Dante’s Wisdom ~ Inferno (Part IV)

{find part I here, if you want}

{find part II here, if you want}

{find part III here, if you want}

So ~ now we find ourselves at Hell’s Seventh Circle, which contains three rounds ~ one each for sinners who have committed acts of violence against neighbours, violence against self, violence against God, nature and art. Its clear to me, particularly in this circle of Hell, that Dante’s Inferno represents a sort of Catholic rendition of kharma, assigning eternal consequences fitting to the actions committed by the souls in question. The notion of the inner violence of one’s soul as seeding one’s violent actions in life … and also the notion of fortune as a manifestation of the free will of other humans, which impinge upon each of us … these stand out for me, as I reflect on Cantos XII through XVI of Inferno.

In the first round, the poets find a scalding, boiling river of blood, the Phlegathon, in which the souls of those who shed the blood the fellow man during their corporeal existence wallow and boil. How fitting, given these souls spent their earthly lives wallowing in the blood other others. Now, they wallow, shrieking all the while, for eternity in the scalding purple river which flows through the entire Seventh Circle of Hell.

The poets encounter the Minotaur, the beast who guards the souls of Hell’s Seventh Circle. Fitting, in a Dantean manner, that a beast who devoured human flesh in his lifetime … a beast conceived from an unholy union, would eternally guard the wraiths incarcerated within this part of Hell. Similarly, the Centaurs also find themselves in this part of Hell, as guardians of those who wallow in this shelf’s first round, The poets then pass the broken rocks of Hell ~ the ruins of the Harrowing of Hell, which occurred after Christ’s death, when he descended into Hell. Virgil theorizes that the elemental matter of the earth, of Hell itself, felt harmony ~ the harmony of love from Christ’s soul … causing it to implode in chaos.

After the poets receive assistance from one of the centaurs in crossing the bloody and boiling Phlegathon, they arrive at the second round of Hell’s Seventh Circle ~ The Wood of the Suicides. As these souls destroyed their own substance in their earthly existence, thus bringing about their own death, so shall they spent an eternity encased in the thorny trees of these woods. Harpies, defilers of all they touch, eternally guard these souls, feeding upon them. The Harpies feed on these souls, creating bleeding wounds … wounds which provide the only means through which these souls can speak. Here we see another layer of symbolism ~ suicide relieves pain and causes pain, simultaneously. The loudest cry one hears from the one who has suicided himself involves the damnable act of taking his own life.

Having emerged from The Wood of the Suicides, the poets encounter the third round of Hell’s Seventh Circle. A slow, eternal rain of fire descends upon a barren landscape of burning sand. The souls of this part of Hell find themselves wallowing in these burning sands, or fleeing endlessly at the insistence of divine compulsion. The symbolism here, of course, speaks to the barrenness of such sins these souls committed during earthly existence. And the perversion of nature, we can see emerging in the rain ~ normally cool and fertile ~ which here, descends as fire. All that we see here, in this circle of Hell, represents the inner violence which really seeds all the sins punishable here.

Dante makes reference to, in these Cantos, the descent of Hell as metaphorical for decline of man, and the waters of Hell ~ which flow to its very icy depths ~ as symbolizing the tears of man’s woe. He uses the figure of the Old Man of Crete to conjure this rich symbolism. Also worth noting, perhaps, the fact that Dante encounters a beloved acquaintance here, in the third round. He expresses great sorrow, while respecting the fate of his friend’s damnation.

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~ by frizzyscissorhands on September 8, 2007.

9 Responses to “Dante’s Wisdom ~ Inferno (Part IV)”

  1. Today’s message at church was based on John 8:3-11, “the Adulteress woman”- who finds her self NOT condemned by the religious men of her time, or Christ.
    He says “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

    With all the thoughts of hell as I read this post- it seems no one else condemns us the way WE do. And unlike us- who like to chastise and then forgive…Jesus did the opposite, didn’t He?

    He forgave, and then said to change.

    Sigh, forgiveness. It is the opposite of Pride, which is the handle that fits all sin.
    ———-

    I’m enjoying reading Dante through your eyes…thank you.

  2. forgiveness ~ yes, we must give it sincerely (a very hard thing to do) if we wish to receive it. still, to forgive does not mean erasing consequentiality from the picture ~ something of which we must always remain mindful. but, yes, you are right in that we do almost take enjoyment out of chastising each other ~ i wonder how much of that is a deep-seated realization or guilt or both about are own flaws.

    pride ~ pride goeth (sp?) before a great fall. that’s what i think of when i hear that word. that’s a clever monikker for pride ~ the handle that fits all sin.

    this wasn’t my best blog post, and certainly i could have done a much better job distilling dante this time … but i’m glad you liked it.

  3. hee hee clarification ~ 1st paragraph: “…are own flaws” should be “…our own flaws…”

  4. i am reading brothers’ karamazov … there’s a part in it that describes the fires of hell as spiritual torment … the torment of thirsting for an active living love that, in death, one can not engage, since that soul has no the opportunity of the convergence physical life, time and space with which to engage and nurture such living love ~ i.e. devoting large portions of one’s existence, time. etc to loving.

    i thought that was a clever description of the concept of hell. just wanted to mention it here … though, really that spin in things deserves its very own post.

  5. Mantissa- When is your birthday?
    Makes me sad that I don’t know for sure…
    – me 🙂

  6. Wow! I’m just not concentrating well right now. I have some personal stuff going on. But you have definitely inspired me to read Dante after I am more focused. (who knows when that will be.)

  7. MV ~ i answered that question for you at your blog …

    BBE ~ i suspect i know the feeling … the place you’re at. and yeah, its hard to focus when all that other sh1t’s going on …

    if you ever read Dante, be sure to get the translation by John Ciardi. Of all the versions i’ve read, his is truly the greatest. He appears to have an intuitive understanding of Dante … and of course, being Italian, of the language, too.

    I wish you peace … in whatever you’re dealing with, i know its tough. and this may sound stupid … but, remember that song by june carter … keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side … its hard, i know. but, i think it makes a difference.

  8. I have so much I want to say. After the move.

  9. I will be here. I have guessed you have a lot going on there … and certainly don’t need any of us here in the blogosphere pestering you or pressing you for some attention. I think of you often … and pray. For us all.

    Good luck with your move. I hate moving.

    Things for us are getting better. Sometimes one needs a kick in the ass, from hitting the floor really f*cking hard … to get with the program. noam saying?

    love me.

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