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]: … "Look at that mighty one who comes
and does not seem to shed a tear of pain:
how he still keeps the image of a king!
That shade is Jason, who with heart and head
deprived the men of Colchis of their ram…
With polished words and love signs he took in
Hypsipyle, the girl whose own deception
had earlier deceived the other women.
And he abandoned her, alone and pregnant;
such guilt condemns him to such punishment;
and for Medea, too, revenge is taken." (Inf. XVIII, 83-96)
Jason, the mythical leader of the Argonauts, shows that Virgil’s "persuasive word" can be turned to evil uses. Although the Italian phrase used to describe Virgil’s speech, "parole ornate," remains the same, Mandelbaum chooses to translate Jason’s speech as "polished words" instead of "persuasive." This highlights Jason’s flashy image and professed gallantry, which woo women to him, while allowing his vile nature to lurk underneath. Here, in the first ring of fraud, readers begin to doubt the goodness of the "persuasive word," or elaborate language, when they see that it can persuade people with false hopes and lead to tragic consequences.
I stood as does the friar who confesses
the foul assassin who, fixed fast, head down,
calls back the friar, and so delays his death;
and he cried out: "Are you already standing,
already standing there, o Boniface?
The book has lied to me by several years.
Are you so quickly sated with the riches
for which you did not fear to take by guile
the Lovely Lady, then to violate her?"
And I became like those who stand as if
they have been mocked, who cannot understand
what has been said to them and can’t respond. (Inf. XIX, 49-60)
When mistaken by Pope Nicholas III for his successor Pope Boniface VIII come to replace him in Hell, Dante is tempted to play along and to trick Nicholas into believing he will bring him some relief. This is evidenced by his hesitation to refute Nicholas’ words and it is not until Virgil scolds Dante into telling the truth that he reveals his true identity. Thus, Virgil’s claim that fraud is the worst and most human sin gains legitimacy here because even the moral Dante is swayed for a moment to succumb to deceit. The scene receives an even greater flavor of dishonesty when Dante describes himself (in a simile) as a friar with the authority to confess a sinner – something which he definitely is not. That Dante even dares to suggest such a dishonest image implies that he is feeling the effects of the fraud all around him.
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 have all the hallmarks of a deceitful people. They are "painted" and their "cloaks were gilded" so that "they dazzled." On the surface, these sinners are brilliantly attractive, drawing the eye with their golden robes, but on the inside the mantles are lined with "lead," "so heavy" that their wearers must walk "tired and defeated." What initially promises to be beautiful suddenly turns out to be ugly and restrictive. This comments on the Friars’ actions in life: they promised to keep the peace in their provinces but instead founded their own orders, bringing strife and violence to the land.