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The states of the damned, then, can be read not so much as simple retributive punishments, but instead as various incarnations of false love or as emblems of false, downward, or parodic conversion. Tempestuous lovers are whirled forever in a mad, windy storm. Hypocrites walk weighed down by leaden cloaks with ornate gilded surfaces, symbolizing the sinful, false exteriors which burdened their souls in life.

There, the burdens of the souls eventually blessed are not so much ironic allegories of sin as antithetical, curative conditions: the proud are weighed down with stones, the gluttonous are gaunt and starving, and the envious—the name of whose sin, invidia, derives from the Latin for evil or improper looking—have the eyes with which they sinned sewn shut.

The Purgatorial states are simpler than those of Hell; they never involve any complex or grotesque reshaping of the human form; and they allow for real spiritual change, as the sufferings of Hell do not. The damned souls are described in corporeal imagery of great vividness, but the forms they inhabit are only like a body which is a dead thing, a torture house, and not something with the potential for future resurrection.

If in life the anima is the omnia corporis, in Hell the body is a corpse which deforms the soul. If he uses the word contrapasso to refer to some sort of retaliatory punishment which he suffers under the hand of the Old Law, then he is clearly wrong.

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Bertran alone bears responsibility for the shape of his soul. However, his choice of the word would reveal a limitation of vision quite appropriate to a worldly, politically-minded troubadour.

Part of his counterpass, in the broad sense, is to use the word contrapasso. If nothing else, Bertran retains enough of his poetic insight to see that his punishment makes out of his sensible, corporeal form a symbol of the divisions. That each dammed soul knows only the partial truth about his or her moral and symbolic state is a consistent feature of experience in the Inferno. They also lack the free will necessary to pursue fully any restorative act of interpretation. Nor, as in Kafka, will the machinery break down or they die into oblivion, since Hell is eternal and the sinners already dead.

II Our chief concern in dealing with the counterpass is to locate the inward crossing of image and idea for each of the pains of Hell. Iconographic sourcehunting is of some use here, but only if it proceeds within a larger conceptual framework, even a semi-mythic one. One might begin by saying that, while it is. Only by dying into Eternity does the damned soul discover and become the emblematic form of its inward life; Dante himself gains access to such forms only by entering and moving through the realms of eternal death.

Death, the portal of divine vision, the threshold of revelation, is then the mother of trope, if not as Stevens said the mother of beauty. This subtext should also illuminate numerous other aspects of infernal suffering: its symbolic ironies, its binding together of life and afterlife, its fatality, repetitiveness, and endlessness. The source I have in mind is no Christian eschatological work, but the Metamorphoses of Ovid, or, more precisely, the principle of symbolic change which gives life to that poem.

Liberated by Mercury Christ , she is restored to human form when, through the merciful offices of Juno the Church , she reaches the waters of the Nile Scripture. Even setting aside the oppressively doctrinal thrust of the allegories—the emphasis on salvation through the sacraments of the Church, the work of good and bad preachers, and so forth—there is no sense of dialectic, and no feeling for the real poetic risks of mythological representation. I will yet be making some reference to the commentary tradition below. Such a death does not mean total annihilation but rather survival in a new form.

The metamorphosis is then not so much a rebirth as a debasement of human life; at least it problematizes the threshold between human life and human death, even as Harold Skulsky argues raising an epistemological crisis by straining our habitual ways of relating mind or personality to bodily form. He or she is reduced to a form which cannot truly develop or transcend its being preDarwinian species did not evolve.

As part of nature, the new being only commemorates or repeats the occasion of its original change, like the damned souls who repeat the form of their false conversions of value. Metamorphosis, that is, becomes a perverse form of stasis. Thus in Ovid, the nightingale Philomel exists only to lament VI. The central symbol of the descending side is metamorphosis, the fall of gods or other spiritual beings into mankind, of mankind,.

A grim and bloodthirsty man becomes a wolf; a steadfast servant of Jove becomes an adamant; a faithful husband and wife become an intertwining oak and linden; a chattering tattletale becomes a voice which can only repeat what it hears. The randomly allegorical structure of metamorphosis comes out even more directly in the case of the stories of Erysichthon VIII. But even here Ovid may provide a kind of conceptual coherence through proleptic or teleological naming: Hyacinthus becomes a hyacinth X. Dante is more problematic in this respect, no doubt, since the generalizing symbolic structures of punishment, which often tend to level all sinners within a particular circle, are played off against the highly individualized presentation of historical characters, each of which usually retains his or her own name.

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For it is cupiditas, as the Christian rereading of eros and the antithesis of caritas or agape, which animates the strange shapes of punishment in Hell. Here, though I will comment by turns on the relevance of the Ovidian allusions and metamorphic imagery to the particular sin of theft, I am more interested in using this rich episode to consider questions about the counterpass in general. The false may speak true: it is left to the hypocrites to remind the misguided Virgil that the Devil is called a liar in Bologna, even the Father of Lies.

A more acute dilemma of perception arises on the verge of the seventh of the malebolgie, where the thieves are punished. He has eyes but does not see, and ears but does not hear, as Christ says of those disciples who fail to get the point of his instructive, elliptical tales. Literal perceptual problems of the sort described above are a constant feature of experience in the smoky, noisy, garishly shadowed Inferno. They are the sensory analogues of the ignorance and inner division of the fallen, sinful soul. It also suggests that the truths concealed may be equivalent to those which Christ himself propounds.

When he has descended somewhat, Dante sees a bare plain, swarming with uncountable numbers of poisonous snakes.

Grandgent perhaps following Benvenuto argues that such creatures symbolize the peculiarly secret and insinuating nature of thievery, the sin here punished; but the snakes are also the symbols of sin in general. In a process repeated throughout eternity, the wound or venom reduces Vanni to a pile of ashes, which then gather together again, until he stands up amazed in his former shape.

XXIV, —11 Rather, he is reformed into exactly what he was.


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His physical conversion is emphatically not a Christian conversio, but merely a cyclical alteration of form which furthers our sense of his eternal pain and stasis, his perpetual isolation in his distorted soul. The sin that was once a result of free will is now imaged in a process which is beyond his power to control.

Dante, Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.

Hell may be the place of failed poetry, as well as of failed conversion. This mode of symbolism is unusual in Dante, but here it is unmistakable. The crudity of the gesture is important, standing as it does at the. Language and generation are debased simultaneously. After he disappears, Dante and Virgil catch a glimpse of the monstrous guardian of this bolgia, the centaur Cacus.

Dante compares the inextricable joining of the two beings to that of a tree and the ivy that winds around it, or to the mingling of colors in a mixed lump of wax. She was like the ivy encircling tall tree trunks. IV, —79 As when a gardener grafts a branch on to a tree, and sees the two unite as they grow, and come to maturity together, so when their limbs met in that clinging embrace the nymph and the boy were no longer two, but a single form possessed of a dual nature, which could not be called male or female, but seemed to be at once both and neither.

But the image rises above mere optical notation, however subtle. It presents instead a remarkable metaphor for the paradoxical nature of change in Hell. For the paper described in these lines takes color from an element which destroys it, rather than from the paint or the ink of inscription. Ash-grey and black arise out of the dying of white.

Christina Rossetti

XXV, —23 Here, as Skulsky has eloquently argued, the thieves can only change by stealing their form from another, both committing and suffering theft at the same time. Now after all of the extended, paired limbs of Buoso Donati shrink up or fuse into the linear form of the serpent, his singular tongue ironically divides, and he moves away hissing, no longer capable of articulate speech. The double change has indeed emphasized in painful detail the formal differences between man and snake.

But in the infernal condition all such natural distinctions are highly equivocal; the human and the serpentine may even be levelled into one, as the earlier mixed monster shows more grotesquely.

Chaucer's Dante in Eliot's Waste Land & Other Observations

XXV, —38 41 My speculations regarding the counterpass, metamorphosis, and conversion can be brought full circle by looking at the apostrophe to Lucan and Ovid which immediately precedes the episode just examined. Both of these classical poets, Dante says, told stories of strange transformations. But Lucan must now be silent, though his purportedly historical narrative gave an account of how one man crumbled and dissolved away, and another virtually exploded, because of snakebite.

And Ovid, who gives us supernatural fables about the metamorphosis of Cadmus into a serpent and Arethusa into a fountain, must also speak no more. XXV, —02 42 Dante claims he is witnessing a phenomenon totally unavailable to classical, non-Christian poets. Figures which recall this uncanny exchanging or sharing of form between two distinct creatures we have encountered elsewhere in the Inferno. Rather, in this bizarre event the pilgrim confronts a new realm of spiritual being. What he in fact sees in this double exchange of forms is metamorphosis under the new religious and poetic dispensation of Christ, the Word made Flesh.

The Inferno examines paradoxes of duality and unity in various moral, spiritual, and symbolic forms, but their true measure is revealed only at the end of the Purgatorio. XXXI, —26 45 The two natures of this creature do not blot out but rather clarify each other, making the whole more splendid. Its radiance as an allegorical mirror of true divinity might even suggest that Dante is somehow curing the demonic, parodic character of earlier metamorphoses, not only in terms of their Christian meanings but as instances of a certain representational mode.

The griffin, that is, as the only non-demonic monster of the poem, is by rights a literary redemption of the poetry of the grotesque. Not so with the transformations and composites of Hell, as we have seen.