Sunday, September 27, 2015

Reading Danté's Inferno 2015: Cantos XIII to XV

Canto XIII - Circle Seven, Ring Two - Suicides and Spendthrifts

Danté and Virgil enter a wood where the "filthy Harpies nest." Talk about metafiction. We have Danté writing about creatures from the Aeneid written by Virgil, his guide through Hell, in a poem about Christianity . . . but I digress.

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."

Dante feels pity for the damned. In fact, he is so filled with pity he cannot even speak to delle Vigne.

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 come across King Capaneus, who died in the Battle of Thebes struck by a thunderbolt. A boastful, ranting man that Virgil says, held "God in disdain." Oh, but here's a trick, he's not talking about the Christian god, Virgil is referencing Jove (Zeus), a classic god. Confused? Good. What do you think Danté is saying here? All blasphemers are bad?

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.

A group of souls are squinting at the travelling pair "like an old tailor at his needle's eye" when one of them recognizes Danté. In spite of his charred countenance Danté recognizes his old teacher Brunetto Latini a famous poet and fellow Guelph.

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."

And that sin is? Some would argue homosexuality, but it seems more likely it is the search for fame. How is that a sin against god? Well, if you are seeking "how man makes himself immortal" and you are not talking about (in this context) being a good Christian by spreading the word of God, then your soul is a desert.

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.

So the punishment for these sinners fits the crime, so to speak. Their souls are barren deserts. All they cared about was themselves. They only cared about their students because those great students, like Dante, make them look good. They are too wrapped up in themselves to pass along their intellectual genes (teachings) to another.

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?


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. The quest for fame for fame's sake in overrated. Those who seek to become famous to look good, be considered, and talked about by many aren't able to move past their ego and narcissism; are vain in their quest for fame. However if someone seeks fame to promote a new idea or share artwork (as in film, books, music) because they've created something they believe to be of substance, then I don't think it's petty or overrated to search for fame. Those reaching for fame for artistic integrity genuinely think the fame of their creations will affect the world in some way. They aren't looking for fame to become the topic of the media. Though fame shouldn't be the end goal, fame should be the fuel that ignites something greater than any one person. Fame's for fame's sake is not a healthy goal, a healthy goal is not that egocentric. People that will do anything to be a movie star are not in it for the artistic value of film.

  3. The quest for fame is ever encroaching in today’s tweet, tinder, and texting fueled universe. There is vine for the video blurp, twitter for the mindless runinngs of the average anything, and Instagram for the over sexed, over smoked, or over shined. Fame has always been some sort of lust for humans, probably because of our mortality, as Dante so accurately accounts. We, as a species, no we are limited and as an individual know we are temporal, that is we exist finitely in our made up box we’ve named time. So many clamor towards fame we have a stream con, and youtubecon to celebrate those incredibly average viral sensations. Honestly what has become so much more frustrating than anything else is the kind of people lifted to such absurd heights in this astonishingly advanced age. We have the ability to spread knowledge in a nano second and so many use it to promote themselves in a heinous attempt at immortality. People die, it’s as inevitable as the air or the sun, but for some reason humanity has always struggled with this idea. We create fables of a man resurrected, a wise old orphan parting an ocean, or a man living for centuries; all in a misguided push towards a lasting legacy.

  4. The quest for fame is definitely overrated. It is not a healthy goal in any aspect. People should work hard and follow careers to do things that they love, not for the fame and fortune. Fame can provide temporary happiness with its wealth and fancy living. However, the publicity, and the constant pressure washes that all away. You should do something because you enjoy it. It makes you happy. The best musicians, artists, actors, athletes, etc. are on top today because they love what they do. They are passionate about their career and they put 100% into everything that they do. If people decide to pursue a career for the money and fame, then they are lying to themselves. Money is not everything, but happiness is.

    For example, in Hip-Hop, it is very easy to tell which artists are in it for the money, and which artists are here because they love music with a passion. Artists like Kendrick Lamar, Big K.R.I.T, and Childish Gambino are some of the most hardworking people around. They strive to inspire, bring new ideas, and innovate the state of Hip-Hop with every project they put out. On the other hand, you have artists that are heard on the radio that simply make party music, and although there is a time and place for every type of music. These artists struggle to make anything else. They rely heavily on the easy, money-making formula of a bass driven beat, and a catchy hook for every song. They repeatedly abuse this formula and cannot create anything else that is new or different. Money is absolutely important and fame can bring count for a lot, but why cheat yourself into making the same thing over and over again and stray away from challenging yourself.

  5. The quest of fame has been overrated, since there are people that are willing to do anything just to live a glamorous lifestyle earning a fortune and having billions of fans just for doing something that they enjoy doing. Of course, they all have to try really hard, since a lot of people audition, but there are not enough spots for everyone to have the chance to have their moment of fame. However, with hard work, faith, and determination, it is possible to earn that fame easily.

  6. I do believe that the quest for fame is overrated. I believe that there is a difference in someone becoming famous because they were recognized for doing something that they are passionate about and someone doing something just for the attention and money. I do not think wanting to become famous is a healthy and mindset to have because it can lead to you doing any and everything, even things you know aren't right, to become famous. I think that people should only become famous if they are doing something they are passionate about and are staying true to themselves. As far as people who put themselves in danger health wise in order to become famous,such as athletes using steroids, I don't think it is the smartest thing for a person to do. I believe when things are done the wrong way you may get the outcome you wanted but it will end up backfiring on you.