Inferno: The Furies and the Heretics

After having passed the fallen angels in the previous episode, Dante and and Virgil now face the pagan guardians of the walls of the city of Dis: the avenging Furies and also the monster named Medusa. You can read more about both the Furies and Medusa at Wikipedia. You can see the Furies in a modern painting below as they pursue Orestes who slew his mother Clytemnestra, who in turn slew Orestes's father, Agamemnon.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Dante's Inferno unit. Story source: Dante's Divine Comedy, translated by Tony Kline (2002).

Canto 9: The Furies and the Heretics

The Furies and Medusa

And he said more that I do not remember because my eyes had been drawn to the high tower, with the glowing crest, where, in an instant, three hellish Furies, stained with blood, had risen that had the limbs and aspects of women, covered with a tangle of green hydras, their hideous foreheads bound with little adders and horned vipers.

And Virgil, who knew the handmaids of the queen of eternal sadness well, said to me: 'See, the fierce Erinyes! That is Megaera on the left; the one that weeps, on the right, is Alecto; Tisiphone is in the middle.'

Then he was silent. Each one was tearing at her breast with her claws, beating with her hands, and crying out so loudly that I pressed close to the poet, out of fear.

'Let Medusa come,' they all said, looking down on us, 'so that we can turn him to stone: we did not fully revenge Theseus's attack.'

'Turn your back.' said the Master, and he himself turned me round. 'Keep your eyes closed, since there will be no return upwards if she were to show herself and you were to see her.'

Not leaving it to me, he covered them, also, with his own hands.

O you, who have clear minds, take note of the meaning that conceals itself under the veil of clouded verse!

The Messenger from Heaven

Now, over the turbid waves, there came a fearful crash of sound, at which both shores trembled — a sound like a strong wind, born of conflicting heat that strikes the forest remorselessly, breaks the branches and beats them down and carries them away, advances proudly in a cloud of dust and makes wild creatures and shepherds run for safety. Virgil uncovered my eyes and said: 'Now direct your vision to that ancient marsh, there, where the mists are thickest.'

Like frogs that all scatter through the water in front of their enemy the snake until each one squats on the bottom, so I saw more than a thousand damaged spirits scatter in front of one who passed the Stygian ferry with dry feet. He waved that putrid air from his face, often waving his left hand before it, and only that annoyance seemed to weary him. I well knew he was a messenger from Heaven, and I turned to the Master, who made a gesture that I should stay quiet and bow to him.

How full of indignation he seemed to me! He reached the gate and opened it with a wand: there was no resistance. On the vile threshold he began to speak: 'O, outcasts from Heaven, why does this insolence still live in you? Why are you recalcitrant to that will whose aims can never be frustrated and that has often increased your torment? What use is it to butt your heads against the Fates? If you remember, your Cerberus still shows a throat and chin scarred from doing so.'

Then he returned over the miry pool and spoke no word to us, but looked like one preoccupied and driven by other cares than of those who stand before him. And we stirred our feet towards the city, in safety, after his sacred speech.

The Sixth Circle: Dis - The Heretics

We entered Dis without a conflict, and I gazed around as soon as I as was inside, eager to know what punishment the place enclosed and saw on all sides a vast plain full of pain and vile torment.

As at Arles where the Rhone stagnates, or Pola near the Gulf of Quarnaro that confines Italy and bathes its coast, the sepulchres make the ground uneven, so they did here, all around, only here the nature of it was more terrible.

Flames were scattered amongst the tombs by which they were made so red-hot all over that no smith's art needs hotter metal. Their lids were all lifted, and such fierce groans came from them that, indeed, they seemed to be those of the sad and wounded.

And I said: 'Master, who are these people, entombed in those vaults, who make themselves known by tormented sighing?'

And he to me: 'Here are the arch-heretics, with their followers, of every sect: and the tombs contain many more than you might think. Here like is buried with like, and the monuments differ in degrees of heat.' Then after turning to the right, we passed between the tormented, and the steep ramparts.

(700 words)

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