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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes
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CANTO XVII

Dante would have made great movies because he had a
wonderful sense of visual drama. As Virgil and Dante stand
near the edge of the cliff, the monster Geryon comes up over
the edge in response to Virgil's signal. In Greek mythology,
this monster had three heads and a human form. Here,
however, he has the face of a benign man, the claws of a
beast, and the tail of a reptile. His multifaceted and deceptive
form make him a perfect image of Fraud, which is the
corruption of appetite, will, and intellect.

While Virgil negotiates passage down the cliff with Geryon,
he sends Dante to view a group of shades that sit on the edge
of the Burning Sands, the Usurers. These sinners flap their
arms, gesturing to keep away from the burning flames that
sweep over them. Around each neck is a purse. It may seem
odd to a reader that the Usurers share the same ring as the
Sodomites, until Dante's feeling about making use of God's
gifts of nature becomes clear. The Suicides refused life; the
Profligates refused to honor the materials that sustain life; the
Sodomites make sterile what is supposed to be fertile (the
human body); the Usurers make fertile what is supposed to be
sterile-money. To live from the labors of others, and to have
luxuries at the expense of their basic needs, is their sin. (When
you finish paying your student loans, you might try creating
your own punishment for the Usurers.)



When Dante returns to Virgil, Virgil tells Dante to grab hold
of Geryon's shoulders, and he will transport the pair down to
the next circle. Dante makes a show of his bravery but
implores Virgil to grab hold of him for safety. Virgil does so,
telling Dante he will sit behind him to prevent Dante from
suffering any mischief from the monster's tall. Geryon turns,
descends the cliff, and shakes off the poets at the bottom.

NOTE: If you will remember Dante's difficulty getting through
the gates of Dis, you might see some parallels here. Going
through the gates meant passage from the first kind of sin,
Incontinence, to a more serious kind, Violence. The steep
walls of the Abyss represent passage from the sins of Violence
to the most offensive kind of sin, Fraud. It seems that when the
poets make a change of such significance, even Virgil has to
get some assistance. Keep your eyes open for one more place
where this is so.

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