Inferno, Canto 18
Dante now finds himself in the Eighth Circle (Malbowges), which is divided into ten trenches (bowges) containing those who committed Malicious Frauds upon mankind in general. The Poets walk along the edge of Bowge 1, where Panders and Seducers run, in opposite directions, scourged by demons; and here Dante talks with Venedico Caccianemico of Bologna. As they cross the bridge over the bowge, they see the shade of Jason. Then they go on to the bridge over Bowge 2, where they see Thais, and Dante converses with another of the Flatterers who are here plunged in filth.
The Prepatory Lecture
Questions for Reflection
Canto 18, © Jan Hearn
The Eighth and Ninth Circles. These are the Circles of Fraud or Malice - the “Sins of the Wolf’.
Malbowges. The Eighth Circle is a huge funnel of rock, round which run, at irregular intervals, a series of deep, narrow trenches called “bowges’’ (bolge). From the foot of the Great Barrier at the top to the Well which forms the neck of the funnel run immense spurs of rock (like the ribs of an umbrella) raised above the general contour of the slope and forming bridges over the bowges. Malbowges is, I think, after a rather special manner, the image of the City in corruption: the progressive disintegration of every social relationship, personal and public. Sexuality, ecclesiastical and civil office, language, ownership, counsel, authority, psychic influence, and material interdependence - all the media of the community's exchange are perverted and falsified, till nothing remains but the descent into the final abyss where faith and trust are wholly and for ever extinguished.
The Panders and Seducers. In the Circles of Fraud (the abuse of the specifically human faculty of reason) the ministers of Hell are no longer mere embodied appetites, but actual devils, images of the perverted intellect. In the First Bowge, those who deliberately exploited the passions of others and so drove them to serve their own interests, are themselves driven and scourged. The image is a sexual one; but the Panders and Seducers allegorically figure the stimulation and exploitation of every kind of passion - e.g. rage or greed - by which one may make tools of other people.
The Flatterers. These, too, exploit others by playing upon their de- sire and fears; their especial weapon is that abuse and corruption of language which destroys communication between mind and mmd. Here they are plunged in the slop and filth which they excreted upon the world. Dante did not live to see the full development of political propaganda, commercial advertisement, and sensational journalism, but he has prepared a place for them
Mark Vernon's Lecture