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To be honest, I had almost forgotten my quest to read, summarize and entry-level analyze my way through the Divine Comedy until the other day when I found my copy wedged in my makeshift bookshelves but since I need something to while away the dark days of fall and winter, I decided to try and finish it.

According to my previous installment, we left Dante and Virgil just as they got started with sightseeing the Sixth circle of Hell so let's press on.


Canto X


Now that the poets have fully entered the Sixth circle, Dante asks Virgil if he could talk to some of the shades that reside in the burning coffins since there are no guards and the coffins are open. His guide informs him that the coffins will be sealed when the souls return from the final judgement on Judgement Day with their bodies and that he may talk to the shades. The first shade that Dante talks to is a Tuscan war chief, Fainata Degli Uberti, who eventually realizes Dante is an enemy and they begin to talk about politics. They get interrupted by another shade, Cavalcante Dei Cavalacanti, the father of poet Guido Cavalcanti, a contemporary rival of Dante. Cavalcante demands to know why his son isn't going on this journey through Hell with Dante since his son has to be more of a genius than Dante. Dante responds with a criticism of Guido and his skepticism. Something in this response causes Cavalcante to think Guido is dead and he passes out back into the flames. Meanwhile Fianata has been ignoring Cavalcante and, now that his fellow shade is silent, continues his conversation with Dante. He tells Dante a prophecy about how the poet will be banished from Florence. He also defends his part in Florentine politics. When Dante asks why shades can tell the future but have no clue about current events, Cavalcante tells him that a part of the Divine Plan is that the damned can only see the future and not the past or present and then proceeds to name a few of the shades that reside near him. Dante and Virgil then depart and before they leave, Dante tells Cavalcante to let Fianata know that Guido is still alive.

Important Stuff:

Jehosaphat = A valley near Jerusalem that is said to be where the final Judgement will occur
Epicurus = Greek philosopher, believed that the soul died with the body meaning there was no afterlife so people should be concerned with being happy in the present
Fianata's prophecy = The shade says that it will be 50 moons until Dante will "learn what griefs attend that art." Since Poet Dante is in the past, this counts as a prophecy because Poet Dante will be banished from Florence in 1302 which is about 50 months after the events being depicted.
Additional Note: This canto focuses a lot on Epicureans, those who believe that the soul dies with the body. A lot of people from Florence were Epicureans but, according to Dante, are still heretics.


Canto XI


The poets reach the edge of the Sixth circle and are temporarily taken aback by the horrible smell that is wafting up from below. While they take a minute to rest in the rubble near the edge of the Seventh circle, Virgil takes this time to explain the various levels of the next circles. Virgil explains that malice is the sin most abhorred by God and it can manifest in two ways: violence and fraud. Since only humans are capable of committing fraud, it's the worse of the two so that sin is punished at the bottom and is punished very severely. He goes on to list the last three circles and the sins they contain. The Seventh circle contains those who have committed the sin of violence and it is split into three groups: those who committed violence against others, those who committed violence against themselves and those who committed violence against God. The Eighth and Ninth circles contain those who committed sins of fraud with the Eighth holding those who committed simple fraud while the final circle houses those who committed compound fraud. Each of these circles is broken down into sub-sections depending what specific sin was committed. When Dante asks why the sins of upper Hell are not being punished in the city of Dis, Virgil cites Aristotle's Ethics and reminds Dante that the sins of incontinence do not offend God as much as the sins of lower Hell do so they are punished less severely. Dante's guide then points out that only two hours until sunrise and they need to go onward.

Important Stuff:

The smell = This represents the sins of hell
Fraud = Dante separates fraud into two different types: simple and compound. Simple fraud isn't punished as harshly because it is committed against those who really had no reason to trust the sinner in the first place. Compound fraud on the other hand is seen as a bigger sin because not only does the sinner betray basic bond that people have a human beings, but it also betrays the special bond that comes from trusting someone who is a friend or family.
Basic Structure of Hell
Circle Seven: Sins of Violence (Sins of the Lion)
Section 1: Violence against others
Section 2: Violence against themselves
Section 3: Violence against God and Nature
Circle Eight: Simple Fraud (Sins of the Leopard)
This circle is broken into 8 separate sections based on the sinner, I will list those when we get to the beginnging of this circle since Virgil doesn't list them in any particular order at this time.
Circle Nine: Compound Fraud (Sins of the Leopard)
Caina: Betrayal of family
Antenora: Betrayal of Country
Ptolemea: Betrayal of guests and hosts
Judaica: Betrayal of lords and benefactors


Canto XII


The pair of poets begin to climb down edge into the Seventh circle but suddenly they encounter the Minotaur, the creature that guards the shades of the lower circles. At first the monster tries to attack them but Virgil uses its anger to their advantage and they are able to get by him. Once they leave the Minotaur behind, they see a river of boiling blood. Here they also find the shades who are guilty of the sin of violence against others. These shades are submerged in the boiling blood depending on how greivous their sins were in life, the deeper submerged a shade is the more violent they were in life. Right after they get to the river, Virgil and Dante see a group of Centaurs. The Centaurs use their bows and arrows to discourage shades from rising up higher in the river than they are allowed. At first it looks like the creatures may attack them but after seeing how Dante isn't a shade and allowing Virgil to explain their mission, Chiron the leader sends another Centaur to guide the poets along the river. As they travel along the bank, Virgil points out the various shades submerged in the river such as Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun and Guy de Montfort all of whom are almost completely submerged in the boiling river. Evenutally the river starts to become shallower and Nessus, the poets' Centaur guide, tells them that even though the river is getting shallow, it will get deeper again until it circles back to the starting point where the tyrants are punished. He then takes the poets to the ford to take them accross the river.

Important Stuff

The Minotaur = A monster from Greek mythology. The queen of Crete, Pasiphae, was cursed by Poseidon to fall in love with a bull because her husband Minos didn't sacrifice the animal like he promised. She had a wooden cow made so that she could hide inside it and mate with the bull and so she gave birth to the Minotaur, a half man/half beast creature. The Minotaur was kept in a giant labyrinth and was given annual sacrifices to eat. Dante chose the Minotaur to guard these lower circles because it is violent, it was conceived through unnatural practices and it eats humans, a pretty good example of the depraved sins of lower Hell.
Centaurs = Half man/half horse creatures from Greek mythology. Due to their savage reputation and beast-like nature, they are chosen to torture the shades.
Chiron = Considered the wisest of the Centaurs and supposedly the trainer of Achilles
Nessus = Used to ferry travellers across the River Evenus for money but when he tried to kidnap Hercules' wife, he was killed by the Greek hero. As he was dying he tricked Hercules' wife into poisoning her husband with his bloodstained shirt.
Alexander the Great = Alexander III of Macedon, He is most famous for his military campaign that left him with the largest empire in ancient history (it ran from Greece to Egypt and parts of India) and his military skills.
Attila the Hun = Leader of the Hunnic Empire from 434 to 453, his empire included Central Europe to the Black Sea and from the Danube River to the Baltic sea
Guy de Montfort = The Count of Nola, He participated in the rebellion against Henry the III, in which his father and older brother died, and in 1271 he and his other brother killed Henry III's nephew in a church.

And there we have it. We're starting to get to the really hellish parts of Hell. As I stated before, things are going to get a bit more complicated because it seems the further down you go, the more complex the division punishments become but I think we'll figure it out.


The Divine Comedy: The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and The Paradiso by Dante Alighieri, Translated by John Ciardi

Dante in Translation - Inferno IX, X, XI (online Yale course available on Youtube): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXroNUQluco

Dante in Translation - Inferno XII, XIII, XV, XVI (online Yale course available on Youtube): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Au4VoQVXt7Q






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