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  • Writer's pictureRobert Brinkerhoff

Inferno XV: Crimes Against Nature

Inferno XV: An Unexpected Reunion

Ink on paper, 2016

22 x 15”

Once Virgil has completed his lengthy parable of the Old Man of Crete, our heroes forge ahead in the seventh circle, eventually crossing paths with a gang of sodomites—those who have perpetrated violence against nature. At this juncture, Dante exchanges greetings with the mentor and guardian of his youth, Brunetto Latini.

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Inferno XV features one of the oddest and least understood placements of personalities. This is the realm of the sodomites, those nasty gents whose buggery has doomed them to the scalding sands of the seventh circle, eternally dodging flakes of flame that rain from the sky. Dante is shocked to encounter a beloved figure from his past, a gentleman named Brunetto Latini, who guided Dante for many years, intellectually, socially and morally. He greets Dante with a mix of joy, affection and desperation. But why is Brunetto—a revered and beloved figure in the life of Dante—punished so cruelly? He is condemned to a fate reserved for sodomites and yet there is no historical evidence that he was himself homosexual, nor is there any revealing discussion of this confusing placement embedded in the dialogue.

The conception of this illustration came very naturally, as the starting point is rich: the potent irony of Dante, once the student, reversing roles with a former authoritative father figure (and I have to admit that I wondered if Brunetto’s appearance here was a way of hinting that some previously concealed and inappropriate man-boy dynamic existed); the somewhat desperate way that Brunetto reaches up to grasp Dante’s robe, and the possible erotic inferences in that movement. I felt as if my task here was to reference an unspoken (and still uncertain) past between the two characters, avoiding explicit commitment to anything sketchy but leaving open a few possibilities.

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