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Dante's Divine Comedy has served as a beautiful example of medieval poetry, theology, philosophy, and politics. Moreover, Dante is confident in his writing ability, and he has no qualm about incorporating each of these subjects into his literature to describe his own life as well as the political and religious climates of western society during the Middle Ages. As a result, numerous examples of Dante's complex and polysemous writings can be seen in his Inferno, especially in Canto XXVIII. In Canto XXVIII, Virgil guides Dante through the eight circle's ninth pouch in hell, and this pouch is known to be the resting place of the Sowers of Scandal and Schism. Dante opens canto XXVIII in an unconventional manner in regards to his other cantos because he ask the question, "Who, even with untrammeled words and many attempts at telling, ever could recount in full the blood and wounds that I now saw?" (Inf. XXVIII.1-3) Dante is stating that his description of this hideous layer of hell in unsurpassable by any person. Furthermore, Dante boasts how his depiction is greater than numerous ancient authors, especially Virgil and Livy. Dante provides himself with this accreditation by stating that his representation of the ninth pouch of the eight circle of hell is greater and more violent than all the descriptions of the past battles fought on Apulia in southern Italy (Inf. XXVIII.4-21). Apulia was the sight where Aeneas and the Trojans were victorious, which led to the foundation of Rome in Virgil's Aeneid, and Livy was a famous Roman historian, who recorded the tales of Rome's struggles with the Carthaginians during the Punic Wars (Mandelbaum 607). In addition to these ancient battles, Dante also states that his image of hell is more descriptive than the modern battles for Italian supremacy including Robert Guiscard, who conquered the Greek and the Arabs, the battle of Benevento, where Charles of Anjou defeated king Manfred, and the battle of Tagliacozzo, where Charles of Anjou defeated Manfred's nephew Conradin (Mandelbaum 608). This combination of ancient and modern warfare establishes Dante's credibility with readers on numerous levels. Dante is claiming to be the master of the old and the new, which is a lofty and necessary statement to cement his numerous and polysemous ideas in The Divine Comedy. Furthermore, when describing the unbelievable appearance of Bertran de Born, Dante states, "I [. . .] saw a thing that I should be afraid to tell with no more proof than my own self - except that I am reassured by conscience" (Inf. XXVIII.112-115). This statement by Dante boasts that he is capable of crafting the indescribable ninth abyss without the help of God or others but with only his own conscience. This is a testament to Dante's skill as polysemous writer because Dante is stating that he does not need God's guidance to write the Christian epic of the Middle Ages. In Canto XXVIII, Dante displays his mastery of poetry by confidently describing the punishment of the sowers of scandals and schisms while integrating theological, political, and self-referential themes throughout the canto.
Dante places an emphasis on biblical law in Canto XXVIII. The biblical law of the crime fitting the punishment is clearly illustrated in Dante's description of the sinners in the ninth pouch of the eight circle (Mandelbaum 609-610). Mohammed describes the punishment of the sowers of dissension and scandal in the following manner:
A devil decks us out so cruelly, re-placing every one of this throng underneath the sword edge when we've made our way around the road of pain, because our wounds have closed again before we have returned to meet his blade once more (Inf. XXVIII.37-42).
Just as the sowers of dissension and scandal have divided religious groups, political alliances, and family bonds, their own bodies are cut apart and severed in their punishment in hell. Furthermore, Dante divides canto XXVIII into three parts, where he highlights the punishment of those causing religious, political, and familial schisms. Additionally, Dante assigns the severity of the punishment in a peculiar manner. First, Dante discusses the eternal fate of individuals who cause religious schisms. Dante uses Mohammad and his nephew Ali, whom is walking in front of Mohammad for creating the schism between the Sunnis and Shiites in Islam, as the primary example of figures who cause religious division (Inf. XXVIII.31-33). Dante describes Mohammad in the following manner, "I saw ripped right from his chin to where we fart: his bowels hung between his legs, one saw his vitals and the miserable sack that makes of what we swallow excrement (Inf. XXVIII.23-27). Despite this relatively graphic description, Mohammad seems unphased by his punishment in hell, and he still has all his body parts. Second, Dante describes the punishment of those whom had caused political dissension during their time on earth. Dante's records the punishment of the political troublemakers Pier da Medicina, Gaius Curio, and Mosca de' Lamberti in canto XXVIII. Each character has lost some body part such as their nose, ear, or hands during their punishment. More importantly, Dante describes the punishment for perpetrators of political dissension in an almost identical manner compared to the punishment for those guilty of religious discord. Therefore, Dante is equating the punishment for causing religious schisms, which may cause eternal damnation, to the eternal consequences for those who cause political disagreement on earth. Moreover, at the end of the canto, Dante discusses the most extreme punishment found in canto XXVIII, which is reserved for individuals whom cause strife within families. Dante describes this indescribable punishment though the story of Bertran de Born, who gave ill advice to Henry the Young of England to attack his father Henry II (Mandelbaum 609). As a result of Bertran's actions, Bertran has his head severed from his trunk, and he carries it like a lantern for eternity. Dante is stunned at the appearance of the head separated from the body when he says, "two in one and one in two; how that can be, He knows who so decrees" (Inf. XXVIII.125-126). Dante states that mankind could not imagine the creation of such as punishment; therefore, it shows evidence of God's nature and divine justice, which punishes those who cause dissension within families. Therefore, I believe Dante is making a cryptic case in the structure of canto XXVIII of his Inferno, which states causing discord amongst families is a more serious offense than creating political or religious scandals and schisms.
In addition to the structure of canto XXVIII, I believe Dante uses Mohammad's language to provide insight into Dante's polysemous writing style. When Dante and Virgil first meet Mohammad, he addresses them in the third person saying, "See how I split myself!" (Inf. XXVIII.30). This statement may imply that Dante is trying to draw the reader's attention to the concept that Dante the author and Dante the pilgrim are two separate identities in The Divine Comedy. As a result, Dante the pilgrimage may display a pious and philosophical nature through The Divine Comedy, but Dante the author is writing a more complicated and controversial message to those of the Middle Ages. I believe that this concept is further specified through Mohammad's discussion of Fra Dolcino. Mohammad died in the 7th century, but Fra Dolcino was no born until late 13th century (Mandelbaum 608). Therefore, it is impossible that these figures would have known each other on earth. This poses the question, why does Mohammad tell Dante to warn Fra Dolcino of his imminent demise? This may be another self-referential aspect of The Divine Comedy because Dante the author was well aware of Fra Dolcino's plight as the leader of a heretical sect of the Apostolic Brothers (Mandelbaum 608). It is likely that Dante supports the Apostolic Brothers despite the opposition of the papacy, which condemned the religious sect.
In addition to the self-referential and possibly polysemous themes introduced though the conversation between Dante and Mohammad, there are more references to Dante's life in canto XXVIII of the Inferno. One prime example of this can be derived from Pier da Medicina when he addresses Dante for the first time saying, "O you whom guilt does not condemn" (Inf. XXVIII.70). Pier implies that Dante is guilty of political schisms and scandals; however, despite his crimes Dante is not condemned for his actions. Pier is most likely referring to Dante's correspondence with Henry VII, king of the Holy Roman Empire. Dante encouraged Henry VII to help restore peace in Florence by laying siege to the city to remove the Black Guelphs from power (Columbia University). Dante's advice to Henry VII is one of the numerous times Dante may have been guilty of creating political dissension in Italy or other parts of Europe.
Politics forms a major theme seen throughout Dante's Divine Comedy, and this theme composes a major aspect of canto XXVIII in the Inferno. Dante mentions Mohammad in the pouch of those who cause dissension and scandal to remind readers of the threat of Islam to Christianity. Dante recognized that Islam is hazardous to Christian faith, and he displays this problem so that readers can observe this issue and identify the need for the papacy to work with the Holy Roman Empire to combat the Islamic advance through the Holy Land and Europe. Additionally, Dante stresses the importance of a quick united front against Islam because Islam is spreading rapidly. The rapid spread of Islam is seen through Mohammad's body language as he addresses Dante. Dante says, "When he had raised his heel, as if to go, Mohammed said these words to me, and then he set it on the ground and off he went" (Inf. XXVIII.61-63).
In addition to the religious politics of Dante's time, Dante also discusses Italian politics in canto XXVIII. The first discussion of politics in Italy occurs between Dante and Pier da Medicina. Pier asks Dante to relay a message to the two leader of the town of Fano, Messer Guido and Angiollelo. Pier prophesizes that the tyrant of Rimini will drown these two men and create political discord and possibly civil war throughout Italy (Inf. XXVIII. 73-93). However, Dante knows that Pier is guilty of political discord; therefore, Dante challenges the validity of Pier's prophecy by asking, "If you would have me carry some news of you above, then tell and show me who so detest the sight of Rimini" (Inf. XXVIII.91-93). This question shows Dante's interest in politics because he wants to know the details behind every political decision. To respond to Dante's question Pier da Medicina introduces Dante to Gaius Curio, the man who advised Julius Caesar to cross the Rubicon from Rimini, which started civil war throughout Italy (Inf. XXVIII.94-102). The notion that the death of Messet Guido and Angiolello may cause civil war throughout Italy convinces Dante to include this aspect of Italian politics in canto XXVIII of the Inferno. Nevertheless, Dante continues to delve in political themes as he meets another soul with, "both his hands hacked off" (Inf. XXVIII.103). This soul is introduced as Mosca de' Lomberti, who is responsible for advising the Amidei family to kill Buondelmonte de' Buondelmonti, which was responsible for starting the major political schism in The Divine Comedy, the division of Florence into the Gluephs and the Ghibellines (Armour 609). Mosca says to Dante, "What's done is at an end, which was the seed of evil for the Tuscan" (Inf. XXVIII.107-108). Dante immediately responds saying, " -and brought death to you own kinsmen" (Inf. XXVIII.109). This statement by Dante shows his scorn for the division of Florence into the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, a scorn Dante cannot relent.
(Should I remove this paragraph???) Dante uses all of his theological, philosophical, political, and self-referential ideas to express the nature of scandals and schisms in Canto XXVIII of the Inferno. Dante portrays this seemingly indescribable layer of hell as the hideous ninth abyss full of more blood and gore than any previous historical battle has seen, which shows the violent nature of disagreement (Inf. XXVIII.21). Furthermore, there punishment shows the unrelenting nature of dissension because the pain inflicted by the devil's blow will only be renewed after the soul makes their circle around hell. Additionally, the souls in the ninth pouch of the eight circle resemble other souls in hell because they tell Dante to remember them; however, the souls in the ninth abyss speak to Dante in a manner that attempts to make their name immortal through their evil deeds. This is seen through Mohammad's foundation of Islam, Gaius Curio's audacious words causing civil war in Italy, Mosca de' Lamberti's advise splitting Florence into the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, and most vividly Bertran de Born's advice splitting a family apart. Dante portrays these characters in a manner that shows their evil intensions in life and death. Therefore, it is fitting that the nature of their punishment is ordained by He whom has made His decree.
Dante's Canto XXVIII of the Inferno exhibits a carefully and delicately created epic piece of poetry, which uses the descriptions of the punishment of the sowers of scandals and schisms to record Dante's life, to inform readers of different political and religious environment throughout the world, and to help show others the nature of sin and the corruption it can cause. Dante establishes credibility by asserting himself above the famous ancient writers such as Vigil and Livy, and Dante relies solely on his conscience to help him portray the images of the ninth abyss. Dante aims to enlighten readers on the religious and political problems plaguing not only fourteenth century Italy but also other parts of the western world. Nevertheless, Dante also includes the theme of divine justice in canto XXVIII because the sowers of opposition reap retribution in the form of the destruction of their own bodies in hell. The master craftsmanship of canto XXVIII shows that Dante is a thoughtful, clever, and epic writer, whom is capable of incorporating his ideas in an intricate and intrinsic polysemous manner.