The Dark, Dark Wood of Suicide

Among the many haunting and piteous images from the Inferno of Dante is this one. The travelers, in Canto XIII, enter a pathless wood. Dante, on Virgil's coaching, snaps a twig from a thorn tree. The tree yelps in pain, and no wonder. The tree is the transmuted personage of a formerly great Florentine, Pier delle Vigne, who had been counselor to the emperor Frederick II. How, then, did he become a tree? The envy of others brought him down. "Glad honours turned to obloquies" (as the Dorothy L. Sayers' translation would have it).

So, in a scornful spirit of disgust,

And thinking to escape from scorn by death.

To my just self I made myself unjust.

Killed himself, in other words, by means unspecified here.

Miss Sayers expatiates in a footnote: "Accused of conspiring against his master, he was disgraced, imprisoned, and blinded, and in despair took his own life." Becoming, in consequence, a thorn tree, with leaves that Harpies loved to gnaw.

Again, Miss Sayers:

The sin of Suicide is, in an especial manner, an insult to the body; so, here, the shades are deprived of even the semblance of the human form. As they refused life, they remain fixed in a dead and withered sterility. They are the image of the self-hatred which dries...

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