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

Dante’s Prayer

I hear the call, Eternal, sound in my heart and in the stars.
Is it timeless or infinity itself? Is its Voice a song?
I do not question, so much yet to understand and I am not able.

I only respond in gratitude, though one-legged in faith still hobbling,
letting go finger by finger my pride,
and taking up, hand after hand, my cross of self-denial.

For this Eternal is Love.


By Purgatorio, Canto 11 of the Commedia, Dante the pilgrim has exited Hell and entered purgatory by permission of the angel at the gate who uses two keys, one silver (remorse) and one gold (reconciliation). As he and his guide, the poet Virgil, enter they are warned not to look back at any point in the journey up through the terraces of purgatory to the Garden of Eden. In Purgatorio, Canto 10, Dante had seen examples of humility. Now on the first and lowest terrace he sees souls of the proud bent over by large stones they carry on their backs, due penance for their sin of Pride, of which there are three kinds: pride of family, pride of art, and pride of power.

Federigo da Montefeltro, Divina Commedia, ca. 1478.
Purgatorio, Canto XI: The Prideful. – Source

Purgatorio is filled with the prayers of souls as they ascend the terraces. And Canto 11 opens with the only complete prayer which is really an expanded version or gloss of The Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6: 9-13; Luke 11: 2-4).

“Our Father, You who dwell within the heavens

but are not circumscribed by them out of

Your greater love for Your first works above,


Praised be Your name and Your omnipotence,

by every creature, just as it is seemly

to offer thanks to Your sweet effluence.


Your kingdom’s peace come unto us, for if

it does not come, then though we summon all

our force, we cannot reach it of our selves.


Just as Your angels, as they sing Hosanna,

offer their wills to You as sacrifice,

so may men offer up their wills to You.


Give unto us this day the daily manna

without which he who labors most to move

ahead through this harsh wilderness falls back.


Even as we forgive all who have done

us injury, may You, benevolent,

forgive, and do not judge us by our worth.


Try not our strength, so easily subdued,

against the ancient foe, but set it free

from him who goads it to perversity.”

Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio, Canto X1, lines 1-21, transl. Alan Mandelbaum
Gustave Doré, Dante Alighieri’s Commedia, The Beatific Vision (1880)

The Commedia ends with Paradiso where Dante receives the beatific vision: “The Love that moves the other stars” (l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle). As Giuseppe Mazzotta notes, Inferno and Purgatorio also end with stelle. “So when Dante says that love moves the sun and other stars, what he’s really doing is placing himself immediately right back on earth, back at the beginning of his quest. He’s here with us looking up at the stars.”

Continue reading “Dante’s Prayer”

Dante’s “Roundabout” to Beatrice

Per dVerse’s MTB, The Roundabout:

  • Four quintains (five-line stanzas) for a total of twenty lines
  • Iambic meter throughout
  • Lines have 4;3;2;2;3 feet respectively
  • Line 5 repeats line 2
  • Rhyme scheme is aBccB bCddC cDaaD dAbbA

Naturally, given my current reading, my first thoughts flew to Dante’s unrequited love for Beatrice.

Dante and Beatrice, Henry Holiday (1883), oil on canvas

My mind rehearses all the lines
I’d say if you were mine;
Though you are not
My heart you’ve got
I’d say if you were mine.

Oh, how I long to have a sign
That you like me have fought
The love I yearn
For which I burn
That you like me have fought.

There is no wealth, no treasure sought
That would all reason spurn;
To cross the lines
And God’s designs
That would all reason spurn.

Farewell, my muse, to God I’ll turn
For Love like starlight shines;
My mind refine
My heart confine
For Love like starlight shines.

The Blind Detective

On terra damnata,
the rind of a moon over
history’s purgatorial waste,

she traces the scarred earth,
the braille of ocotillo,
lizards, whinstone, curvature

of monoclines, a geologist
of cemeteries, cairns,
listening for hollow bells

marking Cain’s passage
towards nuclear holocaust
with soulless eyes.


Search and see if this does not ring of someone who’s lately been immersed in Dante and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. It’s obvious Dante continues to influence the best of our contemporary writers, especially McCarthy, who critics have called America’s greatest contemporary novelist in a class with Hawthorne, Melville and Faulkner.

Continue reading “The Blind Detective”

The (Other) Girl Next Door

I hear Dante pass, still fresh with the horror of the infernal pit he had risen from to see the stars once more. My breath catches again.

Does he see me? Now? Ever?

I’m no Beatrice. My face proves not salvific.

I had lived too long. She, too short a time.

Would you say to her, death is quite romantic? Or, death will immortalize you in terza rima? You would not say that of me, the one overlooked in search of another.

Here in purgatorio, my envious eyes are sewn shut. My mouth is not. Yet the voices in my ears speak generosity.

So I say, as he passes, The pain that twisted me to bitter envy I unloose to blessing. May it guide you to Beatrice. Nay, may it guide you to the God of love.

And the wires loosen from my eyes.


As a young boy, the poet Dante lived next door to Beatrice who, though he never spoke to her, he loved from afar, and to whom, through his love for her, he credits his spiritual and poetic journey. I have imagined in this piece of fiction, “the other girl next door” who never caught his attention but had fallen in love with him to no avail and to her own self-destruction.

Continue reading “The (Other) Girl Next Door”

Love Ran Through His Island Heart

“Without hope we live on in desire.”
Sanza speme vivemo in disio.

Dante, Inferno, Canto IV, line 42

Love ran through his island heart
From springes freed took flight
Left swallows’ cries of yesteryears
Desire-torn in apple-bright

Bone-white his wings that beat the air
And strain bent low his neck
Wind beat hard his sinews bare
Yet Hope grew clear his sight

Quiet-warmed as kingly deer by brook
Calm shattered shivers of doubt
Drawn unseen through cloud and dark
Dew-quenched his thirsting heart

Love and Hope together sang
He heard their various strain
Not far the wing-breadths that remained
To reach the One he loved.


“That without hope we live on in desire”
The pagan poet found
But pity more each one whose fire
Burns for themselves alone.


Before Canto 4 of the Inferno where the pilgrim Dante is introduced to the virtuous pagans among whom is his guide through Hell, the poet Virgil himself, Dante first crosses the gate of Hell whereon he sees inscribed, “Abandon hope all who enter here” (Canto 3). Here, he sees the first sinners in Hell, a craven company who lived for themselves, filled with envious desires, whom Virgil describes as “the sorry souls of those who lived without infamy or praise. They are mingled with that base band of angels who were neither rebellious nor faithful to God, but stood apart.” Being disengaged from the battle, this endless line of souls have no hope of death’s oblivion, “mercy and justice disdain them. Let us not speak of them, but look, and pass on” (trans. Charles S. Singleton). Virgil won’t even name them for they have reduced reality, reduced the world to a show, a spectacle for their own amusement. These rage and wail as swarms of stinging wasps and flies follow them and worms engorge on their blood. In contrast the virtuous pre-Christian pagans whom Dante meets next in Limbo live in a bucolic garden, their great sadness, desiring yet remaining apart from God.

Continue reading “Love Ran Through His Island Heart”

I wonder where the lost have gone

Dante and Virgil Penetrating the Forest 1824-7 William Blake 1757-1827 (Tate Gallery)

I wonder where the lost have gone
Lost to wonder, lost to touch
When sense is taken, sight is gone
What is found, and what is won.

I wonder if they’re all alone
In the darkness, in the gloom
Or in the sweating ground alone
More is said, and more is done.

Spinning earth no justice takes
For lying tongue or stiff-necked pride;
Warm her microbe-seethed embrace
Of oneness wrought, forgetfulness.

The bodies claimed by coffins lined
Or watery depths or funeral pyres
Souls unearthed new moorings find
As exiled prophets, poets divined.

I wonder where the lost have gone
Apart from mercy, love, and grace
And in their wake what’s left undone
Too late—their choices sealed in stone.


Continue reading “I wonder where the lost have gone”