Dante’s Inferno: Chapter 18 Retelling — Panders and Seducers; Flatterers

Chapter 18: Panders and Seducers; Flatterers

At this point, Dante had seen seven of the nine Circles of the Inferno, as well as the Vestibule of Hell, where the uncommitted were punished. He had seen the first Circle of Hell: Limbo, the residence of the virtuous pagans and the unbaptized. He had seen the four Circles (2-5) devoted to punishing the sinners who were guilty of incontinence in lust, gluttony, hoarding money and wasting money, and anger. He had seen Circle 6, which is devoted to punishing the sinners who are guilty of heresy. And he had seen Circle 7, which punishes the violent in three different areas: 1) The river of boiling blood punishes the physically violent, 2) The grubby wood punishes the suicides, and it punishes those who had violently wasted their wealth and then courted death, and 3) The burning desert punishes those who were directly violent against God through blasphemy, those who were indirectly violent against God by doing violence to Nature, which had been created by God, through sodomy, and those who were indirectly violent against God by doing violence through rejecting God’s laws regarding lending money at interest.

Now only two Circles remained. Circle 8 punishes those sinners who are guilty of simple fraud. Fraud involves the willful use of misrepresentation to deprive another person of his or her rights. For example, someone can claim to be able to foretell the future and charge people money to be told the future. Simple fraud is fraud, but it is not committed against those to whom one has a special obligation of trust.

Circle 9 punishes the worst sinners of all: those who are guilty of complex fraud. Complex fraud is fraud committed against those to whom one has a special obligation of trust. Sinners who commit complex fraud are traitors of various kinds: e.g., traitors to kin/family, traitors to government, traitors to guests, or traitors to God.

As Dante and Virgil descended from Circle 7 to Circle 8 on the back of Geryon, Dante had an aerial view of Circle 8. He saw that it was divided into 10 ditches or valleys or pockets that are known as the Malebolge, a plural word that means “evil pockets” or “evil pouches.” They may be called that because the sinners here regard everything as being for sale. They wish to pocket money.

Each Malebolgia punishes a different kind of sinner who committed simple fraud, and some Malebolge punish two kinds of sinners whose sins are related.

Dante remembered what Virgil had told him earlier about Circle 8: “Ten kinds of sinners engage in simple fraud:

“One, Seducers and Panders,

“Two, Flatterers,

“Three, Simonists,

“Four, Fortune-Tellers and Sorcerers,

“Five, Grafters — those who give or accept bribes,

“Six, Hypocrites,

“Seven, Thieves,

“Eight, Evil Deceivers/Those Who Misuse Great Gifts,

“Nine, Schismatics: Those who caused divisions (in families and in religion), and

“Ten, Falsifiers, including Counterfeiters.”

As Dante looked around as Geryon descended in Circles, he noticed that bridges crossed over the Malebolge like the spokes of a wheel; however, he could see that at least one bridge over the sixth evil pocket was broken — he did not have time to look at all of the bridges.

After Dante and Virgil had gotten off Geryon’s back and Geryon had sped away, they walked to see the sinners in the first evil pocket. Here Dante saw his first horned devils of the Inferno. They were cruelly whipping the naked sinners as they walked, and they rejoiced in their work.

Dante saw a face that seemed familiar, so he looked closely at him. The sinner saw him and lowered his face in an attempt to keep from being recognized, but Dante recognized him anyway.

Virgil thought, The sinners deep in the Inferno have committed worse sins than those who are high in the Inferno. For this reason, many of them don’t want to be remembered on Earth. And, of course, misrepresentation is a part of fraud. These sinners may be trying to keep whatever good reputation they have on Earth.

Dante said to the sinner, “I know you. You are Venedico Caccianemico. Why are you being punished in this evil pocket?”

Venedico Caccianemico knew that he had been recognized and that Dante would soon know his story even if he said nothing, so he answered Dante’s question: “I used my own sister to advance myself. I let the Marquis of Este sleep with my sister, who was named Ghisolabella. As you can now tell, I am a pander.

“I am from the city of Bologna, and many more people from my city are here.”

A devil whipped Venedico Caccianemico’s back and told him, “Keep walking! No women are here for pimps like you to sell.”

Dante and Virgil moved on and saw a second group of sinners walking in the opposite direction that the first group was walking. The first group of sinners consisted of panders or pimps; the second group of sinners consisted of seducers. The two sins are related in that both involve unethical sex, and so both kinds of sinners are punished in the first Malebolge.

Virgil told Dante, “Look at the imposing sinner coming toward us. He suffers pain, but he does not cry. He is Jason, of Jason and the Argonauts fame. He set out in the Argo, the first ship, to find the Golden Fleece, and he achieved his objective. He is a seducer. As a seducer he would sleep with women, then abandon them when he found it convenient to do so. He slept with Hypsipyle, and then he abandoned her when she was pregnant. She had twins. He married and had children with Medea, but then he abandoned her when someone he thought was better came along: Creusa, the daughter of Creon, the King of Corinth. Medea killed their children in response.

“We have seen enough here. These sinners caused pain to others, and now they feel pain. Let us move on.”

On the bridge crossing the second evil pocket, Dante and Virgil looked down at the sinners in the pocket, from which was arising a nauseating stench, and there they saw the flatterers. While they were alive, out of their mouths had come metaphorical crap: flattery. Now that they were dead in Hell, they were covered with literal crap: human excrement.

Dante saw a sinner’s head that was so covered with crap that he was unable to tell if the sinner were a priest or a layman.

The sinner shouted at Dante, “Why do you stare at me more than at these other sinners?”

Dante knew the man then, and he replied, “I know you. You are Alessio Interminei from Lucca, and while you were alive you were known for your flattery.”

Alessio Interminei replied, “Because of my continual flatteries while I was alive, I am stuck in this evil pocket.”

Virgil then said to Dante, “Look at this woman here. She is scratching herself with her shitty fingernails — please forgive my use of this kind of language, for it is quite appropriate in Hell. This woman is Thaïs the whore, who flattered her lover when he asked whether he deserved her thanks after he gave her a gift. She told him, ‘You incredibly deserve my thanks.’

“We have seen enough here. Let us move on.”

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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