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Posts Tagged ‘Capaneus’

Recapping Dante: Canto 14, or a Finger-Wagging Editorial Letter

January 20, 2014 | by


Priamo della Quercia, Dante Meets the Sodomites, c. 15th century.

This winter, we’re recapping the Inferno. Read along!

Dear Dante,

I’ve received your manuscript for Canto 14 of the Inferno, and I have quite a few notes. The language and poetry of this passage is absolutely magical; a few passages in particular caught my attention, such as “The gloomy forest rings it like a garland,” (line ten), which is such a beautiful way of phrasing it. And the expression “scorn for fire,” on line forty-six, sounds like the title of a Philip Roth novel. You have a good ear for lyricism and your poem is a unique, fascinating glimpse into theology, history, literature, even love. You’re really carving out a niche for yourself in the Italian canon—kudos!

That said, certain parts left me wanting more, and they confused me enough to wonder if you were really trying your hardest. On line forty-three, Dante addresses Virgil by saying, “Master, you who overcome all things—all but the obstinate fiends who sallied forth against us at the threshold of the gate.” This really threw me off. For the whole poem, Dante has been meek, eager to be with Virgil, and here it almost seems as if he’s mocking Virgil. It doesn’t really fit in with the reader’s impression of Dante—which, I hasten to mention, you have spent the last thirteen cantos crafting expertly.

This canto focuses on those who have sinned against God. Their punishment is to have flakes of fire slowly rained down on them (nice touch, by the way—very Sodom and Gomorrah). Our attention is drawn to one sinner who is sitting in the corner brooding, almost without regard for the flakes of fire falling over him; it’s such a magnificent image that I almost expect him to be Hector or Achilles, but instead it’s a small-timer named Capaneus, who goes on to talk about Thebes for a few lines. From what I understand, Capaneus is in hell because after his victory at Thebes, he scorned Jupiter, who in an instant struck him with lightning for blasphemy. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: you need to find a readership and speak to it. Nobody will know who Capaneus is, Dante. You already told the story of an unknown historical figure in the last canto; now it’s time to make a splash. If you want to talk about Thebes, let’s tag in Oedipus himself. Read More »