Dante Alighieri was born to a Guelph family in Florence in 1265. The
Guelph was the party of the
small nobility and of the artisans, while the Ghibelline
was the party of of the feudal nobility. The Guelphs and the Ghibellines
were opposing political factions of German origin. The names were used
to designate, respectively, the papal party and the imperial party during
the long period of struggle for supremacy between popes and emperors.
In his youth
Dante attended "the schools of the philosophers and those of the religious
orders", as he tells us in his Convivio. The reference is certainly
to the Dominican School of Santa Maria Novella where the works of
Thomas Aquinas were studied,
and to the Franciscan School of Santa Croce where the works of Bonaventure
were read. He also tells us what were his preferred readings during
this time, namely Boethius'
On Consolation of Philosophy and Cicero's Laelius, or
At the age of
twentyfour Dante participated as an assault cavalry man, for Guelph
Florence, in the battle of Campaldino
against the Ghibelline cities of Arezzo
, Pisa and Siena
lead by Buonconte da Montefeltro.
About this time he also begins his political career. This is an extremely
important period for the formation of Dante.
THE YEARS 1295-1302
The years between 1295 and 1302 are a period in which Dante is totally
involved in the political life of Florence. In 1295 he becomes a member
of the Council of the Captains
of the People and serves in that capacity for one year. In 1296
he delivers a speech to the Council of the Onehundred, having been
elected as a member of that Council. A couple of years later he is
sent as Florence ambassador to San
Gimignano, to perorate the cause of the Guelphs. In the meantime,
with the Ghibellines permanently defeated, the Guelphs in Florence
split into two groups, the Whites
who were interested in conserving the independence of the city, and
the Blacks who wanted to put
Florence under the dominion of Pope Boniface
the VIII. Dante is a White and strongly opposes the Pope's aims.
In 1301 Boniface the VIII decides to send to Florence Charles
of Valois, brother of the king of France, Philip IV (Philip the
Fair), extensibly as a peacemaker between the two Florentine factions,
but in reality with the clear purpose of helping the Blacks obtain
power. Together with two other people, Dante is sent to Rome as ambassador
in order to gain information from Boniface the VIII himself about
his true intentions. In the meantime, in Florence,a quarrel breakes
out between the Blacks and the Whites, and Charles of Valois helps
the Blacks to gain control of Florence. Dante is accused and condemned
in absentia. He becomes aware of the sentence against him in Siena
on his way back from Rome. Of course he doesn't continue towards Florence.
At the beginning of March a new sentence is issued against him: this
time he is condemned to be burnt at the stake if he is ever caught,
and all his possesions are confiscated. So begins the long exile which
will keep the Poet away from his beloved city forever.
Dante doesn't describe anywhere in his works the terrible feeling
he must have felt when he received the condamnation to death and banishment.
In his Convivio, however, we read the following: "Since it was the
pleasure of the citizens of the most beautiful and famous daughter
of Rome, Florence, to cast me out of her sweet bosom [...], I have
wandered like a beggard, in almost all regions where this language
of ours is spoken, showing against my will the wounds of Fortune,
which frequently are ascribed unjustly to the wounded one. Truly I
have been a ship without sail, brought to various ports and shores
by the dry wind of painful poverty". Not much is known about his life
in exile. We know that he was in Verona
as the guest of Bartolomeo della
Scala and of his son first, and later of Cangrande
della Scala to whom, as a sign of affection and gratitude, Dante
will dedicate his Paradiso. He travels to Bologna
and other places, and spends some time in Lucca,
where as we read in the Comedy he meets Gentucca,
a kind lady whom perhaps he loved and who protected him. Boccaccio
and Giovanni Villani,the historian
of Florence, tell us that Dante traveled also to Paris, but we are
unsure for lack of documents. In May 1315 an amnesty was declared
in Florence: by paying a certain sum of money and publicly admitting
his guilt and asking for forgiveness, Dante could return home. But
he refused to accept the humiliating and unjust conditions. In October
of the same year his previously decreed condemnation to death is renewed.
Dante spent the last years of his life in Ravenna
as a guest of Guido Novello
da Polenta, Lord of that city and and son of a brother of Francesca
da Rimini--the lady lover immortalized by Dante in the fifth Canto
of Inferno. In 1321 Dante is sent to Venice as ambassador on behalf
of Guido Novello. Upon returning from Venice, in the night between
the 13th and 14th of S eptember, Dante dies at the age of fifty six.
He was buried there, in Verona, in the church of Saint Francis. The
sepulchral monument erected to him in the Florentine church of Santa
Croce (the equivalent of London's Westminister Abbey) is actually
a cenotaph, or an empty tomb. The various attempts of the city of
Florence to regain the mortal remains of her son have always failed--and
for Dante perhaps justly so!
MINOR WORKS IN LATIN
DE VULGARI ELOQUENTIA
De vulgari eloquentia (On the Vulgar Language) is a work written
in 1308 about the Italian language. Of course, "vulgar" here means
"Italian". This treatise was to consist of four books, but only the
first and part of the second were actually completed. In the work
Dante envisions a common language for all of Italy based on the best
qualities of each dialect spoken at Dante`s time. What Dante wants
is an over-local and over-regional language, and hence an element
capable of uniting the whole Peninsula in a common bond; a language
propounded first and formost by the example of the poets. Therefore
the Vulgari eloquentia is also a manual on rhetoric for the
use of Italian, aimed at the learned persons who at present may be
composing their works in Latin. The title De vulgari eloquentia
comes from a passage in his Convivio (I, xix, 3) where Dante
specifically mentions the treatise On the vulgar language that he
will soon be writing. Therefore the points in common between this
work in Latin and his Convivio, in Italian, are numerous and
De monarchia (On World Government), is a treatise in three
books, written probably during the time of Henry the VII's descent
into Italy (1310-13) . Dante fervently hoped that the Holy Roman Emperor
would put an end to the strife between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines
and restore peace to Italy. In the first book of the World Government
Dante takes into consideration the idea of a universal monarchy which,
according to him, is necessary for the wellbeing of the people. In
the second book, he states that it belongs by right to the Roman people.
In the third that such a right comes from God and not from the Pope.
Dante's universal monarchy is not conceived as a fusion of all states
into one state only, but as supreme order of all states as a guarantee
of a common norm of life under universal justice and freedom.
QUAESTIO DE AQUA ET TERRA
The Quaestio is a philosophical-scientific thesis sustained
in Verona in 1320 during an occasional stay of Dante at the court
of Cangrande della Scala. In this work the author demonstrates that
in no place on earth can water be higher than the level of the earth
The Eclogues are two poetical compositions addressed to Giovanni del
Virgilio, a professor at the University of Bologna. In 1319 Giovanni
del Virgilio wrote to Dante showing sincere admiration for his genious,
but blaming him for writing in Italian, and suggesting to him that
he write a treatise on contempory history in Latin, as this would
be a sure way for him to acquire fame. Dante answers Giovanni's eclogues
between 1319 and 1320. Answering in the pastoral allegorical form
used by Giovanni, Dante's Eclogues propound his fervid hope to receive
fame and the poetical laurel precisely from his poetry written in
Italian. The Eclogues are therefore important because, once again,
they show us --and the learned people of the time--Dante's clear-cut
consciousness that the Italian language, mostly through his own experience
and example, has come of age.
EPISTLES or LETTERS
Of the Letters written by Dante only thirteen are extant and pertain
to the period of his life that goes from about 1304 to 1319. Of particular
interest is the one written to Henry VII of Luxemburg on the occasion
of his coming to Italy. It is Dante`s cherished hope that Henry might
unify and bring peace to Italy and to his beloved Florence. Also noteworthy
is the one written to his "florentine friend" in which he refuses
to accept the humiliating conditions set by Florence for his return
from exile. Finally, very interesting is the letter to Cangrande della
Scala, his Veronese friend and patron to whom the Paradiso is
dedicated. In this letter Dante expounds on the four levels of interpretation
which should be applicable to the Divine Comedy. (More on this later).
MINOR WORKS IN ITALIAN
The Rime (Rhymes), a collection of some numerous poetical compositions,
some belonging to the New Life period and spirit. Others belong to
the realistic taste of a certain period of Dante's life and his poetic
exchange with other poets of his time. They are poems written in a
period that spans from his first youthful compositions to the years
1307-8 when he begins writing his masterpiece. These do include the
poems already selected by Dante and incorporated in the Vita Nuova.
Sometimes the Rhymes are also called <Canzoniere>, but this
title is not quite right because, after Petrarch's experience, the
title of "canzoniere" conveys the idea of unitariness in composition,
which is not the case in Dante's Rhymes.
La Vita Nuova (the New Life), is a booklet of memories.
The title is found in Latin, vita nova at the very beginning
of the work. The expression <vita nova> in Italian, is also
found in a line of Purgatorio (XXX, 115) on Beatrice's lips
while she is accusing Dante of having gone astray during his youth.
The New Life is the history of Dante's ideal love for Beatrice,
and at the same time a document of his literary formation and the
attainment of full maturity within the "school" of the "sweet new
style" poets, as we shall see later. The booklet is written, or better,
composed after Beatrice's death, between 1292 and 1293. It is a work
of poetry and prose. The prose is intended to explain its 31 poems,
written earlier and now organized in this ideal and real history.
It contains 42 chapters, a prologue and an epilogue. Beatrice is first
of all a real person: she was 25 when she died, in 1290. Dante had
met her when both were nine. Now after some 18 years (nine + nine),
Beatrice appears in the New Life as a figure between reality and art,
and becomes his poetic inspiration. The New Life is a 'composite'
work in which Dante exalts Beatrice as the giver of "beatitude" and
hence salvation. So that she bestows salvific power on him and on
all men she looks upon. When Dante realizes this, he promises at the
end of the work that some day he will write of her something as nobody
has ever written of any other woman. Obviously the allusion is to
the Divine Comedy. As such the Vita Nuova is ideally
linked more than any other of his works to the masterpiece. But before
he is able to fulfill his promise, Dante must study and prepare himself
for the awesome task awaiting him: "After this [...] there appeared
to me a marvelous vision in which I saw things which made me decide
to write no more of this blessed one [i.e. Beatrice], until I could
do so more worthy. And to this end, I apply myself as much as I can
[...]. I hope to write of her what has never been composed in rhyme
of any other woman" (Vita Nuova,XLII).
The Convivio, or Banquet, is a kind of philosophical and scientific
work written in a commentary style and composed between 1304 and 1308.
The original plan called for fifteen books: one of introduction and
fourteen more of literary and allegorical comments to as many philosophical
canzoni on the subjects of love and virtue. Most of the canzoni to
be commented in the Convivio had been written by Dante before
1304. He wrote only four books, and the work remains incomplete. Dante
explains the meaning of three canzoni according to a fourfold system
of interpretation: literal, allegorical, moral and anagogic--a system
used also for the interpretation of the Divine Comedy, as we
shall see later. The title of the work is metaphoric and suggests
an ideal banquet. The Convivio, with other works written during
this period, must be considered a part of the fulfillment of the promise
that Dante had made at the end of the Vita Nuova. But there
is more: at the beginning of the Convivio Dante fervently glorifies
and ennobles the vulgar language as the "the new light, the new sun
which will rise whereas the old [Latin language] will set; and it
will give light to those who are in obscurity and darkness" (I, x,
5). Moreover, as it has been mentioned above, in the Convivio Dante
announces that soon he will write a treatise on the vulgar language,
in Latin, and therefore written for the learned who might want to
use the light of the new sun. Dante is thoroughly convinced of the
"great goodness" of the new language which is capable of expressing
"very lofty and very new ideas, conveniently, sufficiently and fittingly"
(Convivio, I, x), therefore he intends to perorate its cause
on both fronts, Latin and Italian, and as strongly as he can.
THE "SWEET NEW STYLE" EXPERIENCE
The expression "sweet new style" is coined by Dante in a passage of
Purgatory (XXIV, 57) and refers to a "school" of Italian poets
whose "father" was the Bolognese Guido
Guinizzelli. He died in 1276 when Dante was only eleven years
of age. In the Comedy Dante calls Guinizzelli "the father of
me and of the others--those, my betters--who ever used sweet and gracious
rhymes of love" (Purgatorio, XXVI, 97-99). Among "the others"
in the "school" there is the Florentine and Dante's good friend Guido
Cavalcanti. Dante is much indebted to both Guidos for his literary
growth. Cavalcanti is only ten years older than Dante, and dies in
1300. Generally the lyric poetry of Cavalcanti is and remains concerned
with the psychology of love. The effects of love in Cavalcanti's poetry
bear heavily upon the poet's soul; he remains entangled in the snares
of love and cannot districate himself from the torment that this love
produces in him. Because of the impossibility to obtain the real woman,
the poet is land locked in his anguish and turmoil, without ever the
hope of being redeemed from it.
During his first
sweet new style experience, Dante follows the conception of love held
by Cavalcanti. However, at a certain moment in his life and growth,
Dante rediscovers, so to speak, the idea underlying the basic love
conception expounded by Guinizzelli, and writes chapter XVIII of Vita
defined very well the poetics of the "sweet new style". In his philosophical
canzone on love (Al cor gentil rempaira sempre amore) the first
Guido is able to fuse Love and the gentle heart into a new unity,
natural and necessary to each other. Also, and more importantly, in
Guinizzelli's poem the lady assumes the qualities of an angel from
heaven. She passes through the streets, inspiring noble sentiments
in men, bestowing on them "salute", that is deliverance from evil.
Therefore the true sweet new style poet will renounce to any idea
of correspondence of love on the part of the lady, and will only be
interested in singing the praise for this woman, a real woman sent
from heaven to show a "miracle" on earth.
embraces Guinizzelli's concept that love and the noble heart are one
thing only, making direct references to it in the Vita Nuova,
in the Convivio, in De vulgari eloquentia, and finally
also in the famous episode of Paolo
and Francesca in the fifth
canto of Inferno. In addition, and again more importantly, Dante takes
certain attributes given to the woman by Guinizzelli in his canzone
(such as, addressing God, the poet will say "she appeared as an Angel
from Your Kingdom./ Don't blame me if I fell in love with her"), re-elaborates
and refines them in such a way that he arrives at a new and unique
awareness, by which--as he tells us--he feels "impelled to take up
a new and nobler theme than before". So he writes Chapter XVIII of
Vita Nuova where he states that while once the aim of his love
was the expectation of the greeting from his beloved, now he feels
a joy that cannot fail him, and that the joy simply comes to him in
writing words of praise for his lady, without ever expecting any reward
whatsoever from her. This is the "new theme". In fact, this is almost
"too lofty of a theme", and Dante confesses that he is almost afraid
to enter upon it. Chapter XVIII of the Vita Nuova becomes ,
then, the starting point which serves as a prelude to the last chapter
of the work, with Dante's expressed promise that we have mentioned
above. Of course, it is also the starting point in Dante's long voyage
which will culminate, at the end of his Paradiso, in the vision
of the glory of this lady, that is "the blessed Beatrice, who beholds
the face of Him Who is blessed forever", as the Poet tells us at the
very end of the New Life.
D I V I
N E C O M E D Y
TITLE AND PLAN
The Divine Comedy is a poem in the "vulgar language". It consists
of one hundred cantos. There are about 15,000 lines of eleven syllables
each, organized in tercets, or groups of three lines, each connected
by rhyme with the next group. The rhyme pattern is therefor as follows:
A B A, B C B, C D C, D E D, etc. The Divine Comedy is divided
in three "cantiche": Inferno
(Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), Paradiso (Paradise).
Each cantica contains thirty-three cantos,
plus one canto of introduction to the whole at the beginning of Inferno,
so that the first cantica has a total of 34 cantos. It is evident
at once that the insistence on the number three is the large scheme
of Dante's masterpiece. In addition, we also find multiples of "three"
within each cantica: Hell has nine circles, Purgatory nine terraces,
Paradise nine heavens. "Three" is a number with a typically symbolic
meaning relating to the divine Trinity. (Here it is perhaps good to
call back to mind some of the numbers, as for instance "nine", we
have encountered in the Vita Nuova).
his masterpiece simply "Comedia" (Comedy),as opposed to "tragedy",
twice in Hell and once in his famous letter to Cangrande--the content
of this letter will be examined below. The adjective "divine" was
first used by Boccaccio. It became part of the title much later, and
precisely with an edition by Ludovico Dolce published in Venice by
Giolito de' Ferrari in 1555. The epithet "divine" has been used ever
since. In De vulgari eloquentia (II, iv) Dante says that tragedy
uses a high style, and comedy uses a low style. Moreover,in accordance
with medieval rhetorical theories, contrary to "tragedy", "comedy"
has a sad beginning and a happy ending, portrays people of humble
conditions, and uses frequently criticism and censure. In fact, in
his letter to Cangrande Dante justifies the title of Comedia given
to his masterpiece precisely on the basis of its plot line: a horrible
beginning and a happy ending. Dante Says: "In fact, at the beginning
the subject matter is horrible and frightening because it deals with
Hell, at the end happy desirable and pleasant because it deals with
Paradise. And the style is low and humble, because it is written in
the vulgar language, which is the language used [by all] including
women of humble conditions" (xiii, 31).
DATE OF COMPOSITION, FIRST COMMENTARIES AND EDITIONS
As mentioned above, during the years 1304-1307/8 Dante is totally
taken in the writing of De vulgari eloquentia and of the Convivio
which are both unfinished, and by very much. It is therefore credible
that at this time Dante abandons writing the two treatises because
of the new impelling desire he feels to begin writing the Comedy.
It is generally agreed among scholars, infact, that Dante begins his
masterpiece around 1307. We know that the cantiche were circulated
separately and at different times, with the entire Paradiso
after Dante's death--although a group of Cantos were known earlier,
as Boccaccio informs us. There is a good probability that Inferno
was completed around 1310, Purgatorio around 1315 and Paradiso
not much before Dante's death. We do not have an autograph of the
Comedy. The earliest comment we have is of Inferno,
in Latin and written around 1324, while soon after we have the comment
to the entire Comedy written by Iacopo della Lana. Other comments
were written in the XIV century. For our purpose it will be sufficient
to mention that Giovanni Boccaccio wrote the first "life" of Dante,
and that he also handed down to us his public lectures to the first
17 cantos of Inferno read in the Florentine church of Santo
Spirito in 1373-74. The first edition of the Commedia was printed
in Foligno in 1472, and soon after another edition was also printed
in Venice and another in Mantova.
DANTE'S "MARVELLOUS VISION" AND SOME OF ITS ANTECEDENTS
Dante's Divine Comedy is a narrative poem about his voyage
into the Afterlife. There is nothing new about this. Narrations of
visions and voyages into the Beyond are common in the Middle Ages.
The genre of vision and prophesy is part of the medieval conception
of life and derives from biblical and classical texts. In fact, the
two veins of the genre derivation are made clear by Dante at the very
beginning of Inferno(II, 13-28). Here Dante recalls to mind
the basic and significant texts of this tradition: on one side St.
Paul's ascent to the third heaven described in the Bible (2 Cor.
12:2-4), on the other Aeneas'
descent into the world of the dead described by Virgil
in the Aeneid (Bk. VI). But both in the Bible and in the classics
there are also other examples, including St. John the Divine's Revelation,
Lucan's Pharsalia, Ovid's Metamorphoses, Cicero's Somnium
Scipionis, to mention only a few. In addition, a very large body
of "visionary" literature--too large to mention here--had developed
in the Middle Ages, not only in Latin but in the vulgar languages
as well, including Italian. Much of this material was known to Dante
and, as one would expect, it constitutes part of his literary heritage.
It would be gratuitous, however, to try to indicate this or that "visionary"
work as a source for the Divine Comedy, as has been done sometimes
in the past. Dante's masterpiece stands out as powerful and unique,
and a comparison would be totally unjustified.
It could be said that Dante's Divine Comedy is based and develops
along three lines; or, better, it follows a kind of a triple parameter:
on one side it is delineated by the Bible; on another side it is sustained
by the doctrine of the Schoolmen,
by their theological and philosophical tenets based chiefly on the
authority of the Church Fathers
and of Aristotle; and, finally,
on the last side it is supported by the classics authors. The Bible
(Ancient and New Testaments) is the fundamental text of Dante's culture.
And it couldn't be otherwise, as in the medieval Christian civilization
perspective the Bible represents the only document directly inspired
and communicated by God to man. Among the Church Fathers and the Schoolmen
we must mention first and foremost St. Augustine (345-430) and St.
Thomas Aquinas (1225?-1274). Among the Latin classics a special
place hold Horace (65-8BC),
Ovid (43BC-17AD), Lucan
(39-65) and particularly Virgil (70-19BC). It is interesting, indeed,
that in Canto IV of Inferno Dante mentions all these names.
These are the great poets assembled in the "splendid school" of the
noble castle of Limbo. Dante
is invited to join them and so he becomes "sixth among such intellects"
(Inferno 4,102). In the group there is also "Homer, the supreme
poet". Dante, like many others of his time, did not know Greek, nor
did he know the works of Homer
directly. And yet, he has no doubt in assigning supremacy to him.
Of course, among the classics Dante is partial--so to speak--to Virgil,
and for reasons that go beyond Virgil's poetic value; that is to say
not only because Virgil is the "light and honor of all other poets"
and not only because he is Dante's "master" and "author", but because
Virgil is the poet of Rome and has written the Aeneid, the
history of Aeneas, founder of the Eternal City, in accordance with
God's wishes to create a Roman Empire for the diffusion of His Word.
DANTE'S CONCEPTION OF THE UNIVERSE
As other medieval men, Dante follows the so-called Ptolemaic System.
The Greek mathematician astronomer and geographer Ptolemy
(127-151) had developed a cosmological system in which the earth was
placed, motionless, at the center of the universe with all celestial
bodies revolving around it. This system is called geocentric, or earth-centered,
and will dominate astronomy until the 16th century. The Ptolemaic
system, then, represented the globe-shaped earth as stationary in
the center of the world, with moon, sun and stars revolving about
it at a uniform rate. From the center outward the elements were earth,
water, air, fire, and a fifth luminiferous essence called aether.
In the aethereal region are nine concentric crystalline spheres, with
each carrying a heavenly body, rotating around earth. These nine spheres
contain, in ascending order, the following heavenly bodies: The Moon,
Mercury, Venus, The Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, The Fixed Stars. The
last sphere is called "Primum Mobile".
The "Primum Mobile" is the largest sphere and, obviously, the farthest
away from earth. It takes the movement from God and imparts it to
all the spheres below. Beyond this there is the Empyrean,
the seat of God, of the angelic orders, and of the blessed in Paradise.
the time of creation, earthly surface appeared delimited by two hemispheres,
with the southern part covered by land and the northern part covered
only by water. Then Lucifer,
or Satan, who had rebelled against God, was thrown from Heaven and
fell on the southern hemisphere. When Lucifer was falling, the land
there "for fear of him, made of the sea a veil and came to our hemisphere"
(Inferno XXXIV, 123-124), that is, the land withdrew under
the surface of the waters and emerged in our, the northern, hemisphere.
Lucifer fell into the waters and went all the way down to the center
of earth. At the same time, the land under water in Lucifer's path--"in
order, perhaps, to avoid contact with him"--recoiled and re-emerged
on the southern hemisphere, and formed the cone-shaped mountain of
Purgatory, while the empty space left behind, from the surface to
the center of earth, became the funnel-shaped pit of Hell.
is conceived by Dante, as a perfect sphere, motionless and suspended
in the void. At the center of the northern hemisphere, or land surface,
Dante locates Jerusalem, midway between the mouth of the Ganges
and the source of the Ebro rivers,
its two extreme points, respectively, east and west, 180 away from
each other. The Mountain of Purgatory and Jerusalem
are also 180 away from each other, and share the great meridian circle
which cuts the equator at a right angle and passes through the poles.
Taking Jerusalem as a point of reference, it then follows that its
east horizon coincides perfectly with Purgatory's west horizon, and
its west horizon is one and the same with Purgatory's east horizon.
Therefore, when it is noon in Jerusalem, it will be midnight on the
mountain of Purgatory, sunset at the mouth of the Ganges and sunrise
at the source of the Ebro.
THE SOCIO-POLITICAL DIMENTIONS
Florence, as other cities of Tuscany and the rest of northern Italy,
had organized as a free commune, or city state, at the beginning of
the 12th century. In Italy, during the period of formation and growth
the city states fought against the feudal families in the countryside
in order to consolidate and expand their influence and dominion. In
addition, they had to fight also against the invading army of Frederick
I, Barbarossa, and subsequently against, or in favor of the Ghibellines,
and against, or in favor of the Guelfs. At Dante's birth Italy was
already experiencing the bitter and bloody division between these
two factions which, as it has been mentioned earlier, came to represent,
respectively, the party of the Emperor and that of the Pope. That
is, during this period Italian cities aligned themselves behind the
banner representing the Emperor, or behind the banner representing
the Pope: the two supreme moral authorities of western Christianity!
At the same time,
during Dante's years, Florence was experiencing a tremendous demographic
growth, due to an influx of people from the countryside. This was
also true of other communes in Italy, but Florence's importance grew
vis-a-vis her neighbouring cities in Tuscany and other cities in Italy
and abroad. Around 1300 Florence is one of the three largest cities
in Italy, with a population of more than 100.000 persons living within
the city walls. In fact, in order to accommodate all the new comers,
the city had to expand beyond its first circle of walls, into a second
and a third. In Florence the construction of the third circle of walls
had been approved by the city in 1284, before Dante reached his twentieth
birthday, and the building of it continued throughout the Poet's lifetime.
This is a period of transition, a period in which profound changes
are taking place in the lifes of people. The old feudal system had
been replaced, more or less rapidly, by the new more open and more
dynamic bourgeois and pre-capitalistic system. Toward the end of the
century, Italian cities were at the center of an inter continental
commercial system that span "Overmountains"--that is into the central
and northern European countries--and Overseas. In France alone, in
the period 1260-1270, there were some twenty large Florentine companies
doing business. At the beginning of the new century, the Florentine
Banks of the Peruzzis and of the Bardis were dealing in money and
instruments of credit all over Europe at an unprecedented rate. The
Bardi Bank alone, in 1318, just
a few years before Dante's death, had an account balance of almost
one million gold florins--a pretty sum when we think that ten years
later the city of Florence was proposing to buy the whole city of
Lucca for the sum of 80.000 gloden florins! By now Florence had total
economic independence, and in fact she had had it for some time, if
already by 1255 we find an epigraph inscribed in stone on the Palace
of the Podesta which reads that the City "possesses the sea, possesses
the land, possesses the whole world"--a phrase that Dante will appropriate
and use in Inferno in a bitter sarcasm against Florence!
The fast demographic
growth of the city created a number of inevitable social conflicts
among its population. Conflicts between the rich and the poor, between
the nobility and the bourgeoisie, between the old inhabitants of the
city and the newcomers. Dante is strongly opposed to all these changes,
and he is definitely for old times when, according to him, there was
justice and morality. In canto XV of Paradiso, through his
great grandfather's mouth, he will describe the Florence that is still
contained within its first circle of walls in a nostalgic reminiscence
of the good old times, times when the citizens lived in happy families
and in a just civic society--as against present times when women are
abandoned by husbands who are going abroad in search of new business.
The city is not what it used to be, because "newcomers to the city
and fast gain have created excess and arrogance in Florence" (Inferno
The above are
just minute examples of what we find in the Comedy. Practically
every Florentine--and non Florentine--Dante meets throughout his voyage
becomes a splendid occasion for him to lash out against present social,
moral and political decadence of Florence and Italy. Florence has
become the city of Satan because it coins and exports the accursed
Florin corrupting the whole world (Paradiso IX). But to Dante
the decadence of Florence is connected to the general decadence of
Italy, where chaos, injustice, hate, violence, wars and moral corruption
are rampant. These are the problems that characterize the ethical
and political situation of medieval Italy. According to Dante, at
the basis of this situation there is the clash between the Pope and
the Emperor. It is they who bear the responsibility because they have
divided and politicized Italian cities for their own gain. More specifically
and first of all is the fact that the last Emperors have not conformed
with the function established by God--that of keeping in check the
cities and the regions under their control. The weakness of the imperial
power has made possible the corruption of the Church which has unduly
appropriated to itself the temporal power belonging, by God's right,
to the Emperor. So both the Pope and the Emperor have failed their
missions--spiritual and temporal, respectively--entrusted separately
to each by God for the happiness and wellbeing of the people (Purgatorio
INTERPRETATION OF THE COMEDY AS A WHOLE
As it was mentioned above, Dante dedicated his Paradise to
his Veronese patron Cangrande della Scala, as a sign of gratitude
and of friendship. The presentation was accompanied by a letter which
sets the basic guidelines for the interpretation of the Comedy. In
the letter to Cangrande Dante states that his Commedia is polysemous,
that is, it has not just a single sense, but several. He then exemplifies
the concept of polysemy by offering an interpretation of a Psalm in
accordance to a fourfold system of interpretation: literal, allegorical,
moral and anagogical. In fact, as we will recall, he had proposed
the same system of interpretation in his Convivio. Soon after,
in his letter, Dante restricts his definition by stating that the
last three adjectives (allegorical, moral and anagogical) could all
be put under one name and "may all be called allegorical, since all
of them differ from the literal meaning" (∂ 7),as the etymology of
the word "allegory" [from the Greek alleon = 'other' or 'different']
indicates. Therefore in the Comedy we can basically think of
two meanings: a literal meaning and an allegorical meaning. This applies
to the work globally, as well as to each single part. Obviously, this
does not imply that every single line and every single word should
be interpreted both literally and allegorically. For every line and
every word there will always be a literal meaning, but not always
an allegorical interpretation.
then, the subject of the Comedy, Dante says, "is the state of souls
after death". Taken allegorically, "the subject is man in his merits
and demerits he has acquired through the excercize of his free will,
and therefore earning just rewards or becoming liable of just punishments"
(∂ 8). Obviously the man Dante is talking about is Everyman. It is
Dante as the agent of the Comedy, that is to say Dante the Wayfarer,
as the fundamental participant in the voyage. Dante has become conscious
of his misery and sin and, through an act of his free will, has decided
to free himself from sin. So he undertakes the voyage not as a passive
spectator, but as an "actor" and participant who will recognize sin
in Hell, who will atone sins together with the souls of Purgatory,
and who will finally become purified in Paradise. In addition, in
the letter to Cangrande Dante tells us that the Comedy deals with
moral philosophy or ethics, that it "has been conceived not for the
sake of speculation, but for action" (∂ 16). He also tells us that
the end of the Comedy "is to remove those living in this life from
the state of misery and to lead them to the state of happiness" (∂
15). Therefore, Dante's voyage becomes a paradigmatic example valid
for every man.
DATE OF THE VOYAGE
Dante envisions his voyage as taking place in 1300. This date is established
by internal inferences. The Poet, in fact, does not give the precise
date, nor does he mention the month or the day. Some commentators
believe that the voyage began on Good Friday which, in the year 1300,
fell on the 8th of April. Others believe that it was begun on March
25th, a day in which, according to medieval tradition, coincided with
the creation of Adam and the death of Christ. Dante takes seven days
to accomplish his voyage.
Since Dante began
writing the Comedy around 1307-8, that is some seven/eight years after
the voyage was to have taken place, he was able to make "prophesies"
and predictions of "future" events in the Poem that actually had already
happened. This gave Dante the opportunity to also use stratagems or
tricks as he does in Hell with his archenemy Pope Boniface the VIII
who died in 1303. (See Inferno XIX, 51 ff).
THE CONCEPT OF "CONTRAPASSO" OR COUNTER-PENALTY
The concept of "contrapasso" or counter-penalty is a principle used
by Dante by which punishment is imposed to the soul in Hell or Purgatory.
The punishment is commensurate with the sins committed by the respective
individual on earth. The idea of "contrapasso" is not an invention
of Dante. It is the old moral-juridical principle of retribution embodied
in the expression "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" which was
first formulated in the Old Testament books of Exodus (21:23ff.)
Leviticus (24:17-20) and Deuteronomy (19:21).
In the Comedy
the actual word "contrapasso" is used by Bertrand
de Born who is punished in Canto XXVIII of Hell among the Sowers
of Scandal and Schism. Bertrand says: " Because I divided those so
joined / I carry, alas, my brains severd / from its source which is
within my trunk. / It is thus observed in me the law of counter-penalty"
(139-142). As in life Bertrand de Born, with his evil counsel,had
caused enmity and division between Henry III and his father Henry
II of England (that is, causing a severance within the body of a family),
so now in Hell Betrand's headless trunk moves around "carrying its
severed head by the hairs as if it were a lantern" (Inferno
In the Comedy we have several persons who guide Dante throughout his
voyage. These include, in ascending order, Virgil, Statius, Matelda,
Beatrice, St. Bernard; with Virgil and Beatrice as the most important.
in the Comedy, symbolizes human reason, the rational faculty
as the first and basic guide for man's ethical life, the principle
that makes man distinguish between right and wrong. Virgil, a pre-Christian
author, was regarded in the Middle Ages as a sage. For Dante he is
"the light" and the guide that gives hope (Purgatorio 4 and
6). Also in his fourth Eclogue Virgil had written symbolically of
the coming of a wonder child and of the return to the golden age,
a period of justice and universal peace. In the Middle Ages this was
interpreted as prophetic of the coming of Christ. Of course, Virgil
had also written the Aeneid celebrating the founding of the Roman
Empire and Rome's contribution to universal civilization and justice.
In fact when Virgil appears to Dante, at the beginning of the Comedy,
he stresses these fundamental notions: he lived in Rome under the
Empire, and was the poet of Aeneas, the righteous man destine by divine
Providence to lay the basis of the Roman Empire. Dante greets Virgil
as his master and his author; "master" because of the "noble style",
or tragic style that Dante had used in his great allegorical and doctrinal
canzoni; "author", in the precise sense of the word explained by Dante
himself in the Convivio, namely "as a person worthy of being
believed and obeyed" (Convivio IV, v, 5). So, guided by Virgil
Dante will regain control of his own actions, in a sense of morality
and justice, through a decision of his own will, in order to understand
sin fully and completely--because for Dante, and for Everyman, this
is the only way to re-acquire moral freedom.
in the Comedy, symbolizes divine knowledge, or theology. After the
rational level--with Virgil as a guide--whereby Dante has reached
the highest achievement that man as man can reach, with Beatrice we
climb to a higher, metaphysical level in which her voice will be necessary
in the explanation of phenomena which are beyond the comprehension
of human reason. Beatrice appears to Dante at the top of Purgatory,
in Earthly Paradise. At her appearance, she dramatically reproaches
Dante for having followed the wrong way after her death. After Beatrice's
rebuke, Dante recognizes his past sins and is taken by a strong sentiment
of repentance and shame. Here a full catharsis has taken place and
Dante is totally cleansed, and therefore he is immersed in Lethe,
the Purgatorial river of classical recollection whose waters cause
forgetfulness of the past. After this Matelda leads Dante to drink
of the waters of Eunoe, the river that restores the "memory of the
good", the final step in the ritual of purification. Dante is now
"pure and prepared to climb into the stars" with Beatrice as guide.
I N F E R N O
sketch of Inferno
(Numbers refer to Circles  and Rings [7.1-3 / 9.1-4]or
A C H E R O N
2. THE LUSTFUL
3. THE GLUTTONS
4. THE AVARICIOUS AND PRODIGALS
5. THE WRATHFUL AND SULLEN
S T Y X
against their neighbors
7.2 VIOLENT: against themselves and their possessions
7.3 VIOLENT: against God
panderers and seducers
8.2 FRAUD: flatterers
8.3 FRAUD: simonists
8.4 FRAUD: deviners,astrologers,magicians
8.5 FRAUD: barrators
8.6 FRAUD: hypocrites
8.7 FRAUD: thieves
8.8 FRAUD: fraudolent counselors
8.9 FRAUD: sower of discord
8.10 FRAUD: falsifiers
C O C Y T U
of kin / CAINA
9.2 TREACHERY: of homeland or party / ANTENORA
9.3 TREACHERY: of guests / PTOLOMEA
9.4 TREACHERY: of benefactors / JUDECCA
Center of earth
// Lucifer's navel ----------
INFERNO: STRUCTURE AND CONTENT
The topographic structure of Hell.
As it has been mentioned, Hell is in the form of a huge funnel-shaped
cavity under ground, beneath Jerusalem, and going all the way to the
center of Earth (See sketch on previous page). It was created by Lucifer
when he was thrown out of Heaven. Hell consists of nine concentric "circles"
or regions diminishing in circumference as they descend toward the center.
These are preceded by a vestibule, called Ante-Inferno and separated
from Inferno proper by the river Acheron. Inferno proper is divided
in an upper and a lower zone. The lower zone is envisioned by Dante
much like a fortified city and is divided from the upper part by a marsh-like
moat--called Styx--and a high wall. It is called the City of Dis, Dis
being another name for Satan, and contains four circles. The other five
circles make up the upper part. Each of the nine circles is designed
for a particular sin, with the lightest sins near the top. The moral
structure of Hell.
To begin with, the moral structure of Hell is, first of all, characterized
in accordance to two particular beliefs of Dante. One, the fact that
he has a strong contemptuous attitude against those who "lived without
blame and without praise", the cowardly, the neutrals, those lacking
the courage to do neither good nor bad. Dante cannot stand them, and
believes that they cannot even deserve to be in Hell proper. Therefore
he puts them in a region apart. Two, the fact that he placed in Limbo
(which in the official church view was reserved for only the unbaptized
and for the just people of the Old Testament who believed in the coming
of Christ) also those worthy Pagans who lived before the coming of Christ.
This is a place particularly for pre-Christian poets and, of course,
is Virgil's permanent abode. With the exclusion of these two large groups
then, the whole moral structure of Hell follows basically a division
into two main categories. In upper Hell are punished the so-called sins
of incontinence, the lack of moderation or control in the natural appetite.
So, in the four circles after Limbo are punished, in an increasing order
of sinfulness, the lustful, the gluttons, the horderers-and-squanderers,
and the wrathful. In lower Hell are punished sins of malice or the evil
intent. And, again in an increasing order of sinfulness, we have the
heretics, the violent (subdivided into three rings), the fraudulent
(subdivided into ten "pouches"), and finally the traitors (subdivided
into four zones). Inferno: Content Summary (See Sketch of Inferno).
The poem begins with the story of how one day Dante got lost in a
dark forest. While he is in the process of climbing up a hill he meets
three beasts which impede his passage and thrust him back where he
came from. At this point the Latin poet Virgil appears and encourages
Dante to follow him. He will guide Dante through Hell and Purgatory,
and then someone else will come to lead him through Paradise. The
two poets begin the journey and soon arrive in front of Hell's door.
They enter and find a group of souls, the Cowardly, who are
obliged to run continually after a flag. [Canti IV-VIII]. Further
on the two Poets cross the river Acheron and reach the first (1)
Circle of Hell where Limbo is located. This is the zone reserved
for those who died without having been baptized and for the ancient
Poets. Their "punishment" is only spiritual: they long to see God
and will never be satisfied. At the beginning of the second (2)
Circle is Minos who judges all incoming souls and sends them to
their appropriate Circle. Soon after, blown about by a continuous
storm, are condemned the Lustful. Here Dante has his great
encounter with the two lovers Paolo and Francesca. In the third (3)
Circle, under an incessant cold rain, are the Gluttons
tormented by the monster Cerberus. Here Dante hears from Ciacco the
first prophesy concerning him and Florence. Another monster, Pluto,
is the guardian of the next (4) Circle where, in two separate
groups, are the Hoarderers and the Squanderers, pushing
with their breasts big boulders in semicircles. Continuing their voyage
the two Poets descend into the fifth (5) Circle which is located
in a marsh called Styx. Here are condemned the Wrathful, some
half-immersed in the muddy waters, some totally immersed in it. [Canti
IX-XVII]. At the walls of the City of Dis, Dante and Virgil are
impeded passage by the demons who are guarding it. A heavenly Messanger
is required to help them enter. So they reach the sixth (6)
Circle where are condemned the Arch-Heretics in uncovered
flaming tombs. They cannot see the present, although can see the future.
Dante meets here the Ghibelline Farinata degli Uberti and Cavalcante
dei Cavalcanti, father of his dear friend Guido. The seventh (7)
Circle is for the Violent and is subdivided into three
rings: (7.1) The first ring punishes the Violent against
neighbors who are in a river of boiling blood. (7.2)
In the second ring are punished the Violent against themselves
or suicides who are here transformed into trees; and also the Violent
against their own possessions who are torn apart by hungry bitches.
(7.3) The third ring hosts three types of violent: a)
the Blasphemers, or violent against God; b) the Sodomites,
or violent against Nature; c) the Usurers, or violent
against Art. Here, among the sodomites, Dante has a memorable encounter
with his "mentor" Brunetto Latini. [Canti XVII-XXX]. The two
Poets descend into the eighth (8) Circle, reserved for the
Fraudulent. This is the most complex of all the Circles of
Hell. It is called Malebolge (Evil-pouches) and is subdivided
into ten "pouches". These are divided from each other by big walls
and connected by a series of bridges. In each pouch is condemned a
specific type of fraudulent sinners. (8.1) The first pouch
punishes the Panderers and Seducers who are scourged by horned
demons. (8.2) The second is reserved for the Flatterers
who are immersed in excrements. (8.3) The third is for Simonists
who are condemned head down into holes in the rock. (8.4)
In the fourth pouch are the Soothsayers who have their heads
turned backward. (8.5) The fifth pouch is for the Barrators
who are condemned into boiling pitch. (8.6) In the sixth are
the Hypocrites who walk slowly covered with caps of lead. (8.7)
The seventh pouch is dedicated to the Thieves who are bitten
by serpents. (8.8) In the eighth pouch are condemned the Fraudolent
Counselors who are totally enclosed in tongue-like flames. (8.9)
Here in the ninth pouch are the Sowers of Discord who
are condemned to be wounded again and again by demons. (8.10)
The last pouch is reserved for Falsifiers who are subdivided
in their turn into four groups [(8.10.1) Falsifiers of metals;
(8.10.2) Falsifiers of persons; (8.10.3) Falsifiers
of coins; (8.10.4) Falsifiers of words], each group
subject to a different punishment. [Canti XXXI-XXXIII]. The
ninth (9) Circle, which is the large well of the Giants, is
reached by Dante and Virgil with the help of one of the Giants, Anteo.
He takes the two Poets on his hands and deposit them into this frozen
lake which is called Cocito. The lake is frozen by the movement of
Lucifer's wings. Lucifer is located in the central point of the Circle
which is also the center of earth. Here in Cocito's ice are punished
the Traitors, and are separated into four zones. (9.1)
The first zone is called Caina, and is for Traitors of
relatives. (9.2) The second zone is called Antenora,
and is for Traitors of Country. (9.3) The third zone
is called Tolomea, and is for Traitors of guests. (9.4)
The fourth and last zone, called Judecca, is reserved for Traitors
against their benefactors. Here is Lucifer, King of Hell, with
his three heads and three mounths chewing three traitors: Judas, Brutus,
and Cassius. [Canto XXXIV]. At this point Dante and Virgil
begin their exit from Hell. They descend down Lucifer's body, then
turn around and ascend through a "hole built by nature" to the southern
hemisphere, arriving at the shore of the Mountain of Purgatory, and
seeing "once more the stars".
Cantos' Line Synopsis and Notes
S U M M A R Y
<>N O T E S<>
Midway in "our
life's journey" Dante realizes that he has strayed from the true
path into a dark forest.
Canto is a canto of introduction to the whole Comedy. Midway of
our life is 35 years. Therefore we are in 1300. The dark forest
is symbolic of sin
The Mount of Joy. Dante tries to get out of the forest and arrives
at the foot of a mountain illuminated by the sun.
|The sun (=Sun)
is symbolic of God.
beasts impede Dante's ascent: (1) a Leopard, (2) a Lion, (3) a
She-wolf. The beasts drive him back where he came from.
are symbolic of (1) Malice and fraud, (2) Violence and ambitions,
Here a figure
appears to Dante. It is the shade of Virgil. It is he who will
lead Dante from error. But there cannot be a direct ascent. Dante
must take another way.
is the symbol of human reason. He is Dante's first
Dante that he must first descend into HELL. Then he must go through
PURGATORY. And finally he can ascend to PARADISE. Virgil tells
Dante that for Paradise there will be another guide.
into Hell is symbolic of the recognition of sin. The ascent through
Purgatory means renounciation of sin and atonement. The other
guide will be Beatrice.
Evening is approaching. Dante invokes the Muses and "the high
genius" to help him.
of the Muses is traditional in poetry.
Dante is following Virgil and finds himself tired and full of
doubts: how can he be worthy of such a vision? He is not Aeneas,
he is not St. Paul!
fully aware of his sins and feels unworthy of the voyage to salvation.
For Aeneas' and St. Paul's voyages, see above.
Virgil conforts Dante and explains how Beatrice descended to him
(Virgil) in LIMBO and told him of her concern for Dante. Beatrice
has been sent with the prayers of (1) the Virgin Mary, (2) Saint
Lucia, and (3) Rachel [Jacob's wife].
symbolizes the Science of Revelation (or Theology). The other
three women are symbolic of (1) divine grace, (2) divine light,
(3) contemplative life. For Jacob's second wife Rachel, see Genesis
Dante resumes courage, expresses gratitude to Beatrice and to
Virgil and follows him, ready to begin the difficult journey.
"guide and master" and Dante will follow him throughout Inferno
and a good part of Purgatorio.
The gate of Hell is always open. The inscription above the gate
warns whoever enters to leave all hopes. Dante is afraid, but
Virgil tells him to leave all hesitation. The two Poets enter.
and the rest of the Canto characterize the basic atmosphere of
Hell, and the initial reaction of Dante.
Dante soon hears the cries of anguish of the souls in torment.These
are the souls of the Cowardly who in life neither practiced good
or evil. Now they intermingle with the neutral angels.
Cowardly must race eternally pursuing a banner that runs forever
before them. In turn, they are pursued by wasps and hornets which
sting and push them on. This is their contrapasso,
a concept in the Comedy by which the punishment fits the
Dante recognizes one of them. It is the shade of Pope Celestine
became Pope in August 1294 and resigned in December of the same
The two Poets, without speaking to any of the souls there, move
on to pass ACHERON. For the crossing they must use the services
is the first of the four rivers of Hell. These will be expained
by Virgil later in Canto 14. Charon is the boatman who
must ferry the souls to the other side of the river and to punishment.
There is an earthquake, wind and a lightning; a brilliant red
light overcomes Dante who falls "like a man seized by sleep"
from Aristotle's time, were believed to be caused by land-locked
winds or vapors escaping violently from underground.
A big thunder awakens Dante. He looks around and realizes that
he is inside Hell, and precisely in its first circle which is
Virgil tells Dante that in LIMBO are the souls of children who
died before they were baptized, and of virtous Pagans who lived
of the souls in Limbo is that they have an insatiable desire to
Virgil tells Dante that Christ entered into LIMBO "and liberated
the shades of our first fathers": Abel, Noah, Moses, Abraham,
David, and many others; "and He made them blessed".
into Limbo is known as the Harrowing
of Hell. The descent of Christ was witnessed by Virgil who
"was a new arrival in this state". Virgil died in 19 B.C., and
Christ died in 33 A.D., therefore Virgil had been there some 50
In a second zone of LIMBO Dante sees a great dome of light. A
voice is heard welcoming back Virgil (Again, this is his place).
Soon appear HOMER, HORACE, OVID, LUCAN. They greeted Virgil and
invited Dante into their ranks, so that he "was the sixth among
such intellects" (l. 102).
not know Greek nor the works of Homer directly. But he knew well
most of the works of the other poets mentioned. Dante is already
conscious that he will be a great luminary in the field of poetry,
in the same rank with the poets mentioned here.
With the poets Dante enters into the Citadel of Limbo where he
sees many great spirits of Pagan antiquity, gathered on a green
and all illuminated
of Limbo. The light is the symbol of Human
Reason, the highest state man can achieve without God.
Dante and Virgil enter into the second Circle. There they meet
MINOS, the judge of Hell who assigns each soul its place of eternal
The beginning of Hell proper.
The two Poets find themselves on a dark ledge swept by a continuous
whirlwind which spins within it the souls of the Lustful
or carnal sinners
as the Lustful in life
were swept by the wind of passion, now they are condemned to be
swept eternally by a great whirlwind.
Among the list of the carnal sinners are:
Semiramis, Dido, Cleopatra, Helen, Paris, Tristan, ..."and more
than a thousand shades" (ll. 67-68).
Queen of Assyria (1356-1314 B.C.).Dido
founder of Carthage and lover of Aeneas (Aeneid, books
I and IV).Cleopatra
Queen of Egypt, mistress first of Julius Caeser and then of Mark
of the King of Sparta, Menelaus; she was abducted and became the
mistress of Paris;
and this led to the Trojan War.Tristan,
hero of a medieval Romance and lover of Yseult, wife of Tristan's
Dante sees Paolo and Francesca swept together by the wind.
In love's name he calls them and asks them to tell their own sad
story. They pause from their eternal flight to come to him, and
FRANCESCA tells Dante their story while Paolo weeps at her side.
Dante is striken by pity for them, faints and "fell as a dead
body falls" (l. 142).
of Paolo and Francesca takes exactly the second half of the Canto.
In lines 100-106 Dante uses the vocabulary used in the tenets
of the Sweet New
Style. But the emphasis here is on the fair body and
on his beauty. Therefore the "episode" of Paolo and Francesca
can be understood as Dante's rejection of those tenets.
Dante recovers and finds himself in the Third Circle. A storm
of putrefaction falls constantly Stinking snow, dark and cold
rain and hail mix in the mud. Here are the Gluttons and
their bestial guardian Cerberus who is barking, doglike,
and tearing the souls with his claws.
Contrapasso here is complex: the
Gluttons here are condemned in all five senses. Taste and
smell by the mud in which they lie; sight by the darkness; hearing
by the barking of Cerberus;
touch by the rain and the mud in which they must wallow.
One of the shades asks Dante whether he recognizes him. Dante
doesn't, and he reveals himself as Ciacco.
was a Florentine of Dante's time, well known for his gluttony,
as Boccaccio tells us. Boccaccio speaks of him also in Decameron
At the asking, Ciacco "prophesises" the Florentine historical
events after 1300. He tells Dante that the citizens of the "divided
city will come to blood and the party of the woods will chase
away the other party". But then within three years the other party
will prevail again, with the help of a powerful person, and will
inflict heavy penalty on its enemies.
|On May Day
1300 the Whites (the party of the woods, because originally from
the country) defeated the Blacks. But in less than three years,
in April 1302, the banished Blacks returned to power with the
help of Pope Boniface VIII.
Because of this Dante had to go into exile.
Dante asks Ciacco about some politically famous Florentines of
the past. Ciacco tells Dante that he will meet them further down
in Hell "among the blackest souls". They are Farinata,Teggiaio,
Rusticucci and Mosca. At the end of their conversation,
Ciacco begs Dante to recall him to men's memory when he returns
to the "sweet world", after his voyage.
degli Uberti is among the Heretics in Canto 10, Tegghiaio
Aldobrandini and Jacopo
Rusticucci are among the Sodomites in Canto XVI, and Mosca
dei Lamberti is punished among the Sowers of Scandal in
Canto XXVIII. The memory of the "sweet world" is the idea of wanting
to be remembered on earth. It is common to many sinners of Hell
and constitutes one of the leit-motifs of the Inferno.
Dante asks Virgil whether after Judgment Day the damned souls
will suffer more, less or the same. Virgil answers that they will
doctrine that full perfection lies in the union of body and spirit
was accepted by Medieval thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas, and
hence also by Dante. After Judgment Day body and spirit will be
reunited and hence perfection will be regained. Therefore the
pains will also increase.
PLUTUS, gardian of the Fourth Circle, tries to impede Virgil's
and Dante's passage by howling some incomprehensible words. But
Virgil commands him to be quite as Dante's voyage has been willed
by Above. So the ferocious beast quietes down and falls to the
3 (94-96) and in Canto 5 ( 22-23) Virgil had already warned, respectively,
Charon and Minos not to attempt
to impede Dante's "fated voyage, as it has been willed Above"
Here we have two contrasting concepts: (1) the idea that Dante's
voyage is wanted by God, for the ultimate salvation of all mankind,
and (2) the attempted impediment of his voyage by the inhabitants
of Hell. [More on this later].
The two Poets descend into the Fourth Circle where they see a
great number of people in two opposite groups, each occupying
opposite halves of the Circle: the Avaricious on one side, the
Prodigals on the other. They are pushing with their chests big
boulders, in semi circles. When they meet, they utter reciprocal
insults, turn around and continue pushing the other way, and so
on. Many of the avaricious sinners in their lives on earth were
popes, cardinals and clerics.
The Avaricious and
the Prodigals are at opposite ends of a scale measuring
and concerned with worldly goods. Their contrapasso is
the following: as in life they had been excessively preoccupied
in their hearts in the futile handling of worldly possessions,
so now they have to push weights with their chests in a likewise
futile "round dance".
Dante wants to know from Virgil what is Fortune who "clutches
the world's wealth"; and the master explains that Fortune is a
celestial Intelligence ordained by God to govern wordly goods
and to distribute them, without concern about human complaints
and beyond the prevention of human wits, as human wisdom cannot
oppose her force.
of Fortune as a divine Intelligence in charge of the world's wealth
goes counter-current to the tradition which saw Lady Luck as a
blindfolded, capricious female turning the Wheel at random. Here
Dante seems to correct a passage in his Convivio (IV,xi,6)
where he states that wordly goods are imperfect and unjustly distributed.
It is interesting to note that later on, in the Italian Humanism,
a new conception will slowly come into being whereby man with
his virtý can control and overcome Fortune [see Machiavelli]..
It is now past midnight and begins the second day into the voyage.
Dante and Virgil descend into the marsh-like river called Styx,
where the Fifth Circle is located.
| FIFTH CIRCLE.
Contrapasso: as the Wrathful were overtaken by various
degree of wrath in life and vented or not their rage, so now they
are immersed to various degrees in the marsh..
In the muddy Styx are immersed the Wrathful, some half way, some
totally immersed. Those partially immersed tear each other to
pieces. The others sigh making the waters above them bubble, as
if they were gurgling words in their throat. In the meantime,
Dante and Virgil had circled quite a bit around the Styx when
they arrive at the foot of a tower.
of the Wrathful
which begins here will continue into next Canto VIII--as Dante
tells us at the beginning of that Canto. It is relevant to note
that up to now the "episodes" have been restrained, so to speak,
within each Canto. From now on, while the subject matter is becoming
increasigly more complex, single Cantos will not be sufficient
to contain the "episodes" any more. Of course, this also means
that Dante has begun perfecting his poetical skill.
A swift vessel comes toward Dante and Virgil. It is navigated
by the wrathful guardian of the Fifth Circle, Phlegyas. He is
going to ferry the two Poets across the marsh.
is guardian of the Styx and
also the symbol of rage.
During the crossing, a "muddy" wrathful and bizarre soul tries
to stop the boat and talk to Dante. He is rejected and rebuked
by the Wayfarer who expresses the desire to see this soul undergo
greater torments. So as it happens a group of souls jump on him
and identify him as FILIPPO ARGENTI.
|We know nothing
about Filippo Argenti,
except what we are told by early commentators and by Boccaccio
in his Decameron (IX,8) where Filippo is portrayed as an
arrogant and irascible person. Critics have generally reproached
Dante's fierce attitute of scorn against Filippo. But we have
to remember that Filippo had stood up before Phlegyas' boat in
an attempt to stop Dante's voyage. Again, this is an act of impediment
of the "fated journey" and, as we have seen before, cannot be
allowed. Here Dante doesn't need Virgil's help. He can address
the impediment himself, but will have Virgil's full approval.
In the meantime Virgil and Dante are approaching the walls of
the City of Dis. Phlegyas shows them the gate and shouts
at them to get off his boat.
is both the name of the lower realm of Hell, as well as another
name for Satan, the king of Hell.
A great multitude of demons gather at the gate of Dis trying to
impede Virgil's and Dante's entrance.
to calm them down but he cannot.
Seeing all those demons and that it is impossibile for his guide
to do anything, Dante is taken by deep fear. Virgil tries to comfort
him by telling him that once before he himself went all the way
down to the bottom of Hell, and hence he knows the way.
is strictly connected with Canto 8. Here, however, in the emotional
crescendo, Dante becomes for the first time unsure of his guide.
At this moment Dante sees the three Furies appear to strengthen
defence of the City. They make frightening gestures and threaten
to call on Medusa to turn Dante into a stone. So Virgil makes
Dante turn his back to the wall and tells him to keep his eyes
Furies are the guardians of the City of Dis. Medusa
is one of the three Gorgon
sisters. She has serpents for hair.
Virgil cannot overcome this impediment. Therefore the coming of
a celestial Messanger will be necessary. He arrives, forces the
doors open with a little wand, reproaches the wall defenders for
having tried to obstruct heavenly justice, and turns back as fast
as he has come. So Dante and Virgil can finally enter into the
City of Dis.
as symbol of human reason, fails. This is the strongest impediment
to the journey so far. Virgil reassurance to Dante that he knows
the way,is of no use here. To open the way is necessary not simply
human Reason, but the intervention of Grace.
Once inside the City, Dante sees everywhere uncovered tombs inside
of which there are hot flames and growing laments. Virgil informs
Dante that inside those sepulchers are condemned the arch-Heretics.
tribunals to conduct inquests against suspected heretics were
set up in 1233. Perhaps through analogy with Roman law on treason,
burning at the stake was considered a fitting punishment for heretics.
In reality burning of heretics was not a common practice in the
The burning coffins of the Sixth Circle are uncovered. Dante asks
Virgil if he could see the souls inside. Virgil answers that after
Judgment Day, those coffins will all be shut with souls and bodies
inside. He also tells Dante that here are punished Epicurus and
his followers, that is to say all those who believe that the individual
soul dies with the body.
The Heretics. In the Middle Ages the Greek philosopher Epicurus
had become the symbol of all skeptical persons who denied the
immortality of the soul.
One of the shades has recognized Dante to be a Florentine by the
way he speaks and asks him to stop a while. He is Farinata degli
Uberti, also Florentine. Farinata and Dante have a rather brief
and cutting exchange, belonging as they do to differing political
parties. In the exchange are encapsulated the political fortunes
of Guelfs and Ghibellines during a couple of scores, before and
after the middle of the Century.
was born to the noble family Degli Uberti, and became leader of
the Ghibelline party in 1239. He helped to expel the
Guelfs from Florence in 1248, but the Guelfs returned twice,
in 1251 and 1266. Farinata is only concerned with politics.
While Dante is having his exchange with Farinata, another shade
rises all of a sudden from the coffin and wants to know from Dante
where is his son. He is Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti, father of Dante's
dear friend Guido. Dante's answer is misunderstood by Cavalcante
who now believes that his son is dead, and falls back into his
was a famous poet of the "Sweet New Style". He was born
around 1250 and died in August 1300. Thus, in the fictional time
of Dante's voyage, Guido is still alive. In contrast to Farinata,
Cavalcante is only concerned with family.
After the "interruption" of Cavalcanti, the partisan exchange
between Dante and Farinata continues. Then Farinata makes a prophesy
about the political future of Florence after 1300 when the Guelfs
will be expelled again from Florence. This, of course, involves
Dante's own exile
family feeling (Cavalcante's story) into a political discourse
(Farinata's concern), Dante seems to tell us that family is the
small fundamental nucleus of a civilized state.
Dante is confused by the fact that Farinata can see the future
and Cavalcanti has no idea of the present. Farinata explains to
him that the souls here can see the future, but as it approaches
and becomes present their knowledge is totally lost. Therefore,
he says, at the end of times, when future will be no more, also
their knowledge will be totally in vain. Dante now understands
and asks Farinata to tell Cavalcante that his son is still alive.
Then Farinata mentions to Dante that among his group there is
also Frederick II.
that knowledge in these souls will be, at the end of times, totally
extinct, is part of the contrapasso.
Holy Roman Emperor from 1215 to 1250, was well known for his efforts
to reunite the Empire. He was also one of the poets in his famous
Sicilian School at his court.
The two Poets arrive at the edge of the Sixth Circle. The stench
that comes from the Circle below is so strong that they decide
to stop a while by a coffin in order to get somewhat accostumed
to the smell. In the coffin there is the soul of Pope Anastasius
Anastasius II (496-498) was considered by all historians up
to the XVI century as a follower of an heretical doctrine, later
disproved. Dante may have confused him with Emperor Anastasius
I (491-518) whose heretical inclination stirred religious unrest
throughout the Empire.
In order not to waste time, Virgil begins to explain to Dante
how lower Hell is organized. He tells his pupil that there are
three more Circles below: one for sinners of Violence and two
for sinners of Fraud. Dante has some doubts and asks Virgil why
the sinners they met in the upper part of Hell are not punished
within the City of Dis. Virgil reminds him of what Aristotle said
in his Ethics, namely that Incontinence is less offensive to God
and therefore deserves a lesser punishment than Violence and Fraud.
order of Hell and the distribution of sinners within it have been
discussed in the Introduction to Inferno.(See
here is a reference to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.
In Dante's times Aristotle was known to Europe only in Latin
Dante has one more doubt: why should usury be a kind of violence
against God? Virgil again reminds him of what Aristotle said in
his Physics: Nature is the daughetr of God and Art imitates Nature,
therefore Art is the granddaughter of God . Usury is an unnatural
use of Nature because the usurer earns his living not through
work--as Genesis teaches--but without any effort, through
gains made from interest on money loaned to the less fortunate.
Usury therefore offends both Art and Nature and, of course, God.
here is to Aristotle's Physics "not many pages from the
beginning". In fact here Virgil is referring to Chapter 2 of Book
II where Aristotle sets forth the principle explained. In
Genesis 3:17 and 19 is written that man must earn his bread
by the sweat of his own brow.
Dante and Virgil have arrived at a place where they can descend
from the Sixth to the Seventh Circle. There is a Minotaur who
tries to block the Poets passage. Virgil tricks him and the two
Minotaur, born from the
union of Pasiphae with
a bull, is half a man and half a bull. The monster is symbolic
of bestial violence.
path is full of loose rocks which move under Dante's weight. Virgil
tells Dante that the fallen mass was caused by the earthquake
at Christ's death
of the earthquake that marked the moment of Christ's death is
narrated in the Gospel by Matthew (27.51).
Virgil asks Dante to look below at the river of boiling blood
that punishes sinners of violence against their neighbors. The
place is guarded by Centaurs who keep the sinners at their assigned
depth in the boiling blood.
First Ring: Violent against Neighbors. Contrapasso:
As the violent weltered in blood on earth, so now they are immersed
in blood. Centaurs
are mythological creatures, half man and half animal. Generally
they were uncuth and savage, but some, such as Chiron,
became friends and teachers of man.
Guided by the Centaur Nesso the two Poets continue their voyage.
Nesso reveals the names of some of the sinners immersed in the
blood to various levels. Then Nesso takes Dante and Virgil to
a shallow part of the river where they can cross.
levels of immersion in the boiling blood indicate the various
degree of guilt of the violent against neighbors.
Dante and Virgil enter a strange despoiled forest with nesting
Harpies. Virgil has Dante notice that he is in the Second Ring
until he has come to the "horrible sand".
are mythological monsters with heads of women and bodies in the
shape of rapacious birds. We are in the SEVENTH CIRCLE, Second
Ring where are punished (a) Violent against their persons
or Suicides, (b) Violent against their possessions
or Squanderers. "The sand" of the following Third Ring
of this same Seventh Circle.
They hear voices but see no one. Virgil tells Dante to break a
branch and his idea of people hidden will prove mistaken. Dante
plucks a twig only to hear "Why do you tear me?".Its voice is
mixed with blood, while it tells Dante that once it had been a
man. Being asked, the shade reveals his name: on earth he was
Pier della Vigna, personal Secretary of Frederick II. Having been
accused of betrayal, he took his life.
della Vigna (1190-1249), notary and famous poet at the
Sicilian Court, was for many years chief adviser, Chancellor and
personal secretary to Emperor Frederick II. Accused of treason,
he was inprisoned and blinded. There he committed suicide. According
to Dante (and others) he had been accused falsely.
Pier della Vigna explains that the souls of suicides are sent
by Minos to the wood of the Seventh Circle. There wherever they
fall they take roots and become plants. The Harpies feed on these
plants causing pains and laments. As other souls, on Judgement
Day they too will go for their bodies which will be dragged here.
But, unlike other souls, they will not reunite with the bodies
because "it is not right for anyone to have what one has cast
away". So their bodies will instead hang on their branches forever.
clarifies the contrapasso of (a)the Suicides:
Those who destroyed their body are denied a human form:the soul
becomes encased in a tree,a step down in the scale of being; from
the animal to the vegetable kingdom. After Doomsday the body will
hang on the tree as a dry twig that is no more a part of that
tree as, through sui-cide, it has been cut away.
While the two Poets are intent on listening to Pier della Vigna,
they see two naked souls being chased by black hungry bitches.
These are the souls of the Violent against thier possessions.
One of them (Lano da Siena) flees; the other (Jacopo da Sant'Andrea)
hides in a bush. But the bitches are soon on top of it tearing
against their possessions or Squanderers.
Their contrapasso: as they scattered their possessions
away, so now they are torn to pieces by hungry bitches. Lano da
Siena (+ 1287) and Jacopo
da Sant'Andrea (+ 1239) were two notorious squanderers
of the time.
The bush now justly complaints against Jacopo da Sant'Andrea,
the cause of its being torn apart, and asks Virgil to please gather
its scattered leaves and to place them at its foot. Virgil asks
for his name but the bush doesn't reveal it. With a circumlocution,
he says that he was from a city that is always at war (Florence)
and that he hanged himself in his own house.
of this suicide is not revealed even though he had been specifically
requested. But it is clear that he is from Florence and an innocent
unwillingly involved in the guilty lives of others. Perhaps Dante
here wants to make a political statement about Florence and the
lives of some innocent people there.
For love of his native city, Dante restores the torn leaves to
the soul of the Florentine suicide.
suffers unjustly because of other people's fault. Perhaps he is
one with whom Dante, in a sense, identifies.
The two Poets come to the Third Ring of the Seventh Circle which,
on one side, is flanked by the forest of the Suicides. It is a
great desert of burning sand on which descend an eternal rain
of fire. The sand is covered by a great number of naked souls,
in various positions: (a) some lying supine-- Violent against
God, (b) some sitting all crouched up--Violent against Nature,
(c) some running incessantly--Violent against Art.
Third Ring. As in the previous two Rings, here we witness
a deformed nature and a topsy-turvy world, symbolizing the sinful
conditions of the souls and at the same time the instrument of
divine punishment. Here are the Violent against the whole divine
kinship of God as Father, Nature as Daughter, Art as Granddaughter
Dante wants to know about a soul who doesn't seem to heed the
rain of fire. The soul, having heard Dante, immediately answers:
"That which I was in life, so I am in death".He is CAPANEUS, and
he is still full of disdain against God.
Violent against God, or Blasphemers.
Capaneus, one of the seven
kings of Greece in the confederation against the Boethian city
of Thebes (modern Thivai). In Thebes' siege he mounted on the
walls and boasted that not even Jove could stop him. So Jove struck
him down with a thunderbolt.
Dante and Virgil continue walking along the burning sand remaining
as close as possible to the edge of the forest of the Suicides
which encircles the Third Ring. Soon they come to a blood-red
river which flows boiling from the forest and crosses the burning
of this river, as we will be told at the end of the Canto, is
Phlegethon, meaning "boiling river".
Virgil explains the power of its waters and also begins talking,
allegorically, about the Old Man of Crete. Inside a Cretan mountain
there is a colossal statue. It is the Old Man of Crete. His back
is to the East, but faces West looking toward Rome. His head is
golden, his arms and chest are silver, the rest is copper, but
his legs are iron, and one foot is baked clay. Each part of the
Old Man, except his head, is cracked. From the openings tears
drip down to form the rivers of Hell: Acheron, Styx, Phlegethon
and proceeding all the way down to finally form the last river
Cocytus, at the bottom of Hell.
Old Man of Crete is symbolic of human history and decadence.
The figure is taken from the Bible and adopted by Dante. The various
metals signify the decadence of humanity from the Golden Age down
to the present. The iron foot symbolizes the Empire, and the clay
foot the Papacy. The cracks in the statue from silver down word
attest to Dante inventiveness, together with the tears that flow
from the body of humanity to form the one river (with various
names) in Hell.
The two Poets are now walking along one of the two retainig stone
walls of Phlegethon. They are protected from the falling fire
by the vapor clouds of the boiling river which extinguish the
slow falling flakes of fire. Soon they notice coming towards them
a large group of souls.
Violent against Nature, or
Sodomites. They run in endless circles on the hot sand.
One of those souls recognizes Dante and is marveled to see him.
Dante looks at him, recognizes him as Ser BRUNETTO. The two begin
a pleasant conversation as would a father and son: for Brunetto
Dante is "my son", and for Dante Brunetto is the "kind paternal
image". In the conversation Ser Brunetto predicts to Dante his
future glory, as well as the difficulties that he will encounter
because of the ingratitude of the Florentines. There follows a
bitter invective against the "Fiesolan beasts" of Florence on
the part of Brunetto for whom Dante is one of "the sacred seed
of those few Romans who remained there", in Florence. Dante answers,
saying that he is ready; and thanks Brunetto, his teacher, who
in life taught him "how man makes himsef immortal".
Latini (c1220-1294), famous Florentine writer, composed
in French an ecyclopedic work called Tresor, and
in Italian two didactic poems, Tesoretto and Favolello.
He also translated into Italian the rethorical works of Cicero.
Brunetto was a Guelf and an ambassador to King Alfonse X of Castile.
After the Guelfs' defeat at Montaperti (1260), Brunetto went to
France, but returned to Florence after the battle of Benevento
(1266) and held several political positions. He became famous
as a teacher in Florence and was Dante's counselor in his studies.
His homosexuality is not confirmed by other ducuments.
Brunetto gives an account of the souls punished there: clerics
and men of letters. Among them are Priscian and Francesco d'Accorso.
He then takes leave from Dante rather quickly because another
group of homosexuals is arriving with whom he cannot be. He recommends
to Dante his major work, Tesoro, "in which [he]
still lives", and runs away
two groups of Sodomites punished here.Brunetto's group is composed
of clerics and men of letters. The second group composed of politicians
will be encountered in next Canto. Francesco
d'Accorso (1255-1293) a celebrated professor at the universities
of Bologna and Oxford. Nothing is known about his homosexuality.
Priscian is a famous grammarian
of the 6th century whose work was a common reference in medieval
schools. His being a homosexual has not benn satisfactorily confirmed
While Dante and Virgil continue walking along the river, they
see another group of Sodomites. These are men of politics. Three
of them leave the group to come and talk with Dante. These are
three illustrious Florentines whose policies and personalities
Dante admired greatly. They are Guido Guerra, Tegghiaio Aldobrandi
e Jacopo Rusticucci. Jacopo talks with Dante and introduces to
him the other two and himself.
|Two of these
men (Tegghiaio and Jacopo--together with Farinata) had been mentioned
in Dante's talk with Ciacco. They are famous men. "Men of such
worth whose minds were set on well-doing" (Canto 6, 79-80).
The three want to know from Dante whether courtesy and valor still
abide in Florence, as they did when they were alive. Dante is
deeply touched by the question and breaks out with a cry against
the present day excess and arrogance of Florence, caused by the
"new comers to the city" and the unbridled desire for "quick gain".
that Florence has degenerated so much in only 30-40 years [the
three famous men had died, respectively, in 1272, 1266, c.1268]
prompts Dante to shout a fierce invective against contemporary
life "with lifted face", as if looking up towards Florence.
The two poets have now arrived at a point where Phlegethon plunges
down through a steep ravine into the Eighth Circle below. Dante
removes a cord from arounh his waist and Virgil drops it over
the edge of the abyss. As if called, a figure comes swimming up
through the dirty air. It is Geryon, the guardian of the Circle
of the Fraudulent below.
Many explanations have been advanced. One claims that Dante was
a Friar Minor, but had left without taking the vows, retaining
however the habit of wearing the white cord of the Franciscans.
Geryon is a monster with a face of a just man, two hairy paws,
the rest of the body is like that of a serpent, His back, chest
and both flanks are painted with knots and circlets. His tail
is forked and similar to a scorpion's pinchers.
is the symbol of Fraud. Fraud, or deceat, "is man's peculiar vice"
and is practised by a man against another (1) who has no trust
in him, or (2) who trusts in him, as Dante explained earlier in
Canto XI. Fraud, then will be punished, respectively, in the last
two circles of Hell.
While Virgil talks to Geryon about the fact that he, Geryon, has
to transport Dante and Virgil down to the Eighth Circle, Dante
is sent to see the Usurers with a warning to be quick.
for which Geryon is called before visiting the Usurersis
that Usury is a sin against God Nature and Art, but it is distanced
from blasphemy and sodomy. These have a kind of passionate feeling
about them. Usury, on the contrary, has an element of fraud in
Dante goes and finds the Usurers sitting in the burning sand,
crouched up and crying. Dante doesn't recognize any of them. But
each has a purse hanging from his neck, with a special color and
an emblem. One of the souls identifies himself and the other companions
on the purses are the coat of arms of families well known for
their usury. There are two from Florence and one from Padova--the
(It is worth noting that, in atonement of his father's sins, a
son erected the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua
where Giotto painted his
world famous frescoes).
Dante returns and finds Virgil ready to climb on Geryon's back.
Virgil asks Geryon to move on down and he does so making large
spirals. Once arrived, the passengers dismount, and Geryon disappears
into the dark.
Geryon is a figure of classical mythology, Dante's Geryon reminds
us of the Serpent of Genesis, much like the great dragon of Revelation,
"that serpent of old, called Devil or Satan
Dante and Virgil find themselves in the Eighth Circle,
a place in Hell called Malebolge, made all of grey-looking
stone.Right in the " middle of these "evil pouches" there
is a great circular pit [which will constitute Circle Nine]. The
Eighth Circle is divided into ten concentric pouches or ditches
over which are connecting bridge-like ridges, all made of stone,
going all the way to the central pit.
CIRCLE is made up by ten concentric ditches. Each ditch slopes
downward from the one before it and is smaller. In each one is
punished a specific type of Fraud. Therefore we have ten types
of fraud condemned in the Eighth Circle.
Dante and Virgil begin their voyage over one of these bridges.
They are now over the First Pouch or Ditch. From there Dante sees
below two groups of sinners who travel in opposite directions.
The sinners are watched over by demons who lash the spirits from
First Ditch. Two groups: in the first group are (a)
the Panderers, in the second group are (b) the Seducers.
They are driven by scourges of horned demons.
Dante seems to recognize one of the sinners below. He is Venedico
Caccianemico who is trying to hide from Dante.
Panderes. The bologneseVenedico
Caccianemico (c1228-c1302) acted as a panderer for his own
sister, Ghisolabella, with one of the marquises of Este.
Continuing on Dante and Virgil arrive on top of the bridle-like
ridge. From there Dante sees the other group of sinners. These
are the Seducers. Virgil identifies several from classical times.
Among these is Jason who seduced first Hypsipyle and "abandoned
her, alone and pregnant", and later seduced Medea.
Jason, in Greek mythology,
sailed with a group of heroes in the Argo
(hence the "Argonauts") in quest of the golden fleece. Jason had
been reared secretly by the Centaur Chiron.
Hypsipyle bore Jason two children. She is in Limbo (see Purgatorio,
22.112). Medea, skilled in
magic and sorcery, helped Jason to obtain the golden fleece. She
bore him two children. Later Jason abandoned her for another woman.
The two poets arrive on the edge separating the first from the
second Ditch. There is an unbearable stench that come from the
second Ditch where the Flatterers are punished. They are immersed
in a pool of human excrements. The two poets, in order to see
better, walk to the highest point of the bridge. From there Dante
can recognize Alessio Interminelli from Lucca who briefly
tells him why he is there. Then Virgil points out to Dante another
of those dirty shades. She is the harlot ThaÔs.
Second Ditch: Flatterers.
These sinners are sunk in human excrements, the true equivalent
of their flattery on earth, and obvious contrapasso, Nothing
is known about Alessio Interminelli. Thais
is a courtesan in the Eunuchus of Terence, a play commented,among
others, by Cicero and by
John of Salisbury.
As the two Poets cross the bridge over the third Ditch, Dante
sees that the bottom of the Ditch is full of holes in the rock.
Inside each hole there are souls jammed upside down with only
their feet and calves projecting outside and with their soles
on fire. Dante compares these holes to those which were once used
as fonts for baptism (by immersion) in Saint John's Baptistry
in Florence--one of which once was broken by him in order to save
a baby who was drowning inside.
CIRCLE: Third Ditch. The Canto begins with an invective against
the "Simonists", men of the church who commercialize on sacred
things. Simon the Magician
tried to buy spiritual power to confer the Holy Spirit (Acts
8:9-24). Dante's objective here is to chastise the Popes who have
reversed their role. The contrapasso is obvious in its
sarcastic topsy-turvy aspect: as by anointment on their heads
the Popes have received the flame of the Holy Spirit, so now their
feet are painfully ablaze; and, as they fraudulently pocketed
money, so now they are "pocketed" in holes.
Dante notices that the soles of one sinner are burning more than
those of his fellows, so he asks Virgil who he might be. Virgil
offers to take Dante into the Ditch so that he may ask the soul
direcly. Once there, Dante invites the soul to talk. The soul,
hearing a voice, mistakenly believes that it is the soul of Boniface
VIII who is due to occupy the hole--pushing the one there further
into the rock.Dante tells him that he is mistaken, and the soul
reveals his name. He is Pope Nicholas III, and predicts that soon
Boniface VIII will come, and after him an even worse Pope, Clement
V, will occupy the hole
ingeniously contrives to get all three Popes into the Third Ditch
of Hell by having Nicholas
(1277-1280) predict the punishment of both Boniface
VIII (1294-1303) and Clement
V (1305-1314), in a crescendo of uglier deeds by these "adulterous"
Dante burst out with a vehement and sarcastic invective against
Pope Nicholas III and all simoniac Popes, calling to their attention
the trust committed on to them by Christ. They have betrayed that
trust prostituting the Church for gold and silver, which now have
become their idols. The primary cause of this evil is to be sought
in the donation of Constantine which made "the first rich father".
image of adultery together with that of the virtuous wife (the
Church) prostituted by the the greedy husband (the Pope) is a
recurring element of the Canto. Emperor
Constantine (324-337) was supposed to have endowed the Church
in the person of Pope Sylvester
(314-335) with territorial claim over its dominion in the West.
For Dante this was the beginning of the corruption of the Church.
Dante attacks on logical grounds the "donation " in his Monarchia
(III, 10) But the document of the donation was proven false only
in the XV Century.
Virgil approves Dante's rebuke against the Popes, embraces him
and carries him back to the top of the arch that crosses over
the fourth Ditch.
Down, in the fourth Ditch, Dante sees people silent and weeping.
They have their faces twisted toward their backs and are forced
to walk backwards, since seeing forward is denied them. At this
sight Dante is moved and begins to cry, but is strongly rebuked
Fourth Ditch, reserved for Diviners and Soothsayers,
practitioners of "magic frauds". Contrapasso: those who
have tried to look too far forward into the future, now have their
heads turned backwards.
Virgil identifies some of the souls punished there: Amphiaraus,
Tiresias, and Manto "who wandered through the world for many years".
one of the seven kings who fought against Thebes. Tiresias, a
Theban soothsayer. Manto,
daughter of Tiresias, who left Thebes and settled in Italy.
Virgil tells Dante the story of his native city. Manto, after
her father's (Tiresias) death, wandered for many years and finally
came to Italy and settled high up at the foot of the Alps. Later,
the people who lived nearby gathered on the spot where Manto's
body was buried , decided to buid a city and called it Mantua
in her honor, but "without any magic of her arts". Finally Virgil
tells Dante to desregard any other story he may have heard, because
this is the only truth about the origin of Mantua
"corrects" the story of the origin of Mantua as told in the Aeneid.
Virgil wants to clear his name from medieval legends that considered
him as a magician. But there is more: the newly founded city is
given the name of Mantua--"without casting any lots"(l.93)--simply
to honor Manto as a person, not as a magician.
Now Dante wants to know from Virgil if he sees in the Ditch other
souls worthy of being mentioned. And Virgil identifies a few more
soothsayers and magicians, among whom is Michael Scot and Guido
Bonatti. In the meantime Virgil observes that the moon is setting
at the western edge of the northern hemisphere, and it is time
to move on.
Scot (early 13th C.), famous philosopher and astronomer, a
long time at the court of Frederich II, translated many works
of Aristotle and Avicenna.
The Ghibelline Guido Bonatti
(late 13th C.), astronomer and astrologer, also at the court of
Frederick II for a
time. Wrote a voluminous Treatise on Astronomy,which became
well known throughout Europe.
The two Poets arrive on the bridge over the fifth Ditch. There,
condemned in boiling pitch, are the Barrators. They are guarded
by demons armed with prongs, and tear them to pieces whenever
they rise above the surface.
Fifth Ditch: Barrators
or Grafters. Barratry is the buying or selling of political
offices (as Simony is of ecclesiastical offices).The sticky
pitch is symbolic of the sticky fingers of the grafters.
A demon carrying on his shoulders an "Elder" from Lucca arrives
on the bridge and throws him down into the pitch. As the sinner
rises to the surface, the guardian demons rush at him and prick
him with their prongs.
were magistrates who held executive power. The Elder here is anonimous,
and perhaps symbolizes the whole city of Lucca.
Virgil tells Dante to hide while he goes to talk with the demons.
When the demons see Virgil they run towards him in a menacing
manner, but he tells them that he wants to talk to one, and not
to all of them. So Malacoda (Evil-Tail) is chosen. Virgil explains
to him that he is there because "it is willed in Heaven" for him
"to show this difficult way to another".So Malacoda drops his
prong on the ground and tells the others not to hurt Virgil.
again we have an attempted impediment overcome by the formula
that the voyage is willed from above. It should be remembered
that among Dante's unjust accusations by the Blacks there was
also Barratry.Virgil's advise for Dante to hide (and much of the
narration about Drafters here) my very well reflect this episode
in Dante's life. Thus the political dimension of this and the
following canto must not be undervalued.
Virgil then asks Dante to come out of hiding. As soon as the demons
see Dante they gather around him and threaten him. Malacoda calms
here may well be that Dante is ready to "come out" and openly
denounce the many grafters of his city.
Malacoda tells the two Poets that they cannot pass there because
the sixth bridge has been in ruin since it collapsed 1266 years
before. Therefore, Malacoda says, if the two want to continue
their voyage, they will have to use another path which serves
as bridge, and offers an escort of demons to accompany the two
deceives Virgil because he tells him at the same time truth (that
the bridge has been ruined 1266 years before, when Christ died,
on Good Friday of the year 34) and lies (that there is another
path that can be used).
Dante is fearful, but Virgil calms his fears. So they start out
following the band of ten demons. The starting signal is given
by an obscene "trumpet" signal given by Barbariccia's ass.
of ten deamons is lead by Barbariccia.
Dante spends some twelve lines to comment on the filthy starting
signal given by Barbariccia, the demons' leader. Now, resigned,
Dante proceeds with the "savage company" of the demons, walking
by the edge of the ditch. Looking down at the boiling pitch, Dante
observes the dolphin-like behavior of the souls boiling in it,
as they occasionally try to seek some relief by surfacing out
from the pitch.
One of the sinners is caught with his head out of the pitch. Graffiacane
(Scrtachdog), one of the demons, hooks him and hauls him up. By
now Dante knows the names of all the demons and watches them carefully.
Having been requested by Virgil, the sinner who has just been
hauled up identifies himself as being from Navarre, a son of a
squanderer, and at the service of King Thibaud of Navarre, where
he began the practice of barratry.
peculiar names -- Malacoda (Evil-tail), Cagnazzo (Ugly-dog),Ciriatto
(Swine-face), Rubicante (Rabic-face), Barbariccia (Porcupice beard),
Draghignazzo (Vile dragon),etc.-- are fashioned by Dante on names
used in Tuscany during his times. And, of course, this underlines
Dante's political intent. Nothing is known about Ciampolo. Thibaut
is almost certainly Thibaut II, King of Navarre (1253-70).
Ciampolo, having been asked by Virgil whether there are any Italians
in the pitch, identifies Fra Gomita and Michele Zanche. Ciampolo
also promises to bring many other sinners from the pitch in exchange
for freedom from the hooks of the demons. The demons agree, but
it was simply a trick on the part of Ciampolo who, once freed,
jumps into the pitch.
was Chancellor of Nino Visconsti and was hanged for having accepted
bribes. Not much is known of Michele Zanche, who was killed by
treason by his son-in-law Branca
Doria (see Canto 33. 136 ff.).
The "escape" of Ciampolo causes a big quarrel among the demons,
and two of them end up in the boiling pitch. While they are being
rescued by their fellow demons, Dante and Virgil move on by themselves.
While the two Poets walk alone, Dante is taken by the fear that
the demons might give pursuit. In fact Virgil, realizing that
the ten demons are coming, takes Dante in his arms and slides
down into the next ditch. The demons arrive on the edge of the
ditch, but Dante and Virgil are already in the Sixth Ditch, and
the demons are not allowed to move outside their territory which,
of course, is the Fifth Ditch. Once in the Sixth Ditch, Dante
and Virgil notice people walking round and round very slowly,
weighted down by big robes shaped like a monk's habit, gilded
outside but inside heavy with lead.
Sixth Ditch: The Hypocrites.
According the medieval etymologists, "hypocrite" comes from yper
("outside") and crisis ("gold"), or "gilded over",
because on the surface the person is good, but inside is bad.
Hence the contrapasso. Dante's blows here are particularly
directed against the monastic orders.
Dante asks Virgil if there are any known people. A person who
heard Dante's question is surprised to see a living individual
in Hell, and asks Dante to identify himself, which he does. In
turn the sinner explains that he and his companion are two Jovial
Fiars from Bologna, Catalano and Loderingo.
Friers, a religious order founded in Bologna in 1261, soon well
known for its lavish and luxurious way of life. Both Catalano
and Loderingo had been magistrates in Florence in 1266 to
try to establish peace between Guelfs and Ghibellines.
Dante starts speaking harsh words against them, when suddenly
realizes that there is a spirit crucified on the ground over whom
other hypocrites must walk. He is identified as Caiaphas, the
high priest of the Hebrews who counseled the Pharisees that it
would be advisable to crucify Christ for the good of the people.
Annas, Caiaphas'father-in-law, and others who supported his view,
are also condemned there. Virgil is amazed at th
Caiaphas' episode from
the Gospel of John (11.50). The Pharisees were considered hypocrites.
Caiaphas, however, was not a Pharisee but a Sadducee. For Dante
he is more hypocrite than the Pharisees.
Having been asked the way out by Virgil, Catalano explains to
him that they will soon be on the ruins of the other bridge across
the ditch. Virgil is in anger remembering that Malacoda had told
him that the bridge was intact. Malacoda had deceived him. So
Dante and Virgil must climb the cliff.
At first Dante, seeing that Virgil is quite troubled at Malacoda's
deceit, becomes worried. Then, as soon as they arrive at the ruin,
realizing that Virgil turns towards him in a sweet manner, his
hopes rise again. Dante likens this experience of his to that
of a young shepherd in a winter morning. As he gets up and sees
that the countryside is white, thinking that snow fell, becomes
quite depressed because he has no other feed for his flock. But
finally when the sun comes up and the frost outside disappears,
he is happy that he can lead his flock out to graze.
begins with the very long simily of the shepherd. This is one
of the many examples of Dante's masterful poetical efforts to
express a psychological reality by the use of a concrete and realistic
Virgil examines carefully the ruin, and the two pilgrims begin
their difficult ascent. With Virgil helping up Dante from spur
to spur, they finally arrive to the top. Dante is exhausted and
sits down, but Virgil spurs him on.
ascent is symbolic of moral perfection and progress through the
knowledge of sin. But there can be no rest as there is "a longer
ladder still to be climbed".
Dante and Virgil now move on along the narrow bridge over the
Seventh Ditch. Dante hears a voice from the Ditch but, even though
they are at a point on the bridge right above the ditch, he cannot
understand nor see anything. So they continue walking till the
end of the bridge, and decide to go a bit down the bank. From
that vantage point they can see a great number of horrible snakes
attacking the souls of the Thieves there.
Seventh Ditch: The Thieves. Continuous transformation is
the painful condition of the Thieves. As in life they took the
substance of others, now their bodies are taken from them. They
have acted in sneaky and furtive ways, and now their forms are
constantly changed from human into snakes.
One of the damned souls is pierced at the nape by a serpent and
immediately turns into ashes, and then instantly resumes the human
shape, to be bitten again and so on. Having been asked by Virgil,
he reveals his name. He is Vanni Fucci "beast" from Pistoia. In
life Dante actually knew him "as a man of blood and anger" and
the Poet wonders why he is not with the violent sinners above.
So Dante would like to know what sin Vanni committed for having
been condemned all the way down there. Vanni explains that he
was sent down so far into Hell because he robbed the fair ornaments
of Pistoia cathedral's sacristy. Vanni is much ashamed that Dante
has discovered him here and, retaliating with an openly spiteful
spirit against Dante, predicts the defeat of the Whites.
Fucci from Pistoia, a militant Black whom Dante met perhaps
in 1292. The Sacristy of Pistoia's Cathedral was famous for its
treasures, some of which were stolen in 1293. An innocent man
was accused. Later the guilty parties were discovered, but Vanni
was able to escape. Vanni's prediction refers, once again, to
the political events in the wars between the Blacks and the Whites,
with the final expulsion of the Whites from Florence--and of course,
Dante's life long exile.
As soon as Vanni has finished his angry prophesy, he directs an
obscene gesture and words against God. But soon a serpent coils
about his neck and another around his arms to block any further
words or movement
After Vanni's sinful words and gesture against God, Dante pronounces
a strong invective against Pistoia. The city should perish rather
than producing such horrible men as Vanni Fucci. Meanwhile the
Centaur Cacus with a number of serpents and a dragon on his hounch
begins chasing Vanni Fucci.
was the son of Vulcan and lived in a cave. He stole Hercules'
cattle dragging them backwards into the cave. Hercules went into
the cave and killed Cacus. Cacus is the symbol of thievery through
Cacus has hardly gone by when three souls arrive (they are Agnello,
Buoso e Puccio). Soon another soul arrives. He is Cianfa who,
at the moment, is in the form of a six-footed serpent. Suddenly
Cianfa springs out against one of the three, clutches him and
bites his face. The bitten one is Agnello. A terrible and bizarre
metamorphosis takes place as the two merge together into a monstrous
something which is neither serpent nor human, "which is neither
two nor one", having mixed in such a way that "neither seemed
what had been before". And so the new monstrous form moves away
slowly. At this point a blazing little serpent arrives and swiftly
pierces the navel of one of the two remaining (it happened to
be Buoso). So another transformation slowly begins to take place,
whereby the little serpent (Francesco) and the bitten one (Buoso)
gradually exchange bodies. (And here Dante dares to challenge
Lucan and Ovid, the two major Latin artists of the metamorphic
genre). At the end of the transformation, the new serpent (Buoso)
hurries off along the valley hissing, while the new man (Franscesco)
speaks and spits at it.
involves five noble thieves from Florence. Not much is known of
them. Their names are: Agnello
Brunelleschi Cianfa Donati,
Buoso Donati, Puccio
Sciancato and Francesco
dei Cavalcanti. The fantastic metamorphoses descrbed here
must not be understood as simply Dante's bravura vis-a-vis his
Latin poets. Dante wants to do something different. The metamorphoses
described by Dante are not static; they change continually because
they are a part of the contrapasso and hence the eternal punishment
of the thieves. Dante innovates tradition with amoral purpose.
The sight of the five Florentine thieves prompts Dante to utter
a strong and sarcastic invective against his city. Florence can
be proud of her greatness since her name is known all over the
universe...and also in Hell! The Poet then prophesies for Florence
a just punishment.
lines are a sarcastic rendering of an inscription placed on the
facade of the Mayor's palace in 1255 stating that by land and
by sea she possesses Florence whole world.
The two Poets climb back up to the ridge by the same way they
had gone down (XXIV, 72-81) and arrive on the bridge over the
Eight Ditch. From there Dante can see many flames moving below.
Now painfully he reflects on the talent given by God to man, and
on the importance to keep it under control. Virgil explains to
him that each flame contains a sinner
express Dante's reflection on man's abuse of his God given talentand
on the necessity to curb it so "that it not run where virtue does
not guide" (l. 22). These lines may be considered as Dante's judgement
on Ulysses' decision.
Dante notices a strange flame with two points. Virgil tells him
that inside that flame are punished Ulysses and Diomedes. Dante
is taken by a strong desire to hear their story. Virgil assents,
but tells him that he himself will ask the questions, and not
Dante. The two Greeks are in one flame because they committed
fraudulent acts together. But the flame has two points of different
sizes, the tallest being the one enveloping Ulysses.
is the central figure of the Trojan war and Diomedes his close
associate.Together they stole the sacred statue of Athena which
protected Troy, they perpetrated "the ambush of the [wooden] horse".So
Troy fell, which led to the journey of Aeneas
and the founding of Rome, destined to be the heart of the Roman
Empire and the center of Christianity.
Virgil invites the flame to stop and asks Ulysses to retell the
story of his death. So Ulysses tells how after having explored
all the known world, he and his crew were old and tired when they
arrived at the Straits of Gibralter, where Hercules had planted
his pillars so that man should not proceed beyond them. But Ulysses
wanted to go further. Therefore he urged his small crew to go
beyond the pillars and explore the "unpeopled world". Ulysses
reminds them that they were not "made to live like brutes, but
to follow virtue and knowledge". With a "brief oration" Ulysses
was able to convince the crew. Therefore, having turned the stern
towards east, they begun "the mad flight" towards the west. Finally,
after five months of voyage, a mountain appeared far way. But
soon a whirlwind came from the mountain. It hit the boat and made
it turn around three times. At the fourth turn, it raised the
stern and the bow went down into the waters, "as it pleased Another".
And the sea closed over it!
|This is Ulysses'
fervent, unchecked and burning desire for human knowledge. Not
even sacred duties (love for his old father, his wife, his son)
can restrain him. Ulysses' fraudulent sin is not simply going
beyond the pillars of Hercules, but having incited his crew to
do so with the use of his tongue, i.e. through a "small speech",
a false and hence fraudulent syllogism: there is no "worth of
men" in the "unpeopled world"! But Ulysses "small speech" convinces
the mutinied crew to change minds. So they turn the east-bound
bow towards the west and "the mad flight" begins. The mountain
they see is the mountain of Purgatory, which cannot be experienced
in life (unless it is so willed by God). The tornado that comes
from the mountain is symbolic of God's rejection and condemnation:
the rejection is given by the direction of the bow, the condemnation
by the sinking of the boat.
The flame containing Ulysses and Diomedes moves away, while another
flame appears. It attracts the Poets' attention because of a confused
sound that comes from it. The sounds reminds Dante of Perillus'
fate who perished inside his own invention. That confused sound
from the flame becomes more distinct and the spirit inside says
that he was from Romagna, and wants to know from Dante whether
in his homeland there is war or peace.
an Athenian artisan, had built for the Sicilian tyrant Phalaris
a bronze torture machine in the form of a bull. After the condemned
were placed inside the bronze bull,a fire was lit under it. The
cries of pain of the person inside could be heard outside as lowing
of a bull. Its inventor, Perillus, was the first to experience
the horrible machine. Romagna
is a region in north-central Italy on the Adriatic sea.
It contains the cities of Ravenna
and Rimini, and the independent
republic of San Marino. Now it is a part of the Emilia-Romagna
Dante tells the spirit that Romagna is a restless region afflicted
by continuous wars: the city of Ravenna is ruled by Da Polenta's
family; the city of ForlŪ is dominated by the Ordalaffis; the
cities of Faenza and Imola change political parties frequently.
|The Da Polenta's
family controlled Ravenna from 1270 until 1441. Dante spent the
last years of his life as guest of Guido
Novello Da Polenta.
Dante wants to know whom he is speaking with. The spirit doesn't
reveal his name, but says that first he was a man of arms, and
then, having repented, he became a man of religion and embraced
the Franciscan order. But unfortunately the Pope induced him to
sin again. Then he tells Dante how he became a damned spirit:
Pope Boniface VIII, while fighting against the Colonna's family,
asked Guido to suggest a stratagem by which he could trick the
Colonnas. Guido knew how, but he was afraid to sin if he revealed
it to the Pope. So the Pope reassured Guido and told him that
he would absolve him of his sin in advance. Guido obeyed the Pope
and told him to make the Colonnas a promise and to not maintain
is Guido da Montefeltro
(1220-1298), famous Ghibelline man of arms, fought and won several
battles against the Guelfs. In 1296 he became a Franciscan monk.
Dante speaks of him with admiration also in his Convivio
(IV, xxviii, 8). Boniface VIII excommunicated the Colonna
family in 1297 and summoned them to surrender. But they didn't
and entrenched themselves in their stronghold at Palestrina,
some 24 miles from Rome. The Colonnas had refused to recognize
Boniface's election as Pope.
When Guido died, Saint Francis went to get his soul, but a devil
demonstrated with strict logic that Guido's soul belonged to him
and in Hell. In fact you cannot be absolved from a sin first and
then commit it later; "the law of contradiction won't allow it".
between Heaven and Hell for the possession of a soul is part of
medieval lore. In Dante we find it again in Purgatorio,
canto 5, where the story of Guido's son Buonconte
The Poets are now on the bridge over the Ninth Ditch where are
punished the Sowers of Discord. Dante comments that if one could
put together in one place the mutilated victims of various wars,
the resulting spectacle would in no way equal the horrible sight
that he is now observing.
Ninth Ditch: the Sowers
of Discord. Contrapasso: just as they divided what
God meant to be united, so now their bodies are cut and torn apart
by demons. There are three classes of sinners; each sinner suffers
according to his degree.
Dante notices a sinner split open from chin to crotch. The sinner
introduces himself to Dante as Mohammed, and also points out his
son-in-law who walks ahead of him with his face split. Mohammed
explains to Dante that all sinners there were on earth sowers
of scandal and schism, and that is why they are now split. He
also tells Dante that, once mutilated, the sinners are compelled
to drag their bodies around. When the wounds are healed and the
bodies restored, demons split them up again. When Mohammed hears
that Dante is alive, he gives him an ironic message for Fra Dolcino
to stock up food if he wants to survive, otherwise soon Fra Dolcino
will be joining him there, in Hell.
Class: Sowers of religious discord. Mohammed
(570-632) founder of Islamism, considered a schismatic during
Dante's times. He was believed to be a Christian who wanted to
become Pope. Ali (597-660), cousin and son-in-law of Mohammed,
succeeded him in 656 but was assassinated in 660. Fra
Dolcino, leader of an heretical sect called the Apostolic
Brothers, preached the common holding of property and the sharing
of women. Condemned by the Pope in 1305, he and his followers
entrenched themselves in the hills of Novara, withstood the Pope's
soldiers for one year and finally gave up in 1307, after many
of them had died of starvation. Fra Dolcino was burnt at the stakes
in Novara the same year.
Another sinner talks to Dante. He is Pier da Medicina and predicts
the betrayal of Malatestino Malatesta against two noblemen from
Fano. Then he points out to Dante the Tribune Curio. Another sinner
introduces himself to Dante as Mosca dei Lamberti
Class: Sowers of political discord. These men were the cause
of schism either of states or of community. Curio
joined Caesar's party after serving under Pompey. Mosca
dei Lamberti was considered the cause of the division of Florence
and the beginning of the rivalry between Guelfs and Ghibellines.
After Mosca departs Dante sees something terrible and unbelievable:
a sinner is holding his own head with one hand by the hair and
is swinging it as if it were a lantern to lite his dark way. Then
he raises it at arm's length in order that he might speak to Dante
and reveals his name. He is Bertran de Born who divided father
and son. He compares his evil counsel to that of Achitophel who
provoked the rebellion between Absaloms and David. Finally he
ends with the line: "Thus the contrapasso is observed
Three: Sowers of family discord. Bertran
de Born, nobleman and poet, is in Hell because he caused Prince
Henry to rebel against his father Henry II of England. Thus dividing
head and body. In De vulgari eloquentia (II,ii,9) Dante
praises Bertrand's poems.
Achitophel, famous counselor of King David, favored Absaloms rebellion
and counseled the latter to kill David, his father. The famous
last line of the Canto synthesizes the law of retribution. (See
Dante is deeply moved by the spectacle he has just seen in the
Ninth Ditch, and keeps on looking down into it. Virgil reproaches
him and asks him why is he lingering. Dante explains that he kept
on looking at the mutilated souls because he was expecting to
see there one of his kinsmen. So Virgil tells him that while Dante
was talking with Bertrand de Born, he noticed someone down there
making threatening signs with his finger and that he heard the
name Geri del Bello called. Dante then clarifies to Virgil Geri's
gesture. Geri had been assassinated and nobody had yet vindicated
was one of Dante's second cousins. He was still alive in 1280.It
was believed that he had been murdered by a member of the Sacchetti's
family. In Dante's times relatives of a murdered person had the
legal right of vindication. But the customary vendetta for Geri's
death was carried out only in 1310.
The two Poets arrive on the bridge over the Tenth and final Ditch
of Malebolge. The laments of these sinners are so atrocious that
Dante is obliged to place his hands over his ears in order not
to hear them. If one could gather in one place all the sick of
Valdichiana's, Maremma's and Sardinia's hospitals, one would have
something similar to what Dante finds in that Ditch. Here are
punished in various manners falsifiers of various kind.
Tenth Ditch: The Falsifiers,
or those who perverted the physical world by means of deception.
As in life they corrupted nature by their falsifications, so in
death they are corrupted by some form of desease. There are four
classes and all suffer from some disease. Falsifiers of things,
from leprosy. Falsifiers of persons, from madness. Falsifiers
of money, from dropsy. Falsifiers of words, from stinking fever.
Valdichiana and Maremma (in Tuscany) and parts of Sardinia were
famous for malaria.
Dante sees two sinners sitting propped against each other and
full of scabs from head to foot. They are intent furiously to
scratch each other with their nails in order to relieve their
fierce itching. Dante speaks with both. One of the two is Griffolino
d'Arezzo who died at the stake for having jestingly promised to
make Alberto of Siena another Daedalus.
Class: Falsifiers of things. Griffolino
obtained money from Alberto by pretending that he could teach
him how to fly. Alberto denounced him to the Bishop of Siena as
a magician, and so he was burned. Daedalus,
Athenian, famous for the art of inventions among which that of
Dante takes this occasion to make jokes over the foolishness and
vanity of the Sienese. Another soul joins Dante with ironic remarks
against the Sienese. He is Capocchio "whose alchemy could counterfeit
was apparently known by Dante. He was burned alive in Siena
in 1293 for having practiced alchemy.
In order to give an idea of the fury of some of the sinners punished
here, Dante recalls two classical myths relating to madness. The
first, Athamas having become crazy, his wife Ino appeared to him
as a lioness and his two children as her cubs; so he killed one
of them. Taken by despair, Ino drowned herself and the other child.
The second relates to Hecuba. After her daughter Polyxena had
been sacrificed and her son Polydorus had been killed, Hecuba
became mad and started barking like a dog
|The two stories
are told by Ovid in Metamorphoses, respectively IV, 512-562 and
More furious than Athamas and Hecuba, the Falsifiers of Persons
or impersonators run in the Ditch and bite other sinners as rabid
dogs. Dante sees two of them running furiously. One gets Capocchio
by the nape and drags him around. He is Gianni Schicchi. Gianni
in order to falsify a will pretended to be Buoso Donati. The other
is "the shade of the deprived Myrrha" who, lusting after her father,
disguised herself in order to make love with him.
Class: Falsifiers of persons. When Buoso
Donati died, his nephew Simone persuaded a famous Florentine
impersonator, Gianni Schicchi of the Cavalcantis, to impersonate
the dead man in order to dictate a will in Simon's favor. Myrrha
is placed here because of the fraud she used to fulfill her desire.
The story is told by Ovid (Metamorphoses, X, 298-502).
Dante observes closely the Ditch and his attention is attracted
by a sinner with an inflated body, suffering from dropsy. He identifies
himself as Master Adam and craves "one little drop of water".
He says that the cool streams descending from the green hills
of Casentino into the Arno river are always in front of his eyes--and
the memory is part of his torment.He continues on by saying that
there, in the Casentino, he began the counterfeiting of the Florin,
induced by the Counts Guidi of Romena.
Class: Falsifiers of money. Master
Adam de Anglia, of England, under order of Counts Guidi of
Romena, counterfeited Florentine currency, the famous Florin,by
making them of twenty-one rather than twenty-four carat gold.
Historically the outcome was a currency crisis in Northern Italy.
Master Adam was burned at the stake in Florence in 1281.
Dante asks Master Adam who are those two sinners near him suffering
from raging fever. He is told that they are liars. One is Potiphar's
wife who wrongly accused Joseph. The other is Sinon, the false
Greek from Troy.
four: Falsifiers of word. Potiphar's
wife tried to seduce Joseph, son of Job. Then she accused him
of trying to seduce her (Genesis 39, 6-23). The Greek Sinon
allowed the Trojans to take him prisoner and then convinced them
to take the wooden horse into Troy.
Because of the words used at the end of Canto 30 (first rebuking,
and then comforting), Dante compares Virgil's tongue to Achilles'
lance which first produced a wound and then healed it.
of the magic Achilles'
lance was a common place in medieval love poetry tradition.
The two Poets cross the bank and are getting away from the last
Ditch when Dante hears a bugle blast. It was louder than Roland's
horn which warned Charlemagne of total Christian defeat. Looking
ahead Dante believes he sees some tall towers. Virgil explains
to him that they are not towers but giants standing around the
central pit of Hell. When Dante can clearly see them his fear
is increased as they are so big and look like the great towers
of Montereggioni's fortress.
|n the Chanson
de Roland, e medieval French epic, Roland
was assigned to the rear guard on the return through the Pyrenees.
When the Saracens attacked,
he refused to blow his horn for help, doing so only when he was
dying and too late. Montereggioni
was a large castle near Siena built in 1213 and crowned by 14
towers. Some, half destroyed, are still visible.
Dante begins to see the features of some of the giants. The first
is extremely big and pronounces incomprehensible words, as if
in rage. Then Virgil tells Dante that the giant is Nimrod. Because
of Nimrod's wicked idea to build Babel's tower the world has experienced
the confusion of languages.
the first king of Babylon, is supposed to have built Babel's
tower. As a punishment God confused their tongues (narrated
in Genesis XI,1-9). In early Christian tradition Nimrod
was believed to be a giant.
The Poets continue on and see another giant even more terrible
than Nimrod. This giant "made the great attempt when giants alarmed
the gods". His name is Ephialtes. Virgil tells Dante that another
giant, Antaeus, will take them to the bottom of Hell, in the ninth
son of Neptune, at nine and together with his brother, attempted
to put mount Pelion on top of mount Ossa in order to ascend to
the gods and make war with them. But Apollo
killed both brothers.
Finally the two Poets arrive near Antaeus and Virgil asks him
to help them reach the bottom of Hell. In silence Antaeus stretches
out his hand, grasps Virgil and Dante and places them gently into
the pit, which is called Cocytus.
a Titan, was believed invincible until Hercules
lifted him over his head and strangled him in mid-air. Cocytus
is the frozen last circle of Hell.
Dante, having arrived in the Ninth Circle, would like to describe
it in a suitable manner. But he confesses that the task is very
difficult, because to represent it adequately he would need "rough
and hoarse rhymes". Therefore he invokes the Muses to help him,
and then he utters a sharp apostrophe against its sinners.
Cocytus is a frozen lake
where the sin of Treachery
is punished. It is divided into four zones. A type of traitor
is punished in each zone.
The two Poets continue walking on the ice of the last circle.
In the first zone, called Caina, the sinners are immersed into
the ice with the exception of their heads. When they raise their
heads Dante can see tears freezing and dropping into icicles over
Zone is called Caina.
It is named after Cain who,
according to Genesis, slew his brother Abel. Here treachery
to a relative is punished.
Dante sees two sinners so close to each other that the hair of
one is confused with that of the other. Pain and anger push them
to butt each other like goats. Another spirit tells Dante that
the two are brothers and are Alessandro and Napoleone,sons of
count Alberto degli Alberti. The spirits identifies also other
sinners and finally identifies himself. He is Camicione dei Pazzi.
and Napoleone degli Alberti were one Guelf and the other Ghibelline.
They killed each other over an inheritance. Camicione d' Pazzi
murdered a relative of his.
Dante and Virgil proceed into the second part of the Ninth Circle,
called Antenora, in which the traitors are plunged more deeply
into the ice, but with their face up, and cannot move their heads.
While Dante is walking, his foot kicks one of the faces. The spirit
screams at Dante and mentions Montaperti. Dante wants to know
his name. When the spirits refused to answer, Dante grabs him
by the hair and threatens him. At this point another spirit nearby
reveals that he is Bocca. Now Bocca reveals the name of the one
who revealed his, as well as the name of other spirits punished
named after Antenor, a Trojan who betrayed his city to the Greeks.
It is then reserved for traitors of country or political party.
Bocca degli Abati is the
traitor of Montaperti.
During the battle of 1260 Bocca cut the hand of the Florentine
standard bearer. The standard fell, and without it the cavalry
was soon routed.
After this the two Poets see a horrible spectacle: two heads are
frozen together in the ice, one on top of the other. The upper
head gnaws the lower at the nape. Dante asks the gnawer who he
is and why he does what he does.
will be given in Canto 33.
At Dante's question, the sinner raises "his mouth from his fierce
meal" and answering Dante tells him that for him to remember is
renewing a despairing pain. But if what he will say can bring
infamy to the betrayer he is gnawing, he will weep but tell his
story in his tears. He is Count Ugolino and the other is Archbishop
Ruggieri. Trusting the agreement made with Ruggieri outside of
Pisa, Ugolino returned to the city. But with a trick he was taken
and put in prison with his sons and nephews. In prison Ugolino
has a dream by which the future is revealed to him. He sees Ruggieri
in the form of a hound hunting a wolf and his whelps (i. e. himself
and his sons). Ruggieri the hound catches them and tears them
apart with its sharp fangs. After the dream Ugolino wakes up and
hears his sons crying and asking for bread. But food is not brought
to the prisoners, the prison's door has been locked and the key
thrown away. Ugolino suffers immensely to see his sons hungry
and bites both of his hands out of grief. The children believe
that he had done that out of hunger and offer themselves to him
as food. In a week's time all of his children die of starvation.
Ugolino, now blind, started groping over each and called them
for two days; "then fasting had more force than grief"! At the
end of the story, Ugolino grips Ruggieri's skull and start gnawing
begins with line 124 of Canto 32. Count
Ugolino of a noble Ghibelline family changed party and became
a Guelf in order to promote the Gulfs of Pisa and became Pisa's
mayor. In 1288 Ruggieri degli
Ubaldini, Archbishop of Pisa and others became the leaders
of a popular revolt against Ugolino's party. Ugolino was out of
town. He was promised a safe conduct if he returned to Pisa. So
he did. But he was caught and put with two sons and two nephews
of his in the Gualandi's tower. They were kept imprisoned for
nine months. Then in 1289 the Archbishop ordered the tower locked
up and the keys thrown away.
Dante bursts out with a violent invective against Pisa for having
starved to death four innocent boys. In his wrath Dante wishes
that the two islands of Capraia and Gorgona move and block the
mouth of the Arno river so that it could flood Pisa and drown
every living soul.
Gorgona are two islands on the Tyrrenian Sea, near the mouth of
the Arno. In 1300 they were Pisan possession.
The two poets continue their voyage and enter into the Third Zone
of Cocytus which is called Ptolomea. Dante here feels blasts of
wind and Virgil tells him that soon he will know the cause that
Zone:ia called Ptolomea
. It is the zone where treachery to friends and guests
is punished. The source of wind is Satan himself.
Dante and Virgil walk among the punished souls. One of them asks
Dante to remove the ice from his eyes. Dante promises to help
him, and may he "go to the bottom of Hell" if he doesn't, provided
the sinner reveals his name! Following Dante's promise, the sinner
reveals his name as Fra Alberigo. Dante is much surprised as he
knows that Fra Alberigo is still alive. Then Alberigo explains
that Ptolomea has a special privilege: frequently the soul falls
there as soon as it has committed treachery, before the person
dies. And on earth a devil takes the place of the soul and inhabits
the body until its natural death. Then he indicates to Dante another
example: Branca d'Oria who killed his father-in-law. He has been
in Ptolomea already for many years, and yet his body is still
alive. Finally Alberigo reminds Dante of his promise to open his
eyes, but Dante refuses.
Alberigo of the Manfredi family from Faenza was a Jovial Friar.
In 1285 he invited his brother and his son to a banquet and killed
them both. Branca d'Oria
of a noble Genoese family, in 1290 invited his father-in-law,
Michele Zanche, to
a banquet and had him and his companions assassinated. Branca
d'Oria died after 1325. Dante's unkept promise is sometimes taken
as cruelty. But in fact keeping promise would have meant going
against God's justice. In addition, Dante's promise was made in
jest, as he knows that he is going to the bottom of Hell!
Branca d'Oria is a Genoese, and now Dante utters another invective
against the Genoese, a people full of corruption and lacking any
constraint of custom. They should be driven from earth!
The two Poets reach the last zone of the Ninth Circle, Judecca.
Here the sinners lie wholly submerged in ice. Dante notices that
the sinners are in various positions; some lying, some standing
upright, or on their heads, some doubled-up. At the very center
of Cocytus--which is also the center of earth--is Lucifer rising
from the waist above the surface of the lake. Lucifer, or Dis,
has three faces each of different color, and large wings like
those of a bat. By flapping his huge wings he freezes Cocytus.
In each of his three mouths he chews a sinner: he chews Judas
who betrayed Christ, as well as Brutus and Cassius who betrayed
zone ia called Judecca.
Here are punished the traitors of benefactors. It is named
after Judas who betrayed
Christ. Lucifer is the antithesis of God and the total expression
of darkness and evil. His three faces are a travesty of the Holy
Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost, or Power Wisdom and Love.
Judas on one side and Brutus and Cassius on the other represent
the enemies of Church and Empire, the betrayers of spiritual and
temporal principle designed by God to rule the human race. Dante's
image of Lucifer is fashioned after a mosaic on the ceiling of
The voyage through Hell is practically completed because by now
"all has been seen". Virgil and Dante climb down Lucifer's body
and then, suddenly, at Satan's navel, turn upside down and begin
climbing up. When Dante sees Lucifer's legs turned upwards he
is confused, but Virgil explains that they have passed the center
of earth and are now in the southern hemisphere. Virgil reminds
Dante that it is here that Lucifer fell down when he was hurled
out of heaven. The Poets continue moving up following, countercurrent,
a subterranean stream in order to reach the base of the mountain
of Purgatory. From there the Poets come out of darkness "to see
once again the stars".
fell all the land where the devil hit retreated under water and
moved to the northern hemisphere,our hemisphere. However, the
ground at the core of earth rushed upward, formed the cone-shaped
mountain of Purgatory, and the space left became the cavity of
Hell. It is believed that the subterranean stream is the water
from the Purgatorial river Lethe which carries the memory of sin.
INDEX AND GLOSSARY
Acheron (Canto 3). The first river of Dante's Inferno
and one of the rivers of Hades in Greek mythology. In Dante's Inferno
souls are transported across this river by Charon. There are four rivers
in Inferno. Dante takes their names from Virgil's Aeneid.
Achilles (Cantos 5 and 26). "The great" Greek hero in the Trojan
war. A legend widely known in the Middle Ages tells that Achilles was
struck from behind and killed by Paris when the former went to see Priam's
daughter, Polyxena, with whom he had fallen in love. In Canto 5 Dante
follows this legend, while in Canto 26 the reference is to older Greek
mythology where Achilles, hiding at the court of King Lycomedes, is
discovered by Odysseus and persuaded to go to Troy. Therefore he abandons
the king's daughter, Deidamia, who had borne him a son.
Aeneas (Cantos 1, 2, 4 etc). In classical legend, a Trojan hero,
son of Anchises and Venus, who after the fall of Troy escaped and went
to Italy where his descendants founded Rome. The adventures and deeds
of Aeneas are told by Virgil in the Aeneid. Dante mentions Aeneas several
times in Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. In Canto 2
of Inferno Dante refers directly to Book 6 of the Aeneid where
Virgil describes Aeneas' travel to the Underworld to seek guidance from
his dead father and to hear prophesies from him about the outcome of
Rome and its future empire.
Agnello (Canto 26). A Florentine placed by Dante among the Thieves of
Malebolge, in the Second Ditch of Circle 8, together with four other
Alchemy (Canto 29). Ancient art which sought the transformation
of base metals into perfect metals, such as gold and silver. For a long
time under Muslim influence, toward the XII Century it spread to some
parts of Europe through Latin translation of Arab writings. Dante places
the practitioners of Alchemy among the Falsifiers. Their punishment
is to be afflicted by scabs causing them to scratch continuously.
Alessio Interminelli (Canto 18). Of a prominent Guelf family
from Lucca, little is known about Alessio, except that he was still
alive in 1295. Dante places him among the Flatterers, in Malebolge.
Amphiaraus (Cantos 14 and 20). One of the seven kings who joined
to fight against Thebes. Foreseeing his death in war, he went into hiding
but was betrayed by his wife Eriphyle. And while he was attempting to
flee from his pursuers, Jupiter sent a thunderbolt, earth opened and
swallowed him up.
Anastasius II (Canto 11). Pope from 496 to 498, is placed by
Dante in a tomb among the Heretics of Circle 6. Dante may have confused
Anastasious II with his contemporary Anastasious I, Roman emperor of
the East from 491 to 518. The Emperor's heretical inclination (he was
a Monophysite--a Monophysite is a person who maintains that Christ has
only one nature, partly divine and partly human ) stirred religious
unrest throughout the Empire. The confusion between the two was a tradition
well established before Dante's time.
Antaeus (Canto 31). One of the four mighty giants placed by Dante
on the edge of Circle 9 as guards. He can talk intelligently and is
not chained like the other giants there. Antaeus, having been requested,
picks up Virgil and Dante and places them on the frozen last circle
of Hell, Cocytus.
Ante-Inferno (Introduction, p. 26. A region in Upper Hell, specifically
"before", i.e. outside, Inferno proper and before the river Acheron.
Here Dante places the souls "who lived without praise and without blame",
and mixes them together with the neutral Angels. As a punishment, they
are stung by horse flies and wasps and must continually run after banners.
Antenora (Canto 32). The Second Zone of Circle 9 is called by
Dante Antenora. It is named after Antenor, a Trojan who, according to
some authors, betrayed his city to the Greeks. This was a common belief
in the Middle Ages, although no hint of betrayal can be found in the
Aeneid. Dante reserves this Zone of Inferno for traitors
of country or political party. Here we find Bocca degli Abati, the traitor
at the battle of Montaperti in 1260.
Apollo. One of the most important Olympian Gods, often connected
with the Muses, as he was, among other things, the patron of music and
poetry. He was frequently celebrated as a god of light and identified
with Helios or the Sun. In Roman religion Apollo was also worshipped
as a God of prophesy and healing. Dante invokes the "good Apollo" in
Paradiso(Canto 1) as a god of song and poetry to give him power
and divine inspiration for the task he is about to undertake, namely
the writing of the last "cantica".
Aquinas, Thomas, Saint
Italian philosopher and theologian, Doctor of the Church and known also
as The Angelic Doctor. Thomas was born in Rocca Secca (near Naples)
c.1225 into the noble Aquino family. He was educated at the Abbey of
Monte Cassino and later studied in Naples. Around the age of 20 he entered
the Dominican Order, and soon after he went to Paris and Cologne to
study under Albert the Great. In 1252 he returned to Paris where he
became professor of theology and gained great reputation. In 1259 Thomas
returned to Italy and for about ten years he taught in various Italian
cities. After three more years in aris, he returned to Naples in 1272
to set up a Studium or a house of studies there. he died in 1274.
St. Thomas is the greatest figure among the Schoolmen.
He was a prolific writer and commented several works of Aristotle. The
most important work of his, Summa Theologiae is an exposition
of theology on philosophical principles based on Aristotle and Aristotelian
In Dante, Saint Thomas appears in the 10th Canto of Paradiso.
Here he introduces to Dante himself and the other 9 luminaries who reside,
quite appropriately, in the Heaven of the Sun, and who represent the
tradition of Christian thought.
Arch-Heretics (Canto 10 and beginning of 11). The Heresiarchs
are introduced by Dante at the end of Canto 9. The term refers to
founders or leaders of heretical sects. The heretic is a professed
believer who maintains religious opinions contrary to those accepted
by his church. A heretic in Catholic religion is a baptized person
who willfully and persistently refutes one or more articles of faith.
In the history of the Christian religion there have been a great number
of heretical sects. Dante places the heretics in open flaming tombs.
Farinata, Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti, Emperor Frederick II and Pope
Anastasius II are among the heretics of Circle 6.
Arezzo (Introduction, p. 1). An Etruscan city some 50 miles
south east of Florence. It became a free commune in the 11th Century.
In the Middle Ages it was an important center of learning and the
arts. During Dante's time Arezzo was a powerful Ghibelline city, but
it was defeated by Florence at the battle of Campaldino in 1289.
Argo (Canto 18). In mythology, the name of the ship built by
Argus with the help of Athena. Jason sailed with the group of heros
in the Argo ship (hence the "Argonauts") in search of the Golden Fleece.
Jason, who had been reared by Chiron the Centaur, was finally helped
by Medusa to obtain the Golden Fleece.
Aristotle (Canto 4). Greek philosopher, born in Stagira (hence
also referred to as the Stagirate) in 384 bc. Studied under Plato,
and wrote on Logic, Physics, Metaphysics, Poetic, Rhetoric, Biology,
Psychology, etc.. His conclusions differ substantially from those
of Plato. Aristotle was reintroduced to the West by Arab and Jewish
scholars. His works became the basis of Scholasticism, were widely
taught in European universities and exercised a strong influence particularly
during Dante's times. Dante mentions him and several of his works
many times in the Divine Comedy and particularly in the Convivio.
In the Inferno Dante calls Aristotle "the master of men who know"
and places him in Limbo "seated in philosophic family" together with
Socrates and Plato.
Athamas (Canto 30). In Greek mythology, king of Boetia. After
his marriage to Nephele, he fell in love with Ino, daugher of Cadmus,
who bore him two children. According to one legend, Athamas went mad,
killed one of his children and forced Ino and the other child who
were trying to escape to leap to their death into the sea. Dante takes
the story from Ovid's Metamorphosis and uses it as an example
of the fury which overcomes some of the sinners punished in Circle
Avaricious and Prodigals (Canto 7). The avaricious is a person
possesed by a miserly desire to gain and hoard riches, while the prodigal
is a person who is possessed by a squandering desire to spend wastefully
and extravagantly his or her money and wealth. Dante places them together
in Inferno. For punishment they must roll heavy boulders, the Avaricious
in one half of the circle (Circle 4), the Prodigals in the other half.
When they meet, they exchange insults, turn around and continue pushing
their boulders until they meet again at the other half of the circle,
and so on.
AverroŽs (Canto 4). Spanish-Arabian
philosopher who lived from 1126 to 1198. He was a lawyer and a physician
in Cordoba. His great work was his Commentary on Aristotle which remained
influential in Europe up to the Renaissance, although his doctrine
on personal immortality and the eternity of matter were condemned
by the Catholic Church. Dante describes AverroŽs as the one "who wrote
the great commentary" and places him in Limbo among the great philosophers,
together with Hippocrates, Galen and Avicenna.
Avicenna (Canto 4). Persian philosopher and physician, born
980, died 1037. He wrote many treatises and commentaries on Aristotle
and Galen. His medical masterpiece Canon of Medicine was influential
in Europe from 1100 to 1500. Dante places him in Limbo among the great
philosophers and together with Hippocrates, Galen and AverroŽs.
Babel's Tower (Canto 31). Babel was a Babylonian city where
an attempt was made by Noah's descendants to build a tower to reach
heaven. This act of presumption was punished by God by confusing their
previously one spoken language into many tongues, so they would no
longer understand each other. Dante referes to this in his De vulgari
eloquentia (I,vii, 4-7). Following medieval tradition, Dante believed
that the building of the Tower was instigated by Nimrod. The giant
is fittingly punished for this sin in this Canto. (See also Nimrod).
Barbariccia (Cantos 21 and 22). Is the leader of a group of
ten devils selected by the chief devil Malacoda (Evil-tail) to escort
Dante and Virgil through the Fifth Ditch of Circle 8 where the Barrators
or Grafters are punished. In addition to Barbariccia (Porcupine-beard),
other devils in the group are Cagnazzo (Ugly-dog), Ciriatto (Swine-face),
Rubicante (Rubic-face), Draghignazzo (Vile-dog), etc. (see also Malacoda).
Bardi Bank (Introduction, p. 19). The Bardis were an extremely
wealthy family of Florence. In 1318, just a few years before Dante's
death, their bank had an account balance of almost one million gold
Florins, and it was one of the most important Florentine lenders of
money to all Europe.
Barrators (Canto 21 and 22). A barrator is a person who buys
or sells political employment or offices. Barratry is the political
counterpart of Simony, whereby ecclesiastical preferments or offices
are bought or sold. Dante places the barrators in the Fifth Ditch
of Circle 8, immersed in boiling pitch.
Bartolomeo della Scala (Introduction, p. 3). Lord of Verona,
older brother of Cangrande, who ruled from 1301 to 1304. Dante was
a guest of the Scala family during part of his exile.
Beatrice (Introduction, pp. 7-8, 10-11, 24-25, Canto 2). Beatrice
is the central and fundamental figure of the Vita Nuova and
of the Divine Comedy. She is identified with a Florentine woman
named Beatrice Portinari (1266-1290) who married Simone de' Bardi,
of the Bankers' family, in 1287. Dante first saw Beatrice when he
was nine years old, and she remained his ideal and inspiration until
his death. Dante describes his ideal love for her in the Vita Nuova,
where she is exalted as the giver of "beatitude" and hence of salvation.
She is also the moving inspiration for the Divine Comedy. In
his masterpiece Beatrice's function is to lead Dante from Earthly
Paradise (at the end of Purgatorio) to the Celestial Paradise;
as such she is allegorically understood as theology or divine knowledge
(while Virgil represents philosophy or human knowledge). Dante mentions
Beatrice by name some sixty times in the Divine Comedy, but only twice
in Inferno (Canto 2, 70 & 103). In Inferno she refers
to Dante as "my friend, not a friend of fortune" (Canto 2, 61).
Bertran de Born (Canto 28). A nobleman and one of the earliest
and most famous troubadours, born in the region of Pťrigord, SW France,
about 1140, died in 1215. Dante mentions Bertran as an example of
munificence in the Convivio, and in De vulgari eloquentia
he praises his poetry dealing with politics and war. However, Dante
places him in Inferno among the Sowers of family discord because
Bertran caused Prince Henry of England (died in 1163) to rebel against
his father King Henry II (1154-1189). In Dante's view, he caused the
division between father and son, understood as head and body; therefore
in Hell Bertran de Born is holding his own head separated from his
body, saying, "Thus the `contrapasso' is observed in me". (See
Blacks (Introduction, p. 2). The Florentine Guelfs, having
defeated for good the Ghibellines, eventually split into two opposite
factions: the Whites and the Blacks. The Blacks were in favor of the
Papacy and wanted to put Florence under the domination of Pope Boniface
VIII. The rivalries between the two parties are "prophesied" to Dante
by Ciacco in Canto 6. On May Day 1300 the Whites will defeat the Blacks,
but within tree years the Whites, in turn, will be overthrown by the
Blacks with the help of Boniface VIII. The Whites will be expelled
from Florence. Dante is White and will be included in the decree of
banishment. He will never return to his beloved city.
Blasphemers (Canto 14). The Blasphemers are placed by Dante
in the Third Ring of Circle 7, in the category of the violent against
God. They are lying supine on burning sand, under a rain of fire.
Here we find Capaneus, one of the seven kings of Greece who joined
against the city of Thebes.
Bocca degli Abati (Canto 32). Bocca degli Abati was a Ghibelline
who remained in Florence after the expulsion of his party from the
city in 1258. He became a Guelf. But at the battle of Montaperti,
in 1260, Bocca cut off the hand of the Florentines' standard bearer.
The standard fell and this caused confusion and a tremendous defeat
for the Guelfs. Dante places him in the Second Zone of Circle 9, called
Antenora, reserved for traitors of country and political party. (Se
Boccaccio (Introduction, pp. 13-14). Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375),
poet and storyteller, is the author of the Decameron and many
other works in Italian and in Latin. He was a great admirer of Dante
and was commissioned by the Commune of Certaldo--a Tuscan village
SW of Florence where he received his first education--to read daily
from the Divine Comedy. In 1373 he begun his public lectures
of Inferno in the Florentine church of Santo Spirito. These
lectures were published and became his famous Commento to the
first 17 cantos of Inferno.
Boethius (Introduction, p. 1). Roman philosopher and statesman,
consul and minister of Emperor Theodoric. He lived from 475 to 525.
False charges of treason were brought against him; he was imprisoned,
sentensed without trial and executed in Pavia, some 20 miles S. of
Milan. While in prison he wrote, among other things, his famous Consolation
of Philosophy. Boethius was considered as a martyr of the Christian
faith. His Consolation of Philosophy was widely read in the
Middle ages and was well-known also to Dante who mentions it frequently
in his prose works. In the Divine Comedy Dante places Boethius
in Paradise among the spirits distinguished for their wisdom.
Bologna (Intro., p 6 and Canto 23). City in N. central Italy,
capital of the Emilia Romagna Region and of the Bologna province;
it is situated at the foot of the Appennines. Its university was founded
in 1088 and Bologna soon became an intellectual center famous all
over Europe. Dante probably studied at the University of Bologna for
Bonatti, Guido (Canto 20). Famous astrologer from Forlž (some
15 mi. S. of Ravenna). A Ghibelline, he was at the service of Frederick
II, of Ezzelino da Romano, of the City of Florence after 1260, and
for a long time of Guido da Montefeltro. He was still alive in 1296.
Guido Bonatti wrote a treatise, On Astronomy, in ten books
which became well known throughout Europe. He participated in the
battle of Montaperti in 1260 as a follower of Guido Novello, Manfred's
vicar in Florence. It is said that Guido Bonatti gave Guido Novello
a good advice at the battle and the Ghibelline victory at Montaperti
was partially credited to his calculations of the stars. It is also
said that Guido da Montefeltro never undertook a battle without first
seeking the astrological advice of Guido Bonatti. Dante places Guido
among the Astrologers and Soothsayers in the Fourth Ditch of Circle
8, reserved for Diviners and Soothsayers, or the practitioners of
Bonaventure, Saint (Introduction, p. 1). Scholastic theologian,
cardinal and Doctor of the Church, born near Viterbo (in the region
of Latium, central Italy), died while attending the Council of Lyons
in 1274. He entered the Franciscan order, studied at the University
of Paris under Alexander of Hales and taught there with St. Thomas
Aquinas until 1255. In 1257 he was made General of the Franciscan
order, and decided to write the official Life of St. Francis. He also
wrote several philosophic, theologic and mystical works, many of which
were well-known to Dante. Dante places him in Paradiso among the Doctors
of the Church.
Boniface VIII (Canto 19). Born Benedetto Caetani, in Anagni
(SE of Rome), in 1235, was elected pope in 1294 on the abdication
of Celestine V and died in 1303. He was a pope in a time of great
crisis in Europe and was at odds with several important people, including
King Philip IV of France, Edward I of England and Jacopone da Todi.
Dante mentions him several times in the Divine Comedy almost
always negatively and with contempt for the person. Boniface VIII
is placed by Dante in the Third Ditch of Circle 8 of Inferno,
among the Simonists Popes.
Branca d'Oria (Canto 33). Born c.1233 to a Ghibelline family,
quite prominent in the history of Genoa, died after 1325. In 1290
he invited to dinner his father-in-law, Michele Zanche, who was governor
of Logodoro (a region in NW Sardinia), and murdered him as he wanted
to control that part of Sardinia. Dante places his soul in the Third
Zone of Circle 9, which is called Ptolomea, where Treachery to friends
and guests is punished. Branca d'Oria's body is still alive: Ptolomea
has a special privilege of claiming the souls of traitors before their
time, while an evil spirit occupies their living body on earth.
Brunetto Latini (Canto 15). Born in Florence c. 1220, died
in 1294. A famous writer, composed in French an encyclopedic work
called Trťsor, and in Italian two didactic poems, Tesoretto
and Favolello. He also translated into Italian the rhetorical
works of Cicero. Brunetto was a Guelf and was sent as ambassador to
King Alfonse X of Castile. After the Guelfs' defeat at Montaperti
(1260), Brunetto went to France. He returned to Florence after the
battle of Benevento (1266) when the Guelfs resumed control of Florence.
He held several political positions and was also famous as a teacher
in Florence. Dante places him among the homosexual in the Third Ring
of Circle 7, but Brunetto's homosexuality has not been confirmed by
Brutus (Canto 34). Marcus Brutus (c. 85 BC--42 BC) and Caius
Cassius were the principal assassins of Julius Caesar. Brutus had
sided with Pompey, but after the battle of Pharsala (48 BC) where
Pompey was routed, Caesar pardoned him and made him governor of Cisalpine
Gaul. Brutus joined Cassius in the conspiracy against Caesar who was
murdered in 44 BC. Dante places Brutus in the Fourth Zone of Circle
9, called Judecca and reserved for traitors of benefactors, into one
of Lucifer's mouths.
Buonconte da Montefeltro (Introduction, p. 1). Son of the more
famous Guido da Montefeltro, helped the Ghibellines in various battles
against the Guelfs of Florence. In 1289 he became captain of the Aretines
leading them at the battle of Campaldino (1289) where the Ghibellines
were defeated by the Guelfs and where Buonconte himself lost his life.
Dante was then 24 years old and was an assault cavalry man, for Guelf
Florence, at that battle. In the Divine Comedy Dante places
Buonconte in Ante-Purgatorio.
Buoso ( Canto 25). One of the five Florentine thieves placed
by Dante in the Second Ditch of Circle 8. Not much is known about
this Buoso. He is sometimes identified with Buoso di Forese Donati
who died in 1281. Not to be confused with the following Buoso Donati,
to whom however he may have been related.
Buoso Donati (Canto 30). Buoso Donati is mentioned in relation
to Gianni Schicchi, a famous impersonator of the Florentine Cavalcanti
family, who died around 1280 when Dante was around 15. Buoso Donati
apparently had no direct heirs. When he died, his nephew Simone persuaded
Gianni Schicchi to impersonate him from inside his death bed in order
to dictate a new will in favour of Simone. The result of the impersonation
was so perfect that both notary and witnesses were fully deceived.
Cacus (Canto 25). Son of Vulcan who lived in a cave. He stole
Hercules' cattle dragging them by ther tails backwards into the cave.
Hercules discovered the trick, went into the cave and killed Cacus.
Cacus is the symbol of thievery through fraud. Dante portrays Cacus
as a Centaur and places him in the Seventh Ditch of Circle 8.
Caiaphas (Canto 23). Caiaphas was the high priest of the Hebrews
who counseled the Pharisees that it would be advisable to crucify
Christ for the good of the people. Annas, Caiaphas' father-in-law,
and others concurred in the advise given to the Pharisees. Dante places
Caiaphas and all the others in the Sixth Ditch of Circle 8 which is
reserved for the Hypocrites.
Cain (Canto 32). The eldest son of Adam and Eve. In envy he
killed his brother Abel and became a fugitive. In Inferno,
Caina is named after him. Dante uses him also as an example of Envy
in Purgatorio (Canto 14.
Caina (Canto 32). Name given to the First Zone of Circle 9
where treachery to a relative is punished. The Zone is named after
Cain who killed his brother Abel, according to the book of Genesis.
Campaldino (Introduction, p. 1). A location some 30 miles N
of Arezzo and about 30 miles E of Florence (near the town of Poppi)
where the Ghibellines of Arezzo were defeated by the Guelfs of Florence.
Dante was at the battle as an assault cavalry man. The Ghibellines
were totally defeated and one of their leaders, Buonconte da Montefeltro,
was killed on the battle field.
Cangrande (Introduction, pp. 3, 6, 21). Cangrande della Scala,
lord of Verona, was born in 1290 and died in 1329. He ruled the city
in 1308 and from 1311 until his death. Cangrande hosted Dante during
his exile and Dante, as a sign of affection and gratitude, dedicated
to him his Paradiso. The dedication is contained in a lenghty letter
in which Dante expounds on the four levels of interpretation which
should be applicable to the Divine Comedy.
Cantica (Introduction, p. 11). The word cantica, plural cantiche,
indicates a major division of the Divine Comedy. The entire poem contains
three cantiche: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso. Each of these
is composed of 33 cantos. Inferno has also a introductury Canto
to the whole poem, therefore it contains 34 cantos.
Canto (Introduction, p. 11). One of the main division of a
long poem. The Divine Comedy is composed of 100 cantos.
Capaneus (Canto 14). One of the `Seven against Thebes'. During
the siege Capaneus alone succeeded in climbing on the city walls and
began taking them down piece by piece. While he was doing that, Capaneus
challanged anyone, including god, to stop him. Thus Jupiter struck
him down with his powerful thunderbolt. Dante takes the episode from
Statius' Thebaid (X, 845ff). In Inferno Capaneus is placed
among the Blasphemers in the Third Ring of Circle 7. (See also Thebes).
Capocchio (Canto 29). Name of an achemist from Siena placed
by Dante among the Falsifiers of metals, alchemists, in the Tenth
Ditch of Circle 8. According to early commentators, Dante knew him
since they studied together in a course on "natural philosophy". Capocchio
was burnt alive in Siena in 1293 for having practiced alchemy.
Capraia and Gorgona (Canto 33). Two small islands in
the Tyrrenean Sea, respectively N.W. and N. of the Island of Elba.
Both islands, during Dante's time were under the control of Pisa.
In the 'Canto of Ugolino", Dante calls on these two islands to move
towards the mainland and block the mouth of the Arno River, so as
to drown all the inhabitants of Pisa for having starved to death Count
Ugolino's four innocent children. (See also Pisa and Count Ugolino).
Cassius (Canto 34). Member of an acient Roman family, Caius
Cassius (d. 42 BC) was the leader in the successful conspiracy to
assassinate Julius Caesar. He supported Pompey against Caesar, but
after the battle of Pharsalia (48 BC) where Pompey was defeated, Caesar
pardoned him. Nontheless he became the ringleader in the plot to kill
Julius Caesar. More than fifty people were involved in the conspiracy,
among them was also Marcus Brutus. The plot was successful and Caesar
was murdered in 44 BC. Dante places Cassius in the Fourth Zone of
Circle 9, called Judecca and reserved for traitors, and puts him into
Catalano (Canto 23). Catalano de' Catalani (1210-1285) a Guelf,
and Loderingo degli AndalÚ (c. 1210-1293), a Ghibelline, were two
Jovial Friars from Bologna who were selected and called to administer
the city of Florence and to try to bring peace between the Guelfs
and the Ghibellines. The order of the Jovial Friars was a religious
and military order formed in 1261 with the purpose of defending and
helping the poor and the weak. Although both Catalano and Loderingo
had had previous experiences in other Italian cities, they did not
succeed in Florence. They also were accused by the Florentines of
hypocrisy and of having taken advantage of their position. Dante places
both of them in the Sixth Ditch of Circle 8 where are condemned the
Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti (Canto 10). Of a famous Florentine
Guelf family, father of the well-known poet and friend of Dante, Guido.
Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti died before 1280. He was known in Florence
as an Epicurean. The Epicureans believed that the individual soul
dies with the body. Dante places Cavalcante in the Sixth Circle, among
Guido. See under Guido Cavalcanti
Celestine V (Canto 3). Born in 1215, died in 1296. After two
years deadlock among the cardinals, he was elected pope succeeding
Nicholas IV. Celestine V reigned for a very short time: he was elected
in August and abdicated on December 13, 1294. Celestine V was a very
ineffectual and weak Pope. He was totally dominated by King Charles
II of Naples and pressed to resign by Benedetto Caetani who, with
the help of the King of Naples, secured his own election as pope and
became Boniface VIII----one of Dante's most hated popes.
Centaur (Canto 12). Mythological creature, half man and half
horse, Followers of Dionysus, the Centaurs were thought to be uncuth
and savage. In classical tradition they were represented as ferocious
and violent, always armed with arrows. However, some of them, such
as Chiron, became friends and teachers of men. Dante places the Centaurs
as guardians of the Tyrants and Murderers of Phegethon, in the First
Ring of Circle 7. The Centaurs are taken by early commentators to
represent the mercenaries which were hired by tyrants in Dante's time.
Cerberus (Canto 6). In mythology, a many-headed dog with a
mane and a tail of snakes. He guarded the entrance of Hades. Dante
makes him the guardian of Circle 3 where Gluttony is punished.
Chanson de Roland (Canto 31). An epic poem of medieval France,
composed around 1098-1100, describing the deeds of Charlemagne's army
which, on the Breton border, was commanded by the great hero Roland.
Roland was killed in a pass in the Pyrenees mountains when Basques
cut off the rear guard of the Frankish army which was returning from
the invasion of Spain in 778.
Charles of Valois (Introduction, p. 2). French prince and military
leader, son of King Philip III (Philip the Bold) of France. He was
born in 1270 and died in 1325. At the young age of 14 he was named
by Pope Martin IV to the crown of Aragon and Sicily, but was defeated
and renounced his claim in 1290 when he married Margaret of Anjou,
daughter of King Charles II of Naples, and received Anjou and Maine
as dowry. In 1300 Charles of Valois was called to Italy by Boniface
VIII for the purpose of making peace between the Blacks and the Whites
in Florence, and was sent to Florence in November 1301. In reality,
he was in favour of the Blacks who took control of the city. The Whites,
including Dante, were banished from the city in 1302.
Chiron (Canto 12). In mythology, a Centaur, son of Cronus,
renowned as a wise educator, scientist and musician. He is said to
have educated Hercules, Achilles and Jason. Dante places him as leader
of the Centaurs who guard the Tyrants and Murderers of Phlegethon,
in the First Ring of Circle 7.
Church Fathers (Introduction, p. 15). Collective name given
to Christian writers of early times, both of the East and of the West,
whose work is considered orthodox. The collection of their writings,
both in Greek and in Latin, goes under the name of Patristic Literature.
Ciacco (Canto 6). A Florentine of Dante's time. apparently
well known for his gluttony. Dante places him among the Gluttons of
Circle 3. With Ciacco we have the first "prophesy" about the historical
events in Florence after 1300. Ciacco tell Dante that the Whites will
defeat the Blacks (May Day 1300). He adds however that in less than
three years (April 1302) the Blacks will return to power with the
help of a powerful person (Pope Boniface VIII). As a result a great
number of Whites will be banished from Florence, and among them Dante
Cianfa (Canto 25). Cianfa Donati was a noble man, and one of
the five Florentines placed by Dante among the Thieves in the Seventh
Ditch of Canto 8. According to some early commentators, he was not
only a cattle thief, but also one who broke into shops to steal things.
Cicero (Canto 4). Marcus Tullius Cicero was a famous Roman
writer, philosopher and statesman, and the greatest Roman orator.
He was born in 106 BC and died in 43 BC. He liked Pompey and strongly
opposed Julius Caesar. Although Cicero did not take part in the assassination
of Caesar, he applauded it. Cicero was also a bitter enemy of Marc
Antony. When Octavian Augustus took Rome, he allowed Marc Antony to
put Cicero's name among those who were condemned to die and hence
he was executed. Cicero wrote many works, among which On Friendship,
On Duty, On Old Age, On ends, On the Nature of Gods in a masterful
Latin prose. These and other writings of Cicero were well known to
Dante who quotes them several times in his own works. In Inferno Cicero
is placed among the great men of antiquity in Limbo.
City states (Introduction, p. 18). A city state or commune
was an autonomous political unit consisting of a city and surrounding
countryside. The earliest communes arose in north and central Italy.
In the struggle between the Emperors and the Popes, the communes gained
a great deal of independence. In Italy, during the period of formation
and growth, the communes fought against the feudal families in the
countryside in order to consolidate their influence and domination.
Florence became an autonomous commune in the 12th century.
City of Dis (Cantos 8 and 9). Dis is both the name of the lower
part of Hell as well as another name for Satan, the King of Hell.
In lower Hell (Circles 6-9) are punished the sins of malice and bestiality,
while in upper Hell are punished the sins of incontinence. (For the
divison of Hell and for the organization of punishments there, see
Clement V (Canto 19). A Frenchman named Bertrand de Got (1264-1314),
made archibishop of Bordeaux by Boniface VIII. Through intrigues he
became Pope and reigned for nine years, from 1305 to 1314, but remained
under dictation of the French King Philip IV. Clement V moved the
Papacy from Rome to Avignon, France, in 1309. Thus it begins the period
of the so-called Babylonian Captivity which lasted until 1378 when
the Papacy was moved back to Rome. For Dante Clement V is even a worse
Pope than Boniface VIII. He places him (together with Pope Nicholas
III) in the Third Ditch of Circle 8, which is reserved for Simonist
Cleopatra (Canto 5). Queen of Egypt, lived from 69 BC to 30
BC. She was the daughter of Ptolomey XI. At the age of 14 she married
her younger brother Ptolomey XII. Cleopatra lead a revolt against
her brother and with the help of Julius Caesar won the kingdom. She
became the mistress of Caesar and followed him to Rome where she bore
him a son. After the murder of Caesar she returned to Egypt and in
42 BC she met Marc Antony who fell in love with her. They were married
in 36 BC. She was with him at the battle of Actium where he was defeated
by Octavian (later Augustus). She fled to Alexandria and Antony followed
her. Then Antony killed himself. Cleopatra tried to gain the love
of Octavian, but seeing that he was determined to take her captive
to Rome, she killed herself. Dante places her among the Lustful of
Circle 2 and calls her "the wanton Cleopatra".
Cocytus (Cantos 32-34). Name given to the frozen lake of Circle
9, immersed in which are the Traitors. They are divided into four
classes and are placed into four separate Zones: Caina, Antenora,
Ptolomea and Judecca. Cocytus' waters which descend to it from all
parts of Hell are frozen by the strong wind produced by the wings
Colonna (Canto 27). Noble Roman family that played a leading
part in the history of Rome from the 12th to the 16th Century. The
Colonnas were old enemies of the Orsinis' family and usually sided
with the Ghibellines. They were also bitter enemies of Boniface VIII
who excommunicated Sciarra Colonna and the rest of the house in 1297.
They left Rome, entrenched themselves in Palestrina, some 24 miles
E. of Rome, and remained in exile during the remainder of Pope Boniface's
reign. Sciarra Colonna fled to the court of King Philip IV of France
and led the French expedition that captured Boniface in 1303. Dante
recalls some aspects of their deeds in this canto, as well as in Purgatorio
Constantine, the Great (Canto 19). Roman Emperor, born c. 288
died in 337. Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 when he
defeated Maxentius. It is said that before the battle Constantine
saw in the sky a flaming cross with the words, "In this sign shalt
thou conquer". He adopted this motto and went to the battle with the
cross, certain of his victory. Constantine moved the seat of the Empire
from Rome to Byzentium which was renamed Constantinople after him.
However, before moving to the East, he "donated" Rome and the rest
of the temporal power of the West to the Pope, ostensibly for his
having been cured of leprosy by Pope Sylvester. This marks the beginning
of the territorial claim by the Church. The document of this "donation"
was generally believed true in the Middle Ages, although not universally
accepted. (The document was proven false only in the 15th century).
Dante believes that the document is true, but in his Monarchia he
objects on logical grounds. First, the Emperor has no right to give
the empire away because it doesn't belong to him, but to the people;
second, the Church, on the other hand, cannot accept such a "donation"
because of the express command of Christ to live in poverty. So he
blames Constantine for his action and the Church for accepting it.
Contrapasso (Canto 28). This term means counter penalty. The
first and only time that Dante uses the word is in Canto 28. The word
is uttered by Bertran de Born who is punished in the Ninth Ditch of
Circle 8, among the Sowers of Discord. Bertran has caused the rebellion
of Prince Henry against his father Henry II of England; i. e. he has
caused a division between the head and the body of a family, therefore
in Hell Bertran will go around with his head severed from his body,
holding it with his hand. Dante uses the law of contrapasso throughout
Inferno and Purgatorio. The concept of counter-penalty can be found
in the biblical law called Talion (the Law of Talion): the principle
or law of retaliation that a punishment inflicted should correspond
in degree and kind to the offence committed by the wrongdoer. The
principle is expressed in Exodus (21, 23ff), Leviticus (24, 17-20)
and Deuteronomy (19, 21). Aristotle uses the term--which is similar
in Greek--in the same sense in his Ethics. The term is also found
in scholastic writings; and in the Middle Ages the concept is also
widespread among the people.
Convivio (The Banquet) (Introduction, p. 8). Is one
of Dante's works, written in Italian in a commentary style between
1304 and 1308. The Convivio is a philosophical treatise on the subjects
of love and virtue. It is unfinished and it is composed of four books,
one of introduction and three more as commentary to three canzoni
which Dante had written earlier. Dante explains the meaning of the
canzoni in accordance to a fourfold system of interpretation: literal,
allegorical, moral and anagogical. In this work Dante also stresses
the importance of the Vulgar language which, according to him, is
"the new light and the new sun which will rise whereas the old [i.e.
the Latin language] will set".
Council of the Captains of the People (Introduction, p. 2).
Dante was a member of this Council from 1295 to 1296 when he was elected
to the Council of the Onehundred.
Count Ugolino (Canto 33). Ugolino della Gherardesca, count
of Donaratico, was the descendent of a noble Ghibelline family. In
1284 he became lord of Pisa. During the four years of his reign he
tried to foster the politics of equilibrium. The Guelfs cities of
Genoa, Florence and Lucca had organized in a coalition against Pisa.
In order and in the hope to come to an agreement with those cities,
Ugolino gave some Pisa strongholds to Lucca and to Florence. But in
1288 the Ghibelline party of Pisa, headed by archibishop Ruggieri
degli Ubaldini, with the backing of the powerful families of the Gualandi,
Sismondi and Lanfranchi, took control of the city. The story goes
that the Archbishop pretended to support Ugolino who at the time was
out of town. But when Ugolino returned to Pisa, the Archbishop arrested
him and locked him up in a tower with his two sons and his two nephews
who were with him at that time. They were kept in the tower from July
1288 to March 1289 when the tower was nailed shut and the prisoners
starved to death. Dante places Ugolino together with Archbishop Ruggieri
among the Traitors, in the Second Zone of Circle 9, called Antenora.
Cowardly, The (Canto 3). Ancient commentators defined the Cowardly
by appropriating the definition given by Dante in this Canto: "the
sorry souls of those who lived without infamy and without praise"
(vv. 35-36). The underlying idea being that the human beings can be
divided into three large groups: the good, the bad, and the no-good-and-no-bad.
This last group does not belong either to the first or to the second
group because they are pusillanimous, that is to say, they lack courage
or resolution to embrace either vice or virtue. They are placed in
Ante-Hell, because even Hell proper rejects them. As punishment they
must race eternally pursuing banners that run before them; at the
same time they are being stung by wasps and flies so that they must
Curio (Canto 28). Caius Curio was made a tribune of the plebs
in Rome in 50 BC. At first he sided with the Pompeian party. Then
he leaned toward Caesar. He was exiled from Rome and joined Caesar
in Ravenna in 49 BC. At that time Caesar was at the famous Rubicon
river which constituted the boundary between Cisalpine Gaul and the
republican territory. When the Roman Senate enjoined Caesar to dismiss
the troops and not to cross the Rubicon, Caesar became hesitant. But
Curio--in the words of Dante--"quenched Caesar's hesitation" about
crossing and invading the Roman Republic. Dante places Curio among
the Sowers of political Discord in the Ninth Ditch of Circle 8.
Daedalus (Canto 29). In mythology, a craftsman and inventor.
After killing his apprentice Telos in envy, Daedalus moved from Greece
to Crete, at the court of King Minos, husband of PasiphaŽ. There he
built for her--who had developed an insane passion for her husband's
white bull--a hollow wooden cow inside of which she would go to satisfy
her passion. When out of this union the Minotaur was born, Daedalus
built for the King the Minotaur's labyrinth. Afterwards Daedalus wanted
to leave the court. But Minos refused to let him leave, so Daedalus
built wings of wax and feathers for himself and his son Icarus to
excape. They flew together and Daedalus reached Sicily in safety.
Icarus then flew, against his father's advice, too close to the sun;
so the wax melted and he fell to his death. Daedalus is mentioned
by Griffolino who is condemned among the Falsifiers in the Tenth Ditch
of Circle 8. (See also Minos, Minotaur and PasiphaŽ).
De vulgari eloquentia (On the Vulgar Language) (Introduction,
p. 4). A treatise in Latin written by Dante in 1308 about the Italian
language. The work was to consist of four books, but only the first
and part of the second were actually completed. In This treatise Dante
envisions a common language for all of Italy based on the best qualities
of each dialect spoken during Dante's time.
De Monarchia (On World Government) (Introduction, p.
5). A treatise in Latin written by Dante probably during Henry VII
of Luxembourg's descent into Italy (1310-1313). In this work Dante
takes into consideration the idea of a universal monarchy which, according
to him, is necessary for the wellbeing of the people. Dante believes
that this monarchy belongs by right to the Roman people, and that
this right comes from God. At the end of the book, Dante envisions
two supreme guides for humanity, totally in authority separate the
one from the other: the Pope, and the Emperor. The Pope is designed
by God to take care of the spiritual needs of the people, the Emperor
also designed by God is to take care of the material needs of the
people. Therefore in this treatise Dante propounds the separation
between Church and State.
Decameron(Canto 8). A collection of 100 witty tales
set against the background of the Black Plague. The tales written
in Italian by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) treat a variety of characters
and events. In one of his tales Boccaccio describes Ciacco (Canto
8) as a glutton, and Filippo Argenti (Canto 8) as an arrogant and
Deuteronomy (Introduction, p. 23). Book of the Old Testament,
last of the books of the Law, believed to be written by Moses. It
is mentioned here in connection with the concept of contrapasso which
in Deuteronomy is expressed as follows: "Your eye shall not pity;
it shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for
hand, foot for foot". ( Deut. 19, 21).
Dido (Canto 5). Queen of Carthage. In the IV book of the Aeneid
Virgil tells how Dido fell in love with Aeneas who had been shipwrecked
at Carthage. When Aeneas, at Jupiter's command, had to resume the
continuation of his journey on to Italy, Dido killed herself. In the
Middle Ages this event was considered as an allegory of the contrast
between reason and passion. In fact, this was the interpretation that
Dante himself had given of the episode in his Convivio (IV, xxvi 8).
Diomedes (Canto 26). Ulysses and Diomedes were two among the
most famous Greek heroes in the Trojan war. Ulysses, or Odysseus,
King of Ithaca, was noted for his cunning strategy; Diomedes, son
of Tydaeus (who was killed in the expedition of the seven Greek kings
against Thebes), was noted for his courage. They are punished together
because they participated together in misdeeds, among which are the
theft of the Palladium--the sacred image kept in the temple of Athena
at Troy which protected the city from the enemy--and the stratagem
of the wooden horse by means of which Troy was taken. Dante places
Ulysses and Diomedes together, enveloped in a single flame, among
the Evil Counselors in the Eighth Ditch of Circle 8. (See also under
under City of Dis).
Constantine(See under Constantine).
Ebro (Introduction, p. 17). River of Spain, rising in the Cantabrian
mountains in N. Spain and flowing SE. for more than 550 miles to empty
in the Mediterranean SW. of Barcelona. Dante locates the source of
the Ebro 90 W. of Jerusalem, 90 E. of the Mountain of Purgatory and
180 from the mouth of the Ganges river. So Jerusalem is placed exactly
in the Middle, equidistant from the Ganges to the E. and from the
Ebro to the W. Therefore the Mountain of Purgatory is 180 E. and W.
of Jerusalem, at the antipodes.
Egloghe (Eclogues) (Introduction, p. 6). The Eclogues
are two poetical compositions written by Dante in Latin and addressed
to Giovanni del Virgilio, a professor at the University of Bologna.
Giovanni del Virgilio had written to Dante a Latin poem urging him
to write a contemporary history in Latin. According to Giovanni del
Virgilio, if Dante did that, he would certainly attain fame. In his
answer, Dante expresses his fervid hope to receive fame and poetical
laurel not for his Latin works but for his poetry written in Italian.
Empyrean (Introduction, p. 16). The highest heaven, seat of
God, of the angelic orders and of the blessed in Paradise. For Dante
it is the tenth heaven of Paradise, the Rime Mover of the other heavens,
but itself immoble. It is composed of pure light and replete with
love; it has a shape of a vast white rose in which are the seats of
Ephialtes (Canto 31). In mythology, a giant born from Neptune
and Iphimedia who, with twin brother Otus tried to reach heaven in
order to ovethrow the gods by piling Mt. Odessa on Mt. Pelion. This
would have given them the advantage to attack Mt. Olympus, abode of
the gods. Dante uses Ephialtes, together with Antaeus, Briareus and
Nimrod, as a guard at the edge of Circle 9.
Epicurus (Canto 10). Greek philosopher born in Samos in c.
342 BC., died in 279 BC. He claimed to be self-taught, but tradition
has it that he was schooled in the systems of Plato and Democritus
by his father and by other philosophers. In 306 he moved from Samos
to Athens where he opened a philosophical school. The main tenet of
the Epicurean School was that the highest good in life was not to
be sought in methaphisics but in ethics, and precisely in pleasure
or absence of pain. In the Middle Ages Epicurus had become a symbol
"of those who believe that the soul dies with the body", as Dante
puts it in this Canto. Therefore Dante places him among the Heretics
of Circle 6 who deny the immortality of the soul.
Epistles (Letters) (Introduction, p. 6). Of the Epistles
written by Dante only thirteen are extant and considered authentic.
The authenticity of Letter XIII, addressed to Cangrande, his Veronese
friend and patron to whom the Paradiso is dedicated, is controversial.
This letter is famous because it expounds on the four levels of interpretation
which should be applicable to the Divine Comedy. Other notable letters
are the one written to Henry VII of Luxembourg on the occasion of
his coming to Italy and, the one to "His Florentine friend" written
in 1316 in which Dante refuses to accept the humiliating conditions
set by Florence for his return from exile.
Eunoe (Introduction, p. 25). A name given by Dante to one of
the two rivers in Earthly Paradise. The function of Eunoe is that
of restoring the memory of good things. The other river is called
Lethe which has the power of taking away the memory of sin. In Earthly
Paradise Dante first passes through the waters of Lethe and then drinks
from the waters of Eunoe, in the presence of Beatrice. (See Purgatorio,
Canto 33, vv. 127ff.).
Eunuchus (Canto 18). A play by the Roman writer Terence (c.
195 BC.-159 BC.) which Dante probably knew and might have followed
(at least to a certain extent) for the description of the harlot Thais,
at the end of this Canto. The play was commented by Cicero in his
De amicitia as well as by John of Salisbury in his Polycraticus, and
it is very likely that Dante used the latter as his source. (See also
Terence and Thais).
Evil Counselors (Canto 26 & 27). Because on earth the Evil
Counselors used their tongue to the concealement of their real mind,
in Hell their are enveloped in a tongue of fire. Dante may have taken
the idea of the tongue and the fire from the Letter of James (Chapter
3). Example of Evil Counselors are Ulysses and Diomedes in Canto 26
and Guido da Montefeltro in Canto 27. Ther are placed by Dante in
the Eight Ditch of Circle 8.
Evil-pouches (Introduction, p. 29). It is the literal translation
of the Italian "malebolge", a name used by Dante to indicate the ten
Ditches into which is divided Circle 8. In this circle is punished
the first class of Fraudulent, i.e. the class of practitioners of
fraud upon those who do not trust them, which Dante divides into ten
sub-classes. The pouches or, better, Ditches are separated from each
other by big walls and connected by a series of bridges. Dante and
Virgil do not descend into the Ditches but keep along the banks and
cross over the bridges, with two exceptions. One is the Third Ditch,
in Canto 19, where Dante descends as he wants to talk directly and
closely to the Simonist Popes; the other is the Sixth Ditch, in Canto
23, because the bridges cannot be used having been broken by the earthquake
that took place in the year 34, when Christ died.
Exodus (Introduction, p. 23). Book of the Old Testament,
second of the five books of the Law ascribed by tradition to Moses.
It is mentioned here in connection with the concept of contrapasso
which in Exodus is expressed as follows: "...If death follows, then
you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for
hand, footh for footh, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for
stripe". (Exodus 21, 23-25).
Falsifiers (Canto 29 & 30). The Falsifiers are those who pervert
the physical world by means of deception. As in life they corrupted
nature by some forms of falsification, so in death they are corrupted
by some form of disease. Falsifiers of metals or alchemists are punished
with leprosy (Griffolino of Arezzo and Capocchio); Falsifiers of persons
are punished with madness (Gianni Schicchi and Myrrha); Falsifiers
of coins are punished with dropsy (Master Adam and Guidi of Romena);
Falsifiers of words are punished with a raging fever (Potiphar's wife
and the Greek Sinon).
Fano (Canto 28). City in the Marche region, in central Italy,
on the Adriatic sea. An important town in Roman times, it was the
scene of the victory by Rome over Carthage in 207 BC. To commemorate
the victory the Romans built there a temple (called fanum in Latin)
to the goddess Fortune. The city was later destroyed by the Goths,
however it florished again under the Malatesta family of Rimini during
Dante's time. It is mentioned here by Pier da Medicina who is placed
by Dante among the Sowers of political discord in the Ninth Ditch
of Circle 8.
Farinata degli Uberti (Canto 10). The most important man of
the Ghibelline faction in the 13th century history of Florence. In
1248 he expelled the Guelfs from Florence, but they returned and in
1258 expelled the Ghibellines, including Farinata who took refuge
in Siena. His name is strictly connected with the battle of Montaperti
(a town near Siena) in 1260. Here the Guelf forces lead by the Florentines
were totally overcome. Following their victory the Ghibellines held
a council in Empoli, near Florence, in which it was decided to destroy
Florence. Farinata was the only Ghibelline to oppose this plan, and
so Florence was spared. Farinata died in 1264. A few years later,
in 1283, a trial was held in Florence against him and he was posthumously
condemned as a heretic. The problem of heresy was strongly felt during
Dante's time. It is important to remember that sects of heretics were
widely spread in Italy, Florence included. Many Ghibellines were known
as heretics. Dante places Farinata among the Heretics of Circle 6.
Filippo Argenti (Canto 8). Filippo of the Florentine Adimari
family was called "Argenti" because--as Boccaccio tells us--he used
to shoe his horse with silver. Although we do not know much about
him, he was known as an arrogant and presumptuous person. This is
obvious in Dante's episode here, and it is confirmed, or repeated,
by Boccaccio in a story of his Decameron (IX, 8). Dante places
him among the Wrathful of Circle 5.
Flatterers (Canto 18). Only the last 36 lines of the Canto
are dedicated to the Flatterers. Their are sunk up to their lips and
nostrils in human excrement, the true equivalent of flattery. They
are placed in the Second Ditch of Circle 8. Among them are Alessio
Interminelli and Thais.
Florin (Canto 30). A gold coin of Florence, stamped with a
lily and first coined in 1252. It is mentioned here in connection
with counts Guidi of Romena who induced Master Adam, a famous falsifier
of money, to counterfeit the Florin for them. Master Adam was discovered
and burned at the stake in Florence in 1281, when Dante was 16. (See
also Master Adam).
Fortune (Canto 7). Dante's conception of Fortune in this Canto
is that of a "general mistress and guide", a handmaid of God appointed
for the distribution of wordly goods. This conception is in opposition
to the traditional one that represented Fortune as a capricious goddess
in blindfold who turned the wheel at random. The idea that Fortune
is a divine Intelligence, or Divine Providence, is also espressed
by Dante in the Monarchia (II, ix, 8), and is the same conception
already delineated by Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy (IV,
Fra Alberico (Canto 33). Alberico dei Manfredi from Faenza
(N. central Italy, SE. of Bologna) was a Jovial Friar and one of the
leaders of the Guelf party of the city. In 1285 he invited his brother
and his brother's son to dinner in his villa. After dinner, when Alberco
called out "Bring the fruit!", some assassins hired by Alberico appeared
into the room and murdered his brother and his nephew. The expression
"bring the fruit" passed into a proverb and Dante has Alberico say,
"I am the one of the fruit" (v. 119). Fra Alberico is placed by Dante
in the Third Zone of Circle 9, called Ptolomea, where Treachery to
friends and guests is punished.
Fra Dolcino (Canto 28). Dolcino Torricelli from Novara (NW.
Italy, in Piedmont) was popularly known as "Fra" ( Brother) Dolcino
for being a leader of a heretical sect called the Apostolic Brothers.
The sect was widely followed in northern Italy. They preached the
common holding of property and the sharing of women. In 1305 Pope
Clement V launched a crusade against the sect. Fra Dolcino and many
of his followers entrenched themselves in the hills of Novara and
defied for more than a year the Pope's soldiers. In 1307 Fra Dolcino
gave up after many of his followers had died of starvation. Fra Dolcino
was captured and was burned at the stake in Novara in 1307. Dante
places him among the Sower of religious discord, in the Ninth Ditch
of Circle 8.
Fra Gomita (Canto 22). A friar and chancellor of Nino Visconti
of Pisa for the Gallura region in NE. Sardinia during the period 1275-1296.
Not much is known about him. It seems that he was accused of barratry
and of having taken bribes. Because of this Nino had him hanged. Dante
places Fra Gomita, along with Ciampolo and Michele Zanche, in the
Fifth Ditch of Circle 8, where Barratry is punished.
Francesca da Rimini (Canto 5). Daughter of Guido da Polenta,
the Elder, Lord of Ravenna, and therefore aunt of Guido Novello who
hosted Dante during the last years of his exile. Francesca was given
in marriage to Gianciotto Malatesta of Rimini in 1275 for political
reasons. But then she fell in love with her husband's brother Paolo.
When Gianciotto discovered their adulterous affair, he killed both
of them. This happened between 1283-1285, when Dante was 18-20 years
old. Although we do not have any document, the fact must have been
well known also in Florence where Paolo had served as Captain of the
People in 1282. Dante places Francesca, together with Paolo, among
the Lustful or carnal sinners of Circle 2.
Francesco d'Accorso (Canto 15). Born in 1225, the son of the
Florentine jurist Accursio, Francesco was a celebrated professor of
jurisprudence at the University of Bologna. Then in 1273 Edward I,
King of England (1272-1307), called him to England where Francesco
lectured for a few years at Oxford. In 1281 he returned to Bologna
where he died in 1293. Dante places Francesco d'Accorso, together
with Priscian and Brunetto Latini--two "men of letters and of great
fame", as Dante tells us--among the Sodomites in the Third Ring of
Francesco de' Cavalcanti (Canto 25). Member of the famous Cavalcanti
family of Florence, was murdered by the inhabitants of Gaville, a
small village near Florence. Soon the Cavalcantis avenged his death
and they did it to such an extent that, as the story goes, there was
practically none left alive in Gaville. But no documents have been
found to confirm this news. Dante places him, with four other Florentines
(Cianfa, Agnello, Buoso, and Puccio Sciancato), among the Thieves
in the Seventh Ditch of Circle 8.
Francesco d'Assisi (Canto 27). St. Francis of Assisi, son of
the rich merchant Piero Bernascone, was born in 1182 and died in 1226.
Founder of the Franciscan order and one of the greatest Christian
saints, St. Francis has had a profound influence in Western civilization
since the 12th century. Dante places him in Paradiso. Here he is mentioned
in relation to Guido da Montefeltro's death. After a sinful life,
Guido had converted and had become a Franciscan monk. But then he
gave the evil advise to Boniface VIII committing a horrible sin again.
When he died (in 1298, in the Franciscan monastery in Assisi) St.
Francis came to claim Guido's soul. But the Devil too had come to
claim him. The Devil won and sent Guido to Hell.
Fraudulent, The (For description, Canto 11, lines 52-66). A
fraudulent is someone who commits fraud or a willful act intended
to deprive another of some right. The act in a fraud is motivated
by the perpetrator's desire to deceive another with the intent of
causing harm. In Dante's Inferno, Fraud is one of the two great divisons
of sins punished inside the City of Dis, namely in Lower Hell; the
other is Violence which is considered a lighter sin than Fraud and
as such it is placed in the upper part of the City of Dis. Fraud is
peculiar to human beings because in committing an evil act, or "injustice"
against another, the will is used. There are two kinds of fraud: (1)
fraud done against those who do not trust the fraudulent, and (2)
fraud committed against those who trust the perpetrator. Fraud takes
up the last two Circles of Inferno, 8 and 9. In Circle 8 which is
subdivided into ten Ditches are placed ten different kinds of simple
fraud. Here are punished, in order, the Seducers, the Flatterers,
the Simonists, the Soothsayers, the Barrators, the Hypocrites, the
Thieves, the Evil Counselors, the Sowers of Discord, and the Falsifiers.
In Circle 9 are placed the Traitors, subdivided into four Zones with
four different names, each for a specific kind of traitor: (1) Caina,
for Traitors of relatives, (2) Antenora, for Traitors of country or
political party, (3) Ptolomea, for Traitors of guests, and (4) Judecca,
for Traitors of benefactors. (The upper Circle inside the City of
Dis, Circle 7, is reserved for Violence).
Frederick I (Introduction, p. 18). Frederick Barbarossa, c.
1125-1190, was Holy Roman Emperor from 1155 until his death. He was
also a German King. In Italy Frederick's policy was to restore the
imperial power, a difficult task because it was difficult for him
to conciliate the Pope. He entered Italy in 1154 and was crowned Emperor
in Rome, but soon had to return to Germany. In 1158 Frederick re-entered
Italy seizing Milan, and so he became King of the Lombards. In 1166
he captured Rome and was proposing to fight against the Pope's Sicilian
allies, but his army was destroyed by an epidemic. In 1167 the powerful
Lombard League, an alliance of Lombard communes, fought against him
and Frederick had to retreat to Germany. In 1174 he returned to Italy,
but was defeated two years later by the League. Now he reconciled
with the Pope. Later, in 1189, he set out on the Third Crusade and
drowned in Cilicia a year later. Frederick is mentioned here in relation
to the period of formation and growth of the Italian free communes
which had to fight against his invading army.
Frederick II (Canto 10 & 13). Son of Henry VI and of Constance
of Sicily and gradson of Barbarossa, Frederick II was King of the
Two Sicilies and Holy Roman Emperor from 1215 until his death in 1250.
His figure dominates the entire 13th century. Renowned for his policy
of reuniting the Empire, he was able to gather around him all the
Ghibellines of Italy. He also patronized science and philosophy and
was interested in medicine, mathematics, astronomy and astrology.
He made the Sicilian court one of greatest cultural centers of the
13th century. A poet himself, the Sicilian School of poetry flourished
under him. He persecuted the heretics, but at the same time he was
considered a heretic himself, and was always at odds with the Pope.
Dante speaks of him with admiration in the Convivio and in De vulgari
eloquentia, as well as in Inferno (Canto 13, line 75) and in Purgatorio.
But he places him in Circle 6, among the Heretics of Canto 10.
Furies (Canto 9). Latin name of the Greek Erinyes or goddesses
of vengeance in classical mythology. Daughters of Earth or of Night,
the Furies were usually represented as three ugly creatures with snakes
for hair. Their names were Megaera, Tisiphone and Alecto. In medieval
tradition they were symbolic of the three classic forms that evil
appears in man: in his mind, in his words, in his actions. The Furies
are guardians of the City of Dis. Therefore, at the entrance to the
City, the represent the forces of evil which are opposing the wayfarer's
voyage in search of salvation. This is the strongest impediment that
Dante has encountered so far. And Virgil--that is human reason--is
insufficient here to remove the impediment.
Ganges (Introduction, p. 17). River in India which rises in
the Himalayas and flows eastward to empty in the Bay of Bengal. For
Dante the Ganges river marks the eastern horizon and the easternmost
point of the inhabited world, while the westernmost point is represented
by the mouth of the Ebro river (or, also Cadiz). The two points are
180o apart from each other. When it is 6:00 a.m. at the Ganges, it
is 6:00 p.m. at the mouth of the Ebro, midnight in Jerusalem and noon
on the mountain of Purgatory. (See also under Ebro).
Gentucca (Introduction, p. 3). An unidentified lady from Lucca
(W. Tuscany) who showed hospitality and protection to the exiled Dante.
Dante mentions her in Canto 34 of Purgatorio.
Geri del Bello (Canto 29). Geri del Bello di Alighiero I was
a first cousin of Dante's father. He was a Guelf and therefore exiled
after the Guelfs' defeat of 1260. He is mentioned in a Bolognese document
in 1276, and was condemned in absentia in Prato (some 15 mi. N.W.
of Florence) for having assaulted a citizen there. Dante's sons tell
us that Geri was killed by Pietro Sacchetti, a member of a family
that had been feuding with the Alighieris for some time. Dante places
him among the Sowers of Discord, in the Ninth Ditch of Circle 8. In
this Canto Dante explains to Virgil that Geri is angry at him because
no one in his family has avenged him yet (i.e. in 1300, fictional
date of Dante's voyage). In Dante's time relatives of a murdered person
had the legal right of vindication which was a common practice. Geri
was finally vindicated by a nephew of his in 1310, when Dante was
about to finish the writing of Inferno.
Geryon (Canto 17). A mythological monster with three heads
and three bodies. Dante portrays him with the face of a just man,
two hairy paws, the rest of the body like that of a serpent and with
a forked tail similar to a scorpion's pinchers. Dante makes Geryon
the guardian of the Fraudulent. There is nothing in classical mythology
to suggest a figure similar to the one described here by Dante. Dante
borrows from the Apocalypse (9, 7-10 and 12, 9) and relative patristic
comments where the dragon represents the figure of the of the ancient
Serpent, i.e. Satan. In a comment attributed incorrectly to St. Thomas,
Geryon is the symbol of "fraudulent deception". In portraying the
monster, Dante also takes from the lore relative to scorpions which
were assumed as symbol of deceit because it was believed that scorpions
approached the unsuspecting prey with a pleasant and flattering face,
but then killed it with its poisonous tail.
Ghibellines and Guelfs (Introduction, p. 1 etc.). The Guelfs
and the Ghibellines were opposing political factions in Germany and
in Italy during the later Middle Ages. The names were used to designate
the papal party (Guelfs) and the imperial party (Ghibellines) during
the long period of struggle for supremacy between Popes and Emperors.
In Italy the names were first used in the 13th century in Florence
to designate the supporters of Otto IV (of the old Guelfs's dynasty)
and the supporters of the Ghibelline Frederick II (of the powerful
House of the Hohenstaufens). According the Florentine historian Giovanni
Villani (c. 1275-1348), the names were introduced into Florence on
the occasion of a quarrel between two families: the Buondelmontis
and the Amideis. Originally, however, in Italy the names were first
used in Pistoia (some 23 mi. N.W. of Florence) during Frederick Barbarossa's
campaign in Tuscany. In Italy many noble families (the Della Scalas
of Verona, the Montefeltros of Urbino, the Viscontis of Milan, the
Colonnas of Rome) were Ghibellines. During this period Italian cities
and towns had no fixed party alliance. Milan, Florence, Genoa were
usually Guelf; Pisa, Arezzo, Siena were normally Ghibellines. In the
latter part of the century, with the total defeat of the Gibellines
at Campaldino in 1289, the Guelfs remained the undisputed lords of
Florence. Soon, however, they divided into Black Guelfs and White
Guelfs with hostilities beginning on May 1, 1300. The Blacks were
associated with the Papacy. In 1300 the Whites expelled the Blacks
from Florence. But the exiled Blacks regained control of the city
in 1302 with the help of Boniface VIII. The Whites were banished from
Florence, and thus Dante's exile began.
Gianni Schicchi (Canto 30). Gianni Schicchi, of the Cavalcanti
family of Florence, was renowned for his ability to impersonate. By
1280 he was already dead, but he must have left quite an impression
on the teenaged Dante. Gianni Schicchi is mentioned in relation to
Simone Donati who had asked him to impersonate his dead uncle, Buoso
Donati, for the purpose of changing the latter's last will (see also
under Buoso Donati). Dante places Gianni Schicchi among the Falsifiers
(of persons) in the Tenth Ditch of Circle 8.
Giotto (Canto 17). Giotto di Bondone (c. 1226-c.1337) was a
very famous Florentine painter, a contemporary and a very good friend
of Dante. A pupil of Cimabue, Giotto broke with the old tradition
and gave a new life to the art of painting in Italy. He is mentioned
here in connection with the Scrovegni family of Padua who practiced
usury. A member of the Scrovegni family, Reginaldo degli Scrovegni,
in atonement of his father's sin of usury, erected the Scrovegni's
Chapel in Padua. In 1303-4 Giotto began to paint in this chapel a
series of frescos which are among the greatest works of Italian art.
Giotto is placed by Dante in Purgatorio. (See also Padua and Scrovegli
Giovanni del Virgilio (Introduction, p. 6). He was a professor
at the University of Bologna from 1318 to 1325. In 1319 Giovanni del
Virgilio wrote a letter to Dante (who was by this time in Ravenna)
showing sincere appreciation for his genius, but blaming him for writing
in Italian. Therefore Giovanni suggested to Dante to write a treatise
on contemporary history in Latin, as this--according to Giovanni del
Virgilio--would be a sure way for Dante to acquire fame. Dante answered
with two eclogues propounding his fervid hope to receive fame for
his poetry written in Italian.
Gluttons (Canto 6). Gluttony is a vice of incontinence, namely
eating and/or drinking excessively. Gluttony is one of the seven capital
sins. In the moral organization of Inferno, Dante places Gluttony
after the sin of Lust because traditionally the former was considered
as a more serious sin than the latter. In fact gluttony was considered
a direct cause of lust. Dante places the Glutton in Circle 3. Here
we find the Florentine glutton Ciacco.
Golden Age (Canto 14). The concept of the "golden age" is expressed
by Dante in Purgatorio (Canto 22, line 148) as the first age of man.
Originally it was a concept already found in classical mythology and
systematized by the poets Hesiod and Ovid. They delineate the history
of man through four ages: the Golden Age (a period of peace and tranquillity),
the Silver Age (a less happy period in which luxury started to prevail),
the Bronze Age (a period of strife and friction), and the Iron Age
(the present time, a time of travail and suffering without justice
and godliness). The expression is used here in connection with the
Old Man of Crete, the Great Elder whom Dante places within the mountain
and whose body is made up, from his head down, of gold, silver, brass,
iron and with his right foot of clay. Dante combines the description
of the ancient poets with a description in the Book of Daniel (2,
32-33). So that for Dante the figure not only represents the history
of humanity in the absolute sense, but also that same history of humanity
considered from the point of view of evil and sin.
Gorgon (Canto 9). In mythology, one of the three monstrous
sisters by the names Stheno, Euryale and Medusa. Their hair was a
cluster of snakes and their faces were so hideous and ugly that anyone
who saw them was turned to stone. The reference here is to the Gorgon
Medusa. The three Furies guarding the City of Dis call Medusa to come
and turn Dante to stone to prevent his entrance into that City. (See
also under Furies).
Griffolino (Canto 29). He was from Arezzo but lived in Siena
and was a great alchemist. Once he obtained money from a certain silly
man by the name Albero, or Alberto (who was perhaps the natural son
of the bishop of Siena) pretending to show him the magic art of flying.
Alberto reported him to the bishop and Griffolino was burned alive
as a heretic, in 1272. The distinction between magic and heresy was
not clearcut during this time, so that frequently magicians were condemned
Guelfs (See under Ghibellines and Guelfs).
See Bonatti, Guido
Guido Cavalcanti (Canto 10). Son of Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti,
Guido was the most important Florentine poet in Dante's time. He was
born fifteen years before Dante's birth and died in 1300, at the age
of 50. In relation to time, Guido Cavalcanti is considered second
to Guido Guinizzelli in the Sweet New Style School. After Dante Guido
Cavalcanti is the most prominent poet of the Sweet New Style and of
the 13th century. Dante considered his as his "friend" and calls him
"the first among my friends" in the Vita Nuova. Descendent of a noble
family, Guido was also active in Florentine political life. He was
a Guelf and had married the daughter of Farinata (a Ghibelline) at
a time when efforts were being made to bring together the two opposing
political factions. As many intellectual men of the period, Guido
too denied the immortality of the soul and therefore he was a heretic.
Dante places him among the Heretics of Circle 6, where Guido's father-in-law,
Farinata, is also found.
Guido da Montefeltro (Canto 27). Guido, lord of Montefeltro
county (W. and S. of the Republic of San Marino), was born c. 1220
and died in 1298. In 1268 he was the vicar of Corradino. As a great
Ghibelline leader he won many battles against the Guelfs. When he
was about 68 years old, in 1286, Guido made his submission to the
Pope and was reconciled to the Church. But the Pope excommunicated
him and banished him to Asti (N. W. Italy, in Piedmont). In 1289 Guido
went to Pisa and became captain in the successful war of the Ghibellines
against the Guelfs in Tuscany; and in 1292 he was honored for his
victory in Florence. Then he became lord of Urbino, reconciled once
again with the Church and finally entered the Franciscan order. He
died in the Franciscan monastery at Assisi. When he died St. Francis
came to claim Guido's soul. But the Devil too had come to claim him
because he had sinned by giving the fraudulent counsel to Boniface
VIII so that the Pope, by giving a promise to the Colonnas and not
keeping it, could overcome them. The Devil won and sent Guido's soul
to Hell. Dante places Guido among the Evil Counselors in the Eighth
Ditch of Circle 8. (See also under Colonna and Francesco d'Assisi).
Guido Da Romena (Canto 30). One of the counts Guidi of Romena
(the castle of Romena is located some 55 mi. E. of Florence). The
three brothers Guido II, Alessandro and Anghinolfo, counts of Romena,
hired the famous counterfeiter of money Master Adam to counterfeit
for them the gold florin. The counterfeiting of the florin was considered
as one of the gravest crime in Florence. Master Adam was caught and
burned at the stakes in Florence in 1281. (See also under Master Adam
Guido Novello da Polenta (Introduction, p. 3 and Canto 27).
In canto 27 the reference is to Da Polentas, a Guelf family whose
members had been ruling Ravenna since 1273. They took their name from
the village of Polenta (about 60 mi. S. of Ravenna and 15 mi. S. W.
of Cesena) where they had a castle. In the year 1300 (again, fictional
date of Dante's voyage) Ravenna was ruled by Guido the Elder who died
in 1310. He was the father of Francesca da Rimini and grandfather
to Guido Novello da Polenta. Dante was the gust of Guido Novello at
Ravenna during the last few years of his life, from c.1318 to 1321.
Guido Guerra (Canto 16). One of the Counts Guidi (of the Dovadola
line) Guido Guerra was born around 1220 and spent his youth at the
court of Frederick II. After returning to Florence he became one of
the most resolute supporter of the Guelf party in Tuscany. In 1255
he was the captain of the Florentine Guelfs against the Ghibellines
of Arezzo. After Montaperti he was the leader of the Guelfs in the
battle of Benevento, in 1266, where Manfred was defeated. He died
in 1272. Dante places Guido Guerra, together with Jacopo Rusticucci
and Tegghiaio among the Sodomites, in the Third Ring of Circle 7.
Guido Guinizzelli (Introduction, p. 10). Born in Bologna around
1230, Guido Guinizzelli was one of the most famous poets of the generation
before Dante. Dante calls him "the father of me and of the others--those
my betters--who ever used sweet and gracious rhymes of love" (Purgatorio
26, 97-99). Guido Guinizzelli was the first poet of the Sweet New
Style School, as defined by Dante in Purgatorio (24, 57). In his philosophical
canzone Al cor gentil reimpara sempre amore, Guinizzelli sets forth
the basic tenets of the Sweet New Style. He is able to fuse love and
the gentle heart into a new unity, natural and necessary, in which
the lady assumes the quality of an angel sent from Heaven to show
noble sentiments in men and to bestow on them salute, that is salvation
or deliverance from evil. Guido Guinizzelli is mentioned many times
by Dante in the Convivio and in the Vulgari eloquentia. Dante places
Guido Guinizzelli among the Lustful of Purgatorio (Canto 26).
Harpies (Canto 13). Foul mythological monsters with a face
of a woman and a body of a bird of prey. In the Aeneid (3, 209-257)
they foul up with their excrements the Trojans' tables in the Strophades
(islands in the Ionian Sea) forcing Aeneas and his companions to flee.
Dante places them as tormentors of the Suicides in the Second Ring
of Circle 7. The Harpies here represent the suicides' violence against
themselves and the unending torment that is always with them, as the
Harpies' function is to feed on the suicides-plants causing pain and
Harrowing of Hell (Canto 4). Christ descent into Limbo is known
as the Harrowing of Hell. Christ descended into Limbo after his death
in 33 A.D. to remove the just of the Old Testament and take them to
Paradise. Christ descent, according to Dante's Virgil, was witnessed
by Virgil himself who had been in Limbo for some 50 years (Virgil
died in 19 B.C.). Hence the Harrowing of Hell, which was proclaimed
as a Church dogma only at the ecumenical Lateran council of 1215 (and
confirmed as such some 60 years later at the ecumenical council of
Lyon in 1274), is here presented as having been witnessed by a pagan
spirit (Virgil) more than a thousand years before the proclamation
of the dogma by the Church. This is important to Dante, because the
new article of faith, i.e. the Harrowing of Hell, was not supported
by Scripture. The only exceptions being the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus--which
gives an elaborate account of it--and the brief statement in the Apostles'
Creed. But the idea which had its origin in ancient Christianity became
very popular in the Middle Ages, and it is also included in the Middle
English collection Cursor Mundi, written about 1300.
Hecuba (Canto 30). Wife of Priam, King of Troy. She had 19
children by him, including Paris, Hector, Troilus, Cassandra. Polixena
and Polydorus were her two youngest children. To save Polydorus from
the Greeks, Hecuba sent him to Polymnester, King of Thrace. After
the fall of Troy she was taken prisoner by the Greeks. While she was
being led away, her daughter was taken from her and sacrificed by
the Greeks on the tomb of Achilles. At the same time she learned that
Polydorus had been murdered by Polymnester. In her horrible grief,
Hecuba went out of her mind and began barking like a dog. The episode
is narrated by Ovid in his Metamorphoses (13, 481-568). Dante takes
it from him.
Helen (Canto 5). Daughter of Leda and Zeus, and sister of Castor
Pollux and Clytemnestra, Helen held as the most beautiful of all women.
She became the wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta, and later was abducted
by Paris, son of Hecuba and Priam, king of Troy. The abduction was
the cause of the Trojan war. Some say, however, that Helen was not
really abducted against her will, but that she had fallen in love
with Paris. Dante places her among the Lustful of Circle 2.
Hercules (Canti 25, 26, 31). One of the most popular Greek
heroes, famous for his invincible strength and for his courage. Dante
mentions him many times and not only in the Divine Comedy. In Inferno
he is mentioned as the killer of Cacus (Canto 25), as the one who
set up his signs, or the so-called Pillars of Hercules, "so that men
should not go further" (Canto 26), and for his combat with the giant
Antaeus (Canto 31).
Hoarderers and Squanderers (Canto 7). See under Avaricious
Homer (Canto 4). The principal figure in ancient Greek literature.
Two epic poems are attributed to Homer: the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Dante, as the greatest majority of the people of his time, did not
know Greek, however he had a great admiration for Homer. In fact Dante
calls him "the lord of the incomparable song / who, like an eagle,
soars above the rest" (Canto 4, lines 95-96). Dante places Homer,
together with the Latin poets Horace, Ovid and Lucan, in Limbo.
Horace (Canto 4). Quintus Horatius Flaccus, one of the greatest
Latin lyric poets, was born in Venosa (S. Italy, some 65 mi. N.E.
of Salerno) in 65 B.C., and died in 8 B.C. He studied in Rome and
was introduced by Virgil to Caius Maecenas (Roman statesman and patron
of letters) who became his friend and benefactor. After retirement,
Maecenas formed his famous literary circle which included Horace,
Virgil and Propertius. Horace wrote, among other works, the Satires.
The Satires were famous in the Middle Ages as men of that time read
them with the intent to discover moral Christian principles. Dante
knew all of the works of Horace very well, including his Ars poetica
which he quotes in De vulgari eloquentia. Dante places Horace, together
with Homer, Ovid and Lucan, in Limbo.
Hypocrites (Canto 23). A hypocrite is a person who pretends
to have a virtuous character, or a moral and/or religious belief and
principles which he/she doesn't actually possess. In other words,
a hypocrite is a simulator who is rotten inside and pretentiously
shows himself to be good. Hypocrisy, according to Dante, is a worse
sin than Simony or Barratry because its nature is typically fraudulent
and it permeates not only civil society but also religious community.
Dante places the Hypocrites in the Sixth Ditch of Circle 8. Their
punishment is to walk round and round very slowly, weeping and weighted
down by big robes shaped like a monk's habit, gilded outside but inside
heavy with lead. This, of course, suggests the contrapasso. Dante's
image of the hypocrites seems to derive from a passage in John of
Salisbury's Policraticus (7, 21, 692b). Among Dante's hypocrites we
find Catalano and Loderingo, Caiaphas and his father-in-law Annas.
Iacopo Rusticucci (Canto 16). Not much is known about Iacopo,
except that he is mentioned in some documents of about the middle
of the 13th century, and that in 1266 he was still alive. He is one
of the five Florentines (with Farinata degli Uberti, Tegghiaio Aldobrandini,Arrigo
and Mosca dei Lamberti) whose minds appeared on earth bent toward
the good, but who are now among the blackest souls of Hell. Dante
places Iacopo with Guido Guerra and Tegghiaio among the Sodomites
in the Third Round of Circle 7.
Ignavi (Canto 3). It is the Italian equivalent of the Cowardly
, those who in life "lived without praise and without blame" (line
36), that is those who in life didn't have the courage to do either
good or evil. Dante has a profound contempt for them, as they did
not exercise their free will to chose either good or bad. Free will
is what distinguishes men from brute animals. Dante mentions only
one of the Cowardly punished there. He is Pope Celestine V who resigned
his office only after a few months he had been elected Pope.
Incontinence (Canto 11). Incontinence is a lack of moderation
or control, or the inability to restrain the natural appetites. Incontinence
is distinguished from fraud or malice. The latter implies an evil
intent on the part of the one who commits a wrongful act. In a sin
of malice there is participation of the will, while a sin of incontinence
is the excessive indulgence of, or submission to passions. On the
basis of this concept--which is originally Aristotelian--Dante places
the sinners either outside the City of Dis (sins of incontinence),
or inside the City of Dis (sins of fraud). Sins of incontinence are,
Lust (Circle 2), Gluttony (Circle 3), Avarice and Prodigality (Circle
4), Wrath (Circle 5).
Ino (Canto 30). Daughter of Cadmus, founder of Thebes, Ino
was the second wife of Athamas, King of Boetia. She bore him two children,
Learchus and Melicertes. Later her husband Athamas went mad, and in
his rage he mistook his wife and sons for a lioness and her cubs.
He gave chase and killed Learchus. In order to escape, Ino and her
other son leaped into the sea to their death, and they were changed
into sea divinities. (See also Athamas).
Santo Andrea (Canto 13). Santo Andrea is a small village some
6 mi. N. of Padua. Jacopo was at the service of Frederick II in 1237
and was assassinated in 1239 by order of Ezzelino IV da Romano. Apparently
he was quite rich and was well known as an insane and bizarre squanderer,
to the point of having his beautiful villa burnt for the insane desire
of wanting to see a big fire--as Boccaccio tells us. Dante places
him among the Violent against their possessions or Squanderers, in
Ring 2 of Circle 7.
Jason (Canto 18). In mythology, son of King Aeson of Iolcus,
Thessaly. When his father was deposed from his rightful throne by
Pelias, most of his family was killed. Jason, however, was smuggled
off to the Centaur Chiron who reared him secretly. Later Pelias promised
Jason his rightful kingdom if would bring the Golden Fleece to Boetia.
So Jason and a group of brave men sailed in the Argo ship (hence they
came to be known as Argonauts) in quest of the Fleece which was kept
in Colchis. The first stop on their way was the island of Lemnos where
Jason seduced the young maiden Hypsipyle and then "abandoned her,
alone and pregnant"----as Dante tells us. Once in Colchis, the King's
daughter Medea was also seduced by Jason, and she fell in love with
him. Medea was skilled in magic and sorcery and gave Jason magical
protection that allowed him to complete his task. Jason and Medea
exchanged marriage oaths, and she bore him two children. But later
Jason didn't keep his oath and abandoned her for another woman by
name Creusa. In revenge Medea killed Creusa and her own two children.
Dante places Jason among the Seducers in the First Ditch of Circle
8. (See also Medea).
Jerusalem (Introduction, pp. 16-17). In accordance with the
Book of Ezechiel (Ezek. 5,5), Dante places Jerusalem at exactly
the central point of our hemisphere, or land surface. It is located
midway between the mouth of the Ganges river to the east and the source
of the Ebro river to the west. The Mountain of Purgatory is exactly
at the antipodes of Jerusalem, in a straight line that passes through
the center of earth and hence of Hell. Thus the four points, Ganges--Jerusalem--Ebro--Purgatory,
are 90 or 6 hours apart from each other, to the east or to the west.
Therefore when it is 6:00 a.m. at the Ganges, it is Midnight at Jerusalem,
6:00 p.m. at the Ebro, and Noon on the Mountain of Purgatory. Italy
lies exactly at midpoint between Jerusalem and the Ebro, therefore
45 east of the Ebro and west of Jerusalem, hence 3Ī hours apart from
John of Salisbury (Canto 18). English Scholastic philosopher,
born in Salisbury about 1110 and died 1180. He studied in Paris and
Chartres under Abelard and other famous teachers. He was well acquainted
with the Latin classics and wrote several works, among which the Polycraticus,
a treatise on the principles of government. This work was widely read
in Europe. John of Salisbury is mentioned here in connection with
the courtesan Thais mentioned by Dante in this Canto and found in
the Eunuchus of Terence. John of Salisbury had commented the
work of Terence in his Polycraticus. Dante knew this treatise of John
of Salisbury and may have used it for his source.
Judas (Canto 31). Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve disciples
and the betrayer of Christ. Judas went to the chief priest and offered
to betray Jesus for which he was paid the sum of 30 pieces of silver.
After the Last Supper he lead an armed band to Gethsemane and there
identified Jesus to the soldiers by kissing him. Later he repented
and killed himself. Dante places Judas in the very last Zone of Cocytus,
in Circle 9, where Traitors of benefactors are punished. Dante places
him in one of Lucifer's mouths, with his head inside the mouth being
chewed by Lucifer, and the body outside torn apart by the Devil's
Judecca (Canto 33). Also called by Dante "Juda's Circle" since
it is named after Judas. It is one of the four Zones into which is
divided Circle 9, or Cocytus. Judecca is the very last Zone and reserved
for the most heinous crimes, where traitors of benefactors are punished.
In addition to Judas, here we also find Brutus and Cassius, the traitors
of Julius Caesar. The three traitors are each placed inside the three
mouths of Lucifer.
Judgment Day (Canto 6). Called also Doomsday, it is a central
point of Christian eschatology. When this world will come to an end,
the dead will rise and resume their bodies, and Christ will come in
glory to judge all. Everyone will be more perfect, because perfection
lies in the union of body and spirit. This concept of perfection,
which originated with Aristotle, was also shared by St. Augustine
(In Ioh. 49, 10) and was accepted by Medieval thinkers such as Thomas
Aquinas and by Dante as well. But this also means that the pains of
Hell will be more "perfect", i.e. will increase, after Doomsday. By
the same token, the pleasure of the blessed will also be greater after
Judgment Day. (Dante mentions this latter point in Paradiso 14, 43-51).
La Vita Nuova (The New Life) (Introduction, p. 7). A work in
Italian written by Dante part in verse and part in prose. The prose
is used mostly to interpret the poems. The Vita Nuova was composed
between 1292 and 1293, after Beatrice's death, and describes Dante's
ideal love for her. It is a composite work in which Dante exalts Beatrice
as the giver of `beatitude' and hence of salvation. At the end of
the booklet Dante concludes with the promise that one day he will
say of her what has never been said in rhyme of any other woman. The
allusion is clearly to the Divine Comedy. Dante dedicates the Vita
Nuova to his "first friend" Guido Cavalcanti. (
Lethe (Introduction, p. 25). In mythology, river of oblivion
in Hades. The dead drunk from Lethe upon arriving in the underworld
and were granted forgetfulness of the past. Dante moves the location
of Lethe from the underworld to Earthly Paradise, at the top of the
Mountain of Purgatory, where he also places another river, the Eunoe.
The function of this second river is that of restoring the memory
of good things to souls ready to ascend to Paradise. Therefore the
souls in Earthly Paradise will first pass through the waters of Lethe
and then drink from the waters of Eunoe. (See also Eunoe).
Leviticus (Introduction, p. 22). Book of the Old Testament,
third of the five books of the Law, ascribed to Moses. It is mentioned
here in connection with the concept of contrapasso which in Leviticus
is expressed as follows: "He who kills a man shall be put to death.
[...] When a man causes disfigurement in his neighbor, as he has done
it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth
for tooth; as he has disfigured a man. he shall be disfigured. He
who kills a beast shall make it good, and he who kills a man shall
be put to death". (Lev. 24, 17-20).
Limbo (Canto 4). In Christian theology Limbo was understood
as the abode of the just Hebrew patriarchs who died before the coming
of Christ, and who were freed by Him right after His death. Then Limbo
was reserved as abode of unbaptized infants. In theological tradition
there was no Limbo for pre-Christian non-Hebrew adults or post-Christian
unbaptized adults. Therefore this is an invention of Dante who places
in Limbo all those who followed moral and intellectual virtues, but
didn't know and hence did not have the theological virtue of Faith.
In other words Dante created a unique abode for the just and sage
of the ancient world, a place that is not Paradise and is not Hell.
The only `pain' the inhabitants of Limbo suffer is longing, without
any hope, of seeing God. Dante places Limbo in Circle 1, outside Hell
proper. Loderingo (Canto 23). See under Catalano.
Lucan (Canto 4). Marcus Aenneus Lucanus (39-65) was a Latin
poet born in Cordova, Spain. He was the nephew of Seneca. Lucan wrote
Bellum civile, an epic poem on the civil war between Caesar and Pompey,
commonly known as Pharsalia. After Virgil, Lucan is the second epic
model of Dante. Dante mentions him throughout the Commedia, and is
indebted to him for many episodes or details found not only in Inferno,
in Purgatorio and Paradiso. Lucan's Pharsalia is also mentioned and/or
quoted in the Monarchia and in the Convivio. Dante places Lucan in
Limbo, together with Homer, Horace and Ovid.
Lucca (Canto 18). An important city in Tuscany, W. of Florence,
near the Ligurian Sea, and about 12 mi. N.E. of Pisa. Lucca became
e free commune in the 12th century and soon developed into a republic.
During the conflict between Guelfs and Ghibellines, the city of Lucca
was in frequent wars especially with Florence and Pisa. Lucca was
the native place of Alessio Interminelli (Canto 18), of the poet Bonagiunta
degli Orbicciani whom Dante meets in Purgatorio, and of Gentucca who
showed Dante hospitality during his exile, perhaps between 1307 and
Lucifer (Canto 34). Latin equivalent of `bearer of light',
Lucifer is the name for Satan and a synonym for the Devil. He was
cast out of Heaven because of his pride, and now he is in the center
of earth, the farthest point from God. Lucifer is the antithesis of
God and, despite his name, the total expression of darkness. His three
faces represent a travesty of Trinity. When Lucifer was cast out of
Heaven he fell head-down on the earthly side opposite to our hemisphere,
where there was land at the beginning of creation. But when Lucifer
came down, the land retreated under water and re-emerged in our hemisphere.
So Lucifer's fall upset the original universal order by moving the
land from the hemisphere of innocence to the hemisphere of sin. Observed
from the other hemisphere--as Dante suggests--Lucifer stands in a
topsy turvy position, with his legs turned up and his head downward.
Lustful, The (Canto 5). The Lustful, or carnal sinners, are
those people who, according to Dante, "subject reason to instinct"
(v. 39). The instinct to lust is an inborn tendency to action peculiar
and common to the animal species. But humans are also gifted with
reason to control this animal tendency, and therefore they have the
responsibility to raise themselves above the brute animals. Those
who allow sexual instincts to dominate their reason undergo a kind
of human degradation that puts them at the level of animals. The punishment
of the Lustful is to be swept eternally by a violent whirlwind (See
also Francesca da Rimini).
Machiavelli (Canto 7). NiccolÚ Machiavelli (1469-1527) was
a Florentine author and statesman and one of the outstanding figures
of the Italian Renaissance. Among his many works the best known is
The Prince, a treatise describing the means by which a prince can
gain and maintain power. Machiavelli is mentioned here in relation
to the concept of Fortune which is quite different from the concept
set forth by Dante in this Canto. Machiavelli's conception is that
man, with his intelligence and virtý, can control Fortune to his advantage.
Malacoda (Canti 21-22). The Italian equivalent of `Evil-tail',
Malacoda is the name given to the head of the Malebranche's family
of devils. The Malebranches, or `Evil-claws', are what Dante calls
"the ministers of the fifth ditch" (Canto 23, 56), that is to say
the demons assigned to guard the Barrators punished in the boiling
pitch of Circle 8. The individual names of the Malebranches are invented
by Dante. Some of these names are, Graffiacane (`Scratch-dog'), Cagnazzo
(`Ugly-dog'), Ciriatto (`Swine-face'), Draghignazzo (`Vile-dragon'),
Barbariccia (`Porcupine-beard'), and so on. In the Malebranches' family
there are twelve member-devils. It has been noted that in coining
these names, Dante was inspired by actual family names which existed
in Tuscany at that time. This is an important element considering
the political undertones of these two cantos.
Malebolge (`Evil-pouches') Canto 18). A compound word invented
by Dante and the name given by him to the Eighth Circle of Inferno
in which Fraud is punished. The Circle is made up "all of iron-colored
stone" and gradually slopes on all sides. The Circle is made up by
ten concentric bolge, literally `pouches'. (But Dante uses several
names for them, including tombe, fossi, fosse, and valli; the English
`dip ditch' seems to render the idea). The two Poets walk around the
borders of these ditches to observe the souls punished inside. The
ditches are connected to each other by a series of arched bridges
made of stone. In each `pouch' or ditch is punished a specific type
of fraudulent sinners with a specific punishment assigned to it, in
accordance with the law of contrapasso. Geryon, the symbol or "image
of fraud" is the guardian of Circle 8.
Malebranche (Canto 21). `Evil-claws' in English, is the family
name of the devils assigned to guard the Barrators in the Fifth Ditch
of Circle 8. Their functions is to claw the Barrators punished there
when they try to surface from the boiling pitch into which they are,
and must remain, immersed. (See also Malacoda).
Manto (Canto 20). Famous Theban soothsayer mentioned by Virgil,
Ovid and Statius. Her father was Tiresias, another famous soothsayer
of Thebes. According to Dante's Virgil, Manto after the death of her
father went to northern Italy and settled in a solitary place, apart
from society. After her death, the inhabitants that lived nearby decided
to found in her honor the city of Mantua (some 15 mi. S.W. of Verona),
the city considered by Virgil as his birthplace. Dante's account which
actually takes a full one-third of this Canto is inconsistent with
the account described by Virgil in the Aeneid. Commentators have noted
that the "correction" of the story of the foundation of Mantua by
Virgil in the Inferno is fully justified. In the Middle Ages Virgil
was believed as a wizard and a magician, and Dante's intention in
this Canto is to exonerate him from that popular belief and to have
him condemn "the magic frauds". (See also Mantua).
Mantua (Canto 20). A city in N. Italy, in Lombardy (S.W. of
Verona), bordered on three sides by lakes formed by the Mincio River,
an affluent of the Po River which flows nearby. Originally Mantua
was an Etruscan settlement and received her name from Mantus, the
Etruscan god of the underworld. Mantua was later a Roman town and
subsequently became a free commune in the 12th century. It was, and
is, known as the birthplace of Virgil, although the Latin Poet was
actually born in a nearby village about 4 mi. S.E. of Mantua. In Canto
20, Dante has Virgil "correct" his account of Mantua's foundation
as he has it in the Aeneid. (See also Manto).
Master Adam (Canto 30). A Master Adam from England was retained
by the Counts Guidi of Romena to counterfeit the gold Florin for them.
Up to 1252 Florence minted only silver coins. But then the city had
become rich and powerful, and it was decided to mint the new Florin,
a 24-carat gold coin, first struck in 1252. The Master Adam decided
to make a Florin that contained only 21-carat gold, so it could hardly
be noticed. In fact the fraud was only discovered by chance when a
large amount of counterfeited coins were found in a house that accidentally
burnt down. This gave the counts Guidi quite a substantial profit,
but it created a currency crisis in northern Italy and in France where,
in the period between 1260-1270, there were more than twenty large
Florentine companies doing business, all financed by Florentine banks.
Master Adam was caught, brought to Florence and burned alive in 1281.
Matelda (Introduction, pp. 24-25). Matelda is one of Dante's
guides. She guides him through Earthly Paradise, after Virgil is no
longer his guide and before the coming of Beatrice. Matelda leads
Dante to his final ritual of purification in Earthly Paradise by having
him drink of the waters of Eunoe, the river "that restores the memory
of good". (See Purgatorio, Canti 28-33).
Medea (Canto 18). Daughter of the King of Colchis, she helped
Jason obtain the golden fleece. Medea was seduced by Jason , bore
him two son and then he abandoned her for another woman by name Creusa.
Dante mentions Medea in connection with Jason who is placed among
the Seducers in the First Ditch of Circle 8. It is interesting to
note that, in this connection and in relation to Hypsipyle--the previous
woman seduced and abandoned by Jason--Medea is barely mentioned by
Dante. This is due to the fact that Medea was well known as a ruthless
magician and sorcerer. In fact, in vindication against Jason, Medusa
not only killed their two sons, but sent Creusa an enchanted wedding
gown that burnt Jason's new woman to death.
Medusa (Canto 9). She is the most famous of the Gorgon monsters
whose faces were so hideous that turned to stone anyone who saw them.
Dante knew the myth of the Gorgon sisters from Ovid's Metamorphoses
(4, 779-781) but here, as in other instances, he is using the myth
allegorically. Medusa is here invoked to come and turn Dante to stone
by the three Furies who are stationed at the entrance of the City
of Dis. The Gorgon Medusa represents fear and terror intended as an
impediment to Dante in his voyage to salvation.
Michael Scot (Canto 20). Possibly the most famous astrologer
of the time. He was born in Scotland about 1175, perhaps studied at
Oxford, Bologna and Paris, and died c. 1234. Scot served as astrologer
and physician at the court of Emperor Frederick II. He wrote several
philosophical and astrological treatises and translated important
works of Aristotle and AverroŽs into Latin. Scot was very well known
as a magician and famed for his occult learning. Many legends arose
about him and his exploits; some of these legends were still alive
in Scotland at the end of last century--according to Scartazzini's
comment. Indeed, he also figures in Sir Walter Scott's Lay of Last
Minstrel (canto 2). Dante places him among the magicians and soothsayers
in the Fourth Ditch of Circle 8.
Michele Zanche (Canto 22). Governor of Logudoro (a region in
N.W. Sardinia) for King Enzo, son of Frederick II. Not much is known
about his life, and the accounts given by early commentators are not
clear, but it seems that he was involved in political intrigue and
barratry. Approximately during the years 1290-1294 his son-in-law
Branca d'Oria invited Michele Zanche to dinner and had him murdered
as he wanted to control that part of Sardinia. In fact we know that
a few years later, in 1299, Branca d'Oria asked Boniface VIII for
an official recognition of his right on Logudoro. Dante places Michele
Zanche, together with Ciampolo of Navarra, and Fra Gomita, among the
Barrators in the Fifth Ditch of Circle 8.
Minos (Canto 5). Mythical King of Crete, son of Zeus and Europe,
and husband of PasiphaŽ. Because Minos, breaking the promise made,
failed to sacrifice the white bull to Neptune, the god instilled in
PasiphaŽ a lustful passion for the white bull, by whom she bore the
Minotaur. (Dante mentions the PasiphaŽ's myth in connection with the
Minotaur in Canto 12, and as an example of chastened lust in Purgatorio
26). Minos became the richest king in the Mediterranean area and was
renowned for both his justice and his power. After his death he became
one of the three judges of the Hades. Dante assigns to Minos the extremely
important office of judge of Hell, transforming him into a devil with
a tail. He is placed at the entrance of Hell proper (Circle 2). When
the souls of the sinners come before him, he hears their confessions,
examines their sins and assigns to each his/her place in Hell by the
number of times he encircles himself with his tail: the number indicates
the Circle the soul must go. (See also Minotaur and PasiphaŽ and Daedalus).
Minotaur (Canto 12). Monster, half man and half bull, born
to PasiphaŽ after her intercourse with the beautiful white bull for
which she had developed a lustful passion. The bull had been given
to her husband Minos, King of Crete, by Neptune with the understanding
that the King would sacrifice it to the god in a sumptuous ceremony
with the participation of everyone. But King Minos was stalling since
he wanted all of his many cows to be impregnated by the this white
bull. Neptune became impatient and one day, while PasiphaŽ was by
chance there where the bull was servicing her husband's cows, the
god took revenge against Minos and caused her to develop this insane
passion for the bull. Once born, the Minotaur was kept by Minos in
a labyrinth constructed by Daedalus, and was fed youths and maidens
paid as tribute to Minos. The Monotaur was finally killed by Theseus,
son of the King of Athens, with the help of Ariadne, daughter of Minos.
Dante doesn't mention the Minotaur by name, but only as "the infamy
of Crete, conceived into the artificial cow" (vv. 12-13). This is
the hollow wooden cow made also by Daedalus, inside which PasiphaŽ
would go to copulate with the bull. (See also PasiphaŽ, Minos and
Mohammed (Canto 28). Born in Mecca c. 560, died in Medina in
632. He was a prophet and the founder of Islam, the latest of the
three great monotheistic religions, after Judaism and Christianity.
According the medieval western tradition, Mohammed was originally
a Christian priest and the he became an apostate. This was a common
belief which found its way in the works of medieval encyclopedists
such as Vincent of Beauvais and others. For instance, Brunetto Latini
in his Tesoro (1, 88) speaks of Mohammed as an evil preacher who drove
away people from the true religion. Dante believed him to be a sower
of religious disunity, and in fact places him among the Sowers of
religious discord, in the Ninth Ditch of Circle 8. Mohammed is presented
by Dante as split open from the chin downwards--an obvious contrapasso.
Monarchia (Introduction, p. 5). On World Monarchy is
a treatise written by Dante in Latin, in three books, probably during
the period 1310-1313 when the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII of Luxembourg
was in Italy. Dante was hoping that Henry VII would put an end to
the strife between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines and restore peace
to Italy. The three books of De Monarchia deal with the following
points: (1) a world government is necessary for the well-being of
the people; (2) the Romans are the rightful people to assume leadership
of the world government; (3) the right of the universal monarchy come
directly from God, it doesn't depend on the Papacy, and the Emperor
owes the Pope only filial reverence and counsel in spiritual matters.
Hence with his Monarchia Dante propounds the concept of separation
between the two authorities, Church and State.
Montaperti (Canto 32). A village in Tuscany, about 6 mi. E.
of Siena, on the Arbia River, where in 1260 took place the famous
battle between the Ghibellines of Manfred and the Guelfs of Florence.
Montaperti is mentioned in connection with Bocca degli Abati. Bocca's
family was Ghibelline. In 1258 many Ghibelline families had been expelled
from Florence, but the Abatis remained in the city; Bocca become a
`turncoat' and went with the Guelfs to Montaperti. During the battle
Bocca cut off the hand of the Guelfs' standard bearer, Jacopo de'
Pazzi, causing the rallying banner to fall to the ground. Thus the
Guelf troops became confused and panicky and were defeated by the
Ghibellines. In Canto 10, referring to the battle of Montaperti, Dante
recalls "the carnage and the great bloodshed that stained the Arbia'a
waters red" (vv. 85-86). Se also Bocca degli Abati).
Montereggioni (Canto 31). Fortress, some 7 mi. N.W. of Siena,
belonging to the Sienese and built in 1213 as an outpost on the road
from Florence to Siena. The massive wall and the fourteen towers that
surrounded it were built after the battle of Montaperti. Part of the
wall and some towers are still standing. During Dante's time the towers
jutted out some 60 feet from the wall, producing from far away a strong
impression on the onlooker. Dante compares the terrifying giants,
towering over the bank of Circle 9, to the towers of Montereggioni.
Mosca (Canto 28). Mosca dei Lamberti, born in the latter part
of the 12th century, died in 1242. The Lambertis were one of the most
important and noble Ghibelline families in Florence. Mosca was a noteworthy
gentleman who served as mayor of various cities outside Tuscany (Viterbo,
Todi, Reggio). The Lambertis were associated with the noble family
of the Amideis. In 1216 Buondelmonte dei Buondelmonti, who was engaged
with a daughter of the Amideis, broke the promise and married another
woman. This called for retaliation. The Amideis consulted with the
Lambertis, and Mosca urged them to kill the Guelf Buondelmonte. The
killing was the beginning of the rivalry and the strife between Guelfs
and Ghibellines in Florence. Dante places Mosca among the Sowers of
political discord, in the Ninth Ditch of Circle 8. (The tragic episode
is also recalled by Dante in Paradiso 16).
Muses (Canti 2, 32). In mythology, patron goddesses of the
arts, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Originally only three, they
were later considered as nine. In the Divine Comedy Dante mentions
only three directly: Calliope, the Muse of epic poetry and eloquence;
Polymnia, the Muse of oratory or sacred poetry; and Urania, the Muse
of Astronomy. InInferno the Muses are invoked twice and in a general
way: once at the beginning of the Comedy, and once before the description
of Circle 9, at the end of Inferno. The invocations to the Muses which
was a tradition in classical poetry, is a literary topos maintained
by Christian poets.
Myrrha (Canto 30). In mythology, she was the daughter of Cinyras,
King of Cyprus. Myrrha conceived a strong lustful passion for her
own father and with the help of her maiden, in the absence of her
mother and in darkness, she introduced herself into his chamber pretending
to be the maid. The deception was discovered by her father who tried
to kill her. But Venus protected her and she was able to escape. She
went to Arabia where she gave birth to Adonis, who became the most
beautiful young man on earth and lover of Venus. Myrrha was later
transformed into the myrrh-tree. The story is told by Ovid (Metamorphoses
10, 298-502). Dante places Myrrha with Gianni Schicchi among the Falsifiers
of person, in the Tenth Ditch of Circle 8.
Nesso (Canto 12). Nessus is one of the Centaurs who function
as guardians of of the Violent in the First Ring of Circle 7. In mythology,
Nessus tried to rape Hercules' wife Deianira after he had helped her
cross the flood of a river. But from the other bank Hercules shot
him with his arrow which had been soaked in the poisonous Hydra's
blood, and thus Nessus was poisoned to death. However, before his
death, Nessus dipped his robe in his blood poisoned by the arrow,
and gave it to Deianira and told her that it would preserve her husband's
love. When later Deianira found her husband in love with Iole, she
gave him the poisoned robe. Hercules put it on and the powerful poison
killed him. The story is told by Ovid (Metam. 9, 101-169). Nessus
guides Dante and Virgil across the boiling river of blood, the Phlegethon.
Nicholas III (Canto 19). Nicholas III was Pope from 1277 to
1280. Born Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, of the powerful Roman family that
included three popes and other numerous high level churchmen and statesmen.
Pope Nicholas III was a strong man who worked hard to render the Holy
See free of civil interference from both the Emperor (Rudolph I) and
the King of Naples (Charles I). He has been called the founder of
the Vatican. Dante associated him with simony and nepotism, which
in fact were an essential part of the Pope's political practices,
as it is pointed out by the historians of the period, such as Giovanni
Villani and Salimbene da Parma. Dante places Nicholas II among the
Simoniac Popes in the Third Ditch of Circle 8.
Nimrod (Canto 31). The biblical king of Babylon, one of the
giants who stand around the edge of Circle 9. Patristic tradition
attributed to Nimrod the construction of Babel's Tower which he wanted
to make so high as to reach the Heaven and God. This act of presumption
was punished by God by the confusion of the only language spoken at
that time, as it is related by Genesis 11, 1-9. The original language--according
to St. Augustine, Isidore of Seville, Brunetto Latini and many others,
including Dante--was believed to be the Hebrew language. In the Vulgari
eloquentia (I, 7, 4) Dante states that after the confusion of the
tongues, the original language was spoken, unchanged, only by the
Hebrews. A point of view that he will drastically revise in Paradiso
(Canto 26, 124ff).
Novara (Canto 28). A city in the Piedmont region of Italy,
some 25 mi. W. of Milan. It is mentioned here in connection with Fra
Dolcino, the leader of the heretical sect called the Apostolic Brothers.
(See Fra Dolcino).
Old Man of Crete (Canto 14). The Old Man of Crete is a large
statue which Dante takes almost literally from the biblical text describing
the vision of King Nabuchodonosor, as explained to the King by the
prophet Daniel (Dan. 2, 31-33). However, Dante combines Daniel's biblical
description with the classical myth of the four ages described by
Ovid (Metam. I, 89ff). Thus Dante is able to intertwine the biblical
account with the classical myth and create this great allegory of
the history of humanity, projected here against the history of salvation
and damnation. (See also Golden Age).
Ovid (Canto 4). Publius Ovidius Naso was a Latin poet, born
at Sulmona (about 45 mi. S.W. of Pescara) in 43 B.C. and died in 18
A.D. He enjoyed early fame as a poet and was known to Emperor Augustus.
After Virgil, he is without a doubt the most famous poet throughout
the Middle Ages. Dante knew several of Ovid's works but was particularly
fond of his Metamorphoses which in the Convivio he calls "The Greater
Ovid". Dante also quotes Ovid in the Vulgari eloquentia (II, 6, 7),
and mentions, imitates and quotes episodes from him many times throughout
the Divine Comedy. Dante places Ovid, together with Homer, Horace
and Lucan, in Limbo. This is the group of poets to which also belongs
Virgil. And it is important to underline that the poets of this group
invite Dante to be one of them. Thus Dante becomes "the sixth [poet]
among such intellects" (v. 102). It is obvious that Dante very consciously
builds here the bridge that connects him to the ancient world of supreme
Padua (Canto 17). A city some 20 mi. W. of Venice. During Roman
time, Padova was one of the richest city of Italy, and second only
to Rome for wealth. At the beginning of the 7th century, the city
was destroyed by the Lombards but it was soon rebuilt. In the 12th
century Padova became a free commune and quickly grew in political,
economic and cultural importance. The university was founded in 1222
and soon acquired great fame throughout Europe. From 1237 to 1256
Padua was controlled by Ezzelino da Romano (1194-1259), an Italian
Ghibelline leader who also controlled Verona and Vicenza and who was
a faithful supporter of Frederick II, his father-in-law since 1238
when Ezzelino had married a daughter (illegitimate) of the Emperor.
Padova is mentioned here in connection with the Scrovegni family who
erected there a chapel where Giotto painted his famous frescos. (See
also Giotto and Scrovegni Chapel).
Palestrina (Canto 27). A fortress in the territory of ancient
Praeneste, called by Dante "Penestrino", located some 24 mi. E. of
Rome. In the 13th century the fortress was a stronghold of the Colonna's
family. During the strife of the Colonnesi against Boniface VIII,
the Colonnas entrenched themselves in the fortress, and surrendered
to Boniface only on the latter's promise not to persecute them. The
Pope made the promise with the intention not to keep it, on the evil
counsel of Guido da Montefeltro who, by then, was reconciled with
the Church and had become a Franciscan Friar. For this sin, Guido
is placed by Dante among the Evil Counselors in Canto 27. (See also
Colonna and Guido da Montefeltro).
Panderers and Seducers (Canto 18). Panderers and Seducers are
placed by Dante together in the First Ditch of Circle 8, although
in two separate lanes moving in opposite direction. They are naked
and are lashed with big whips by horned demons. With precise symmetry,
Dante presents here two sinners, one his contemporary whom he recognizes,
the other ancient who is introduced by Virgil; the former is the Bolognese
panderer Venedico dei Caccianemici, the latter is the seducers Jason
the Argonaut. (See also Jason and Venedico Caccianemico).
Paolo (Canto 5). Paolo Malatesta was a son of Malatesta da
Verrucchio. Malatesta was a powerful Guelf leader who had become magistrate
of Rimini and had used his position to entrench the family's interests
in the area. He died in 1313. Paolo had three brothers, one was the
hunchback Gianciotto. In 1275 Gianciotto married, for political reasons,
Francesca the daughter of Guido Vecchio da Polenta--the family that
later will host the exiled Dante at Ravenna. Paolo served as Captain
of the People in Florence for one year in 1282-83 where he became
well known and might have been seen, perhaps, by the youthful Dante.
After his return to Rimini, Paolo and Francesca fell in love; but
in 1285 they were surprised together by Gianciotto who killed them.
Paolo is not mentioned by name by Francesca who tells the tragic story
to Dante. He remains a silent partner with her among the Lustful of
Circle 2> (See also Francesca).
Paris (Canto 5). In mythology, son of Priam and Hecuba and
brother of Hector. With the help of Venus Paris abducted Helen, the
wife of the King of Sparta Menelaus. The abduction was the cause of
the Trojan War. Dante places Paris among the Lustful of Circle 2.
PasiphaŽ (Canto 12). Daughter of the Sun and of Persa and hence
sister of Circe and aunt of Medea, she was the wife of Minos, King
of Crete. In retaliation against Minos who had broken the promise
to sacrifice the white bull to Neptune, the god caused PasiphaŽ to
fall in love with the bull. So Daedalus, the famous inventor at the
court of King Minos, built for her a hollow wooden cow inside of which
she placed herself to satisfy her lust for the bull. Out of this union,
the Minotaur was born, a monster half human and half bull. Dante makes
reference to PasiphaŽ, without mentioning her, in connection with
the Minotaur, who is placed by Dante as guardian of Circle 7 where
the Violent are condemned. (PasiphaŽ is mentioned by name and is used
as an example of punished lust in Canto 26 of Purgatory). (See also
Minotaur and Daedalus).
Perillus (Canto 27). Athenian inventor who, around 555 B.C.,
was at the service of Phalaris, tyrant of Agrigentum, Sicily (c. 570-552).
Without being asked, Perillus built and offered to the tyrant a full
size, but hollow, brazen bull, inside of which a man could be roasted
to death. The contrivance was built in such a way that the scream
of the man roasting inside could sound outside as the bellowing of
a bull. Phalaris accepted the gift, but wanted first to experiment
it with its own inventor Perillus, who thus died in his own contraption.
The story is told by Ovid (Ars amatoria, I, 653-56 and Tristia III,
11, 41-54) and by Paulus Orosius (Historia 20, 1-4). Dante uses this
as a simile to introduce Guido da Montefeltro's voice which also come
out of a flame.
Phalaris (Canto 22). Greek tyrant of Agrigentum, Sicily, c.570-554
B.C.. He is the tyrant for whom Perillus invented and built the brazen
bull. According the several authors, including Cicero (De officiis
II, 7, 27), the people of Agrigentum finally revolted against him
and roasted him inside the bull which he had used to execute many
of his people including its own inventor Perillus. (see also Perillus).
Physics (Canto 3). A work by Aristotle quoted several
times by Dante, especially in the Convivio and in De monarchia. Here
it is mentioned in connection with the concept of imitation: "Art
imitates nature as much as possible" (Physics II, 2, 194a),
a canonical phrase repeated many times in the Middle Ages.
Phlegethon (Canto 14). One of the five rivers of Hades which
here becomes one of the rivers of Hell, the "fiery" river the waters
of which are actually boiling blood. Immersed in it to various depth
are those who have committed violent acts against neighbors. The Phlegethon
flows on a bed of stone, with its slopes and margins also made of
stone. Its steams quenches the flames of fire that fall from above,
so Dante and Virgil can walk alongside the river protected by the
falling flakes of fire.
Phlegyas (Canto 8). In mythology, son of Mars and Chryse, King
of Lapithal in Thessaly. Phlegyas' daughter Coronis had been violated
by Apollo. Thus Phlegyas vindicated her by setting fire to the temple
of Apollo in Delphi. For this sacrilegious act, he was struck down
and sent to the eternal punishment in Tartarus. Dante places Phlegyas
as ferryman on the Styx. He carries Dante and Virgil across the Stygean
marsh and takes them at the foot of the tower guarding the City of
Dis. Phlegyas in Dante is the symbol of blind rage and revenge.
Pier da Medicina (Canto 28). Medicina was, and still is, a
fairly large agricultural village, some 12 mi. E. of Bologna. Not
much is known about Piero. Early commentators of the Comedy--such
as Benvenuto de Rambaldis who was from Imola, a town only 6 miles
away from Medicina--tells us that Piero became rich sowing discords
between Guido da Polenta, lord of Ravenna, and Malatesta, lord of
Rimini. Others say that Piero da Medicina was a sower of political
discord throughout the region. It is also said that Dante was sometimes
host of the Medicina's lords, and that he met Piero in one of those
visits. Dante's personal knowledge is clearly implied by the text.
Dante places Piero among the Sowers of political discord, in the Ninth
Ditch of Circle 8.
Pier della Vigna (Canto 13). Pier della Vigna, or delle Vigne,
was born c. 1190 in Capua ((some 15 mi. N. of Naples) and studied
in Bologna under two famous professors, Maestro Bene from Florence
and Francesco d'Accursio. In 1220 Piero was called to the court of
Frederick II, where he served first as a Notary, then Judge and finally
in 1247 he became private chancellor of Frederick. He was sent on
special missions to other important men of the time: to Rome on mission
to Pope Gregory IX and Pope Innocent IV, and to England to negotiate
the marriage of Frederick with Isabella, sister of Henry III. In addition
to being a smart politician, Pier della Vigna was also an important
man of letters. He was renowned for his epistolary style and his letter
were studied as a model in the schools of rhetoric. He was also a
poet, and together with Frederick he dominated the group of poets
and men of letter at the court, i. e. the so-called "Sicilian School".
But in 1248 Pier della Vigna fell into disgrace with the Emperor,
and was imprisoned and blinded. He killed himself in 1249. The reason
for this disgrace has not been ascertained historically. Dante and,
in general, his contemporaries believe that Pier della Vigna was a
victim of a court conspiracy motivated by jealousy. Dante places Pier
della Vigna among the Suicides, in the Second Ring of Circle 7.
Pisa (Canto 33). Located some 50 mi. E of Florence on the Arno
river, Pisa was an extremely important city before and during Dante's
time. From the 9th to the 11th centuries it developed into a powerful
maritime republic rivaling Genoa and Venice. Defeated by its archirival
Geonoa in 1284, Pisa went into a gradual decline as its harbor was
filling with silt from the Arno river. As a staunch Ghibelline center
in the 13th and 14th centuries, the city was constantly at war with
Florence. The city's world famous architectural structures (Cathedral,
Baptistery, leaning Tower, and Campo Santo) were all in existence
in Dante's time. Pisa is mentioned in connection with the episode
of Count Ugolino. Here Dante utters a harsh invective against Pisa
for having starved to death Count Ugolino's four innocent boys. In
this wrath Dante calls on the two islands, Capraia and Gorgona, to
move and lock the mouth of the Arno so that everyone in Pisa may drown.
(See also Count Ugolino, Ruggieri degli Ubaldini, Capraia and Gorgona).
Pistoia (Canto 24). A city in Tuscany about 13 mi. NW of Florence.
Pistoia was the birthplace of the Italian Guelfs and Ghibellines during
Frederick Barbarossa's campaign in Tuscany. It is mentioned by Vanni
Fucci whom Dante places among the Thieves in the Seventh Ditch of
Plato (Canto 4). The great Athenian philosopher Plato was born
around 427 B.C. For a time he lived at the court of Dionysus the Elder,
tyrant of Siracuse. He was the follower of Socrates and the teacher
of Aristotle. Plato founded a school, the Academia, where he taught
mathematics and philosophy until his death in 347 B.C. Plato extant
work is in the forms of letters and dialogues. There are 35 Dialogues,
28 of which are considered to be authentic with certainty. Dante knew
Plato only indirectly, especially through Cicero's De finibus, although
he may have read the Timaeus which was well known in the Middle Ages
in a Latin translation by Calcidius. Dante places Plato with Socrates
among the ancient philosophers in Limbo.
Pluto (Canto 6). The Greek god of wealth whom Dante places
as guardian of Circle 6 where the Avaricious and Prodigals are punished.
Polydorus (Canto 30). Youngest son of Priam, king of Troy,
and of Hecuba. To save him from the Greeks, his parents sent him to
Thrace to be taken care of by Polymnester. Polymnester had married
Priam and Hecuba's oldest daughter and hence he was their son-in-law.
The King had also sent to Polymnester a substantial sum of money,
the treasure belonging to the court. Ten years later, after Troy had
fallen, Polymnester considered the treasure as his own and therefore
had Polydorus killed, and his body thrown into the sea. (See also
Hecuba and Polixena).
Polixena (Canto 30). She was the second youngest child of Priam,
King of Troy and of Hecuba. Polixena was famous for her beauty and
grace. When Priam went to the battle field to Achilles' tent to ask
for the restitution of his son's body (Hector), he brought along the
beautiful Polyxena. Achilles fell in love with her. Subsequently Achilles
went to Apollo's temple in Thymbra in the hope to see Polixena again.
It was here that Achilles was slain by the famous arrow of Paris.
Then Achilles' spirit appeared to his son demanding the immolation
of Polyxena, which was done on Achilles' tomb and at the presence
of Hecuba. Soon after Hecuba sow on the waters of the sea the dead
body of Polydorus. At this sight she became mad and began barking
like a dog. (See also Hecuba and Polydorus).
Potiphar (Canto 30). Chief official of the Pharaoh. He bought
Joseph, son of Job and gave him a high position in his house. Later
Potiphar's wife tried to seduce Joseph. When Joseph refused her advances,
she falsely accused him of trying to seduce her. As a consequence
Potiphar put Joseph into prison. The story is told in the book of
Genesis (39, 6-23). Dante places Potiphar's wife among the Falsifiers
of word in the Tenth Ditch of Circle 8.
Primum mobile (Introduction, p. 16). The first movement, or
the Crystalline Heaven, or the large heavenly sphere and hence the
farthest from earth. The Primum mobile takes the movement from God
and imparts it to all the other spheres below. It is resembles moral
philosophy and it is presided over by the angelic order of the Seraphim,
which is the highest order of angels and the closest to God.
Priscian (Canto 15). A Latin grammarian of the 6th century,
born in Cesarea, Mauretania. Priscian taught grammar at Constantinople.
he was the author a Latin grammar called Institutiones grammaticae.
This book was used read in all medieval schools and was undoubtedly
the most wide spread Latin grammar in the Middle Ages. Dante places
Priscian among the Sodomites, or homosexuals, in the Third Ring of
Circle 7. Critics have not been able to ascertain why Dante placed
Priscian among the homosexuals. It has been pointed out recently that
a passage in Uguccione's Magnae derivationes (a medieval dictionary
that Dante knew very well) may give credence to such an opinion. However
this indication has not been confirmed and has been seriously challenged.
Ptolemaic System (Introduction, p. 16). The most influential
of the geocentric cosmological theories that placed the earth at the
center of the universe, with all the celestial bodies revolving around
it. The system is named after the Greek-Egyptian mathematician and
astronomer Ptolemy who lived in the 2nd century A.D. Dante, in his
conception of the universe, follows the Ptolemaic system. (See also
Ptolemy (Canto 4). Claudianus Ptolemaeus, the celebrated mathematician,
geographer and astronomer, born towards the end of the first century,
and lived during the time of the Roman Emperors Adrian and Antoninus.
His most important work is called Almagest. This and other works of
his were translated into Latin and were readily available to medieval
students. Ptolemy presented a collection of all ancient astronomical
observations and explanations dealing with the then known heavenly
bodies in their relation to earth. About the Middle of the 9th century
a Pakistani astronomer by name Al-Farghani (called also Alfarganus)
wrote an extremely important work called Elementa which is a thorough
summary of Ptolemaic astronomy. This book was translated into Latin
and had a very wide circulation in Europe from the 12th century onward.
It is very likely that Dante's knowledge of Ptolemy was derived from
Ptolomea. The third zone of Cocytus in the ninth circle of
Inferno. It is reserved for traitors of friends and guests.
The name derives from the biblical Ptolomy, governor of Gerico. According
to the Bible, he had his father-in-law, Simon Maccabee, and his childrenĖwhom
he had invited to a banquetĖkilled. The story is told in 1 Macc.
Puccio (Canto 25). Puccio, of the noble Ghibelline family of
the Galigai, nicknamed Sciancato, "The lame one", is one of the five
Florentine thieves placed by Dante in the Seventh Ditch of Circle
8. His Florentine companions of misdeeds and pain--Agnello, Cianfa,
Buoso and Francesco dei Cavalcanti--all undergo transformation, but
he does not. There is no apparent reason for this. However, the chronicles
of the time say that, because of his handicap, Puccio could not participate
with his companions in raids made during the night. This might be
a reason for the exception.
Purgatory (Introduction, p. 12). In the teaching of the Catholic
Church Purgatory is the state after death in which the soul who died
in grace with God can be "purged" or purified before ascending into
Paradise. In the New testament there is no doctrine for the existence
of Purgatory, and the idea of Purgatory developed during the 2nd century.
The Fathers of the Church envisioned Purgatory underground, but Dante's
Purgatory is in the open-air and consists of a mountain-island rising
in the middle of the ocean in the hemisphere opposite to ours, and
precisely at the antipodes of Jerusalem. According the Dante, the
mountain-island of Purgatory was formed by the mass which for fear
of Lucifer retreated from inside earth where he fell and recoiled
back into that hemisphere, forming the only land mass on the waters.
(See also Jerusalem, Ganges and Ebro).
Pyrenees (Canto 31). Mountain chain of SW Europe between France
and Spain. It extends nearly 300 mi. from the Bay of Biscay on the
west to the the Mediterranean Sea to the east. It is mention here
in relation to Roland's blast on his famous horn at Roncesvalles,
one of the passes into France on the Pyrenees, Dante compares the
blast of Roland's horn to the bugle blast of the giant Nimrod. (See
also Roland and Roncesvalles).
Ravenna (Canto 27). City in the Emilia-Romagna region, N Italy,
located near the Adriatic Sea. Ravenna became the capital of the Western
Empire in 402 under Emperor Honorius. Later, during the 5th and 6th
centuries, was the capital of the Ostrogoth kings Odoacer and Theodoric.
It was also the seat of the exarchs, or governors of Byzantine Italy,
from the late 6th century to 751 when it was conquered by the Lombards.
Later, from the 13th to the 15th centuries, the Da Polenta family
were the lords of Ravenna. The family hosted Dante during the last
few years of his exile. Dante died in Ravenna and is buried there.
Ravenna is mentioned by Dante in response to Guido da Montefeltro's
inquiry, who wants to know about the present political situation of
the Romagna region. (See also Romagna).
Revelation (Canto 19). Called also Apocalypse (Greek
for "uncovering"), is the name given to the last book of the New Testament.
It was written before the end of the 1th century by one John who has
been traditionally identified as the disciple St. John who is also
the author of the fourth Gospel. The book consists of cryptic and
prophetic visions, foreseeing persecutions and in general the coming
of evil, but with the final triumph of God. It is mentioned here by
the name of the author, i. e. "The Evangelist", and in relation to
the whore "who sits upon the waters" (vv. 106-108), a circumlocution
to indicate the Popes corrupted by temporal interests.
Rime (Rhymes) (Introduction, p. 7). A collection of
several poetic compositions written by Dante during the period that
spans from his first youthful compositions to the years 1307-1308
when he began writing the Divine Comedy. The Rhymes are sometimes
also referred to as Canzoniere.
Rimini (Canto 27). An ancient city in Emilia-Romagna (N central
Italy), on the Adriatic Sea. It was a Roman colony of strategic importance.
Later it came under Byzantine rule and was a member of the Pentapolis.
In the 13th century the powerful Malatesta family seized control of
the city. It is mentioned here to Malatestino dei Malatesta, son of
Malatesta da Verrucchio and of his first wife. Malatestino was therefore
a step brother of Gianciotto and Paolo. He was considered by Dante
as a tyrant and a traitor. (See also Malatestino).
Roland (Canto 31). According to a tradition, Roland was the
nephew of Charlemagne and was with him in several war undertakings,
particularly those against the Muslims of Cordoba. Thus Roland became
the great French hero of the medieval Charlemagne cycle of chanson
de geste and is immortalized in the Chanson de Roland. Dante mentions
him in connection with his famous horn that he blew so hard, but too
late. He wanted to inform Charlemagne-- who was quite ahead of him
in their retreat--that his rear guard had been attacked by the Saracens,
at the Pass of Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees. Historically the battle
took place on August 15, 778 and the presence of a Hroulandus in the
battle has been ascertained. (See also Chanson the Roland and Charlemagne).
Romagna (Canto 27). The eastern part of today's Emilia-Romagna
Region (N Italy), Romagna was a former Roman Province. After the fall
of Rome, the Region began its fragmentation. Romagna was ruled from
Constantinople and its main center was Ravenna which became the capital
of the Empire in the West in the 5th century. In the Middle Ages Romagna
became fiefs of important families, and subsequently it became even
more fragmented. In Dante's time there are many lords controlling
various cities and towns in Romagna. Here it is mentioned in relation
to the fact that Guido da Montefeltro, the spirit from Romagna, wants
to know from Dante whether in his (Guido's) homeland there is war
or peace. In his answer Dante mentions cities in a political triangle
that stretches from Rimini to Cervia to Ravenna on the Adriatic coast,
and from Rimini to Cesena to Forlž to Faenza and to Imola on the old
Roman road, the Aemilian Way. (See also under the name of those cities).
Ruggieri degli Ubaldini (Canto 33). Ruggieri was the nephew
of Cardinal Ottaviano degli Ubaldini, and therefore he belonged to
one of the most famous and powerful Ghibelline family of Tuscany.
After the defeat of Pisa by Genoa in 1284 Count Ugolino became lord
of Guelf Pisa; but a few years later, in 1288, he changed again party
and aligned himself with the Ghibellines which were then headed by
Archbishop Ruggieri. The Ghibelline leader with the help of the powerful
families od the Gualandi, Sismondi and Lanfranchi had been able to
take control of the city. Count Ugolino in the meantime was out of
town. Thus the Archbishop, pretending to support Count Ugolino, called
him back to Pisa. But when Ugolino returned, as soon as he set foot
in Pisan territory, the Archbishop had him arrested together with
his two sons and two nephews who were with him at the time, and locked
up in a tower. After about one year the tower was nailed shut and
the prisoners starved to death. Dante places Ruggieri together with
count Ugolino among the Traitors in the Second Zone of Circle 9.
(Canto 16). See Iacopo Rusticucci.
of Assisi (Canto 27). See Francesco d'Assisi
St. John's Baptistery (Canto 19). Named after the city's patron
Saint, St. John the Baptist, the octagonal Battistero was used for
administering baptism and dates from the 11th and 12th centuries.
Architecturally it is an original interpretation of the Romanesque
style and quite impressive with its bands of pink, white and green
marble. Dante calls it "my beautiful San Giovanni" (v.17). The interior
ceiling mosaics were finished in 1297 and Dante was very well acquainted
with them. In fact it is likely that he derived the inspiration for
his Lucifer from the "Mosaics of Hell" depicted on its cupola. The
mosaics portray, in part, Satan chewing three damned spirits in his
three mouths. (See reproduction).
San Gimignano (Introduction, p. 2). A hill town in Tuscany,
23 mi. NW of Siena and 34 mi SW of Florence. Famous for its 13 medieval
towers remaining today, from its 75 the town had at the height of
the Guelf-Ghibelline conflict. Dante knew the town well. In May 1300
he had been sent there as an ambassador to perorate the cause of the
Guelfs in the hope of reconstituting the Tuscan Guelf League.
Saracens (Canto 27). In the Middle Ages Saracens was a term
used to indicate the Arabs in general and by extension the Muslims
in general. The term strictly designate the people of NW Arabia, while
in Spain the Muslims were generally known as Moors. During this period
Christians were fighting against the Moors in their defence, or because
they had usurped the Holy Land, due to the negligence of the Popes.
Saracens are mentioned here in relation to Pope Boniface VIII who,
instead of making war upon them, was waging war against the house
of Colonna; meaning that Boniface VIII is more interested to fight
a war for the supremacy of Rome and hence of temporal power, rather
than for the supremacy of Christian faith. (See also Colonna and Guido
da Monte Feltro).
Satan (Canto 7). A Hebrew word meaning "adversary". The name
Satan with its meaning was well known in the Middle Ages and figured
as a standard entry in Medieval dictionaries. It is of biblical origin
and Dante uses "the ancient adversary" for Satan a couple of times
in Purgatorio (Canto 11 and 14). Here it is used as a synonym or Lucifer.
It is the only time that the name is found in the Divine Comedy and
is here in connection with other mysterious words put by Dante in
the mouth of Pluto, guardian of Circle 4. The other mysterious words----which
form the first line of the Canto----are also said to be Hebrew.
Schoolmen (Introduction p. 15). A term used to designate Medieval
writers who dealt with theology and philosophy after the method of
Scholasticism. Scholasticism is the system of theological and philosophical
teaching of Western Christianity in the Middle Ages, based mostly
on the authority of the Fathers of the Church, of Aristotle and his
commentators, particularly Avicenna and AverroŽs. (See also Church
Fathers, Aristotle,Avicenna and AverroŽs).
Scrovegni Chapel (Canto 17). A chapel in Padua built by Enrico
degli Scrivegni with the intent to atone his own and his father's
sins of usury. His father, Reginaldo degli Scrovegni, had been dead
five years when Enrico had the chapel built in 1303. In the same year
Enrico called Giotto to Padua to have it decorated with his famous
See Panderers and Seducers.
Semiramis (Canto 5). Queen of Assyria (1356-1314 B.C.) and
wife of Nino whom she succeeded. Dante's information about Semiramis
is taken from Paulus Orosius' Historia (I, 4). Orosius, a pupil of
St. Augustine, was born in Tarragona, Spain, in 385 and died in 420.
His Historia became a kind of textbook of universal history for the
Middle Ages, and was extremely important for Dante's knowledge of
history. Here Dante repeats Orosius almost literally. It is interesting
to note (or, perhaps, it is to be expected) that many authors in the
Middle Ages refer to Semiramis as an example of wanton lust
Siena (Canto 29). A city in Tuscany, some 35 mi. S of Florence.
Siena became a free commune in the 12th century, it soon developed
into a wealthy republic and a stronghold of the Ghibelline party in
central Italy. During the 12th and 13th centuries Siena became a great
rival of Florence, and there was constant warfare between the two
cities. A memorable date during this period was the year 1260 when
the Guelf Florentine troops were totally destroyed at the battle of
Montaperti. A decade later, however, Siena was defeated by the Guelfs
of Tuscany in 1269. Siena is mentioned here by Griffolino d'Arezzo
as the birthplace of Alberto, the man who had accused him to be a
magician. For this Griffolino was accused of heresy and burned at
the stakes. (See also Griffolino and Montaperti).
Simon the Magician (Canto 19). Samaritan sorcerer or magician
who attempted to buy spiritual power from the Apostles, and especially
the power to confer the Holy Spirit. But he was rebuked by St. Peter
for thinking that such a power, which is a gift from God, could be
bought or sold. The story is told in the fifth book of the New Testament
called the Acts of the Apostles (8, 9-24). From the name Simon derives
the word Simony as applied to the buying and selling of ecclesiastical
preferments or offices. The person engaged in this kind of traffic
is called simonist. (See also Barrators).
See Simon the Magician.
Sodomites (Canto 15). The word `sodomite' is derived from the
biblical name of Sodom or Sodoma, the principal city of the Plain
which was destroyed by fire from heaven because of the inhabitants
unnatural carnal wickedness. The story is related both in the Old
and in the New Testaments. Homosexuality is understood as an unnatural
act or, better, as an act of violence against nature. In keeping with
biblical tradition the Sodomites of Inferno are punished with flakes
of fire that fall upon them from above. At the same time they must
continually run over a desert of burning sand. (See also Brunetto
Latini, Francesco d'Accorso and Priscian).
Soothsayers and Diviners (Canto 20). A soothsayer is a person
who professes to foretell events; and divination is the practice of
attempting to foretell future events or to discover hidden knowledge
by occult or supernatural means. For Dante soothsayers and diviners
are practitioners of "magic frauds". In Inferno they are condemned
to walk backwards because their heads are twisted so that they cannot
see ahead, that is in front of them. They cannot see forwards, but
only backwards. Dante places them in the Forth Ditch of Circle 8.
Among them are Anphiaraus, Tiresias, Manto, Michael Scot, and Guido
Bonatti. (See also the names just mentioned).
Sowers of Discord (Canto 28). Sowers of Discord, or Schismatics,
are those who divide human communities: religious, political or family.
As such this is typically a `public' sin, and Dante felt it very deeply
because he himself was a victim of the bitter political division that
was taking place at every level of society during the communal strife
of the 13th and 14th centuries. Dante places the Sowers of Discord
in the Ninth Ditch of Circle 8. Their punishment is to be continually
slashed, mutilated and torn apart by the swords of demons. Among the
Sowers of Discord Dante places Mohammed, Ali, Fra Dolcino, Pier da
Medicina, Mosca dei Lamberti, Bertran de Born and one of his relatives
called Geri del Bello. (See also the names just mentioned).
Squanderers (Canto 13). The Squanderers here are not to be
confused with the Prodigals of Canto 7, a category of people opposite
to the Avaricious. Here, instead, the Squanderer is a person who acts
with furious violence against his own possessions to the point of
total destruction. This is the reason for which they are condemned
among the Suicides, in Second Ring of Circle 7, but with a different
punishment: the destroyers of their own possessions are here pursued,
mutilated and destroyed by ferocious black hounds. (See also Jacopo
da Santo Andrea).
Statius (Introduction, p. 24). Publius Papinus Statius, Latin
poet, born in Naples about 45 A.D., lived in Rome most of his life
and died c. 96. He was a favorite of Emperor Domitian. Statius wrote
an epic poem in the manner of Virgil called Thebaid which was well
known to Dante. Dante does not mention Statius in Inferno. Statius
is met by Dante in Purgatorio. He is briefly mentioned here because
in the Comedy Statius functions as one of Dante's guides, in the sense
that he accompanies Dante, even after Virgil has disappeared, and
walks with him (Dante) through Earthly Paradise. In addition, together
with Dante, he is led by Matelda to drink of the waters of Eunoe.
Strait of Gibraltar (Canto 26). Alluded to by Ulysses, the
Strait of Gibraltar is where Hercules "planted" the two Pillars marking
the far west boundaries of the world beyond which no man could sail
and hope to return. (See also Ulysses).
Styx (Canto 7-8). In mythology, Styx was a river of Hades that
the souls of the dead had to cross on their journey from the realm
of the living. In Dante's conception Styx is a river of Hell in the
form of a marsh which separates upper Hell from its lower section,
which is called the City of Dis. In the Stygean filthy marsh are condemned
the Wrathful, some half way and some totally immersed in its muddy
waters. Dante and Virgil cross the Styx on Phlegyas' boat, and while
they are on their way Filippo Argenti, one of the souls condemned
there, tries to impede their passage. Filippo is rejected and rebuked
with extremely harsh words by Dante, and Virgil approves. (See also
Sylvester I (Canto 19). A Roman, Sylvester I was Pope (314-335)
during the reign of Emperor Constantine I who built for him the Lateran
and several other churches in Rome. Here Pope Sylvester is referred
to as "the first rich father", in connection with the so-called Donation
of Constantine. (See Constantine).
Tegghiaio (Canto 18). Tegghiaio Aldobrandi belonged to the
powerful Florentine family of the Adimari and was a very important
Guelf leader. In 1256 he became mayor of Arezzo and died before 1266.
He was one of the captains of the Florentine troops at the battle
of Montaperti, although he had been one of those who strongly counseled
the Florentine Guelfs not to undertake that expedition against Siena
which, in fact, resulted as a total defeat of the Florentine Guelfs.
Dante places Tegghiaio, together with Jacopo Rusticucci and Guido
Guerra among the Sodomites, in the Third Ring of Circle 7.
Terence (Canto 18). Publius Terentius Afer was born in Carthage
about 195 B.C. and died in Rome about 159 B.C. He was a Roman writer
of comedies and six play by him survive. Terentius is alluded here
for a passage in his comedy Eunuchus. The specific reference
is to Thais, a harlot in the Eunuchus. This play of Terence
was well known and this particular reference had been commented, among
others, by Cicero in his De amicitia, and by John of Salisbury
in his Policraticus. (See also ThaÔs).
Tesoro (Canto 15). It is Brunetto Latini's major work
written in French prose between 1262 and 1266 and called Trťsor. The
Thesaurus is a vast encyclopedic work in three volumes. It
was translated into Italian by Bono Giamboni a contemporary of Brunetto
Latini. It is mentioned here in connection to the fact that, during
their conversation in this Canto, Brunetto Latini recommends to Dante
his Tesoro, "in which I still live", says Brunetto. Some critics have
taken this statement as a pre-humanistic assertion that man can become
"eternal" through his/her works done in life.
ThaÔs (Canto 18). Name of a courtesan in Terence's play Eunuchus
(III, 1). Although Terence's ThaÔs is obviously a fictitious character
of a play, there was in reality a historical ThaÔs, from Athens. She
was a courtesan and a follower of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.)
in Asia. This ThaÔs is described by various Latin poets among whom
Ovid and Juvenal. But Dante's ThaÔs, in this Canto, is a flatterer
described by Virgil as a "filthy and dishevelled wench who scratches
at herself with shit-filled nails" (vv. 130-131)--a crude realism
that brings back the reader to the filthy contrapasso that must be
endured by the Flatterers of the Second Ditch of Circle 8, who are
sunk in human excrements.
Thebes (Canto 14). The main city of Boetia. at the end of the
6th century B.C. Thebes began to struggle against Athens in order
to maintain her position in Boetia and in Greece. During the Persian
wars Thebes sided (480-479) with the Persians, but the Persians were
defeated and Thebes was punished. After the death of Edipus, King
of Thebes, the two mail heirs were Eteocles and Polynices. Instead
of dividing the kingdom in half, they agreed to alternate yearly as
kings. Then a dispute arose because Eteocles at the end of his term
refused to give up his reign. Consequently Polynices asked for help
from Adrastus, King of Argus, and an expedition against Thebes was
undertaken by them with the help of five additional Kings. The expedition
goes under the name of the `Seven against Thebes'. The seven Kings
were, Polynices, Adrastus, Amphiaraus, Capaneus, Hippomedon, Parthenopaeus,
Tydaeus. With the exception of Adrastus, all of the rest were killed.
The story of the expedition is told by Aeschylous and by Statius in
his Thebaid. Thebes is mentioned or alluded to several times in the
Comedy. In this Canto the city is mentioned in connection with Capaneus
and the expedition of Adrastus. In Canto 33 Dante qualifies Pisa as
the "New Thebes" Thebes, because for the ancients Thebes was symbolic
of corruption and injustice.
Thibaut of Navarre (Canto 22). Born in 1237, Thibaut II became
King of Navarre in 1253. Navarra is in N. Spain, but during this period
the kingdom of Navarra extended beyond the Pirenees and included also
Champagne in French territory. Thibaut II married Isabelle of France,
daughter of Louis IX, the Saint. In 1270 Louis IX undertook the VIII
Crusade, and Thibaut joined his father-in-law. But the Crusade was
cut short due to an epidemic desease which killed Louis IX while in
Tunisia. Thibaut, too, became ill; so he was brought to Sicily where
he died before the end of the year. Thibaut is here referred to by
Ciampolo (a barrator from Navarra of whom we know very little) who
calls Thibaut a "good king".
Aquinas. See Aquinas, Thomas
Traitors (Canti 32-34). Traitors are placed in Circle 9 and
are divided into four classes. See Fraudulent, The.
Tristan (Canto 5). Hero of medieval French romance. He was
the lover of Yseult, wife of King Mark of Cornwall. When King Mark
discovered the two lovers in Yseult's chamber, he mortally wounded
Tristan with his poisoned sword. In his death throes Tristan embraced
Yseult so strongly that both died in that embrace. Dante places Tristan
among the Lustful of Circle 2.
Ulysses (Canto 26). Latin name for Odysseus, Ulysses was the
son and successor of King Laertes of Ithaca. A leader of Greek forces
during the Trojan war, Ulysses was noted for his cunning strategy.
At the beginning he avoided serving in the war because his wife Penelope
had just born him a son, Telemacus, and Ulysses didn't feel like leaving
the family and feigned to be mad. However he was exposed by Palamedes,
King of Euboea, and joined the war. During the ten years siege of
Troy he rendered many and important services to the Greeks. In these
exploits he was almost always with Diomedes, King of Argos. Among
their misdeeds there was the theft of the Palladium (the famous statue
of Minerva which protected Troy from the enemy), and there was the
stratagem of the wooden horse by means of which Troy was taken. After
the fall of Troy, Ulysses wandered about the world for ten years before
returning to Ithaca. However, here Dante broke with tradition and
imagined Ulysses as never returning to his home in Ithaca, but continuing
his wanderings pushed by an irresistible passion to experience the
world even beyond the Pillars of Hercules--his fatal decision. In
Inferno Dante places Ulysses together with Diomedes among Fraudulent
Counselors in the Eighth Ditch of Circle 8. (See also Diomedes).
Usurers (Canto 17). Usury is understood as an excessive percentage
charge for the use of money. In the Middle Ages the Church forbade
the use of usury, as the practice created social problem. In addition,
money was considered a barren commodity and therefore unproductive.
However, the bankers and merchants princes of north Italy disregarded
the Church restrictions and loaned money at very high rates of interest.
For the medieval mind the idea that money would make more money without
actual work on the part of man appeared to be an operation against
nature. You cannot cause to be productive what by nature is barren.
But investing in land or stock was considered appropriate. This was
a concept already set forth by Aristotle in his Politics (I, x, 1257b).
During Dante's time the practice of usury had brought big problems
to the cities and particularly to Florence. Dante feels a profound
disdain against the usurers. The majority of usurers mentioned in
this Canto are from Florence. For Dante a usurer looses his human
appearance and become almost an animal. In fact the usurers' punishment
in Hell is to be crouched up on a barren desert of burning sand, their
faces indistinguishable and each bearing about his neck a money bag
on which the arms of the owner are placed. On each emblem is depicted
an animal which indicates the banker's family and, at the same time,
is symbolic of the `degradation' of their humanity to animality. Dante
places the Usurers among the Violent in the Third Ring of Circle 7.
Vanni Fucci (Canto 24). Vanni was the illegitimate son of Fuccio
dei Lazzeri, a noble family of Pistoia (23 mi NW of Florence). Perhaps
Dante had met him during the war between Florence and Pisa, in 1292,
in which Vanni had sided with the Florentine troops as a mercenary.
In the few documents we have about him, he is described as a militant
Black and as a violent person. Dante, however, places Vanni not among
the Violent, but among the Thieves, in the Seventh Ditch of Circle
8, because he stole some ornaments from the Cathedral of Pistoia,
which at that time was famous for its treasures. Someone else had
been accused and imprisoned for that theft, and later when Vanni was
implicated, he run away and wasn't caught. Also, apparently it was
not widely known that Vanni was actually one of the thieves in that
sacrilegious robbery, and Dante insists here in making the point.
Vanni takes his revenge on Dante by "prophesising" events that will
see the defeat and expulsion of the Whites from Florence (1302) and
their definite defeat in 1306. It is to be noted that this is the
fourth "prophesy" that Dante hears in Inferno: the first from Ciacco,
the second from Farinata, and the third from Brunetto Latino.
Venedico Caccianemico (Canto 18). Venedico of the Caccianemici
family of Bologna was born around 1228. He was a Guelf and had important
positions in several cities, including Milan in 1275 and 1286, Pistoia
in 1283, Modena in 1273 and 1274. He was therefore well known in north
Italy. Dante also knew him, although we do not know the circumstances
of their meeting. Venedico was accused of being a panderer because
he had brought his own sister Ghisolabella to do the will of the marquis
of Este, Obizzo II (1264-1293), inducing her to sin. Dante places
Venedico among the Panderers and Seducers in the First Ditch of Circle
Verona (Introduction, pp. 3-5). Verona is located on the banks
of the Adige River, some 65 mi W of Venice. The city grew to power
and prosperity within the Roman Empire as a result of its commercial
and military strategic position. During the barbarian invasions of
the 5th and 6th centuries, Odoacer made Verona his fortress and Theodoric
made it his favorite residence. The city became then a seat of the
Lombard duchy, and subsequently it became a free commune in the 12th
century. In 1167 Verona joined the Lombard League in opposition to
Frederick Barbarossa. From 1226 to 1259 the city was ruled by the
tyrant Ezzelino da Romano. Then the Della Scala family became the
lords of Verona, and the city reached its maximum splendor under Cangrande
della Scala (1290-1329). Cangrande ruled Verona first in 1308 and
then from 1311 until his death. During his exile Dante enjoyed the
hospitality of Cangrande from 1313 to, perhaps, 1318. In recognition
and as a sign of friendship toward his host, Dante will later dedicate
his Paradiso to Cangrande.
Villani, Giovanni (Introduction, p. 3). Italian historian of
Florence, was born c. 1275, ten years after Dante, and died in the
plague of 1348. He wrote a universal history that spans from ancient
time to 1348. Villani was a functionary of the city of Florence and
was witness to several events that he describes. As such, his history
of the city is quite reliable for the period of time in which he lived.
Violent, The (Canti 12-17). Violence is an unjust exertion
done with force (1) against God, Nature or Art; (2) against ones own
person or possessions; and (3) against neighbors' persons or possessions.
In Dante's Inferno all these sinners are all condemned in Circle
7, in three separate Rings corresponding to the three different kinds
of violence: Ring 1 punishes the violent against their neighbors'
persons or possessions; Ring 2 punishes the violent against their
own persons or possessions; Ring 3 punishes the violent against God
(Blasphemers), against Nature (Sodomites), and against Art (Usurers).
Vergil or Virgil. Publius Vergilius Maro, the great Roman poet,
was born near Mantua, in northern Italy, in 70 B.C. He first studied
in Cremona (some 40 mi W of Mantua), and then in Milan, Naples and
Rome. After his education Virgil returned to his father's farmhouse
where he lived for some ten years farming, studying and writing poetry.
Then he moved to Rome where he became part of the literary circle
which was patronized by the wealthy Roman statesman Maecenas and by
the first Roman Emperor Augustus. Virgil published his Eclogues, or
Bucolics, in 37 B.C.. A few years later he published the Georgics,
written at the request of Maecenas and dedicated to him. For the rest
of his life Virgil worked on the Aeneid, the great national epic narrating
the adventures of Aeneas. Virgil died in 19 B.C. and at his request
was buried near Naples. Virgil's influence was enormous, and several
poets have acknowledge their debt to him, including first and foremost
In the Divine Comedy Virgil is Dante's most important guide, after
Beatrice. In Dante's work he represents the light of human reason
which is indispensable in guiding human beings toward the good. As
such, Virgil is even more important than Beatrice. In addition, Virgil
is for dante `his master and his author, the only one from whom he
took the style that brought him honor'--as Dante himself acknowledged
at the very beginning of his masterpiece (Canto 1, 85-88). Therefore
while historically Virgil is Dante ideal author and authority, symbolically
he represents the maximum edge that human beings can reach with reason
and philosophy. Beyond that theology and grace are necessary to the
attainment of the ultimate goal which is God
Wrathful, The (Canto 8). Wrath is understood as one of the
feelings "natural" to animals, but human beings must control it with
their reasons. According to Aristotle and to medieval thinkers, wrath
is a natural and positive feeling which is good to have, but it must
be kept in check. This is also the position held by St. Thomas Aquinas,
and the position followed also by Dante. Basically anger becomes a
reproachable and condemnable vice when it turns into intemperate anger
or blind rage. As such wrath is a mortal sin. Dante places the Wrathful
in the Fifth Circle of Hell immersed, partially or totally, in a marsh
called Styx. Dante and Virgil cross the Styx in Phlegyas' boat. Phlegyas
is the guardian of this circle.
The list of
books below is a minimal bibliography. For a fuller listing, and for
a deeper treatment of many subjects relating to Dante and his works,
see the appropriate entry in the following:
Encyclopedia. Richard H. Lansing, General Editor. New York: Garland
Eric. Dante, Poet of the Secular World. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1961.
Life of Dante. Trans. Paul Rugggiers. Berkeley and Los Angeles:
University of California Press, 1954.
G. Dante. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1954.
A Handbook to Dante Studies. Trans. David More. Oxford: Blackwell
and New York: Barnes and Noble, 1950.
R. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Trans. Willard
R. Trask. New York: Harper and Row, 1963.
Dante's Italy and Other Essays. Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 1984.
G. The Invention of Dante's Commedia. New Haven and London:
Yale University Press, 1974.
Francis. Dante's Drama of the Mind. Princeton: Princeton University
Joan. The Political Vision of the Divine Comedy. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1984.
The Two Dantes and Other Studies. Berkeley and Los Angeles:
University of California Press, 1977.
Dante and Philosophy. New York, Evanston and Los Angeles: Harper
and Row, 1963.
Ernst H. The King's Two Bodies. Princeton: Princeton University
Robert. Allegory in Dante's "Commedia". Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1969.
Italy in the Age of Dante and Petrarch. London and New York:
Donna. Dante and the Empire. New York: Peter Lang, 1987.
Giuseppe. Dante Poet of the Desert: History and Allegory in the
Commedia. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979.
Medieval Culture: An Introduction to Dante and His Times. New
York: Ungar, 1958.
Charles. An Essay on the Vita Nuova. Cambridge: Harvard University
------ . Journey
to Beatrice. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.