Set Your Live Feet to the Dead Dusts of Hell

Set Your Live Feet to the Dead
Dusts of Hell: The Seventh Circle,
Round Three)
(The Violent Against God, Nature, and Art)
Myth to Science Fiction + SDAIE
17 November 2014
Canto XIV: Data File
Setting: The Seventh Circle, Second and Third Rounds
Figures: Capaneus
Allusions: Old Man of Crete
Punishable Sin: Violence (here, largely Against God)
Summary: In a compassionate move, Dante gathers up the
branches and leaves the dogs broke off the bush and reattaches them before moving off. He and Virgil reach the edge
of the Wood and look out at a Plain of Burning Sand, the terrain
of the Seventh Circle’s Third Round (where we’ll spend the next
few Cantos). Fire rains down slowly from above the plain,
landing on the sinners being punished there. The three groups,
the Blasphemers (Violent Against God), Sodomites (Violent
Against Nature), and Usurers (Violent Against Art), are
punished in different ways, and the Blasphemers are the first
the poets encounter. One in particular, Capaneus, still
blasphemes God even as he lies stretched out on the burning
sand. The poets continue walking along the edge of the Wood
in order to avoid burning themselves, eventually reaching a
red rill (a kind of river) that boils out of the wood and over the
burning sand.Virgil seizes the opportunity to discuss the four
rivers of Hell with Dante, and the Canto ends as the poets
decide to walk along the banks of the boiling rill across the
Third Round.
The Punishment
• The Blasphemers are stretched across the
burning plain on their backs (an allusion to
Capaneus, who you’ll study soon), forced to
lie under the falling flames while being
scorched by the sand below
• The Burning Plain of Sand represents
sterility (using the same technique that T.S.
Eliot used his The Waste Land), for there’s
no fertility/life without water, and even the
rain is made of fire
• Dante seems to be arguing that nothing
natural or positive results from any of the
violence featured here
• The name means “river of fire,” and it’s
one of the four “rivers” of Hell
(including Acheron, Styx, and Cocytus,
which is currently frozen)
• This is the river of boiling blood that we
saw in the first round, discovering here
that it boils its way through the Wood
and out onto the Plain
• It gets shallower and deeper as it curves
depending on which sinner is supposed
to stand in it
• Virgil will eventually inform Dante that
this blood is the same stream as before,
as well as where it originally comes
• One of the giant warrior-kings who waged war
on the ancient city of Thebes, Capaneus
brought about his own demise during the
attack by daring the gods to protect the
• “Come now, Jupiter, and strive with all your
flames against me! Or are you braver at
frightening timid maidens with your thunder,
and razing the towers of your father-in-law
• Before he could even finish speaking, Zeus
(known as “Jupiter” to the Romans) slays him
with a thunderbolt, and he falls burning from
the walls until he lies outstretched on his back
(Dante’s inspiration)
Old Man of Crete
• Here’s an allusion to the different Ages
(from Golden to Iron) Edith Hamilton
mentioned during your frosh Mythology
• The Old Man of Crete’s statue features
components made out of each Ageassociated substance: his head is gold,
his arms and chest are silver, his
midsection is made of brass, a foot is
made of clay (representing the Roman
Catholic Church), and the rest of him is
made of iron
• The statue is cracked, and tears flow
from the fissure; these tears form the
four rivers in Hell
Canto XV: Data File
Setting: The Seventh Circle, Third Round
Figures: Ser Brunetto Latini
Punishable Sin: Violence (Against Nature)
Summary: The poets walk along the rill’s
banks, protected from the burning sand by its
powers. They come across a group of the
Violent Against Nature as it runs below them,
and one of the sinners calls out to Dante. Dante
recognizes him – Ser Brunetto Latini, a writer
who had mentored Dante even before Guido
entered his life – and is taken aback to find him
here. Latini talks about Dante with pride, but
warns him that his future in Florence will
contain a great deal of pain. The Canto ends
with Latini’s “time to speak” expiring, and his
punishment reactivates, causing him to skitter
across the burning sand.
Violence Against Nature
• Raffa:“Dante’s inclusion of sodomy –
understood here as sexual relations
between males but not necessarily
homosexuality in terms of sexual
orientation – is consistent with strong
theological and legal declarations in
the Middle Ages condemning such
activities for being ‘contrary to nature.’
In Dante’s day, male-male relations –
often between a mature man and an
adolescent – were common in Florence
despite these denunciations. Penalties
could include confiscation of property
and even capital punishment.”
The Punishment
• The Violent Against Nature run in
wandering packs across the Burning
Plain of Sand, usually in circles
– The burning sand represents the same
sterility that it did before, as does the fire
– The endless circles are meant to symbolize
the broken cycle of nature – a life cycle that
doubles back on itself due to a lack of
– The wandering behavior results from having
lost God’s guidance
Ser Brunetto Latini
• One of Dante’s most painful encounters in Hell
occurs here, as he barely recognizes his old
mentor and friend under the damage that’s
been done to him on the Burning Plain
– If Virgil doesn’t want him to show much compassion
for the sinners, he holds back here
• His work, The Little Treasure, actually hints at
Dante’s future work: a first-person narrator
discovers he’ll have to live in exile (the
Ghibellines having expelled the Guelfs at this
point), and is so upset that he “lost the great
highway” and went into a “strange wood”
before heading for a mountain and journeying
through strange realms
Ser Brunetto Latini (Cont’d)
• Brunetto wasn’t as strong a writer as Dante
would become, but he promoted the idea –
perhaps more than anyone before Dante, and
certain since Cicero – that eloquence only
benefits society when blended with wisdom
– The Inferno isn’t worthwhile if there aren’t any ideas
at the center of its intricate structure
• There’s not actually any evidence to explain
why Latini’s in this Round; he was married with
several children
– Many commentators have tried assigning a substitute
sin to Latini, or theorized that his sin was a symbolic
form of Violence Against Nature (a pursuit of
immortality for the body, for example)
Canto XVI: Data File
• Setting: The Seventh Circle, Third Round
• Figures: Jacopo Rusticucci, Guido Guerra,
Tegghiaio Aldobrandi
• Punishable Sin: Violence (Against Nature, although
Art is also hinted at)
• Summary: The poets draw nearer to the Great Cliff,
which hosts a waterfall that leads down to the
Eighth Circle. Before they can reach it, they
encounter another band of the Violent Against
Nature; three souls break away from the group this
time to approach them. They ask Dante for news of
Florence’s current condition (being damned, they
can only see the future clearly), and he rages
against the climate in his city. After the three return
to their group, the poets reach the Cliff. Virgil pulls
out a cord and tosses it over the edge of the cliff,
and something huge begins flying towards them
from below.
Jacopo / Guido / Tegghiaio
• We’ve heard of the first and third before, as
they were portrayed in Ciacco’s final speech in
Canto III as men who wanted to do good things
and ended up in Hell’s depths anyway
– Oddly,Virgil demands that Dante teach them with great
respect despite their sin – a reversal from his earlier
– Each of the three – Jacopo, Guido, and Tegghiaio – lived in
Florence, and Dante admired their political sensibilities
before they passed on
• Guido had helped drive the Ghibellines out of
Florence during the final battle in 1266
• Tegghiaio tried giving the Guelfs military
advice, yet was (foolishly) ignored during their
defeat in 1260
• Jacopo was a colleague of Tegghiaio’s, having
risen from a low class to an influential position
Studying Politics
• “O Florence! Your sudden wealth and
your upstart / Rabble, dissolute and
overweening, / Already set you weeping
in your heart!”
• This doesn’t conclude our political
discussion so much as it reinforces the
dark words Dante’s heard from Ciacco,
Farinato, and Latini
• There’s a weird sense of dramatic irony
here: not only do we know what’s going
to happen to Dante, but so does Dante.
– It’s only “Dante” that’s unaware of his
impending downfall
Canto XVII: Data File
Setting: The Seventh Circle, Third Round
Figures: Geryon
Allusions: Phaethon, Daedalus, Icarus
Punishable Sin: Violence (Against Art)
Summary: The monster from below arrives at the
cliff: Geryon, the Monster of Fraud. Virgil negotiates
with the beast for safe passage down the cliff, and
sends Dante to look at the Violent Against Art. These
sinners crouch at the edge of the Burning Plain,
separated from the shades of their fellow beings.
Each of them wears a large money-purse around
his neck that bears the coat-of-arms of his family.
After seeing them, he quickly turns back and heads
for Virgil. The elder poet already sits atop Geryon,
and convinces Dante to climb on; the two make a
terrifying flight down into the Eighth Circle on the
beast’s back.
Violent Against Art
• Dante defines art as the crafts we draw from
nature – our industry, whether it be practical
or creative
• To work hard and honestly while producing
something is therefore to live in accordance
with Nature, and Dante defines Art/Industry
as Nature’s child – which makes it God’s
• The Usurers (The Violent Against Art) weren’t
people who burned paintings or suppressed
• Rather, they simply tried to make money
without working for it by charging people
exorbitant interest rates
Violent Against Art (Cont’d)
• This doesn’t seem like that big of a deal today –
have you tried finding a student loan? – but it
was a huge deal in Florence
• Raffa: Based on Biblical passages – fallen man
must live “by the sweat of his brow” (Genesis
3:19), Jesus' appeal to his followers to “lend,
expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35) –
medieval theologians considered the lending
of money at interest to be sinful. Thomas
Aquinas, based on Aristotle, considered
usury…to be contrary to nature because ‘it is in
accordance with nature that money should
increase from natural goods and not from
money iMtself.’”
The Punishment
• The sinners are forced to stare with tear-filled
eyes at their purses forever
• They aren’t supposed to look at anything else
because their entire existence revolved around
chasing money-purses – similar to how the
Avaricious and Prodigal push their stones,
although at least those sinners were dealing
badly with their own money (whereas the Usurers
occupy a weird place between the Avaricious
and the Thieves)
• The crest on the purse that clearly identifies each
sinner with his family indicates that they have
brought dishonor to their families, quite possibly
with their families’ permission
• Dante implies that these powerful families built
their wealth on these illicit foundations, and are
therefore undeserving of their influential
positions in society
• In classic myth, Geryon was a cruel king
who was slain by Hercules
– Virgil chose to describe him as a “three-bodied
shade” in The Aeneid, and Dante appears to have
taken that quite literally
• The creature is a crazy mash-up of beast
and human, with a man’s head and honest
face atop a huge, beastly body covered with
pretty and intricate reptilian scales. He also
has fur-covered legs and paws, with a huge,
coiling scorpion’s tail finishing off his
• Geryon’s meant to be a creature of Fraud
(hence the honest face and pretty scales
masking the scorpion’s tail)
Geryon (Cont’d)
• His scales are meant to recall the colorful
patterns on a leopard’s hide – a sign of his
realm (he’s a quasi-Threshold Guardian for the
Eighth Circle, which houses the Sins of the
– Dante mentions in Canto XVI that he actually tried
using the cord Virgil tosses over the edge of the Great
Cliff to catch the Leopard when it blocked his path,
but that it was too quick for him; here,Virgil uses it to
tempt the great beast of Fraud out of hiding
• Geryon can also be associated with “the sort of
factual truth so wondrous that it appears to be
– Some have suggested that Geryon is meant to recall
the incredible journeys of The Divine Comedy itself;
after all, is this truth, or fiction?
• Dante is (somewhat realistically) completely
terrified by his flight through Hell’s air
• He alludes to two earlier stories of mortals
taking flight by unnatural means (this is
centuries before the airplane, obviously) with
terrible consequences
• The first is Phaethon, a figure from Ovid’s
Metamorphosis who sought to confirm that he
was the son of Apollo by seizing the sunchariot’s reins (against his father’s advice)
• He proved unable to control the horses, and
they scorched the sky as they tore through the
• Forced to choose between saving the world and
sparing Apollo’s son, Jupiter slew Phaethon
with a thunderbolt
Daedalus and Icarus
• The second story – an equally tragic one, and also
from Ovid’s Metamorphosis – involves Daedalus, an
inventor we encountered earlier in the story of the
• Daedalus and his son, Icarus, were imprisoned in a
tall tower on the edge of the island of Crete. In
order to escape, Daedalus collected the feathers of
birds that flew into the tower and bound them with
wax and thread into wings
• He built a pair for himself and a pair for Icarus,
warning the boy that the wax would melt if he flew
too close to the sun
• But Icarus, overcome with joy, ignores his father’s
advice (just as Phaethon did) and streaks into the
sky; his wax melts, and the boy plummeted to his
death in the sea before his father can reach him
• Daedalus is forced to soar on towards land,
mourning his son all the way
In Conclusion
• The final allusions to Phaethon and
Icarus serve as indicators that the
hardest part of Dante’s journey lies
ahead, and that there’s a danger in
getting too close to the heat
• Fascinatingly, Dante continues to regard
many of the Circle’s denizens with
either sympathy or pity, and Virgil no
longer seems to mind – not at all what
one would expect from someone
traveling through the land of Violence
• Fraud and Betrayal are up next…
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