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Inferno

Inferno

by Dante Alighieri

Justice Quotes

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Quote #22

If he [Lucifer] was once as handsome as he now
is ugly and, despite that, raised his brows
against his Maker, one can understand
how every sorrow has its source in him!
I marveled when I saw that, on his head,
he had three faces: one – in front – bloodred;
and then another two that, just above
the midpoint of each shoulder, joined the first…
Beneath each face of his, two wings spread out,
as broad as suited so immense a bird:
I’ve never seen a ship with sails so wide.
They had no feathers, but were fashioned like
a bat’s; and he was agitating them,
so that three winds made their way out from him –
and all Cocytus froze before those winds.
He wept out of six eyes; and down three chins,
tears gushed together with a bloody froth.
Within each mouth – he used it like a grinder –
with gnashing teeth he tore to bits a sinner,
so that he brought much pain to three at once. (Inf. XXXIV, 34-57)

Lucifer, once God’s favorite and the most beautiful angel of them all, "now is ugly" because of the benighted sin he committed against God, betraying the one who created him out of pride. Lucifer is the ultimate traitor and, as such, is trapped in the earth as surely as the lesser traitors; there he creates the freezing winds that trap the Ninth Circle sinners in ice. Lucifer’s immobility is more profound than the others’ because he creates it himself: his "agitating" wings beat to help him escape from his prison, but all in vain. His image too – of three grotesque heads – is a parody of the Holy Trinity. The three vilest traitors suffer their punishment by eternally being chewed by Lucifer’s three heads. This act of eating is sinisterly twisted; it’s not used to gain nourishment and sustain oneself, but instead to deliberately cause pain. Finally, the description of Lucifer’s biting teeth as "a grinder" reinforces – along with the rhythmic beating of his wings – the concept of Lucifer as a massive machine: mechanical, soulless, and essentially anticlimactic.

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