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A Dim and Endless Congress: Circle One (Limbo). Feraco Myth to Science Fiction 16 November 2011. Canto IV: Data File. Setting: Our first Circle! Circle One: Limbo Figures: Homer, Horace, Lucan, Ovid (The Classical Poets), as well as many, many others Allusions: The Harrowing of Hell

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a dim and endless congress circle one limbo

A Dim and Endless Congress: Circle One (Limbo)


Myth to Science Fiction

16 November 2011

canto iv data file
Canto IV: Data File
  • Setting: Our first Circle! Circle One: Limbo
  • Figures: Homer, Horace, Lucan, Ovid (The Classical Poets), as well as many, many others
  • Allusions: The Harrowing of Hell
  • Punishable Sin: Paganism*
  • Summary: Dante wakes up and glimpses Hell for the first time. As the poets descend into the First Circle, we’re struck by how peaceful it seems. Dante meets an overwhelming array of historical figures, and glimpses the astonishing things man can achieve alone…but then is sobered by the realization that these great achievements pale in comparison to what is possible through God.
  • While Limbo already existed within Christian thought, Dante’s is much more densely populated; it essentially houses the “Greats of the B.C. Era”
  • He includes virtuous non-Christian adults in addition to the more-traditional unbaptized infants; this even included major figures from the Hebrew Bible, which medieval Christian thought held were “liberated” by Christ during the Harrowing of Hell
  • We thus find an astonishing array of noteworthy figures here, including many of Rome’s and Greece’s great heroes, thinkers, and artists – and even some medieval non-Christians
harrowing of hell
Harrowing of Hell
  • This refers to Christ’s post-crucifixion descent into Limbo, when he rescued and brought to heaven ("harrowing" implies a sort of violent abduction) his "ancestors" from the Hebrew Bible
  • This is only suggested in the Bible, and the story appears elsewhere in apocrypha – books related to but not included in the Bible
  • That said, it was popular enough to be declared church dogma twice (1215 and 1274)
  • Raffa: “Dante's version emphasizes the power – in both physical and psychological terms – of Christ's raid on hell.”
groups within limbo
Groups Within Limbo
  • Since there are far too many figures to cite and remember here, we won’t focus on all of them
    • It’s best to take a generalized approach when analyzing the fourth Canto
  • We can divide the ones we want to study into different groups: The Classical Poets, The Heroes and Heroines (Figures from Trojan/Roman Political History), and the Philosophers and Thinkers
heroes and heroines
Heroes and Heroines
  • Electra: Daughter of Atlas and mother of Dardanus, who’d go on to found Troy
  • Hector: Led Trojans against Greeks until Achilles killed him
  • Aeneas: He’s the hero of The Aeneid, escaping Troy as it burned and journeying to Italy (where he’d begin laying the foundation for the Roman Empire). His bloodline eventually produced Julius Caesar, who Dante considered the first Roman emperor (think Washington)
  • Camilla: A virgin warrior-queen who fought against the Trojans on Italian soil
  • Latinus: The king of the forces who fought the Trojans on Italian soil, Latinus eventually gave his daughter, Lavinia, to Aeneas in marriage.
  • Saladin: He’s grouped in with these figures, but he also stands apart; he’s a distinguished Muslim military leader who was widely respected – even by foes – for his chivalry
philosophers and thinkers
Philosophers and Thinkers
  • Most of the great thinkers here were men whose work largely fit within the church’s doctrinal framework; they represent the apex of human reason, Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle in particular
  • Others included Hippocrates, Euclid, and Ptolemy
  • Aristotle is the master of this domain
  • Aristotle commanded tremendous respect in the Middle Ages, so much so that he was known simply as “the Philosopher”
    • This is why Dante has the other philosophers look up to him
  • Aristotle owed his popularity to the Latin translations of his original Greek/Arabic works
    • Others, such as Plato (Aristotle’s teacher), had only a couple or even none of their works translated
aristotle cont d
Aristotle (cont’d)
  • His works covered everything – “the physical universe, biology, politics, rhetoric, logic, natural philosophy, metaphysics, and ethics”
    • He also tutored Alexander the Great, founded his own philosophical school, and lent his moral concepts to Dante’s Hell
  • Finally, Aristotle was the most important authority for two of Dante's favorite Christian thinkers, Albert the Great and his student Thomas Aquinas
    • Both strove to validate the role of reason and to sharpen its relationship to faith
the classical poets
The Classical Poets
  • We see four here: Homer, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan
    • Technically, Virgil makes five, and Dante makes six
  • Homer leads; he wrote epic poems about the war between the Greeks and Trojans (The Iliad) and Ulysses' adventurous return voyage (The Odyssey).
    • Dante hadn’t read his work (it hadn’t been translated from Greek yet), but the poet was quite popular among the writers Dante did read, and he gained knowledge of him through a sort of osmosis
  • Horace was most famous for his poem about poetry (Ars Poetica)
  • Ovid's Metamorphoses (mythological tales of transformations, often based on relations between gods and mortals) and Lucan's Pharsalia (treating the Roman civil war between Caesar and Pompey) gave Dante many of his Comedy’s non-Virgilean characters and allusions