Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Reading Danté's Inferno 2015: Cantos XVI to XVIII

Canto XVI - Circle Seven, Ring Three - Blasphemers, Usurers, and Sodomites (?)

Danté is accosted by three shades from his hometown, Florence, a "degenerate" city. These men are covered with sores and joined together like a wheel "their feet moved forward while their necks were straining back." These sinners are punished by continual movement, reflecting their agitated lives. Two of the men are Guido Guerra and Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, Guelph powerhouses and usurers. The speaker is Iacopo Rusticucci, another Guelph and possible homosexual.

We again run into a problem when looking at sodomy. Rusticucci says, "It was my bestial wife, more than all else, who brought me to this pass." Some say this line means his wife drove him to homosexuality while others believe that his wife enjoyed anal sex (a sin at the time). The reader never actually meet homosexuals in Hell, so this can be interpreted in many ways. Something to consider is that homosexuality is punished, but later on in The Inferno.

The shades start reminiscing about the good old days in Florence to which Danté replies that the nouveau riche are ruining the place. The three shades seem more concerned with their fame, "See that you speak of us to others." Although one can also interpret this passage as speak of our fate to others so they will not suffer as we do.

Dante feels considerable "sadness. [I've] fixed your condition in my heart..." Some like to say that Danté only puts his political enemies in Hell, but these are men Danté admires, men he feels sympathy for.

Canto XVI ends with a cliffhanger. Virgil throws a rope into the abyss and something comes "swimming up through that dense and murky air,"something that looks like a man.

Canto XVII - Leaving Circle Seven - Meet the Userers and Geryon


Up from the pit comes Geryon, a creature borrowed from classic mythology. He has the head of a "righteous man" and the body of a serpent with a venomous tail, a creature with whom they are going to hitch a ride. Before they leave Virgil tells Danté to go talk to some sinners on the "seventh circle's edge."

Danté meets some unrecognizable shades who are sitting as they gnaw at themselves like "dogs in summer . . . when fleas or horseflies bite them." From their necks hang purses, each containing a different crest, purses that, when they were alive, contained money.These are the usurers.

Their punishment fits their sin. Usurers cause money to move quickly from person to person, while they remain hunched over their counting desks. They don't look at each other, rather they look at their empty purses, their true identity once being the money held inside.

Danté and Virgil hop on to Geryon so they can descend lower into the pit. Danté describes the process much like a ship docking "as a bark [ship] backs slowly from its mooring, so the beast backed off the ledge, and when it felt itself adrift, turned its tail to where its chest had been and, extending it, made it wriggle like an eel's, while with its paws it gathers in the air." For some reason this scene reminds me of the latest Star Trek movie when the U.S.S. Enterprise leaves its mooring for the first time.

They descend far into the pit before Geryon sets them down at the bottom of a jagged cliff.

Canto XVIII - The Eighth Circle, Bolgia 1 and 2 - Fraud - Pimps, Seducers and Flatterers


Danté describes the castle of Malebolge which is surrounded by ten bolgias or ditches. In the first bolgia, the travelers encounter throngs of naked sinners being lashed along by "horned demons." Danté recognizes Venèdico Caccianemico, a man who admits he sold his own sister "to the marquis." A demon whips Caccianemico violently saying, "Away, pimp! There are no women here to trick" and Danté moves on to join his master.

Being "horned" from Medieval to Renaissance times represented a cuckold (a man with a cheating wife), hence these sinners are punished by "horned demons" to represent that their own actions often resulted in a husband's disgrace.

This canto describes Rome's crowds and its invention of two-way traffic, which is practiced in this bolgia; the panderers move one way while the seducers move another. This also brings up the image of how the condemned were often whipped along the route to the execution place.

Next, Danté meets a character from classic mythology, Jason of the Golden Fleece, a flatterer who seduces the "young Hypsipyle" only to leave her pregnant and Medea, daughter of King Colchis.

The next ditch they approach is filled with something that looks like "excrement that could have come from human privies," which is smeared on this bolgia's occupants. Danté recognizes one who says he has been consigned to this circle because of flattery. The punishment fits: the filthy utterances they mouthed during their lives are represented by the excrement they are forced to ingest in death.

Finally, Danté meets a character from a play by Terence, a poet of the Roman Republic, a courtesan, a flatterer of the first rank who has found herself in the eighth circle of Hell forever "scratching herself with her filthy nails." Actually, in Terence's play she isn't the flatterer by the flatteree, so this passage leads scholars to wonder how much Terence Danté was familiar with. Remember, in Medieval times classic texts were just being rediscovered.

As Danté continues down into Hell he is mixing his sources from Biblical to Classical to political tittle tattle. The Inferno is a very intertextual work that borrows from many sources including those that were very new to the Medieval world - Greek and Roman classical texts.

Do the nouveau riche cause problems in America? Or is that just the outcome of the American Dream? What about gentrification of the entire Bay Area? Do you think you will be able to live here once you graduate?

Human trafficking is a huge problem worldwide. Do you think the pimps' punishment fits the sin?

Where do we see flatterers and seducers at work in our society today? How would you characterize people who are "handlers"? Those employees whose job it is to get celebrities and politicians from one place to another and keep them insulated from society while keeping their spirits up?

Do you think people have changed much since Medieval times?

2 comments:

  1. Regarding the question if the pimp's punishment, I feel as if the punishment is proper due to their lashing to the people they've pimped. This punishment does not allow them to stay in control of the path they are walking, only told to do so by the "horned" figures. Having control over others as pimps, it is clear as to why the punishment has them as the people they have had control over, only more in a vigorous manner. the "horned" figures make sense to as to why they are the ones who are lashing the pimps in hell due to the Medievel era meaning of the word cuckold (a man who has cheating wife). Which is why "horned" demons are lashing them, they are the men who have become a cuckold due to pimps.
    - Ricky Hernandez

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  2. Do the nouveau riche cause problems in America? Or is that just the outcome of the American Dream? What about gentrification of the entire Bay Area? Do you think you will be able to live here once you graduate?

    Yes, and they live in a small world. They do not see the bigger picture. They only see what concerns them. Rich people do not have to give all their money away, but they should put their money back out into something. A creative outlet, or something that can give back to the world, bigger than on a financial level. Investors only care about money, and they don't provide a service. Warren Buffet appears to be a perfect example for how to move large amounts of money around, a philanthropist, and live modestly, but not to prove a point. He lives this way because it makes him happy. He is always doing something, where as a lot of greedy investors seem to be doing only things that make them money. Bill Gates is another good example of philanthropy and using money to do something creative themselves. It's one thing to give a bunch of money away as leverage to say you are a charitable person, but those who give their time, those are the ones who are separate from the nouveau rich.

    Being that I cannot afford to live in the Bay Area now, I firmly believe I will not be able to live here after graduation. I would like to move to Europe. I am open to other places, too, even other states. I am happy to out here, but my calling is far from this place as a result of costs and having experienced other countries and lands that have left a bigger impression, and I can't settle in the Bay Area, but at the same time, we do have a lot of great things here if it could just weigh out the others.

    Gentrification is a SIN!

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