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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.
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 ourselvesThe Divine Comedy – tr. Mandelbaum – Cantica I – Canto XVIII
when Geryon had put us down; the poet
held to the left, and I walked at his back.