by Dante Alighieri
Inferno Justice Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto.Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.
Attacking one of them, it pierced right through
the part where we first take our nourishment;
and then it fell before him at full length…
The serpent stared at him, he at the serpent;
one through his wound, the other through his mouth
were smoking violently; their smoke met…
Let Ovid now be silent…
I do not envy him; he never did
transmute two natures, face to face, so that
both forms were ready to exchange their matter.
These were the ways they answered to each other:
the serpent split its tail into a fork;
the wounded sinner drew his steps together.
The legs and then the thighs along with them
so fastened to each other that the juncture
soon left no sign that was discernible.
Meanwhile the cleft tail took upon itself
the form the other gradually lost
its skin grew soft, the other’s skin grew hard…
And while the smoke veils each with a new color,
and now breeds hair upon the skin of one,
just as it strips the hair from off the other,
the one rose up, the other fell; and yet
they never turned aside their impious eyelamps,
beneath which each of them transformed his snout:…
his tongue, which had before been whole and fit
for speech, now cleaves; the other’s tongue, which had
been forked, now closes up; and the smoke stops.
The soul that had become an animal,
now hissing, hurried off along the valley;
the other one, behind him, speaks and spits. (Inf. XXV, 85-138)
Thieves fail to recognize the boundaries between their own property and that of others. To Dante, this indicates a basic flaw in their humanity; they lack the human reason to distinguish between what is theirs and what belongs to others. This blatant misuse of their intellects renders them more animal than human. Thus, in the Eighth Circle, they mutate into hideous pseudo-serpentine creatures. And because they did not honor the boundaries of property in life, they "exchange their matter" with each other, merging and morphing into the bodies of other thieves. In this way, they can hardly retain their own identities and have thus come to embody their sin.
[Virgil]: "You two who move as one within the flame,
if I deserved of you while I still lived,
if I deserved of you much or a little
when in the world I wrote my noble lines,
do not move on; let one of you retell
where, having gone astray, he found his death."
The greater horn within that ancient flame
began to sway and tremble, murmuring
just like a fire that struggles in the wind;
and then he waved his flame-tip back and forth
as if it were a tongue that tried to speak…(Inf. XXVI, 79-89)
For giving false or malicious advice, the Fraudulent Counselors must struggle torturously to speak even a single word in Hell. The pain they no doubt feel in their shrouds of flame not only indicates their guilty spirits, but makes it difficult for them to speak. Also, because the sinners are ‘twinned’ here – a single flame containing two sinners -- Dante suggests that fraud affects not only the individual who practices it, but also others; it is a rebounding sin.
No barrel, even though it’s lost a hoop
or end-piece, ever gapes as one whom I
saw ripped right from his chin to where we fart:
his bowels hung between his legs, one saw
his vitals and the miserable sack
that makes of what we swallow excrement.
While I was all intent on watching him,
he looked at me, and with his hands he spread
his chest and said: "See how I split myself!" (Inf. XXVIII, 22-30)
Dante’s idealistic vision of man living in peace and unity informs his depiction of the ninth pouch. Because these sowers of scandal and schism have caused social discord and divided people into warring factions, their bodies are now sliced in half. Mohammed, featured here, suffers disembowelment from a laceration that runs vertically down his entire chest. Others endure slit throats, dismembered hands or ears, and even decapitation. The dissent they’ve triggered in their lifetimes comes back to haunt them in their afterlives.