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  • Writer's pictureRobert Brinkerhoff

Inferno XI: Mapping Hell

Inferno XI: The Circle of the Violent Ink on paper, 2016 22 x 15” Canto XI is one of the more didactic parts of L'Inferno. Dante and Virgil descend to the seventh circle, housing those who have committed violent acts in life. It is subdivided into three smaller rings to accommodate sinners who are guilty of various classifications of violence. Virgil maps out the terrain, an impromptu geography lesson before continuing the journey. * * * The violent are punished in a variety of ways, depending on the transgressions they committed on earth. The seventh circle is sub-divided into three rings, each of which metes out a unique punishment. In the first ring, flooded by a river of blood, those who have committed violence against God and nature languish eternally. These are the plunderers, murderers and thieves who once corrupted the earth. The second ring is reserved for those who committed violence against themselves. Ingeniously, Dante conceives of a forest of suicides, wherein sinners have been transmogrified into talking, thorny threes, oozing blood. The third ring is for those who have perpetrated violence against their neighbors, including blasphemers and usurers, who suffer eternally in a desert of burning sands. Virgil explains that fraud is the greatest of sins in this circle, because it is the transgression most unique to mankind. The eleventh canto is unique in its instructive tone, with a large portion devoted to Virgil's explanation of how the circle is subdivided, classified and populated. I had a couple of goals in mind in structuring this picture: depiction of dialogue as key to its substance (the face-to-face, plain as day positioning of the two heroes), and a didactic representation of the three rings concentrically arranged—the river of blood, the suicide trees and the burning sands. I liken it to a conversation between teacher and pupil, poised before a diagram.

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