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Recapping Dante: Canto 25, or a Trip to the Reptile House

April 14, 2014 | by

canto 25

William Blake, The Circle of the Thieves; Agnolo Brunelleschi Attacked by a Six-Footed Serpent, Canto XXV, 1827

We’re recapping the Inferno. Read along! This week: Virgil shuts up and men become reptiles.

Canto 25 is known for having the least dialogue of any canto in the Inferno. It seems like a minor feat, but when you remember how many questions Dante likes to ask, and how long Virgil will typically spend explaining things, and how sinners really like to chat it up with the living, canto 25 begins to seem remarkable. In fact, Virgil hardly has the chance to explain anything at all here.

It begins with Vanni, the sinner from canto 24 who, in a fit of shame and spiteful anger, revealed to Dante the sad fate of the White Guelph party in Florence. Vanni makes an obscene gesture into the air, and curses God. And although we do not know exactly what “Making the figs with both his thumbs” means, we can guess that it is the centuries old Italian way of flipping God the bird. Dante wants to get away, and the snakes from the previous canto attack Vanni, hog-tying him and wrapping themselves around his neck to silence him. Read More »

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