Why is Dante using Geryon as a symbol of fraud?

  • In Greek mythology, Geryon was a three-headed (or three-bodied) giant Hercules slew during one of his labors. Dante places him in the seventh circle of hell and presents him as a manifestation of fraud (Canto XVII).

    I find this confusing because the Greek myths regarding the giant do not show him to be deceptive or fraudulent. He's just unlucky Hercules was asked to steal his cattle. Why did Dante decide to use Geryon as a symbol of fraud?

  • Translator-poet John Ciardi (Dante, The Inferno, Signet Classics, 2001, p. 139) offers the following annotation:

    GERYON. A mythical king of Spain represented as a giant with three heads and three bodies. He was killed by Hercules, who coveted the king’s cattle. A later tradition represents him as killing and robbing strangers whom he lured into his realm. It is probably on this account that Dante chose him as the prototype of fraud, though in a radically altered bodily form. Some of the details of Dante’s Geryon may be drawn from Revelations, ix, 9–20, but most of them are almost certainly his own invention: a monster with the general shape of a dragon but with the tail of a scorpion, hairy arms, a gaudily-marked reptilian body, and the face of a just and honest man. The careful reader will note that the gaudily-spotted body suggests the Leopard; the hairy paws, the Lion; and that the human face represents the essentially human nature of Fraud, which thus embodies corruption of the Appetite, of the Will, and of the Intellect.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM