The Conversion of St. Paul

7:00 AM


Jacopo Tinoretto, The Conversion of St. Paul, 1545

As each of these was laboring to rake
His nails all over himself - scratching and digging
For the great fury of the itch they tried to slake,

Which has no other relief: their nails were snagging
Scabs from the skin as a knifeblade might remove
Scales from a carp, or as if the knife were dragging.
- Inferno, Dante, Canto XXIX

These lines in this canto particularly made me shudder. Not being able to relieve an itch - to me - would be insufferable. I can understand how awful this would be because there have been times when I have not been able to get to an itch on my leg or when the bottom of my foot itches and my shoe blocks me from scratching it. I can only imagine how unbearable this would be if it lasted forever. The other circles after this one are much worse, but I can't imagine what it would be like to be stabbed by snakes or mauled or rained on by fire. 

I also find this method of torture in Hell interesting because this method has been used to torture people in life. The Chinese water torture was used as a form of torture where a drop of water would be placed on the victim's nose and made to itch. The person was restrained from itching it. This method, while extremely cruel, became very effective as the victim was driven insane from not being able to scratch their nose. They would give any information to escape the torture, even if the information was taking blame for a crime. The idea of an unscratchable itch used in this canto is interesting.

The above painting, which is about the conversion of St. Paul connects the two ideas. The people seem to be laid about similarly to the canto image by Gustave Dore we viewed in class while reading. Specifically the man lying on the ground. Also the water in the background of the painting connects with the idea of the Chinese water torture in which water is used to bring about the terrible itching sensation, which is the hell in the canto.

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