Inferno, Canto 9
Dante, alarmed by Virgil's anxiety, tactfully enquires of him whether he really knows the way through Hell, and gets a reassuring answer. The Furies appear and threaten to unloose Medusa, A noise like thunder announces the arrival of a Heavenly Messenger, who opens the gates of Dis and rebukes the demons. When he has departed, the Poets enter the City and find themselves in a great plain covered with the burning tombs of the Heretics.
The Prepatory Lecture
Questions for Reflection
Canto 9, © Jan Hearn
The Furies (Erinyes) in Greek mythology were the avenging goddesses who haunted those who had committed great crimes. In the allegory, they are the image of the fruitless remorse which does not lead to penitence.
Medusa was a Gorgon (see below) whose face was so terrible that anyone who looked upon it was turned to stone. In the allegory, she is the image of the despair which so hardens the heart that it becomes powerless to repent.
The Heavenly Messenger. He is, I think, the image of Divine revelation, (1) stirring the conscience, (2) safeguarding the mind against false doctrine.
The Heretics. See next canto.
An aside... Gorgons. According to the Greek poet Hesiod, there were three Gorgons: Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa. All were hideous winged monsters, with human faces and brazen claws, and with living serpents for hair. Only Medusa was mortal, for she had at first been a human maiden, who was changed into a Gorgon because she had offended the goddess Athene (Minerva). Her face was so horrible that it turned the beholder to stone, but she was at length killed by Perseus, who looked, not at her, but at her reflection in the shield lent him by Athene. Statues of Athene usually show the Gorgon’s head on her shield or breast-plate.
Mark Vernon's Lecture