Dante’s Inferno: Canto 34 Retelling — The Ultimate Evil

Chapter 34: The Ultimate Evil

Virgil said to Dante, “Vexilla regis prodeunt Inferni,” which means, “The banners of the king of the Inferno advance.”

Dante looked, and he saw what seemed to be a huge windmill in the distance. Coming from it were gusts of wind. When he would get closer, he would see that this was not a windmill, but instead the worst sinner of all time: Lucifer, the angel who rebelled against God. Creating the wind were the flapping bat-like wings of Lucifer. The more he flapped his wings in his attempt to escape from the ice, the harder the wind from his wings froze the ice, making his escape even more impossible.

Dante looked down, and he saw that now the sinners were completely encased in the ice in grotesque positions. Some lay flat. Some stood erect. Some were frozen in the ice standing on their heads. Some were frozen bent in the middle, with their heads near their feet.

Dante and Virgil kept walking, and Virgil said, “This is the worst sinner of all time. His name is Dis. His name is Lucifer. His name is Satan. Looking at him up close will take all the courage you have.”

Dante looked, and he saw that Lucifer was frozen in the ice up to the midpoint of his chest. Lucifer was once the fairest of all of the angels, but Dante saw that Lucifer was now the foulest of all beings. Lucifer had one head, but he had three faces — a perversion of the Holy Trinity. The face in the middle was red, the color of anger. The face on the right was white blended with yellow, the color of impotence. The face on the left was black, the color of ignorance.

Beneath each face were two wings like those of bats. Lucifer continually flapped his three sets of wings, keeping three winds howling in Circle 9 and keeping the lake frozen solid. Each face had two eyes, which continually cried. Each face had a mouth, and each mouth chewed on a sinner. Here were the three worst human sinners of all time.

“The sinner is the middle, whose feet are sticking out of Lucifer’s mouth, is the worst human sinner of all time: Judas, who betrayed the Son of God,” Virgil said. “The other two sinners, whose top halves are sticking out of Lucifer’s other mouths, are Cassius and Brutus.”

Cassius and Brutus are the second and third worst human sinners of all time, Virgil thought. God supported the formation of the Roman Empire and so the Roman Empire was divinely willed. The Roman Empire was known for its rule of law, and for its peace — the Pax Romana. By opposing the formation of the Roman Empire through their assassination of Julius Caesar, Brutus and Cassius were traitors to God. Thus, Brutus and Cassius were traitors to their benefactors, both spiritual and temporal. Also, by assassinating Julius Caesar, they ensured that more power struggles would come into existence and more people would be killed before the Roman Empire came into existence.

Virgil then said to Dante, “You have now seen all of the Inferno, so it is time for us to leave. Hold on to my neck, and I will carry you.”

As Virgil had asked him to, Dante held on to his neck, and Virgil climbed down Lucifer’s body, holding on the hair on Lucifer’s side and thigh. When he reached the midpoint of Lucifer’s body, where the thigh begins, Virgil turned and suddenly and surprisingly Dante felt that now they were moving upward. He thought at first that Virgil was climbing back toward Lucifer’s head but then he saw Lucifer’s legs rising upward. The sight reminded him of the simonists’ legs sticking out of the flaming holes that they had landed in.

Panting from the effort, Virgil said to Dante, “This is the only way that we can get to where we now need to go. A moment ago it was night; now it is day.”

They reached a cavern and rested. Dante asked Virgil to explain what had happened.

Virgil said, “We reached the center of the Earth when we reached Lucifer’s midpoint. We went from one side of the Earth to the other side and so night became day, and so instead of climbing down we began to climb up.”

Many of the sinners in the Inferno believe themselves to be the center of the universe, Virgil thought. Well, what is at the center of the universe? I know. It is Lucifer’s crotch.

“Now we are in the Southern Hemisphere, which is completely covered by water except for the Mountain of Purgatory,” Virgil continued. “When Lucifer was thrown out of Heaven, he fell to Earth directly opposite Jerusalem. All of the land rushed away from him in fear, some of it creating the Mountain of Purgatory, where we are going next, and some of it fleeing to the Northern Hemisphere.

“We now must climb upward. There is a passage in the rock through which a stream flows. The stream is Lethe, from which saved souls drink after they have climbed the Mountain of Purgatory. The saved souls drink from Lethe, which causes them to stop hurting from sin, although they remember that they have sinned and are grateful that God has forgiven them for their sins. The Inferno draws evil and sin and hurt to itself, so the stream — and the hurt of the sin — flows here.”

Dante and Virgil climbed upward, and they reached the surface of the earth again. The climb took a long time, and when they reached the surface, Dante saw that it was now night in the Southern Hemisphere. It was just before Easter Sunday, April 10, 1300. Dante looked up and saw the stars.

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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