When a group of devils armed with long hooks threatens Dante, Virgil hurries him on towards the next rottenpocket in Hell. They work their way around some of the damage wrought by Christ’s harrowing of Hell following his crucifixion. With those devils keeping company, they then reach a pit of boiling tar, in which the spirits of barrators are trapped.
The devils pull out one of the souls for Dante and Virgil to talk to, but quickly return to hacking with their hooks.
Unlike others, he springs free and escapes their lunges as he plunges back into the pitch.
Dante and Virgil leave the devils attacking other barrators, and walk on in silence. Dante reflects on one of Aesop’s fables about the frog, the rat and the hawk. He blames himself for the tormenting of the devils behind them, but as he looks back he sees them on the wing again and apparently heading towards Dante and Virgil. As the latter cross into the next rottenpocket, they realise that the pack of devils can’t pursue them beyond that point.
In the next rottenpocket are hypocrites, who are are dressed up in hooded habits like monks. Those habits, though coloured bright gold, are weighted with lead, forcing them into eternal labour against the mass of their clothes.
Dante meets two Bolognese friars, Catalano de’ Malavolti and Loderingo degli Andalò, who formed a hypocritical religious order. They point out a figure staked out naked on the ground, who is Caiaphas, the High Priest of Jerusalem who advised scribes and pharisees that Christ’s death would be a good solution.
Virgil moves Dante on towards the damaged crossing to the next rottenpocket for thieves. After negotiating the descent into it, Dante sees its pit full of snakes, which bind the hands of the souls there and cover their naked bodies.
A snake strikes one of the sinners at the back of the neck, causing the ghost to burst into flames, turn into ash, which falls onto the ground and reconstitutes itself.
There they talk with one of the thieves by the name of Vanni Fucci, a black Guelph from Pistoia near Florence who had stolen holy objects from a chapel and given an accomplice up for execution in his place. The snakes then take charge of him, winding their coils around his neck and body, and putting him into a reptile straightjacket.
Dante and Virgil move on, and meet a centaur.
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. He also appears to have drawn a set of illustrations for Dante’s Inferno in about 1808.
Bartolomeo Pinelli (1781-1835) was a Roman illustrator and engraver who provided illustrations for a great many books, and specialised in the city of Rome. He made 145 prints to illustrate Dante’s Divine Comedy, most probably in the early nineteenth century.
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.