David Bruce: Dante’s INFERNO: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 16: The Violent Against Nature (Continued)”

“Canto 16: The Violent Against Nature (Continued)”

  • What are the three major subdivisions of the Inferno?

Of course, before we enter Hell Proper, we see the Vestibule of Hell, where those who never took a stand, either for good or for evil, are punished.

In Circle 1, aka Limbo, which is a place of sighs rather than screams, are such people as the Virtuous Pagans and the Unbaptized.

The three major subdivisions of the Inferno are these:

1) The Circles devoted to punishing unrepented sins of Incontinence.

Circle 2: Lust

Circle 3: Gluttony

Circle 4: The Hoarders and the Spendthrifts

Circle 5: The Wrathful

Note: Circle 6 is devoted to punishing unrepented heresy — a Christian sin.

2) The Circle devoted to punishing unrepented sins of Violence: Circle 7.

3) The Circles devoted to punishing unrepented sins of Fraud: Circles 8 and 9. Circle 8 punishes Simple Fraud, while Circle 9 punishes Complex Fraud.

Incontinence, Violence, and Fraud are pagan classifications of sin. Heresy is a Christian classification of sin.

  • Who are the Florentines whom Dante meets?

Dante meets three Florentines who are all warriors and who are all punished for Sodomy:

1) Guido Guerra.

In 1260, the Florentine Guelfs attacked Siena and lost. Guido Guerra had advised the Florentine Guelfs not to attack Siena at Montaperti.

2) Tegghiaio Aldobrandi.

He also advised the Florentine Guelfs not to attack Siena at Montaperti. He knew that many mercenaries had joined the Sienese forces.

Note: Of course, the Florentines should have listened to Guido Guerra and Tegghiaio Aldobrandi. The Sienese won the Battle of Montaperti. Farinata, who is punished among the Heretics, was one of the generals of the Sienese and allied forces.

3) Jacopo Rusticucci.

His wife was unpleasant, and he sent her home to her father. He blames his sodomy on her. He was wealthy.

  • In your opinion, why do Dante and Virgil treat the Sodomites with so much respect?

Virgil treats the Florentine Sodomites with respect. He tells Dante that these men are well worth talking to:

Unto their cries my Teacher paused attentive;

He turned his face towards me, and “Now wait,”

He said; “to these we should be courteous.

And if it were not for the fire that darts

The nature of this region, I should say

That haste were more becoming thee than them.”

(Longfellow 16.13-18)

One thing we find out about these Sodomites is that they are concerned about Florence and wish her well. They may be Sodomites, but they are patriots who have done much good for Florence. Sodomites are able to do good in the world. They have heard from a newly arrived sinner, Guglielmo Borsiere, that Florence is in bad shape, and they are worried about the city.

We should also note that these three Sodomites wish to be remembered in the living world. Speaking together, they tell Dante, “do not fail to speak of us to living men” (Musa, Inferno16.85).

  • Was Dante a Sodomite?

Dante does not seem to have been tempted to become a Sodomite.

  • Is homosexuality a sin?

Sodomy is a sin — if it is a sin — that does not hurt other people, I think. It is a victimless sin. I suppose that homosexuality can break up a marriage, if a man discovers that he is gay after being married or if he is discovered to be gay after being married. This may be an argument for accepting homosexuality, as some men may deny that they are gay because society looks down on it, and they may feel compelled to be married to a woman.

Here’s an anecdote: A man married, then discovered that he was sexually attracted to other men. He started going to gay bars late at night, making his wife wonder where he was. Eventually, he told her that he was gay, and she said, “Is that all? I thought you were an international spy or something.”

Today, we may want to put such Biblical quotations as “Homosexuality is an abomination” into historical context. At the time of that quotation, the Jews were struggling against other people who accepted homosexuality. Also, the word “homosexuality” is a relatively recent term that has appeared in translations of the Bible only recently.

Dante clearly considers Sodomy a sin.

See my free essay “Why I Support Same-Sex Civil Marriage: here:


Be aware that Catholic priest Daniel A. Helminiak wrote a book titled What the Bible ReallySays About Homosexuality. He does not believe that homosexuality is a sin.

  • How does Virgil signal Geryon?

Virgil takes Dante’s cord that he uses as a belt, which Dante used to try to catch the leopard that kept him from climbing to the sun, and throws it into a pit.

Virgil and Dante need to summon Geryon so that they can ride on his back down to the Circle. Here is a cliff, as evidenced by a waterfall, and so they need help to advance to the next Circle.

Note that this canto is bookended by the waterfall. At the beginning of the canto the waterfall is heard faintly; at the end of the canto the waterfall is much louder.

  • Could Dante’s cord that he uses as a belt be a symbol?

Some people think that Dante at one time may have been a Franciscan, members of which order similarly wear cords as belts. The cord can be seen as a symbol of the Franciscans.

Mark Musa, translator of The Divine Comedy, believes that the cord is also a symbol of foolish self-confidence. Mr. Musa notes that here in Canto 16 Dante tells us that he once thought he could use his cord to catch the leopard of Canto 1.

  • Which special powers does Virgil have?

We have had references to two special powers that Virgil has:

Virgil always knows what time it is by the positions of the heavenly bodies. It is always dark in the Inferno, but Virgil is able to know the positions of the heavenly bodies and so know the time.

Virgil is able to tell which questions Dante is thinking. We see a clear reference to that in Canto 16, when Dante writes, and the Pilgrim thinks:

Ah me! how very cautious men should be

With those who not alone behold the act,

But with their wisdom look into the thoughts!

(Longfellow 16.118-120)

Virgil, of course, has other qualities:

  • He is a symbol of Human Reason, and he is a Virtuous Pagan.
  • He is a famous poet and the author of the Aeneid, and he has all the qualities of a shade, including weightlessness.
  • He also is very helpful to Beatrice, and he has special knowledge of the Inferno as a result of having previously journeyed to the bottom of the Inferno after being required to retrieve a shade for the sorceress Erichtho to question.

We will also see that Virgil is strong and sure-footed. He is able to carry Dante when Dante needs to be carried.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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