Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Into the Inferno

Inferno is a new exhibit under the aegis of the Linden Endowment for the Arts, created by Rebeca Bashly. The exhibit depicts various areas of Hell, as described by the poet Dante, in his Divine Comedy.

Inferno 001

The Wikipedia entry on the poem sets the stage:

The poem begins on the day before Good Friday in the year 1300. The narrator, Dante himself, is thirty-five years old, and thus "halfway along our life's path" ...The poet finds himself lost in a dark wood in front of a mountain, assailed by three beasts...he cannot evade, and unable to find the "straight way"... to salvation. ...Dante is at last rescued by the Roman poet Virgil, who claims to have been sent by Beatrice, and the two of them begin their journey to the underworld. Each sin's punishment in Inferno is a contrapasso, a symbolic instance of poetic justice; for example, fortune-tellers have to walk forwards with their heads on backwards, unable to see what is ahead, because they tried, through forbidden means, to look ahead to the future in life. Such a contrapasso"functions not merely as a form of divine revenge, but rather as the fulfilment of a destiny freely chosen by each soul during his or her life."

Dante passes through the gate of Hell, which bears an inscription, the ninth (and final) line of which is the famous phrase "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate", or "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here"

Before entering Hell completely, Dante and his guide see the Uncommitted, souls of people who in life did nothing, neither for good nor evil.... Mixed with them are outcasts who took no side in the Rebellion of Angels. These souls are neither in Hell nor out of it, but reside on the shores of the Acheron, their punishment to eternally pursue a banner (i.e. self interest) while pursued by wasps and hornets that continually sting them while maggots and other such insects drink their blood and tears. This symbolizes the sting of theirconscience and the repugnance of sin. This can also be seen as a reflection of the spiritual stagnation they lived in. As with the Purgatorio and Paradiso, the Inferno has a structure of 9+1=10, with this "vestibule" different in nature from the nine circles of Hell, and separated from them by the Acheron.

After passing through the "vestibule," Dante and Virgil reach the ferry that will take them across the river Acheron and to Hell proper. The ferry is piloted by Charon, who does not want to let Dante enter, for he is a living being. ...

Virgil then guides Dante through the nine circles of Hell. The circles are concentric, representing a gradual increase in wickedness, and culminating at the centre of the earth, where Satan is held in bondage. Each circle's sinners are punished in a fashion fitting their crimes: each sinner is afflicted for all of eternity by the chief sin he committed. People who sinned but prayed for forgiveness before their deaths are found not in Hell but in Purgatory, where they labour to be free of their sins. Those in Hell are people who tried to justify their sins and are unrepentant.

Allegorically, the Inferno represents the Christian soul seeing sin for what it really is, and the three beasts represent three types of sin: the self-indulgent, the violent, and the malicious. These three types of sin also provide the three main divisions of Dante's Hell: Upper Hell (the first 5 Circles) for the self-indulgent sins; Circles 6 and 7 for the violent sins; and Circles 8 and 9 for the malicious sins.

Inferno 002


The visitor follows Virgil through the sections of Hell: the Dark Wood, Limbo, Hurricane (Lust), Gluttony, Progidals (Greed), and the River Styx (Anger).

The lower parts of Hell are contained within the walls of the city of Dis, which is itself surrounded by the Stygian marsh. Punished within Dis are active (rather than passive) sins. The walls of Dis are guarded by fallen angels.

Inferno 003


Inferno 004


Inferno 005

The River Styx

Inferno 006

The Seventh Circle: Violence

Inferno 007

In the Bolgias

Inferno 008

The Ninth Circle/ Frozen River of Cocytus, showing Satan

Inside the city of Dis is where the real fun takes place. The sixth circle contains the heretics, trapped in flaming tombs. The seventh circle contains the violent, divided into three rings: the outer ring has those who are violent toward people and property, and they are immersed in a river of blood and fire; the middle ring has the suicides (those who committed violence against themselves), transformed into thorny bushes and trees; the inner ring contains the blasphemers (those who were violent against God) and the violent against nature (usurers and sodomites), residing in a desert of flaming sand with flaming flakes falling from the sky. The eighth circle contains those who committed fraud, and is divided into ten bolgias, separating various types of fraud, from the first - panderers and seducers, who are forced to march in lines while being whipped by demons - to the tenth - falsifiers (alchemists, counterfeiters, perjurers, and impersonators), who are afflicted with various diseases. The ninth circle contains the treacherous, those who engaged in various types of betrayal: betrayal of family ties, community ties, guests, and liege lords. These traitors are frozen in a lake of ice (Cocytus), each encased to a depth related to the seriousness of his sin. The circle is ringed by various giants, while at the center of Hell, "condemned for committing the ultimate sin (personal treachery against God), is Satan.

For a more user-friendly take on Dante's vision of Hell, see Inferno, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's 1976 novel.

Hat tip to Inara Pey, whose entry on the exhibit is infinitely more detailed.

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