Roberta Writes – Divine Comedy, Inferno: Canto 12

Virgil and Dante approach the first ring of the Seventh Circle of Hell through a ravine of broken rock. At the end, the poets are threatened by the Minataur, a half-bull, half-human creature of Greek mythology born from a union between a woman and a bull. Virgil taunts the Minataur into a rage and while it is thrashing around randomly, the pair slip past unharmed.

Minotaur, Greek Minotauros (“Minos’s Bull”), in Greek mythology, a fabulous monster of Crete that had the body of a man and the head of a bull. It was the offspring of Pasiphae, the wife of Minos, and a snow-white bull sent to Minos by the god Poseidon for sacrifice. Minos, instead of sacrificing it, kept it alive; Poseidon as a punishment made Pasiphae fall in love with it. Her child by the bull was shut up in the Labyrinth created for Minos by Daedalus.

Extracted from

Minotaur, half man - half bull
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Virgil explains to Dante that the ravine was caused by a massive earthquake caused when Jesus entered the first circle of hell to rescue certain souls.

Virgil points to the River Phlegethon where those shades who committed violence against others are submerged in boiling blood to the degree that matches up to the amount of violence the shade committed in life. This seems just in terms of the eye for an eye mentality of the Old Testament, but is out of alignment with the doctrine of Christ; what do you think?

All along the banks of the River Phlegethon, Dante sees centaurs (half-man, half-horse creatures, armed with bows and arrows.

A centaur called Nessus stops them, wanting to know their punishments in Hell. Virgil rebukes him and point two other centaurs, Chiron and Pholus to Dante. The centaurs guard the banks of the river to prevent any souls from escaping their punishment.

Chiron notices that Dante is alive as he moves things like rocks when he walks. Virgil explains the two poets Heaven ordained journey through hell and asks for Chiron’s assistance in getting Dante across the river. Chiron says that Dante may ride on Nessus’ back.

While Nessus walks along the riverbank with Dante on his back, Dante looks at some of the souls submerged in the river. Nessus identifies some of the shades including Alexander the Great and Dante Guy de Montfort, who murdered Prince Henry of England. Nessus explains that the river gets deeper and deeper and at its deepest point completely submerges tyrants like Attila the Hun.

The Inferno, Canto 12 - Gustave Dore
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Extract from Canto 12

But turn thine eyes down yonder now; for lo,

the stream of blood is drawing near to us,

wherein boils who by violence harms others.”

O blind cupidity, O foolish wrath,

that so dost in our short life goad us on,

and after, in the eternal, steep us thus!

I saw a wide moat curving in an arc,

and such that it embraces all the plain,

according as my Escort had informed me;

and in a file, between it and the bank,

Centaurs were running by, with arrows armed,

as in the world it was their wont to hunt.

41 thoughts on “Roberta Writes – Divine Comedy, Inferno: Canto 12

  1. After considering your question about the difference between an Old Testament version of hell and a new Testament version, the thought occurs to me that the Old Testament version is physical punishment, whereas the New Testament version would be a spiritual denial of everlasting life in a state of grace.

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    1. Yes, I do believe you have expressed the difference very eloquently. I think this is a timing issue. Hundreds of years ago when Divine Comedy was written, the less educated people wouldn’t have understood the complexities of Christ’s doctrine the way we do. They would have understood this fire and brimstone depiction better. That is what I think, in any event.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Well, it wouldn’t have been the uneducated masses, that is obvious from the political angles but I would have expected him to stay with the through process of the era. If he hadn’t I am sure he would have been excommunicated and buried in unconsecrated ground like Galileo.

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    2. A very good point, Liz. In the Old Testament and ancient Jewish belief, the dead were consigned to Sheol, a place situated below the ground, a place of darkness, silence and forgetfulness. Remember the story of Job: Job 10:21 before I go to the place of no return, to the land of gloom and utter darkness”. I remember that lesson!!

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      1. I imagine, Rebecca, that the origin of that description is also as could be envisaged by the writer. People from the past though differently to us as they didn’t experience as much as we do. They didn’t have the knowledge about science, energy, light, and these concepts so they had to describe Heaven and Hell in the words they had at their disposal based on their knowledge of what was good and bad.

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    1. HI Priscilla, I do feel that while this is a fabulous story and a marvelous feat of imagination, it goes against my concept of Christianity and the doctrine of Christ. I couldn’t get my own beliefs on things, including my acceptance of gay marriage and other similar situations, to reconcile with the Catholic faith and that is why I stopped attending. I do think it is a great church, it just didn’t work for me. I also believe it has moved on a bit in the past 20 years.

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        1. Hi Jacqui, I didn’t know you were Catholic. I went to a convent for a number of years and we went to church every Saturday evening [my dad’s preference]. Father Muike from my book Through the Nethergate was a real person and I was very fond of him. The Catholic doctrine just doesn’t gel with some of my liberal tendencies and I can’t be a hypocrite.

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    1. These punishments are very cruel, JIm, and that is what makes this concept of Hell so interesting for me. It is so much more Old Testament, and eye for an eye, then New Testament, which is all about forgiveness. I think Dante had it very wrong, but it is a journey of discovery for me.

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      1. Absolutely, Roberta, and I aslo think of the construction of the Babel Tower, when the human beeing became so arrogant that God organiced a complete confused noise so that they did not understand each other anymore and the DIGITAL DIVIDE was perfect!!

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    1. If you believe in a version of Heaven, then it is logical that there must be a version of Hell. This is positive and negative energy and many people have experienced strange negative feelings and trapped emotions in buildings and other places. I keep an open mind about the form of these things, but I believe they are there.

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  2. I think boiling in blood is ..hysterical. It’s quite afar from any idea I have of justifiable justice.
    I’m sure some clever Hollywood writer could use this in a horror flick.
    Hmm, but would it be scarier than Chucky?

    It seems in this version of hell, no one would ever be good enough to get into heaven.
    I’m sure I’m not in the “boiled in blood” club, but there’s probably a place for me, somewhere down there.
    Innocent babes, dead before being christened have a place.
    Therefore, I refuse to believe in hell.
    Therefore, how can I believe in heaven?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. HI Resa, but this is an old fashioned concept of Hell (and there is a Heaven that is as marvelous as Hell is terrible – and also split into a hierarchy). At the time this book was written fire and brimstone would have been what people understood. They did have the education and knowledge for our more sophisticated ideas of Heaven and Hell. The depicted these places in terms of the earth and our physical understanding of suffering and pleasure. Thanks for visiting. It gets worse as we proceed.

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  3. I must admit Dante’s gruesome depiction of the hells aligns with the Christian institutional indoctrination of fear and dread. Which are a complete antithesis of the all knowing, all loving, all forgiving God I learnt about in childhood.

    These mixed messages and the total hypocrisy eg ok to rape children but not ok to be gay, etc are what has turned many good Christians away from the institutions to rely more on their own faith.

    as I believe in ‘karma’ what we put out comes always comes back unless purified with a truly repentant heart … these garrish depictions are from an amazing but possibly misguided imagination 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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