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From This Blind World Into the Living Light. Feraco Myth to Science Fiction 7 December 2009. Venedico Caccianemico (Panderer). Sold his sister, Ghisola (often called “Ghisolabella” for her beauty) to the Marquis Obbizo da Este in order to win influence with him

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from this blind world into the living light

From This Blind World Into the Living Light


Myth to Science Fiction

7 December 2009

venedico caccianemico panderer
Venedico Caccianemico (Panderer)
  • Sold his sister, Ghisola (often called “Ghisolabella” for her beauty) to the Marquis Obbizo da Este in order to win influence with him
  • He was a well-known Guelf politician in Bologna, a city whose populace was notorious for pandering
  • He, like the Unknown Florentine Suicide in Circle Seven (and like one of the Grafters in Bolgia Five), stands in for his city here; his suffering is Dante’s way of metaphorically punishing the town
jason seducer
Jason (Seducer)
  • An ancient hero who plays a role in Ovid’s Metamorphosis
  • As leader of the Argonauts, Jason retrieved the Golden Fleece thanks in part to Medea, a princess of Colchis who used her magic to help Jason defeat the dragon guarding the Fleece
  • Jason took her along with him after leaving Colchis, married her, and sired two of her children, only to abandon her in order to marry a woman named Cruesa
  • In response, Medea killed her own children and poisoned Cruesa
  • Jason had also seduced and abandoned a woman named Hypsipyle midway through his quest for the Fleece, so the sexual and emotional infidelity he displays towards Medea aren’t exactly new
alessio interminelli flatterer
Alessio Interminelli (Flatterer)
  • A sinner who, like Venedico (but unlike Jason), wants to hide his identity and terrible suffering from Dante; it’s him who reveals this new trend among the sinners
  • Dante’s original Italian descriptions of him onomatopoeically hiss and ooze – thus making him so inseparable from his disgusting punishment (the double “Cs” in particular recall the sound of Alessio slapping his waste-covered head in torment) that we recoil from any discussion of him, remembering him only as a disgusting, wretched figure
  • If we recoil from their sight, it’s probably a good thing – provided we recognize the sin before renouncing it
  • (Much of the renunciation actually takes place during the last two parts of The Divine Comedy; The Inferno is much more interested in really recognizing each sin for what it is, as well as understanding why those who seek salvation have to purge themselves of their desire to commit sin)
pope nicholas iii simoniac
Pope Nicholas III (Simoniac)
  • Nicholas is the simonist pope who once served as the head of the Inquisition; he assumed the papacy in 1277
  • He’s a fascinating figure because of his contradictory nature
  • As a pope, he actually did many good things – he cared for the poor and brokered compromises between different religious factions; however, his high moral standards were offset by his eagerly nepotistic practice of handing church positions to undeserving family members in order to benefit himself
  • Interestingly, Nicholas mistakes Dante for Boniface at first, eventually revealing that our two popes from “Into the Inferno” (Boniface VIII and Clement V) are far more corrupt than he – and that they will displace him from his tube
tiresias diviner
Tiresias (Diviner)
  • Perhaps the most famous fortune-teller in all of classical mythology, Tiresias gained his powers when he stumbled upon two entangled snakes and struck at them with his staff
  • Upon striking them, he was changed into a woman – then was changed back seven years later when he found the same snakes and struck them again
  • After taking the wrong side in Zeus and Hera’s argument, he was struck blind by Hera; Zeus, feeling somewhat guilty for involving Tiresias in the first place, gave him the ability to see the future instead
  • He pops up in a lot of different places – everything from The Odyssey to The Waste Land – so he’s a good one to know
unidentified navarrese ciampolo grafter
Unidentified Navarrese (Ciampolo) (Grafter)
  • Little is known about him save what Dante writes, although he’s French rather than Florentine; although Ciardi never identifies him, many scholars accept that he is Ciampolo, who took bribes in exchange for favors through his service for his king
  • His total lack of moral fiber also distinguishes him: he offers to betray his peers in order to save himself, then turns on those who accept what is, in essence, another bribe
  • It’s only fitting that he, a irredeemably corrupted soul, disappears back into the black pitch
jovial friars hypocrites
Jovial Friars (Hypocrites)
  • These two (Catalano and Loderingo) were founders of a religious/military organization that aimed to protect widows and orphans, as well as promote peacekeeping
  • Since Catalano was a Guelf and Loderingo a Ghibelline, the pope (Clement IV) sent them to “keep the peace” in Florence
  • This was before the divide within the Guelfs; at this point, they’re still unabashedly supporting of papal power
  • It was therefore no surprise that the Jovial Friars’ ostensible promises of neutrality soon gave way to practices that openly favored the Guelfs, who went on to banish the Ghibellines
caiaphas hypocrites
Caiaphas (Hypocrites)
  • As the High Priest of Jerusalem, Caiaphas is in a position to spare Christ; instead, Scripture shows him advising the Pharisees that "one man should die for the people" so that "the whole nation perish not" (John 11:50)
  • Dante, seeing the advice as not only dishonest but self-serving, places him and his relatives on the floor of the Sixth Bolgia, where they’re continually stepped on by the other weighed-down Hypocrites
  • This contrapasso – the rhetorical term for the logical relationships between the sins and their punishments in Dante’s Hell– has been interpreted in darker terms; at one point, Dante shows Virgil “marveling” for an extended period of time at Caiaphas’s punishment, even though he later rebukes Dante for lingering over the sight of Master Adam and Sinon fighting
  • Some see Virgil’s seemingly hypocritical actions here as Dante’s way of endorsing the Jews’ persecution as payback for Christ’s crucifixion
vanni fucci thief
Vanni Fucci (Thief)
  • Vanni Fucci was a Black from Pistoia, Florence’s “rival city,” who committed many crimes – murder among them
  • He’s placed below the Seventh Circle because he also stole holy objects from the Pistoian cathedral
  • Fucci just generally seems like a foul character, even in death – he vindictively announces the future decimation of the Whites, then gestures obscenely at God
  • Other shades have done worse things, but Fucci might be the easiest character to dislike in the entire Inferno
five noble thieves
Five Noble Thieves
  • You only need to know what happens to whom among this group
  • Agnello (Human) merges with Cianfa (Six-Legged Lizard), who attacks him
  • Buoso (Human) loses his form to Francesco (Reptile), who attacks him
  • Puccio Sciancato remains human…for now
    • It’s implied that he’ll be attacked soon
ulysses evil counselor
Ulysses (Evil Counselor)
  • This is Odysseus from The Odyssey (the Romans changed Greek names at the drop of a hat), but Dante hadn’t read it or The Iliad because they hadn’t been translated
  • Instead, he relies on Virgil’s pro-Trojan The Aeneid, which has many unkind things to say about the man who inspired the Trojan Horse (talk about deception!), tricked Achilles into joining the war, and stole the Palladium from Troy
  • The death sequence Dante relates here is entirely the poet’s creation, and shows the gifted rhetorician traveling far beyond the realms that normal men have traveled; he dies on the edge of Mount Purgatory, which is where we’ll end our story
  • This isn’t an accidental parallel; you’ll notice Dante begins Canto XXVI by warning himself not to go too far overboard with his own rhetorical flourishes while describing what he sees
guido da montefeltro evil counselor
Guido da Montefeltro (Evil Counselor)
  • Guido was a both a perpetrator and victim of fraud, much like Ulysses
  • He was a Ghibelline military leader outside of Florence who won several victories over the Guelfs and even forces who merely fought out of loyalty to the pope
  • Once he suffered defeat, he was excommunicated, only to find even more military success
  • Boniface rescinded the excommunication in order to get him out of the public’s eye, and Guido “converted” and became a friar
  • Once a friar, Boniface compels him to give him advice about how to destroy the pope’s enemies; when Guido seems reluctant to answer, Boniface promises the impossible (to absolve him of a sin in advance), and Guido complies, telling the pope to extend a false promise of amnesty to the main family that opposes him
  • He perpetrated that fraud, but was ultimately betrayed by Boniface, who never absolved him of his sin – and thus doomed him to the Eighth Circle
guido da montefeltro evil counselor14
Guido da Montefeltro (Evil Counselor)
  • T. S. Eliot uses these lines in the Italian original as the epigraph to his famous poem about a modern-day parallel to Guido, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock":

S'i' credesse che mia risposta fosse

a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,

questa fiamma staria sanza più scosse;

ma però che già mai di questo fondo

non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,

sanza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

If I believed that my reply were made

To one who could ever climb to the world again,

This flame would shake no more. But since no shade

Ever returned – if what I am told is true –

From this blind world into the living light,

Without fear of dishonor I answer you.

mahomet ali sowers of religious discord
Mahomet / Ali (Sowers of Religious Discord)
  • In one of the uglier instances of medieval Christian thinking’s influence on the text, Dante portrays the Muslim world as the Christian world’s natural enemies
  • Mahomet (the founder of Islam) and Ali (his cousin/son-and-law) seem like they should be major characters, but they aren’t nearly as important, backstory-wise, as many of the others
  • In fact, they (as individuals) are not necessarily important
  • Dante’s using them to paint a larger picture, one that indicts all of Islam for its supposed wrongs against Christianity
  • Since we’re in the circle about discord, Dante can’t have the faith wandering around the underworld – so he uses (and punishes) people instead
  • Therefore, the men actually function more as microcosmic symbols for their faith than as real people
mahomet ali sowers of religious discord16
Mahomet / Ali (Sowers of Religious Discord)
  • Islam was a hugely influential cultural force at a time when Christianity happened to be facing a number of splits and battles (we’ve just left the Crusades), and Dante would have been educated to see Muslims uncritically as divisive and implacable enemies
  • One popular (incorrect) teaching at the time even held that Mahomet had actually been a cardinal who sought the papacy, and who caused a huge schism within Christianity when he was denied the highest office – one of the worst wrongs you could commit in Dante’s eyes (although, oddly, he seems to have absolutely no compunction about taking shots at the current Church itself)
pier da medicina sower of political discord
Pier da Medicina (Sower of Political Discord)
  • He turned the leading families of Ravenna and Rimini against one another, falsely informing each that the other plotted to destroy it
  • He introduces Dante to the other Sowers
mosca dei lamberti political discord
Mosca dei Lamberti (Political Discord)
  • The original source of the conflict between the Guelfs and Ghibellines; although deeper political and cultural issues sustained the conflict, a single incident created it
  • A man named Buondelmonte de’ Buondelmonti courted a woman from the powerful Amidei family, only to reject her hand in marriage (choosing instead a member of the Donati clan)
  • Mosca advised the enraged Amideis to take the harshest revenge they could, and he, the Amideis, and a member of the Uberti family (Farinata’s ancestor) stabbed Buondelmonte to death near the statue of Mars (which the Florentine Suicide alluded to earlier) on Easter Sunday 1215
  • The Buondelmonti family subsequently attacked the Uberti clan; the former would organize its allies into the Guelfs, while the latter led what would become the Ghibellines
bertrand de born sower of familial discord
Bertrand de Born (Sower of Familial Discord)
  • Dante’s most famous contrapasso, Betrand de Born sowed discord between the English King Henry II and his son (also named Henry)
  • Before death, de Born was also a poet of some renown; Raffa believes Dante was inspired by the following passage, which “celebrates the mayhem and violence of warfare”:

Maces, swords, helmets--colorfully—

Shields, slicing and smashing,

We'll see at the start of the melee

With all those vassals clashing,

And horses running free

From their masters, hit, downtread.

Once the charge has been led,

Every man of nobility

Will hack at arms and heads.

Better than taken prisoner: be dead.

griffolino d arezzo and capocchio alchemists
Griffolino d’Arezzo and Capocchio (Alchemists)
  • Both men tried to chemically alter metals in order to appear more valuable – similar in many ways to counterfeiting
  • Griffolino points out that while he’s punished for his misconduct here, it wasn’t what got him killed; instead, he jokingly promised a gullible but powerful friend that he could teach him how to fly
  • After failing miserably at flying – and making a fool of himself in the process – the friend complained to an inquisitor, who had Griffolino burned at the stake for supposedly practicing the “dark magic” that would have allowed the friend to fly
  • Capocchio was probably an old classmate of Dante’s from Florence, as he expects Dante to have recognized him
  • He had a talent for mimicking people and even objects, but soon turned his attention to making metal mimic other things
  • In the end, a total of three men were paid to burn him at the stake, indicating that his crimes were fairly serious
gianni schicchi evil impersonator
Gianni Schicchi (Evil Impersonator)
  • Gianni appears when he sinks his teeth into Capocchio and drags him back into the ditch
  • In life, he was a member of the Cavalcanti clan
  • He once impersonated a man who was already dead (Buoso Donati, one of the Five Noble Thieves) in order to dictate a false will – one that benefitted him hugely
master adam counterfeiter
Master Adam (Counterfeiter)
  • In certain Circles, shades are hostile to one another, usually by design (the Hoarders and the Wasters, the Wrathful and the Sullen); the Eighth Circle takes that hostility and makes it much more important
  • The sinners behave with hostility towards one another, whereas the blessed are supposed to love mankind
  • In the Tenth Bolgia, we meet two souls that seem to be perpetually at war with one another
  • Master Adam manufactured florins (Florence’s currency) that contained only 21-karat gold, making them essentially fake; apocryphal stories claim that his counterfeiting operation was prolific enough to start a currency crisis within Florence
sinon false witness
Sinon (False Witness)
  • Sinon was introduced to Dante through Virgil’s Aeneid, which (just as with Ulysses) paints him as a villain for assisting in the destruction of Troy
  • As part of the plot for moving the Trojan Horse inside the city’s walls, the Greeks “leave” Sinon behind when they seemingly desert the battlefield
  • In actuality, most of them are inside the horse
  • Sinon convinces the Trojans that the Greeks angered Athena when Odysseus stole the Palladium from Troy, and that they built the Horse in order to calm her fury; he even goes so far as to claim that he escaped before they could sacrifice him in her name in exchange for a safe voyage home
  • Believing the Horse to be a workable replacement for their stolen Palladium, the Trojans bring the Horse inside the city in order to placate the gods themselves; then the Greeks pour out of it at night and destroy everything
  • Thus the Greeks are able to destroy Troy through dishonor and fraud
nimrod and antaeus giants
Nimrod and Antaeus (Giants)
  • Nimrod was an extremely tall king whose subjects decided to build a tower (the Tower of Babel) that would reach Heaven; a displeased God scatters the people everywhere and fractures their language irreparably (Genesis’s explanation for linguistic diversity)
  • Nimrod’s former subjects no longer understand each other, and Nimrod himself has been robbed of sensible language entirely; he just babbles now
  • Nimrod’s subjects reflect their ruler’s pride – it takes a certain audacity to try building something that reaches into God’s realm without divine permission, and that audacity results in their punishment
  • Antaeus can talk (unlike Nimrod), and is also unchained; Virgil notes that he wasn’t one of the Giants who attacked the gods, although he did attach humans (and was killed by Hercules)
  • Antaeus is as proud as Nimrod; the poets reach the Ninth Circle because Virgil appeals to his pride, telling him that Dante will renew his reputation as a fearsome warrior if he helps them