Inferno, Canto 34
After passing over the region of Judecca, where the Traitors to their Lords are wholly immersed in the ice, the Poets see Dis (Satan) devouring the shades of Judas, Brutus, and Cassius. They clamber along his body until, passing through the centre of the Earth, they emerge into a rocky cavern. From here they follow the stream of Lethe upwards until it brings them out on the island of Mount Purgatory in the Antipodes.
The Prepatory Lecture
Questions for Reflection
Canto 34 © Jan Hearn
Judecca. The region of the Traitors to sworn allegiance is called Judecca after Judas, who betrayed Our Lord. Here, cut off from every contact and every means of expression, those who committed the final treason lie wholly submerged.
Judas, Brutus and Cassius. Judas, obviously enough, is the image of the betrayal of God. To us, with our minds dominated by Shakespeare and by “democratic” ideas, the presence here of Brutus and Cassius needs some explanation. To understand it, we must get rid of all political notions in the narrow sense. We should notice, first, that Dante’s attitude to Julius Caesar is ambivalent. Personally, as a pagan, Julius is in Limbo (Canto iv. 123). Politically, his rise to power involved the making of civil war, and Curio, who advised him to cross the Rubicon, is in the Eighth Circle of Hell (Canto xxvm. 97-102 and note). But, although Julius was never actually Emperor, he was the founder of the Roman Empire, and by his function, therefore, he images that institution which, in Dante’s view, was divinely appointed to govern the world. Thus Brutus and Cassius, by their breach of sworn allegiance to Caesar, were Traitors to the Empire, i.e. to World-order. Consequently, just as Judas figures treason against God, so Brutus and Cassius figure treason against Man-in-Society ; or we may say that we have here the images of treason against the Divine and the Secular government of the world.
Dis, so Virgil calls him; Dis, or Pluto, being the name of the King of the Classical Underworld. But to Dante he is Satan or Lucifer or Beelzebub - or, as we say, the Devil. “He can see it now - that which monotonously resents and repels, that which despairs. ... Milton imagined Satan, but an active Satan; this is beyond it, this is passive except for its longing. Shakespeare imagined treachery; this is treachery raised to an infinite cannibalism. Treachery gnaws treachery, and so inevitably. It is the imagination of the freezing of every conception, an experience of which neither life nor death can know, and which is yet quite certain, if it is willed.” (Charles Williams: The Figure of Beatrice, p. 144.)
Mark Vernon's Lecture