Roberta Writes – Divine Comedy, Inferno: Canto 13

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.

Harpy.PNG
Picture caption: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harpy

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.

the-inferno-canto-13
Picture caption: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2014/01/13/recapping-dante-canto-13-or-please-refrain-from-touching-the-shrubbery/

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.”

51 thoughts on “Roberta Writes – Divine Comedy, Inferno: Canto 13

  1. Hi Robbie.

    You come up with such fascinating stories. Where do you find the time to post them? Anyway this one is a tale I never heard before.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Shirley, one of my good blogging friends reminded me about Divine Comedy. I was brought up a Catholic like you and the sisters showed us the etchings of Divine Comedy. I thought it was a series of pictures when I was a girl and they scared me to death. It set up a fascination with Dante’s concept of hell. I’m glad you enjoyed this post.

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  2. oh why oh why did I let you lead me here?! Gruesome. Reminders me of the the Chinese twelve circles of hell which was graphically represented in a house in Singapore. I suppose I’ll have to read on now….

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    1. Hello Geoff, you have to admit that its very fascinating, although Dante does not have your gift of humour in his darkness. I shall now have to investigate the 12 Chinese circles of hell which I’ve never heard of.

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    1. Hi Kerfe, I feel the same as you. The tragedy in a suicide is already so keen and awful, to think that the penalty in the afterlife would be so harsh is beyond belief. The Christian beliefs during the High Middle Ages (1300 is the final year of this era) were very different to our modern beliefs of love and redemption.

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    1. Hi Willow, I am reading it more as a story without the religious elements. Every now and then when the realisation that this is actually a Christian depiction of the afterlife hits me, I feel quite disturbed and shocked.

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  3. There’s something exceptionally tragic to think that someone who couldn’t bear to live would be rooted to one spot, unable to escape, and eventually snaggled there and tormented for eternity after everyone else is freed. That really is hell.

    Thanks, Robbie.

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    1. HI Staci, I think this is one of the most tragic and awful circles. For someone who has been driven to such despair that they take their own life is a tragedy in itself. For them to suffer such a horrendous punishment in the ‘afterlife’ is beyond descriptions of terrible.

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