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Dante: "The Central Man of All the World"
Dante's Inferno
by Slattery, John T.


At no period of modern times do we find that literature showed an interest more keen in the Hereafter than at the present day. Religion has always used both pen and voice to direct men's thoughts towards eternity, but now it is literature that goes for subject-matter to religion. This change of attitude is due, no doubt, to the fact that several factors in present-day life—factors that literature cannot ignore, have turned popular thought to religion. The World-war has disciplined the character of men by the unspeakable experiences of contact with shot, shell and shrapnel and the result has been that countless numbers have turned to religion for strength and consolation. Countless thousands whose dear ones made the supreme sacrifice for the ideals of patriotism, also find in religion their only solace.

Those who have not this refuge turn to spiritualism and psychical research in a futile effort to find a satisfactory solution of the problem of the Hereafter. Again and again we see the unrest of the ever-questioning soul depicted in the drama and the literature of the day as it seeks enlightenment on the potentiality of the future life. The stage presents plays based on spiritualistic manifestations or upon supernatural healing or miraculous intervention. Many recent novels have either psychical phenomena for their central interest or plots evolved out of the miraculous in religion. As exponents of psychical research, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, W.T. Stead and Sir Oliver Lodge make an appeal to readers to accept as scientific truths, the psychical manifestations of the unseen world. A typical answer is given to that appeal by a distinguished writer, Doctor Inge, Dean of St. Paul's, London, who declares: "If this kind of after-life were true, this portrayed in the pitiable revival of necromancy in which many desolate hearts have sought spurious satisfaction, it would, indeed, be a melancholy postponement or negation of all we hope and believe about our dead."

Prescinding from any attempt to discuss the occult phenomena evoked, observed and studied in our day or to treat of the matters involved in the supernatural in the books of the day, one may state as a fact that the whole tendency of present day literature is to show a yearning for light on a subject of fundamental importance to human nature. Far back in the history of the race Job gave voice to the spiritual problems that are today engaging the attention of the world. Some fifteen hundred years ago, St. Augustine proposed to himself the question which so generally concerns the twentieth century: "On what matter of all those things of which thou art ignorant, hast thou the greatest desire for enlightenment?" The great Bishop of Hippo becomes the spokesman of humanity when he answers his own question by proposing another: "Am I immortal or not?" (Soliloquia 2d).

In the realms of literature no work of man has answered that question with greater vividness of imagery, intensity of concentration, beauty of description—all based in a large measure on the teachings of Christianity—than has Dante in his Divine Comedy. Devised as a love offering to the memory of his beloved Beatrice who in the work is symbolized as Heavenly Light on the things hidden from man, the poem leads the reader through the dark abyss of Hell, the patient abode of Purgatory, the glorious realm of Heaven as if the poet had seen Eternity in reality instead of in imagination. Not only the state and the conditions of the soul after death does he visualize with the precision of Euclid, but as a philosopher and a theologian he proposes for our instruction in the course of the journey many questions of dogmatic and speculative thought affecting the Hereafter. He believes himself called to be not simply a poet to entertain his readers, but a prophet and a preacher with burning fire to deliver a message for man's salvation. So he asks the help of Heaven:

"O Supreme Light that so high upliftest Thyself from mortal conceptions, re-lend a little to my mind of what Thou didst appear and make my tongue so powerful that it may be able to leave one single spark of Thy glory, for the future people: for by returning to my memory and by sounding a little in these verses, more of Thy victory shall be conceived" (Par. XXXIII, 67).

Comedy is the title which Dante gives to his trilogy and posterity has added the prefix adjective divine. The term comedy however is not used in the modern sense which suggests to us a light laughable drama written in a familiar style. "Comedy" Dante himself explains in his dedication of the poem, "is a certain kind of poetical narrative which differs from all others. It differs from tragedy in its subject matter in this way, that tragedy in the beginning is admirable and quiet, in its ending or catastrophe foul and horrible ... Comedy on the other hand, begins with adverse conditions, but its theme has a happy termination. Likewise they differ in their style of language, for tragedy is lofty and sublime, comedy lowly and humble.

"From this it is evident why the present work is called a comedy, for if we consider the theme in its beginning it is horrible and foul because it is Hell; in its ending fortunate, desirable and joyful because it is Paradise: and if we consider the style of language the style is lowly and humble because it is the vulgar tongue in which even housewives hold converse."

The theme of the poem Dante himself explains: "The subject of the work literally taken is the state of souls after death; this is the pivotal idea of the poem throughout its entire course. In the allegorical sense the poet treats of the hell of this world through which we are journeying as pilgrims, with the power of meriting and demeriting, and the subject is man, in as much as by his merits and demerits he is subject to divine Justice, remunerative or retributive" (Epis. dedicat. ad Can Grande).

One of the earliest commentators amplifies the poet's statement. Benvenuto da Imola writes: "The matter or subject of this book is the state of the human soul both as connected with the human body and as separated from it. As the state of the whole is threefold, so does the author divide his work into three parts. A soul may be in sin; such a one even while it lives with the body, is morally speaking dead, and hence it is in moral Hell; when separated from the body, if it died incurably obstinate, it is in the actual Hell. Again a soul may be receding from vice: such a one while still in the body is in the moral Purgatory, or in the act of penance in which it purges away its sin; if separated, it is in the actual Purgatory. Yet even while living in the body, a soul is already in a manner in Paradise, for it exists in as great felicity as is possible in this life of misery: separated from the body, it is in the heavenly Paradise where there is true and perfect happiness, where it enjoys the vision of God." (Ozanam, Dante, p. 129.)

This testimony as to the subject matter of the Divine Comedy is brought forth to offset the statements not infrequently made by expositors who deny or ignore the supernatural that Dante's full thought can be realized even if the reader rejects the poet's spiritual teaching, especially his doctrine of the existence of a real Heaven and a real Hell. It is true that Dante is "such a many-sided genius that he has a message for almost every person." It is likewise true that an allegorical interpretation may be adopted with no belief in the Hereafter and it may open up many fruitful lessons for the reader. That being granted, one may still ask whether one can ignore Dante's doctrine of future rewards and punishment and so get full satisfaction from treating the poet's conception of the Hereafter as a mere allegory.

The allegory presupposes that sin inevitably brings its own penalty. But in this life virtue does not always bear its own reward nor is evil always followed by retribution. Dante as the prophet and the preacher of Christianity would have us understand, as Benvenuto da Imola points out, that if the moral law is not vindicated in this life it will be in the Hereafter, for our acts make our eternity. So the poet holds that while this life according as it shows the soul in sin, in repentance or in virtue may be considered allegorically Hell, Purgatory or Heaven, before the Last Judgment a real Hell, a real Purgatory, a real Heaven is the abode of disembodied spirits according to their demerits or merits and after the Last Judgment, Purgatory no longer existing, souls will be in eternal suffering in Hell or in unending joy in Heaven.

It is not to be expected that any reader will believe that Dante's Hell is a photograph of reality. It is a Hell largely fashioned by poetic visions and political theories, peopled in a great measure by those who stand in opposition to the poet's theory of government. It is not, as is sometimes asserted, a place to which the poet consigns his personal enemies. As Dinsmore says: "Dante had too much greatness in his soul and too much pride (it may be) to make revenge a personal matter: he had nothing but contempt for his own enemies and never except in the case of Boniface VIII ... did he place a single one of them in the Inferno, not even his judge Cante Gabriella."

Though largely colored by his political theories Dante's Hell is also a theological conception based on the teaching of the Catholic Church that Hell exists as a place or state of punishment for the rebel angels and for man dying impenitent, that is, for man in whom sin has become so humanized that death finds him not simply in the act or habit of sin but so transformed that in the striking words of Bossuet, "he is man made sin." Dante fully accepted that doctrine which had been the constant tradition and faith of the Church and had been reaffirmed in the second ecumenical Council of Lyons held when Dante was a boy, nine years of age.

It is not unlikely with his precocity for knowledge and sentiment at that age that he was deeply impressed with the history of that council especially as its legislation also dealt with the Crusades, the union of Churches, the reform of the Church, the appointment of a king of the Romans and an emperor—matters of vital importance to him later. He must have recalled that Council also with special interest, for two of his ideal personages, Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure met their death, one on his way to the Council, the other while actually attending its sessions.

In any event Dante firmly believed the doctrine of the Hereafter "that they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire." He held that the punishment of the damned is two-fold. The greater punishment, called the pain of loss, consists in the loss of the Beatific Vision, a suffering so great that the genius of St. Augustine can hardly translate it in human language. "To be separated from God," he says, "is a torment as great as the very greatness of God." The other pain of the reprobate consists in the torment of fire so frequently mentioned in Holy Writ. "According to the greater number of theologians the term fire denotes a material and so a real fire ... (but) there have never been wanting theologians who interpret the scriptural term fire metaphorically as denoting an incorporeal fire and thus far the Church has not censured their opinion" (Cath. Encyclo., VIII, 211.)

While the pain of loss and the pain of sense constitute the very essence of the punishment of Hell, theologians teach that there are other sufferings called accidental. The reprobate never experience v.g. the least real pleasure nor are they ever free from the hideous presence of one another. After the Last Judgment the lost souls will also be tormented by union with their bodies, a union bringing about a fresh increase of punishment. On this subject, for our information Dante addresses Virgil his guide through Hell: "Master, will these torments after the great sentence increase or diminish?" Virgil explains that they will become worse because when the soul is united again to the body there will be perfection of being and the resulting sensitiveness will be the more intense.

"Return unto thy science," answers Virgil, "which wills that as a thing more perfect is the more it feels of pleasure and of pain." (Inf., VI, 40.)

Dante also holds that only by way of exception is there any escape from Hell once a soul is condemned. Following a legend commonly believed in the Middle Ages that in answer to the prayers of Pope Gregory the Great, the soul of the Emperor Trajan was delivered from Hell, Dante assumes that God who could not save Trajan against his will, allowed his soul to "come back to its bones" and while thus united to use its will for salvation. So regenerated Trajan is placed by Dante, in the Heaven of Jupiter (Par. XX 40, 7). Referring to this incident the Catholic Encyclopedia says: "In itself it is no rejection of Catholic dogma to suppose that God might at times by way of exception, liberate a soul from Hell. Thus some argued from a false interpretation of I Peter III, 19 seq. that Christ freed several damned souls on the occasion of His descent into Hell. Others were led by untrustworthy stories into the belief that the prayers of Gregory the Great rescued the Emperor Trajan from Hell but now theologians are unanimous in teaching that such exceptions never take place and never have taken place" (VIII, 209.)

As to the location of Hell it is the poet Dante and not Dante the theologian, as we shall see later, who gives definite place and boundaries to Hell. He knows that on this subject the Church has decided nothing, holding to the statement of St. Augustine: "It is my opinion that the nature of hell-fire and the location of Hell are known to no man unless the Holy Ghost made it known to him by a special revelation."

Dante makes his Hell big enough to hold the majority of mankind. He thinks that the elect will be comparatively few—just numerous enough to fill those places in heaven forfeited by the rebel angels who formed according to his conjecture, about a tenth of the angelical host. That their places in Heaven are already nearly filled leaving little room for future generations Dante makes known in the words of Beatrice:
"Behold our City's circuit, oh how vast
Behold our benches now so full that few
Are they who are henceforth lacking here."
	(Par. XXX, 130.)
His theory of restrictive salvation, it may be noted, is not in accord with the teaching of the Church which holds that to every man God gives grace sufficient for salvation. That is true even as affecting the heathen and those living in place or in time far removed from the Cross. St. Thomas Aquinas expresses this doctrine of the Church when he writes: "If anyone who is born in a barbaric nation does what lieth in him, God will reveal what is necessary for salvation, either by internal inspiration or by a teacher."

The farcical element is not wanting in the Inferno, a fact proving that our poet, in furnishing the episodes, not superior to his age which demanded especially in the religious plays presented in the public square the sight of the discomfiture of the devil in scenes provoking the audience to laughter. The best example of such farcicality occurs in the eighth circle, fifth bolgia, where officials, traffickers in public offices, or unjust stewards are immersed in boiling pitch. From time to time when the fiends are not alert the reprobate here come to the surface for a breathing or cooling spell, like dolphins on the approach of a storm darting in the air and diving back again or like frogs with their muzzles alone exposed and their bodies covered by the water, resting on the banks of a stream into which they drop at the first approach of danger.

Getting in this way momentary relief from suffering a grafter named Ciampolo, a former retainer of King Thibaut II of Navarre, lingered too long and was deftly hooked by Graffiacane amid the savage exultations of the other fiends, who proceed to maltreat the unfortunate wretch. The hideous confusion of attacks by the demons is stopped long enough for the poet to learn his history, and also what is more interesting to Dante, the names of two Italians, Friar Gomita and Michel Zanche who are likewise suffering in the boiling pitch. Ciampolo, to save himself from further maltreatment and to escape from his captors, now has recourse to stratagem. He promises that if they consent to withdraw out of sight he will whistle a signal that will be recognized only by his hapless comrades; the two Italians and five others will then come to the surface for cool air. The fiends may then have not one, but seven to rend! The crafty plan succeeds. The demons withdraw behind the crags and then Ciampolo plunges deeply into the boiling pitch. Two devils, endeavoring to swoop down upon him now beyond their reach, fall upon each other in brutal fury, while the rest of the troop hurry to the opposite shore to rescue the belimed pair. Here is Dante's description of the farce:

"As dolphins, when with the arch of the back; they make sign to mariners that they may prepare to save their ship: so now and then, to ease the punishment, some sinner showed his back and hid in less time than it lightens. And as at the edge of the water of a ditch, the frogs stand only with their muzzles out, so that they hide their feet and other bulk: thus stood on every hand the sinners; but as Barbariccia approached, they instantly retired beneath the seething. I saw, and my heart still shudders thereat, one linger so, as it will happen that one frog remains while the other spouts away; and Graffiancane, who was nearest to him, hooked his pitchy locks and haled him up, so that to me he seemed an otter.

"I already knew the name of every one, so well I noted them as they were chosen, and when they called each other, listened how. 'O Rubicante, see thou plant thy clutches on him, and flay him!' shouted together all the accursed crew. And I: 'Master, learn if thou canst, who is that piteous wight, fallen into the hands of his adversaries.' My Guide drew close to (his side) and asked him whence he came; and he replied: 'I was born in the kingdom of Navarre. My mother placed me as servant of a lord; for she had borne me to a ribald master of himself and of his substance. Then I was domestic with the good King Thibault; here I set myself to doing barratry, of which I render reckoning in this heat.' And Ciriatto, from whose mouth on either side came forth a tusk as from a hog, made him feel how one of them did rip. Amongst evil cats the mouse had come; but Barbariccia locked him in his arms, and said: 'Stand off whilst I enforke him!' And turning his face to my Master: 'Ask on,' he said, 'if thou wouldst learn more from him, before some other undo him.'

"The Guide therefore: 'Now say, of the other sinners knowest thou any that is a Latian, beneath the pitch?' And he: 'I parted just now from one who was a neighbour of theirs (on the other side); would I still were covered with him, for I should not fear claw nor hook!' And Libicocco cried: 'Too much have we endured,' and with the hook seized his arm and mangling carried off a part of brawn. Draghignazzo, he too, wished to have a catch at the legs below; whereat their decurion wheeled around around with evil aspect. When they were somewhat pacified, my Guide, without delay, asked him that still kept gazing on his wound: 'Who was he, from whom thou sayest that thou madest an ill departure to come ashore?' And he answered: 'It was Friar Gomita, he of Gallura, vessel of every fraud, who had his master's enemies in hand, and did so to them that they all praise him for it: money took he for himself, and dismissed them smoothly, as he says; and in his other offices besides, he was no petty but a sovereign barrator. With him keeps company Don Michel Zanche of Logodoros; and in speaking of Sardinia the tongues of them do not feel weary. Oh me! see that other grinning; I would say more; but fear he is preparing to claw my scurf.' And their great Marshal, turning to Farfarello, who rolled his eyes to strike, said: 'Off with thee, villainous bird!' 'If you wish to see or hear Tuscans or Lombards,' the frightened sinner then resumed, 'I will make them come. But let the (evil claws hold back) a little, that they may not fear their vengeance; and I, sitting in this same place, for one that I am, will make seven come, on whistling, as is our wont to do, when any of us gets out.'

"O Reader, thou shalt hear new sport! All turned their eyes toward the other side, he first who had been most unripe for doing it. The Navarrese chose well his time; planted his soles upon the ground, and in an instant leapt and from their purpose freed himself. Thereat each was stung (with guilt); but he most who had been the cause of the mistake; he therefore started forth, and shouted: 'Thou'rt caught!' But little it availed (him); for wings could not outspeed the terror; the sinner went under; and he, flying, raised up his breast: not otherwise the duck suddenly dives down, when the falcon approaches, and he returns up angry and defeated.

"Calcabrina, furious at the trick, kept flying after him, desirous that the sinner might escape, to have a quarrel. And, when the barrator had disappeared, he turned his talons on his fellow, and was clutched with him above the ditch. But the other was indeed a sparrowhawk to claw him well; and both dropt down into the middle of the boiling pond. The heat at once unclutched them; but rise they could not, their wings were so beglued. Barbariccia with the rest lamenting, made four of them fly over to the other coast with all their drags; and most rapidly on this side, on that, they descended to the stand; they stretched their hooks towards the limed pair, who were already scalded within the crust; and we left them thus embroiled." (XXII, 19.)

The grotesque, also, plays a part in the Inferno appearing not only in the demons taken from classical legend and deformed into caricatures, but also in the punishment of crimes, v.g. simony and malfeasance in public office, regarded by our poet as malicious in themselves and grotesque in their perversity.

Readers who regard the grotesque as a repelling element in the Inferno may be surprised to learn that Ruskin considers this feature of Dante's writings an expression of the highest human genius. The great English critic writes:

"I believe that there is no test of greatness in nations, periods, nor men more sure than the development, among them or in them of a noble grotesque, and no test of comparative smallness or limitation, of one kind or another, more sure than the absence of grotesque invention or incapability of understanding it. I think that the central man of all the world, as representing in perfect balance and imaginative, moral and intellectual faculties, all at their highest is Dante; and in him the grotesque reaches at once the most distinct and the most noble development to which it was ever brought in the human mind. Of the grotesqueness of our own Shakespeare I need hardly speak, nor of its intolerableness to his French critics; nor of that of Ęschylus and Homer, as opposed to the lower Greek writers; and so I believe it will be found, at all periods, in all minds of the first order."

Dante's doctrine of punishment presupposes certain primary truths which the Church proclaims today as she did in Dante's day. According to the Florentine's creed, man must answer to God for his moral life because he has free will. He cannot excuse his evil deed on the ground of necessity. Even in the face of planetary influence and of temptation from within, by his evil inclinations, and from without by solicitation of other agents man has still such discernment between good and evil and such power to make choice freely, that moral judgment with him is free. "Who hath been tried thereby and made perfect," says Holy Writ, "he shall have glory everlasting. He that could have transgressed, and hath not transgressed and could do evil things, and hath not done them." (Eccli., XXXI, 10.)

Against this doctrine of free will the sociology, the philosophy and the medical science of the present day contend with a theory which minimizes man's accountability for sin if it does not wholly excuse him as the victim of heredity, environment or society. Literature also, as reflected not only in the Greek tragedies but in the writings of authors from Shakespeare to Shaw portray the evil doer as the victim of fate or determinism.

Against all such theories and views Dante appears as the fearless, uncompromising champion of the doctrine of the greatness of man in the exercise of the divine gift of Free Will. His own life, showing how he had won victory over the forces of poverty and persecution, is symbolic of the glorious truth he would teach; viz., that man, endowed with free will and animated with the grace of God, is master of his destiny and cannot be defeated even by principalities and powers. So he tells us, "And free will which if it endure fatigue in the first battles with the heavens, afterwards if it be well nurtured, conquers everything." (Purg., XVI, 76.) He makes Beatrice testify to the supremacy of the will: "The greatest gift which God in His bounty bestowed in creating and that which He prizes most, was the freedom of will with which the creatures that have intelligence—they all and they alone—were endowed." (Cf. Purg., XVIII, 66-73.)

But such a distinctive endowment may be the the curse of man if he fails to use it rightly. Like Job, Dante insists that life is a warfare. Victory is possible only by the right exercise of the will enlightened by God. Defeat is sure if the will embraces sin. To Dante sin is not a mere vulgarity or the violation of a social convention or "a soft infirmity of the blood." "Very hateful to his fervid heart and sincere mind," says James Russell Lowell, "would have been the modern theory which deals with sin as involuntary error." To Dante sin is the greatest evil of the world—not only because it is the source of all other evils, but because it is at once the denaturing of man—the damned are characterized as "the woeful people who have lost the good of the understanding" (Inf., III, 18), and it is also a defiance of God. Sin, then, is Atheism—a rejection of God, with a conviction that pleasure or happiness can be attained outside of God, independent of God and in opposition to God. Apart from the inspired writers of Holy Writ it is doubtful whether any other writer ever had such an awful sense of sin and such a vivid vision of sin and its consequences as Dante has given to the world in a picture which has burned terror into the thought of man.

To show us that life is a warfare against sin, Dante gives us several striking pictures of temptation and heavenly deliverance from evil. At the very beginning of the Divine Comedy, we see his ascent to the mountain of the Lord barred by Lust, Pride and Avarice represented by a leopard, a lion, and a wolf. He is victorious over those enemies of his salvation because Reason (Virgil) and Beatrice (Revelation) come to his aid. Temptation is also exhibited in Ante-Purgatorio and that is the more remarkable because both as a theologian and a poet Dante holds that the present life is the end of man's probation and that as a consequence, temptation is not to be encountered in the next life. Why it is put forth in Ante-Purgatorio is explained by the theory that our poet here nods, that he means, not the actual Purgatory of disembodied spirits, but moral Purgatory, i.e., the present life wherein man, striving upward, is attacked by temptation to keep him from the end for which God created him.

Showing temptation in Ante-Purgatorio, the poet gives us a picture of souls protected by two angels against the serpent. Here is the scene:
"Now was the hour that wakens fond desire
In men at sea, and melts their thoughtful heart
Who in the morn have bid sweet friends farewell,
And pilgrim newly on his road with love
Thrills, if he hear the vesper bell from far,
That seems to mourn for the expiring day":
A band of souls approach:
"I saw that gentle band silently next
Look up, as if in expectation held,
Pale and in lowly guise; and, from on high,
I saw, forth issuing descend beneath,
Two angels, with two flame-illumined swords,
Broken and mutilated of their points.
Green as the tender leaves but newly born,
Their vesture was, the which, by wings as green
Beaten, they drew behind them, fann'd in air.
A little over us one took his stand;
The other lighted on the opposing hill;
So that the troop were in the midst contain'd.
But in their visages the dazzled eye
Was lost, as faculty that by too much
Is overpower'd. 'From Mary's bosom both
Are come,' exclaimed Sordello, 'as a guard
Over the vale, 'gainst him, who hither tends,
The serpent.' Whence, not knowing by which path
He came, I turn'd me round; and closely press'd,
All frozen, to my leader's trusted side."
After describing an interview with one of the souls, the poet continues his narrative:
"While yet he spoke, Sordello to himself
Drew him, and cried: 'Lo there our enemy!'
And with his hand pointed that way to look
Along the side, where barrier none arose
Around the little vale, a serpent lay,
Such haply as gave Eve the bitter food.
Between the grass and flowers, the evil snake
Came on, reverting oft his lifted head;
And, as a beast that smooths its polish'd coat.
Licking his back. I saw not, nor can tell,
How those celestial falcons from their seat
Moved, but in motion each one well described.
Hearing the air cut by their verdant plumes,
The serpent fled; and, to their stations, back
The angels up return'd with equal flight."
	(Purg., VIII.)
A third picture of temptation is furnished by the episode of one of the Sirens who appears first repulsive and then seems to the poet sweet and alluring. Only when Virgil discloses her hideous nature does Dante see how easily he might have fallen a victim to her wiles. He tells us that in his sleep there appeared to him a woman with stammering utterance, squinting eyes, deformed hands. "I gazed at her, and as the sun restores the cold limbs made heavy by night, thus my look loosened her tongue, then straightened her all out in a little while and colored her wan face as love demands. When her speech was thus unbound she began to sing so that I could hardly have turned my attention from her. 'I am,' she sang, 'I am sweet Siren who bewitch sailors by mid-sea, so full am I of charm to hear. By my song I turned Ulysses from his wandering way. And whosoever abides with me seldom departs, so wholly do I satisfy him.' Her lips were not yet closed when a lady, swift and holy, appeared at my side to confound the other. 'O Virgil, Virgil, who is this?' she said proudly; and he advanced with his eyes fixed only on this modest woman." Virgil (Reason called by Conscience) comes to the rescue of the entranced poet and reveals the Siren in all her foul ugliness. At that Dante awakes from his dream more than ever convinced of the evil of sin and its hideousness. (Purg., XIX, 9.)

Our poet, as we said, is firmly convinced that sin will be punished in Hell. But where is Hell? Popular tradition attributing an infernal connection with volcanic phenomena and moved by those passages in Holy Scripture which describe Hell as a place to which the reprobate descend, locates Hell in the interior of the earth. Dante not only follows this tradition for his Hell, but he does what no other writer before or after him ever did—he constructs a Hell with such rare architectural skill that the awful structure stands forth in startling reality, visualized easily as to form an atmosphere, and with a finish of detail that is amazing. Covered by a crust of earth it is situated under Jerusalem and extends in funnel shape to the very center of the earth.

How it got this shape is told by the poet. When Lucifer was hurled from Heaven by the justice of God, he kept falling until he reached the center of earth, whence further motion downward was impossible. At the approach of Lucifer the earth is represented as recoiling and so making the cavity of Hell. The earth dislodged by the cataclysm was forced through an opening, a kind of nozzle of the funnel of Hell, to the antipodes and it there emerged, forming a mountain, which became the site of the Garden of Eden and Purgatory. The phenomenon made land in the northern and water in the southern hemisphere. Here is the description:
"Upon this side he fell down out of heaven
And all the land, that whilom here emerged
For fear of him made of the sea a veil
And came to our hemisphere; and peradventure
To flee from him, what on this side
Left the place vacant here and back recoiled."
	(Inf., XXXIV, 121.)
The material structure of the Inferno is a series of nine concentric circles—darkness brooding over the whole region,—with ledges, chasms, pits, swamps and rivers. The rivers, though different in name and aspect, appear to be one and the same stream winding its way through the various circles. We see it first as the boundary of Hell proper and it is known as the Acheron. It comes again to view in the fourth circle and is called the Styx. In the seventh circle, second round, it emerges as the red blood stream of Phlegethon. In the very depths of Hell it forms the frozen lake of Cocytus. The circles of Hell, distant from one another, decrease in circumference as descent is made—the top circle being the widest. Galileo estimates that Dante's Hell is about 4,000 miles in depth and as many in breadth at its widest diameter. Its opening is near the forest at the Fauces Averni, near Cuma, Italy, where Virgil places the site of the entrance of his Inferno.

Dante's Hell in its moral aspect is Aristotelian. Sins are divided into three great classes, incontinence, bestiality and malice. Incontinence is punished in the five upper circles; bestiality and malice in the City of Dis, lower Hell. More particularly stated, Dante's scheme of punishment in the underworld, not considering the vestibule of Hell, where neutrals are confined, is as follows: 1, Limbo; 2, The Circle of Lust; 3, Gluttony; 4, Avarice and Prodigality; 5, Anger, Rage and Fury; 6, Unbelief and Heresy; 7, Violence; 8, Fraud; 9, Treason.

In regard to this plan of punishment three things are to be noted: (a) Though generally following the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, here Dante, in his conception of Limbo, differs from his master. Our poet's Limbo, wherein are the souls of unbaptized children and others who died stained with original sin, but without personal grievous guilt, is a much more severe abode than that of the Angelic Doctor. The latter teaches that Limbo is a place or a state, not merely of exemption from suffering and sorrow, but of perfect natural happiness unbroken even by a knowledge of a higher, a supernatural destiny that has never been given. Dante's Limbo, on the other hand, represents the souls in sadness brought about by their constant desire and hope never realizable, of seeing God. They suffer no pain of sense, but they are baffled in their endless yearning for the Beatific Vision. To quote Dante:
"There, in so far as I had power to hear,
Were lamentations none, but only sighs
That tremulous made the everlasting air.
And this arose from sorrow without torment,
Which the crowds had, that many were and great,
Of infants and of women and of men.
To me the Master good: 'Thou dost not ask
What spirits these may be, which thou beholdest?
Now will I have thee know, ere thou go farther,
That they sinned not; and if they merit had,
'T is not enough, because they had not baptism,
Which is the portal of the Faith thou holdest;
And if they were before Christianity,
In the right manner they adored not God;
And among such as these am I myself.
For such defects, and not for other guilt,
Lost are we, and are only so far punished,
That without hope we live on in desire.'"
	(IV, 25.)
(b) Our poet represents a soul as punished but for one sin, though it may be guilt-dyed by its having broken all the commandments. Even so, it is placed in one particular circle wherein a certain sin is punished and we are not told that it passes to other circles. In explanation of this we have only to remember that Dante, for our instruction, is showing us object lessons of evil, types of certain sins. Judas, for example, whose name is synonymous with traitor, is exhibited as suffering in the ninth circle, the circle of treason, the poet taking no notice of other sins, v.g., sacrilege, avarice, suicide, of which the fallen apostle may have been guilty. Furthermore, Dante as a master psychologist and moralist would teach us the lesson that the evil doer may come to damnation through one sin if that acquires such an ascendency over his will as to become a capital sin or predominant passion of his life. Then the besetting passion is the father of an innumerable progeny of evil. This is seen (Purg., XX, 103) in the case of Pygmalion, whose predominant passion, avarice, made him a traitor, a thief and a parricide.

(c) Let us not be surprised that Dante is so lenient in the punishment of carnal sinners. He assigns a lighter punishment to the unchaste than to the unjust. Back of his plan is a sound theological doctrine. Guilt is to be estimated not simply from the gravity of the matter prohibited to conscience and the knowledge that one has of the evil, but more especially from the malice displayed by the will in its voluntary choosing and embracing the evil. Now impurity, it is held, is often a sin of impulse. It springs from concupiscence, a common human inclination, wrong only when there is inordinateness. Then though a man freely consents to the temptation and thereby commits a grievous sin, his will generally is not overcast with perversion or affected with malice. That being so, Dante in assigning punishment for sins against the virtue of purity is moved by the thought that such sins deserve a milder punishment in Hell, because they may be oftener surprises than infidelities.

To make known the nature of the particular sin he depicts Dante shows us the evil in various phases. First of all it is personified in repulsive demons, the guardians of the circles of Hell. At the very entrance, sits, symbolizing the evil conscience, the sinners' judge "Minos horrific and grins. The ill-born spirit comes before him, confesses all and that sin-discerner (Minos) sees what place in Hell is for it, and with his tail makes as many circles round himself as the degrees he will have it descend." (Inf., V, 2.) In the circle of Gluttony, the sin is symbolized by the three-headed monster Cerberus, "who clutches the spirits, flays and piecemeal rends them."

Plutus, the ancient god of riches—"a cursed wolf"—commands the circle of Avarice. Phlegyas, who in fury set fire to Apollo's temple, is head of the circle of Anger. Symbolizing remorse, the three Furies, in the semblance of women girt with green water snakes, with snakes for hair, and the Gorgon Medusa, representing the heart-hardening effect of sensual pleasures, are found on the fire-glowing towers of the City of Dis, Inner Hell. In the seventh circle presides Minotaur, half-man, half-bull, the symbol of bloodthirsty violence and brutal lust.

Fraud is typified by Geryon, having the face of an honest man and the body of a dragon. Further down giants are seen, emblematic of the enormity of crime. At the very lowest point of Hell is Lucifer, "emperor of the Realm of Sorrow." A gigantic monster, he is imprisoned in ice formed from rivers which freeze by the movements of his bat-like wings flapping in vain efforts to raise himself. To him, as to the source of all evil, flow back all the streams of guilt. As he sinned against the Tri-une God, he is represented with three faces, one crimson, another between white and yellow, and the third black. (XXXIV, 55.)

Not only by such terrible monsters, but by the environment of the condemned sinner, does our poet reveal the hideousness of sin. To mention only the three great divisions of Hell, the abodes of incontinence, bestiality and malice, we find in murky gloom the incontinent whose sin had darkened their understanding. In the City of Dis, red with fire, are the violent and the bestial, who in this life had burned either with consuming rage or unnatural passion; in the frozen circle of malice are those whose sins had congealed human sympathy and love into cold, calculating destruction of trust reposed in them.

But it is principally by depicting the intellectual, the moral and the physical sufferings of the damned that Dante would teach us the nature of sin. To depict physical sufferings the poet was under the necessity of creating provisional bodies for his damned. Without such a poetic device the souls of the reprobate before the resurrection of their bodies cannot be conceived to suffer physically, since they lack the senses and organs of pain. So Dante pictures the damned united to forms shadowy yet real, palpable and visible. They sometimes lose the human semblance and assume more sinister shapes, grovelling as hideous serpents, bleeding and wailing from shrubs and trees, or bubbling in a slushing stream.

In such forms the souls are seen in punishment fitting their sin, on the principle that "by what things a man sinneth by the same he is tormented." (Wisdom XI, 17.) The unchaste because they allowed their reason to be subjected to the hot blasts of passion are now driven by "a hellish storm which never rests; whirling and smiting, it vexes them." (Inf., V, 31.) The gluttonous howl like dogs as hail and rain and snow beat down upon them and Cerberus attacks and rends them. The misers and spendthrifts to whom money was king, now are occupied in rolling huge stones in opposite directions. The wrathful, all muddy and naked, assail and tear one another.

The sullen are fixed in slime and gurgle a dismal chant. The materialist and the heretic, whose existence, Dante holds, was only a living death, are confined in blazing tombs. Murderers and tyrants are immersed in boiling blood.

With poetic justice, suicides are represented as stunted trees lacerated by the beaks of foul harpies. The violent lie supine on a plain of dry and dense sand, upon which descend flakes of fire like "snow in the Alps, without a wind." Usurers—should we call them profiteers?—suffer also from a rain of fire and carry about their necks money bags stamped with armorial designs. Thieves, to remind them of their sneaking trade, are repeatedly transformed from men into snakes, hissing and creeping. Hypocrites march in slow procession with faces painted and with leaden cloaks all glittering with gold on the outside. With such realism does Dante declare the nature of sin and its inevitable consequences.

Let us now accompany Dante through the Underworld. The scene opens at dawn in a dark and tangled wood. Dante, the type of humanity, is unable to ascend the Hill of the Lord, as we said before, because his way is barred successively by a leopard, a lion and a wolf, representing the passions of life. Virgil (Reason), sent by Beatrice (Revelation), offers to conduct the poet by another road. It is a way which leads through Hell and Purgatory. Through the heavens Beatrice herself will be the guide. Descending through the earth the two poets come to the Vestibule of Hell. On the gate appears this 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, moved
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."
It may be said in passing that in these nine lines Dante attains an effect for which Milton, with all his heavy description of the gateway of Hell, labors in vain. Contrast with the Florentine's the words of the author of Paradise Lost:
"Hell bounds high reaching to the horrid roof
And thrice three fold the gates: three folds were brass,
Three iron, three of adamantine rock.
Impenetrable, impaled with circling fire,
Yet unconsumed. Before the gate there sat
On either side a formidable shape," etc.
Not by gigantic images which only astonish the reader, but by words which burn into the brain and leave him dismayed, does our poet drive home his thought.

Passing through a crowd of neutrals the poets come to the river Acheron, where assemble those who die in mortal sin, to be ferried over by the demon Charon. He refuses passage to Dante: "By other ways, by other ferries, shalt thou pass over, a lighter boat must carry thee." (Inf., III, 91.) An earthquake occurs, accompanied with wind and lightning, and Dante falls into a state of insensibility. Upon coming to consciousness he finds himself on the brink of the Abyss, whence the poets enter Limbo. Here Christ descended, Virgil says, and "drew from us the shade of our first parent, of Abel, his son; that of Noah, of Moses, the lawgiver, the obedient; patriarch Abraham and King David; Israel, with his father, and with his sons and with Rachel, for whom he wrought much, and many others and made them blessed." (Inf., IV, 55.)

In the second circle, where carnal sinners are punished, Dante sees, among others, Semiramis, Dido, Cleopatra, Helen, Achilles, Paris. The poet's attention is suddenly attracted by two spirits, who prove to be Francesca da Rimini and her lover, Paolo, murdered by her husband when Dante was twenty-four years old. The scandal of their illicit love and the penalty they paid by their lives must have been so generally known that Dante, though attached to her family by the memory of hospitality received from her nephew, Guido Novello da Polenta, the lord of Ravenna, is dominated by the necessity of declaring in Francesca and Paolo the operation of the unalterable law which rules the terrible consequences of crime unforgiven by Heaven. Was it gratitude for kindness extended to him, an exile, by the Lord of Ravenna, or was it the memory of association with the brother of Francesca, at the battle of Campaldino, that led our poet to treat the whole episode of the fatal liaison with such tender sympathy for the unfortunate lady that he hoped to rehabilitate her memory? In any event, the poet represents himself as gracious and benign when addressing Francesca, and she, moved by his friendly attitude, tells the story of her intrigue, in lines justly regarded as the most beautiful ever written in verse. The reader will not fail to observe that the fatal denouement is only hinted, not told—the line, "that day we read no more," making what is admitted to be the finest ellipsis in all the literature of the world.
"Then turning, I to them, my speech address'd
And thus began: 'Francesca! Your sad fate
Even to tears my grief and pity moves.
But tell me, in the time of your sweet sighs,
By what and how Love granted that ye knew
Your yet uncertain wishes.' She replied:
'No greater grief than to remember days
Of joy, when misery is at hand. Yet so eagerly
If thou art bent to know the primal root
From whence our love gat being, I will do
As one who weeps and tells his tale. One day
For our delight, we read of Lancelot,
How him love thrall'd. Alone we were, and no
Suspicion near us. Oft times by that reading
Our eyes were drawn together, and the hue
Fled from our alter'd cheek. But at one point
Alone we fell. When of that smile, we read,
The wish'd smile so rapturously kiss'd
By one so deep in love, then he who ne'er
From me shall separate, at once my lips
All trembling kiss'd. The book and writer both
Were love's purveyors. In its leaves that day
We read no more.' While thus one spirit spake,
The other wail'd so sorely, that heart-struck
I through compassion fainting, seem'd not far
From death, and like a corse fell to the ground."
In the next circle where, with faces to the ground, the gluttons suffer in a ceaseles storm, the shade of Ciacco, the Florentine, sits up as he recognizes a fellow-citizen:
"He said to me: 'Thy City which is filled
With envy, like a sack that overflows,
Once held me in its tranquil life, well skilled
In dainties, and a glutton, and by those
Who dwelt there Ciacco called, but now the blows
Of this fierce rain avenge my wasteful sin.
Sad as I am, full many another knows
For a like crime like penalty within
This circle', and more word he spake not." (VI, 49.)
In the fourth circle the poet sees the souls of the prodigal and avaricious rolling heavy stones, against each other with mutual recriminations:
"Almighty Justice! in what store thou heap'st
New pains, new troubles, as I here beheld,
Wherefore doth fault of ours bring us to this?
E'en as a billow, on Charybdis rising
Against encountered billow dashing breaks;
Such is the dance this wretched race must lead
Whom more than elsewhere numerous here I found."
	(VII, 19.)
The next is the circle of the wrathful and the sullen. Following is the circle of the materialists and heretics, all covered with burning sepulchres:
"Soon as I was within, I cast around
My eyes and saw extend on either hand
A spacious plain, that echoed to the sound
Of grief and torment sore; as o'er the land
At Aries where Rhone's vast waters stagnant stand
Or Pola, near Quarnero Bay, that bounds
And bathes the line of Italy, expand
Plains rough and heaving with supulchral mounds,
'Tis thus the plain, wherein I stood, with tombs abounds,
Save that the buried were more grimly treated.
For twixt the graves were scattered tongues of fire
By which to such a pitch the place was heated
That iron could no fiercer flame require
For art to mould it: lamentation dire
Issued from each unlidded vault, and seemed
The voice of those in torment."
From one of these fiery tombs, the Florentine freethinker, the haughty Farinata, rises "with breast and brow erect, as holding Hell in great contempt," and tells Dante that the souls of the lost have no knowledge concerning things that are actually passing on earth, though they know the past and see the future. He foretells the duration of the poet's exile and boasts that he himself saved Florence from being razed to the ground.
"When all decreed that Florence should be laid
in ruin I alone with fearless face defended her."
	(X, 91.)
In the seventh circle Virgil leads Dante to the river of blood, "in which boils every one who by violence injures others." Centaurs, half horses and half men, are there. "Around the fosse they go by thousands, piercing with their arrows whatever spirit wrenches itself out of the blood farther than its guilt has allotted for it." (XII, 73.) With characteristic realism the poet describes Chiron, one of the leaders of the Centaurs, pushing back with an arrow his beard as he prepares to speak:

"Chiron took an arrow, and with the notch put back his beard upon his jaws. When he had uncovered his great mouth, he said to his companions: 'Have ye perceived that the one behind (Dante) moves what he touches? The feet of the dead are not wont to do so.'" (XII, 76.)

In the third round of Circle VII Dante meets his friend Brunetto Latini, punished for unnatural offences.
"I remembered him and toward his face
My hand inclining, answered: Ser Brunetto!
And are ye here? He thus to me: 'My son!
Oh let it not displease thee, if Brunetto
Latini but a little space with thee
Turn back, and leave his fellows to proceed.'
I thus to him replied: 'Much as I can,
I thereto pray thee: and if thou be willing
That I here seat me with thee, I consent:
His leave with whom I journey, first obtain'd.'
'O Son,' said he, 'whoever of this throng
One instant stops, lies then a hundred years,
No fan to ventilate him, when the fire
Smitest sorest. Pass thou therefore on. I close
Will at thy garments walk and then rejoin
My troup, who go mourning their endless doom.'"


"Were all my wish fulfill'd," I straight replied, Thou from the confines of man's nature yet Hadst not been driven forth; for in my mind Is fix'd, and now strikes full upon my heart, The dear, benign, paternal image, such As thine was, when so lately thou didst teach me The way for man to win eternity: And how I prized the lesson, it behoves, That, long as life endures, my tongue should speak. (XV, 28.)
The eighth circle is known as Malebolge, Evil Pouches, of which there are ten. Here are punished differently panders, seducers, flatterers, simonists, magicians, cheats, hypocrites, thieves, evil-counsellors, forgers.

In the ninth circle, the abode of traitors, which comprises four divisions, named respectively after Cain (Caina), Antenor of Troy (Antenora), Ptolemy of Jericho (Tolomea), and Judas Iscariot (Giudecca), Dante sees in the second division, Antenora, the shade of the traitor Ugolino imprisoned in ice with his enemy, Archbishop Ruggieri, by whom he was betrayed. Ugolino, with his two sons and two grandsons, were locked in the Tower of Famine at Pisa, the key of the prison was thrown into the river and the prisoners began their term of starvation ending in death. The story of the imprisonment and the death of the five prisoners is one of the most tragic recitals in the domain of literature. In the passage I quote, Ugolino is relating his feelings when he finds himself imprisoned with his sons and grandsons in the Tower of Famine.
"When I awoke before the morn, that day,
I heard my little sons, who shared my cell,
For bread, even in their slumber, moaning pray;
Hard art thou, if unmoved thou hearest me tell
The message that my heart had guessed too well!
If this thou feel not, what can make thee feel?
And when we all were risen, the hour befell
At which was brought to us the morning meal,
Yet each one doubted sore what might their dreams reveal.

And as the locking of the gate I heard
Beneath that terrible tower, I gazed alone
Into my children's faces, without a word.
I wept not, for within I turned to stone;
But saw that they were weeping every one;
'Twas then my darling little Anselm cried:
'You look so, father! Say, what have they done?'
Still not a tear I shed, nor word replied
That day, nor till that night in next day's dawning died.

And as there shot into this prison drear
A little sunbeam, by whose light I caught
My look upon four faces mirrored clear;
Both of my hands I bit, by grief o'erwrought.
Then suddenly they rose as if they thought
I did it hungering; 'Less our misery,'
They cried, 'Should'st thou on us feed, who are nought
But creatures vested in our flesh by thee:
Then strip away the weeds that still thine own must be.'

It calmed me to make them feel less their fate;
Two days we spent in silence all forlorn;
Earth, Earth, oh wherefore wert thou obdurate,
And would'st not open! On the following morn
Gaddo, before my face, from life was torn!
'Can you not help me, father?' first he cried,
And perished; then, I saw the younger born,
Three, one by one, fall ere the sixth day sped—
Plainly as you see me, and this accursed head.

'Already blind, I fondly grope my way
To them, and for three days their names I call
After their death; then famine found its prey
And did what sorrow could not.' This was all
He said."
	(XXXIII, 35.)
And now we come with the poets to the lowest depths of Hell, where we see imprisoned in ice Lucifer, huge and hideous. As we gaze on mankind's enemy, an archangel fallen and punished for sin, the words of Isaias come to mind: "How art thou fallen from Heaven, O Lucifer, who did'st rise in the morning! How art thou fallen to the earth, that did'st wound the nations. And thou saidst within thy heart, 'I will ascend into Heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God—I will be like the most High. But yet thou shalt be brought down to Hell, into the very depth of the pit." (Is., XIV, 12.)

Let us see how Dante puts Lucifer "into the very depth of the pit."
"The lamentable kingdom's emperor
Issued from out the ice with half his breast;
And with a giant more do I compare
Than with his arms do giants; therefore see
How great must be that whole which corresponds
Unto a part so fashioned. If he was
As beautiful as he is ugly now,
And raised his brows against his Maker, sure
All sorrowfulness must proceed from him.
Ah! how great marvel unto me it seemed
When I beheld three faces to his head!
The one before, and that was vermeil-hue;
Two were the others which adjoined to this,
Over the midst of either shoulder, and
They made the joining where the crown is placed.
And between white and yellow seemed the right;
The left was such an one to be beheld
As come from there wherein the Nile is sunk.
There issued under each two mighty wings,
Such as 'twas fitting for so great a bird:
I never saw the sails of shipping such.
They had not feathers, but the mode thereof
Was like a bat's; and these he fluttered so
That from him there was moved a threefold wind:
Cocytus all was frozen over hence.
With six eyes wept he, and three chins along
The weeping trickled, and a bloody foam.
At every mouth he shattered with his teeth
A sinner, in the manner of a brake,
So that he thus made woful three of them.
The biting for the foremost one was nought
Unto the scratching, for at times the spine
Remained of all the skin completely stripped.
'That soul above which has most punishment
Is,' said my lord, 'Judas Iscariot,
Who has his head within, and outside plies
His legs. O' the other two, whose head is down,
Brutus is he who from the black head hangs;
See how he writhes, and does not speak a word:
The other's Cassius, who appears, so gaunt,'"
	(XXXIV, 28-67)
Now that the lesson is learned that the wages of sin is death, that sin will find a man out and bring him to the judgment of God, the gracious guide can release his companion from his awful contemplation.

"Now it is time for us to go," says Virgil, "for we have seen all." By a secret path leading to Purgatory the pilgrims make their way through the darkness, guided by the encouraging murmur of running water. It is a streamlet of discarded sin, flowing constantly from Purgatory, whence wickedness is washed down to its original Satanic source.
"By that hidden way
My guide and I did enter, to return
To the fair world; and heedless of repose
We climb'd, he first, I following his steps,
Till on our view the beautiful lights of Heaven
Dawn'd through a circular opening in the cave
Thence issuing we again beheld the stars."


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