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Recapping Dante: Canto 20, or True Dantective

March 10, 2014 | by

This winter, we’re recapping the Inferno. Read along! This week: Virgil and Dante go True Detective.


Giovanni Stradano, Canto XX, 1587.

Dante: I’ve never seen anything like it. The moment we entered the domain of the diviners, I knew right away something was very wrong. Some sick bastard went to town on them. Their bodies were contorted, their heads were twisted back 180 degrees so their tears fell down their asses. It’s the sort of thing nobody should see once. You spend the rest of your career trying to avoid anything like it again. I was almost ruined after that. But Virgil, he was fascinated.

* * *

Virgil: A man in hell surprises even himself. You go down there waiting to get hit with a rush of pity, but it never arrives. No. The first thing that hits you is the great irony of divination. You wonder, are these sinners being punished for lying—for creating the illusion that somehow they were graced with the power of premonition? Or maybe they’re down there because they saw something and decided to reveal whatever improbable truth nobody was supposed to know about until it actually happened? If that’s the case, then they already know what’s going to happen to them. You see, an ordinary sinner holds out in ignorance, thinking that something might change ten, one hundred years down the line. But the diviners know that they can’t leave hell. Is that why they’re weeping? Wouldn’t you weep if suddenly you felt the silence of God and knew He wasn’t going to return?

* * *

Dante: I can’t remember whom we spoke to first. There were a few Thebans, but none of them had anything useful to say. One old man, Amphiaraus, kept giving us some line about how he was sucked down into the earth and dragged to hell when he tried to delay his own death.  We figured out pretty quickly that these Thebans were all part of the same cult of seers, led by a blind man named Tiresias.

* * *

Virgil: Tiresias was a distraction, you see. That wasn’t the real story. You hear a big name like Tiresias, and you assume it’s going to tie back to him, but then we found a woman named Manto. Read More »