After hearing Francesca’s story in the Second Circle of Hell, Dante weeps for her and faints. When he comes to, he realises that he is now in the Third Circle, where it is pouring with rain, snow and huge hailstones, which fall down in sheets. This soaks the ground, which is stinking mud as a result.
He sees Cerberus, the fearsome three-headed canine monster which guards this circle, it too soaked by the unceasing rain.
Its heads bare their fangs at Dante, but his guide Virgil scoops up three handfuls of mud and throws them into the mouths of Cerberus to assuage its hunger.
Dante and Virgil walk on the flat plain among the prostrate forms of its gluttons. One of them sits up and accosts Dante, reminding him that they knew one another. He is Ciacco (a nickname, literally ‘Hoggio’), who tells Dante of his suffering there, and the names of five other Florentines of noble rank who are in the lower circles of Hell.
Ciacco then falls flat on his face in the stinking mud to await the Final Judgement.
As Virgil leads Dante down to the next circle, they talk of what will happen when the Apocalypse comes, until they reach the dreaded figure of Plutus.
Cerberus is a good example of the redeployment of pre-Christian mythology into Christian beliefs: it was originally the guardian of the Underworld, and prevented those within from escaping back to the earthly world. It even features in the twelve labours of Heracles (Hercules), in which he captured Cerberus. Dante – with Virgil’s explicit involvement – incorporates it into his Christian concepts of the afterlife.
Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527–1593) was a highly original and individualistic Italian painter now best known for his portraits consisting of assemblies of fruit, vegetables and other objects to form human images. He also painted more conventional works which are largely forgotten today, and was court painter to the Habsburgs in Vienna and Prague. You can see some of his portraits in this article.
William Blake (1757–1827) was a British visionary painter and illustrator whose last and incomplete work was an illustrated edition of the Divine Comedy for the painter John Linnell. Most of his works shown in this series were created for that, although he did draw and paint scenes during his earlier career. I have a major series on his work here.
Gustave Doré (1832–1883) was the leading French illustrator of the nineteenth century, whose paintings are still relatively unknown. Early in his career, he produced a complete set of seventy illustrations for translations of the Inferno, which were first published in 1857 and continue to be used. These were followed in 1867 by more illustrations for Purgatorio and Paradiso. This article looks at his paintings.
John Flaxman (1755–1826) was a British sculptor and draughtsman who occasionally painted too. When he was in Rome between 1787-91, he produced drawings for book illustrations, including a set of 111 for an edition of The Divine Comedy. In 1810, he was appointed the Professor of Sculpture to the Royal Academy in London, and in 1817 made drawings to illustrate Hesiod, which were engraved by William Blake.
Joseph Anton Koch (1768-1839) was an Austrian landscape painter, who worked mainly in Neoclassical style. During his second stay in Rome, he was commissioned to paint frescos in the Villa Massimi on the walls of the Dante Room there, which remain one of the most florid visual accounts of Dante’s Inferno. He completed those between 1824-29.
Philippe Semeria is a young contemporary artist who is an enthusiast for comics and an aspiring illustrator.
Jan van der Straet, also commonly known by his Italianised name of Giovanni Stradano (1523-1605), was a painter who started his career in Bruges and Antwerp in Belgium, but moved to Florence in 1550, where he worked for the remainder of his life. Mannerist in style, he worked with printmakers in Antwerp to produce collections of prints, including an extensive set for The Divine Comedy.
Robin Kirkpatrick (trans) (2012) Dante, The Divine Comedy, Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso, Penguin Classics. ISBN 978 0 141 19749 4.
Richard Lansing (ed) (2000) The Dante Encyclopedia, Routledge. ISBN 978 0 415 87611 7.
Guy P Raffa (2009) The Complete Danteworlds, A Reader’s Guide to the Divine Comedy, Chicago UP. ISBN 978 0 2267 0270 4.
Prue Shaw (2014) Reading Dante, From Here to Eternity, Liveright. ISBN 978 1 63149 006 4.