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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes
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How much worse can Hell get? Dante begins the next canto
with a direct address to you, the reader. He says the next sight,
bowge ix, which houses the Sowers of Discord, is so awful
that he is not sure any words will describe it. He claims if all
the wounded in a long list of battles were to display their
wounds and pieces and blood, the sight would not be as
horrible as the one he meets here.

The sinners are continually cut apart by a demon with a
bloody sword. After each wounding, the sinner must travel
around the circle, dragging his own severed part. As the sinner
proceeds, the parts heal and he returns full circle, only to be
hacked apart again. The severing sword is a fairly obvious
symbolic retribution for those who have used their intellect to
separate those meant to be united. Each suffers according to
the severity of the sin.

Dante sees one sinner cut down the middle. Don't read this
section before eating, because Dante spares none of the details
or the coarse language as he describes the exposed digestive
tract and all its now-dangling parts. This is Muhammad (or
Mahomet), the leader of the schism between Christianity and
Islam. In front of him is his son-in-law, Ali, whose head is
split open. These are Sowers of Religious Discord. It is not
hard to guess Dante's opinion of this religious group from the
description he offers. (Obviously not very ecumenical, Dante
wrote from strict Catholic doctrine.) Muhammad tells Dante
the particulars of this punishment and offers a warning to Fra
Dolcino, a supposed schismatic still alive on earth.

Dante sees another mutilated sinner. On this one, the nose has
been cut off, the ear lopped off, and the gullet pierced. This is
Pier da Medicina, and his wounds indicate his intrigues in
Romagna: the ear of the eavesdropper, the nose of the snoop,
and the throat of the liar. Pier is one of the Sowers of Civil
Discord. He speaks to Dante and asks him to take the message
of what he has seen to earth. While speaking, he shows Dante
the now-mute Curio, tongue hacked from his head for
advising Julius Caesar to cross the Rubicon. Mosca dei
Lamberti, severed hands held up and covering his face with
bloody clots, enters the conversation. Dante greets him with a
wish for a death to all of Mosca's family. (If you think Dante
is cruel to this sinner, wait a few cantos.)

Dante the author intercedes once again to warn you that the
next description sounds so unbelievable that he might be
tempted to doubt his own judgment, if he were not under such
powerful care. He claims that he can still see the sinner
running toward him, swinging his head in his hand like a
lantern. When the sinner, Bertrand de Born, reaches the
bridge, he tosses his head up in the air so it can talk to Dante,
who is standing on the bridge. Bertrand tells Dante his head
has been severed because he counseled a son to overthrow his

NOTE: What would Dante have thought of the blood-and-guts
in our movies and television shows? Dante is graphically
violent, but for the purpose of showing how repulsive man can
become. Can we so clearly justify the extent of the violence in
our entertainment?

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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes

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