Roberta Writes – Divine Comedy: Inferno, Canto 5

The Divine Comedy (Barnes & Noble Collectible Editions) by Dante, Gustave  Dore, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble®
This is the hardcover collectible edition I covet.

My blogging friend Rebecca Budd is currently participating in a #KaramazovReadalong, you can read about it here: https://ontheroadbookclub.com/2021/07/27/karamazovreadalong-day-1-who-is-fyodor/.

The reading group are reading one chapter a day of this book and it inspired me to tackle Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri in the same manner.

Dante and Virgil descend into the Second Circle of Hell and the Reader starts to get an idea of what Hell is all about.

They see the monster, Minos, standing in front of a seemingly endless line of sinners and assigning them their eternal punishment. The sinners confess their sins and Minos then wraps his tail around himself a certain number of times thereby indicating the circle to which they must go. Minos says that Dante may not enter as he is a living soul, but Virgil explains the circumstances and they are allowed to pass into a dark place where torrential rains fall continuously and gales of wind tear through the air.

The souls in this Second Circle of Hell are guilt of being lustful and committing sins of the flesh. In Hell they are punished by being endlessly blown about by stormy winds.

Virgil identifies the souls of Helen of Troy and Cleopatra among those swirling past.

Dante calls out to the souls and he is answered by a lady called Francesca. She tells Dante how, in life, she was married to an elderly deformed man. She falls in love with her husband’s younger brother, Paolo da Rimini. One day while they are sitting reading the story of King Arthur, they read a particularly romantic piece and cannot resist kissing. The book is forgotten and “We read no more that day.”

Dante is again overwhelmed with pity and he faints.

It is quite interesting that some of the adulterers are also suicides and yet they are not sent to the circle deeper in Hell that is reserved for suicides. The reason for this is that in Dante’s description of Hell, a person is judged by the standards of the time period during which he/she lived. Suicide wasn’t considered a sin during classical times but adultery was. Those adulterers from this time who committed suicide are condemned for their adultery only.

The Inferno, Canto 5 - Gustave Dore
bPicture credit: https://www.wikiart.org/en/gustave-dore/the-inferno-canto-5

Here is a quote from Canto 5:

“The next is she who killed herself through love,

and to Sichaeus’ ashes broke her faith;

the lustful Cleopatra follows her.

See Helen, for whose sake so long a time

of guilt rolled by, and great Achilles see,

who fought with love when at the end of life.

Paris and Tristan see;” and then he showed me,

and pointed out by name, a thousand shades

and more, whom love had from our life cut off.

When I had heard my Leader speak the names

of ladies and their knights of olden times,

pity o’ercame me, and I almost swooned.”

48 thoughts on “Roberta Writes – Divine Comedy: Inferno, Canto 5

    1. Thank you, Michael. I do try to fit in fun, but fun has individual interpretations for everyone, doesn’t it? Can you speak Italian? I am not very good at other languages. It’s strange because I was always so good at English but so bad at French and AFrikaans.

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      1. I had learn Italian in something like my former life, for preparing to become a church lawyer. But i lost so many vocables. 😉 Now i am more in learning English. 🙂 Its always difficult learning languages without a special goal. You are right, about the different and individual definitions of fun. By the way, Afrikaans sounds a funny language, a mix of Dutch and English? xx

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  1. You are so brave to tackle that read, Robbie. It must be fascinating and with only a chapter a day, I suppose that’s not too overwhelming. How creative to envision Hell in such detail. Dante must have been an interesting person. 🙂

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    1. Hi Diana, Dante’s depiction of Hell is amazingly detailed. What an imagination he had to think of such things. I can’t think of another book I’ve read to date that matches his ideas at all. An incredible read for a descriptive writer like me. Well worth the effort.

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  2. For a moment, I thought that was the version of the book that I have. But when I collected it off the shelf, I found my cover is different. (It is the same oxblood red, though, with gilded page edges, and dramatic illustrations. The title page says the translation is by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.)

    I hope you get the copy you desire. I’m still enjoying following you on this journey.

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  3. It’s quite the heavy duty darkness.
    I had a large book of plates of Dante’s Inferno. The artistry was intricate & impeccable. There were quotes and such with the images. It seemed this was enough, and I was not tempted to read any more. I’m putting it all together now.
    I loaned the book to a good acquaintance. She passed away suddenly, shortly after. I never found out what happened to the book. Apropos!

    Thank you for the way you are taking me along!

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    1. HI Resa, I am glad you are enjoying this journey. It is dark, but strangely, I don’t really see it that way because I grew up with this vision of Hell. It seems more like part of my reality than a fictional story if that makes sense to you. It is a shame you lost your book. These books are very expensive. I know as I have my eye on one.

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  4. Reading the lines about Cleopatra and Helen of Troy, I’m wondering if you have encountered any differences in condemnation, based on gender. (I know this is a 21st-century question, but I’m curious.)

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    1. HI Liz, I wasn’t specifically looking for that, but I don’t believe Dante was sexist. He viewed male and females equally, as far as I can tell, and unlike some of the recent laws involving abortion, in his vision of Hell, male and female sexual sinners are punished equally and together for their sins of passion.

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    2. To demonstrate this point with regards to your comment about Cleopatra this is the interpretation of the depiction of her and Antony’s sin: Antony resided in the second circle for his sins of Lust, literally living inside the body of his lover, Cleopatra. He carried a sword and shield, and wore armor made of golden hands and fingers that were grafted to his skin.

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  5. I also read this book at school and marvelled at the imaginative hell realms .. your version is far more palatable Robbie. But it seems to confirm that heaven or hell might be firmly in our own minds, our internal conscious punishing us for things we consider to be sins … or not 🙂

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  6. I am enjoying your posts about The Divine Comedy. I don’t think I will ever read it, but it is interesting to hear what the various sections are about. I do like my current Christians beliefs that tell me I will get to heaven because I repent and believe Jesus died for me. I would not like to be in any of the places mentioned so far.

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      1. Yes, it definitely was fire and brimstone up until not that many years ago. I have said before, I am so glad I live in the present, even if it is not perfect.

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