by Dante Alighieri
Inferno Justice Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto.Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.
As I inclined my head still more, I saw
that each, amazingly, appeared contorted
between the chin and where the chest begins;
they had their faces twisted towards their haunches
and found it necessary to walk backward,
because they could not see ahead of them. (Inf. XX, 10-15)
Dante’s issue with diviners, astrologers, and magicians is based more on the idea that they are charlatans – unable to do what they claim – than on the actual concept of seeing into the future. Either way, their punishment fits their crime. Instead of being blessed with the ability to see and move forward in time, they have their heads turned backwards on their shoulders so that they can only see behind them and must therefore walk and look backward, both literally and metaphorically, into the past. This is the punishment for claiming to divine the future.
…so, not by fire but by the art of God,
below there boiled a thick and tarry mass
that covered all the banks with clamminess.
I saw it, but I could not see within it;
no thing was visible but boiling bubbles,
the swelling of the pitch; and then it settled…
And then in back of us I saw a black
demon as he came racing up the crags.
Ah, he was surely barbarous to see!
And how relentless seemed to me his acts!
His wings were open and his feet were lithe;
he had slung a sinner, upward from the thighs;
in front, the demon gripped him by the ankles…
He threw the sinner down, then wheeled along
the stony cliff: no mastiff’s ever been
unleashed with so much haste to chase a thief.
The sinner plunged, then surfaced, black with pitch;
but now the demons, from beneath the bridge,
shouted: "The Sacred Face has no place here;
here we swim differently than in the Serchio;
if you don’t want to feel our grappling hooks,
don’t try to lift yourself above that ditch." (Inf. XXI, 16-51)
This passage represents contrapasso on a number of levels. As barrators, these corrupt politicians carried on their crimes in secret; thus, the pitch in which they are immersed is so dark that Dante "[can]not see within it." Tar, as a sticky substance, here represents another link that binds individual human beings to one another (like language, love, and money). By dishonestly buying and selling political offices, the barrators compromise the cohesion of the political system. Also, the barrators’ plight – unlike many other sinners’ – is not depicted in sympathetic terms, but in a comedic, almost slapstick, manner. The demons’ verbal taunting of the sinners illustrates this. The irreverent tone here suggests a personal vendetta against barrators on Dante’s part, which is plausible given his alleged history with grafters.
Below that point we found a painted people,
who moved about with lagging steps, in circles,
weeping, with features tired and defeated.
And they were dressed in cloaks with cowls so low
they fell before their eyes, of that same cut
that’s used to make the clothes for Cluny’s monks
Outside, these cloaks were gilded and they dazzled;
but inside they were all of lead, so heavy
that Frederick’s capes were straw compared to them.
A tiring mantle for eternity! (Inf. XXIII, 58-67)
The hypocrites or Jovial Friars are emblems of deception. Their hellish attire accurately reveals their two-timing natures: their gilded cloaks flash attractively on the outside, but their inner linings are crafted from lead, the heaviest and most worthless metal and the symbolic opposite of gold. Such garb demonstrates that while hypocrites seem noble and worthy at first glance, their true characters prove woefully dissolute, not meriting all the praise they reap.