The travellers pass “the boundary that divides / the second from the third ring” [Inf. 14.4-5] and see before them a witness to “the horrible art of justice”: a dread work that justice had devised [Inf. 14.6]. The third ring of the seventh circle is devoted to violence against God, in His person and in His possessions, and it is therefore particularly apt that this bitter landscape—an arid plain tormented by falling flakes of fire—should be characterized as the “the horrible art of justice”. We remember that God is the ultimate artist of His universe and that indeed nature imitates His handiwork while human artists and artisans imitate nature.
As they head back to the ship a dust storm comes representing the falling flakes of fire, a horrible art of justice. While some of the crew return safe to the ship Fifield and Milburn come across a pile of dead engineers.
Millburn: It’s those things, are they real?
Fifield: Course they’re real
Millburn: Jesus Christ, look at the pile. Look how high up thy are.
Fifield: It looks like they were running from something
Millburn: Don’t touch, okay. This thing is opened up from the inside. Almost like it’s exploded.
Fifield: It looks like some scene out of some sort of holocaust painting.
Millburn: And so whatever killed them is long gone.
Canto 14 and The Raft of the Medusa
The Raft of the Medusa is considered a classic piece of Romanticism. In its brutality, realism, and raw emotion it captures the essence of a historic event that shocked the French public, a Revolution-weary public that was not easy to shock. The story behind the painting is as devastating as the desperation on canvas.
The Medusa was a French naval vessel that was on course off the coast of Africa before running aground on a sandbar near Mauritania on July 2, 1816. After three days of trying to free the ship from where it was stuck, the crew and passengers took to the ship’s six small lifeboats. The people adrift experienced a hellish 13 days at sea. There was a great deal of infighting, with many people being thrown overboard, throwing themselves overboard, or cannibalized.
It was probably an aesthetic choice of Theodore Gericault to structure his piece with such a homage to a circle of Hell that takes pride in blasphemy against God.