- Dante postpones the explanation of the organization of Hell until almost one-third of the way through Inferno
- introducing the structure of his Hell, Dante offers a dramatization of the principle of difference
- the treatment of violence offers an implied positive evaluation of material goods
- Dante-pilgrim asks Virgilio about the previous circles of Hell, those outside the city of Dis; he uses a shorthand to summarize the landscape they have traversed thus far, evoking each sin of upper Hell by its Dantean contrapasso
- these intratextual citations — the Inferno citing the Inferno — enhance the text’s truth claims and the perceived “reality” of Dante’s Hell
- Dante’s strong personal connection to Aristotle’s works, which are carefully named: “la tua Etica” (your Ethics [Inf. 11 80]) and “la tua Fisica” (your Physics [Inf. 11.101])
- the word “incontinenza” — lack of misura, moderation, or self-control — is presented in this canto for the only time: it is the technical Aristotelian analogue to the vernacular term “dismisura”
- the idea of incontinence implies a non-dualistic template for vice and virtue: for Aristotle vice partakes of the same impulse as virtue, but carries the impulse to an immoderate and excessive degree
- an exposition of the principle of mimesis, here 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 apparently dry 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 a template based on the seven deadly sins, as we might have thought that Dante was doing in the early circles (we pass through lust, gluttony, and avarice, in the order that conforms to the hierarchy of deadly vices), here we learn that Dante chooses to base the organizational template for his Hell on . . . a pagan philosophical text — Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.
 In fact, as I discuss in the Commento on Inferno 7, an attentive reader could have already inferred that we have deviated from the template of the seven vices when we reach the fourth circle, where instead of finding only avarice, as per the seven vices, we find avarice paired with prodigality. The implications of including prodigality along with avarice in the fourth circle are fully unveiled in Inferno 11: the source that Dante uses to construct his Hell is Aristotle.
 This is hugely significant information. No previous (or subsequent) Christian afterlife vision invokes a classical philosopher as its authority.
 In introducing the structure of his Hell, Dante offers a concentrated presence of the language of difference. Here, as I note in The Undivine Comedy, we find 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 ), “primo cerchio” (first circle ), “tre gironi” (three rings ), “lo giron primo” (the first ring ), “secondo /giron” (second ring [41-42]), “cerchio secondo” (second circle ). 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 ), the fraudulent are assailed by “più dolor” (more suffering ); since incontinence, on the other hand, “men Dio offende e men biasimo accatta” (offends God less and incurs less blame ), God’s vengeance is “men crucciata” (less wrathful ) 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 ), the incontinent are not within the city of Dis, “dentro da la città roggia” (inside the flaming city ) but “sù di fuor” (up outside ). We find phrases like “di grado in grado” (from grade to grade ) and “per diverse schiere” (in different groups ), and verbs that denote differentiation, such as distinguere and dipartire: the circle of violence “in tre gironi è distinto” (is divided into three rings ), and the incontinent are “dipartiti” (divided ) from the souls of lower hell. (The Undivine Comedy, p. 45)
 Virgilio’s discourse in Inferno 11 is the Commedia‘s first concentrated discursive act of differentiation, linguistically prefiguring the great creation discourses of Paradiso.
 When Virgilio 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” [either with force or with fraud Inf. 11.24]), indicating that fraud is more grievous because it is “man’s peculiar vice”: “frode è de l’uom proprio male” (Inf. 11.25). Fraud is peculiar to man, because man alone is endowed with reason. Therefore, fraud 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 ), and “ne’ suoi beni” (in his goods ). 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.
 Dante’s taxonomy of violence thus harbors a positive evaluation of material goods, implicit in the idea that material goods should be protected from violent depredation.
 Dante’s taxonomy of violence is therefore another indication of the Aristotelian mode of Inferno 11, a mode that distances Dante from (for instance) a Franciscan approach toward material goods, which we also find in the Commedia. As I discuss in the essay “Dante and Wealth, Between Aristotle and Cortesia” (cited in Coordinated Reading), extremely divergent perspectives on wealth and material possessions coexist in the Commedia.
 Beginning in Inferno 11.52, Virgilio deals with the sins of fraud, which he subdivides first into two large categories: 1) fraud practiced against those with whom one does not have a special bond of trust (Circle 8), and 2) fraud practiced against those with whom one does have a special bond of trust — thus, betrayal (Circle 9). Virgilio then outlines the ten kinds of fraud that will be found in Circle 8 and concludes by telling Dante that the traitors of Circle 9 are located 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. At that time he explained to Dante that he was conjured by the sorceress Erichtho, who constrained him 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]). Armed with new information, we now know that in going to the deepest circle, farthest from heaven, Virgilio was going to the circle that houses traitors. We learn too that Satan sits on this very point: “’l punto / de l’universo in su che Dite siede” (the point of the universe where Dis sits [Inf. 11.64-65]) and that the “cerchio minore” (smallest circle [Inf. 11. 64]) holds the soul of Judas (the “Giuda” of “cerchio di Giuda”), 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 as being committed either against a person or against a possession. But fraud is massive: it embraces 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 whom 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 he and Virgilio have already traversed, Dante-poet now formulates the pilgrim’s question using a special shorthand.
 The pilgrim summarizes the journey thus far by referring 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, 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. Like the sixth circle, heresy, Limbo is exclusively Christian and is not referenced in the Aristotelian accounting of Inferno 11.
 The below breakdown of verses 70-72 isolates the periphrases that Dante deploys for each circle of upper Hell. These periphrases are distilled from his text’s invented infernal torments, here condensed into pithy individual taglines. We see that verses 70-72 of Inferno 11 recapitulate circles 2-5 of Hell, albeit not in that order.
 Here are Dante’s periphrases for each circle, in the order in which the author presents them in these verses:
- 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
 These intratextual citations — the Inferno citing the Inferno — are a technique of verisimilitude. These citations treat the textual account as “real” and thereby enhance the text’s truth claims and the “reality” of Dante’s 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” (your Ethics [Inf. 11.80]). “Recall your Ethics” is Virgilio’s way of telling Dante to recall Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, where Aristotle presents and discusses his 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. They are sins of excessive and immoderate desire: desire not moderated by virtue.
 Dante here uses, for the only time in the Commedia, the technical Aristotelian label “incontinence” (the Latin translation of the Greek akrasia): we find the word “incontinenza” in Inferno 11.82 and 83. In the Commento on Inferno 7 I discussed the vernacular terms misura and dismisura, analogues of the Aristotelian continenza and incontinenza. As I noted in the commentary on 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”: 1) His “daughter”, nature, and 2) nature’s daughter, God’s “grand-daughter”, namely human art. The word “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; ì 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 linking “art”, “nature”, and “nature’s maker, who is God”, De vulgari eloquentia effectively expounds the same doctrine later presented in Inferno 11.
 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 Aristotle’s Physics. From Physics 2.2.194a, the scholastics extracted the idea that was distilled in medieval anthologies as follows: “ars imitatur naturam in quantum potest” — literally, art imitates nature as much 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, sending him to yet another Aristotelian text: “la tua Fisica” (your Physics [Inf. 11.101]). Moreover, Virgilio — who apparently has read and knows the Physics very well — specifies that Dante will find the passage he needs after not too many pages: “non dopo molte carte” (not many pages from the start [Inf. 11.103]). And, indeed, the passage cited above is in Book 2 of the Physics.
 As with “la tua Etica” in verse 80, Virgilio again prefaces the philosopher’s title with the pronoun “tua”: your Ethics, your Physics.By attaching the pronoun “tua” first to Aristotle’s Ethics and then to his Physics, Dante indicates the profound personal connection — affective and intellective — that binds him to the great philosopher’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” (the beginning of Genesis) 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, and then reaches the conclusion that the usurer “scorns both nature in herself and art, her follower”: “per sé natura e per la sua seguace / dispregia” (Inf. 11.110-11).
 The final section of Inferno 11 thus effectively 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 convergence of Aristotle with Genesis at the end of Inferno 11 is an extraordinary testament to the Commedia’s richly multicultural program. Both classical and biblical are evidenced in Inferno 11’s unique treatment of the organizational structure of Hell.
 But the authority whom Dante stipulates as his source for Hell is unequivocally classical: “ ’l maestro di color che sanno” (Inf. 4.131).
Outline of the Structure of Hell, as Presented in Inferno 11
— Circle 1: Limbo (Inferno 4): this non-Aristotelian sin is not discussed in Inferno 11
— Circles 2-5: Sins of Incontinence:
lust (Inferno 5), gluttony (Inferno 6), avarice and prodigality (Inferno 7), tristitia and anger (end of Inferno 7, Inferno 8)
— Circle 6: Heresy (Inferno 10): as in the case of Limbo, this sin is not Aristotelian and is therefore not discussed in Inferno 11
— Circle 7: Violence, 3 types of violence, each further inflected in 2 ways, as violence against a person and violence against a person’s possessions (a further inflection is created by God’s having 2 possessions):
Violence against one’s neighbor (Inferno 12): 1) in her or his person, e.g. murder; 2) in her or his possessions, e.g. robbery
Violence against oneself (Inferno 13): 1) in one’s person, e.g. suicide; 2) in one’s possessions, e.g. squandering
Violence against God: 1) in God’s person, e.g. blasphemy (Inferno 14); 2) in God’s possessions: 2a) Violence against God’s “daughter”, nature, e.g. sodomy (Inferno 15-16); 2b) Violence against God’s “granddaughter”, human “art” (skill, endeavor), e.g. usury (Inferno 17)
— Circles 8 and 9: Fraud, practiced against those who have no reason to trust you (circle 8) and fraud practiced against those who do have reason to trust you (circle 9).
— Circle 8 is subdivided into 10 categories:
pimping and seduction (Inferno 18), flattery (Inferno 18), simony, corruption of the Church (Inferno 19), false prophesy (Inferno 20), graft/corruption of the state (Inferno 21-22), hypocrisy (Inferno 23), fraudulent thievery (Inferno 24-25), false counsel (Inferno 26-27), sowing of discord (Inferno 28), falsifiers 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)