Inferno Canto XI

Inferno 11

of an imposing tomb, on which I saw inscribed

vv. 6-9

The Sixth Circle: Heretics. – Tomb of Pope Anastasius. – Discourse of Virgil on the divisions of the lower Hell.

Dante and Virgil passed the huge flaming tomb of the Pope Anastatius, and Virgil decided that they should wait a while to grow used to the terrible stench in the seventh circle. To spend the time usefully, Dante asked Virgil to explain some things about the structure of Hell. Virgil said:

There are three smaller circles past the sixth circle, holding the spirits of people guilty of different forms of fraud, which God finds very displeasing. The upper circle, the seventh, holds the violent, and is itself divided into three circles, punishing violence against God, one’s self, and one’s neighbors, in the order of most to least serious. Those who are violent against their neighbors are tyrants and murderers; those who are violent against themselves are suicides or squander their possessions; and those who are violent against God are blasphemers, sodomites, and usurers. The eighth circle holds those who practise fraud against people who trust them: flatterers, hypocrites, sorcerers… In the ninth circle, treachery, the greatest of all sins, is punished. The ninth circle is the center of the city of Dis.

Dante asked Virgil why the spirits of the first circles were not punished in Dis, since God was angry with them. Virgil answered that if he had read his Ethics, he would know that of the three faults which offend Heaven, incontinence, malice, and mad bestiality, incontinence was the least serious. The sins of incontinence, then ­ lust, gluttony, avarice, wrath… ­ were not as severely punished as the others.

Dante then asked why usury was so serious a sin. Virgil again referred to Aristotle, and said that usurers followed neither nature nor art, the acceptable ways of making a living. He then said that they should move on.

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