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Dante Alighieri - La Divina Commedia - Inferno
Courtney Langdon - The Divine Comedy

The Sixth Circle. Heresy
The Distribution of the Damned in the Inferno

Upon the utmost verge of a high bank,
formed in a circle by great broken rocks,
we came upon a still more cruel pack;
and there, by reason of the horrible
excess of stench the deep abyss exhales,
for shelter we withdrew behind the lid
of a large tomb, whereon I saw a scroll
which said: "Pope Anastasius I contain,
whom out of the right way Photinus drew."

"Our going down from here must be delayed,
so that our sense may first get used a little
to this foul blast; we shall not mind it then."

The Teacher thus; and I: "Find thou therefor
some compensation, lest our time be lost."
And he to me: "See how I think of this."

"My son, within these rocks," he then began,
"are three small circles which, from grade to grade,
are similar to those thou leavest now.
Full of accursèd spirits are they all;
but that hereafter sight alone suffice thee,
hear how, and wherefore they are packed together.

Of all wrong-doing which in Heaven wins hate
injustice is the end, and each such end
aggrieves by either violence or fraud.
But whereas fraud is man's peculiar evil,
God hates it most; therefore the fraudulent
are down below, and greater pain assails them.

All the first circle holds the violent;
but since against three persons force is used,
its shape divides it into three great rings.
Both against God, one's neighbor, and one 's self
may force be used; against themselves, I mean,
and what is theirs, as clearly shown thou 'lt hear.
By force both death and painful wounds are given
one 's neighbor, and thereby his property
is ruined, burned, and by extortions robbed;
the first ring, hence, torments in separate troops
all homicides and those that smite with malice,
spoilers of property and highway robbers.
Upon oneself may one lay violent hands,
and on one 's goods; hence in the second ring
must needs repentant be without avail
whoever of your world deprives himself,
gambles away and dissipates his means,
and weepeth there where he should joyful be.
'Gainst God may force be used, by wittingly
denying that He is, by blasphemy,
and by disprizing Nature and His Goodness;
and therefore with its mark the lesser ring
sealeth both Sodom and Cahors, and him
who, speaking from his heart, despises God.

And fraud, whereby all consciences are bitten,
one may employ against a man who trusts him,
and 'gainst a man who storeth up no trust.
This latter kind of fraud would seem to kill
only the bond of love which Nature makes;
hence in the second circle make their nest
hypocrisy, and flatteries, and workers
of magic, coining, theft and simony,
panders and grafters, and such filth as these.

In the other way forgotten is the love
which Nature makes, and that which afterward
is joined thereto, whence special trust is born;
hence in the smallest ring, where the universe
its center hath, and on which Dis is seated,
whoe'er betrays is spent eternally."

"Teacher," said I, "thine argument proceeds
most lucidly, and full well classifies
this deep abyss and those that people it.
But tell me now: those of the muddy marsh,
those whom the wind drives, those the rain beats down,
and those that with such keen tongues meet each other,
why are n't they punished in the red-hot town,
if God be angry with them? and, if not,
why are they tortured in those several ways?"

And he to me: "Why doth thine intellect
wander so far from that which is its wont,
or doth thy mind intently gaze elsewhere?
Hast thou no recollection of the words
with which thine Ethics treats extensively
the dispositions three which Heaven rejects,
Incontinence, and Malice, and insane
Bestiality, and how Incontinence
offends God least, and hence receives least blame?
If thou consider this opinion well,
and then remember who those are above,
that outside undergo their punishment,
well shalt thou see why from these wretches here
they 're set apart, and why less wrathfully
Vengeance Divine is hammering on them there."

"O Sun that healest every troubled sight,
thou so contentest me when answering questions,
that doubt, no less than knowledge, pleases me.
Return a little further back," said I,
"to where thou sayest usury offends
Goodness Divine, and loose the tangled knot."

"Philosophy" said he to me, "points out
to him that understandeth it, and not
in one part only, that Nature takes her course
from the Intellect Divine, and from its Art;
and if thou note thy Physics carefully,
after not many pages shalt thou find
that your art follows that, as best it can,
as the disciple him who teaches; hence,
your art is grandchild, as it were, to God.
From these two things, if thou recall to mind
the first of Genesis, must people needs
obtain their livelihood, and progress make.
And as the usurer takes another course,
Nature both in herself and in her follower
he scorneth, since in something else he trusts.

But follow me now, for I please to go;
because the Fishes o'er the horizon quiver,
and wholly over Caurus lies the Wain,
and one descends the bank much further on."


5. The stench arising from the abyss below symbolizes the greater moral and spiritual corruption characterizing the far more serious sins, whose nature is revealed in the three last Circles of Nether Hell.
8. Pope Anastasius II, wrongly believed in Dante's age to have been led into heresy as to the nature of Christ by the Greek [[xxxvi]] Photinus.
12. He who would know the inmost nature of evil must be willing to get used to its repulsiveness.
17. The Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Circles, small only in relation to the first six.
22. The following analysis is based upon Dante's interpretation of Aristotle's classification of sins under Incontinence (Intemperance), Bestiality and Malice, wherein Reason is, respectively, neglected, defied, or wrongly used.
25. Creatures lower than Man would not have sufficient intelligence, while any presumed to be higher would have too much, to make deceit effective.
28. The first of the last three.
29. The three persons are one's own self, one's fellow self, and the Universal Self.
33. Dante treats property as an outermost body of Man's spirit.
43. A fine definition of a suicide; not one who kills himself, but a spirit who kills his own body.
44. Wasting one's property, and pessimism, outer forms of suicide.
48. Respect for Nature, which is an outer manifestation of God, associated with reverence for the latter.
50. Sodom here stands for unnatural sexual sins, while Cahors, in France, in the middle age a nest of usurers, stands for Usury, conceived as sin against Industry.
57. The second of the last three Circles.
60. Stigmatized as "filth" are Evil Counsellors, and Promoters of Discord.
61. Treachery.
64. The Ninth Circle, the frozen lake of Cocytus, at whose center Dis, or Lucifer, is fixed.
66. Here, and elsewhere in the poem, eternally and eternal should be given a deeper significance than endlessness in Time, or something more like perfect, or absolute; Dante's Lucifer represents the zero-stage of life.
70. The Wrathful and Sullen in Styx, the Carnal Sinners, the Gluttons, and the Misers and Prodigals.
80, 97, 101. The Ethics, Philosophy, and Physics referred to are those of Aristotle.
103. Man's Industry is patterned after the operations of Nature.
109. Dante condemns Usury because it is contrary to God's law that Man shall live "in the sweat of his face," and because he believed it opposed to the interests of Industry, Man's Art; the Usurer getting his living from neither Nature or his own toil.
113. Astronomical data signifying that the time is now about half past three a.m. on Saturday. Caurus, the Northwest wind, shows the Wain's or Dipper's position in the sky.

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