Week 8: Dante's Inferno

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Canto 17-18: Descending on Geryon's Back

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 800 words.

Dante and Virgil now proceed by riding on the monster Geryon's back. The prospect fills Dante with fear! When they land, they find themselves in the eighth circle of hell and in the first chasm of that circle they see the punishment of the pimps and the seducers.

The poets descend on Geryon's back

I found my guide, who had already mounted the flank of the savage creature, and he said to me: 'Be firm and brave. Now we must descend by means of these stairs: you climb in front: I wish to be in the centre, so that the tail may not harm you.'

Like a man whose fit of the quartan fever is so near, that his nails are already pallid, and he shakes all over, by keeping in the shade, so I became when these words were said: but his reproof roused shame in me, that makes the servant brave in the presence of a worthy master. I set myself on those vast shoulders. I wished to say: 'See that you clasp me tight.' but my voice did not come out as I intended.

He, who helped me in other difficulties, at other times, embraced me, as soon as I mounted, and held me upright. Then he said: 'Now move, Geryon! Make large circles, and let your descent be gentle: think of the strange burden that you carry.'

As a little boat goes backwards, backwards, from its mooring, so the monster left the cliff, and when he felt himself quite free, he turned his tail around, to where his chest had been, and stretching, flicked it like an eel, and gathered the air towards him with his paws. I do not believe the fear was greater when Phaëthon let slip the reins, and the sky was scorched, as it still appears to be; or when poor Icarus felt the feathers melt from his arms, as the wax was heated, and his father Daedalus cried: 'You are going the wrong way!' as mine was when I saw myself surrounded by the air, on all sides, and saw everything vanish, except the savage beast.

He goes down, swimming slowly, slowly: wheels and falls: but I do not see it except by the wind, on my face, and from below. Already I heard the cataract, on the right, make a terrible roaring underneath us, at which I stretched my neck out, with my gaze downwards. Then I was more afraid to dismount, because I saw fires, and heard moaning, so that I cowered, trembling all over. And then I saw what I had not seen before, our sinking and circling through the great evils that drew close on every side.

As the falcon, that has been long on the wing, descends wearily, without seeing bird or lure, making the falconer cry: 'Ah, you stoop!' and settles far from his master disdainful and sullen, so Geryon set us down, at the base, close to the foot of the fractured rock, and relieved of our weight, shot off, like an arrow from the bow.

The Eighth Circle: Malebolge - Simple Fraud

There is a place in Hell called Malebolge, all of stone, and coloured like iron, as is the cliff that surrounds it. Right in the centre of the malignant space, a well yawns, very wide and deep, whose structure I will speak of in due place.

The margin that remains, between the base of the high rocky bank and the well, is circular, and its floor is divided into ten moats. Like the form the ground reveals, where successive ditches circle a castle, to defend the walls, such was the layout displayed here. And as there are bridges to the outer banks from the thresholds of the fortress, so, from the base of the cliff, causeways ran, crossing the successive banks and ditches, down to the well that terminates and links them.

We found ourselves there, shaken from Geryon's back, and the Poet kept to the left, and I went on, behind him.

The First Chasm: The Pimps and Seducers

[...] On this side and on that, along the fearful rock, I saw horned demons with large whips, who struck them fiercely, from behind. Ah, how it made them quicken their steps at the first stroke! Truly none waited for the second or third.


Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what vehicle do Dante and Virgil use to reach the eighth circle?
  • how does Dante feel as they travel through the air downwards?
  • what are the demons doing to the pimps and seducers?

Source: Dante's Inferno, translated by A.S. Kline (2000). Website: Dante and Others.


Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM