Posts Tagged ‘sinners’
May 26, 2014 | by Alexander Aciman
Dante has shown that almost every canto in the Inferno obeys a certain logic. First, Dante and Virgil enter a new circle or ditch; Dante notices a small cluster of sinners being subjected to a gruesome, albeit clever punishment (shit-eating for the flatterers, amputation and disembowelment for the schism-makers); then Virgil will encourage him to approach a sinner, who inevitably ends up being an Italian eager to tell the story of his life in a way that downplays the gravity of his sin. Virgil and Dante move on afterward. Salt, pepper, and serve. This formula is so apparent that had Dante been less skilled, his stories less heartrending, the Inferno would’ve been a heavy-handed entertainment instead of a lyrical masterpiece.
The opening of canto 30 abandons this formula. We pick up where canto 29 left off, as Dante meets the alchemists and the Falsifiers of Others’ Persons. In order to convey exactly how psychotic these sinners are, Dante compares their violence to two famously macabre stories from the ancients. First he tells the story of the goddess Juno, who arranged the death of Ino by sending Ino’s lover into a fit of madness during which he took Ino’s son and “whirled him round and dashed him on a rock.” Ino jumped into the ocean after her dead son and drowned. That’s plenty gruesome, but then Dante tells a second story, this one about Hecuba of Troy, who saw her two sons killed and went mad with grief. These mad Thebans and Trojans, Dante writes, are nothing compared to the crazed sinner we encounter here, in the Tenth Pouch of the Eighth Circle of Hell, who bites into the neck of a fellow sinner.
Capocchio, one of Dante’s former classmates who was introduced in Canto 29, is the guy being bitten; Griffolino, another sinner who was introduced in 29, explains that the aggressor—the biter—is Gianni Schicchi, who, when he was on earth, pretended to be the late Buoso Donati in order to help his own family inherit a sum of money. Griffolino also points out Myrrha, who appears in The Metamorphoses as the daughter of the King of Cyprus. She so lusted for her father that she put on a disguise and seduced him. Oops! Read More »
April 28, 2014 | by Alexander Aciman
In Canto 27, just as Ulysses’s incandescent spirit departs, another burning sinner approaches Dante. This time, because the spirit is Italian, Dante speaks with him, instead of allowing Virgil to interpret; and though the sinner is never identified by name, the biographical information he offers suggests that he is Guido da Montefeltro, a well-known Ghibelline captain who fought a good many battles.
Much like Vanni Fucci, Guido is not eager to speak with Dante. He decides to speak only because he believes that Dante is one of the damned, and will never again be among the living—he feels secure that his story will never be heard again. Oops.
Guido says that Pope Boniface VIII solicited him for guidance on conquering Palestrina, a Ghibelline fortress. Guido demurred, but the Pope assured him his soul would be saved in exchange for his help—and that convinced Guido to help out, even if he had his doubts about the pope. Upon Guido’s death, St. Francis came to escort him to heaven, as promised, but a demon intervened on the grounds that no man can be pre-absolved for a sin he hasn’t yet committed. The Pope’s promise was thus null, and Guido was led instead to Minos, who deemed him guilty of fraudulent counsel. Read More »
April 14, 2014 | by Alexander Aciman
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 »
March 24, 2014 | by Alexander Aciman
The opening lines of canto 22 have a two-sided brilliance to them. First, there’s the way Dante—who is, along with Virgil, now in the company of demons—breathlessly describes the movements of a cavalry unit, the way soldiers will tousle hand-to-hand on the battlefield with war horns sounding through the air. It’s a nice lyrical passage that sounds like a nineteenth-century Romantic poet trying to modernize Homer’s battlefield passages. But then, absurdly, Dante juxtaposes those battle scenes with this “savage” band of demons; “as they say,” Dante writes, “in church with the saints, with guzzlers in the taverns.” It’s his polite way of saying that one must behave differently in the presence of demons who make farting sounds with their mouths and gather to the less-than-noble sounds of an anus trumpet. (See canto 21.)
As in the last canto, Dante is spellbound by a pool of pitch, where, now and then, he will see a sinner expose his back above the boiling liquid to relieve his suffering for a brief moment before diving back down. If the sinner stays above the surface for too long, a demon swoops down and tears him apart. Suddenly, Dante sees an overzealous sinner who has taken an irresponsibly long coffee break above the surface. Almost instantly, one of the demons grabs a billhook and prepares his talons so he can swoop down and shred the sinner to pieces. Dante has Virgil stop the massacre in order to learn a bit more about the sinner—he is from Navarre and accepted bribes when he worked for the king. Just as the sinner is about to be attacked, Virgil asks if there are any other Italians in the pitch. And who are we kidding? Of course there are going to be a ton of Italians in a place reserved for barrators. The sinner announces that he was just hanging out under the pitch with another Italian. Read More »