In this episode of Literary Tales, we journey through the Inferno together to understand its construction and meanings from the pen of the great Renaissance poet Dante. Over the course of the lecture, we explore and examine every “circle” of Hell and why, in particular, Dante must journey through hell before ascending to Heaven through Purgatory.

“Midway along the journey of our life / I woke to find myself in a dark wood / for I had wandered off from the straight path.”
“Charon the demon, with eyes of glede, / Beckoning to them, collects them all together, / Beats with his oar whoever lags behind.” The sinners are brought to their boats to be brought into Hell, Canto III.
Dante and Virgil in Limbo: “They did not sin: yet even their just merits / Were not enough, for they lacked baptism, / the gateway of the faith that you profess. / And, if they lived before the Christian era, / They did not worship God in the right way.”
“There is no greater sorrow / than thinking back upon a happy time / in misery” (Nessun maggior dolore / che ricordarsi del tempo felice / ne la miseria). – Francesca da Rimini.
Dante and Virgil cross the River Styx, the Circle of Wrath. “With weeping and with wailing, / Thou spirit maledict, do thou remain; / For thee I know, though thou art all defiled.”
The heretics, principal among them the Epicureans, burn for eternity in their tombs inside the City of Dis.
“Then I stretched out my hand / and plucked a twig from a tall thorn-bush, / and its stem cried out: ‘Why do you break me?’ / When it ran dark with blood / it cried again: ‘Why do you tear me? / Have you no pity in you?'”
Dante and Virgil observe the plain of burning sand and raining fire: “In a never-ending fit upon those sands, the arms of the damned twitched all about their bodies.”
“A blazing little serpent / moving against the bellies of the other two, / as black and livid as a peppercorn. / Attacking one of them, it pierced right through / the part where we first take our nourishment.”
In the eighth circle of hell, Dante and Virgil confront demons, monsters, sodomites, thieves, sorcerers, and all sorts of wicked and vile creatures who hound them as they process ever closer to the final circle of hell. It is here, in the eighth circle of hell, Dante and Virgil display the first and only realization of love as forgiveness: “I was listening, all absorbed in this debate, when the master said to me: I was listening, all absorbed in this debate, when the master said to me: ‘Keep right on looking, a little more, and I shall lose my patience.’ I heard the note of anger in his voice and turned to him; I was so full of shame  that it still haunts my memory today. Like one asleep who dreams himself in trouble and in his dream he wishes he were dreaming, longing for that which is, as if it were not, just so I found myself: unable to speak, longing to beg for pardon and already begging for pardon, not knowing that I did. ‘Less shame than yours would wash away a fault greater than yours has been,’ my master said, ‘and so forget about it, do not be sad. If ever again you should meet up with men engaging in this kind of futile wrangling, remember I am always at your side; to have a taste for talk like this is vulgar!'”
Dante and Virgil see Satan in a frozen lake chewing on the bodies of the three greatest traitors in history: Judas, Brutus, and Cassius.
“I saw the lovely things the heavens hold, / and we came out to see once more the stars.”

 

 

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