/ The Divine Comedy /
The Gate to Hell
The poem begins in the middle of the night in 1300 from the perspective of Dante. At around the age of 35, Dante gets lost in a forest and is full of fear. In the background there is a Sun-drenched mountain top. He tries to climb the mountain but is stopped by three beasts.
On the way back down Dante meets Virgil (who was also a poet). Virgil tells him if he wants to see paradise he will have to journey through Hell. Dante agrees and they set off. They arrive at the gates of Hell where Dante reads the inscription:
Through me you pass into the city of woe: Through me you pass into eternal pain: Through me among the people lost for aye.
Justice the founder of my fabric mov’d: To rear me was the task of power divine, Supremest wisdom, and primeval love.
Before me things create were none, save things Eternal, and eternal I endure. All hope abandon ye who enter here.
When they enter the gate they see souls being chewed by insects waiting to cross the river Acheron. Across the river is Hell. The two poets convince Charon, the ferryman on the river, to let them pass. They arrive in Limbo, the first circle of Hell.
Circle 1 – Limbo
Limbo is where Virgil permanently lives. The two of them stop here shortly to speak with other famous poets like Homer and Horace. Afterwards they enter a beautiful gardened citadel where philosophers like Socretes reside. They chat and enjoy the conversation briefly.
Gardened? Beautiful? But this is Hell right? Well yes, but this place was not technically a punishment for sinners. It is described as a place where people went where it was not their fault that they were in Hell. There were some very specific reasons you were in Limbo that were normally out of your control. So for example, Joseph the father of Jesus was imprisoned here because the original sin still applied before the coming of Christ. Another example would be babies that were stillborn and had not had chance to become baptised.
Limbo in this poem is kind of a pseudo-heaven where the punishment is presented as simply being unable to enter heaven. You could see the bright lights of the big city and feel the presence of God… but never actually be in his presence. Virgil actually speaks of firsthand witnessing Jesus save many famous Christian/Jewish idols during his brief stint of death. After crucifixion, Jesus would technically have gone to this place. Whilst here he carried people like Moses and Abraham to heaven.
After leaving the company of the great philosophers, Dante and Virgil enter Hell proper, the second circle… The Lustful.
Circle 2 – The Lustful
Dante notes that the second circle is much smaller than the first. In actuality Dante’s Inferno is shaped like a layered funnel, each successive area smaller than the last. When they reach this area a giant monster named Minos judges where souls must go. He winds his tails to indicate a number and that number is the circle the soul must be imprisoned. Minos tells Dante and Virgil not to trust anyone. Virgil spouts back a fearful and brash “God protects us.” and they both head towards the second circle proper.
Within this circle there is a great storm blowing souls around like a hurricane. As they cry, Dante says that they are a lot like birds dancing in formation. Virgil, showing off, points a bunch of them out as Cleopatra, Helen of Troy etc. Dante wishes to speak with them and they approach a female soul named Francesca Da Rimini Francesca coveted her husband’s brother Paolo because she was in a loveless marriage. Her husband found out and murdered them both, he himself ending up even further in Hell. In her words theie affair was inspired by a book about King Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere. They were both reading a fairly racy page when it kicked off. Paolo cried in the background as she told her story and the tale moved Dante to faint.
Dante re-awakens in circle number 3… The Gluttons.
Circle 3 – The Gluttons
It rains hailstones and dirty stinking water in the third circle of Hell. The souls move back and forth to try and keep themselves dry because the rain is so punishing. They wade through sludge and stinking mud. The Gluttons are guarded by the monster Cerberus. Cerberus growls at the two of them and Virgil throws mud at him. Cerberus snaps at the mud and eats it… going quiet for a while. The sinners generally ignore the two of them as they explore this circle. Everyone except for a Florentine man named Ciacco just continue as normal. Dante doesn’t really give a damn about Ciacco’s story except for the sadness of his punishment.
To keep Dante’s attention, Ciacco decides to perform prophecies about Florence and mentions famous Florentine men further in the pit. At the time of the poem, these would have already come true, Before settling down he begs Dante to make his name famous in the physical realm. Not one to be upstaged by the souls of the damned, Virgil pipes in with his own prediction. He states that Ciacco will not rise again until judgement day. Asked whether the punishments will be better or worse on judgement day, Virgil answers “worse”. He states that on judgement day the body and soul would be reunited and then both would suffer as one.
They wade on over to circle number 4, the Avaricious and Prodigal Prodigal.
Circle 4 – The Avaricious and the Prodigal
Whilst heading over to the 4th circle of Hell, Dante encounters Plutus, a Demon. Plutus is crying bloody murder for Satan. As the Demon of wealth that guards the circle of the Avaricous (greedy) and the Prodigal (reckless spenders), Dante becomes frightened. Virgil reassures him, telling him there is no power the Demon has which could stop them. As they approach, Plutus collapses before them. Inside the fourth circle is a gigantic double-ring of souls pushing heavy wheels of weight around endlessly. The two sets of sinners are punished together but forced to push in opposite directions. Whenever they pass someone from the other group they insult one another.
“Why do you hoard!”
“Why do you squander!”
Dante notices that some of the sinners are clergymen from their shaved heads… quite a burn against the church of the time. Virgil insults both sets of sinners, saying they are getting what they deserve. Hoarding and squandering so much that now no amount of gold can save them. Dante, seemingly not paying attention, asks Virgil what “fortune” actually means. Virgil carries on the tangent, stating that fortune is basically God’s manager of material wealth on Earth… distributing wealth around.
After they are finished speaking, the two poets head for the next circle… The Wrathful and the Sullen.
Circle 5 – The Wrathful and the Sullen
Upon leaving circle 4, the poets encounter black streams running down to muddy waters and then the black swamp of the river Styx. Inside the river are the Wrathful, mud wrestling to rip each other’s throats out. Dante and Virgil seem stunned by the sight and Virgil speaks about another group of sinners called the Sullen that sit below the mud. The Sullen are forced to recite endless hymns in the mud, the hymns only appearing as gurgled nothings. As they walk along the Styx, they begin approaching a tower. Dante gestures that the tower acts much like a lighthouse, drawing the two poets in. Before the tower in the water sits a small flicker of light which Dante asks Virgil about. Virgil tells Dante to focus and the image of a boat becomes clear.
Sat in the boat is a ferryman named Phlegyas. He reacts much like Charon, a bit off-put by the two travelling poets. Eventually Virgil tells him the rules/ shuts the ferryman down and they both get on the boat. Travelling over the muddy black waters of the Styx, Dante asks one of the mud wrestlers he passes who he is. The mud wrestler only gurgles mud and reaches out to Dante in longing. Virgil shoves him off and then decides to kiss and hug Dante for making him feel righteous against the lowly sinners. Virgil says that Dante will understand righteousness at the end of the river.
A group of wrestlers attack the previously thrown away soul. The wayward soul begins to bite itself angrily. “We’re about to enter the city of Dis”, Virgil says to Dante. Dante is in awe of how red the horizon is around the city. The redness, Virgil explains, comes from an eternal Hell-Fire within the city walls.
At this point Virgil is basically saying to Dante…”This is just getting started.” The two disembark the boat and arrive on the shore of the city.
Circle 5 – The Gates of Dis
Upon reaching the city gates, the poets find a thousand angry sinners barring entry to the inner walls. Virgil takes them all aside and talks to them in private. They agree to only let Virgil through and open the gate for him. They tell Dante to go back. Dante freaks out to the reader about how terrified he feels towards heading back alone. He begs Virgil to return with him. Virgil decides to take care of the problem and the angry souls slam the gate shut to both of them.
Angry, Virgil tells Dante not to worry, as a similar thing happened to Jesus. He says that an Angel is coming to assist them. Virgil is stuttering trying to console Dante and Dante is completely terrified at this point. Even more on edge than before. Whilst they are waiting, Virgil talks about having been to the deepest level of Hell before to recover a soul. Dante spots three snake-haired women hanging from the rafters of the city walls. Virgil names them as the Furies. The three of them point their claws at Dante and tell him that Medusa is coming to turn him into stone.
The Angel arrives.
It wafts its hand as if to clear the air and many souls are thrown aside. The Angel disciplines the souls for blocking the gate as if trying to resist God’s irresistible will. The Angel swings the gate open easily and departs.
The poets, now in awe, enter the gate and the 6th circle of Hell… The Heretics.
Circle 6 – Heretics
When entering the city of Dis, a number of open flaming tombs become visible. Virgil explains that this is where the Arch-heretics are punished. He tells Dante that there are far more of them than he would think. Dante asks if he can see one of the sinners. He was looking for the Florentines that he was predicted to meet earlier on. Virgil states that the tombs are open until judgement day. The people in these tombs were all followers of the Greek philosopher Epicurus who preached a doctrine that the soul died with the body. A voice calls out to Dante, recognising his accent as Tuscan. Virgil tells Dante to go and speak with Farinata, whom had gone out of his way to stand up in his painful tomb for Dante. Farinata asks a fearful Dante who his ancestors were and he responds. Farinata becomes sad, both of the two families shared bad blood.
Another voice pipes up and frantically asks Dante where his son is. The man turns out to be one of Dante’s political allies named Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti. His son is a close friend of Dante and coincidentally another poet. The two of them were outcasted from Florence when the Blacks took over. Dante makes no quick gesture to answer the frenzied soul and it slumps back into its grave in grief. Farinata, rudely interrupted, continues the previous conversation. The two talk about why they are enemies and Farinata questions Dante about how mean his family were to his own. Dante becomes bored and asks Farinata if the dead can see the future. Farinata says yes but not the present. Feeling bad about Cavalcante not knowing about his son, Dante tells Farinata to inform Cavalcante that his son is actually alive.
Virgil begins rushing Dante along and Dante has to speed through a line of questioning.
“Who else is here?”
“King Frederick II, the Ghibelline Cardinal…”
Virgil asks Dante why he appears so anxious. Dante tells Virgil he’s worried about all the people Farinata will not tell him about. Virgil predicts that Dante will one day meet a divine woman named Beatrice whom would clear everything up for him. Virgil leads Dante into a vile smelling valley. The smell is coming from more burning tombs. One of the tombs states that it holds Pope Anastasius, the Pope which denied the divinity of Jesus. Virgil tells Dante that they’re going to wait a little while until they are used to the smell.
Dante suggests using the time wisely and Virgil tells him to shut up whilst he explains the structure of Hell.
Circle 6 – The Structure of Hell
Virgil kicks of his perhaps overdue explanation about the structure of Hell at circle number 7. Circle 7, he says, is split into three smaller rings. Each of these rings indicate a particular form of violence.
- Violence against God & Nature
- Violence against one’s neighbours
Those who practice violence against their neighbours (murderers, rapists etc) reside in the first sub-circle. Suicides reside in the second sub-circle and blasphemers and usurers (money-lenders) are imprisoned in the third. In the 8th circle reside the fraudsters. The 8th circle contains the normal kinds of fraud. The magicians, thieves, hypocrites and falsifiers suffer here. Virgil mentions that fraud is a specifically human trait. In the 9th circle is the punishments for treacherous fraud. Dante asks Virgil why god doesn’t punish all of the previous sinners as equally as those to come. Shouldn’t God treat all sinners the same? Virgil scolds him for his idiocy of presuming sins are this black and white. He reminds him of Aristotle’s book which divides sin into three classes of evil.
- incontinence (self control)
- mad bestiality (violence)
All prior sinners were sufferers of incontinance. Lust, gluttony, avarice, prodigality, wrath, sullenness all fall into this. Incontinence is the least offensive of the three. Dante asks Virgil about the sin of Usury (charging high interest on loaned money) and why it falls into the same category as violence against God. Virgil responds that mans labour follows the will of God and that earning a living off one’s own back is therefore in line with the natural order. Usurers generate money unnaturally and are therefore sinners against nature. Virgil notices changes to the sky’s constellations and the two of them continue onward.
The poets descend down a steep decline which Dante compares to the landslides of Marco. At the bottom they encounter the half-man half-bull Minotaur from Greek legend. It bites itself as they approach. Virgil taunts the Minotaur by stating that Dante was not his slayer Theseus, but a mortal whom was only there to witness his torment. The Minotaur charges the two of them. The poets run down the landslide to safety.
Once free from the Minotaur, Virgil explains how the landslide came to be. He says he saw Christ rapture souls from Hell when he last visited this deep into the pit. The echo of pure love rumbled the universe and that rumble caused the rubbled path.
Circle 7, Sub-Circle 1 – Violence Against One’s Neighbours
The two finally approach the edge of the 7th circle and the river of boiling blood called Phlegethon. Virgil and Dante are suddenly set upon by Centaurs wielding bows. Virgil demands to see Chiron their leader. He names a few of the centaurs to Dante as they jostle Chiron to speak. Chiron asks the other Centaurs if they noticed that Dante is causing changes to the environment. Virgil confirms that Dante is indeed a living man. He explains that the two are on a journey from God and they would do well to assist in any way… including a herd of the warriors and for to ride Dante on Chiron’s back. After some negotiations, Chiron selects Nessus, the creature who raped the wife of Hercules and inadvertently caused his death, to protect and guide the pair.
Whilst trotting through the shallows if the boiling bloody river inwards, Dante sees screaming sinners flailing inside. Nessus names a few of them as Alexander and Dionysus. One of them, up to his throat in blood is named as Guy De Montford, the murderer of Prince Henry. Virgil tells Dante to listen to Nessus for a while. Dante noticed that the depth of the blood changed according to the nature of the sinner. Some were ankle deep, others completely submerged. Atilla the Hun was one such soul entirely immersed.
Dante dismounts Nessus and the two of them continue without him.
Circle 7, Sub-Circle 2 – Violence Against Oneself
Walking into the woods away from the river, Dante immediately notices something wrong with the trees. They have black leaves and unruly poisonous briers. Virgil tells Dante that they are now in the realm of the Harpies. The inverted angels which taunted Aeneas in the Aeneid. Virgil says to Dante that they are now in the second ring of the 7th circle. Dante hears disembodied voices all around him and becomes very fearful. Virgil tells Dante to break off a branch of one of the trees. The tree begins to bleed black blood and complains at Dante for harming it. The tree explains that he and the rest of those in the forest used to be human souls.
His voice sounds like burning wood and spitting sap. Virgil tells the tree he is sorry that Dante didn’t listen to him and broke off a branch. He says to the tree that the pain is necessary and that he feels for the poor tree’s suffering. The tree becomes compelled to tell its story. It names envy as a poisonous woman of the night and that envy turned out to be his downfall. He was so loved by Emperor Frederick II that those around him spread vicious rumours in jealousy. Out of disgust, he killed himself and begs Dante to clear his name once returning to the real world. The tree gives Dante a chance to ask questions but Dante feels so bad for the soul that he has none to ask. Virgil starts talking. He asks how one becomes a tree and if it is possible to be saved from such a fate.
The tree responds that it is clear to him that he is no more the spirit of a man. The tree speaks about Minos (the monster who decided which circle you go to) flinging wayward souls into the forest and with nowhere to go they take root and just become a part of it. The Harpies torture the saplings by eating their leaves. As suicides the souls long to be returned to their bodies so much they fashion bodies of their own like trees. Because of this, at judgement day their true skin will have nothing to do but lay on the stumps of the tree. A commotion breaks out and Dante sees two naked men running from a pack of dogs.
The slower soul begs to be killed and the faster mocks him for being slow. The faster slips into a thorny bush and the hounds rip him apart. Dante and Virgil approach. The thorny bush cries out in pain and predicts that Florence will never be at peace. He then confirms his sin of suicide. Dante, also with love of Florence, gathers up all the broken twigs in sympathy and returns them to the bush. The two of them head further inwards once more.
Circle 7, Sub-Circle 3 – Violence Against God & Nature
At the middle of the forest, in a clearing, the poets find themselves on a dusty flat field. Huge flocks of naked sinners litter around the plane. Dante describes it as an island of sand in the middle of the forest. The sinners are running or laying or sitting whilst it rains giant flakes of fire on top of them. The ones that are laying make the most noise as they are the most burned by the fire and the sand it ignites. Dante describes some of the more frantic sinners trying to beat out the fire as performing a dance. Laying alone in the sand appeared a giant man shouting insults at God. When overhearing Dante in asking Virgil who giant is, the giant sits up.
He then proclaims that Jove (the Roman way of saying God) will never be able to take revenge upon him. Even if Jove decided to blast down all his lightning bolts, he will never succeed. Capaneus, as Virgil names him, is then reprimanded by the poet. He says that it is his own arrogance which torments him. The giant cares little. Capaneus, Dante notices, is one of the seven Kings that fought against Thebes. So that Dante didn’t burn his feet, Virgil tells him to walk along the sand’s edge closer to the forest. Dante notices a small red flowing stream which reminds him of bathwater provided to Italian prostitutes. After asking Virgil it’s purpose, Virgil tells a little story. Once upon a time on an island called Crete ruled by a lovely, friendly king was a mountain. Inside that mountain Rhea hid her son Jove from his cannibalistic father, Saturn. Virgil sidetracks to talk about a giant statue in the same mountain called ‘The Old Man of Crete’.
The statue is made of many kinds of materials, metals clays etc. Virgil explains that the statue is cracked and through it the tears of the statue can flow. That flow filters through the Earth and becomes the four rivers of Hell. Dante asks that if the rivers are from a mortal source then how can we not see Hell from Earth? Virgil doesn’t really give a conclusive answer. Virgil tells Dante to remain on the sands edge to avoid being burned. On their way back to the river Phlegethon through the forest, Dante speaks about how the river’s mist protects them from the falling fire. Returning back to the first sub-circle, a soul pipes up from the boiling blood and shouts to Dante that it is wonderful to see him. It is Dante’s former mentor Ser Brunetto Latini.
The mentor says that he cannot stop moving as it would force his torment back 100 years. The two walk in parallel, Dante on the bank and his mentor in the river. Brunetto asks Dante how he can possibly be alive and in Hell. After discovering the divine purpose he says he wishes that he were still alive to encourage Dante in his works. Dante praises Brunetto, saying he misses him greatly. He tells Brunetto…
- You can only earn immortality through your works
- He is writing everything down Brunetto says so that Beatrice (whom he is predicted to meet) can comment on his works
- He is ready for anything fortune throws at him (Virgil likes this one)
Before leaving, Brunetto asks Dante to favour his work the ‘Tesoro’, through which the poet is now commonly remembered. Brunetto is frantically rushing to leave and Dante imagines the two having a race, a race for which is former mentor is conclusively winning.
Circle 7 – The Violent Against Nature & Art
After his mentor scrambles off, Dante witnesses three burned souls rushing up from the opposite direction. The men are Florentine and Virgil urges Dante to speak with them. The three souls react strangely and form a ring around the poets, clasping hands together. They recognize Dante by his clothes, saying he is from their “indecent” country. The three of them name themselves as Guido Guerra, Tegghiaio Aldobrandi and Jacopo Rusticucci. Dante recognises them as Duelphs that tried to dissuade other Florentines fighting at Montaperti. Dante considers a more dangerous walk to talk to them for longer (he admires them), but doesn’t consider the risk worth the reward. As a compromise he tells them simply how much he cares for them.
He promises to honour them in the real world. Jacopo asks Dante if Florence is still a good place and Dante remarks that all the newcomers are bad these days. The three souls depart. The poets follow the bloody river to its end, a gigantic waterfall. Virgil, ever the man with answers, orders Dante to loosen a cord on his belt. Virgil fashions it into a lasso which he throws into the river beside them. Dante feels this is slightly strange. Suddenly something appeared from the water which, to Dante’s credit, makes great efforts to say “Look I know this sounds unbelievable, but seriously this is real.” to the reader.
It launches out of the water onto the riverbank. Virgil shouts…”Behold the beast… whose stench fills all the world!” The beast had the face of a man, two giant wings, a poisonous pointed tail, two paws, the body of a serpent and a hide braided into knots. Virgil assumes Dante wishes to see the beast up close and pushes him to communicate with it. Dante is careful not to burn his feet. Just as they reach the beast, Virgil spots three sinners sat on a rock nearby and tells Dante to actually go over and talk to them for a while.
Virgil wishes to negotiate the beast into carrying them to the 8th circle. Dante walks understandably quickly away from the strange looking monster to the three souls. The souls are wearing Florentine usurer pouches around their necks which Dante does not recognise. One of them spots the poet and is incredibly rude to Him. He yells at Dante, telling him to get out of their usurer friend’s space whom they were waiting for. Dante casually compares them to Oxen and retreats back to Virgil. Virgil has succeeded in gaining the beast’s trust. He tells dante to sit in front of him on the monster’s shoulders to be protected from the venomous tail at the back.
Dante feels shame that he is afraid whilst Virgil shows none. Virgil calls the monster by name, Geryon, informing it to take off. The beast steps backwards off the waterfall cliff and begins flight. In order to show bravery, Dante begins to smile. His emotions get carried away and he finds he is too afraid to stop smiling. He imagines he feels like Icarus about to ‘meet the sun’. Dante peers down at the sinners and instead of passing out, he grips the beast tighter. He examines the lost souls as the beast circles downwards. When they reach the bottom, they scramble off Geryon and the beast departs.
The poets have arrived in the 8th circle.
Circle 8, Pouches 1 & 2 – The Seducers, The Panderers & The Flatterers
This circle of hell, Dante describes as being called Malebolge… roughly speaking translated as “evil pouches”. The circle is surrounded by dull reddish coloured rocks. The central valley has 10 pouches. Dante compares the appearance to that of a birds-eye view of a great moat surrounding a courtyard, every now and again you would see a bridge breaking up the watery segments.
Virgil enters first, walking to the left hand side whilst Dante examines souls to his right. The nude sinners there walk in a long line being whipped by demons. The scene reminds Dante of Pope Boniface VIII’s Jubilee, a man that Dante greatly hates. Amidst the souls Dante spots Venedico Caccianemico, a soul which tries to hide its face. He asks Venedico what brought him to Hell. Reluctantly, the soul states that he managed to get his sister to do sexual favours for a Marquis, thus making him a panderer (kind of like a pimp). A demon intervenes and whacks the soul on the head.
The poets continue past a rocky ridge and Virgil points out Jason of the Argonauts amongst the tortured souls. Upon reaching the second pouch, Dante finds the flatterers consumed in a mound of excrement. The souls fight each other, their anger turning into mould on their forms. Dante feels as if he recognises a man but as he points him out to Virgil the man goes wild, demanding Dante explain why he picked him out amongst the filth. Dante confirms his name Alessio Interminei of Lucca and the man retreats pointing out another soul named Thais. She was there for thanking her lover excessively after sex.
The pair of poets move on to pouch number 3, the Simonists.
Circle 8, Pouches 3 & 4 – The Simonists & The Magicians, Astrologers, Diviners
Simonists are holy men who sell their power as holy men to perform favours for others. Their punishment is to be buried upside down in holes the size of baptism basins with only their feet protruding from the rock. The feet are then burned. Eternal suffocation and immolation. One of the souls has a much hotter flame than the others and Dante asks the soul who he is. The soul names itself as the successor to Pope Boniface VIII, Nicholas. At the time of the poem this Pope Boniface was still alive.
Dante is accused of being the inverted former Pope’s arch enemy and is stunned into silence. The soul accuses Dante, whom he thinks is Bonafice of coming to take his place in Hell. Virgil orders Dante not to confuse the soul and reveal his identity. Nicholas wishes to know what they want before boasting about once being a Pope. He claims his sin was merely to fatten the purse of his family. Nicholas explains that the successor in this punishment always takes the place of their precursor.
Bonafice will one day come to take his inverted prison. The precursor then sinks further into the ground. It is clear that the entire bedrock here was lined with simonists for many many layers completely buried upside down. The former pope predicts that his successor will follow him into the ground and then his successor after for buying his papal seat. Dante looks down on the sinner and asks how much Christ charged St Peter before giving him the keys to the Kingdom Of Heaven? Nothing.
Dante pronounces the punishment just and then continues for a while insulting the idea of having a Pope. At one point he calls the papal seat a woman of the night whom fornicates with kings for money. Virgil is surprisingly very happy with Dante and carries him to the next pouch in his arms. Dante is shocked to find a precession of naked souls when entering the 4th pouch. The heads of these people are on backwards and they weep, the tears dripping down their buttocks. The people are forced to walk backwards because that is the only direction they can see. Virgil scolds Dante for feeling pity for these souls. He looks down on them all judgementally. Virgil points out Amphiaraus, a king which foresaw his own defeat and ran from it and the grotesque witch Manto.
Virgil goes off on a tangent about the origins of Mantua, his hometown which was named after Manto. He dares Dante to discredit his interpretation and Dante concedes authority to Virgil. Dante asks Virgil to name more of the souls and he does so, pointing out Calchas (from Virgil’s own Aeneid) and Asdente the soothsayer. Virgil says “Cain with his thorns already… touches the sea.” in reference to the Moon sinking to the horizon. The poets move on to Pouch 5.
Circle 8, Pouch 5 – The Barrators
Dante compares the immense dark of Pouch 5 to the tar used to repair Venetian ships. Dante struggles to make out what’s happening and steps forward. Virgil hastens for him to beware as a demon rushes towards him. The Demon is preoccupied with a sinner on it’s shoulder and Dante discovers that they were now witness to the punishment of barrators (corrupt politicians). The Demon throws the tormented soul into a boiling river of pitch and calls for others to help him.
The group of demons force the soul under with pitchforks. Virgil tells Dante to remain quiet so as not to draw the attention of the Demons. Then, as if the previous conversation didn’t happen, Virgil waltzes up to them and tells them all to put their weapons down. The Demons laugh and ask why a mortal is so far deep in Hell. Virgil tells them that it is the will of God and as such they promise not to harm Dante. Virgil calls Dante out from his cowering and the Demons lick their lips, proposing to pitchfork him… in the behind. The leader of the Demons, Malacoda, says that it impossible to continue because a bridge has broken ahead. He offers some of his Demons to safely transport the poets to the next bridge if their work is unhindered along the way.
Against Dante’s wishes, Virgil accepts and the accompanying demons spout crude jokes about using ones rectal gases to blow trumpets. As the group head to the next bridge, Dante examines the various limbs sticking out from the pitch. He compares them to dolphins. Whenever the Demons come close the souls scurry under the pitch. Eventually one sinner remains above and the Demons swarm on top of it. Dante asks if it is possible to learn about the sinner, if just to spare the soul for a moment.
Virgil steps forth and asks the soul’s birthplace. The sinner reveals much about his sin as a swindler of money as well as his father, grandfather and other random information. Virgil then watches as one of the Demons guts the soul with a tusk. Another of the Demons asks Virgil to continue the interrogation. Virgil asks if he has any other Italian friends nearby. The sinner points to a smothered soul nearby and states he wishes he were that man. The Demons rip into him again. Virgil finally asks his name. Fra Gomita. As a man who worked for many men, this clergymen found himself swindling a lot of money away. The soul asks to be spared if he can convince his friends to surface from the pitch. The Demons laugh and threaten to attack him from the air.
By this point Fra Gomita has already escaped back into the pitch and the Demons take to flight furious. The Demons get into a scrap about letting the soul talk in the first place. Two of them fall in to the pitch and Dante and Virgil sneak away whilst they are being fished out.
Circle 8, Pouch 6 – The Hypercrites
Whilst escaping the Demons in Pouch 5, Dante becomes terrified that they may be angry. His hair quite literally curls up in fear. Virgil and Dante decide to climb down a ridge to avoid them coming. As the Demons get closer, Virgil snatched up Dante like a mother protecting her child and runs. He sits on the edge of a cliff slope, Dante in his clutches and slides down it like water trickling down a hill. Virgil feels great pain in this but the Demons cannot cross to the next Pouch. As the poets reach the bottom, they hear the Demons howl and cry out because their quarry has escaped. The sinners in the 6th pouch are The Hypercrites.
They wander around in circles clad in impossibly heavy lead lined golden cloaks. Virgil tells Dante to look for someone recognisable. Out of nowhere two souls beckon Dante and Virgil over to them because they hear a Tuscan accent. The poets enter the circle and begin speaking with the souls. The sinners present themselves as Jovial Friars who messed up religion in Gardingo. They ask why Dante is alive and he again explains himself. Dante notices a giant soul crucified to the ground. The Friars tell Dante that he is Caiaphas, the priest who alone decided to crucify Jesus.
The soul has to bear the weight of all the souls present walking over him… for eternity. Worse still, the same punishment is given to this man’s family and friends. Dante asks the Friars if there is a way to move on without re-stepping into the path of the Demons. The Friars point to a nearby bridge and Virgil scorns the Demons for lying about it being broken. The Friars mock him, asking if he truly trusted the word of a Demon in Hell. The poets leave towards the bridge, Virgil in a fairly heavy rage.
Dante is happy to see the bridge and Virgil pushes Dante onwards, helping him down a declined area like a small ravine. Dante tells the reader how he would have given up the steep incline afterwards if it was not for Virgil. He is glad he is not wearing one of the heavy cloaks that the sinners wore. Dante stops exhausted and Virgil accuses him of being lazy. He tells Dante that the lazy will never earn fame nor immortality in memory. Dante is inspired and they continue to climb. As they do so, Dante speaks to appear more self assure.
Approaching the summit and the bridge they hear a soul answer his mumblings in the next pouch.
Circle 8, Pouch 7 – The Thieves
Dante and Virgil, now in the 7th Pouch scan for the source of the voice calling out to them but it is too dark to see. They decide to cross the bridge in front of them and then find the source. Upon crossing, Dante see the horrific punishment of The Thieves. The valley in which the sinners suffered was absolutely packed with serpents. Dante says that it is worse than all the pestilences of Libya and Ethiopia.
The snakes bind themselves around the sinners, writhing and squeezing them. When the snakes bite, their venom turns the soul to ash. Moments later the soul is reborn like a phoenix and then the serpents attack again. Dante witnesses a soul come back and asks who he is. The soul, confused, first believes he is a mule before answering Vanni Fucci from Pistoia. Virgil interjects and says that he recognises the soul as “a man of blood and anger”. The Thief of holy relics from a church looks mournful as Dante discovers the truth. As revenge, the soul predicts that Dante’s beloved Whites will fall. He says that Pistoia will throw the Blacks from Florence and destroy the Whites. He tells Dante to be full of grief. As he finishes he blasphemes against God and loses all of Dante’s respect. Dante considers the serpents as friends, delivering just reward to Vanni Fucci. Snakes coil around Vanni as if in response and the soul flees.
In Vanni’s place appears a centaur with writhing snakes for a tail. The human parts of this creature are tortured by a mini dragon which sets it’s skin aflame. Virgil names him as Cacus and explains his sin. Cacus stole cattle from the herd of Hercules and as such was beaten to death by the heroic figure. Virgil states that he administered 100 blows against the thief but Cacus was already dead by blow 10. The centaur passes under them. Three nude sinners walk by and one of them shouts to the pair asking who they are. At attention, Dante doesn’t know who they are. One of them asks about someone named Ciafna and a giant serpent with 6 legs appears.
Ciafna attacks the man which called him and brutalises the sinner’s face with his massive jaws. As the sinner is defeated, the two of them merge together in a twisted sickly way. Dante explains that their faces melt whilst looking at one another and forge into one. The result is a man-snake abomination. Two snakes appear and bite the other two onlookers without them realising. They begin to smoke up. The combining of the two creatures from before is again placed in extraordinarily graphic detail. The ears of the once-man retract into his head and his skin becomes hard and scaly. The once scaly snake now grows flesh and hair and begins to grow legs. At the end the snake becomes a man and the man becomes a snake. The snake slithers off and the now human looking former-snake speaks to Dante. He names the other man as Buoso and takes pleasure in the sinner’s torment.
Dante becomes so shocked from the grousome sight his vision becomes blurry and the two poets decide to move on. As they are leaving Dante recognises Puccio Sciancato, one of the two souls which did not change form. Dante sarcastically insults Florence by saying how great it is. With no love for his hometown, he predicts that one day other cities like Prato will battle Florence and it would be all too satisfying.
The poets make towards Pouch 8.
Circle 8, Pouch 8 – The Fraudulent Counselers
The pathway to Pouch 8 was a jagged stairway of difficult to pass rocks. Dante get’s angry at the sinners for his predicament, saying they should be good not evil then at least he would not be in such terrible exhaustion. In this pouch there are many flames. Dante compares it to summer fireflies over evening crops. He says that the motion of the flames are like Elijahs chariot, rising to heaven as a star.
The rising flames are the sinners themselves. Dante is curios so looks over the edge of their raised position for a better angle. He sees a curious double flame approaching and asks Virgil what it is. Ulysses and Diomedes, replies Virgil. The two sinners were single handedly responsible for the Trojan horse and as such are punished together in a single flame. Dante begs Virgil to let him speak to them. Virgil says that Dante can do so as long as he doesn’t speak. Virgil in actuality wishes to speak to them himself and uses the excuses that they may look down on him, them being Greek and he being Italian. They approach and Virgil asks one of them how he died. The bigger of the two flames wags back and forth like a tongue.
This is exactly what the flame represents. Eventually the tongue finds it’s voice and speaks. After returning from the Trojan war, Ulysses (as recounted in Odyssey) ends up exploring a lot more than he hoped to. He sails past Spain and the Pillars of Hercules (at that time the boundary of the known world). To encourage his tired crew, he explains that they have explored further than any before. They sail to the southern hemisphere where the stars are upside down. They reach the mountain of purgatory and God decides that they have travelled too far. A whirlwind rises from the sea and heads directly for the boat, killing all on board. Virgil tells the pair to leave.
Another sinner approaches them and makes a strange dying-bull like noise. Dante strains to understand the tongue-flame. The sinner believes that Virgil is a good soul for letting the sinners speak earlier and asks that he be spared punish a moment for conversation. He asks Virgil how his home of Romagna is doing. Virgil has no idea so gestures to Dante to explain. Romagna is being ravaged. Dante asks who the sinner is. Being in Hell, the sinner believes Dante will never be able to tell anyone else, so agrees to share all. The sinner was a former soldier named Guido da Montefeltro who repented and became a friar. The Pope Benefice VII ruined everything. As a young man he was a turncoat, backstabber and then a holy man as he aged. The Pope, fueding with Christian families, asks Guido to name which families he can go to war with.
The Pope offers Guido a free sin-free ticket to heaven for the friars permission to wage war on particular families. As Guido is ascending to heaven, a Demon appears snatches him up and Minos throws him into the 8th circle. Guido is heavily upset and leaves. The poets move on.
Circle 8 Pouch 9 – The Sowers of Scandal and Schism
Dante finds it hard to speak as he witnesses the punishment for this new band of sinners. Blood and wounded souls litter the ground. Dante describes it as more horrendous than the carnage of 5 battles, the dead piled up could not match such horrors. The first soul Dante sees has been eviscerated and all of his organs are visible.
The sinner sees Dante and opens his split chest wider for the poet to see. The man introduces himself as Mohammed. He points out another man named Ali with a face cleaved in two. Ali was responsible for splitting the Sunni and Shiite tribes of the Muslims. The group of souls walk in massive circles until they reach a Demon which slashes them, sometimes in two. The souls keep walking, dripping gore everywhere until they die. They then regenerate and do the same thing over and over again. Muhammed asks Dante why he can walk around without having his guts removed. When Virgil explains Dante’s mortality, the souls in the Pouch all become aware of the situation and stare at Dante with scorn. Muhammed asks Dante to deliver a message to Fra Dolcino to tell him to stock up on food or else he will starve.
The man did eventually starve. Mohammed walks away. Pier da Medicina approaches with his throat slit. He uses his throat wound as a mouth and asks Dante to make him famous in the mortal realm. He asks Dante to deliver a message to two endangered sailors and in return the poet requests another soul to be identified. Pier points out Curio, the man who convinced Julius Caesar to betray his friend Pompey and attack Rome. The attack started a civil war. In Hell his tongue is split into pieces and he is unable to speak. Another man shows up with no hands, presenting himself as Mosca, a man that contributed to the bad blood between the Guelphs and Ghibellines.
Dante informs Mosca that he brought death to his own family and the sinner runs away screaming. The last sinner approaches carrying his head in his hands. He lifts his head like a lantern towards Dante. He challenges Dante to find a more punished soul in Hell than himself. As Bertran de Born in life, the soul was he that turned Prince Henry against his father, King Henry II. Dividing father from son meant carrying his own divided head from his body in Hell. Dante becomes weepy after all the gore. Virgil dislikes this and tells him to pull himself together.
Dante, surprisingly stands his ground in this instance. Virgil continues walking regardless, forcing Dante to continue along with him. Dante states that his sadness stems from a soul he discovered from from his own family suffering in this pouch. Virgil explains that whilst speaking with Bertran, he spotted Dante’s kinsmen Geri del Bello shouting insults at Dante from far away. Eventually Geri gave up bored and left. Dante still defends Geri. The kinsmen was violently murdered in a battle between the Aligheris and the Sachettis. As an unavenged man, he is angry at Dante, but this only makes Dante pity him.
The two poets walk over the bridge to the 10th and final pouch of Circle 8.
Circle 8, Pouch 10 – The Falsifiers
Dante covers his ears as they descend the slopes into the 10th and final pouch. The sinners wail in terrible agony from the might of unbelievable pestilence. Dante states that it is more rife with disease than the island myth of of Aegina. Going into detail about Aegina. Dante recounts that Aegina was a beautiful nymph that caught the eye of Jupiter and so he raped her. Juno, Jupiter’s wife became so jealous that she infested the Aegina’s island with pestilence. Enough disease to wipe out everyone.
Feeling bad about the situation, Jupiter decided to repopulate the island by turning all of it’s ants into people. Dante comes across two sinners propped up against one another, attacking each other with their ‘claws’. Dante compares it to a malcontented stable boy, taking out his frustrations on the innocent horses. He says they attack like kitchen knives trying to descale fishes. Virgil asks them if they know any Italians nearby and they answer that they in fact are Italian. They ask who he is and why Dante is alive, much like everyone else. Again Virgil explains.
The sinners peer at Dante and Virgil gestures for him to speak. Dante asks them to identify themselves, but this time adds that they not let their vile and terrible torment stop them from discussing themselves. Dante promises to make the sinners famous when he returns to the land of the living. The first sinner tells that he made the Bishop of Siena angry by telling the Bishop’s friend that he could teach him how to fly. This was not the crime which landed him in Hell, however.
The man practiced alchemy, for which the Bishop burned him at the stake. Minos then threw him into the 8th circle. He names himself as Griffolino and Dante looks down on him because he is Sienese and by definition vain. Before Griffolino can argue his case another sinner jumps in agreeing with Dante, naming more ‘pompous’ Sienese noblemen. Capocchio, as he proudly identifies himself, states that he is in Hell for also practicing alchemy. In his tale he tells that he was capable of producing convincing, but altogether fake, imitations precious metals. Capocchio turns out to also be Sienese. The next two sinners Dante sees he compares to being more violent than the tale of Jupiter and Semele and more wild than Hecuba of Troy.
In the first comparison Jupiter impregnated Semele, a beautiful princess. Juno, much like how she reacted with Aegina goes mad with jealousy. She drives Semele’s brother-in-law mad until he thinks his family are lions. He kills one son and his wife commits double suicide with the other. In the second tale, Hecuba of Troy sees her daughter sacrificed and her son murdered. The intense grief causes her to howl like a dog. One of the two rabid sinners runs up to Capocchio and bites him in the neck. Griffolino, still intently watching, tells Dante that this sinner is called Gianni Schicchi. The soul was guilty of impersonation, writing himself into his friends will to obtain his friends best horse after he died. Dante asks about the other sinner. Griffolino says she is Myrrha, a princess that fell in love with her father and pretended to be someone else in order to sleep with him.
Dante surveys the rest of the sinners. He sees a man suffering from a disease he names Dropsy that has been twisted into the shape of a lute. His face is rotting off, but he manages to present himself as Master Adam. His punishment is to be constantly thirsty. He can do nothing all day but imagine the river Arno near his home town; the place where he counterfeited coins. Master Adam blames Guido II for his crimes, saying it was Guido that was to blame for him counterfeiting in the first place. A rumour circling amongst the souls was that Guido was already among them, and he pledged to get revenge. Dante asks Adam who the two sinners next to him are. They are smoking as if to catch fire. He names them Potiphar’s wife and Sinon of the Greeks. They tricked the Trojans into accepting the horse into their city and are punished by an affliction which makes their skin smoke.
The two sinners start to insult Adam for bringing them up and they begin fighting and insulting one another. Dante is fascinated by the argument until Virgil shows up and hits him on the head. He tells dante to stop being interested in this sinful and pointless argument. Dante apologises and Virgil hugs him. The poets fall asleep. When they awaken Dante speaks about Virgil’s sharp speech, saying it can inflict wounds or heal at will. The two reconcile their differences and move on to circle 9.
Circle 8 – The Giants
Whilst heading to the final circle, everything goes entirely dark. The poets strain to see so rely heavily on their hearing. As if to deafen the two, a loud bellowing bugle explodes out. Dante compares the sound to Roland’s horn, which was blown at the defeat of the unconquerable Charlemagne. With his vision returning, Dante makes out the silhouette of many tall towers. He asks Virgil which city it is. Virgil tells him he will see clearer once away from the shadows.
Changing his mind, Virgil explains that the towers are actually Giants, not buildings. He states that the Giants are embedded in the banks of the 9th circle. The poets edge towards them and Dante’s fear grows. Dante blesses heaven for not allowing the Giants to breed on Earth. He compares the size of their heads to being larger than St Peter’s pinecone. The pinecone was an ornamental decoration used to line the first pantheon, then the Basilica, then the Vatican. It’s really big. Dante speaks “Raphel mai amecche zabi almi.”, gibberish even in Italian. Virgil tells him to stop speaking nonsense. Dante is slightly upset at Virgil’s rudeness before Virgil starts identifying the Giants.
The first one is called Nimrod. Nimrod was one of the kings of ancient Babylon, responsible for building the Tower of Babel. Babel was so ambitious in size that God himself struck it down. The breaking of the tower split the language of man into thousands of dialects. Virgil says that he thoroughly deserves his punishment for breaking up the many peoples of man into different cultures, nations and races. Nimrod himself cannot speak. The poets continue until they reach another, much larger, Giant. The Giant is chained up in massive restraints.
Virgil names him as Ephialtes, the Giant who challenged the gods. For taking up arms against his Gods, his arms are constantly restrained. Dante, showing off, asks Virgil when they will see Briareus. Briareus was another Giant who challenged God. Virgil responds that Anteaus is close ahead and will take them to the final circle. He then says that Briareus the Giant is still far off… and that he is very terrifying. Ephialtes tries to escape his bonds at the name of Briareus. His fear causes an earthquake. Dante feels bad for the Giant and wished he had not brought it up. As the two approach Anteaus, Virgil explains the Giant’s origin. He lived in the valley of the Bagradas valley.
Dante learns that he ate Lions and that had he been born at the time of the Giants, the Giants would have won their war against the gods. Dante asks that Anteaus deposit them in the next circle and Virgil offers the Giant fame in return. The Giant eagerly picks up Virgil and the poet shouts to Dante not to fall behind. Dante finds that the Giant is quite gentle, it crouches down and drops them into the 9th and final circle.
Circle 9 – Rings 1 & 2, The Traitors to Kin and The Traitors to Their Homeland or Party
Dante cannot find the words to specifically point out the horrors of the 9th circle, but tries his best to describe the new scene. He even asks the Muses to bless his words so that they may appear true. Walking underneath Anteaus’s feet, he hears a soul cry to watch where he steps. He looks down and sees before him that he is stood on an enormous frozen lake, the Cocytus. It is iced so thoroughly that it appears like glass. Dante states that the ice seemed so thick that a mountain could fall on it and not even make the lake creak. Up to their faces in the ice were sinners, shivering from the cold.
He sees two sinners so closely packed that their hair is conjoined. He asks them who they are. They have to stretch their necks back to see where Dante is, but as they are about to speak, the poet notices that they had been crying. The tears had frozen their mouths shut. Another sinner begins to talk. He identifies the two as the Bisenzio brothers whom killed one another over politics. He condemns them to this pit more so than Mordred, the man who betrayed his father King Arthur. After naming the crimes of others, the sinner states himself as Camiscione dei Pazzi, condemned for killing kinsmen for political power. He denies his punishment his just by claiming the evil of his kinsmen.
These are just a few of the thousands that Dante finds in this terrible predicament. Some of them look animalistic from the cold. As the poets walk on Dante accidentally kicks the heads of some of them. One of them pipes up and proclaims to Dante why must he attack him so. He accuses Dante of seeking revenge for Montaperti. Dante asks for a moment of time from Virgil as he hopes to clear up the misunderstanding. He roughly asks the sinner who he is. The soul replies a mirrored question, asking Dante who HE is. Dante explains that he is a living man and will give the man great fame. The soul seems disinterested and just wants to be left alone. Dante goes crazy. He grabs the soul by the hair and screams at the man to identify himself or he will continue to pull the man’s hair until there is none left. The soul is defiant and not intimidated. Dante pulls out all the sinner’s hair. The soul screams in pain until another nearby tells him by name to shut up. The hairless soul is called Bocca. Dante threatens to tarnish Bocca’s name if he does not answer Dante’s questioning but Bocca remains defiant. He merely asks if Dante will also tarnish the names of a few other souls as well.
He names Buoso da Duera, Beccheria, Gianni dei Soldanieri, Ganelon, and Tebaldello as traitors to their country. Dante gets bored and moves on, followed by Virgil. They come across another pair of sinners, so tightly entwined that the face of one was cleaved over another. One appeared to be almost biting the other. Dante jokingly says that one of them looked like a hat. As always, Dante wants them identified. To stop his tongue going dry, the biting soul begins to speak. It lifts its teeth from the other and wipes its mouth on the lower soul’s hair. The sinner says that recounting his story makes him weep, but if it exposes his betrayer he will continue. His name is Count Ugolino and he is biting Archbishop Ruggieri. As a terible storyteller Ugolino spoils the ending before he even starts. The Archbishop tricked him and then killed him. Here is his story. Ugolino was the magistrate of Pisa and had some tough decisions to make. One of his decisions was to cede Pisa to a hostile neighbouring city, which some consider a betrayal. Ugolino finds himself exiled from Pisa and Ruggieri manages to temp him back under false pretense. Ugolino is locked away in a Pisan tower called the Eagle Tower (but known after as the Hunger Tower). He is kept there for “several moons”.
Eventually he becomes hungry and cold and has a dream. In his dream the Archbishop appears as a master of the hunt, hunting a wolf and it’s pups. The wolves represent Ugolino and his sons. He wakes up to find his sons (who are also locked up) screaming for bread. As the day goes on, the boys expect their normal supply of food. However at the time of day it should have arrived, Ugolino hears men nailing up the door to the tower. His insides turned to stone and he doesn’t speak to his scared children for an entire day. After seeing his reflection in his sons eyes he begins biting himself in grief. The children take this to mean they can save their father if they were eaten by him. A few days go by and one of the sons falls dead at the feet of his father.
Then another and another. Yet still the father does not speak. Eventually after they are all dead, and he has gone blind from the hunger, he calls out to them finally recognising them as gone. The sinner states “then fasting had more force than grief.” suggesting he either died of starvation, or died feasting on his children. Ugolino bites down into the Archbishops head again in severe grief. Dante expresses grief in that Pisa was not drowned by Caparara and Gorgona by putting up a dam.
The poets move to the 3rd ring of circle 9.
Circle 9 – Ring 3, The Traitors to Their Guests
The sinners in this ring are not embedded in the ice, but laying on top of it. They cannot weep as their tears crystallise immediately, glazing over their eyes. Dante himself is going numb from the cold. Dante asks Virgil how he can possibly feel the wind (medieval people used to believe that wind came from the Sun). Virgil says that Dante will soon see for himself. A sinner cries out to Dante, believing he is a sinner himself.
He asks Dante to remove the glaze from his eyes so that he may see for a moment before going blind from tears once more. Dante promises to do this on pain of banishment to Hell if the sinner names himself and tells his story. The sinner says that he was Fra Alberigo. He invited his relatives over for dinner and had them assassinated. The sinner says he does not deserve his punishment. Dante, recognising the tale and performing simple maths in his head, asks if Alberigo is actually already dead. Alberigo replies that he is not sure, as Ptolomea (the third ring) can have sinners sent into Hell before they have actually died. Alberigo points out a man named Branca Doria and Dante calls him a liar, knowing that Branca is actually still alive.
Alberigo replies that in actuality Branca has been a close sinner to him in Hell for a very long time, longer than most of the other souls Dante saw in the 9th circle so far. But how can one go to Hell before dying? Alberigo explains that Ptolomea replaces a soul with a Demon. A Demon is inhabiting Branca in the living world. Dante refuses to wipe the sinners eyes as he promised. He says that not doing so is a courtesy. He curses the Genoese (to whom Branca and Alberigo belong) saying they are so corrupt that they can go to Hell before they have even died.
As the two poets head towards the 4th and final ring in the final circle of Hell, Virgil says: “Vexilla Regis prodeunt inferni” Roughly translated this means… “The banners of the King of Hell draw closer”.
Circle 9, Ring 4 – Traitors Against Their Benefactors
Virgil tells Dante to look around for Lucifer, the king of hell. Dante strains to see through the darkness. He is looking for some kind of windmill, something producing the intense breeze. The wind is so strong now he has to stand behind Virgil to break some of the air. In this final area of Hell, the sinners are fully immersed in the ice. The transparent, glass like lake lets them be seen in all their twisted positions. Virgil announces that this is Dis and that Dante must be brave.
Dante freezes and communicates with the reader directly. He says that he feels dead, but also had not died. He was, at this very moment, peering upon the gigantic form of Lucifer himself. He tells the reader that Lucifer is absolutely enormous. Much like the difference between he and the Giants, Lucifer would be the same to them. He ponders how Lucifer could once have been one of the most beautiful of the angels, because he appeared grotesque and monstrous. Lucifer, embedded into his icy prison, has three heads. The three heads are different colours, one red one yellow and one black. Beneath the heads sits a pair of bat-like wings and Dante discerned the source of the wind. From each of the three faces Lucifer weeps, his tears dripping into his three mouths.
Each moth chews the bloody pulp of a treacherous historical figure. Lucifer is eating the sinners. In the central mouth is a man flayed of skin, screaming in agony. Virgil states that this man is Judas Iscariot, he whom betrayed Jesus. The man in the black mouth is Brutus, he whom betrayed Julius Caesar. Brutus writhes in pain but does not cry out. The last sinner in Cassius, whom also betrayed Caesar. Virgil decides that it is time to leave and that leaving Hell will be difficult for both of them. Dante has to jump on Virgil’s back and Virgil makes a death defying leap to the waist of Lucifer.
Instead of climbing down, Virgil begins climbing up Lucifer’s body. Dante goes mad because he thinks Virgil has lost his mind. Virgil reassures him, telling him they are indeed leaving Hell. Finally resting, Virgil drops Dante off on a ledge. Dante looks down but finds that the world has inverted on him. Virgil shouts at him to get moving because they have far to go with little time. Dante questions why the world is upside down, what time is it? Virgil answers that they have entered the Southern Hemisphere.
When they passed Lucifer’s core, gravity inverted. He says they are directly under Jerusalem, where Jesus was killed. It is almost dawn. Virgil speaks of the Southern Hemisphere. He says that the entire hemisphere is made of water because as Lucifer crashed on Earth, all the land retreated in fear to the north. The two poets enter a crevice with a small stream called the Lethe. They follow the stream up a pleasant hill to an exit out of hell. A surface where Dante can see the stars.
Having gone through Hell and returned, the Inferno part of this tale comes to an end.
Welcome to the Island of Purgatory.
– INDEX –