Week 8: Dante's Inferno

Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

Canto 18-19 and 21: Virgil and the Demons

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

One of the seducers that Dante sees is the Greek hero Jason, who fetched the Golden Fleece with the help of Medea, princess of Colchis, but then abandoned her. Earlier on his journey, he had also seduced and abandoned Hypsipyle, a princess on the island of Lemnos. Next, Dante sees the flatterers who are punished by being immersed in excrement. Finally they meet Malacoda, the chief of the demons of this circle of hell, and Virgil has to protect Dante from an assault by the demons. Malacoda has to let Virgil and Dante pass, because their journey through hell has divine approval.

The Seducers: Jason

[...] I rejoined my guide: then in a few steps we came to where a causeway ran from the cliff. This we climbed very easily, and, turning to the right on its jagged ridge, we moved away from that eternal round. When we reached the arch where it yawns below to leave a path for the scourged, my guide said: 'Wait, and let the aspect of those other ill-born spirits strike you, whose faces you have not yet seen, since they have been going in our direction.'

We viewed their company from the ancient bridge, travelling towards us on the other side, chased likewise by the whip. Without my asking, the kind Master said to me: 'Look at that great soul who comes, and seems not to shed tears of pain: what a royal aspect he still retains! That is Jason, who, by wisdom and courage, robbed the Colchians of the Golden Fleece. He sailed by the Isle of Lemnos, after the bold merciless women there had put all their males to death. There with gifts and sweet words he deceived the young Hypsipyle, who had saved her father by deceiving all the rest. He left her there, pregnant and lonely: such guilt condemns him to such torment: and revenge is also taken for his abandoning Medea. With him go all who practise like deceit, and let this be enough for knowledge of the first chasm, and those whom it swallows.'

The Second Chasm: The Flatterers

We had already come to where the narrow causeway crosses the second bank, and forms a buttress to a second arch. Here we heard people whining in the next chasm, and blowing with their muzzles, and striking themselves with their palms.

The banks were crusted, with a mould from the fumes below that condenses on them, and attacks the eyes and nose. The floor is so deep, that we could not see any part of it, except by climbing to the ridge of the arch, where the rock is highest. We came there, and from it, in the ditch below, I saw people immersed in excrement, that looked as if it flowed from human privies. And while I was searching it, down there, with my eyes, I saw one with a head so smeared with ordure, that it was not clear if he was clerk or layman.

He shouted at me: 'Why are you so keen to gaze at me more than the other mired ones?'

And I to him: 'Because, if I remember rightly, I have seen you before with dry head, and you are Alessio Interminei of Lucca: so I eye you more than all the others.'

And he then, beating his forehead: 'The flatteries, of which my tongue never wearied, have brought me down to this!'

At which my guide said to me: 'Advance your head a little, so that your eyes can clearly see, over there, the face of that filthy and dishevelled piece, who scratches herself, with her soiled nails, now crouching down, now rising to her feet. It is Thais, the whore, who answered her lover's message, in which he asked: "Do you really return me great thanks?" with "No, wondrous thanks." And let our looking be sated with this.'

[... Dante and Virgil pass through many other chasms in this circle, seeing the punishments of the sellers of sacred offices, seers, soothsayers, and astrologers ... ]

Virgil challenges the Demons' threats

The good master said to me: 'Cower down behind a rock, so that you have a screen to protect yourself, and so that it is not obvious that you are here, and whatever insult is offered to me, have no fear, since I know these matters, having been in a similar danger before.' Then he passed beyond the bridgehead, and when he arrived on the sixth bank, it was necessary for him to present a bold front.

The demons rushed from below the bridge, and turned their weapons against him, with the storm and fury with which a dog rushes at a poor beggar, who suddenly seeks alms when he stops. But Virgil cried: 'None, of you, commit an outrage. Before you touch me with your forks, one of you come over here, to listen, and then discuss whether you will grapple me.'

They all cried: 'You go, Malacoda' at which one moved while the others stood still, and came towards Virgil, saying: 'What good will it do him?'

My Master said: 'Malacoda, do you think I have come here without the Divine Will, and propitious fate, safe from all your obstructions? Let me go by, since it is willed, in Heaven, that I show another this wild road.'

Then the demon's pride was so down, that he let the hook drop at his feet, and said to the others: 'Now, do not hurt him!'

And my guide to me: 'O you, who are sitting, crouching, crouching amongst the bridge's crags, return to me safely, now!' At which I moved, and came to him quickly, and the devils all pressed forward so that I was afraid they would not hold to their orders. So I once saw the infantry, marching out, under treaty of surrender, from Caprona, afraid at finding themselves surrounded by so many enemies.

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

  • why is the hero Jason being punished here in hell?
  • what kind of punishment is inflicted on the flatterers?
  • how does Virgil compel the demon Malacoda to let them pass?

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