Canto 9 Inferno: the Gorgon

The will, the intellect, the person must not fall into despair. As Dante travels through Hell, there is a great temptation to fall into complete despair. Despair is the complete loss of hope.

At the city of Dis, there is a  mote that encircles the city like most medieval villages. It is stinking and putrefied.  As awful as it is to travel through Hell, “it is worse to stand still there” (Esolen, 442). Guiseppe Mazzotta reminds us that the will is at the center of the habit of sin. Anthony Esolen reminds us that we must have our will and wits about us to overcome, avoid and move away from sin.

At the ramparts of Dis, (the city of Satan), Dante meets the Furies who threaten to summon Medusa, the Gorgon. Virgil shields Dante’s eyes from even the possibility of Medusa appearing. For she will, in classical literature, petrify anyone who looks upon her.

This petrification is despair. Despair paralyzes us in the dark wood. Keeps us in the Pit. As awful as sin is, we must not despair and wallow in either sin (of course), but also not wallow in self-pity. Anthony Esolen reminds us that despair as many church fathers considered is the “sin against the Holy Spirit.”

As a great friend will do, Virgil pushes Dante onward to keep moving in spite of great danger from the Furies, from complete despair. The gates of the city of Dis will not open. But an angel comes down and opens them for Virgil and Dante. This scene also shows how weak evil is, vanquished by a simple Amen, as Tony Esolen put it.

Though this world, sin, and evil can bring us to the doorstep of despair, we are not utterly alone. God’s grace and His angels are present though we cannot see either. Evil is weak in the presence of God and His servants.

Carry on Christian soldier.


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