Canto 34 of the Inferno begins with Virgil's direct words, the second such instance in the sixty-four cantos1 which mark his presence as a character in the Commedia. In both occurrences, he introduces a demonic character: Geryon in Inferno 17:1-3 and the king of hell (34:1-3)2:

      «Vexilla regis prodeunt inferni
verso di noi; però dinanzi mira»,
disse 'l maestro mio, «se tu discerni».

The four words constituting the first line of Inferno 34, however, are and are not Virgil's own words. On the most obvious level, these words are his own in that the text attributes them to him. At the same time, they are not his, since they are a quotation of the first line of a hymn by Venantius Fortunatus.3 And yet, the last word, inferni, must be attributed to Virgil under all respects, for he utters it without borrowing it from the hymn that Venantius Fortunatus wrote in honor of the cross and Christ. Through Virgil, Dante the auctor, therefore, rewrites and parodies this sacred hymn at the conclusion of the infernal cantica exactly when the two wayfarers approach Lucifer.4 Although neither name is mentioned, both are conjured up. Inferno 34 thus begins by invoking a contrastive binomial, Christ and Lucifer.

      The irony inherent in the Christian hymn's adaptation for the purpose of announcing Lucifer's appearance to the Pilgrim stems, most strikingly, from subverting a text written for a sacred purpose and now employing it for a profane one.5 No longer the sacred poem («Vexilla regis prodeunt») written by a Christian poet, the new and profane poem («Vexilla regis prodeunt inferni») is proclaimed by a pagan, is dedicated, as it were, to Lucifer, and is inscribed within the book of the Commedia. Whereas the Christian Venantius writes a poem to his king, Christ, the pagan Virgil, unable to write a poem for the king whose law he opposed (Inf. 1:125), intones a poem to his de facto king, Lucifer, and he does so by borrowing and perverting a sacred text. In fine, Dante the auctor records this new hymn to Lucifer in his text, as if he were the scribe of Virgil the poet.

      This opposition between Christ and Lucifer is further emphasized by another textual element, which focuses on nomen. The Inferno, in fact, is the text where the word Dite __ Lucifer __ is inscribed and where the word Christ is never recorded. Thus a written sign characterizes Lucifer in the first cantica, whereas the text's silence typifies Christ. As we shall see, however, the meaning of this verbal presence and absence is ultimately turned around: Lucifer's presence becomes a failure, whereas Christ's absence signifies a victory. As a sign of his textual presence throughout the first cantica, Lucifer, the character whom the Pilgrim contemplates in the nethermost pit of the universe, is designated by means of various words and circumlocutions. In terms of frequency, among all of Lucifer's nomina, Dite has the highest occurrence, Lucifero the second highest, and Satàn and Belzebù have one single occurrence each.6

      The first of Lucifer's names to be uttered in hell, Satàn, is most interestingly proclaimed by one of Lucifer's minions. At the sight of the two wayfarers, Pluto shouts a hardly intelligible invocation: «Pape Satàn, pape Satàn aleppe!» (7: 1). The name Belzebù, instead, concludes the list of all recordings of Lucifer's name within the Inferno (34:127-30):

      Luogo è là giù da Belzebù remoto
tanto quanto la tomba si distende,
che non per vista, ma per suono è noto
      d'un ruscelletto...

The only two occurrences of Lucifero take place within the narrative: the first time within a context which applies to both Virgil and the Pilgrim (31:142-43), the second time within a frame which concerns primarily the Pilgrim (34:88-89).

      Io levai li occhi e credetti vedere
Lucifero com'io l'avea lasciato,
e vidili le gambe in sù tenere.

Finally, the employment of the word Dite bears out two fundamental features: Dite (frequency: 4) is always recorded within a direct discourse, whose utterer is always Virgil (8:67-68; 11:64-66; 12:37-39; 34:20).7 The most dramatic of these utterances is in Inferno 34: "Ecco Dite" («Behold Dis», 34:20). The king of hell, therefore, can lay claim to four different nomina: Dite (4), Lucifero (2), Satàn (1), and Belzebù (1). The first cantica, therefore, attributing to Lucifer a fourfold name and a host of circumlocutions, can be viewed as a treatise de nominibus diaboli, in many respects the ironic contrast of medieval treatises de nominibus dei.

      A most striking feature of the infernal king's designations appears precisely in canto 34, which records three of Lucifer's names: «Dite», uttered by Virgil in announcing his presence to the Pilgrim (34:20); «Lucifero», recorded in the narrative when the Pilgrim raises his eyes expecting to see Lucifer as he first saw him but instead seeing him legs up (34:89); and finally «Belzebù», in the narrative which explains the presence of the little stream (34:127). The proclamation of Lucifer's presence, «Ecco Dite» (34:20), by Virgil, who steps aside in order to reveal to the Pilgrim «la creatura ch'ebbe il bel sembiante» (34:18), constitutes a climax. Virgil's proclamation marks the only textual occurrence of Lucifer's name being uttered precisely in the presence of the same character.

      At the same time, Virgil's climactic nominatio in front of Lucifer provides an ample commentary on Lucifer's names throughout the first cantica. The three names by which Lucifer is designated in Inferno 34 parody the names of the Trinity and Christ. In fact, each one of Lucifer's three names represents adequately the signified, whereas no name of God is totally representational. Furthermore, in Inferno 34 each name of Lucifer is employed in complete separation from the other two, whereas in Paradiso 33 God is presented as one and triune, and each person of the Trinity is described within the same tercet in perfect harmony with the other two (Par. 33:85-87; 115-17; 118-20; 124-26). The names assigned to Lucifer in the Commedia __ Satàn, Lucifero, Dis, and Belzebù __ stand also in contrast with the name Cristo, which is never mentioned in the first cantica but is recorded five times in the second and thirty-four times in the third. The sum of all verbal occurrences of «Cristo» __ thirty-nine __ contains two numbers, three and nine, to which Dante the author attributes a mystic power in the Vita nuova. Of the thirty-four occurrences in the Paradiso, Cristo in twelve instances is situated at a line's end and rhymes with itself, thus creating four textual, self-rhyming clusters. In these four textual clusters, which contrast with Lucifer's four names, the name Cristo, by rhyming with itself, links two tercets together (according to the scheme ABA BCB, in which B stands for Cristo) and is also open-ended.8 The textual loci (Inf. 7:1; 11:65; 12:39; 31:143; 34:20, 89, 127) of Lucifer's names, on the contrary, present no pattern, thereby suggesting a lack of symmetry and structural significance.

      As the climax of all of Lucifer's namings, Virgil's proclamation, «Ecco Dite», fully signifies what a nomen is typically understood to signify. At this juncture of the journey, in fact, the Pilgrim contemplates Lucifer in his position (34:28-29), size (34:33), ugliness and wickedness (34:34-36); he also observes his threefold head (34:37-45), his six wings and their fluttering (34:46-52), his six eyes with dripping tears and bloody foam (34:53-54); and, finally, his three-faced head, which mangles three damned (34:55-67). Finally, the Pilgrim's visual experience of Lucifer becomes tactile, as he, on Virgil's back, first descends, then climbs, Lucifer's body.

      Not only does Virgil's proclamation of Lucifer's name fully render the reality to which it corresponds; this reality, Lucifer, who is described in detail from line 20 to 67 and further expounded throughout the canto, is reified: Lucifer can be looked at, measured, and comprehended through the description of his position, ugliness, size, wings, eyes, color, and threefold head and mouth. From this moment onward, the Pilgrim's mental idea, and word, of Lucifer __ Dite, but also Lucifero or Belzebù __ corresponds to what Lucifer is in reality. Thus the word Dite, as well as Lucifero or Belzebù, represents adequately the Lucifer whom the two wayfarers see and carries out its mimetic function. Moreover, Virgil's two-word presentation of Lucifer expresses everything that can be said about Lucifer. In fact, Virgil can also explain how Lucifer fell from heaven and how land and water were subverted at that time. In brief, just as Virgil expounds the effects of Lucifer's fall, his words, «Ecco Dite», provide a complete explanation of who Lucifer is ex effectibus, namely, from the consequences of his act of pride.

      What Virgil's words fail to explain is the cause of Lucifer's fall and rebellion. No creature can understand, and therefore no poetic word can explain, the true essence of the creature's rebellion against his creator. In the same way as man's redemption from sin can be accomplished only by the Word incarnate, as Beatrice informs Dante in Paradiso 7, so the understanding and verbal description of sin itself cannot be fully understood by any creature. Virgil's words, «Ecco Dite», accomplish the task of describing from the outside the condition of a creature who once was the most beautiful and is now the ugliest; they fail, however, to represent that rebellion's tragic and cosmic consequences.

      Poetic word, therefore, describes sin from its effects and from the outside but fails to describe it in its true essence. The limitations of the poetic word affects not only all attempts to describe God as he really is, as the text will evidence most dramatically in the last canto of the Paradiso. On the opposite end of the universe, an analogous failure affects also the poetic word's attempts to describe the essence of Lucifer's rebellious action against the Divinity. Virgil's «Ecco Dite», consequently, points in two different directions. This two-word exclamation constitutes an adequate signifier of Lucifer in his present condition but fails to render Lucifer's primordial pride, which brought about his fall, eternal silence, and perpetual immobility.

      Virgil's proclamation echoes Pilate's «Ecce homo» (Jo. 19:5). In fact, by applying to Dite the same rhetorical construct which the Johannine text applies to Christ, Virgil points up the deception of Pilate's words which proclaimed Christ's humanity but failed to represent adequately his divinity. At the same time, as Pilate's statement «Ecce homo» is unmasked and parodied by Virgil's proclamation, the latter is being reinforced as an adequate signifier of Lucifer's condition. The two statements __ «Ecce homo» vs. «Ecco Dite» __ are first presented as oral constructs, which are subsequently encoded within a written text, the Bible and the Commedia, respectively. Hence derive several interconnected relationships: first, the priority of the oral over the written word, but also the correspondence between the two elements; second, the permanency of the written word, which records what the oral word states in a fleeting moment. In brief, what Virgil states at a precise moment of the journey in the underworld, is now written permanently in the book which describes such a journey.

      The two antithetical constructs __ «Ecce homo» vs. «Ecco Dite» __ point up the essence of the Word Incarnate vis-à-vis Lucifer. The homo whom Pilate is showing to the crowd is silent, though he is the Word of God. Thus He is the «unspeaking Word» or the «Verbum infans», which is a common theme from Augustine, patristic writings, and medieval theologians (Ong 187). Since he is the Word of God, His silence further emphasizes the power of his words. Conversely, Virgil's «Ecco Dite» announces a creature who was created as a seraph, namely, ardens (Isid. Etym. 7:24) and whose task it was to proclaim God's sanctity («Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus Dominus, Deus exercituum» Is. 6:3). The Incarnate Word's silence in front of Pilate and the crowd becomes more communicative than speech itself and establishes a direct rapport with His power of communication. Lucifer's silence in front of the two wayfarers parodies these two aspects of Christ, at once Verbum but also Verbum infans. In brief, Lucifer's silence is un-communicative and parodies Christ as both the «unspeaking Word» and the «speaking Word», whom Lucifer sought in vain to overturn. Furthermore, Virgil's «Ecco Dite», though inscribed in a specific context, is nevertheless timeless, since the phrase lacks a verbal tense, just as the referent is eternal and his condition is destined to eternal immutability. Lucifer denies the Word, not only qua Word but also in what pertains to Him most essentially, Love. Lucifer's threefold inability to communicate parodies the Word's essential quality; Lucifer's ability to create a wind, which freezes the infernal lake, Cocytus, parodies his original nature as a seraph, or ardens.

      The silence which characterizes Lucifer marks also the three souls whom Lucifer torments. Most interestingly, after first proclaiming Lucifer's name in line 20, Virgil equally announces the names of the three souls tormented by Lucifer (34:61-67):

      «Quell'anima lassù c'ha maggior pena»,
disse 'l maestro, «è Giuda Scarïotto,
che 'l capo ha dentro e fuor le gambe mena.
      De li altri due c'hanno il capo di sotto,
quel che pende dal nero ceffo è Bruto:
vedi come si storce, e non fa motto!;
      e l'altro è Cassio, che par sì membruto.»

Thus Virgil is once again a proclaimer of names, a task he has often accomplished throughout the infernal journey by identifying infernal guardians and sinners by name. Not only does Virgil proclaim the names of the three sinners. He also provides a commentary on their condition, points out what characterizes the second traitor and, by extension, all three traitors and Lucifer himself: «vedi come si torce, e non fa motto!».9

      Furthermore, Virgil's function in naming Lucifer and the three traitors carries out the most powerful disconfirmation of names. As the most peculiar feature of the manifold nominatio taking place in Inferno 34, the name's bearer never utters his own name nor does he acknowledge that he has been identified by name. Although the character has a name, he has no power over it: he can neither pronounce it nor react to it in any way.

      Equally important, Inferno 34 designates Lucifer by three different names: Dite, Lucifero, and Belzebù.10 Although each name is an adequate signifier of Lucifer,11 it also establishes different, even contrasting associations, which are based on their diverse origin, usage, and etymology. The Old and New Testament provides the proper context for the understanding of the name Belzebù. Always a designation of a false god who is powerless in front of the true divinity, each usage of Beelzebub in the Bible undermines the signified through a twofold process: first through mockery, since the pagan divinity, through a linguistic perversion of its name, is no longer designated as «Baal the Prince» or Baal Zebub but «Baal of the flies» or Beelzebub (4 Reg. 1:117);12 secondly through a total disconfirmation of the same divinity, who is proven powerless by his opponents' actions and words.13 The name Lucifero must likewise be situated within a biblical context, where the name designates either the morning star,14 or the fallen angel,15 according to a unanimous patristic interpretation to which also Dante the author subscribes (Purg. 12:25-27). Given its twofold referentiality, this second name is inherently ambiguous. Such ambiguity, however, vanishes in the Comedy, where the name Lucifero, namely, the bearer of light, parodies the one who is designated insofar as he no longer is what his name still signifies. Finally, the name Dite, the one Virgil opts for in order to announce Lucifer in Inferno 34, belongs in a classical context. In classical mythology, the name Dis provides an alternative designation for Pluto, god of the underworld, and is the term most commonly employed by Virgil in his Aeneid to designate the underworld and its divinity.16 The name Dite (Dis) was also used in order to avoid uttering the true name of the divinity, Hades, and is often considered a euphemism, like Pluto.

      Furthermore, this threefold nomen proposes a cause/effect relationship with the fragmentation of man's language and the ydioma tripharium characteristic of mankind after Babel's confusio linguarum (VE 1.8) and also an inverse relationship with the trinary nature and name of the Christian divinity. The latter relationship, which is based on opposition, can be schematized as follows: each one of Lucifer's names expresses Lucifer's essence, whereas God's names cannot signify the divine essence but the relationships or processions between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (see Summa Theol. 1 q. 13, «De nominibus Dei»). In fact, God is above all names, and no name can adequately express the divinity.17

      Each one of Lucifer's three names, on the contrary, signifies his essence adequately: each name of Lucifer is highly mimetic. Furthermore, according to the explanation presented above, each name carries within itself an opposite relationship: first, by way of absence or denial, a relationship to a former condition, which was desirable but now no longer exists; second, by way of presence or confirmation, a relationship to the present status, which is confirmed, while denying what the name's bearer used to be. In brief, Lucifer no longer is Lucifero or the carrier of light but exactly the opposite of what his name signifies, as the Dantean text records in canto 34: «rex . . . inferni» (34:1), «la creatura ch'ebbe il bel sembiante» (34:18), «lo 'mperador de lo doloroso regno» (34:28), and, finally, «vermo reo che 'l mondo fóra» (34:108).

      In brief, though Virgil's utterance, «'Ecco Dite'», fully represents what it is intended to signify, a rupture inherent in the signifier __ Dite but also Lucifero and Belzebù __ tears the sign totally apart within itself. Since Lucifer's threefold name no longer signifies what it did originally because it has been turned against itself, each one of Lucifer's names parodies its bearer. In brief, although the poetic word can adequately signify Lucifer and, by extension, the totality of the infernal reality which Lucifer represents, such a word is torn apart within itself and away from its original referent, and hence it produces ambiguity, parody, contradiction. The name Lucifero, thus, signifies what Lucifer used to be, but no longer is; the same name also signifies what Lucifer presently is, in a dialectical reference to that lost, primordial condition.18

      What has been said about Lucifer can also be applied, by extension, to his kingdom and those who inhabit it. According to the mimetic canon, Dante's poetic word can adequately describe Lucifer, the damned, and the infernal realm. The mimetic function of the poetic text in the Inferno, therefore, becomes also ethical, judgmental, and condemnatory. By describing what the Pilgrim sees because of an extraordinary privilege, the text shares in God's power over Lucifer, the damned, and the infernal kingdom.

      By the same token, the word that describes Lucifer and the damned is inevitably affected by its own res. All the creatures inhabiting hell bear out the condition which they were called to and which they lost, and proclaim the condition which constitutes their mode of being for eternity. The poetic word describing hell shares in this relationship, which points in two divergent directions. Like every verbal sign, the Inferno's word also points to the origin of all signs of communication, the Verbum. And yet, because of Lucifer's and his followers' rebellion against it, the referentiality of the Inferno's written word is twisted and perverted. Thus, Dante's Inferno shares in the power of condemnation that the Verbum exercises over hell. The infernal text identifies, poetically and theologically, with Christ's condemning words («Discedite a me maledicti in ignem aeternum» Mat. 25:41).

      Among the recent scholars who have focused on referentiality in the Commedia, R. A. Shoaf has addressed issues very closely related to the previous discussion. According to Shoaf, «Reference is the 'gold' of signs, the property because of which they are 'valuable.'. . .» Therefore, «a sign is deformed by the subtraction of reference and the subsequent addition of personal desire» (Shoaf 36). Accordingly __ one could suggest __ Lucifer sought to appropriate what was not his own in his primordial attempt to rebel against God. His fall has affected his name as well. To his primordial name, Lucifero, the last infernal canto adds two more. As a consequence of Lucifer's fall and eternal condition, however, his three names have one referent: the three-headed monster whom the two wayfarers now contemplate. At the same time, these three names evince the perversion of referentiality, God, outside of which all names are destined to ambiguity, arbitrariness, and corruption.

      Dante's infernal poesì, therefore, has one essential qualification: it is morta (Purg. 1:7). The Inferno's deadness, evidenced by Lucifer's eternal damnation, is rendered through the disruption which affects the word which is given the task of describing such condition. Although Dante's text renders adequately its res, this poetic word points up the disruption which the creature's corrupted nature has inevitably brought about by removing itself from the Verbum.

      In conclusion: Lucifer's eternal punishment, namely, his eternal deprivation of the word, constitutes the most powerful disconfirmation of his primordial attempt against the Verbum. Although Lucifer is endowed with the physical ability to utter sounds and words, he is eternally prevented from doing so. His threefold mouth is denied the highest function for which such an organ was created __ to utter words __ and is debased to its lowest function: that of animals or, even worse, to eat humans who are his own subjects. Precisely because Lucifer, when he was created, rebelled against God and against the Word, Dante's Lucifer parodies the Word and is condemned to eternal silence.*

University of Notre Dame

*Lecture given at the University of Virginia on April 29, 1988.


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Biagi, Guido, et al. (eds.). La divina commedia nella figurazione artistica e nel secolare commento. 3 vols. Torino: UTET, 1924-39.

Biblia sacra iuxta vulgatam clementinam. Madrid: BAC, 1982.

Cortelazzo, Manlio and Paolo Zolli. Dizionario etimologico della lingua italiana. 4. vols. Bologna: Zanichelli, 1979-85.

Freccero, John. Dante: The Poetics of Conversion. Ed., introd. Rachel Jacoff. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1986.

Isidori Hispalensis Episcopi Etymologiarum sive originum libri XX. Ed. W. M. Lindsay. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1911.

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Shoaf, R. A. Dante, Chaucer, and the Currency of the Word: Money, Images, and Reference in Late Medieval Poetry. Norman, Oklahoma: Pilgrim Books, 1983.

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1 In the first cantica, only another canto, in addition to those two mentioned above, begins with a direct discourse: Inferno 7, with Pluto's gibberish: «Pape Satàn, pape Satàn aleppe!» (7:1). One should also take into consideration the first three tercets of Inferno 3.

2 Dante's text is quoted from G. Petrocchi's critical edition of the Commedia.

3 Cf. Julian 1219-1220.

4 Dante thus joins authors who parodied such hymn. Julian mentions two such imitations and parodies, both in the late Middle Ages, twelfth and fourteenth centuries (1220-21).

5 See for instance Singleton in his commentary: «Dante has strikingly added this word to the hymn to fill out his verse and to introduce the ironic and derisive tone which attends his use of the 'Vexilla regis' to announce what will be revealed to the wayfarers at the bottom of Hell» (ad loc.).

6 Cf. also these references to Lucifer or the devil in other works: «Satanas», Mon. 3.9.10; «diavol», Inf. 23:143; «diabolus», VE 1.2.6, 4.2; «dyabolus», Mon. 3.3.8; «Lucifer», Epist. 13.76; «implacabilis hostis», Epist. 7.3; «sevus tyrannus», Epist. 7.4.

7 This employment of the word Dite refers to Lucifer's kingdom, or city and only by extension to Lucifer himself.

8 For a very complex commentary on Dante's terza rima, see John Freccero, «The Significance of the Terza Rima», Dante: The Poetics of Conversion 258-71.

9 Concerning the meaning of the expression, «non far motto», see Cortelazzo-Zolli: «...nelle loc. ant. del tipo di far motto 'parlare' e non far motto 'tacere' si deve intendere motto, come 'parola': Enc. dant.)» (motto). Serravalle: «Non fa mocto: idest 'nichil loquitur'. est signum magnanimitatis» (Biagi 1:801).

10 Traditionally commentators have paid scant attention to Dante's use of different names for Lucifer. In his commentary, Singleton, for instance, remarks that «Satan has already been referred to by his classical name in Inf. XI, 65 and XII, 39» (Inf. 34:20); and in Inf. 11:65 he writes concerning the term Dite: «One of the names of Satan». Among the early commentators, Guido da Pisa makes very interesting remarks: «Qui diversa sortitur vocabula. Nam dicitur theologice 'Lucifer' in sua prima creatione quasi 'lucem ferens'; poetice vere dicitur 'Ditis', qui secundum Paganos erat maior demon Inferni, scilicet Pluto... Quando tentat de superbia dicitur 'dyabolus', idest 'deorsum ruens, idest ruere faciens'; quando de invidia, dicitur 'Sathan' idest adversarius plasmationi'...» (Biagi 1:794-95). Guido comments also on the following names of Lucifer: Exterminator, Demonium, Leviathan, Behemoth, Asmodeus (Biagi 1:795).

11 Rupert von Deutz, in his treatise De victoria verbi, makes interesting remarks on the reciprocity of Lucifer's names, which make him known to us: «Iam nunc verbi huius adversarius suis ex nominibus agnoscendus est. Dicitur in apocalipsi draco magnus, draco rufus, habens capita septem, serpens antiquus, vocaturque diabolus et sathanas. Vocabula hec reciprocata sunt. Neque enim prius causa fuit illa, propter quam dicitur draco, quam illa, cuius intuitu dicitur serpens antiquus, neque prius accidit, cur vocaretur diabolus, quam fieret ipse sathanas, id est adversarius» (1.6, p. 11, 17-20).

12 Such etymology, which is openly derisive, is recorded by Isidore of Seville: «Belzebub idolum fuit Accaron, quod interpretatur vir muscarum. Zebub enim musca vocatur. Spurcissimum igitur idolum ideo virum muscarum vocatum propter sordes idolatriae, sive pro immunditia» (Etym. 8.11 :26).

13 See primarily 4 Reg. 1:1-17 but also Matt. 10:25, 12:24-27, Mark 3:22, and Luke 11:15-19.

14 Lucifer as a star: Job 11:17: «Et quasi meridianus fulgor consurget tibi ad vesperam; Et cum te consumptum putaveris, orieris ut lucifer». 2 Petri 1:19: «Et habemus firmiorem propheticum sermonem: cui benefacitis attendentes quasi lucernae lucenti in caliginoso loco donec dies elucescat, et lucifer oriatur in cordibus vestris». Ps. 109:3: «Ex utero ante luciferum genui te».

15 Is. 14:12-15: «Quomodo cecidisti de caelo, Lucifer, qui mane oriebaris? Corruisti in terram, qui vulnerabas gentes? Qui dicebas in corde tuo: In caelum conscendam, super astra Dei exaltabo solium meum; sedebo in monte testamenti, in lateribus aquilonis; Ascendam super altitudinem nubium, similis ero Altissimo? Verum tamen ad infernum detraheris, in profundum laci». See also: Luke 10:18; Ap. 8:10; 9:1; 12:9; John 12:31; Luke 10:15; etc.

16 Note the following uses of the word Dis in the Aeneid: 4:701-2: «'Hunc ego Diti / sacrum iussa fero teque isto corpore solvo'»; 5:731-32: «'Ditis tamen ante / infernas accede domos'»; 6:127: «'noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis'»; 6:268-69: «Ibant obscuri sola sub nocte per umbram / perque domos Ditis vacuas et inania regna»; 6:397: «'hi dominam Ditis thalamo deducere adorti'»; 6:541-42: «'dextera quae Ditis magni sub moenia tendit, / hac iter Elysium nobis'»; 7:568-69: «hic specus horrendum et saevi spiracula Ditis / monstrantur'», 8:666-67: «'hinc procul addit / Tartareas etiam sedes, alta ostia Ditis'»; 12:199: «'vimque deum infernam et duri sacraria Ditis'». The term Avernus refers to the lake in Campania (5:813; 6:126; 6:201) or to the infernal region (5:732; 7:91).

17 «Dicendum quod ea ratione dicitur Deus non habere nomen, vel esse supra nominationem, quia essentia eius est supra id quod de Deo intelligimus et voce significamus» (Summa Th. I q 13 a. I ad 1)

18 My argument proceeds in agreement with Shoaf's, albeit with a different emphasis. For Shoaf, hell presents images without referents (41); according to my analysis, hell posits images with a referent to the Other or God, a referent, however, which corruption has twisted, parodied, ironized but never utterly sundered. Hell's absolute destruction of reference to the divinity would be tantamount, in theological terms, to annihilation: return into nothingness. Later, Shoaf clarifies his position: «Sign and referent are radically sundered, their exchange interrupted, even though this sign and its referent are in an ontically pure relationship» (46); «The sign truly referential attaches to the Other, and the Other validates the sign» (47).