| Quote #13
As I inclined my head still more, I saw
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.
| Quote #14
…so, not by fire but by the art of God,
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.
| Quote #15
Below that point we found a painted people,
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.