Grotesque Images in Dante’s Inferno:
the Problem of the Grotesque Overcome

Ülar Ploom, Interlitteraria, Tartu, Estonia



1.  The discrepancy between the current usage of the notion “grotesque” and the original technical meaning of the term is huge. The latter, indicating a type of decorative ornament consisting of medallions, sphinxes, foliage, rocks and pebbles  (The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory ed. by J. A. Cuddon: 393-394; Kayser  1981: 19), found in the caves of some excavated dwellings from late 15th century Rome and therefore called grottesco, is purely denotative. We have a composition of diverse elements with nothing suggested about the way in which the human psyche will perceive it. The  word “grotesque” ( either noun or adjective) has acquired connotations through its application in various art forms where it reveals its most characteristic feature  - that of the contradictory, irreconcilable and paradoxical  nature of intermingling elements. It is actually through a myriad of connotations that the word “grotesque” has acquired the qualities of  an independent  term which has entered the vocabulary of literary terms. We may say that it represents a wide range of diverse, even incompatible signifiers brought together under the same signifier.

That something is grotesquely incongruous does not, strictly speaking, proceed from the elements themselves, but from what is understood as incongruous  and perceived as such. The simplest notion, or the classical idea of the grotesque is of a subverted natural order resulting in monstrous forms and themes of an intermingling  human, animal and vegetal world, from which develops a strong tendency of dehumanization. Therefore the feeling of the bizarre, the unnatural, the estranged is created. The incongruity between the perceived image and its juxtaposition to the natural world is such as to cause a mixed feeling of contradictory sensations: amusement and fear, awe and disgust, fun and terror, the comic and the tragic, the base and the elevated.
1.1. The understanding of the incongruous aspects of the world is by no means a modern invention and goes back far beyond the discovery of the grotteschi. Curtius (1953: 95) mentions the concept of adynata (impossibilia) already in connection with Archilochus and the famous eclipse of the sun in 648 B.C. Through Virgil, the adynata were also well known to the medievals, being a common topos of Latin mock songs (e.g. Carmina burana) and the troubadours (e.g. Arnaut Daniel). What is, of course, of primary importance is the interpretation of the incompatible phenomena (the topsy-turvy world) within a larger system and this varies with space and time. Therefore the modern “grotesque” is of a different nature compared to the ancient or medieval adynata. It is probably because of the difficulty of collocating a single notion into a clearcut cell within a general structure that scholars have never entirely agreed upon its definition. For example Kayser ( op. cit.) stresses the overwhelmingly uncanny and unfathomable nature of the grotesque which should distinguish it from the sensation of  the coarsely comic on the one hand and from the tragic on the other. One who witnesses an example of the grotesque cannot help but be torn between amusement and puzzlement, hilarity and terror,  although the sinister, the ominous  component seems to prevail in the end, despite a certain playfulness on the part of the author.  Bakhtin  (1965) on the other hand has pointed to the comic and  liberating effect of the grotesque in connection with Rabelais and the spirit of the  Renaissance. The carnival tradition, rooted deeply in medieval and renaissance popular culture, is of an ambivalent nature, uniting death and rebirth, chaos and new order, the individual body and the collective body of Nature.  Kayser himself, in an earlier work (1965: 384-385), has suggested that the way in which the grotesque is integrated into the general structure of a work should be carefully studied. Gurevich (1984: passim) shows the possible method of finding reasonable interpretations of outwardly grotesque elements in medieval iconography, where the grotesque is subjected to symbolic hierarchy. As to “image” and “concept” or the two sides of a poetic unit, Frye (1990: 136) maintains that “the meaning or pattern of poetry is a structure of imagery with conceptual implications.” All this highlights the problem of  the grotesque as a phenomenon, a method and an objective to be viewed within the framework of macrostructures.
2. The aim of this paper is to discuss some problems connected with the imagery of the grotesque in Dante`s Inferno and to define its nature within the conceptual structure of that work. An attempt will be made at a kind of typology of the manifestations of the grotesque in the Inferno. To this end the general setting, the characters, their statics and dynamics, some elements of composition and a number of situations will  be observed.  The grotesque will be viewed as a phenomenon, as a method and as an objective.
2.1. That Inferno itself is an image of utmost estrangement is obvious. This results from the unchangeable monstrous order (read: deviated life, disorder) of  existence in Hell compared to life on earth (real life), and its opposition to the divine order of  life in Paradise (ideal life). Existence in Hell is also a kind of life, yet it is subverted life, both really and ideally. On the other hand, the fantastic and  the grotesque cannot be simply opposed to the real, for it is only in  relation to reality that the fantastic and the grotesque may be perceived at all. It is not coincidental that one of Auerbach`s most convincing arguments in his Mimesis (1991: 194 ) is that despite the fantastic imagery, we must see the underlying realism in Dante`s Comedy. Technically this is only natural, for  Dante (or anybody else) could  not have depicted  the maledicted underlife but by recourse to his knowledge of this world and by reversing its natural order, so producing deviation and chaos within the framework of some higher order. Kayser (1981: 180) maintains that the essential nature of the grotesque is not concerned with the moral order, which may dilute its effect. Yet we must remember that even if this order is established on a universal,  macrotextual level, grotesqueness does not necessarily dissolve on the microtextual level and the conflict between various contexts will never be resolved in full. When we observe, for example, the punishments which are inflicted upon the miserable, we see an intermingling of natural and unnatural nightmarish elements. To be more exact, the elements taken individually are real; it is their combination which creates the feeling of the bizarre, the estranged, the uncanny, the comic, the sinister, the horrific. There is nothing strange in being naked, yet it is unorthodox to imagine  crowds of  naked people in a large space except, perhaps, in a  sauna. It is stranger still  that in their naked state they do curious things, or that curious things are done to them. They cannot prevent this. They chase a banner which they will never reach (the Vestibule), they are bitten continually by flies and wasps (natural elements in themselves), or they are turned head first into burning ditches, their feet kicking out of the ditch until another sinner is pressed upon them and they pierce further into the burning earth (Malbowges, Subcircle III). Alternatively they are pressed into ice so that they cannot even weep, as their very tears freeze (the frozen lake of Cocytus, Circle IX). Ice is natural. Crying is natural. That a liquid should freeze is natural. Lying forever alive in ice with your tears turning into ice and blocking your eyes  for good seems absurd. In general the four elements - water, air, fire, earth - are all depicted in extreme alienation from their natural state. However, in Dante`s Inferno all things, despite having a  wild, chaotic appearance and uncanny nature, have a fixed pattern and a fixed order. Therefore we must ask, if we do not actually deal with the instances of apparent grotesque, is the grotesque then resolved and overcome? We shall try to answer this question after discussing some manifestations of the grotesque
through which we shall try to construct a kind of typology.

3.  The grotesque in the Inferno may be considered according to the following three basic types:
         1. character grotesque;
         2. pattern grotesque or  structural grotesque;
         3. situational and plot grotesque.
3.1. As to the character grotesque the following  constituents may be considered:
         a.  appearance
         b.  speech/sound
         c.  behaviour
         d.  transformation (metamorphosis)

      Let us begin our limited and rather selective survey of the immense gallery of  grotesque character images with Minos, whose function in the second circle (the first circle proper) of Hell is that of infernal judge.

                                   Stavvi Minòs orribilmente, e ringhia:
                                esamina le colpe nell`entrata;
                                giudica e manda secondo ch`avvinghia.
                                   Dico che quando l`anima mal nata
                                li vien dinanzi, tutta si confessa;
                                e quel conoscitor delle peccata
                                   vede qual luogo d`inferno è da essa:
                                cignesi con la coda tante volte
                                quantunque gradi vuol che giù sia messa.
                                                                      (V, 4-12)
Dante has transformed this Virgilian character  into a monstrous being, a strange human, animal and demonic mixture. Minos has a tail which has become itself the  instrument of weighing sins and pronouncing just sentence. The procedure seems rather bizarre, even comic. The number of times Minos wraps the tail round his body, that number of  circles has the sinner to descend through the subverted cone of Hell to his final place of torture. We witness here the doubleness of the image. The first is of an ad hoc character, something which coincides with the impression of the sinner who comes before Minos and feels the inevitable necessity to reveal  the whole truth about himself. That is the effect of both Minos` function and his horrible  appearance, and there is an element of the grotesque through the addition of a tail and a terrible snarling grin (the Italian ringhia creates both visual and acoustic associations).  Despite its novelty in relation to the Minos whom we know from Greek Mythology, this would not suffice to create a true image of the grotesque (at least not for the reader accustomed to the monstrous imagery of pagan myths), if it were not shortly afterwards accompanied by the bizarre, even comic  behaviour . This “connoisseur of all transgression`s” (conoscitor delle peccata) strange manner of sentencing (focusing on the tail as well)  transforms the initial image. The discrepancy between the solemn, fierce function of Minos and his bizarre gesture turns him into a caricature of a judge. The comic element is later reinforced by Virgil`s words in answer to Minos, who greets this newcomer, who has ignored the “rules of the house” by coming there alive with the following speech:

                                  “O tu che vieni al doloroso ospizio”,
                                    “guarda com`entre e di cui ti fide:
                                 non t`inganni l`ampiezza di entrare!”
                                                                  (ibid. 16, 19-20)
to which Virgil replies,

                                    “ Perchè pur gride?”
                                                                   (ibid. 21)
The elevated style of Minos, epitomized by his words  “the house of pain” (“il doloroso ospizio”) is congruous with his function and incongruous with his method of sentencing. Virgil`s  style is also elevated, yet there is a comic undermining of Minos` authority.
The comic seems to reach an extreme and  result in a complete caricature when we learn, much later, in Canto XXVII (124-127) from Guido da Montefeltro, who has been condemned to the eighth subcircle of Malbowges (Malebolgia) for evil counselling, that when Minos  measured his placement he girded himself eight times and bit his tail ferociously while doing it.
Yet this is not comic despite its comic element. The gesture itself, the biting of the tail, is symbolically very suggestive as it closes the circle (ourobros - the snake biting its tail) and indicates a final decision. It is an omen and, as such, ominous,  something which appals. We must not forget that it is the sinners themselves that confess all their wrong-doings when seeing Minos, who has also been interpreted as their own conscience. This is, then,  a kind of allegory of conscience, yet it does not lessen the insinuated feeling that “you will be judged in this way too”. In any case it is very difficult, if not impossible, to remain impartial and not  feel personally and directly involved in the scene. And that is what, according to Kayser (1981: 118), differentiates the grotesque from a manifestation of the purely comic, in which a certain distance is  maintained. Let us recall that Aristotle defined the comic as the ugly without pain.  Indeed there is in the figure of Minos an element of the horribly comic, of bizarre derision, but this transforms into another feeling when we realize that behind the mockery of the  infernal judge stands  God`s  judgement and punishment. That this is really so is affirmed by the grim stories and terrible tortures which the sinners have to suffer and which we, following Dante and Virgil, witness. The immediate and irrevocable conviction, the insubvertable order on the macrotextual level does not allow the liberating laugh which is permitted in many instances of the grotesque in later renaissance works. Here the grotesque transforms into tragedy. We probably have to observe the phenomenon  from different positions. If we take the standpoint of Dante the protagonist, we are initially appalled and amused and perceive the sense of the grotesque. If we take the standpoint of Dante the author and theologian, we are appalled again, yet this is different, as we now perceive primariliy the tragic side of the punishment and its relation to divine order. And it is this perspective which seems to remain with us. Alienation is overcome in spirit and becomes sublime.
So, here we have a case of the two-stage transformation of the initial image. Minos is not what he is, yet he is what he is not, albeit on another level. This presents a double paradox. The bestial, demonic, mythological character Minos, fierce judge, of whom we expect dignity, acquires a grotesquely comic hue, very much in accord with the subverted character of the general atmosphere of the passage, and restores tragic dignity on the macrotextual level. We actually have three different stages of one and the same image in its dynamic development, resulting in an image of the grotesque vanquished. Moral allegory dilutes the power of the grotesque. However, the grotesqueness of Minos will never dissolve completely, for despite the idea that Minos forms a link in the general chain of order, we shall never understand fully why he is as he is and thus the grotesque image remains. Although overcome in spirit, the grotesque remains in body.
In the same way we could, by departing  from the phenomenon and the perception of the grotesque,  observe the whole gallery of the characters which the Inferno offers. As this is clearly impossible within the scope of the present article, let us therefore dwell upon only a few cases-in-point. The four afore-mentioned devices of grotesque character building cannot always be equally seen. There are characters in whom the outward  grotesque appearance is prevalent: these are, for example, the Cerberus, the  Minotaur, the Harpies, some centaurs, some Christian devils, some giants. There are other examples where the  characters` speech is as relevant as the appearance. For example Pluto speaks in the  fourth circle (the misers and the spendthrifts) in a strange language:

                           “Papè Satan, papè Satan aleppe!”
                         cominciò Pluto con la voce chioccia;
                                                                 (VII, 1-2)

The menace of the name of Satan in an unidentified tongue, which vaguely resembles Greek, and the sound image of the cackling or clucking voice, suggesting a hen,  with which the frightful menace is uttered, are in a strange and comic opposition. The incongruity reaches an extreme when we discover that this sound comes from the mouth of a creature who is  very much like a wolf, as Virgil says,

                              Poi si rivolse a quella infiata labbia,
                           e disse: “Taci, maladetto lupo;
                           consuma dentro te con la tua rabbia.(”)
                                                               (ibid. 7-9)
Pluto's reaction to Virgil's assertion that they move in the infernal space with the consent of the celestial will is a mixture of a disappointed dog dropping flatly down and the fall of  broken rigging:

                                Quali dal vento le gonfiate vele
                             caggiono avvolte, poi che l`alber fiacca,
                             tal cadde a terra la fiera crudele.
                                                                  (ibid. 13-15)

Yet we cannot enjoy the comedy for long, for a few moments later we witness a joust between the two rows of sinners, the misers and the spendthrifts, who roll heavy stones against each other and clash, flinging reciprocal insults. The incongruous character manifesting in the appearance, the speech and the behaviour of  the guardian of the circle- Pluto - is nevertheless in keeping with the incongruous characters of its inhabitants. The coarse comic of the strange battle and insults, during which even Virgil falls from his elevated style to a coarser tongue, is juxtaposed with the horror of the invincible rage of the contenders. Again, the infinite quality of the punishment destroys the comic hue. The grotesqueness of the image, mitigated and transformed when placed and understood within the general hierarchy of punishment, will nonetheless never disappear completely.
The same may be observed in many other circles. In the third circle, where there is the Cerberus and punishes the gluttons, the latter howl very much in the same way as  their oppressor does. In this connection we might recall the howl of Anita Eckberg in Fellini`s  La dolce vita when she hears a dog howling nearby.  The phenomenon is clearly grotesque, for it comprises both a humorous angle and the strange, uncanny and menacing feeling this begets. That is exactly what the look of Marcello Mastroianni tells us. The howls of the miserable within the reach of the claws of the Cerberus are certainly grotesque, despite being understood in the framework of the contrappasso - the punishment sentenced in accordance with the nature of the sin.
An example of a grotesque, thoroughly meaningless speech is the speech uttered by Nimrod in the Well of the Giants. Nimrod, the biblical king who undertook the construction of a tower climbing to  Heaven  (as a result of which God mixed human tongues) now, as huge as huge can be, supports the structure of the Well - through which the poets may reach the bottom of Hell, where traitors are settled - along with those other giants who have rebelled against God`s will. In spite of his almost immeasurable gigantic form, he is unable to produce a meaningful utterance.

                         “Raphèl maì amèch zabì almì”
                       cominciò a gridar la fiera bocca,
                       cui non si convenia più dolci salmi;
                          e `l duca mio ver lui: “Anima sciocca,
                       tienti col corno, e con quel ti disfoga,
                       quand`ira o altra passion ti tocca!
                          Cercati al collo, e troverai la soga
                       che `l tien legato, o anima confusa,
                       e vedi lui che `l gran petto ti doga.”
                                                        (XXXI, 67-75)
The horn referred to is the one whose terrible plaintive sound had made Dante the protagonist think of Orlando`s horn blowing out in a vain call for help. The idea is that Nimrod`s horn can speak more than his mouth, although both call to no avail. The sound grotesque is emphasised by the contradiction between the gigantic body of Nimrod and his idiocy. He is both stupid and helpless. There is even something childlike about him, though it is that terrifying childliness that we witness in an insane person. The perception is both bizarre and sad, repulsive and tragic, all of it at the same time. And again, explained or not, we will never escape the feeling that this may happen to us. We will be inflicted if we trespass, yet this only lessens the effect of the grotesque, it does not abolish it.
To find grotesque expressed most impressively we may observe the figure of  Geryon in Canto XVII. In Greek mythology Geryon was a monster, killed by Hercules, who had a human form with either three heads or three conjoined bodies. Dante presents him as the image of Fraud with the face of a just man and an iridescence of beautiful colour, the paws of a beast, sharp wings and a  poisonous sting in his serpent`s tail (Inferno transl. & comm. by Sayers: 178). The behaviour of the beast is congruous with his incongruous body. He does not show himself in full. Virgil and Dante see first his just face and bust, i.e. his apparently human  part, as he  hides the beastly side.

                              E quella sozza imagine di froda
                           sen venne, ed arrivò la testa e `l busto
                           ma `n su la riva non trasse la coda.
                              La faccia sua era faccia d`uom giusto,
                           tanto benigna avea di fuor la pelle,
                           e d`un serpente tutto l`altro fusto;
                                                            (XVII, 7-12)

Geryon's conduct is as grotesque as his appearance. We should also remember the bizarre way in which Virgil had managed to contact the beast - letting the girdle of Dante`s garment down into the abyss so that Geryon could climb up and face them. Yet the height of the grotesque is reached when it appears that the two poets cannot experience  Malbowges (Malebolge) where the fraudulent are punished until  they sit on his back  and let him carry them like a flying ship, or a swimming snake (“eel” - “anguilla”- is actually the word Dante uses) or a falcon which circles, circles and suddenly drops into Circle VIII.
The modern image would be that of an airplane landing in smooth cirles over a town where red lights (the lights of the tall fires in which some of the fraudulent are being punished  in Malebolge) are burning and we do not know what they mean. Dante the character is truly appalled at the sight. Even if we discover later that the red lights are the flames in which the fraudulent burn, we cannot rid ourselves of the image of this grotesque vision. It has been suggested that within the figure of Geryon is the image of Antichrist and this should explain Dante`s feeling of terror. Yet an image as such will always remain grotesque.
Here we certainly come across situational and plot grotesque alongside character grotesque.
Another example of  behaviour grotesque is that of the Christian devils who may, besides their vulgar and base ways, also  act and speak like scolastici. Let us observe the epsiode in Canto XXVII with Guido da Montefeltro. Guido had been a counsellor of fraud to Pope Boniface VIII on condition that the Pope would give him absolution from his sins. Before death he had retired to a franciscan monastery. Guido tells the two poets how it had happened that he had come to Inferno:

                                 Francesco venne poi, com`io fu`morto,
                              per me; ma un de`neri cherubini
                              li disse:  Non portar: non mi far torto.
                                 Venir sen dee giù tra`miei meschini,
                              perché diede il consiglio frodolente,
                              dal quale in qua stato li sono a` crini;
                                 ch`assolver non si può chi non si pente,
                              né pentére e volere insieme puossi
                              per la contradizion che nol consente”.
                                 O me dolente! come mi riscossi
                              quando mi prese dicendomi: “Forse
                              tu non pensavi ch`io loico fossi!”
                                                            (XXVII, 112-123)
This is in striking contrast with the vulgar and ferocious activities we witness  in the conduct of the devils  in the previous cantos which describe Malebolge.(It rather resembles the educated style of the later Renaissance devils who philosophise and preach, advising more frequent visits to the mass). In the previous cantos they behave  vulgarly and basely, reminiscent of the coarse and burlesque images of the medieval imps we know, for example, from the De Babylonia infernali of Giacomino da Verona, very much in accord with  Bakhtin`s theory of the grotesque of popular culture. Yet this aspect of a (feigned or real) ability to reason like a logician makes the image of the Christian imp decidedly uncanny. This is also stressed  by Dante`s term “neri cherubini” which suggests that, monstrous or not, we do have the fallen angels or intelligencies, the once glorious cherubins, next in glory to the seraphs. Therefore we perceive the combination of a strange feeling of  some awe and fright, in the same way as Guido does, which broadens the hitherto base image of the fiends who shout, fight and tell lies in the fifth subcircle of Malebolge where the barrators are forked by the imps in the boiling pitch.
There are certainly quite a few manifestations of the comic  in these cantos of  Malebolge in which Christian imps appear. It has even earned the name of the Rhapsody of Devils (“la rapsodia dei diavoli”) (Pagliaro 1967: 311 etc.). They are disciplined like soldiers. To show to their troop leader Barbariccia (Barbiger) that they are ready to obey his command they pull out their tongues. And the vulgar signal which the leader gives is that of a “bugle of his breech”. Thus the wide gamut of impish behaviour combines ferocity, comedy, vulgarity, wit, fallen and transformed dignity. The comedy and the derision of these cantos have often been connected with Dante`s personal fate and his being accused of and exiled for barratry. For example  Pirandello has called the episode “the grotesque representation of Dante`s own condemnation.”
Now let us consider some cases of metamorphosis. This is often a characteristic of the tortured spirits in hell. It is more than a mere transformation, it is a complete change and rechange in substance, although in Hell there is no bodily matter but the spiritual substance of the sinners until they regain their bodies after the Last Judgement, which will make suffering worse. For example, in the second sub-circle of Circle VII, where the violent against their own bodies, suicides, suffer, we discover that they are transformed into plants. The two poets find themselves walking in a dry wood where the Harpies make their nests. The trees enclose the souls of the suicides. When Dante by chance breaks a branch, it begins to bleed and Pier delle Vigne tells his sad story. He had been honoured in King Friedrich`s court in Sicily. Accused of conspiring against the King, he was disgraced, imprisoned and stabbed blind and he took his own life in despair. Suicide is sin against one`s own body. Therefore there is the metamorphosis of the human bodies to trees and bushes.
Metamorphosis and the transformance of substance creates an extreme perception of estrangement, which reaches its height  in the seventh  subcircle of Malebolge (Circle VIII) where the spiritual bodies of thieves transform into snakes and other reptiles (XXV, 49-79).
Here we witness the transubstantiation of  Agnello o Agnolo Brunelleschi,  a Florentine thief. The utmost transformation -  metamorphosis - certainly suggests the idea that the essence of a thief transforms itself into a beast, in this case a terrible snake, and gives us an utterly grotesque image of the thief`s nature. It is as impossible to believe one`s eyes as it is to trust the thief`s nature. We see both, man and beast (as with Geryon), yet we are not sure where the one ends and the other begins. This is said in a nutshell in verse 77: the perverse image - both at once and neither which, indeed, comprises the essence of the feeling of the grotesque. You have both things in their extremes and neither, i.e. nothing, which causes terror and bewilderment.  This is the image of the destruction of the self .
Right after the image of this grotesque transformation there comes another, even more suggestive image of a double metamorphosis:  the intermingling of a man and a snake, in the course of which the man transforms into a snake, and the snake transforms into a man. The snake becomes the mask of the thief, and man`s mask becomes the mask of the snake.   (XXV, 91-144).
Dante the author is proud of his ability to compete with and exceed in skill the ancient masters of metamorphosis. Dante the protagonist is bewildered at the sight.  Orwell`s Animal Farm ends with the same kind of bewilderment when the animals who go to the Farmhouse and peep through the window cannot make out the faces of the participants in the feast, for both the pigs` and the men`s faces have blurred and  transformed into each other and it it impossible to make out which is which. A powerful grotesque! In the case of the metarmorphosis depicted by Dante, we are invited to discern the reasons for this transformation, and we may make an attempt at understanding it as a symbol, yet we cannot dismiss the image as such.
3.2. At the same time we cannot help but admire  the grotesque in the technical sense which Dante has managed to paint. It is a splendid image of a grotesque ornament, in perfect symmetry, surely the very best in the Inferno and has thus merited being quoted  here in full. Such  pattern or structural grotesque is actually visible in the whole construction of the Inferno. This is determined by the rigid structure of its spiral construction which Dante the author now and then admires despite its great horror, as perceived by himself as protagonist. This structure is everlasting, yet the elements of the general pattern  undergo certain transformations which are of local character and  dynamics so that the general statics of the macropattern do not change. The observer perceives  this fluctuation of ornamental elements before his very eyes.  If it were a mere arabesque, he could  enjoy its aesthetic effect, yet when he thinks himself within the frame he cannot help being appalled. The perceived discrepancies  are those of the grotesque.
Among other examples of pattern grotesque (micropatterns),  we may recall the imaginary pattern of the joust in Circle IV, mentioned before, where the misers and the spendthrifts, positioned in two semicircles, clash together rolling before them heavy rocks  like two semicircles of  knights jousting with lances. Then they move back again and everything  is repeated. Or we may picture the mirror-like surface of the frozen river Cocytus from where the heads of  the traitors of relatives and homeland stick out like the the snouts of frogs with teeth that clatter like storks` beaks. A pattern of frogs and  storks in a cold aesthetic mirror. Yet there and then Count Ugolino tells a most terrifying story of the gruesome starving to death of his sons and grandsons, and the aesthetic pattern gives way to a mixed feeling of the cruelty of the human world and a deep compassion for the human being within him, though he may have erred, a feeling which, despite its most contradictory nature, is absolutely real.

3.3. Last but not least let us observe some cases of situational and plot grotesque. We already perceived the absurdity of Virgil and Dante, both haters of  fraud, having to journey on the back of its very image - on Geryon.  Despite its absurdity, this is congruous with the whole plot of the Inferno. In order to get out of the wood of sin (Canto I), Dante has to witness personally what is the fate of the sinner, for which he has to let Virgil lead him into the Underworld. Besides plot grotesque there are many occurrences of  situational grotesque. For example in Circle III, where the gluttonous suffer, the poets have to tread on the spiritual bodies of the miserable which are lying under  the everfalling rain.
While walking amongst the heads that stick out like those of frogs from the frozen pond of Cocytus (Circle IX), Dante stumbles into the face of a traitor. The face belongs to Bocca degli Abati who had betrayed the Florentini in the battle of Montaperti (won by the Senesi) by cutting off the hand of the Florentine standard-bearer thus throwing the Florentine army into panic. It may be a kind of personal vengence on Dante`s part against the traitor of his native city, yet the situation is very confused. It may as well have been fate or chance and this makes us puzzled. The walk among the doggish faces is of course grotesque par exellence.
Perhaps one of the best examples of situational grotesque is to be found in Canto  XXX (the tenth subcircle of Malebolge) where the impersonators, the falsifiers  of persons, run here and there and bite others. Gianni Schicchi, a will forger, attacks ferociouly  Capocchio, a falsifier of metals. This scene, which in its ferocity resembles that of  Cocytus where Count Ugolino bites the nape of his enemy bishop Ruggieri, is already grotesque in itself. Yet when Dante asks for an explanation of another person (Griffolino d`Arezzo) he does it with the following words:

                                       “Oh!” diss`io lui, “se l`altro non ti ficchi
                                    li denti a dosso, non ti sia fatica
                                    a dir chi è, pria che di qui si spicchi”.
                                                                     (ibid. 34-36)
“If there is no one to bite you for the moment” is extremely grotesque. It suggests that violence is a norm in Inferno. Therefore the deviation from this norm, although a grotesque norm, is unexpected. and the whole situation is entirely grotesque. The grotesque in this situation is created by the discrepancy between expected violence and  its being suddenly missing, whereby something which is normal within a  normal order of things is pereceived in inversion. This should make us extremely cautious. What is then grotesque and what is normality? Where is the grotesque: in things or in the way we see them?
The possible typology of the grotesque (the grotesque overcome, yet never in its entirety) in Dante`s Inferno comprises thus  1. character grotesque (or elements of the grotesque in the greneral setting); 2. pattern or structural grotesque  (or the postioning of different characters in their determined cells, as in a grotesque ornament); 3. situational grotesque (or the relative shifting and fluctuation  of these elements within a fairly fixed pattern);  4. plot grotesque (or the movement of the observer`s eye through the grotesque structure).
4. Our final task in this article is to discuss the grotesque as a phenomenon, a method and an objective.  Let us therefore observe the final grotesque image beheld by Dante and Virgil in Inferno before coming out to see the stars again (“a riveder le stelle”).   Our aim is not the mere description of the fallen bearer of light - il Lucifero - in his terrifying degradation, his three terrible faces in three colours devouring the three biggest traitors ever - Judas, Brutus and Cassius- he himself crying from his six eyes, waving his bat wings , and so producing the ice down at the bottom of Hell. We certainly recall in this connection the image which Goya has painted of the Saturnus devouring his children. But let us leave it for the time being and follow Dante and Virgil who, in order to get out of Hell, have to climb down his body, for Lucifer, after having been cast out of Heaven, down into the middle of the Earth, from the other side,  that of the Southern Hemisphere, has pierced half through the centre of the Earth. Thus in order to get through the centre of the Earth into the Southern Hemisphere, where Mount Purgatory lies (the only piece of land remaining after all the rest had fled from it in fear of the fallen angel), they have to climb down Lucifer`s furry body. When they reach the very centre of the Earth, Virgil and Dante, clinging to him, make a sudden turn, so that their heads are now in the direction where their feet were before (Cf. Frye 1990: 238-239). When Dante now looks back he sees to his bewilderment that Lucifer is standing on his head. This is another powerful image of the subverted order of the normal state. Yet Virgil explains to him why it is so and Dante understands that it is normal. It is not that Dante has seen wrongly. To him Lucifer really stood on his head. In order to have restored the previous perspective he should have now himself stood on his head, and this would have been absurd. He perceived it as a phenomenon of the grotesque, until receiving a satisfactory explanation from Virgil. The explanation enables him to understand  that the grotesque is part of the divine order. Disorder, or subverted order is a kind of order within the divine perspective, on the macrotextual level. Seen in the universal perspective, infernal disorder is order too, although only in  Inferno. Inferno is order in its grotesqueness, as it is also realistic in its grotesqueness.  Dante the protagonist  sees the grotesque. Dante the author (expressed mainly through Virgil) sees the order and harmony of the Universe. Both the grotesque and realism, though contradictory,are methods by which Dante shows the underlying divine order, even in Inferno. Dante`s language, combining different styles, is a perfect language to create the feeling of both the grotesque and  the sublime. Virgil, for example, generally speaks in an elevated style. The overall vision is that of a sublime master, the embodiment of alienation overcome in spirit. And it is under his guidance, conceded by the celestial grace, that Dante observes the grotesque imagery of the Underworld, which is very realistic in its suffering, to reach higher spheres and perfect order. For Dante the grotesque is a method. It may even be an objective on the microtextual level, localized to Inferno, but it can never be the overall objective, the objective  on the macrotextual level - in the order and  harmony of the Universe. Therefore we may say that within the general conceptual structure, on the level of reason,  we deal with the grotesque overcome. Yet, on the level of physical perception, grotesque images remain, at least as far as we read the Inferno. They continue to lurk deep down at the bottom of our consciousness like the spirit of Mahomet, who - after explaining to Dante his being punished for sowing religious discord, with his foot in the air like that of a halted marionet - continues his walk.



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