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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

Fraud as the Eighth Circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno, circa 1314-15.

In Ironweed, William Kennedy leads his character, Francis Phelan, through Purgatorio in a novel worth reading at least twice.

This week I would like to visit the first book in The Divine Comedy, which Dante completed early in the 14th century. By the time of his death in September of 1321, he had completed the third part, Paradiso, published posthumously.

Are you wondering how this is relevant in 2023?

Haven’t we heard ‘fraud’ lately, this word with its origin in Middle English? Hasn’t the word resonated outward from New York City? The legal F word as it were. But only D words for the deplorable, despicable, disreputable, disgraceful man on trial. A demon with a Sharpie, not the sword of Dante’s demon who perpetually circles Scandal and Schism in the ninth ring of the 8th circle. After the 8th, the 9th circle leads to the Pit (or Well) of Hell. And what a place it is, with its four rings, all named under the title, Treachery, about traitors to homeland, political party, guests, and benefactors.

Please accept I’ve skipped the first seven circles of Hell, but I will name them. They are Limbo, The Lustful, The Gluttonous, The Avaricious & Prodigal, the Wrathful & Sullen, and The Violent. The latter ring includes murderers & tyrants, and those against neighbors, themselves (suicides) and possessions (squanderers).

It is the 8th circle titled Fraud that interests me. Yet the name given to it, which takes in all its rings, is Malebolge. Word 11 does not recognize this word, though the OED does, of course. This word describes the 8th circle of hell as consisting of ten rock-bound concentric, circular trenches. As used in the past, malebolge meant a hellish place or condition. Maybe we ought to bring the word back as an apt description of Congress. Take a few minutes and study the list of those in the 8th circle of Hell. We recognize all of them, don’t we? Maybe not Simonists in Dante’s time, and the selling of ecclesiastical privileges. But think of the Big D selling presidential pardons. Look at each of the ten rings and get a visual image to match them. I see fraudulent counselors down there in George admitting their guilt. I await Rudy sweating more dark dye. Falsifiers of Metals, Persons, Coins, and Words. I think of Sam the Bit Coin Man! Please share with me some of what you saw! I enjoy getting messages from readers.

Oh, Dante Alighieri, I won’t forget being in Ravenna in the early 1980s and standing in the crypt that is said to contain your remains. Forget bones. You left us The Divine Comedy, and I mean to read it all this time, beginning with the Inferno by Allen Mandelbaum, whose translation is called, “The English Dante of choice.”

Until next week…Gail

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Nov 19, 2023

We are indeed deep within the eighth circle. It seems that we have passed the event horizon and are circling into the black hole. Racheal Maddow's new book "Prequel" seems to offer some hope.


Wayne Johnson
Wayne Johnson
Nov 15, 2023

Wholly relevant to our time. Wonderful. And Malebolge. Just the word for our political arena at present. We can only hope (and work for) BETTER.


Nov 14, 2023

I love the idea of using The Divine Comedy as a lens through which to consider the present world. And I appreciate having the word "malebolge" brought to my attention!

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