The Reading Room

On Geryon’s Spiral Flight: Fraud

Behold the beast who bears the pointed tail,who crosses mountains, shatters weapons, walls!Behold the one whose stench fills all the world!
So did my guide speak to me,and then he signaled him to come ashore
close to the end of those stone passageways.
And he came on, that filthy effigy
of fraud, and landed with his head and torso
but did not draw his tail onto the bank.
The face he wore was that of a just man,
so gracious was his features' outer semblance;
and all his trunk, the body of a serpent;
he had two paws, with hair up to the armpits;
his back and chest as well as both his flanks
had been adorned with twining knots and circlets.
No Turks or Tartars ever fashioned fabrics
more colorful in background and relief,
nor had Arachne ever loomed such webs.
(Dante's Inferno 17.1-18. Mandelbaum tr.)
Geryon, the symbol of fraud, with his just man's face, covered in whorls and swirls (spirals), carries and deposits Dante and Virgil to the eighth circle of Inferno where the ten bolgias of the fraud and its many manifestations are included. To understand the significance of Geryon's ponderous, yet quick and easy, spiral descent, one must compare Geryon to the Griffin, which is the dual-natured God, Jesus, at the top of the Mountain of Purgatory (itself created in the same event which created Hell according to Dante). Just as Geryon, who appears just but is not, represents fraud, so does his flight downward represent the "untrue path" of following "false appearances." That which seems good but truly is not That which appears one way but is not. That which is fraudulent quickly leads one down a dark path, essentially.
I do not think that there was greater fearin Phaethon when he let his reins go free—
for which the sky, as one still sees, was scorched—
nor in poor Icarus when he could feel
his sides unwinged because the wax was melting,
his father shouting to him, “That way's wrong!”
than was in me when, on all sides, I saw
that I was in the air, and everything
had faded from my sight—except the beast.
(Dante's Inferno 17.106-114. Mandelbaum tr.)
One must then compare this to the spiral path up the Mountain of Purgatory. To ascend this mountain requires time, patience, suffering, directed will-power, help from the divine (in the form of helpful tips from invisible angels about the location of doors), and a clear and meaningful goal. Also, at the top of this mountain is the Divine (appearing as a Griffin), which leads one there the whole way as an Aristotelian Final Cause, rather than Geryon, who acts as an efficient cause or even simply an instrumental cause in lowering one into Fraud. This difference is fundamental and illustrative: the path of following false-appearances quickly leads one downwards, into immobility, torture, and blindness. This happens fast and effortlessly, of course. The path towards the divine takes concentrated toil, struggle, faith, hope, and relying on others (or one's faith in the process) when the way seems hopeless or unending. And it takes a great amount of time. Does this not perfectly illustrate the difference between fraud and truth, appearance and reality? Try this new diet. Here, this workout plan is easy and quick. Get rich quick! Our world is full of "low-hanging" or rotten fruit. The truth requires discipline, courage, patience, faith, and brutal honesty. Ask any Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitor, power-lifter, or even the Kung Fu Panda. The secret is that working hard and facing weaknesses is the path of truth. There is no shortcut which results in anything more than backtracking. Choose wisely.