January 17, 2012 by Danielle Harris
The giants encircle the tenth and final circle of hell, punished by being buried up to their waists and fixed around the circle like watchtowers. Among them are gibbering Nimrod who attempted to build the tower of Babylon and Ephialtes who piled Mount Pelion upon Mount Ossa to scale Olympus to attack Jupiter. Antaeus ushers the poets to the bottom circle by plucking them from the rim of the tenth circle and setting them at the very bottom of hell. Virgil and Dante find themselves on a vast lake of ice.
But I thought hell was fiery?
Not in Dante’s imagination. Perhaps the ice suggests the coldheartedness of the traitors it imprisons or reveals the farthest outreaches from the divine fires of heaven. The stillness is not tranquil. It is a stasis where peace has no place — an angle of repose, yes, but oh how far these rocks of misspent humanity were thrown!
The ice is thick and deep and people are locked in it up to their necks with their teeth chattering and their tears freezing as they form, locking their eye sockets in ice. Helmets of ice encase some heads. This stretch of the lake is called Caina, after that first fratricide. So, all these shades have betrayed their kinsmen. Two brothers, still furious, are locked in ice together where they continually bash their heads against each other. Further, in a zone called Antenora, are traitors to their nation or party. Here is another set of heads close together, but this one feeds upon the other. The third zone, Ptolemea, is where souls go, sometimes even before the death of their bodies, when they become betrayers of guests.
Finally, the poets cross into Judecca, named for that traitor of traitors, where sinners who betray their benefactors suffer.
It is here where they see Satan.
He has three faces: one red, one yellowish-white, and one black. He has six wings, bat-like wings that flap and fan three foul, icy gales over that frozen lake, Cocytus. He has six eyes that weep. The tears dribble down his faces and mix with slaver and blood over three chins. Three mouths gnash and grind three sinners: Judas Isacariot, headfirst, and Brutus and Cassius, heads hanging downwards. Brutus, forever a Stoic, writhes without speaking a word.
Dante and Virgil climb down Satan’s matted, hairy hide, clambering over clumps of tangled fur, frozen in places, toward the center of the earth. Turning, they exit through a cavern and look upon the stars again and find they are in the Southern Hemisphere. The Devil seems to hang upside down. Virgil explains that, when Lucifer was hurled from heaven, the earth recoiled from him, keeping the fallen angel locked in the cavernous tomb in the center of the earth, in an eternal darkness where morning never rises.
Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thy coming.
Dante calls him Beelzebub in this passage, which means: Lord of the Flies.
Thus ends the correlation of the Seven Deadly Sins with Dante’s Inferno.