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University Of Texas At Austin

Circle 8, subcircles 1-6, cantos 18-23

Fraud: Pimping and Seducing (18), Flattery (18), Simony (19), Sorcery (20), Political Corruption (21-2), Hypocrisy (23)
Jason (18), Pope Nicholas III (19), Malebranche (21-2), Ciampolo (22), Caiaphas (23)
Malebolge (18), Simon Magus (19), Pope Boniface VIII (19), Pope Clement V (19), Donation of Constantine (19), Mantua (20), Harrowing of Hell (21)
Study Questions

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Fraud: Pimping and Seducing (18), Flattery (18), Simony (19), Sorcery (20), Political Corruption (21-2), Hypocrisy (23)

Pimps & Seducers, Flatterers Simonists Sorcerers Malebranche and Corrupt Politicians Hypocrites
The offenses of circles 8 and 9--the lowest two circles of hell--all fall under the rubric of fraud, a form of malice--as Virgil explains in Inferno 11.22-7--unique to human beings and therefore more displeasing to God than sins of concupiscence and violence. While all versions of fraud involve the malicious use of reason, circles 8 and 9 are distinguished from one another according to the offender's relationship to his or her victim: those who victimize someone with whom they share a special bond of trust (relatives, political / civic comrades, guests, benefactors) are punished in the lowest circle; if there exists no bond besides the "natural" one common to all humanity, the guilty soul suffers in one of the ten concentric ditches that constitute circle 8.
Physically connected by bridges, the ditches of circle 8 contain fraudulent shades whose particular vices and actions similarly serve to interconnect the cantos and their themes in this part of the poem. Thus the pimps and seducers, whipped by horned demons in the first ditch, relate to the flatterers--disgustingly dipped in the excrement of the second ditch--through the sexualized figure of Thais, a prostitute from the classical tradition who falsely praises her "lover" (Inf. 18.127-35). These first two ditches are presented in a single canto (18). Images of degraded sexuality are even more prominent in the next canto (19). Here Dante presents simony--the abuse of power within the church--as a form of spiritual prostitution, fornication, and rape (Inf. 19.1-4; 55-7; 106-11), a perversion of the holy matrimony conventionally posited between Christ (groom) and the church (bride). Simon Magus, the man for whom simony is named (Inf. 19.1), was himself a magician or sorcerer, the profession of those punished in the fourth ditch (canto 20). Simony and Sorcery are further linked through biographical declarations--by Dante and Virgil, respectively--aimed at separating truth from falsehood: Dante sets the record straight when he announces that he shattered a marble baptismal basin to prevent someone from drowning in it (Inf. 19.19-21); and Virgil is equally emphatic that his native city, Mantua, was named after the prophetess Manto with no recourse to such dubious rituals as casting lots or interpreting signs (Inf. 20.91-3; 97-9). Political corruption (fifth ditch), the crime for which Dante himself was falsely charged when he was forced into exile, links back to similar abuses within the church (simony) and points ahead to the sin of hypocrisy. The longest single episode of the Inferno, launched when Virgil confidently believes the promise of the devils guarding the fifth ditch, concludes when the travelers make a narrow escape into the sixth ditch and Virgil learns from a hypocrite that he has been duped (Inf. 23.133-48). Dante adorns the hypocrites in religious garb--hooded cloaks similar to the elegant ones worn by the Benedictine monks at Cluny (in France)--in accordance with the biblical condemnation of false piety: just as Jesus compares hypocritical scribes and Pharisees to tombs that appear clean and beautiful on the outside while containing bones of the dead (Matthew 23:27), so the bright golden cloaks of Dante's hypocrites conceal heavy lead on the inside (Inf. 23.64-6).
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Jason (18)
Pimps and Seducers
Jason, leader of the Argonauts (named for the Argos, the first ship) in their quest for the golden fleece of Colchis, stands out in the first ditch among the seducers--joined in the pit by the pimps and panderers moving in the opposite direction--as a large, regal figure enduring the torments of hell with no outward sign of suffering (Inf. 18.83-5). Jason earned his place in this location through his habit of loving and leaving women: first Hypsipyle of Lemnos, whom Jason seduced and impregnated before abandoning; and then Medea (daughter of the King of Colchis), whose magic enabled Jason to obtain the fleece by yoking fire-breathing oxen to a plow and putting to sleep the dragon guarding the fleece (91-6). Jason later left Medea (whom he had married) to wed Creusa. Medea brutally avenged Jason's disaffection by murdering their two children and poisoning Jason's new wife. Dante's primary sources are Ovid (Met. 7.1-158) and Statius (Thebaid 5.403-85).
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Pope Nicholas III (19)
Pope Nicholas III Pope Nicholas III Simonists
Nicholas is the simonist pope who, because he is upside down in a hole, mistakenly believes Dante to be Pope Boniface VIII, somehow present in the third pit several years before his time (Inf. 19.52-7). When the confusion is cleared up, Nicholas informs Dante that he foresees the damnation (for simony) of not only Boniface VIII but Pope Clement V as well. Born into the powerful Orsini family of Rome, Giovanni Gaetano was appointed head of the Inquisition (1262) before being elected pope--taking the name Nicholas--in 1277. Nicholas expanded papal political control by adding parts of Romagna, as far north as Bologna and Ferrara, and he forged a compromise in the Franciscan movement between the moderates and the radical spiritualists. He was known, on the one hand, for his high moral standards and care for the poor, and on the other for his shameless nepotism (derived from the Italian word--nipote--for nephew, niece, and grandchild): Nicholas himself states that he was guilty of favoring the "cubs" in his family (Orsini, the family name, translates to "little bears"; Inf. 19.70-2)--he in fact filled positions for three new cardinals with relatives and appointed other relatives to high posts in the papal state. Nicholas died in 1280 and was buried in St. Peter's in Rome.
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Malebranche (21-2)
Malebranche Malebranche Malebranche Malebranche Malebranche
Dante invents this name--"Evil Claws"--for the devils of the fifth ditch who bring to hell and torment the shades of corrupt political officials and employees (Inf. 21.29-42). Like the velociraptors of Jurassic Park, these demonic creatures are agile, smart, and fierce. Armed with long hooks, the Malebranche keep the shades under the surface of the black pitch, similar to how cooks use sharp implements to push chunks of meat down into cauldrons (21.55-7). Consistent with the political theme of the episode, it is likely that Dante mischievously combines history and fantasy in coining names for individual demons-- "Bad Dog", "Sneering Dragon", "Curly Beard", and so on--based on actual family names of civic leaders in Florence and surrounding towns. As the narrator says, "with saints in church, with guzzlers in the tavern!" (Inf. 22.14-15).
Malacoda, the leader of the demons, may not be based on any particular person but his name--"Evil Tail"--strongly suggests that it is he (and not Barbariccia, as the Mandelbaum translation supposes) who sends off his troops by making "a bugle of his ass" (21.139).
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Ciampolo (22)
Ciampolo Ciampolo Ciampolo's escape
Ciampolo (an Italianized version of Jean-Paul), according to the early commentators, is the name of the Navarrese who is tortured by the Malebranche in the fifth pit (political corruption) before a clever escape: he promises to summon his peers to the surface but then jumps back into the black pitch as soon as the Malebranche back off (Inf. 22.31-123). Nothing else is known of this character beyond what Dante provides in the poem. Navarre was a small kingdom in the south of France (in the Pyrenees), and the "good King Thibault" in whose service Ciampolo took bribes (Inf. 22.52-4) was probably Thibault II (King of Navarre from 1255-70).
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Caiaphas (23)
Caiaphas Hypocrites Hypocrites Caiaphas
Caiaphas is the high priest of Jerusalem who, according to Christian scripture, advises a council of chief priests and Pharisees that it is expedient that "one man should die for the people" so that "the whole nation perish not" (John 11:50). Considering this proclaimed interest in the welfare of his people to be false and self-serving, Dante places Caiaphas among the hypocrites in the sixth pit, with an added contrapasso: because Caiaphas and other members of the council (including Caiaphas' father-in-law, Annas) supposedly called on the Romans to crucify Jesus (John 18:12-40; 19:1-18), they are now themselves crucified to the floor of the pit (Inf. 23.109-20). Here Dante endorses the repugnant view of Jesus' crucifixion as justification for the persecution of Jews (Inf. 23.121-3).
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Malebolge (18)
This is the name Dante gives to circle 8, which consists of ten concentric ravines or ditches: male means "evil" and bolgia is a Tuscan dialect word for "purse" or "pouch." Malebolge therefore translates to "Evil Pouches." Dante describes the overall structure of circle 8--similar to moats (with connecting bridges) around a castle--in Inferno 18.1-18, even before the travelers pass through the region. Dante likely saw the layout of the entire Malebolge when he descended aboard Geryon from circle 7 to circle 8 (Inf. 17.115-26).
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Simon Magus (19)
Simon Magus, the original simonist (Inf. 19.1), is described in the Bible as a man from Samaria famous for his magical powers (magus means wizard or magician). Recently converted and baptized, Simon is so impressed with the ability of the apostles Peter and John to confer the Holy Spirit (through the laying on of hands) that he offers them money to obtain and practice this power himself; Peter angrily denounces Simon for even thinking this gift could be bought (Acts 8:9-24). An apocryphal book, Acts of Peter, tells of a magic contest between the apostle and Simon, now the magician of the emperor Nero in Rome. When Simon--with the aid of a demon--proceeds to fly, Peter crosses himself and Simon crashes to the ground.
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Pope Boniface VIII
Boniface, for Dante, is personal and public enemy number one. Benedetto Caetani, a talented and ambitious scholar of canon law, rose quickly through the ranks of the church and was elected pope, as Boniface VIII, soon after the abdication of Pope Celestine V in 1294. (There were rumors that Boniface had intimidated Celestine into abdicating so he could become pope himself.) Boniface's pontificate was marked by a consolidation and expansion of church power, based on the view--expressed in a papal bull (Unam sanctam)--that the pope was not only the spiritual head of Christendom but also superior to the emperor in the secular, temporal realm. Dante, by contrast, firmly held that the pope and emperor should be co-equals with a balance of power between the pope's spiritual authority and the emperor's secular authority. Boniface's political ambitions directly affected Dante when the pope--under the false pretense of peace-making--sent Charles of Valois, a French prince, to Florence; Charles' intervention allowed the black guelphs to overthrow the ruling white guelphs, whose leaders--including Dante, in Rome at the time to argue Florence's case before Boniface--were sentenced to exile. Dante now settles his score with Boniface in the Divine Comedy by damning the pope even before his death in 1303 (the journey takes place in 1300): in the pit of the simonists, Pope Nicholas III, who can see the future (like all the damned), mistakenly assumes that Dante is Boniface come before his time (Inf. 19.49-63).
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Pope Clement V (19)
Pope Nicholas III, the simonist pope who mistakes Dante for Pope Boniface VIII, foresees the arrival of another simonist--even "uglier in deeds" (Inf. 19.82)--who will stuff Nicholas and Boniface farther down in the hole when he takes his place upside down with his legs and feet in view. This "lawless shepherd from the west" (83) is Bertrand de Got, a French archbishop who owed his election to the papacy in 1305, as Pope Clement V, to King Philip IV of France, similar to how Jason--a figure in the Bible (2 Maccabees 4:7-26)--became High Priest by bribing King Antiochus (85-7). In return for this support, Clement moved the Papal See from Rome to Avignon (in southern France) in 1309, an action so abhorrent to many (Dante for sure) that it came to be known as the "Babylonian Captivity." This situation lasted until 1377, after which there were sometimes two popes (or pope and anti-pope, according to one's perspective), one each in Rome and France. The "Great Schism" ended in 1417 with the definitive return of the papacy to Rome.
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Donation of Constantine (19)
It was believed in the late Middle Ages that Constantine, the first Christian emperor (288-337 C.E.), transferred political control of Italy (and other parts of the West) to the church when he moved the capital of the empire from Rome to Byzantium--hence "Constantinople"--in the East. Legend held that Constantine gave this gift to Pope Sylvester I, whose baptism of the emperor had cured him of leprosy. Dante, who thought the world better served with political power in the hands of the emperor, bitterly blamed this event for the dire consequences of a wealthy papacy (Inf. 19.115-7). The document that authorized this transfer of power--popularly called the "Donation of Constantine"--was proved by Lorenzo Valla in the fifteenth century to be a fake, probably written in the papal court or in France several centuries after Constantine's death.
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Mantua (20)
After Virgil identifies the prophetess Manto (daughter of Tiresias) in the pit of the sorcerers and astrologers, he goes to great pains to explain how his native city--Mantua--was in fact named after Manto for the simple reason that she had lived and died in the place before it was inhabited by other people (Inf. 20.52-93). The city was thus named, Virgil tells Dante, with no recourse to chance or magic (drawing lots, augury, divination, etc.). It may well be that Dante here allows Virgil, who himself enjoyed a widespread reputation in the Middle Ages for wizard-like powers, an opportunity to disassociate his city--and, by extension, himself--from the sort of activity punished in the fourth ditch. Virgil's association with magic could derive, for instance, from his eighth Eclogue, a poem in which a jealous female shepherd employs witchcraft to try to win back her lover: "Fetch water and around this altar wind soft wool / And burn the sappy vervain and male frankincense, / For by these magical rituals I hope to turn / My sweetheart's sanity; only spells are lacking now" (64-7). The woman then creates her own magical incantation by chanting the refrain, "Draw Daphnis back from town, my spells, draw Daphnis home." However, perjury may be the price for Virgil's attempt to exonerate himself from accusations of sorcery. Although Virgil insists that his version of the founding of Mantua in Inferno 20 is the only true version--any other account would be a falsehood (97-9)--a different version appears in, of all places, the Aeneid: in book 10 of his epic, Virgil explicitly attributes both the founding and the naming of Mantua to Manto's son Ocnus, a Tuscan warrior who comes to the aid of Aeneas in the Italian wars: "There, too, another chieftain comes who from / his native coasts has mustered squadrons: Ocnus, / the son of prophesying Manto and / the Tuscan river; Mantua, he gave you / walls and his mother's name--o Mantua . . ." (278-82). While this account by the author of the Aeneid does not contradict the claim by the Virgil of Dante's Inferno that Mantua was named "without recourse to sorcery," it is nonetheless an example of the "city's origin told otherwise."
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Harrowing of Hell (21)
Malacoda indirectly alludes to Christ's "harrowing of hell" when he states that the bridge on which Virgil and Dante are travelling does not span the next ditch (the sixth). This section of the bridge, according to Malacoda, collapsed during the earthquake that shook the underworld "five hours from this hour yesterday, one thousand two-hundred and sixty-six years ago" (Inf. 21.112-14). Assuming (as Dante did) that Jesus died at noon on Good Friday at age thirty-four, we can date the journey to the year 1300. Virgil's own recollection of this earthquake and the subsequent harrowing (Inf. 4.52-63; 12.34-45) may help explain his otherwise questionable judgment in accepting Malacoda's offer of safe passage--with an escort of ten devils--to a point where another bridge is supposedly intact.
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"se' tu già costì ritto, Bonifazio?" (19.53)
Are you already standing there, upright, Boniface?
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"che sù l'avere e qui me misi in borsa" (19.72)
wealth up above, and myself here, I put in a pouch
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"Qui vive la pietà quand' è ben morta" (20.28)
Here lives pity when it is good and dead
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"la verità nulla menzogna frodi" (20.99)
let no falsehood cheat the truth
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"Posa, posa, Scarmiglione!" (21.105)
Down, down, Scarmiglione!
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"ed elli avea del cul fatto trombetta" (21.139)
and of his ass he had made a trumpet
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Study Questions
Use 18.1-18 to draw an image of Malebolge for yourself.
How do you understand the contrapasso for the simonists in canto 19?
Why is Dante so upset by the image of the contorted sorcerers and magicians (canto 20)?
What are possible implications of Virgil's differing versions of the founding of Mantua in Aeneid 10 and Inferno 20.52-99?
Find as many examples as possible of deception--individuals tricking one another--in cantos 21-3.
How do the events of these cantos--the longest single episode of the Inferno and the "comedy" of the Comedy--affect the relationship between Dante and Virgil?
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