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  • Writer's pictureRobert Brinkerhoff

Inferno XVII: The Face of A Just Man

Inferno XVII: Geryon

Ink on paper, 2016

22 x 15”

In this canto, Dante and Virgil meet Geryon, the winged monster of fraud, who rises from the abyss to transport them downward, from the edge of towering cliffs to the eighth circle of Inferno.

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Geryon is an ancient mythic character whose early appearance in Greek myth bears little resemblance to the 14th century monster Dante created for Canto XVII of L’Inferno. Often freely transforming characters from history and literature (King Minos of Crete, for example, in Canto V, is transmogrified into a beastly guardian of hell with a serpent’s tail) Dante’s poetic license never fails to deliver with absolute potency the moral lessons he most wants to convey. And, truth be told, it’s easy to accept that once a character enters the underworld, just about anything can happen. Kings grow tails and mythic Greek monsters change costume.

The story is about to dedicate itself to the world of sins collectively known as fraud, a particularly detestable offense in Dante’s estimation. The eighth circle features the Malebolge, a sequence of ten ditches wherein fester perpetrators of all classes of fraud: panderers and seducers; flatterers, simoniacs (those who sold ecclesiastical favors); sorcerers; barrators (corrupt politicians); hypocrites; thieves; counsellors of fraud; sowers of discord; and falsifiers.

Geryon is described as the “foul effigy of fraud,” and this is expressed in his chimeric corporeality: he has a reptilian body, lavishly decorated and resembling a middle-eastern carpet. His arms are hairy and a deadly scorpion’s tail is concealed at the end of his enormous body. But his most fraudulent attribute is his deceptive visage: “the face of a just man.”

Throughout La Commedia, Dante integrates significant use of the number three in imagery, structure and narrative. Robert Hollander brilliantly discusses Geryon as one of the most cleverly crafted metaphors of the poem: “This embodiment of fraud is thus presented as the counterfeit of Christ, three-in-one rather than one-in-three.”

I really loved making this drawing—the scale of the monster is extremely exaggerated in my conception, much bigger than I’ve seen him represented in the precedents I researched. And, on a technical note, somehow the pen behaved itself (for once) and I was able to pull it off to my satisfaction.

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