The Divine Comedy | Inferno | Canto 6

Circle 3
Dante wakes and find himself in the middle of a horrible rainfall. It is endless

… chill, accursed and heavy,
its rate and composition never new.
Snow, massive hailstones, black, tainted water
pour down in sheets through tenebrae of air.
The earth absorbs it all and stinks, revoltingly.
(Lines 7-12)

It seems things could only have been worse for Dante had he mentioned that he had a hole in one of his shoes, or a hole in both of them. Fortunately, that appears not to have been the case.

Amidst the ugly weather, though, I was interested to see the word ‘tenebrae’. It is Latin for shadows or darkness and is a word I am used to seeing, albeit in a very different setting: during the Easter Triduum every year. In this context, Tenebrae is a service that takes place on Holy Wednesday or Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. During it, psalms are sung and candles in the sanctuary put out one by one until the church is covered in darkness – hence the service’s name. The use of the word here, therefore, makes me think of the death of Jesus, which puts me in mind of the sin of Mankind, which, considering where Dante is right now, is very appropriate.

Dante’s first encounter in Circle 3 is with Cerberus, the three-headed dog, which is busy tearing apart the souls of the damned who reside there. They, of course, are just shadows but that is not stopping Cerberus one jot.

Upon seeing Dante and Virgil, Cerberus

… stretched his jaws; [and] showed us all his fangs
(Line 23)

making poor Dante quail. Virgil is less flustered. He leans down, scoops up some dirt in either hand and throws it at the mutt (and he is just a mutt – in line 28 Dante describes him as being a ‘hungry mongrel’). Virgil’s intention is not to hurt Cerberus. Far from it. The dirt is food for the three headed monstrosity. He starts to eat it and the travellers take their opportunity to pass by him and continue on their way.

As they walk, Dante and Virgil step on the ‘voided nothings [of] only seeming men’ (line 36), which is a great line and insult to use among your more intelligent friends.

One of the voided nothings rises up.

‘You there! Drawn onwards through this stretch of Hell,
tell me you know me. Say so, if you can.
(Line 40-41)

Dante claims not to recognise the man, so he introduces himself as Hoggo. This is actually a nickname that refers to the man’s gluttony and the reason why he, and everyone else in this circle, is there.

Hoggo claims to have lived in Dante’s hometown, Florence, so Dante takes the opportunity to ask him if some other Florentines that he knows – probably ones he didn’t like – are also in hell. They are, Hoggo says, but further down. Dante also asks Hoggo to prophecy

‘… tell me, if you can, where they’ll all end,
the citizens of that divided town?
Is there among them any honest man?
Why is that place assailed by so much strife?’
(Lines 60-63)

His question is a very pertinent one. Dante was a politician and was exiled from the city as a result of its political battles. Sadly, Hoggy does not have much good news for him. Yes, some of the trouble makers will be overthrown – but they’ll only be replaced by others like them. It is not, though, all bad news. Of the new party

… two are honest yet not heard.
For pride and avarice and envy are
the three fierce sparks that set all hearts ablaze.
(Lines 73-75)

Who are those two? I’m afraid I’ve not been able to find out. After taking their leave of Hoggo, or Ciacco, to give him his proper name, Dante and Virgil have a short conversation regarding what will happen to the souls of the Damned at the End. Needless to say, it is nothing good. It seems their only change will be that they’ll suffer in embodied, rather than purely spirit, form. Oh dear.


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