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In this image Dante encounters the souls of those who have committed suicide and been transformed into trees as punishment for having relinquished their bodies. According to Lavater the tree has no physiognomy, so the figures are also stripped of any individuality. Harpies, mythological birds with the heads of women, feed upon them.
Blake gives his Harpies beaks rather than noses, thereby emphasising their bestiality. The squat shape of the Harpies and their large feet are reminiscent of owls, birds described by Lavater as particularly ‘stupid’ (contrary to modern associations of the bird with wisdom).