Inferno: Satan

This section opens with Latin words spoken by Virgil: Vexilla Regis prodeunt inferni, "The banners of the King of the Inferno advance." The words are an inversion of a hymn by Fortunatus; you can read more about that hymn at Wikipedia.

[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 34: Satan 

The Judecca: Satan

'Vexilla Regis prodeunt Inferni, the banners of the King of Hell advance towards us: so look in front of you to see if you discern him,' said my Master.

I seemed to see a tall structure, as a mill that the wind turns seems from a distance when a dense mist breathes or when night falls in our hemisphere, and I shrank back behind my guide because of the wind, since there was no other shelter.

I had already come, and with fear I put it into words, where the souls were completely enclosed and shone through like straw in glass. Some are lying down, some stand upright, one on its head, another on the soles of its feet, another bent head to foot, like a bow.

When we had gone on far enough that my guide was able to show me Lucifer, the monster who was once so fair, he removed himself from me and made me stop, saying: 'Behold Dis, and behold the place where you must arm yourself with courage.'

Reader, do not ask how chilled and hoarse I became then, since I do not write it, since all words would fail to tell it. I did not die, yet I was not alive. Think yourself now, if you have any grain of imagination, what I became, deprived of either state.

The emperor of the sorrowful kingdom stood, waist upwards, from the ice, and I am nearer to a giant in size than the giants are to one of his arms: think how great the whole is that corresponds to such a part. If he was once as fair as he is now ugly and lifted up his forehead against his Maker, well may all evil flow from him.

O how great a wonder it seemed to me, when I saw three faces on his head! The one in front was fiery red: the other two were joined to it, above the centre of each shoulder, and linked at the top, and the right hand one seemed whitish-yellow; the left was black to look at, like those who come from where the Nile rises. Under each face sprang two vast wings of a size fit for such a bird: I never saw ship's sails as wide. They had no feathers, but were like a bat's in form and texture, and he was flapping them, so that three winds blew out away from him, by which all Cocytus was frozen. He wept from six eyes, and tears and bloody spume gushed down three chins.

Judas - Brutus - Cassius

He chewed a sinner between his teeth with every mouth like a grinder, so, in that way, he kept three of them in torment. To the one in front, the biting was nothing compared to the tearing since, at times, his back was left completely stripped of skin.

The Master said: 'That soul up there that suffers the greatest punishment, he who has his head inside and flails his legs outside, is Judas Iscariot. Of the other two who have their heads hanging downwards, the one who hangs from the face that is black is Brutus: see how he writhes and does not utter a word; and the other is Cassius, who seems so long in limb. But night is ascending, and now we must go, since we have seen it all.'

[They have now seen all of hell, and must climb along Satan's body in order to get out. As they began their descent into hell, it was the dawn of Good Friday, and it is Easter Sunday morning when they emerge.]

(illustration by di Fruosino)

(600 words)

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