Sunday, March 05, 2006


Hypocrites in Hell

Dave Haxton writes:
I can only hope that there's a special place in the Christian Hell for hypocrites. It'd be the biggest section in the whole realm.
That got me wondering about exactly which subdivision hypocrites do occupy in Hell. I went for an answer to Dante's Inferno, and found what I was looking for in Canto 23, lines 58 ff. (tr. Charles S. Singleton):
There below we found a painted people who were going round with very slow steps, weeping and looking weary and overcome. They had cloaks with cowls down over their eyes, of the cut that is made for the monks of Cluny, so gilded outside that they were dazzling, but within all lead and so heavy that those Frederick imposed were of straw. O toilsome mantle of eternity!
Their punishment corresponds to their fault -- a garment with gold on the outside, lead on the inside, just as in life their feigned righteousness masked sin and corruption. Concerning their garb, C.H. Grandgent in his commentary says:
The exact form of their punishment was probably suggested to Dante by the Magnae Derivationes of Uguccione da Pisa, who defines 'ypocrita' as 'superauratus,' taking it from ὑπέρ and χρυσός.
A bogus etymology, of course, although it makes for good poetry. Concerning Frederick, Singleton in his commentary quotes and translates from the early commentator Lana:
You must know that the Emperor Frederick II used to punish those who committed crimes against the crown in the following manner: he had a leaden cover made for the condemned man, to cover him entirely. The cover was about an inch thick. Then he had the man placed in a cauldron, and the leaden cape put over him. Then he had a fire made under the cauldron. The heat melted the lead, which took the skin off piece by piece. Finally, both the lead and the condemned man boiled. This punishment was not without immeasurable pain.
The hypocrites live in the eighth circle of Hell, known as Malebolge, in ditch number six. Apparently it's not "the biggest section in the whole realm," since Dante's Hell is funnel-shaped, and the eighth (or next to last) circle is therefore narrower than the ones above it.

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