Irma as Milton’s & Dante’s Infernos

The eye of Hurricane Irma

Monday

Someone tweeted recently that, from above, the “eye” of a hurricane doesn’t look so much like an eye as it does an anus—and that it behaves like one as well, spreading s— everywhere. This sent my own scatological mind into action, and I began associating Irma’s winds from hell with the Satanic winds described by Milton in Paradise Lost and by Dante in The Inferno.

In an article entitled “Scatology and the Sacred in Milton ‘s Paradise Lost,” Kent Lehnhof observes that Milton’s winds have scatological associations:

Milton repeatedly connects his epic demons to digestive waste. The infernal environment in which they are confined, for instance, is an unmistakably flatulential realm. Reeking of “ever-burning Sulphur,” Milton’s hell is a windy wasteland where Satan and the fallen angels are eternally buffeted by “Whirlwinds of tempestuous fire” (I, 69, 77). Hell’s excremental features are foregrounded from the very beginning of Book I, where the narrator describes the landscape to be the work of subterranean winds erupting from the earth’s “combustible / And fewel’d entrals” in such a way as to leave behind “a singed bottom all involv’d / With stench and smoak” (I, 233-34, 236-37).

Lehnhof also observes scatological wind imagery in the weapons that the bad angels aim at the good ones in the battle over Heaven:

Sudden all at once thir Reeds
[They] put forth, and to a narrow vent appli’d
With nicest touch. Immediate in a flame,
But soon obscur’d with smoak, all Heav’n appeerd,
From those deep-throated Engins belcht, whose roar
Emboweld with outragious noise the Air,
And all her entrails tore, disgorging foule
Thir devilish glut. (VI, 582-89)

By contrast, Dante’s Inferno is cold, not hot, but like Milton’s it is a windy place. The winds here are not flatulence—they are caused by the ice-entrapped Satan beating his wings in an endeavor to escape—but the very center of hell is the devil’s anus. Dante and Virgil must travel through this in order to begin making their way to Purgatorio.

First, here’s the wind scene:

As, when a thick mist breathes, or when the rim
  Of night creeps up across our hemisphere,
  A turning windmill looms in the distance dim,

I thought I saw a shadowy mass appear;
  Then shrank behind my leader from the blast,
  Because there was no other cabin here.

Virgil and Dante must go right up to Satan to come out the other side, just as Florida, to get to calmer weather, must first endure the eye of the hurricane. This is such a fearsome journey, however, that Virgil must carry Dante. Taking advantage of a momentary lull in the beating of the wings (again, like a hurricane’s eye), they first climb down the devil and then, the center of the earth being as it is, begin climbing upward. The transition from down to up occurs in the vicinity of Satan’s thigh-bone, which scholars like Norman O. Brown see as a euphemism for the anus:

Then, as he bade, about his neck I curled
My arms and clasped him. And he spied the time
And place; and when the wings were wide unfurled

Set him upon the shaggy flanks to climb
And thus from shag to shag descended down
‘Twixt matted hair and crusts of frozen rime.

And when we had come to where the huge thigh0bone
Rides in its socket at the haunch’s swell,
My guide, with labour and great exertion,

Turned head to where the feet had been, and fell
To hoisting himself up upon the hair,
So that I thought us mounting back to Hell.

Florida and those decimated Caribbean islands have gone through the nine levels of hell and are only beginning to clamber painfully back. Dante concludes Inferno with encouraging words, however:

He first, I following; till my straining sense
Glimpsed the bright burden of the heavenly cars
Through a round hole; by this we climbed, and thence

Came forth, to look once more upon the stars.

Hang in their, Irma sufferers. You will look once again upon the stars.

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