Circle 7: Violence

Guy P. Raffa

in Danteworlds

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2007 | ISBN: 9780226702674
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226702780 | DOI:
Circle 7: Violence

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This chapter presents a brief plot summary for the seventh circle of Hell, followed by explanations of “encounters” and “allusions”, significant verses (in Italian and English), and study questions to aid in comprehension and facilitate discussion of the poem. After slipping by the Minotaur, Dante and Virgil visit the three areas of circle seven, where the violent shades are punished. Astride the Centaur Nessus, Dante views those who committed violent acts against fellow human beings, from ruthless tyrants and warriors (such as Attila the Hun) to murderers and highway bandits, all submerged to an appropriate depth in a river of boiling blood. The travelers then enter a foreboding forest whose gnarled and stunted trees are the souls of suicides. Harpies inflict pain on the suicide-trees by feeding on their leaves, while the wounds created by the Harpies' gnawing provide an outlet for this pain. Here Dante is moved by the tale of Pier della Vigna, a high-ranking official brought to ruin by envious rivals at court, and he sees men who squandered their wealth chased and dismembered by ferocious black dogs. Dante and Virgil next cross a desert scorched by a rain of fire punishing violent offenders against God: blasphemers flat on their backs (including Capaneus, a defiant classical warrior); sodomites in continuous movement (among these Brunetto Latini, Dante's beloved teacher); and usurers crouching on the ground with purses, decorated with their families' coats of arms, hanging from their necks. Dante and Virgil descend to the next circle aboard Geryon, a creature with a human face, reptilian body, and scorpion's tail.

Keywords: Dante Alighieri; Minotaur; Virgil; Nessus; Harpies; Pier della Vigna; blasphemers; sodomites; usurers; Geryon

Chapter.  6523 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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