counterfeiter of Florentine money who is condemned to be wracked with neverending thirst. This soul, Master Adam, also points to two souls in the Fourth Zone, the Falsifiers of Words or Liars. They are the wife of Potiphar, who accused Joseph of trying to seduce her, and a Greek man named Sinon, who knows Master Adam and comes over to pick a fight with him. Dante listens to them for awhile until Virgil asserts that it is demeaning for him to listen to such a petty squabble.

Master Adam, who is lying supine on the ground, is shaped like a lute, a popular instrument in the Middle Ages. He has dropsy, meaning the fluids in his body are stagnant and he can't move. He dreams of streams and fertile lands, which makes him suffer even more. (He also allows Dante to reminisce about his favorite part of Italy, where the Arno River joins the sea near Pisa.) This reflects his practice of falsifying metal coins through use of diluting solutions. Stagnation → illness → death → can't produce life anymore. The stillness of fluid also hearkens back to the sterility and repetition represented as sodomy in the Seventh Circle (Canto 15).

Canto 30 continues the disease motif from Canto 29. Hospitals, where the physically ill go, were religious institutions in the Middle Ages. Since these people's spiritual sickness is manifested in their punishments, the Eighth Circle is akin to a kind of warped hospital. Hell can actually be thought of as a series of bogus arts, according to the definition provided above.

Regarding the case of Myrrha, not only did she pose as someone else, but her act of incest violates the assumption that parent/child sex is wrong, which can be thought of as a form of falsification.

Canto 31

Dante and Virgil have finally approached the great pit at the center of the Eighth Circle, which all the bolgias surround. At first Dante thinks he's looking at tall towers arising from the mist but they're actually giants. Their navels are level with the Eighth Circle but their feet are in the Ninth. Nimrod, who participated in the construction of the Tower of Babel, speaks a string of gibberish. Another giant, Antaeous, takes Dante and Virgil down into the Ninth Circle in two of his enormous hands.

The giants represent human will + rationality + intention + strength. They are emblems of pride: humans who wish to displace God. The story of the Tower of Babel, as alluded to through Nimrod, is about a group of humans who wished to build a tower that could reach Heaven. In other words, they wanted to control what is out of their control. Like Ulysses, they could not accept their limitations.

Canto 32

Dante's reference to Antheon, the mythical poet whose songs moved rocks to form the city of Thebes, demonstrates his inability to describe the very bottom of Hell. He and Virgil have come upon the frozen lake of Cocytus, in which souls are submerged up to their heads, teeth chattering. The First Ring of the Ninth Circle is called Caina and it is for those who betrayed family members. The Ninth Circle overall is for traitors.

There is no motion here, only paralysis and petrification. (Recall Canto 9, when Dante was threatened with being turned to stone.) The deep freeze also speaks to the souls' distance from the warmth of God's love.

Dante accidentally kicks a soul in the cheek and recognizes him as Bocca degli Abati. Dante threatens to tear his hair out before he and Virgil move on to Antenora, the Second Ring, for those who betrayed their homeland or party. Dante sees one soul chomping on another's head. He stops to speak with them, promising to spread the chewer's good name on Earth.


Canto 33

The chewer is eager for "my words [to] be seed to bear the fruits of / infamy for the traitor I gnaw" (7-8). (Recall the lesson on revenge and obsession from Canto 29 - another form of paralysis). He was Count Ugolino and the one on whom he feasts was the Archbishop Ruggiero. They are from Pisa.

Ruggiero betrayed Ugolino's trust and had him killed. Ugolino wants the world to know the extent of the cruelty of his death.

When he was in prison with his small sons (it was actually two sons and two or three grandsons, all of them teens or grown men), Ugolino had a vision of Ruggiero as a hunter stalking a wolf and his cubs. When he awoke, he learned his sons had had the same dream and were terrified. Line 46 has him describing the sound of the door being nailed shut.

From T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land": "I have heard the key / Turn in the door once and turn once only / We think of the key, each in his prison. . ." QUIT RIPPING HIM OFF, DANTE!

(In all seriousness, though, the Eliot's notes translate line 46 as "And I heard the key turn below in the door / of the horrible tower." The original Italian: "ed io senitii chiavar l'uscio di sotto / all'orribile torre.")

Ugolino was terrified and the look on his face frightened his sons. Over the next few days they starved to death, with Ugolino seeing his pitiful state reflected in the faces of his children. At one point, they asked him to kill them: since he brought them into the world, he can take them out of it. (This happened when Dante was in his twenties.) Ugolino ends his tale and resumes gnawing Ruggiero. Dante is so upset by the cruel death of the innocent sons that he calls for Pisa to be destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah.

Virgil and Dante continue wandering. Dante observes that "[w]eeping itself prevents weeping there" (94), as the tears form an icy crust that freezes the eyes shut. Dante feels some wind and is confused because he had assumed it was too cold for wind. Virgil says he will soon know the answer. (If Dante is in his physical body and it's so damn - harhar - cold, then why doesn't he seem to be cold?)

A soul calls out to Dante and asks him to remove the ice from his eyes so that he can weep some more. Dante asks for his story in exchange. The soul introduces himself as Brother Alberigo, a member of the leading Guelf family. He had invited over some relatives from whom he had become estranged in a land dispute. At the end of the feast he announced, "Let the fruits come." This signaled the assassins to come out and kill his family members. Alberigo says, "I am / he of the fruits of the evil orchard, and here I receive / a date for every fig" (118-120).

It turns out that Alberigo was still alive when Dante wrote Inferno. This dialogue apparently establishes that his soul is in Hell while his body still lives, possessed by a demon masquerading as him. This may allude to Luke 22.3: "And Satan entered into Judas." Alberigo goes on to say that when a living person commits betrayal, his soul gets sent to the Ninth Circle and a demon assumes control of the body. The spirit next to him in the frozen lake has suffered a similar fate. Alberigo identifies him as Branca Doria, who had invited his father-in-law to dinner and then murdered him and his companions. (Doria apparently outlived Dante, dying in 1325).

Naturally, Dante is incredulous. Doria, he protests, "is not yet dead, and he eats and / drinks and sleeps and wears clothes" (140-141). Referring back to the Evil Claws of Cantos 21-22, Alberigo gives another example, that of Michael Zanche, who hadn't even yet arrived in the bolgia of the barrators when both his body, as well as that of a relative who had aided him in the betrayal, were possessed by devils.

Dante decides not to open Alberigo's eyes for him, as such compassion would be misplaced. He then denounces Genoa.

Canto 34

* drumroll *


Above: Lucifer, newly fallen, in one of Gustave Doré's illustrations of Paradise Lost. Below is Satan in Doré's depiction of the Ninth Circle of Dante's Hell.

Virgil and Dante have entered Judecca, where traitors to lords and benefactors are punished. Virgil says, "The standards of the king of Hell go forth" (towards us) in Latin. Dante thinks he sees a windmill turning in the distance. The wind has grown stronger so he hides behind Virgil.

The traitors here are completely encased in ice and cannot move at all. They lay on the ground in varying positions. No movement, no language, no love, no hope - only petrification.

Dante finally sees Satan, once the most beautiful of the angels but now unspeakably ugly. Unlike the others in Hell he doesn't talk. But Dante and Virgil are able to use him as stairs, so he is useful. Virgil's words echo what he said to Dante in Canto 3 when they were about to enter Hell. His reference to Dis, the infernal city of Cantos 8-10, links it to Satan's body.

Dante's description of his terror recalls the conception of evil as a negative quality; that is, a defect or lack of good, and thus of a lack of being. If Satan is the most evil of all creatures that should mean he possesses the least being. But because he metes out God's divine judgment, that means, paradoxically, that he is also good, which also explains this canto's satiric paralleling of Satan with God and the crucified Christ.

Satan is enclosed in ice up to his chest. His ginormous body reflects his overwhelming pride, just like the giants. But to compare one of the giants to one of Satan's arms is like comparing Dante's size to that of a gnat. Satan has three faces: the front is crimson, the right is yellowish-white, and the left is black (it is "such to see as those who come / from beyond the cataracts of the Nile" [44-45]). Beneath each face is a set of huge webbed wings, like those of a bat (no feathers), which are continually fanning and creating three separate winds. (This reminded me of T.S. Eliot's "Ash Wednesday": "Because these wings are no longer wings to fly / But merely vans to beat the air.") These winds are what freezes all of Cocytus.

All six of Satan's eyes are weeping: tears and bloody slobber drip over his chins. In each mouth he forever chews on a traitor.

The one with the greatest punishment is Judas, who betrayed Jesus. He is headfirst in Satan's mouth. Brutus and Cassius, the other two traitors, had led the conspiracy to kill Julius Caesar, despite being pardoned by him after Rome's civil war. They are in feetfirst. Brutus endures silently, as befitting his beliefs as a Stoic.

These are history's three greatest traitors of all time, according to Dante.

Hey, what about this guy?

Virgil says it's time to leave now because they have seen everything. With Dante hanging onto him, Virgil climbs down Satan's fur. He then climbs back up, leaving Dante to think they are going back into Hell. They then go through an opening in the rock. (Virgil is panting with exhaustion at this point, which makes no sense since he has no body.)

Before we leave, says Dante, could you tell me where the ice is, how Satan came to upside down, and how time has gone by so quickly? Virgil answers that Dante has changed hemispheres and is now under the opposite zenith to that of Jerusalem, where Christ was crucified. Virgil says that this hemisphere once had dry land, like Jerusalem's hemisphere, but then Satan fell down to Hell and water closed over him.

Dante and Virgil follow a hidden path along a hidden stream that leads to a hole in the rock. They emerge from Hell into a starry night.

Cantos 1-8
Cantos 9-17
Cantos 18-26

Since I didn't have my Durling translation available and had to rely on my old college work, I referred to SparkNotes to help me remembere what happened in what canto (since my notes sometimes got mixed up or only talked about concepts and context). Another great resource are the blogs of one Sebastian Mahfood, who brings up a lot of topics I missed.

A special thanks to Professor Donatella Stocchi-Perucchio for this excellent Dante course! Please also check out my comparison of Dalí and Doré illustrations for Canto 1, which was actually part of our final assignment. (I got A's in everything.)

August 6-8: Purgatorio
September 3-5: Paradiso

Breaking News! Tenth Circle Added to Rapidly Growing Hell

"Back to the Rivers of Belief," the final track from MCMX a.D. (lyrics)


rhapsodyinbooks said...

Great job, even though it's a very irritating story! :--) By the way, glad to see no vampires in Hell, even though apparently still-living people can be in Hell, so why not never-dead people? Obviously no one would even dream of envisioning Bill and Eric in Hell!

Eileen said...

The way the third season's been going, I think Hell is where Bill's gonna end up.

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