The Engineer’s Demise and The Punishment of Thieves


Parallels: The Engineer’s demise & Punishment Of The Thieves by Gustave  Doré from Dante Alighieri’s, The Divine Comedy.

Now the thief engages in obscene and rebellious defiance of God, in the action of his raised fists and in his speech “Take that, God! It’s aimed at you!” [Inf. 24.3].

until he is silenced by the serpents. As a result of the silencing of Vanni Fucci the serpents become “Dante’s friends”: “From that time on, those serpents were my friends” [Inf. 24.4].

Given that the serpents will be revealed to be sinners, who change their shape and become many and diverse kinds of serpents, the thought of them as “friends” is quite unsettling. But, then again, so is the idea that we are in a place where pity lives only when it is truly dead: “Here pity only lives when it is truly dead” [Inf. 20.28].

The idea of the serpents as friends sets the stage for the socially macabre aspect of this Malebolge (8th circle), part of the dramatic unfolding of the scenes of Inferno 25: since the serpents are sinners in serpent form, the sinners are attacked by their own former friends.

Dante distinguishes between the unrepentant sinners in Hell and the underlying temptation that gives a soul to sin. In the case of Vanni Fucci, as with Capaneo, the underlying vice is pride. Capaneo’s actual sin is blasphemy, while in Vanni Fucci’s actual sin is theft, but in both cases the underlying vice is pride. It was the vice of pride, left unchecked, which drove both souls to sin. David invokes both of these sinners, with the verse “Look on my works ye mighty and despair” from Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley, parallels meaning to “Take that, God! It’s aimed at you!” [Inf. 24.3]

When the sinners are in their human shapes, they are victims of their former friends, but when transformed into their serpent shapes, their friends become perpetrators, intent upon victimizing their fellow thieves. Just like the Chestburster erupting from the impregnated hosts, making enemies of fallen friends.

Dante scripted an obscene sexual intercourse and copulation. Given the violence of the snake’s assault, this is not sexual intercourse but rape, just like the Facehugger, it is a violent and pornographic physical intimacy imposed by one species upon another. 

The attacking “serpent” of verse 83 pierces a sinner through the navel, “the part where we first take our nourishment” [Inf. 25.85-86]

It  fixes its gaze on the sinner, catching him in a hypnotic snare from which there is no escape: “The serpent stared at him, he at the serpent” [Inf. 25.91]

Enveloped in a noxious smoke that emanates from the mouth of the attacking snake and the “wound” in the navel of the thief, it forms a kind of amniotic sack around the two conjoined figures, a long and revolting transforming process unfolding: body part for body part is exchanged, in a precise and graphic transmutation of man into serpent and serpent into man.

The pathogen attack on the Engineers bring this Canto to life and is relieved in the form of the Covenant crew when infected by the motes/spores. Turning Ledward, Hallet and Oram into unwitting hosts, David’s children spawning from them like serpents to attack their former crewmates.

This symbolism is also present in Prometheus and the early script of Alien:

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