I am late posting Canto 13. The reason for this is a mixture of work being a crazy madhouse for the past few months and my great attempt to get all my book reviews posted before I go on a blogging break at the end of this week. This will be the last Dante’s Inferno post for 2021 and I will continue with Canto 14 in 2022.
In Canto 13, Virgin and Dante enter the Second Ring of the Seventh Circle of Hell. Here they find a strange pathless forest filled with black and gnarled trees. Dante can hear cries of suffering but he cannot see the shades that are calling out. The Harpies nest here, feeding on the branches of the misshapen trees.
Virgil explains to Dante that he will see things in this circle that will make him doubt his [Virgil’s] words. Dante becomes confused because he cannot see the shades and believes that Virgil knows his thoughts, that the spirits are hidden among the trees. Virgil tells him that he is mistaken and that he should break off a branch.
Dante does this and the tree asks Dante: “Why dost tough break and tear me?” The tree begins to bleed where Dante broke off the branch. Dante discovers that the souls in this ring, the suicides and the squanderers, have been transformed into trees.
The tree tells Dante that all the trees in he forest were once men and that he should have mercy upon them. As a way of making up for the wound Dante has inflicted on the tree, Virgil asks the shade to tell them his story so that Dante may repeat it when he is back on earth.
The tree tells them that his name is Pier della Vigna and that he was a moral and admirable man, an advisor to Emperor Frederick. He states that an envious group of scheming people at the court blackened his name with lies, causing Frederick to start distrusting him, and he committed suicide due to his intense shame.
Dante asks how the souls have come to be trees and Pier explains that when the suicides and squanderers are thrown into this ring, having committed suicide, they take root and grow as saplings. The Harpies peck and wound them by eating their leaves. Pier continues to say that when the Last Judgement arrives and the time comes for all souls to retrieve their bodies, the shades in this circle will not reunite fully with theirs because they willingly discarded them. Instead, the returned bodies will hang on the trees’ branches forcing each shade to see and feel constantly its rejected human form.
The poets hear a noise crashing through the forest and two spirits appear. The second spirit flings himself into a bush but he is caught and torn apart by pursuing hounds.
Extract from Canto 13
“We enter’d on a forest, where no track
Of steps had worn a way. Not verdant there
The foliage, but of dusky hue; not light
The boughs and tapering, but with knares deform’d
And matted thick: fruits there were none, but thorns
Instead, with venom fill’d. Less sharp than these,
Less intricate the brakes, wherein abide
Those animals, that hate the cultur’d fields,
Betwixt Corneto and Cecina’s stream.”