As we move further down this circular funnel, drawing ever closer to the heart of evil in the pit of Hell, an odd thing happens. The moral landscape and punishments grow ever more grotesque and fierce, such as dismemberment, decapitation, leprous and gangrenous wounds that never heal. And yet, in our modern sensibilities, the reasons for these punishments grow ever more mild and LESS severe: spending too much money, falsifying reality in order to make more bucks, lying to the council or church so that one’s place of importance is increased in the eyes of the multitude. Indeed, the sale of sexual favors and the murder of one individual by another are far above this level of the falsifiers. Dante is nothing if not honest about the destruction of a society by the lack of moral integrity, true holiness and the love of one’s enemy as demanded by Christ. [Hence, the odd inclusion of an actual relative of the Alighieri family whose murder has not been dealt with by a vendetta against the offending family.
28 'Just then you were so thoroughly engrossed
29 in him who once was lord of Hautefort
30 you did not glance that way before your kinsman left.'
31 'O my leader, the violent death he died,
32 for which no vengeance has been taken yet,'
33 I said, 'by any person partner to his shame,
34 'made him indignant. That is why he went away
35 without addressing me -- or so I think --
36 and why he's made me pity him the more.'
Dante, who has seen firsthand what rampant self-referent violence does to families and cities, is letting us know that even if the individual is upset, the true Christian will not and must not respond in kind; “for which no vengeance has been taken yet…” Turn the other cheek indeed. To love one’s enemy is our true calling.]
This is a difficult Canto to read and translate because Dante the Poet piles phrases on one another, mixing syntax and sentences just like the bodies piled on one another, bleeding and seeping into each other’s open wounds. Sayers stumbles a bit in her rendering while Musa and Pinsky resort to paraphrase. The translation we use in the Princeton Dante Project by the Hollanders does a better job at literal translation, but it then shows the rambling imagery, bodies, adjectives, adverbs, all piled on one another.
65 no greater sorrow, than in that somber valley
66 to see those spirits, heaped on one another, languishing.
67 Some lay upon the bellies or the backs
68 of others, still others dragged themselves
69 on hands and knees along that gloomy path.
70 Step by step we went ahead in silence…
Toward the end of the Canto we have irony and inside jokes that may be explained well enough to be appreciated. However while that may lead us to an appreciation of Dante the Poet’s ability and expansive knowledge, it must not be dismissed with a wry, dismissive nod against the lesser souls of this city or that club. Dante the Pilgrim stands in danger of judging another groups’ sins without realizing that in truth, all are sinners and to be ironical dismissive of the other puts one’s own self on the same level of offense in the eyes of God and one’s own soul in danger. There are subtle traps here, and Dante the Poet will lead Dante the Pilgrim into ever greater risk and ever deepening truth as to the lure of evil and the ease with which one can be led astray.
Be wise and beware, all ye who follow this pair.