Inferno XVI: Getting Personal with the Sodomites
Ink on paper, 2016
22 x 15”
Continuing his engagement with the depraved yet beloved souls in the Third Ring of the Seventh Circle, Dante chats with some comical characters, a trio of Florentine sodomites.
* * *
Brunetto Latini is left behind, and Virgil encourages Dante to stop and talk to a group of sodomites whose eccentric behavior is alternately absurd and endearing. The main speaker identifies himself as Jacopo Rusticucci, and his friends as Guido Guerra and Tegghiaio Aldobrandi. Highly regarded by Dante in life, these three Florentines were Guelphs who discouraged engagement in battle. The trio behaves with erratic absurdity, joining hands and running in circles as a sort of human wheel as they attempt to dodge the burning flakes of flame. They’re badly charred from their eternal exposure to fire. They question Dante about the state of Florentine politics.
Curiously, as Robert Hollander points out, it’s surprising and very odd that Dante once again treats a group of typically reviled sinners (sodomites) with such affection and respect, just as he did Brunetto Latini in Canto XV. It’s a puzzling aspect of the narrative, this graciousness bestowed upon homosexuals, but there you have it.
I made two versions of this drawing, the first (below, the only bit of it left after destroying it in my use of the ugly mess of paper as an ink blotter) being a complete failure after two full days of toil. I’m still a little unsure why I disliked it so much, but my conviction was profound enough to compel me to start again. I suspect my displeasure came from the lack of energy in the composition—the three guys simply formed a circle dropped in the center of the image. It was also a little too silly in my opinion, despite the relative levity of the scene described by Dante.
As a 21st century sodomite, I’m much happier with the second, final iteration (top), perhaps because it became an opportunity for some personal critical commentary—a little jab at the bearded Boston bros who desperately cultivate an A-list image. Having hacked away of late at the jungle that is gay dating I think I’ve developed an ability to spot these guys pretty quickly. Most have the requisite muscles and beards—slaves to the trends that elicit a sort of conformist desire. Their Instagram feeds possess an exquisitely balanced ratio of sexy photos of themselves in the gym, sensitive shots of them lovingly playing with dogs or nieces or nephews alongside nocturnal images of Ptown weekends with the boys. Lots of teeth and tank tops. They overcompensate with abundant expressions of interest in sports and beer. They seem friendly, happy. They describe themselves openly as “laid back,” but their grimaces vaguely indicate a deeper underlying anxiety.
What draws these men to places like Boston, with its competitive, cold, gay subculture? A desperate need for tribal belonging paired with a desire to be desired? Hell bent on transcending, once and for all, lonely childhoods filled with rejection? Tough to say, but so many of these men seem damaged by the time they’re 40, eating themselves alive as they inch toward late middle age.