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Recapping Dante: Canto 13, or Please Refrain from Touching the Shrubbery

January 13, 2014 | by


Gustave Doré, The Inferno: Canto XIII.

This winter, we’re recapping the Inferno. Read along!

Once again we find ourselves lost in a dark wood. Dante notes that in this forest there is no actual greenery. (This is hell, after all. Where does he think he is, the New York Botanical Garden?)

As Dante and Virgil pass through the woods, the Roman tells his disciple that what they are about to witness is unthinkable. Virgil, seeing that Dante can hear screaming but cannot tell where the sounds are coming from, tells him to tear a twig from one of the thorny bushes; the moment in which Dante finally removes the twig is one of the most memorable in all of literature. Blood pours from the tree, and a pained, hissing voice cries: Perché mi schiante? Perché mi scerpi? Why do you break me, why do you tear me? The voice belongs to Pier delle Vigne, chancellor to Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor. Virgil asks Pier to tell his story so that Dante can “revive his fame” up in the living world. Pier’s story is as tragic as the moment in which he loses one of his twigs. He was loyal to Frederick, and was later accused of stealing from him. Not long after his imprisonment, Pier killed himself.

This ring in which Dante finds himself is the realm of the suicides, who, ungrateful for their bodies on earth, are deprived of flesh in hell. Read More »