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The Divine Comedy: Purgatory 2 The murder of Pia de’ Tolomei
Dante is being led by the ghost of Virgil up the steep crags at the foot of the island mountain of Purgatory. After negotiating their way around sheer cliffs, they come across a group of souls huddling under a large rock: these are the spirits of those who delayed... Read more
The Divine Comedy: Purgatory 1 Starting the ascent
Although Heaven and Hell have clear biblical roots, the concept of Purgatory as part of the Christian life after death is more recent. It originated in the early Christian Church, flourished in the Middle Ages, and ripened only in the Catholic Church after the schism of Protestants in the... Read more
The Divine Comedy: Inferno 16 An overview of Hell
Before Dante takes us on from Hell to Purgatory, I’d like to take a brief overview of the last fifteen articles in which he has taken us to Hell and back, looking at some of its finest paintings. Sandro Botticelli (1445–1510), Map of Hell (1480-90), silverpoint, ink and distemper,... Read more
The Divine Comedy: Inferno 15 Lucifer
Dante and Virgil move on towards a great contraption which looks from a distance a bit like a windmill. As they grow closer, they pass by shades of the dead frozen and stacked up. Joseph Anton Koch (1768-1839), Hell (study for Casa Massimo frescoes) (c 1825), watercolour and gouche,... Read more
The Divine Comedy: Inferno 14 From treachery to cannibalism
After meeting some political traitors, Dante and Virgil come across Count Ugolino, who is gnawing the back of the head of Archbishop Ruggieri as a dog chews a bone. Their story is one of the most horrific and famous in the whole of the Divine Comedy. Ugolino raises his... Read more
The Divine Comedy: Inferno 13 Treachery
After Dante and Virgil hear the story of an alchemist who claimed to be able to transform base metals into gold, Dante mentions examples of those who have fallen victim to sudden changes of fate, in Thebes and Troy. But none compares to two of the spirits who sink... Read more
The Divine Comedy: Inferno 12 The fraudulent
After talking with the notorious thief Vanni Fucci, who becomes pinned down by snakes, Dante and Virgil move on and meet a centaur, identified by Virgil as Cacus, who had been killed by Hercules. Dante’s classical reference here is a little odd in that he gives an account of... Read more
The Divine Comedy: Inferno 11 Barrators, hypocrites and thieves
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... Read more
The Divine Comedy: Inferno 10 Pimps, soothsayers, the corrupt
In their descent into the depths of Hell, Virgil and Dante have just entered circle eight, which is for those who committed fraud in its broadest sense. This consists of what Dante refers to as malebolge, best translated as rottenpockets, a series of ten deep trenches each of which... Read more
The Divine Comedy: Inferno 9 Blasphemy, sodomy, usury
From their tragic encounter with tormented souls in the Suicide Wood, Virgil leads Dante onto a barren and sandy plain, where groups of spirits are in different postures, naked under steady showers of flakes of fire. These fall on their flesh, and set the sand afire underneath them. These... Read more