Canto XX of Dante’s Inferno
- Pages: 5
- Word count: 1059
- Category: Dante
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Virgil and Dante find themselves in Circle Eight, Bolgia Four. The damned in this circle are all diviners and soothsayers, viewed by Dante as practitioners of impious and unlawful arts who attempt to avert God’s designs by their predictions. Virgil implies that those who do prophesy believe that God Himself is “passive” in the face of their attempts to foresee, and possibly change, the future. For such impiety, those who have tried to look forward now have their heads turned backward on their bodies. Among these damned are Amphiareus, Tiresias, Aruns, Manto, Eurypylus, Michael Scott, Guido Bonatti, and Asdente. Body
Dante takes a step backward in his learning process in this canto. For the first time in Malebolge, Dante feels pity for the sinners in this circle, and Virgil chastises him for his behavior. Perhaps Dante wasn’t ready to see the true nature of sin in those earlier cantos. Also possible is that Virgil is fallible and can also feel pity for some of the souls in Hell but not for those in the final circles. In lines 31-33, Virgil asks why did Amphiarus flee, Amphiarus is one of the souls damned in this circle, he was one of the seven kings who fought against Thebes, foreseeing his death in the war, he tried to escape death by hiding from battle but soon met death in an earthquake while attempting to flee his pursuers. In lines 40-45 Virgil continues that Tiresias was also here, a famous soothsayer of Thebes. Here Dante mentions an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses in which Tiresias came upon two coupling serpents and, striking them with his rod, was transformed into a woman. When, seven years later, an identical encounter provoked the same action, he was changed back to a man. In lines 46-51 Virgil states, that Aruns was also found here, he was an Etruscan soothsayer who came from ‘Luni’s hills” and who predicted the civil war and also that it would end with Caesar’s victory and Pompey’s death.
In lines 52-93 Virgil mentions Manto, a famous Theban soothsayer. Virgil also delivers a description of how his native city, Mantua, originated and Dante promises to tell his story too. Virgil names a few of the souls, in lines 95-96 he mentions Alberto de Casalodi, a Guelph count of Brescia and became lord of Mantua in 1272, he foolishly followed a treacherous advice of Pinamonte dei Buonaccorsi, a native Mantuan, to banish the nobles from Mantua. Alberto soon found himself defenseless, and Pinamonte was able to seize power. In lines 110-113 Virgil mentions Calchas, an augur who indicated the most propitious time for the Greek fleet to depart from Aulis to Troy. Though Dante implies that Eurypylus, another augur, took part in the consultation at Aulis, he is mentioned by Virgil only as advising the Greeks to return home.
In lines 115-117 Virgil draws attention to the one beside Dante, the one with the skinny shanks who was Michael Scott. Michael Scott mastered every trick of magic fraud, a prince of mountebanks. He was an Irish scholar, famous scientist; philosopher and astrologer of the first half of the thirteenth century. His studies were largely in the occult. In lines 118-120 Virgil points to Guido Bonatti and Asdente. Guido Bonatti was a thirteenth century astrologer of Forli. He was a court astrologer to Guido da Montefeltro and advised Guido in matters of war. In the thirteenth century, Asdente was a shoemaker of Parma and turned diviner and won wide fame for forecasting predictions. After Virgil named some of the souls he told Dante that they should hurry onward because the moon is already setting. With that, the poets travel on to the next chasm. Conclusion
During Dante’s time, fortune telling and sorcery is prevalent in Italy. Diviners and soothsayers are found in different works of literature such as Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Medieval people from all walks of life- a shoemaker, astrologer, scientist, military adviser and kings believe in the craft of fortune telling and follow what the soothsayers said even if it means putting people into exile and not attending a war. Canto XX mentioned one of the 7 kings who fought against Thebes, a blind soothsayer from Greek Mythology, a soothsayer from Etruia, a sorceress, an irish scholar who dealt with the occult, a court astrologer and a military adviser- all of them reflected the practice of the forbidden arts before and during Dante’s time and until now it is still widely accepted and promoted by people. There are horoscope sections in the newspaper and magazines, false prophets and fortune tellers are found everywhere in the archipelago.
It is ironic that there are dozens of fortune tellers in front of the Quaipo Church when it is supposed to be a house of God and place of worship, not a place of sin. In keeping with Dante’s theme of Divine Retribution, the Fortune Tellers and Diviners have their heads on backwards, their tears ran down their backs, and down the between the cleft of their buttocks . These are the souls who, on Earth, tried to see too far ahead of them, and thus will spend eternity forever looking behind with blurred vision, for they sought to penetrate the future. Since they attempted to move themselves forward in time, so must they now go backwards through all eternity. Similar to the arts of sorcery being a distortion of God’s law, so are their bodies distorted in Hell. Following the teachings of the papacy, the theme of religion is broached, because the papacy did not approve of sorcery in any form. For the first time, Dante violates his own concept of judging each spirit by the standards of the time in which he lived. Here he condemns the Greek prophets, who were held in high esteem in their own time. It is interesting that the Old Testament prophets are not here, and Dante offers no explanation for their absence.
Alighieri, Dante. “The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri.” Mandelbaum, Allen. New York, New York: Bantam Dell. A Division of Random House Inc., 1980. Alighieri, Dante. “The Inferno.” Ciardi, John. New York, New York: Signet Classics, New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2009. Cliffnotes.com. The Divine Comedy: Inferno. n.d. 17 January 2013.