Journeying on Geryon

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Journeying on Geryon

Dante’s Inferno lies open as I sleep.

On winged Geryon we descend into the infernal sublime of fraudsters, flatterers, the treacherous, their earth-borne bullshit stench exceeded here by that of countless privies.

Geryon’s human face seems kindly, despite his serpentine body and scorpion tail, and I ask: “Geryon, will I recognize anyone in the Malebolge, this place of stone?”

He, answering sweetly in steady meter: “Nay, why, for art thou not too clever for such?”

I relax, then gasp, as he drops me in the mire.

Alas, it’s not as one living but as one damned to her final destination.


Illustration by Gustave Doré 1867, The Flight of Geryon.

In Canto XVII of Dante’s Inferno, the pilgrim Dante and the poet Virgil, his guide, ride on the back of the monster Geryon to descend from the seventh to the eighth circle of hell in the third ring of hell, the Malebolge. It is described in this way in the next canto:

There is a place in Hell called Malebolge,
made all of stone the color of crude iron,
as is the wall that makes its way around it.

Right in the middle of this evil field
is an abyss, a broad and yawning pit,
whose structure I shall tell in its due place.

The belt, then, that extends between the pit
and that hard, steep wall’s base is circular;
its bottom has been split into ten valleys.

Just as, where moat on surrounds a castle
in order to keep guard upon the walls,
the ground they occupy will form a pattern,

so did the valleys here form a design;
and as such fortresses have bridges running
right from their thresholds toward the outer bank,

so here, across the banks and ditches, ridges
ran from the base of that rock wall until
the pit that cuts them short and joins them all.

This was the place in which we found ourselves
when Geryon had put us down; the poet
held to the left, and I walked at his back.

The Divine Comedy – tr. Mandelbaum – Cantica I – Canto XVIII
Sandro Botticelli (1480), Inferno, Canto XVIII

41 thoughts on “Journeying on Geryon

    1. You write beautifully, Dora, with just enough description to fire the imagination and lead me freely into the story. Of course I’ve heard of the Inferno and Dante has influenced many of my favourite authors, but I’ve never read it. I may have left it too late for my stage in life, but you’re introducing me to what I need gradually.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you so much, Jenne. I’m not exactly a spring chicken myself but find this to be the perfect accompaniment to other readings, a sort of bass note that lingers in the mind. It is just that fascinating.

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  1. thank you for this Dora. Always enjoyed Looking at the Dutch Hieronymus Bosch’s renderings of Inferno, albeit, dark, dark…Triptych Earthly Delights in Museo del Prado in Madrid. Many more sublime paintings by him still in Amsterdam though.
    Dante’s Inferno is a very hard read, like Paradise Lost by Milton. I admire your dedication.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Outrageous. I’m sending in Seal Team 7 to bust you out! Geryon’s going to wish he had more aspirin for his dome by the time they’re finished with him.

    Nonetheless, a clever twist there, and a cautionary tale. Too often, we catch on just that one beat too late, yes? Maybe you should swap out your bedtime reading for Anne of Green Gables or Black Beauty? 😉

    –Shay

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dearest Shay, Swap out readings? When I can have my nightmares between the pages of a book rather than in my sleep?! Dante’s like my talisman that way! Still, I’d give a lot to see what Seal Team 7 could do with Geryon. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m sure the people he saw in the infernal pits included both men and women. Interestingly he only spoke to one woman among the ones interviewed and that one at the outermost ring.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. His fervent opposition to the corruption of religion and the body politic (the political world then being as venal as it is now) balanced against his own personal struggles as a condemned exile probably would have been inspiration enough.! Thank you T.

      Liked by 1 person

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