LIT 165 Syllabus
LIT 165 Announcements
LIT 165 Assignments
WRT 120 Syllabus
WRT 120 Announcements
WRT 120 Assigmments
Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2005)
Adieu to Imaginary Worlds
One Last Look at Imaginary Worlds
ASSIGNMENT SHEET: Paper #3
Notes on 'Before the Law'
Samuel Beckett Links
Notes on 'Waiting for Godot'
Approaching 'Waiting for Godot'
Notes on 'Axolotl' by Julio Cortazar
Notes on 'EPICAC' by Kurt Vonnegut
ASSIGNMENT SHEET: Paper #2
DIRECTIONS: Independent Project
Suggested Readings: Independent Project
Character Analysis: Brave New World
Analyzing the Brave New World
Embarking on the Brave New World
A Critique of BRAVE NEW WORLD
Inferno: Final Destinations, Cantos XXXII-XXXIV
Inferno: Malebolge, Cantos XVIII-XXXI
Inferno: Questions/Analysis, Cantos XII - XVII
Structure in the Inferno: Analysis, Cantos V - XI
Inferno: Questions for Analysis, Cantos I - V
Introducing Canto I
Approaching the Divine Comedy
Relating to Dante's Inferno
Our Goals for Studying the Inferno
Assignment Sheet: PAPER #1
Leaf By Niggle
Responses to Leaf By Niggle
'On Fairy Stories' by J.R.R. Tolkien
Notes on Ovid and 'Metamorphoses'
Analyzing the Mythic Tales
The Four Functions of Myth
Myth and Metaphor
Myth - Links
Filtering the Introduction to 'Fantastic Worlds'
'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' and 'The Zebra Storyteller
Introducing the 'Imaginary Worlds' Theme
Alice In Wonderland
Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2004)
Conference Schedule: 4/21 and 4/26
Commentary: Following Up Your Response
Critical Thinking and Commentary
Casebook: Evaluating Sources
What is Argument?
Parts of an Argument
Casebook Assignment Sheet
Rubric for Evaluation of Writing
Assignment Sheet: Essay#1
Short Stories About Identity
Thoughts on Stories About Identity
Poems About Identity
Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
ENG Q20: Basic Writing (Fall 2004)
ENG Q20 Syllabus
Frederick Douglass Excerpt
How to Detect Propaganda
George Orwell's Politics and the English Language
Propaganda Analysis Exercise
Weblog for WRT 120
Writing Assistance on the Web
Blackboard at WCU
WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library
Inferno: Final Destinations ~~
Eighth Circle, Malebolge
Sins of Fraud
Dante's name for the Eighth Circle, furthers our understanding of the circular,
funnel-shaped landscape; it's graded very steeply downward towards a low, central
pit. This central pit will be the next and last circle, the very bottom and
center of Hell. Before arriving at the center, the pit, the travelers have to
make their way into and then up out of 10 deep ditches, or "pouches"
("bolgia"), that make up the eighth circle. Each pouch is devised
to punish a particular class of sins, all related to fraud. The contrapasso
becomes more and more severe the deeper the travelers descend. At the bottom
of Malebolge, the horror is not for faint-hearted readers.
Fraud incurs a
severe form of divine justice because it involves the active use of reason,
our distinctly human, angelic faculty, for unnatural ends. The sins of incontinence
may be less severely punished because they can be considered crimes of passion
which don't involve the intellect as directly. Sins of violence can go either
way-they are sometimes crimes of passion, sometimes premeditated. Although of
course there are exceptions, Dante considers violent crime against one's neighbor
likely to involve the least amount of will, whereas violence against God, Art
("God's grandchild"), and Nature would be more likely to involve the
will. Fraud, however, always involves what Dante considers a perversion of human
intelligence-that is, human intelligence used for evil (rather than angelic)
purposes. Fraudulent activities always involve the active use of reason; conscious
free will is always in operation.
Since humans, according to the Great Chain of Being, distinguish themselves
from the "lower" animals by their superior intelligence, it stands
to reason that to corrupt this aspect of yourself, to abuse reason, is to fail
most miserably at being a human being, and to be, consequently, the worst possible
Malebolge is the
place where these sinners are punished and it is constructed this way:
In Ditch One demons whip the pimps and the seducers as they shuffle along.
One of the notable sinners we encounter here is the classical figure of Jason,
who features prominently in Greek mythology (Jason and the Golden Fleece, Jason
contains the Flatterers who are sunk up to their necks in excrement. The contrapasso
is not hard to figure out here: they spewed "b.s." while alive, so
now they get to swim in it. Note the way Virgil hurries Dante along out of this
"Let our sight be satisfied" he says, but I'm sure his
nose was eager to make a quick getaway, too.
Canto XIX (19)
is reserved for the Simoniacs (sellers of church favors). These sinners are
thrust upside down in underground barrels that remind Dante of the baptismal
fonts he's seen in church. All we see are the flailing legs of the sinners,
who are further tormented by a fire which burns the soles of their feet. Dante
is attracted by one pair of squirming legs that seem to be more agitated than
the others; this turns out to be Pope Nicholas III. We learn that he will stay
in this position until Boniface arrives, then, like the other sinners in this
region, he'll be squeezed further down into the underground rock crevices, where
other souls have been layered and pressed flat before him, one upon the other
for all eternity.
- Note how, in
his address to readers at the beginning of the Canto, Dante expresses full
acceptance, full understanding of Divine Justice; in his opening lines he
even levels a kind of threat for readers to beware of sinning in this way.
He seems to be gaining confidence, getting his bearings. He's not disturbed
by the terrible punishment he sees; on the contrary, he seems more than gratified.
He can barely restrain himself as he lashes out boldly at Pope Nicholas III
(p. 155). This outburst marks real progress in Dante's battle against pity.
He has no pity for the squirming Pope, but rather enjoys the sight. We infer
that Virgil is pleased by this response.
- Notice, too,
how Dante acknowledges Virgil's ability to read him like a book (p. 153).
Ever since they've resolved their quarrel, we've been observing Virgil's ability
to anticipate Dante's feelings, to guess his innermost thoughts. Here is where
Dante openly acknowledges Virgil's uncanny ability to "read him."
It's a motif (a recurring event) that appears throughout this circle, as we
see Virgil anticipating Dante's thoughts so intimately it almost seems as
if he can read Dante's mind. Can he? Why does Dante want to call attention
to this? What's the significance of Virgil's ability to tune into Dante's
thoughts and feelings so precisely?
Canto XX (20)
In Ditch Four
Dante sees the Fortunetellers. These sinners have been contorted and twisted
so that their heads face backwards. Because they claimed (falsely) to be able
to "see" the future, they must spend eternity seeing only the past.
Like commuters sitting backwards on a bus or a train, they seem to be moving
backwards, and they can never see ahead, a fitting contrapasso. Here Dante finds
Tiresias, the prophet of ancient Greek myth, as well as other false prophets,
palm readers, and fortunetellers.
- The battle against
pity resumes as Dante sympathizes with the fortunetellers who are contorted
and twisted so that their heads face backward, an ingenious contrapasso for
their sins. Virgil has strong words for Dante, seeing him once again making
this error in judgment (p. 159).
- Notice how Virgil
launches into a long discourse on the history of his hometown, Mantua. Dante
comments that Virgil's speech inspires "certainty," presumably because
it is about the past rather than the future. If we want to see clearly, we
have to look behind and understand where we've been, not try to "divine"
the future through false prophesies, a pagan practice. Notice how Dante, after
Virgil's history lesson, says that his mind "turns back" to the
fortunetellers and their fate, which is a clever pun. It also re-emphasizes
Dante's mistaken orientation in this canto, which has Virgil a little peeved.
They are still talking as they exit the pouch, about what we can only imagine.
Perhaps Virgil is lecturing Dante on his misplaced sympathies.
Canto XXI -
XXII (21 - 22)
holds the Grafters. These are people who use their official offices for profit
or personal gain; they make money or win advantage by an abuse of their office.
Barratry, specifically, is the buying or selling of church or state office.
These sinners are sunk in sticky tar ("pitch"). They are carefully
watched by the "Malebranche," a troop of demons armed with razor-sharp
hooks and claws with which they jab at sinners who try to rise up from under
- Despite Virgil's
rebuke in the last Canto, Dante and Virgil have been chatting like chums.
They do not quarrel at all anymore, even when Dante is in the wrong. Virgil
has learned not to get haughty with Dante even when he applies corrections.
Notice how Virgil is as alert as ever as he moves very quickly to protect
Dante from the Malebranche.
- These two cantos
are known for their slapstick comedy. They provide a measure of comic relief
from the seriousness that's been and the horror that's to come.
- We see
one sinner as he rises butt first and the Malebranche laugh at and call
it his "Sacred Face," which is a reference to a landmark in
the city where he comes from.
are compared to meat in a stew of tar.
the demons try to attack Virgil he plays them like a fiddle; there's
no real danger or fear involved. Virgil has learned that evoking the
heavenly power is all that's needed. There's no ego left.
the heavenly protection, the demons beg to give Dante just "one
touch on the rump." Their leader rebukes them.
- The leader's
name is "Malacoda" or "Bad-Tail," which is funnier
to us if we translate it "Bad Ass." Bad-Ass ends Canto 21
with a fart. ("And the leader made a trumpet of his ass.")
Timeless bathroom humor?
- The troop
of Malebranche all have names that are puns on the names of prominent
families from an Italian city Dante is parodying.
- In Canto
22, a sinner is caught because he's too stupid or too slow to dive away.
All we know about him is that he's from Navarre.
- The Malebranche
rip at the lazy sinner they've caught, but it's not horrifying. Just
as he was slow getting away, he's slow to respond to his punishment,
which involves ripping out a muscle in his arm. He just "stares
at his wound" (p. 181). Then he proceeds to lie through his teeth.
He wheels and deals and "sells" them a promise of seven other
souls to torment, if they just stand aside and let him whistle. They
suspect his cunning and threaten him elaborately, but he convinces them
he'll be cunning on their behalf. When he dives away and escapes, the
demons are so furious at being tricked they end up fighting among themselves
and they end up in the pitch. They are baked to a hard crust before
they can be "rescued."
- The whole experience
is likened to an Aesop's fable at the beginning of the next canto: the treacherous
frog (the Malebranche) are defeated and the innocent mouse (Virgil and Dante)
A somber tone returns
as we accompany Dante through Ditch Six, where Dante meets the Hypocrites
who plod along weighed down by deceptively painful robes that appear spectacularly
beautiful on the outside, but inside are lined with heavy lead. The splendid
appearance belies the soul-crushing reality, just as hypocrites deliberately
manipulate appearances to fool us about reality.
- Notice how Dante's
intelligence kicks into high gear. He's not the same dumbfounded, confused
wanderer we met in Canto I any longer. As he reflects upon the "comic"
encounter with the grafters-how it has been like walking through an Aesop's
fable (the frog and the mouse)-Dante suddenly realizes that the Malebranche
are likely to be hopping mad and looking for vengeance. He suggests getting
out of there right away, before there's trouble. Virgil readily agrees, and
we see something new here. Dante is the one to suggest the plan of action;
Virgil goes along-it's a real sign of progress.
- Dante's progress
is also Virgil's progress, in a way. In this Canto, we get the vivid image
of Virgil swiftly and unconsciously, unconditionally lifting Dante away from
danger, just as a mother might unthinkingly move to protect her child. Not
only is Virgil fatherly, he's motherly, too. His loving care is a source of
strength for Dante as they continue through the ditches.
- Notice how angry
Virgil gets when he realizes that the Malebranche lied to him! His anger explodes
across his brow, which Dante finds disturbing. There is a little bit of suspense
as to how Virgil will react to his anger that leads us into the next Canto.
- XXV (24
Here in Ditch
Seven the Thieves are punished by monstrous snakes that surround and attack
them. At first they coil like ropes around the hands, binding them fast. Once
the hands are bound and the bite inflicted, the sinner explodes into flame and
the two melt like hot wax, losing all substance until they are reduced to a
pile of ashes. From the flaming ashes, the sinner re-forms and must endure the
same torment again and again. Later, the travelers witness a variation: the
thief and the serpent "exchange substances," slowing morphing into
- The long, elaborate
pastoral simile that opens Canto 24 recalls Virgil's Eclogues, a little-used
form he borrowed from the Greeks and developed masterfully. Pastoral poetry
celebrates the simple agricultural life and the virtues of living close to
nature; here Dante dabbles in the pastoral form (is there anything he can't
do?) to demonstrate how Virgil is able to put his anger aside, how he is able
to master that animal emotion, that bestial side of himself-he can conquer
his body-something he will urge Dante to accomplish later in the Canto. This
is a highly significant moment in the book, I think. Dante is observing Virgil
very closely because he's disturbed by the anger that he saw erupting in the
last Canto. He's waiting to see what will happen, where this anger will go.
As he's looking closely at Virgil he's amazed at what he sees. Virgil conquers
his anger. The only way to describe it is to compare it to the pastoral image
of a late winter snow melting away at the first sharp, powerful rays of late
winter sun. The light of intellect is no match for the animal emotion. Dante
is filled with love and admiration for his mentor, his friend. He recalls
fondly the "sweet face" that came to rescue him in the dark wood
of Canto I. It's a touching moment-both because of Virgil's strength of character
and because of Dante's warm response to it. And because Dante has paid such
close attention, he's more likely to be able to emulate his noble friend and
teacher, who is demonstrating how to have self-control, how to make the body,
the emotions, obey the reason, the will.
- Virgil has to
lecture Dante when it seems he's giving into his body, which is tired from
a hard climb. Virgil observes that Dante still lacks the strength of will
he'll need to complete his journey. He steps in to coach, to motivate. Athletes
may want to take note of the passage (p. 199) in which Virgil urges Dante
to dig deep and find the soul to go on despite being tired of body. He argues
that FAME (honor, reputation, being known for your great deeds) is only won
by putting your whole soul into the effort and conquering your body. What
is life without fame? A thin wisp of smoke easily dispersed into thin air.
To really win fame (a form of earthly immortality to correspond to spiritual
immortality), you must conquer your body. Dante responds and really tries
to follow Virgil's advice, hiding his tiredness in a stream of speech. Philadelphia
sports fans demand no less of their teams than what Virgil demands here.
- After we see
Fucci flaming into ashes, he tells Dante a prophecy "to bring him grief."
It's a prediction about Dante's bleak political future. Yet does it bring
Dante grief? He never even mentions it! He completely shrugs off the need
to tally these worldly gains and losses now. He has his eyes on the prize.
- At the beginning
of Canto 25, there's the indelible image of Fucci giving two "figs"
to God, a major blasphemy. He runs away, demons hot in pursuit. It's a small
moment, but it's one of those small moments that resound in a big way. Is
the cup half empty or half full? The audacity of his protest is funny, but
the futility of it is infinitely sad.
- The horror of
the thief who exchanges substance with a serpent is something new in terms
of metamorphoses, as Dante can't help boasting. (He's not humble. There'll
be no false modesty.) Let Ovid and Lucan (both famous Roman poets of antiquity)
come and look on. The contrapasso is pretty obvious: the thieves stole others'
substance, so they must lose their own.
- XXVII (26 - 27)
Counselors are punished in Ditch Eight, completely encased in flames
that perhaps symbolize their guilty consciences. Here Dante sees Ulysses and
Diomede, the instigators of the Trojan Horse ploy.
- The highlight
of this canto is the travelers' encounter with Ulysses, the hero of Homer's
great epics, the Iliad, which tells the story of Greeks' defeat of Troy, and
the Odyssey, which tells the story of Ulysses' adventures as he returns home
from the Trojan War.
- Dante's portrayal
of Ulysses is ambiguous, like many of the great memorable characters we meet
in the Inferno. Like Francesca, Farinata, and Brunetto Latini, Ulysses' "sin"
may be recognized by some readers as a kind of nobility; all of these characters
present "traps" for the Pilgrim, who must struggle to understand
the nature of their sin, and his own, since many of these characters are not
only vividly themselves but also very much complex projections of the various
aspects of Dante's own self. Just as we felt sympathy for Francesca the lover,
Latini the scholar, and Farinata the proud Florentine, Ulysses gains our sympathy-maybe
even more so. As with the previous characters, there are many parallels between
Dante and Ulysses to observe. First, understand that Dante invents this episode
in the life of Ulysses. He imagines Ulysses' death. It is not in Homer or
Virgil. As far as those poets are concerned Ulysses was a great hero who helped
the Greeks win the Trojan War; at the end of the Odyssey, he is home with
his wife and son. That is where Homer leaves him.
- Now look
at what Dante invents for him, beginning with his speech on p. 221. Note
the nobility of character and the noble aim. If Ulysses has a tragic flaw,
it must be his wanderlust, his thirst for "experience"-for knowledge
of the world which is not his to have. Why can't he have it? Why is it
forbidden? Why does his ship sink within sight of Mt. Purgatory?
- What are
the parallels between Dante and Ulysses?
drowns in the sea that Dante has metaphorically come out of in Canto I
(he almost drowned, but didn't). Both characters come within sight of
Mt. Purgatory but can't reach it. Both have pursued it by the wrong road.
Ulysses "thirst for knowledge" is pagan, and Dante has equally
lost the "straight road." When Ulysses spots Purgatory, God
sends out a storm to destroy his ship, whereas Dante (metaphorically)
swims ashore where Virgil finds him in the dark wood.
- Both characters
have a thirst for knowledge; when he was younger Dante pursued learning
with vigor and thought Philosophy was to be his "consolation"
after the death of Beatrice. Ulysses eloquently expresses his hungry and
very human desire for knowledge and experience.
- Both are
leaders, counselors-but Ulysses supposedly gives false counsel (to his
crew) and Dante true (his Commedia).
- Both are
extremely clever (the Commedia is Dante's clever achievement; the Trojan
Horse is Ulysses').
- In Canto 27,
we meet Montefeltro, another "false counselor," a contemporary of
Dante's this time, a character whose discussion seems to prefigure some of
the Machiavellian arguments made in The Prince, a hundred and fifty years
or so later. This is interesting because the character would never speak about
these secret things if he thought word would get out. These are the dirty
little secrets that politicians like to keep hidden from public view, but
which Dante exposes here, well before Machiavelli.
Ditch Nine condemns the schismatics-the sowers of religious, political,
and family discord. In life these sinners tore at the fabric of a sacred tapestry;
their punishment is to experience the same manner of tearing. Dante meets Mahomet
(Mohammed), the founder of Islam, one of the "worst" schismatics,
responsible for ripping people away from Christianity. Mahomet's is sliced open
from his head to his middle, his entrails dangling for all to see. Later Dante
finds Bertrand de Born, a French troubadour, or knight, traditionally blamed
for the rift between Henry II and his son. Horrifyingly, de Born's head is completely
severed; his headless trunk holds its head before him like a lantern, one of
the most gruesome scenes in the whole poem.
- It makes sense
that the blood and gore which feature prominently in this canto should be
present. Schism leads to feuding and war. There's an immediate focus in this
canto on the horrors of war, the physical and mental toll it takes, the insanity
that can ensue.
- The ripped torsos
of Mahomet and Ali, his nephew, are vivid and horrifying
not like this canto.
- The severed
head at the end of the canto is one of the more gruesome images in the entire
Inferno, though we've yet to experience the horrors of Circle 9.
- Notice that
Dante expresses a modified kind of pity at the beginning of the Canto (p.
245, 247), but he'll lose his pity entirely by Circle 9. This is the last
- XXX (29-30)
In Ditch Ten
Dante views the falsifiers-alchemists, evil impersonators ( NOT Elvis impersonators!),
counterfeiters, and false witnesses. These sinners, who in life, corrupted all,
now are made to endure every sort of corruption and pain. Darkness, dirt, filth,
disease, hunger, thirst and noise surround them.
- Notice Virgil
rebukes Dante sternly for his "low desire" to eavesdrop
is so shamed that Virgil forgives him right away.
(31): An Interlude
Canto 31 is a chance
for the travelers to get their bearings. They're about to enter the 9th Circle
can see, through the mist, darkly. At the bottom of Malebolge a ring of Giants
guard the central pit.
you've been following the "battle against pity" theme, you can
rides the roller coaster through much of the book, feeling pity, feeling
disgust, feeling pity once again, but he does make some solid progress,
especially by the end.
- Read the
Cantos in circle nine with the battle against pity theme in mind. What
do you notice?
you've been following developments in the relationship between Dante and
Virgil, you can note especially:
and Dante develop a very poignant relationship, one of total trust, deep
bonding. Virgil is very parental towards Dante, very nurturing, and very
loving. There are many instances in the second half of the book where
Virgil carries Dante like a father or mother would carry a child. He is
a stern authority when authority is needed-he is always alert and ready
to provide the right correction and guidance. Dante stops battling with
Virgil completely in the second half of the book; he is completely trusting.
The two are so tuned into each other that Virgil can practically read
Dante's mind. Some critics have suggested that he actually does read Dante's
mind, but I think that is a misreading, myself. It's just that Virgil
is so intelligent; he's always one step ahead of Dante, able to anticipate
his problems, guess his apprehensions. On one level, he personifies Reason,
remember. It is very poignant when, in the ninth circle, Virgil steps
back and you hardly hear from him. The pupil has learned the lesson so
well that he can travel through the deepest most horrible section of Hell
and leave his pity behind (way behind, we see). Dante proves, by the time
they leave the ninth circle, that he's learned what he needs to know about
the nature of sin, and the nature of sinners, and he's ready to take on
the next stage of his journey. As observant readers, we know Virgil's
calm example, his poise and his intelligence, have been a big part of
Dante's success. Dante never would have made it out of the woods without
Virgil. There's a poignant scene in which Dante recalls that scene in
the dark woods when Virgil came to rescue him; he remembers Virgil's "sweet
worlds and their "truth"
Back in Canto
XVI, Dante is about to describe Geryon, and he says:
man should close his lips, if he's able to,
When faced by truth that has the face of lies,
But here I cannot be silent; reader, I vow
By my Commedia's ines-so may they not fail
He goes on to describe the fantastic monster, Geryon. Why this elaborate
prelude? Why this justification that what seems like a "lie"
is actually "true"?
Canto XXXII, he urges himself not let words "diverge from fact."
Dante mean when he insists his story is true, despite the fact that everyone
immediately knows it is a "fiction." How is it both "fictional"
and "true"? If it isn't true in its surface details-these are
fictional characters (no matter how "real") in a fictional setting
(no matter how "believable")-what exactly is true about it?
What "truth" can it tell? Does it tell the truth?
gets to the heart of what literature has to offer in its deepest sense-a
form of truth, artistic truth. Although the details of the fictional journey
might not be "literally" true in the sense that Minos and Geryon
and Lucifer and the rest obviously do not "exist," the journey,
along with its vivid cast of characters, is "true" allegorically,
symbolically, metaphorically. Dante declares that the truth need not reside
on the literal level; the poetic image, the metaphor, can convey allegorical,
symbolic truth which is equally valid, equally worthwhile. It's what the
metaphor suggests about the nature of ourselves and our world that we
respond to as "true." In that sense, we might decide Genesis
is "true," although we might not believe in a literal "Garden"
and a literal "Adam and Eve." This is the same decision we make
(about truth) whether we're reading about a fantastic, alternate world
like the Inferno or a very realistic world like the one Tim O'Brien evokes
in his Vietnam masterpiece, The Things They Carried. Great literature,
by providing us with provocative poetic images make us feel, make us think,
make us imagine, is always an invitation to truth: the truth about the
very things we think of as "human."