Cities, Bodies, and Sins:
Dante’s Interpretation of Hell as a Body
Dante Alighieri constructed the City of Dis in hopes of organizing the lower part of Hell into a structured map that categorized circle to its punishment. To illustrate the many circles, structures, and sins of Hell into the metaphor of a city, Dante pays close attention to his word choice for specific regions. While reading along, readers envision themselves climbing up to watchtowers, crossing a river, stepping into the gates of Dis, and even encountering citizens rather than heading in a linear path. The specific regions are all parts of the city that Dante and readers go through and these become symbiotic to the citizens’ sins. Robert M. Durling captures the relationship that readers share with the city of Dis and how we may find it to be a metaphor for the disgustingness of Hell. Are we only supposed to read the allusions of the city or can we also find yet another relationship between the city and the permanent citizens of Hell? The overall question being: Is there a relationship between Dante’s use of a city as a metaphor of Hell and the body illustrated by the citizens residing in The Inferno.
In Durling’s notes, “The Body Analogy, 1” he emphasizes how Dante ultimately constructed a Hell of organized patterns in which the sin, and body of the sinner go hand in hand. I agree with Durling on many points about the body and sin, but I think there is more symbolism towards the actual construction of Hell and the wrath of the sin. As we delve deeper into the depths of Hell, the sins become more serious and the city depicts this with its atrocities and disgusting scenes. But just like any city can be ugly, so can the body politic. An example Durling provides is “The walls of Dis mark the entrance to what corresponds to the human breast…Note the emphasis on Farinata’s posture” (Alighieri 552). Durling ties in the upright posture of Farinata, which evokes the breast, and the walls of Dis. According to biblical language, the sins of violence are depicted by the bodily image of the breast. This merely shows what Durling was trying to portray in Dante’s poem. Many examples arise to these images and denote political imagery. As readers we can easily note that Farinata is a character of respect and pride due to his posture, so we immediately give attention to this character. Just like other sinners we can find ourselves pointing at their characteristics and sin and represent them to a body part.
The body politic is derived from the analogous view of the body and different parts of the government. Just as anyone would predict, Durling points out “the head of the body politic is the king, the heart is the senate and nobility, the stomach and intestines are the taxgatherers and treasurers” and this symbolism can be related to the text in terms of the city and important characters. I too agree that the many sinners that Dante Alighieri uses are representative of imagery that readers can clash together with body and sin. Durling uses many examples such as Francesca, sin of lust, and the eyes. The sin of lust comes early in The Inferno so the illustration of bodily image is not as graphic as in later cantos. With this in mind, readers can correlate the extent of the sin with the disgustingness of the bodily parts and the city’s structure.
In one aspect we have the body politic in a church perspective and on the other hand we have the body politic in a government view. These two distinctions are played around with characters such as Pope Boniface and the clerics versus Cavilcanti and Farinata. In note “13. The Body Analogy, 2: The Metaphorics of God” the idea of the stomach being fraud arises and in many of the cantos of the Malebolge this is depicted through the sins. Durling carefully infers the digestive analogies of the sins to patterns alluding to the stomach with such examples: In canto 18 the sinners are covered in shit and in cantos 21 and 22 the barrators are cooked in pitch. Pope Boniface in canto 19 is under the sin of simoniacs whom are being burned in flames, which seems like a roast in my eyes. Specifically in lines 56 and 57 does the author speak of the sin in a way that relates the church to a body, “You did not fear to marry the lovely lady fraudulently, and then to tear her apart?” where Pope Boniface is revealed (Alighieri 19). We are now pretty deep into Hell and we’ve reached the stomach of the body in which we see much fluid imagery to portray the digestive tract. The readers may pick up on this as disgusting seeing as how in Canto 18 people were covered in shit. Politics are another matter than can easily be in conjunction with fraud, but as we see all of fraud to be in the malebolge that takes up most of Hell readers also may realize that this is the “belly” of the Inferno.
(So, I’m having a little trouble with the rest of this seeing as how mainly I am just using examples of my thesis. I can’t quite figure out the specificity of my topic and what some critics may see as the definition of body politic. If you have any insight on this please help me out in the workshop.)