Aristotle, Pagan Authority of a Christian Hell

  • the organizational template of Hell offers a dramatization of the principle of difference
  • the treatment of violence offers an implied positive evaluation of material goods
  • Dante cites the invented torments of his Inferno, thus intertwining his text with the “reality” of Hell
  • Dante’s strong personal connection to Aristotle’s works: “la tua Etica” (verse 80) and “la tua Fisica” (verse 101)
  • the word “incontinenza”, the technical Aristotelian analogue to vernacular “dismisura”: a non-dualistic template for vice and virtue
  • an exposition of the principle of mimesis, Christianized

Inferno 11 is not a dramatic canto. It can seem rather dry, since it is devoted to outlining the structure of Dante’s Hell. But Dante’s choices have juicy implications in both the narrative/diegetic and the ideological/cultural domains.

Narratologically, this canto reveals a canny and interesting choice on Dante’s part: he has delayed his exposition of the structure of Hell. Not until we are one-third of the way through Inferno does Dante offer us the organizational template of Hell. What are Dante’s reasons for postponing an explanation of the ideological basis of his Hell?

Ideologically, the structure that is now revealed is profoundly counter-intuitive. Rather than basing his Hell on a Christian template, for instance using the seven deadly sins, as we might have thought he was doing in the early circles (but see the commentary to Inferno 7, where I discuss the implications of including prodigality along with avarice in the fourth circle), here we learn that Dante chooses to base the organizational template for his Hell on . . . Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.

No previous (or subsequent) Christian afterlife vision invokes a classical philosopher as its authority.

In introducing the structure of his Hell, Dante uses the language of difference, the language of più e meno that will dominate much of Paradiso:

Inferno 11 [is] the canto that expounds difference, clustering quantifiers in an effort to give verbal shape to the hierarchy of hell: “tre cerchietti” (three little circles [17]), “primo cerchio” (first circle [28]), “tre gironi” (three
rings [30]), “lo giron primo” (the first ring [39]), “secondo /giron” (second ring [41-42]), “cerchio secondo” (second circle [57]). We find as well an impressive spate of the adverbs first used in canto 5 to render difference, più and meno: since fraud “più spiace a Dio” (displeases God more [26]), the fraudulent are assailed by “più dolor” (more suffering [27]); since incontinence, on the other hand, “men Dio offende e men biasimo accatta” (offends God less and incurs less blame [84]), God’s vengeance is “men crucciata” (less wrathful [89]) in smiting such sinners. We find expressions that convey difference geographically, dividing those who are below and within from those who are above and without: while the fraudulent “stan di sotto” (are below [26]), the incontinent are not within the city of Dis, “dentro da la città roggia” (inside the flaming city [73]) but “sù di fuor” (up outside [87]). We find phrases like “di grado in grado” (from grade to grade [18]) and “per diverse schiere” (in different groups [39]), and verbs that denote differentiation, such as distinguere and dipartire: the circle of violence “in tre gironi è distinto” (is divided into three rings [30]), and the incontinent are “dipartiti” (divided [89]) from the souls of lower hell. (The Undivine Comedy, p. 45)

Virgilio’s discourse in Inferno 11 is a great act of differentiation. When he is annoyed at the pilgrim in verses 76-77, he essentially asks how Dante can have failed to grasp the principle that underlies all created existence: the principle of difference. The lexicon of differentiation that saturates Inferno 11 will be reprised, strangely but coherently, in Paradiso, the canticle that focuses on creation and created existence.

The travelers have come to the edge of a steep cliff and, while acclimating the pilgrim’s nose to the stench that comes from below, Virgilio describes the structure of Hell. He makes an initial distinction between sins of violence and sins of fraud (“o con forza o con frode” in Inf. 11.24), indicating that fraud is more grievous and hence is the lowest of sins.

Virgilio then outlines the sins of violence, which will make up the seventh circle, in Inferno 11.28-51. He divides the sins of violence into three categories: violence against God, violence against oneself, and violence against one’s neighbor (Inf. 11.31). He further indicates that each category can be inflected in two ways: as violence against persons and as violence against possessions (Inf. 11.32). The result is that the seventh circle is subdivided into three rings, each of which houses two modalities of the same kind of violence:

VIOLENCE (Circle 7):

  • Ring 1: Violence against others, 1) in their persons and 2) in their possessions (Canto 12)
  • Ring 2: Violence against the self, 1) in one’s person and 2) in one’s possessions (Canto 13)
  • Ring 3: Violence against God, 1) in His person and 2) in His possessions (Canti 14-17). A further complexity, to which I return below, is that for the purposes of this taxonomy God has two “possessions” (nature and art), and that therefore there are three kinds of violence against God, rather than two.

The first two kinds of violence, violence against others and violence against the self, place a significant stress on possessions and material goods, very apparent in Dante’s language: “in lor cose” (in their things [Inf. 11.32]), “nel suo avere” (in his possessions [35]), and “ne’ suoi beni” (in his goods [41]). Both violence against others and violence against the self feature the abuse of material goods, which need to be protected from violent depredation. Material goods, in other words, are here viewed not as objects of disdain and reprehension, but rather as objects to be protected from human violence.

The positive evaluation of material goods that is implied by this taxonomy of violence is another indication of the Aristotelian mode of Inferno 11, a mode that distances Dante from a Franciscan approach toward material goods.

Beginning in Inferno 11.52, Virgilio deals with the sins of fraud, which he subdivides into fraud practiced against those with whom one does not have a special bond of trust (Circle 8), and fraud against those with whom one does have a special bond of trust (Betrayal, Circle 9). He outlines ten kinds of fraud that will be found in Circle 8 and concludes by telling Dante that the traitors of Circle 9 are with Lucifer (aka Satan or Dis, cf. “Dite” in Inf. 11.65), that is in the very bottom-most pit of Hell.

We remember that Virgilio had mentioned going to the very bottom of Hell in Inferno 9, when he explains to Dante that he was conjured by the sorceress Erichtho to go to the “cerchio di Giuda” (Judas’ circle [Inf. 9.27]), described as “’l più basso loco e ’l più oscuro, / e ’l più lontan dal ciel che tutto gira” (the deepest and the darkest place, / the farthest from the heaven that girds all [Inf. 9.28-29]). We now know that Virgilio went to the circle that houses traitors, which is located, according to Inferno 11, at “’l punto / de l’universo in su che Dite siede” (the point of the universe where Dis sits [Inf. 11.64-65]). And we know that the “cerchio minore” (smallest circle [Inf. 1164]) holds the soul of Judas, who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

The taxonomy of fraud is less complex than that of violence, since it does not boast the subdivision that inflects violence either against a person or against a possession. But fraud is massive: it dominates both Circle 8 and Circle 9. There are ten types of fraudulent sinners in Circle 8 alone, packed into verses 58-60: “ipocresia, lusinghe e chi affattura, / falsità, ladroneccio e simonia, / ruffian, baratti e simile lordura” (hypocrisy and flattery, sorcerers, / and falsifiers, simony, and theft, / and barrators and panders and like trash [Inf. 11.58-60]).

In narratological terms, fraud will occupy almost one-half the real estate of Hell: the pilgrim enters the eighth circle in Inferno 18 and leaves the ninth circle when he leaves Hell in Inferno 34.

After learning about fraud, the pilgrim interjects a question. He wants to know why the sinners that they have seen on their journey thus far are not within the city of Dis: “perché non dentro da la città roggia / sono ei puniti, se Dio li ha in ira?” (why are they not all punished in the city / of flaming red if God is angry with them? [Inf. 11.73-74]). Going back over the landscape of Hell that the reader has already traversed, Dante-poet now uses a shorthand based on what we have witnessed in the invented world of Dante’s own Hell. He has Virgilio refer to each sin of upper Hell by its Dantean contrapasso:

Ma dimmi: quei de la palude pingue, 
che mena il vento, e che batte la pioggia,
e che s’incontran con sì aspre lingue,
perché non dentro da la città roggia
sono ei puniti?                         (Inf. 11.70-74)

But tell me: those the dense marsh holds, or those
driven before the wind, or those on whom
rain falls, or those who clash with such harsh tongues,
why are they not all punished in the city
of flaming red if God is angry with them?   

Dante has in this way accounted for all the circles of upper Hell with the exception of the first, Limbo (which, like the sixth circle, heresy, is exclusively Christian and is not referenced in the Aristotelian accounting of Inferno 11).

The below breakdown of verses 70-72 highlights the periphrases that Dante deploys for each circle, based on his own invented infernal torment. We see that verses 70-72 of Inferno 11 recapitulate circles 2-5, albeit not in that order. Here are Dante’s periphrases for each circle, following the order of his composition:

  • Verse 70: “quei de la palude pingue” (those whom the dense marsh holds): a reference to Styx and therefore to the accidiosi and the wrathful = CIRCLE 5
  • Verse 71: “che mena il vento” (those whom the wind drives): a reference to the lustful = CIRCLE 2
  • Verse 71: “e che batte la pioggia” (those whom the rain beats): a reference to the gluttonous = CIRCLE 3
  • Verse 72: “e che s’incontran con sì aspre lingue” (and who clash with such harsh tongues): a reference to the misers and the prodigals = CIRCLE 4

We see here a beautiful example of the Dantean technique of intertwining the “reality” of his invented world with the “reality” of Hell.

Omitting reference to Limbo and to heresy, neither of which can be accommodated within an Aristotelian ethical template, Virgilio answers Dante’s question (why are the sins listed above not included within the city of Dis), by telling him to read his Ethics: “la tua Etica” (Inf. 11.80). “Recall your Ethics” is Virgilio’s way of telling Dante to recall Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, where Aristotle discusses the concept of vice that is rooted in excess desire. This is the lack of moderation that Aristotle calls “incontinence”. It turns out that the sins of upper Hell, those not enclosed by the city of Dis, are sins of incontinence.

Dante here uses the technical Aristotelian label “incontinence” (in its Latin translation): we find “incontinenza” in Inferno 11.82 and 83. In the Introduction to Inferno 7 I discussed the vernacular terms misura and dismisura, analogues of the Aristotelian continenza and incontinenza. As I noted in the commentary to Inferno 7, the use of the Aristotelian term has significant implications that are insufficiently appreciated by Dante criticism, which tends to lapse into dualistic structures that pit vice versus virtue. In such a scheme, desire is easily viewed as negative, as a conduit to vice. But the Aristotelian model of incontinence is not dualistic: it places virtue at the mid-point between extremes of vice.

In the Aristotelian model, vice partakes of the same impulse as virtue, but carries the impulse to an immoderate and excessive degree. For Aristotle, vicious behavior is distinguished from virtuous behavior by the incontinent degree to which the impulse is pursued, not by demonizing the impulse itself. In this context we can better understand that for Dante “desire is spiritual motion”: “disire / ch’è moto spiritale” (Purg. 18.31-32). Desire is an impulse that is not itself vicious in itself but is indeed essential to spiritual life.

In the last section of Inferno 11 Dante returns to the third kind of violence, violence against God, and to the implications built into the idea of “violence against God in His possessions”. For the purposes of this taxonomy God has two “possessions”, namely His “daughter”, nature, and nature’s daughter, God’s “grand-daughter”, human “arte”. “Vostra arte” in verse 103 is to be construed as all human techne, thus art in its broadest sense, including all human work, skills, crafts, and endeavors. Violence against nature is sodomy, while violence against human art is usury.

In verses 97-105, Dante explains the principle of mimesis (Greek) or imitatio (Latin). The first tenet is that nature “takes its course” from God. In other words, nature follows God: “natura lo suo corso prende / dal divino ’ntelletto e da sua arte” (nature takes her course from / the Divine Intellect and Divine Art [Inf. 11.99-100]). The second tenet is that, similarly, our human art follows nature:

l’arte vostra quella, quanto pote,
segue, come ’l maestro fa ’l discente;
sì che vostr’arte a Dio quasi è nepote. (Inf. 11.103-5) 

Your art follows nature, when it can
just as a pupil imitates his master;
so that your art is almost God’s grandchild. 

Dante expresses this principle more fully through a simile: he adds in verse 104 that our art follows nature in the way that a pupil follows a teacher. And, finally, the poet gives the principle of mimesis a genealogical twist, saying that our art is thus “almost God’s grandchild”: “vostr’arte a Dio quasi è nepote” (Inf. 11.105).

Dante has constructed a genealogy—nature is God’s child and human art is God’s grandchild—that is also a theory of art: we note the transition from the Divine Art in verse 100 to human art in verse 103. As such, it is a theory of realism that is essential for understanding Dante’s view of his own art. He is a poet who heroically strives to imitate nature/reality to the best of his ability, “sì che dal fatto il dir non sia diverso” (so that my word not differ from the fact [Inf. 32.12]).

We see here a Christianizing of the Aristotelian concept of mimesis, whereby art imitates nature. Dante had already alluded to this doctrine in a Christian context in his linguistic treatise De vulgari eloquentia, where he presents the building of the Tower of Babel by the biblical king Nembrot as an act of hubris. Nembrot’s arrogance involved trying “to surpass with his art not only nature, but also nature’s maker, who is God”:

Presumpsit ergo in corde suo incurabilis homo, sub persuasione gigantis Nembroth, arte sua non solum superare naturam, sed etiam ipsum naturantem, qui Deus est. (De vulgari eloquentia 1.7.4)

So uncurable man, persuaded by the giant Nembrot, presumed in his heart to surpass with his art not only nature, but also nature’s maker, who is God. 

In the linking of “art”, “nature”, and “nature’s maker, who is God”, Dante in De vulgari eloquentia effectively expounds the same doctrine that he later expounds in Inferno 11, without the genealogical language.

Dante’s grasp of the concept of mimesis does not come from Aristotle’s Poetics, a work that was not yet available in the West, but from the Physics. From Physics II, ii 194a was extracted the idea that was distilled in medieval anthologies as follows: “ars imitatur naturam in quantum potest” (art imitates nature as far as it can).

When the pilgrim wants to understand better how usury can be construed as a form of violence against God, Virgilio therefore tells him to read Aristotle’s Physics. Having previously instructed Dante to read Aristotle’s Ethics, Virgilio now sends him to yet another Aristotelian text: “la tua Fisica” (Inf. 11.101). As with “la tua Etica” in verse 80, Virgilio again prefaces the philosopher’s title with the pronoun “tua” (your).

With this pronoun—“tua” or “your” attached first to Aristotle’s Ethics and then to his Physics—Dante indicates the profound personal connection, affective and intellective, that binds him to Aristotle’s thought.

At the very end of Inferno 11 Virgilio glosses the concept of usury further by invoking Genesis:

Da queste due, se tu ti rechi a mente 
lo Genesì dal principio, convene 
prender sua vita e avanzar la gente;
e perché l’usuriere altra via tene, 
per sé natura e per la sua seguace 
dispregia, poi ch’in altro pon la spene. (Inf. 11.106-11)

From these two, art and nature, it is fitting, 
if you recall how Genesis begins, 
for men to make their way, to gain their living;
and since the usurer prefers another 
pathway, he scorns both nature in herself 
and art, her follower; his hope is elsewhere.

We see that Dante explicitly evokes “lo Genesì dal principio” in verse 107. Moreover, in the above verses, Dante effectively uses Aristotle’s categories of nature and art, as derived from the Physics, in order to gloss Genesis. He refers to “queste due” (these two), meaning nature and art, in verse 106 and then states climactically in verses 110-11 that the usurer “per sé natura e per la sua seguace / dispregia” (scorns both nature in herself and art, her follower).

The final section of Inferno 11 thus literally brings together Aristotle and the Bible: in verse 101 we find a reference to the Physics and in verse 107 a reference to Genesis. The passage also offers a reading of Genesis in the light of Aristotle.

The convergence of Aristotle with Genesis at the end of Inferno 11 is an extraordinary testament to the Commedia’s richly multicultural program, here evidenced in Dante’s unique treatment of the organizational structure of hell.

Appendix

Outline of the Structure of Hell, as Presented in Inferno 11

— Circle 1: Limbo (Inferno 4): not discussed in Inferno 11

— Circles 2-5: Sins of Incontinence:

lust (Inferno 5), gluttony (Inferno 6), avarice & prodigality (Inferno 7), tristitia (end of Inferno 7) & anger (Inferno 8)

— Circle 6: Heresy (Inferno 10)

— Circle 7: Violence, subdivided as follows:

Violence against one’s neighbor (Inferno 12): in her or his person, e.g. murder; in her or his possessions, e.g. robbery

Violence against oneself (Inferno 13): in one’s person, e.g. suicide; in one’s possessions, e.g. squandering

Violence against God: in God’s person, e.g. blasphemy (Inferno 14); in God’s possessions: Violence against God’s “daughter”, nature, e.g. sodomy (Inferno 15-16); Violence against God’s “granddaughter”, human “art” (skill, endeavor), e.g. usury (Inferno 17)

— Circle 8: Fraud, practiced against those who have no reason to trust you, broken down into 10 categories:

seduction (Inferno 18), flattery (Inferno 18), simony (Inferno 19), false prophesy (Inferno 20), barratry (Inferno 21-22), hypocrisy (Inferno 23), thievery (Inferno 24-25), false counsel (Inferno 26-27), sowing of discord (Inferno 28), falsifers of metals, persons, coins, and words (Inferno 29-30)

— Circle 9: Fraud, practiced against those who have reason to trust you, i.e. Betrayal, divided into 4 categories:

Betrayal of family (Inferno 32), of political party (Inferno 32-33), of guests (Inferno 33), and of benefactors (Inferno 34)

Coordinated Reading

The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 2, “Infernal Incipits,” pp. 45-47; “Medieval Multiculturalism and Dante’s Theology of Hell,” in Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture; “Aristotle’s Mezzo, Courtly Misura, and Dante’s Canzone Le dolci rime: Humanism, Ethics, and Social Anxiety,” in Dante and the Greeks, ed. Jan Ziolkowski (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), pp. 163-79.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Inferno 11: Aristotle, Pagan Authority of a Christian Hell.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/inferno/inferno-11/

About the Commento

1 In su l’estremità d’un’alta ripa
2 che facevan gran pietre rotte in cerchio,
3 venimmo sopra più crudele stipa;

4 e quivi, per l’orribile soperchio
5 del puzzo che ’l profondo abisso gitta,
6 ci raccostammo, in dietro, ad un coperchio

7 d’un grand’ avello, ov’ io vidi una scritta
8 che dicea: ‘Anastasio papa guardo,
9 lo qual trasse Fotin de la via dritta’.

10 «Lo nostro scender conviene esser tardo,
11 sì che s’ausi un poco in prima il senso
12 al tristo fiato; e poi no i fia riguardo».

13 Così ’l maestro; e io «Alcun compenso»,
14 dissi lui, «trova che ’l tempo non passi
15 perduto». Ed elli: «Vedi ch’a ciò penso».

16 «Figliuol mio, dentro da cotesti sassi»,
17 cominciò poi a dir, «son tre cerchietti
18 di grado in grado, come que’ che lassi.

19 Tutti son pien di spirti maladetti;
20 ma perché poi ti basti pur la vista,
21 intendi come e perché son costretti.

22 D’ogne malizia, ch’odio in cielo acquista,
23 ingiuria è ’l fine, ed ogne fin cotale
24 o con forza o con frode altrui contrista.

25 Ma perché frode è de l’uom proprio male,
26 più spiace a Dio; e però stan di sotto
27 li frodolenti, e più dolor li assale.

28 Di vïolenti il primo cerchio è tutto;
29 ma perché si fa forza a tre persone,
30 in tre gironi è distinto e costrutto.

31 A Dio, a sé, al prossimo si pòne
32 far forza, dico in loro e in lor cose,
33 come udirai con aperta ragione.

34 Morte per forza e ferute dogliose
35 nel prossimo si danno, e nel suo avere
36 ruine, incendi e tollette dannose;

37 onde omicide e ciascun che mal fiere,
38 guastatori e predon, tutti tormenta
39 lo giron primo per diverse schiere.

40 Puote omo avere in sé man vïolenta
41 e ne’ suoi beni; e però nel secondo
42 giron convien che sanza pro si penta

43 qualunque priva sé del vostro mondo,
44 biscazza e fonde la sua facultade,
45 e piange là dov’ esser de’ giocondo.

46 Puossi far forza nella deïtade,
47 col cor negando e bestemmiando quella,
48 e spregiando natura e sua bontade;

49 e però lo minor giron suggella
50 del segno suo e Soddoma e Caorsa
51 e chi, spregiando Dio col cor, favella.

52 La frode, ond’ ogne coscïenza è morsa,
53 può l’omo usare in colui che ’n lui fida
54 e in quel che fidanza non imborsa.

55 Questo modo di retro par ch’incida
56 pur lo vinco d’amor che fa natura;
57 onde nel cerchio secondo s’annida

58 ipocresia, lusinghe e chi affattura,
59 falsità, ladroneccio e simonia,
60 ruffian, baratti e simile lordura.

61 Per l’altro modo quell’ amor s’oblia
62 che fa natura, e quel ch’è poi aggiunto,
63 di che la fede spezïal si cria;

64 onde nel cerchio minore, ov’ è ’l punto
65 de l’universo in su che Dite siede,
66 qualunque trade in etterno è consunto».

67 E io: «Maestro, assai chiara procede
68 la tua ragione, e assai ben distingue
69 questo baràtro e ’l popol ch’e’ possiede.

70 Ma dimmi: quei de la palude pingue,
71 che mena il vento, e che batte la pioggia,
72 e che s’incontran con sì aspre lingue,

73 perché non dentro da la città roggia
74 sono ei puniti, se Dio li ha in ira?
75 e se non li ha, perché sono a tal foggia?».

76 Ed elli a me «Perché tanto delira»,
77 disse, «lo ’ngegno tuo da quel che sòle?
78 o ver la mente dove altrove mira?

79 Non ti rimembra di quelle parole
80 con le quai la tua Etica pertratta
81 le tre disposizion che ’l ciel non vole,

82 incontenenza, malizia e la matta
83 bestialitade? e come incontenenza
84 men Dio offende e men biasimo accatta?

85 Se tu riguardi ben questa sentenza,
86 e rechiti a la mente chi son quelli
87 che sù di fuor sostegnon penitenza,

88 tu vedrai ben perché da questi felli
89 sien dipartiti, e perché men crucciata
90 la divina vendetta li martelli».

91 «O sol che sani ogni vista turbata,
92 tu mi contenti sì quando tu solvi,
93 che, non men che saver, dubbiar m’aggrata.

94 Ancora in dietro un poco ti rivolvi»,
95 diss’ io, «là dove di’ ch’usura offende
96 la divina bontade, e ’l groppo solvi».

97 «Filosofia», mi disse, «a chi la ’ntende,
98 nota, non pure in una sola parte,
99 come natura lo suo corso prende

100 dal divino ’ntelletto e da sua arte;
101 e se tu ben la tua Fisica note,
102 tu troverai, non dopo molte carte,

103 che l’arte vostra quella, quanto pote,
104 segue, come ’l maestro fa ’l discente;
105 sì che vostr’ arte a Dio quasi è nepote.

106 Da queste due, se tu ti rechi a mente
107 lo Genesì dal principio, convene
108 prender sua vita e avanzar la gente;

109 e perché l’usuriere altra via tene,
110 per sé natura e per la sua seguace
111 dispregia, poi ch’in altro pon la spene.

112 Ma seguimi oramai, che ’l gir mi piace;
113 ché i Pesci guizzan su per l’orizzonta,
114 e ’l Carro tutto sovra ’l Coro giace,

115 e ’l balzo via là oltra si dismonta».

Along the upper rim of a high bank
formed by a ring of massive broken boulders,
we came above a crowd more cruelly pent.

And here, because of the outrageous stench
thrown up in excess by that deep abyss,
we drew back till we were behind the lid

of a great tomb, on which I made out this,
inscribed: “I hold Pope Anastasius,
enticed to leave the true path by Photinus.”

“It would be better to delay descent
so that our senses may grow somewhat used
to this foul stench; and then we can ignore it.”

So said my master, and I answered him:
“Do find some compensation, lest this time
be lost.” And he: “You see, I’ve thought of that.”

“My son, within this ring of broken rocks,”
he then began, “there are three smaller circles;
like those that you are leaving, they range down.

Those circles are all full of cursed spirits;
so that your seeing of them may suffice,
learn now the how and why of their confinement.

Of every malice that earns hate in Heaven,
injustice is the end; and each such end
by force or fraud brings harm to other men.

However, fraud is man’s peculiar vice;
God finds it more displeasing-and therefore,
the fraudulent are lower, suffering more.

The violent take all of the first circle;
but since one uses force against three persons,
that circle’s built of three divided rings.

To God and to one’s self and to one’s neighbor—
I mean, to them or what is theirs—one can
do violence, as you shall now hear clearly.

Violent death and painful wounds may be
inflicted on one’s neighbor; his possessions
may suffer ruin, fire, and extortion;

thus, murderers and those who strike in malice,
as well as plunderers and robbers—these,
in separated ranks, the first ring racks.

A man can set violent hands against
himself or his belongings; so within
the second ring repents, though uselessly,

whoever would deny himself your world,
gambling away, wasting his patrimony,
and weeping where he should instead be happy.

One can be violent against the Godhead,
one’s heart denying and blaspheming Him
and scorning nature and the good in her;

so, with its sign, the smallest ring has sealed
both Sodom and Cahors and all of those
who speak in passionate contempt of God.

Now fraud, that eats away at every conscience,
is practiced by a man against another
who trusts in him, or one who has no trust.

This latter way seems only to cut off
the bond of love that nature forges; thus,
nestled within the second circle are:

hypocrisy and flattery, sorcerers,
and falsifiers, simony, and theft,
and barrators and panders and like trash.

But in the former way of fraud, not only
the love that nature forges is forgotten,
but added love that builds a special trust;

thus, in the tightest circle, where there is
the universe’s center, seat of Dis,
all traitors are consumed eternally.”

“Master, your reasoning is clear indeed,”
I said; “it has made plain for me the nature
of this pit and the population in it.

But tell me: those the dense marsh holds, or those
driven before the wind, or those on whom
rain falls, or those who clash with such harsh tongues,

why are they not all punished in the city
of flaming red if God is angry with them?
And if He’s not, why then are they tormented?”

And then to me, “Why does your reason wander
so far from its accustomed course?” he said.
“Or of what other things are you now thinking?

Have you forgotten, then, the words with which
your Ethics treats of those three dispositions
that strike at Heaven’s will: incontinence

and malice and mad bestiality?
And how the fault that is the least condemned
and least offends God is incontinence?

If you consider carefully this judgment
and call to mind the souls of upper Hell,
who bear their penalties outside this city,

you’ll see why they have been set off from these
unrighteous ones, and why, when heaven’s vengeance
hammers at them, it carries lesser anger.”

“O sun that heals all sight that is perplexed,
when I ask you, your answer so contents
that doubting pleases me as much as knowing.

Go back a little to that point,” I said,
“where you told me that usury offends
divine goodness; unravel now that knot.”

“Philosophy, for one who understands,
points out, and not in just one place,” he said,
“how nature follows—as she takes her course-

the Divine Intellect and Divine Art;
and if you read your Physics carefully,
not many pages from the start, you’ll see

that when it can, your art would follow nature,
just as a pupil imitates his master;
so that your art is almost God’s grandchild.

From these two, art and nature, it is fitting,
if you recall how Genesis begins,
for men to make their way, to gain their living;

and since the usurer prefers another
pathway, he scorns both nature in herself
and art, her follower; his hope is elsewhere.

But follow me, for it is time to move;
the Fishes glitter now on the horizon
all the Wain is spread out over Caurus;

only beyond, can one climb down the cliff.”

UPON the margin of a lofty bank
Which great rocks broken in a circle made,
We came upon a still more cruel throng;

And there, by reason of the horrible
Excess of stench the deep abyss throws out,
We drew ourselves aside behind the cover

Of a great tomb, whereon I saw a writing,
Which said: “Pope Anastasius I hold,
Whom out of the right way Photinus drew.”

“Slow it behoveth our descent to be,
So that the sense be first a little used
To the sad blast, and then we shall not heed it.”

The Master thus; and unto him I said,
“Some compensation find, that the time pass not
Idly;” and he: “Thou seest I think of that.

My son, upon the inside of these rocks,”
Began he then to say, “are three small circles,
From grade to grade, like those which thou art leaving

They all are full of spirits maledict;
But that hereafter sight alone suffice thee,
Hear how and wherefore they are in constraint.

Of every malice that wins hate in Heaven,
Injury is the end; and all such end
Either by force or fraud afflicteth others.

But because fraud is man’s peculiar vice,
More it displeases God; and so stand lowest
The fraudulent, and greater dole assails them.

All the first circle of the Violent is;
But since force may be used against three persons,
In three rounds ’tis divided and constructed.

To God, to ourselves, and to our neighbour can we
Use force; I say on them and on their things,
As thou shalt hear with reason manifest.

A death by violence, and painful wounds,
Are to our neighbour given; and in his substance
Ruin, and arson, and injurious levies;

Whence homicides, and he who smites unjustly,
Marauders, and freebooters, the first round
Tormenteth all in companies diverse.

Man may lay violent hands upon himself
And his own goods; and therefore in the second
Round must perforce without avail repent

Whoever of your world deprives himself,
Who games, and dissipates his property,
And weepeth there, where he should jocund be.

Violence can be done the Deity,
In heart denying and blaspheming Him,
And by disdaining Nature and her bounty.

And for this reason doth the smallest round
Seal with its signet Sodom and Cahors,
And who, disdaining God, speaks from the heart.

Fraud, wherewithal is every conscience stung,
A man may practise upon him who trusts,
And him who doth no confidence imburse.

This latter mode, it would appear, dissevers
Only the bond of love which Nature makes;
Wherefore within the second circle nestle

Hypocrisy, flattery, and who deals in magic,
Falsification, theft, and simony,
Panders, and barrators, and the like filth.

By the other mode, forgotten is that love
Which Nature makes, and what is after added,
From which there is a special faith engendered.

Hence in the smallest circle, where the point is
Of the Universe, upon which Dis is seated,
Whoe’er betrays for ever is consumed.”

And I: “My Master, clear enough proceeds
Thy reasoning, and full well distinguishes
This cavern and the people who possess it.

But tell me, those within the fat lagoon,
Whom the wind drives, and whom the rain doth beat,
And who encounter with such bitter tongues,

Wherefore are they inside of the red city
Not punished, if God has them in his wrath,
And if he has not, wherefore in such fashion?”

And unto me he said: “Why wanders so
Thine intellect from that which it is wont ?
Or, sooth, thy mind where is it elsewhere looking ?

Hast thou no recollection of those words
With which thine Ethics thoroughly discusses
The dispositions three, that Heaven abides not,—

Incontinence, and Malice, and insane
Bestiality ? and how Incontinence
Less God offendeth, and less blame attracts?

If thou regardest this conclusion well,
And to thy mind recallest who they are
That up outside are undergoing penance,

Clearly wilt thou perceive why from these felons
They separated are, and why less wroth
Justice divine doth smite them with its hammer.”

“O Sun, that healest all distempered vision,
Thou dost content me so, when thou resolvest,
That doubting pleases me no less than knowing !

Once more a little backward turn thee,” said I,
“There where thou sayest that usury offends
Goodness divine, and disengage the knot.”

“Philosophy,” he said, “to him who heeds it,
Noteth, not only in one place alone,
After what manner Nature takes her course

From Intellect Divine, and from its art;
And if thy Physics carefully thou notest,
After not many pages shalt thou find,

That this your art as far as possible
Follows, as the disciple doth the master;
So that your art is, as it were, God’s grandchild.

From these two, if thou bringest to thy mind
Genesis at the beginning, it behoves
Mankind to gain their life and to advance;

And since the usurer takes another way,
Nature herself and in her follower
Disdains he, for elsewhere he puts his hope.

But follow, now, as I would fain go on,
For quivering are the Fishes on the horizon,
And the Wain wholly over Caurus lies,

And far beyond there we descend the crag.”

Along the upper rim of a high bank
formed by a ring of massive broken boulders,
we came above a crowd more cruelly pent.

And here, because of the outrageous stench
thrown up in excess by that deep abyss,
we drew back till we were behind the lid

of a great tomb, on which I made out this,
inscribed: “I hold Pope Anastasius,
enticed to leave the true path by Photinus.”

“It would be better to delay descent
so that our senses may grow somewhat used
to this foul stench; and then we can ignore it.”

So said my master, and I answered him:
“Do find some compensation, lest this time
be lost.” And he: “You see, I’ve thought of that.”

“My son, within this ring of broken rocks,”
he then began, “there are three smaller circles;
like those that you are leaving, they range down.

Those circles are all full of cursed spirits;
so that your seeing of them may suffice,
learn now the how and why of their confinement.

Of every malice that earns hate in Heaven,
injustice is the end; and each such end
by force or fraud brings harm to other men.

However, fraud is man’s peculiar vice;
God finds it more displeasing-and therefore,
the fraudulent are lower, suffering more.

The violent take all of the first circle;
but since one uses force against three persons,
that circle’s built of three divided rings.

To God and to one’s self and to one’s neighbor—
I mean, to them or what is theirs—one can
do violence, as you shall now hear clearly.

Violent death and painful wounds may be
inflicted on one’s neighbor; his possessions
may suffer ruin, fire, and extortion;

thus, murderers and those who strike in malice,
as well as plunderers and robbers—these,
in separated ranks, the first ring racks.

A man can set violent hands against
himself or his belongings; so within
the second ring repents, though uselessly,

whoever would deny himself your world,
gambling away, wasting his patrimony,
and weeping where he should instead be happy.

One can be violent against the Godhead,
one’s heart denying and blaspheming Him
and scorning nature and the good in her;

so, with its sign, the smallest ring has sealed
both Sodom and Cahors and all of those
who speak in passionate contempt of God.

Now fraud, that eats away at every conscience,
is practiced by a man against another
who trusts in him, or one who has no trust.

This latter way seems only to cut off
the bond of love that nature forges; thus,
nestled within the second circle are:

hypocrisy and flattery, sorcerers,
and falsifiers, simony, and theft,
and barrators and panders and like trash.

But in the former way of fraud, not only
the love that nature forges is forgotten,
but added love that builds a special trust;

thus, in the tightest circle, where there is
the universe’s center, seat of Dis,
all traitors are consumed eternally.”

“Master, your reasoning is clear indeed,”
I said; “it has made plain for me the nature
of this pit and the population in it.

But tell me: those the dense marsh holds, or those
driven before the wind, or those on whom
rain falls, or those who clash with such harsh tongues,

why are they not all punished in the city
of flaming red if God is angry with them?
And if He’s not, why then are they tormented?”

And then to me, “Why does your reason wander
so far from its accustomed course?” he said.
“Or of what other things are you now thinking?

Have you forgotten, then, the words with which
your Ethics treats of those three dispositions
that strike at Heaven’s will: incontinence

and malice and mad bestiality?
And how the fault that is the least condemned
and least offends God is incontinence?

If you consider carefully this judgment
and call to mind the souls of upper Hell,
who bear their penalties outside this city,

you’ll see why they have been set off from these
unrighteous ones, and why, when heaven’s vengeance
hammers at them, it carries lesser anger.”

“O sun that heals all sight that is perplexed,
when I ask you, your answer so contents
that doubting pleases me as much as knowing.

Go back a little to that point,” I said,
“where you told me that usury offends
divine goodness; unravel now that knot.”

“Philosophy, for one who understands,
points out, and not in just one place,” he said,
“how nature follows—as she takes her course-

the Divine Intellect and Divine Art;
and if you read your Physics carefully,
not many pages from the start, you’ll see

that when it can, your art would follow nature,
just as a pupil imitates his master;
so that your art is almost God’s grandchild.

From these two, art and nature, it is fitting,
if you recall how Genesis begins,
for men to make their way, to gain their living;

and since the usurer prefers another
pathway, he scorns both nature in herself
and art, her follower; his hope is elsewhere.

But follow me, for it is time to move;
the Fishes glitter now on the horizon
all the Wain is spread out over Caurus;

only beyond, can one climb down the cliff.”

UPON the margin of a lofty bank
Which great rocks broken in a circle made,
We came upon a still more cruel throng;

And there, by reason of the horrible
Excess of stench the deep abyss throws out,
We drew ourselves aside behind the cover

Of a great tomb, whereon I saw a writing,
Which said: “Pope Anastasius I hold,
Whom out of the right way Photinus drew.”

“Slow it behoveth our descent to be,
So that the sense be first a little used
To the sad blast, and then we shall not heed it.”

The Master thus; and unto him I said,
“Some compensation find, that the time pass not
Idly;” and he: “Thou seest I think of that.

My son, upon the inside of these rocks,”
Began he then to say, “are three small circles,
From grade to grade, like those which thou art leaving

They all are full of spirits maledict;
But that hereafter sight alone suffice thee,
Hear how and wherefore they are in constraint.

Of every malice that wins hate in Heaven,
Injury is the end; and all such end
Either by force or fraud afflicteth others.

But because fraud is man’s peculiar vice,
More it displeases God; and so stand lowest
The fraudulent, and greater dole assails them.

All the first circle of the Violent is;
But since force may be used against three persons,
In three rounds ’tis divided and constructed.

To God, to ourselves, and to our neighbour can we
Use force; I say on them and on their things,
As thou shalt hear with reason manifest.

A death by violence, and painful wounds,
Are to our neighbour given; and in his substance
Ruin, and arson, and injurious levies;

Whence homicides, and he who smites unjustly,
Marauders, and freebooters, the first round
Tormenteth all in companies diverse.

Man may lay violent hands upon himself
And his own goods; and therefore in the second
Round must perforce without avail repent

Whoever of your world deprives himself,
Who games, and dissipates his property,
And weepeth there, where he should jocund be.

Violence can be done the Deity,
In heart denying and blaspheming Him,
And by disdaining Nature and her bounty.

And for this reason doth the smallest round
Seal with its signet Sodom and Cahors,
And who, disdaining God, speaks from the heart.

Fraud, wherewithal is every conscience stung,
A man may practise upon him who trusts,
And him who doth no confidence imburse.

This latter mode, it would appear, dissevers
Only the bond of love which Nature makes;
Wherefore within the second circle nestle

Hypocrisy, flattery, and who deals in magic,
Falsification, theft, and simony,
Panders, and barrators, and the like filth.

By the other mode, forgotten is that love
Which Nature makes, and what is after added,
From which there is a special faith engendered.

Hence in the smallest circle, where the point is
Of the Universe, upon which Dis is seated,
Whoe’er betrays for ever is consumed.”

And I: “My Master, clear enough proceeds
Thy reasoning, and full well distinguishes
This cavern and the people who possess it.

But tell me, those within the fat lagoon,
Whom the wind drives, and whom the rain doth beat,
And who encounter with such bitter tongues,

Wherefore are they inside of the red city
Not punished, if God has them in his wrath,
And if he has not, wherefore in such fashion?”

And unto me he said: “Why wanders so
Thine intellect from that which it is wont ?
Or, sooth, thy mind where is it elsewhere looking ?

Hast thou no recollection of those words
With which thine Ethics thoroughly discusses
The dispositions three, that Heaven abides not,—

Incontinence, and Malice, and insane
Bestiality ? and how Incontinence
Less God offendeth, and less blame attracts?

If thou regardest this conclusion well,
And to thy mind recallest who they are
That up outside are undergoing penance,

Clearly wilt thou perceive why from these felons
They separated are, and why less wroth
Justice divine doth smite them with its hammer.”

“O Sun, that healest all distempered vision,
Thou dost content me so, when thou resolvest,
That doubting pleases me no less than knowing !

Once more a little backward turn thee,” said I,
“There where thou sayest that usury offends
Goodness divine, and disengage the knot.”

“Philosophy,” he said, “to him who heeds it,
Noteth, not only in one place alone,
After what manner Nature takes her course

From Intellect Divine, and from its art;
And if thy Physics carefully thou notest,
After not many pages shalt thou find,

That this your art as far as possible
Follows, as the disciple doth the master;
So that your art is, as it were, God’s grandchild.

From these two, if thou bringest to thy mind
Genesis at the beginning, it behoves
Mankind to gain their life and to advance;

And since the usurer takes another way,
Nature herself and in her follower
Disdains he, for elsewhere he puts his hope.

But follow, now, as I would fain go on,
For quivering are the Fishes on the horizon,
And the Wain wholly over Caurus lies,

And far beyond there we descend the crag.”

Reading by Francesco Bausi: Inferno 11

For more readings by Francesco Bausi, see the Bausi Readings page.