Canto 17 Inferno: liars

There would be no lies if there was no truth. Here Dante begins the journey through the areas of the fraudulent. Geryon takes he and Virgil deeper in Hell, nearer to Satan, the Father of Lies.

Dante’s use of imagery in this Canto is very good. He compares liars to Arachne the goddess who was turned into a spider. Liars are great at spinning webs of lies, trapping the listener and believer of the lies in her web. Like all sin, lies hurt and befoul and destroy. Being lied to is one of the most hurtful things another person can do to you. Lies pepper almost every sin, especially when the person does not want to be found out. It is a journey deeper and deeper into the Pit. Coming nearer and nearer to the Father of all Lies–Satan–the enemy of our souls.

In this particular Canto Dante sees the usurers. Those who gained profits without labor. Dante couples usury with greed or avarice. The lust for wealth at the expense of others. Anthony Esolen in his commentary on this Canto reminds us these are the moneygrubbers. “They feed upon their purses … Since their schemes for enriching themselves involve dishonesty (for how can money be made to produce money, without a substantial lie?), they serve as a nice bridge from the violent to the fraudulent below.”

Lying is a game of manipulation. It is a violence directly to the soul. Whereas the violent above the fraudulent is violence to the body. Physical torment is terrible, but I think mental, emotional, psychological torment is far worse. Madness, depression, isolation is far more damaging to the person as a whole. Dante having the violent and then the fraudulent farther down in Hell is rather appropriate: violence to the body, then violence to the soul.

The Father of Lies destroys the soul. The inner person. Do not fear those who can destroy the body, as St. Paul says, but he who can destroy the soul.


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