Dante’s Inferno: Canto 16 Retelling —The Violent Against Nature (Continued)

Chapter 16: The Violent Against Nature (Continued)

Now Dante and Virgil could hear a waterfall in the distance, indicating that they were approaching the boundary of this Circle and would have to soon find a way down to the next Circle: Circle 8.

At this point three sodomites saw Dante and broke away from their group and started running toward him, shouting, “By your clothing, you seem to come from our city: polluted Florence! Stop and speak with us for a while.”

Dante looked at them and saw their wounds from the falling flakes of flame. Some wounds were old, and many wounds were new. Clearly, these souls had suffered and were suffering.

Virgil heard the shout and looked at the three sinners coming toward Dante and him. He told Dante, “I recognize these sinners, and they are worthy of your respect. If not for the burning plain, you should be running toward them.”

The three sodomites arrived, and they formed a circle and kept running to avoid the punishment of lying on the sand for 100 years, unable to brush away the flames from their body. In the circle they moved the way that a professional wrestler, oiled and naked, will move as he looks over his opponent to see which grip will be best before the real wrestling action begins. As they ran in the circle, each sinner kept his eyes on Dante.

“If our punishment makes you less willing to speak to us,” one sinner said, “perhaps our great fame on Earth will lead you to speak with us. We would like to know who you are, and how you — a living man — are able to walk through Hell.

“The sinner is front of me is Guido Guerra, a warrior and advisor. In 1260, the Florentine Guelfs attacked Sienna and lost. Guido Guerra advised the Florentine Guelfs not to attack Siena at Montaperti.

“The sinner behind me is Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, who also advised the Florentine Guelfs not to attack Siena at Montaperti. He knew that many mercenaries had joined the Sienese forces and therefore were very likely to be victorious in the battle.

“As all Florentines now know, they should have accepted these men’s advice. The Sienese won the Battle of Montaperti. Farinata, who is punished among the heretics, was one of the generals of the Sienese and their allied forces.

“I am Jacopo Rusticucci, and I was wealthy. My wife was unpleasant, and I sent her home to her father. She was reluctant to do what I wanted her to do, and I blame my sodomy on her.”

Dante knew the biographies of these sinners, and he respected them. Guilty they were of sodomy, but they had been good patriots who loved Florence and wanted the best for her, just like Dante. He would have joined them, but the burning sand prevented him from going to them.

Dante said to the sinners, “I feel grief for the punishment you are suffering. As you think, I am from Florence, your city, and I have heard much about you and about your love for her and about your accomplishments.

“I am on a journey to a better place, but first I must walk through Hell, going down to the very center of the Earth and thus to the bottom of the Inferno.”

“Please tell us about Florence,” Jacopo Rusticucci requested. “Are Florentines filled with courtesy and valor, or are these qualities no longer found in the city?

“We have heard from a newly arrived sinner, Guglielmo Borsiere, that Florence is in bad shape.”

“You have heard truly,” Dante said. “Newly rich people encourage pride and encourage unrestraint and make Florence weep.”

All three sinners said, “Thank you for so clearly answering the question. You are fortunate in being able to speak so clearly and so well. If you are equally fortunate in being able to return to the Land of the Living, keep our memory alive among living men.”

The three sinners then raced to rejoin their group.

Virgil and Dante continued walking, and the sound of the waterfall grew much louder, making it difficult for them to hear what the other spoke. They had reached the pit again and needed to go down to the next Circle.

Dante wore a cord around his waist to serve as a belt, much as the Franciscans did. He had thought earlier to use it to catch the leopard that was keeping him in the dark wood of error and keeping him from ascending to the light — his self-confidence was too abundant and too foolish then.

Virgil requested that cord, and Dante untied it and handed it to him. Virgil then threw it into the abyss.

Dante thought, We will see something strange soon. The cord is a signal.

Virgil has many powers. One power is to always know what time it is by the location of the heavenly bodies such as the Sun and the Moon and the planets even though the Inferno is always dark. Another is great strength. And yet another is to know what Dante is thinking.

Virgil said to Dante, “As you think, soon you will see something strange — something that will respond to my signal.” Almost immediately, Dante saw a figure rising from below through the air. The figure appeared to be swimming in the air.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce

This is an excerpt from Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Retelling in Prose by David Bruce, available here:

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