The wood (the only vegetation in Hell besides the meadows of limbo) is populated by brambles that, when broken, can speak. Dante breaks off a branch.
"Are you completely without pity?" the branch laments as it "blisters and hisses."
The bramble was once Pier delle Vigne, a minister to Emperor Frederick II. Remember, the Ghibellines supported the Holy Roman Emperor, while the Guelphs (Dante's party) supported the pope. Delle Vigne rose to power quickly and held sway at court for about 20 years until he was accused of stealing from the treasury. He was blinded and thrown into prison where he committed suicide "to escape from scorn."
"Restore my reputation," he asks, once you get back to the world of the living. Delle Vigne ended up in the seventh circle after he "wrenched up [his] own roots," landing in the seventh circle, a place where the Harpies feed on his "leaves" and the bodies of suicides are hung "upon the thorn-bush of its painful shade."
Suddenly, two souls come running through the thicket. These are the souls of the spendthrifts who committed a kind of material suicide by tossing away their possessions. One is Jacomo della Cappella di sant' Andrea of Padua who squandered an inherited fortune, the other, Arcolano Maconi, who squandered all his wealth on riotous living. These two are torn to pieces by "black bitches" who constantly howl and thrash through the thicket of souls.
The thorns represent the suicides' state of minds during life while the profligates (spendthrifts) thrash through the living brambles before being torn limb-from-limb, thereby causing even more pain to the suicides who can't get out of the way.
As Danté and Virgil leave this ring, they encounter a lowly bush whose leaves have been ripped off by one of the spendthrifts. He is a Florentine who made his "house into a gallows." Danté appears to be commenting on the high number of suicides by hanging occurring in Florence.
Those that cared so little for their life, will not regain their bodies after Judgement Day.
Canto XIV - Circle Seven, Leaving Ring Two and Entering Ring Three - Blasphemers, Usurers, Sodomites
Dante and Virgil reach the edge of the middle ring where the third ring is circled by a moat. Across is an "expanse of deep and arid sand." The blasphemers lie on the sand, usurers sit, and the sodomites roam about in groups assailed by a rain of fire where the sand took fire "like tinder under flint."
They reach a red rivulet with "vapor [that] quenches every flame above it," and Virgil goes on to describe the three rivers of hell. Danté is quoting Virgil's image of the golden age of Crete found in the Aeneid. Here again we see Danté lending a postmodern feel to his work by having our guide, Virgil, quote his own poetry.
The rivers emerge from a monument of a huge old man that is cracked and from those rips emerge the "Acheron, Styx, and Phlegethon." This myth is all Danté, but is useful to unite the topography of Hell. Virgil goes on to clarify the layout of Hell. The river of blood and the River Phlegethon are one in the same. The River Lethe is where the "spirits go to cleanse themselves once their repented guilt has been removed." In other words, Lethe is located in purgatory, so readers we have a ways to go.
Canto XV - Circle Seven, Ring Three - Blasphemers and Sodomites
Something to clarify. When Danté talks about sodomites in this canto he is not talking about the act, he is talking about the will. Huh? He is talking about the people who willfully ignore God's commandment to be fruitful and multiple.
Danté tells Latini that he has "lost his way," metaphorically speaking, and that he has been touring Hell since "yesterday morning." Latini says that Danté will be famous and happy and he would have helped him out if he was still alive. He predicts Danté's exile which Danté has already heard and is "prepared for Fortune as she wills."
Latini taught Danté "how man makes himself immortal . . . [read famous] . . . And how much gratitude my tongue, while I still live, must give report." Danté wants to know about Lantini's companions; "all of them were clerics or great and famous scholars, all befouled in the world above by a single sin."
This is further revealed by Lantini's need to be remembered "Let my Treasure, in which I still live on be in your mind," which Danté promises. When Lantini leaves Danté observes that he looks "more the winner than the one who trails the field." Wow, even those consigned to Hell can be consoled by their fame.
Lantini is clearly someone that Danté liked and respected discounting the notion that the author only put his enemies in Hell. He is grateful to Lantini and promises to share his works with others.
Why do you think Danté put a classic blasphemer in Hell? What is he saying about arrogance? King Capaneus could not have been a Christian if he wanted to since he lived many centuries before Christ.
Do you think that the quest for fame is overrated? Do you think fame is a healthy goal, mentally and physically? What about those high-school athletes that are taking steroids (please, no hate mail, we all know some do) to enhance their chances at a professional career? What about the people that will do anything to be movie, television, or media stars?
See anyone you recognize yet?