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The Nine Circles of Hell: Eighth 4 , 7

Traveling further into the different layers, you will encounter those who have dabbled in magic and attempted to tell the future , something frowned upon in Dante’s days. From boiling lakes to the condemning of thieves, the fourth to seventh ditches of the eighth circle of Hell are filled with dishonest individuals and people who put on a false appearance to deceive others.

Ditch 4: With heads twisted around on their bodies backward, sorcerers and astrologers are sent to the fourth ditch. The poem mentions that they “found it necessary to walk backward, / because they could not see ahead of them.” Magic is viewed as a “twisted” practice as it is, so the punishment of such acts reprimands those who try to see into the future using “forbidden” methods. Here, Dante sees Michael Scot (medieval mathematician and scholar) and Amphiaraus (former king of Argos) in the fourth ditch. False prophets also fall into this category.

Ditch 5: A boiling lake filled with a substance described as petroleum-like resin (pitch) is where dishonest politicians are sent, which is symbolic of their corrupt dealings and dark secrets. Devils called the Malebranche (which translates into “Evil Claws”) guard these individuals, who are constantly terrorizing the condemned with satirical comedy. When Dante and Virgil reach this ditch, the leader of the Malebranche (Malacoda or “Evil Tail”) assigns a troop to escort the poets to the next bridge. Along the way, the troop hooks and torments one of the sinners. He gives the names of some Italian grafters before successfully tricking the Malebranche so that he can escape back into the pitch.

Ditch 6: The poets happen upon individuals walking around , dressed in golden cloaks. However, the golden cloaks are not as glamorous as one would think. They are made out of lead, which is representative of the falseness behind the surface appearance of their actions. It is falsity that keeps them weighted down, which makes it impossible for them to attain spiritual progress. It is here that Dante engages in a conversation with Catalano and Loderingo. They were members of the Jovial Friars , an order that was known for not living up to their vows. Eventually, Pope Sixtus V suppressed the group. The high priest who was responsible for ordering the crucifixion of Jesus (Caiaphas) is also seen at this ditch. It is revealed that he has been crucified to the ground and trampled.

Ditch 7: The centaur named Cacus watches over the thieves found in the seventh ditch. On his shoulders, the centaur has a fire-breathing dragon that assists him in his duties. Snakes and lizards locate and bite the thieves. The punishment for the thieves fits their crimes. Just as they stole pieces of other people’s lives, they are to slowly lose parts of their identity. The bites from the snakes force them to undergo transformations. For example, Vanni Fucci is turned to ashes and then resurrected.