by Dante Alighieri
Inferno Lies and Deceit Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto.Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.
[Virgil]: "Of every malice that earns hate in Heaven,
injustice is the end; and each such end
by force or fraud brings harm to other men.
However, fraud is man’s peculiar vice;
God finds it more displeasing – and therefore,
the fraudulent are lower, suffering more." (Inf. XI, 22-27)
Here, Virgil declares fraud – the deceptive use of language or action – the worst of the three types of sin (incontinence, violence, and fraud). Sadly, it is also the sin man is most susceptible to by virtue of his capacity for language. With their false or insincere words, fraudulent men "bring harm to other men." This particular quality of fraud, with its ability to spread (as rumor or truth), can effectively mislead whole communities of otherwise moral people into sin. To Dante, condemning innocent others to sin through one’s deceitful words is the worst possible act.
Faced with that truth which seems a lie, a man
should always close his lips as long as he can –
to tell it shames him, even though he’s blameless;
But here I can’t be still; and by the lines
of this my Comedy, reader, I swear –
and may my verse find favor for long years –
that through the dense and darkened air I saw
a figure swimming, rising up, enough
to bring amazement to the firmest heart,
like one returning from the waves where he
went down to loose an anchor snagged upon
a reef or something else hid in the sea,
who stretches upward and draws in his feet. (Inf. XVI, 124-136)
Right as Dante is about to enter the circles of fraud, reality begins to blur, playing with his sense of truth. This monster which arises from the depths is so unbelievable that it is a "truth which seems a lie." Dante struggles with the idea of not discussing it, for that would be akin to lying; but in the end, he gives in. Interestingly, to justify his description, he "swear[s]" on the truth of his words by "the lines / of this my Comedy." In other words, he’s swearing on himself, which is not only circular but also invalid. So, Dante is either showing signs of excessive pride or is buying into the deception of the fraudulent realms. To compound his deceit, Dante uses a simile (a way of describing something by comparing it to something it’s NOT) of a diver to describe the rising monster.
And he came on, that filthy effigy
of fraud, and landed with his head and torso
but did not draw his tail onto the bank.
The face he wore was that of a just man,
so gracious was his features’ outer semblance;
and all his trunk, the body of a serpent;
He had two paws, with hair up to the armpits;
his back and chest as well as both his flanks
had been adorned with twining knots and circlets.
No Turks or Tartars ever fashioned fabrics
more colorful in the background and relief,
nor had Arachne ever loomed such webs.
As boats will sometimes lie along the shore,
with part of them on land and part in water,
and just as there, among the guzzling Germans,
the beaver sets himself when he means war,
so did that squalid beast lie on the margin
of stone that serves as border for the sand.
And all his tail was quivering in the void
while twisting upward its envenomed fork,
which had a tip just like a scorpion’s. (Inf. XVII, 7-24)
Geryon, as Dante so poetically claims, is a "filthy effigy / of fraud." Not only does his form combine the features of a man, a snake, a scorpion, and a random animal – as if he cannot choose what he wants to be – but his entire hide is gaudily adorned with "twining knots and circlets" of many colors and patterns. Ostentatiously beautiful on the surface, Geryon is a monster within. And just as he crosses the line between truth and fiction, he lies "along the shore, / with part of [him] on land and part in water," not truly a fish nor a beast of the land. The final simile comparing Geryon to a beaver cements readers’ impressions of him as devious. He hangs his tail seductively over the void, just as a beaver uses its tail as a lure to tempt fish into approaching and then kills them for food.