by Dante Alighieri
Inferno Compassion and Forgiveness Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto.Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.
[Virgil]: … "Are you as foolish as the rest?
Here pity only lives when it is dead;
for who can be more impious than he
who links God’s judgment to passivity?" (Inf. XX, 27-30)
Ironically, the emotion Dante is trying to evoke in readers – pity for the magicians – is rebuked by Virgil. His denunciation of the magicians’ practice as advocating "God’s…passivity" means that the magicians, in prophesying, believe they have power over the future, necessarily rendering God’s will passive. Such an assumption is so mistaken that it should kill the pity of any reasonable person. This is why "pity only lives [here] when it is dead." In other words, there should be no sympathy for these sinners.
O you who read, hear now of this new sport…
The Navarrese, in nick of time, had planted
his feet upon the ground; then in an instant
he jumped and freed himself from their commander.
At this each demon felt the prick of guilt,
and most, he who had led his band to blunder;
so he took off and shouted: "You are caught!"
But this could help him little; wing were not
more fast than fear; the sinner plunged right under;
the other, flying up, lifted his chest…
But Calcabrina, raging at the trick,
flew after Alichino; he was keen
to see the sinner free and have a brawl;
and once the Navarrese had disappeared,
he turned his talons on his fellow demon
and tangled with him just above the ditch.
But Alichino clawed him well –
he was indeed a full-grown kestrel; and both fell
into the middle of the boiling pond.
The heat was quick to disentangle them,
but still there was no way they could get out;
their wings were stuck,
enmeshed in glue-like pitch. (Inf. XXII, 118-144)
Although Dante exhibits the same distaste for all the guardians of Hell, none of them is depicted so comedically as the demons. In this passage, the action concentrates completely on the demons and their pursuit of the escaping sinner, not at all on Dante or his emotional reactions. The action here is almost cartoonish in tone, complete with dastardly villains, a cunning escape, and the scoundrels’ useless fighting amongst themselves when finding their quarry gone. Such slapstick comedy requires an emotional distance, especially when dealing with such serious topics as sin and punishment, and this burlesque suggests that Dante feels no pity for either the demons or their victims, the barrators.
[Dante]: … "In that hollow upon which
just now, I kept my eyes intent, I think
a spirit born of my own blood laments
the guilt which, down below, costs one so much."
At this my master said: "Don’t let your thoughts
about him interrupt you from here on:
attend to other things, let him stay there;
for I saw him below the little bridge,
his finger pointing at you, threatening,
and heard him called by name – Geri del Bello…"
"My guide, it was his death by violence,
for which he still is not avenged," I said,
"by anyone who shares his shame, that made
him so disdainful now; and – I suppose –
for this he left without a word to me,
and this has made me pity him the more." (Inf. XXIX, 18-36)
At the unexpected information that one of his own kin inhabits Hell, Dante predictably reacts with pity. In fact, it’s his relative – Geri del Bello – for whom Dante had wept a few lines ago, not for the sowers of scandal at large. When Virgil tells Dante to ignore del Bello, Dante shows a surprising amount of resolve. Unlike the sycophantically obedient Dante seen in the early cantos, the more mature Dante stands up for his opinions – even against his master. He sides with Geri del Bello, allowing for his obscene gestures and claiming that del Bello wants only a just revenge for his violent death. Although Dante may err against God in showing mercy to his kinsman, he endears himself to readers by defending his family and showing some backbone against his taskmaster Virgil.