1. First, carefully read “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (any version) and carefully read the excerpts from Dante’s work posted here and on the next page, and while you are reading them, think about the questions I asked you in the LECTURE. Dante’s Inferno Excerpt
For this week, you have read “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and a short selection from Dante’s Inferno. For the discussion this week please choose one of the following options: 1) Discuss the theme of good versus evil in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (any version of the story is acceptable) or 2) Discuss the following questions about the selection from Dante’s Inferno. You may also respond to both options if you wish.
First, think about the term contrapasso. From the section I gave you, tell me why you think the punishments described are appropriate. Also in the lecture, I stated that the punishments are ironically appropriate. What do you think I mean by that? Feel free to look up Dante’s Inferno online to see what other punishments are found in Dante’s Hell.
Next. One of the things that Dante’s Hell emphasizes is that the world we live in isn’t fair, and that people commit all sorts of crimes and get away with them. The Inferno shows us that all people will eventually have to pay for their sins. Even if one doesn’t believe in the Hell that Dante describes, I think everyone has a secret hope that all criminals will get what they deserve. In our modern world, we see this all the time in literature and Movies. Describe a work of fiction or movie you have seen recently where the concept of contrapasso is in full effect. (Example: on a recent Game of Thrones episode, an evil character met his end by being eaten alive by his own dogs, dogs he had previously used to kill his enemies.)
From Dante’s Inferno
The Eighth Circle of Hell (Malebolge)
In this section of the epic poem, Dante (the narrator) and Virgil (his guide) travel to the eighth circle of Hell, called Malebolge, where those who are guilty of fraud are kept. Here you will read about the punishments that await various kinds of liars, including seducers, flatterers, corrupt politicians, and fortune tellers.
NOTE: I have provided a few notes here, but you should have a dictionary handy for the tricky vocabulary.
The Inferno is divided in to “cantos” which are analogous to chapters
Malebolge means “Evil Ditches” in Italian
There is a place in Hell called Malebolge,
fashioned entirely of iron-colored rock,
as is the escarpment that encircles it.
At the very center of this malignant space
there yawns a pit, extremely wide and deep.
I will describe its plan all in due time.
A path that circles like a belt around the base
of that high rock runs round the pit,
its sides descending in ten ditches.
As where concentric moats surround a castle
to guard its walls, their patterns clear
and governed by a meaningful design,
in such a pattern were these ditches shaped.
Seducers are being punished here.
To our right I saw a suffering new to me,
new torments, and new scourgers,
with whom the first ditch was replete.
The sinners in its depth were naked,
those on our side of the center coming toward us,
the others moving with us, but with longer strides,
Here and there on the dark rock above them
I watched horned demons armed with heavy scourges
lashing them cruelly from behind.
Ah, how they made them pick their heels up
at the first stroke! You may be certain
no one waited for a second or a third.
Then I rejoined my escort. A few steps farther
and we came upon a place
where a ridge jutted from the bank.
This we ascended easily and,
turning to the right upon its jagged ledge,
we left behind their endless circling.
When we came to the point above the hollow
that makes a passage for the scourged,
my leader said: ‘Stop, let them look at you,
‘those other ill-born souls whose faces
you have not yet seen, since we have all
been moving in the same direction.’
From the ancient bridge we eyed the band
advancing toward us on the other side,
driven with whips just like the first.
And the good master, without my asking, said:
‘See that imposing figure drawing near.
He seems to shed no tears despite his pain.
‘What regal aspect he still bears!
Jason, the famous Greek hero, was a notorious lover and leaver of women.
He is Jason, who by courage and by craft
deprived the men of Colchis of the ram.
‘Then he ventured to the isle of Lemnos,
after those pitiless, bold women
put all the males among them to their death.
‘There with signs of love and polished words
he deceived the young Hypsipyle,
who had herself deceived the other women.
‘There he left her, pregnant and forlorn.
Such guilt condemns him to this torment,
and Medea too is thus avenged.
‘With him go all who practice such deceit.
Let that be all we know of this first ditch
and of the ones it clenches in its jaws.’
Now we had come to where the narrow causeway
intersects the second ridge to form
a buttress for another arch.
From here we heard the whimpering of people
one ditch away, snuffling with their snouts
and beating on themselves with their own palms.
The banks, made slimy by a sticky vapor
from below, were coated with a mould
offending eyes and nose.
The bottom is so deep we could see nothing
unless we climbed to the crown of the arch,
just where the ridge is highest.
We went up, and from there I could see,
In this ditch of Hell, the flatterers are kept.
in a ditch below, people plunged in excrement
that could have come from human privies.
Searching the bottom with my eyes I saw
a man, his head so smeared with shit
one could not tell if he were priest or layman.
He railed: ‘What whets your appetite to stare at me
more than all the others in their filth?’
And I answered: ‘The fact, if I remember right,
‘that once I saw you when your hair was dry —
and you are Alessio Interminei of Lucca.
That’s why I eye you more than all the rest.’
Then he, beating on his pate:
‘I am immersed down here for the flattery
with which my tongue was never cloyed.’
And then my leader said to me: ‘Try to thrust
your face a little farther forward,
to get a better picture of the features
‘of that foul, dishevelled wench down there,
scratching herself with her filthy nails.
Now she squats and now she’s standing up.
‘She is Thaïs, the whore who, when her lover asked:
“Have I found favor with you?”
answered, “Oh, beyond all measure!”
And let our eyes be satisfied with that.’
Here, corrupt priests are being punished.
Along the sides and bottom I could see
the livid stone was pierced with holes,
all round and of a single size.
They seemed to me as wide and deep
The priests are kept upside-down in baptismal pools . . .
as those in my beautiful Saint John
. . . but there’s no water, only fire.
made for the priests to baptize in,
one of which, not many years ago,
I broke to save one nearly drowned in it —
and let this be my seal, to undeceive all men.
From the mouth of each stuck out
a sinner’s feet and legs up to the thighs
while all the rest stayed in the hole.
They all had both their soles on fire.
It made their knee-joints writhe so hard
they would have severed twisted vines or ropes.
As flames move only on the surface
of oily matter caught on fire,
so these flames flickered heel to toe.
In this ditch, fortune tellers are being punished
I saw people come along that curving canyon.
in silence, weeping, their pace the pace of slow
processions chanting litanies in the world.
As my gaze moved down along their shapes,
I saw into what strange contortions
their chins and chests were twisted.
Their faces were reversed upon their shoulders
so that they came on walking backward,
since seeing forward was denied them.
Perhaps some time by stroke of palsy
a person could be twisted in that way,
but I’ve not seen it nor do I think it likely.
Reader, so may God let you gather fruit
from reading this, imagine, if you can,
how I could have kept from weeping
when I saw, up close, our human likeness
so contorted that tears from their eyes
ran down their buttocks, down into the cleft.
In this ditch, unscrupulous businessmen are punished.
Thus from one bridge to the next we came
until we reached its highest point, speaking
of things my Comedy does not care to sing.
We stopped to look into the next crevasse
of Malebolge and heard more useless weeping.
All I could see was an astounding darkness.
a thick pitch boiled there,
sticking to the banks on either side.
I saw the pitch but still saw nothing in it
except the bubbles raised up by the boiling,
the whole mass swelling and then settling back.
While I stared fixedly upon the seething pitch,
my leader cried: ‘Look out, look out!’
and drew me to him, away from where I stood.
Then I turned like a man, intent
on making out what he must run from,
undone by sudden fear,
who does not slow his flight for all his looking back:
just so I caught a glimpse of some dark devil
running toward us up the ledge.
Ah, how ferocious were his looks
and fierce his gesturing,
with wings spread wide and nimble feet!
One of his shoulders, which were high and pointed,
was laden with the haunches of a sinner
he held hooked by the tendons of his heels.
“Malebranche” means “Evil Claws”
From our bridge he said: ‘O Malebranche,
here is one of Santa Zita’s Elders.
Thrust him under, while I head back for more
‘to that city, where there’s such a fine supply.
Every man there — except Bonturo — is a swindler.
There money turns a No into a Yeah.’
He flung him down and turned back up
the stony ridge. Never did a mastiff
set loose to chase a thief make greater haste.
The sinner sank, then rose again, his face all pitch.
The demons, under cover of the bridge, cried out:
‘This is no place for the Holy Visage!
‘Here you swim a different stroke than in the Serchio!
Unless you’d like to feel our hooks,
don’t let yourself stick out above the pitch.’
Then, with a hundred hooks and more,
they ripped him, crying: ‘Here you must do your dance
in secret and pilfer — can you? — in the dark.’
In just the same way cooks command their scullions
to take their skewers and prod the meat down
in the cauldron, lest it float back up.
I drew my body up against my leader
but kept my eyes fixed on their faces,
which were far from friendly.
‘Oh, master,’ I said, ‘I don’t like what I see.
Please, let us find our way without an escort,
if you know how. As for me, I do not want one.
‘If you are as vigilant as ever,
don’t you see they grind their teeth
while with their furrowed brows they threaten harm?’
And he to me: ‘Don’t be afraid.
Let them grind on to their hearts’ content —
they do it for the stewing wretches.’