Monday, September 14, 2015

Reading Danté's Inferno 2015: Cantos IV to VI

Canto IV - Circle One: Limbo

In the last post Danté had reached the shore of Acheron just past Hell's gate and then promptly fell asleep. He wakes up on the other side of the river, refreshed and ready to continue his journey.

Virgil is by his side and guides Danté through Limbo, the first circle of Hell. It is Virgil's home and the home of the unbaptized, although some occupants have ascended to Paradise, one-time occupants like Moses, Abraham, and David.

On the surface, Limbo is not a bad place. It is made up green meadows and a castle with seven gates representing the seven virtues that these virtuous pagans practiced in their daily lives. What are the seven virtues, you ask? Prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope and charity.

Virgil meets up with his compatriots Homer, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan, all famous writers of the classic world, and they hold a short conclave and then adopt Danté as one of their own. Wow, pretty gutsy for a guy who hasn't even finished The Divine Comedy yet.

Canto V - Circle two: Lust

Now we enter circle two where we meet Minos who is judging the newcomers. He hears everyone's sins and then wraps his tail around his body as many times as the number of circles the newly arrived are to descend into Hell.

Circle two is the home of Lust and Virgil offers a catalog of the lustful that includes Cleopatra, Dido, Helen, Paris and Tristan.

Danté wants to speak to a pair of shades he sees flying by.

Down descend Francesca da Remini and Paolo, her lover and the younger brother of her husband. She tells Danté how Paolo and she, virtuous as lambs, were innocently reading Sir Galahad. Okay, stop right there. Sir Galahad is the story of Lancelot and Guinevere, an adulterous romance between the Queen of Camelot and one of her husband's knights.

See yourself yet? Have ever stopped by your best friend's house when she is out of town to watch The Notebook with her boyfriend and things got a little out of hand? If your girlfriend spent the weekend with her parents and you went out partying and found yourself in a compromising position, you have just entered circle Lust.

So Francesca's husband catches the pair in the act and kills them both. A bit extreme, but he gets his final reward a little farther along in Inferno.

Remember these shades are in H-E-L-L. They are not the most forthcoming or honest (really, what do they have to lose?) Francesca is a schemer. She tells Danté how much she appreciates his taking the time to listen to her since God will not. She blames everyone else because she ended up in Hell. Her husband is despicable to the point of killing her and she curses him. She blames Galahad for writing a book that is so romantic it overcomes her ability to resist temptation. She blames amor for attracting her to Paolo. She blames Paolo's physical beauty. But never does she take any responsibility.

Danté never uses Francesca's name - her story is one of medieval tittle tattle, like that found in our favorite tabloids. Her story is so popular in the twelfth century that you don't have to use her name--and this can be a bit of problem when reading Danté, he assumes you know all the latest gossip, have read all the right books, and know all poetry.

What is the punishment for the lustful? They are flying around in the sky like "starlings" in the winter being buffeted by the winds in the same way they were buffeted by lust as it controlled them aimlessly and senselessly during their lives.

Danté, at this point, is so naive and feels so much pity for this pair of murdered lovers that he swoons "as if in death." In other words, he still believes everything every shade tells him. Danté still doesn't quite understand he's not in Kansas anymore.

Canto VI - Circle three: Gluttony

And Danté awakes in the third circle where he encounters the ravenous Cerberus (three-headed dog of Greek/Roman mythology). Virgil throws some dirt in his mouths to stop has ravenous cravings for a few moments. Again, keep in mind that there are characters in Inferno from classic history, mythology, and literature (very meta), popular media, the Bible, and the local and international news--which will often make diving into the notes at the back of your book necessary from time to time.

Danté is recognized by one of the damned, and while this is the circle of the gluttons, the person he meets is not necessarily a fat "hog" as his translated name suggests, instead he seems to be envious. The envious want their opponents to suffer loss and, perhaps, to snarfle up their stuff. This can all lead to self indulgence.

The shade says Florentines are envious and predicts that Danté's white party will be expelled from Florence (which is why Danté is in exile). Remember, Danté set his book in the past where all these predictions have come to fruition. Is he saying Danté should have toned it down a bit when he was in charge? That he was lording his power and position over those who were not in the same political party as he? Maybe.

This canto can be a bit difficult. We don't get a clear picture of what we would normally see as "gluttonous." There aren't a bunch of fat people sitting around chewing on each other. However, if you think about self-indulgence and over consumption you can see how that could lead to gluttony. Don't sit at home and eat a box of donuts by yourself! Bring some to class.

Envy is also a real time waster. Sheesh, this is America, if you want something that isn't unethical or illegal, just go get it - although I'd avoid those high-interest credit cards.

Punishment for the gluttonous is to be stuck in the the rain and hail, unable to stay clean or dry, sightless and unaware of your neighbors--a physical metaphor for how these shades lived their lives.

Danté still feels pity for the shades in Hell and asks Virgil if they will get some relief come Judgement Day?

No, responds Virgil.

Where do you see lust, envy, gluttony, and over consumption at work in our society today? Do you think it is related to the rise of the "Me" culture? How does that relate to lust, gluttony, or envy?

How does the short film Next Floor (see above) represent envy, self-indulgence, and over consumption more than gluttony as it relates to food?

Do you think the societal norms of medieval times are just too restrictive and don't really apply to our enlightened modern society?


  1. According to Dante, gluttonous eat dirty mud and rain over and over and they never felt full. In our society, people are like gluttonous. They never feel satisfied. People create new things. People commit crimes over and over again. We are already living in hell. The difference between gluttonous and us is we have freedom to do whatever we want to do.

  2. The place I feel I see lust, envy, gluttony is social media. All people do on social media is criticize people for things that they can't change or worship people because they have a nice face and body, also it's about how many follower someone may have and all that they can get from people because they have a certain amount of followers. I definitely think this is related to the "ME" culture, people feel that if they can have whatever it is they want whenever they want they might as well take advantage of it even if they don't need it.
    To me the short film mostly signifies self-indulgence and over consumption. The people just continuously eat while falling through the floor, this represents how people can know that they have had too much of something but still will continue to indulge because it is there for them to consume whenever they please.