Botticelli's Inferno series (meaning Hell in English) provides moral guidance in addition to the clear artistic qualities of this Renaissance master. Much focus has been made on his work for illustrating Dante's Divine Comedy because of the beauty of the work here as well as the lack of other drawings which still exist today.
Many will draw comparisons with the work of Hieronymus Bosch, whose own career included the likes of The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things, Hell and Death of Whore. Religion played a huge role in the various eras of the Renaissance and directly from this you will see moral tales delivered by most of the major artists of this time.
The greater punishment is delivered to the flatterers and whores who spend their eternity in excrement, with the horrific stench being suffered by the travellers who are characterised in bright, positive colours. Dante and Virgil in this scene have been introduced to the malebolge, the evil ditches.
The key to this drawing is the comparison between the travellers and those being punished. Colour is then used to underline the differences. See other iterations in this series such as Canto VI, Canto XXX and Canto XXXI.
THERE is a place within the depths of Hell
Call’d Malebolge, all of rock dark-stain’d
With hue ferruginous, e’en as the steep
That round it circling winds. Right in the midst
Of that abominable region yawns
A spacious gulf profound, whereof the frame
Due time shall tell. The circle, that remains,
Throughout its round, between the gulf and base
Of the high craggy banks, successive forms
Ten bastions, in its hollow bottom raised.
As where, to guard the walls, full many a foss
Begirds some stately castle, sure defence
Affording to the space within; so here
Were model’d these: and as like fortresses,
E’en from their threshold to the brink without,
Are flank’d with bridges; from the rock’s low base
Thus flinty paths advanced, that ’cross the moles
And dykes struck onward far as to the gulf,
That in one bound collected cuts them off.
Such was the place, wherein we found ourselves
From Geryon’s back dislodged. The bard to left
Held on his way, and I behind him moved.
On our right hand new misery I saw,
New pains, new executioner of wrath,
That swarming peopled that first chasm. Below
Were naked sinners. Hitherward they came,
Meeting our faces, from the middle point;
With us beyond, but with a larger stride.
E’en thus the Romans, 1 when the year returns
Of Jubilee, with better speed to rid
The thronging multitudes, their means devise
For such as pass the bridge; that on one side
All front toward the castle, and approach
Saint Peter’s fane, on the other toward the mount.
Each diverse way, along the grisly rock,
Horn’d demons I beheld, with lashes huge,
That on their back unmercifully smote.
Ah! how they made them bound at the first stripe!
None for the second waited, nor the third.
Meantime, as on I pass’d, one met my sight,
Whom soon as view’d, “Of him,” cried I, “not yet
Mine eye hath had his fill.” I therefore stay’d
My feet to scan him, and the teacher kind
Paused with me, and consented I should walk
Backward a space; and the tormented spirit,
Who thought to hide him, bent his visage down.
But it avail’d him naught; for I exclaim’d:
“Thou who dost cast thine eye upon the ground,
Unless thy features do belie thee much,
Venedico 2 art thou. But what brings thee
Into this bitter seasoning?” He replied:
“Unwillingly I answer to thy words.
But thy clear speech, that to my mind recalls
The world I once inhabited, constrains me.
Know then ’t was I who led fair Ghisola
To do the Marquis’ will, however fame
The shameful tale have bruited. Nor alone
Bologna hither sendeth me to mourn.
Rather with us the place is so o’er throng’d,
That not so many tongues this day are taught,
Betwixt the Reno and Savena’s stream,
To answer Sipa 3 in their country’s phrase.
And if of that securer proof thou need,
Remember but our craving thirst for gold.”
Him speaking thus, a demon with his throng
Struck and exclaim’d, “Away, corrupter! here
Women are none for sale.” Forthwith I join’d
My escort, and few paces thence we came
To where a rock forth issued from the bank.
That easily ascended, to the right
Upon its splinter turning, we depart
From those eternal barriers. When arrived
Where, underneath, the gaping arch lets pass
The scourged souls: “Pause here,” the teacher said,
“And let these others miserable now
Strike on thy ken; faces not yet beheld,
For that together they with us have walk’d.”
From the old bridge we eyed the pack, who came
From the other side toward us, like the rest,
Excoriate from the lash. My gentle guide,
By me unquestion’d, thus his speech resumed:
“Behold that lofty shade, who this way tends,
And seems too woe-begone to drop a tear.
How yet the regal aspect he retains!
Jason is he, whose skill and prowess won
The ram from Colchis. To the Lemnian isle
His passage thither led him, when those bold
And pitiless women had slain all their males.
There he with tokens and fair witching words
Hypsipyle 4 beguiled, a virgin young,
Who first had all the rest herself beguiled.
Impregnated, he left her there forlorn.
Such is the guilt condemns him to this pain.
Here too Medea’s injuries are avenged.
All bear him company, who like deceit
To his have practised. And thus much to know
Of the first vale suffice thee, and of those
Whom its keen torments urge.” Now had we come
Where, crossing the next pier, the straiten’d path
Bestrides its shoulders to another arch.
Hence, in the second chasm we heard the ghosts,
Who gibber in low melancholy sounds,
With wide-stretch’d nostrils snort, and on themselves
Smite with their palms. Upon the banks a scurf,
From the foul steam condensed, encrusting hung,
That held sharp combat with the sight and smell.
So hollow is the depth, that from no part,
Save on the summit of the rocky span,
Could I distinguish aught. Thus far we came;
And thence I saw, within the foss below,
A crowd immersed in ordure, that appear’d
Draff of the human body. There beneath
Searching with eye inquisitive, I mark’d
One with his head so grimed, ’t were hard to deem
If he were clerk or layman. Loud he cried:
“Why greedily thus bendest more on me,
Than on these other filthy ones, thy ken?”
“Because, if true my memory,” I replied,
“I heretofore have seen thee with dry locks;
And thou Alessio 5 art, of Lucca sprung.
Therefore than all the rest I scan thee more.”
Then beating on his brain, these words he spake:
“Me thus low down my flatteries have sunk,
Wherewith I ne’er enough could glut my tongue.”
My leader thus: “A little further stretch
Thy face, that thou the visage well mayst note
Of that besotted, sluttish courtesan,
Who there doth rend her with defiled nails,
Now crouching down, now risen on her feet.
Thaïs 6 is this, the harlot, whose false lip
Answer’d her doting paramour that ask’d,
‘Thankest me much!’—‘Say rather, wondrously,’
And, seeing this, here satiate be our view.