Sunday, January 15, 2017

New canto posted from Dante's Inferno

I decided to post Canto XXII in addition to the four cantos I have already posted, because Canto XXI and Canto XXII are really a pair, and they ought to go together.

    Inferno: Canto XXII

Both cantos take place in the fifth pouch of the eighth circle of Hell, where barratry (political corruption) is punished. Dante's native city of Florence was a hotbed of political corruption around 1300 AD, including the politicians who unjustly exiled the poet. The sinners here are submerged in boiling tar, and in many ways they are meant to reflect the situation in which living corrupt politicians find themselves, just as the sticky tar represents the state of a corrupt government.

Both cantos also feature ten black demons, whose general attributes have informed the Western conception of devils for centuries: mischievous parodies of evil humans, complete with wings and pitchforks. The demons are presented to us as the guardians of the fifth pouch, whose role is to patrol the border of the tar pit, looking for sinners trying to escape. But the demons too are rowdy and deceitful, and some of them eventually get caught up in the tar themselves.

Thus the two cantos are Dante's parody of a corrupt government, which enmeshes the authorities and the governed alike. Corruption touches us all, for it mucks up the very gears which drive society, government and industry. A lot more can be said about these cantos, but I will only add that the cantos have a lot to say in turn about our present society. Dante's Florence was torn apart by the feuding of rival political factions; and an honest citizen had little to choose from, because both sides were corrupt and bitterly partisan.

Although both parties held opposing opinions about important matters of state, neither side realized that the peaceful coexistence of opposing views should be more important than this or that view in itself. It is amazing how relevant the politics of late thirteenth century Florence are to the politics of the United States in the twenty-first century. Our politicians could learn a thing or two from Dante (who was a politician himself, before he was exiled by his opponents). I hope you all enjoy the new canto.

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