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University Of Texas At Austin

 
Circle 8, subcircles 7-10, cantos 24-30
 

 
Headings
More Fraud: Theft (24-5), Fraudulent Rhetoric (26-7), Divisiveness (28),
Falsification (29-30)

 
Icons
Vanni Fucci (24-5), Cacus (25), Ulysses and Diomedes (26), Guido da Montefeltro (27), Mohammed and Ali (28), Bertran de Born (28), Master Adam and Sinon the Greek (30)
 
Allusions
Incarnational Parody (25), Lucan and Ovid (25), Elijah's Chariot (26), Eteocles and Polynices (26)
 
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More Fraud: Theft (24-5), Fraudulent Rhetoric (26-7), Divisiveness (28), Falsification (29-30)

 
Thieves Thieves Fraudulent Counselors Sowers of Discord
Sowers of Discord Falsifiers Falsifiers Falsifiers
 
Included among Virgil's catalogue of fraudulent offenses in Inferno 11 are theft, falsifying, and "like trash" (59-60)--the sins that are punished in the final four ditches of circle 8. With the thieves appearing in the seventh pit and the falsifiers in the tenth, the "like trash" must by default fill up ditches eight and nine. Divisive individuals--sowers of scandal and discord--are tormented in the ninth ditch, and the shades punished in the eighth pit (hidden within tongues of fire) are traditionally thought of as "evil counselors," based on the damnation of Guido da Montefeltro (Inf. 27.116). A more accurate description, consistent with both the contrapasso of the tongue-like flames and the Ulysses episode in Inferno 26 as well as with Guido's appearance in Inferno 27, might be the use of rhetoric--understood as eloquence aimed at persuasion--by talented individuals for insidious ends. Rhetoric, according to a classical tradition familiar to Dante, is essential for civilized life when used wisely. However, eloquence without wisdom--far worse even than wisdom without eloquence--is an evil that can "corrupt cities and undermine the lives of men" (Cicero, De inventione 1.2.3).
 
Dante appropriately defines the concept of contrapasso in his presentation of divisive shades, the most clear-cut manifestation of a logical relationship between the offense and the punishment: as they divided institutions, communities, and families in life, so these figures are physically--and repeatedly--sliced apart for eternity in hell (Inf. 28.139-42). The contrapasso for the thieves, on the other hand, is arguably the most conceptually sophisticated of the poem. The tenuous hold on one's identity--with dramatic transformations of human and reptilian forms--suggests that no possession, no matter how personal, is safe in the realm of theft. Slightly less subtle is the contrapasso for the falsifiers, whose corrupting influence--on metals (alchemists), money (counterfeiters), identity (imposters), and truth (liars)--is reflected in their diseased bodies and minds in the tenth and final pit of circle 8, the realm of fraud.
 
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Vanni Fucci (24-5)
 
Vanni Fucci Vanni Fucci
 
Vanni Fucci, the thief who is incinerated (after receiving a snakebite) and then regains his human form (like the Phoenix rising from the ashes [Inf. 24.97-111]), was a black guelph from Pistoia, a town not far from rival Florence. He admits--grudgingly--to having stolen holy objects (possibly silver tablets with images of the Virgin Mary and the apostles) from a chapel in the Pistoian cathedral, a confession he certainly did not offer when another man was accused of the crime and very nearly executed before the true culprits were identified. Vanni subsequently gave up an accomplice, who was executed instead. Dante says he knew Vanni as a man "of blood and anger" (Inf. 24.129; he in fact committed numerous acts of violence, including murder), qualities on full display in Inferno 24 and 25: he first gets back at his interlocutor by announcing future political events--for example, exiled Pistoian black guelphs joining with exiled Florentines to overthrow and banish the white guelphs of Florence in 1301--personally painful to Dante (Inf. 24.142-51); immediately after this symbolic "screw you!" to Dante, the thief actually gives God the proverbial finger (he makes "figs"--signifying copulation--by placing his thumb between the forefinger and middle finger of each hand) (Inf. 25.1-3). No wonder Vanni Fucci takes the prize as the shade most arrogant to God in Dante's experience of hell (Inf. 25.13-15).
 
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Cacus (25)
 
Cacus Cacus Cacus
 
Cacus is the angry Centaur who seeks to punish Vanni Fucci in the pit of the thieves. Dante presents this horse-man as an elaborate monster, with snakes covering his equine back and a dragon--shooting fire at anyone in the way--astride Cacus' human shoulders (Inf. 25.16-24). Virgil explains that Cacus is not with the other Centaurs patrolling the river of blood in the circle of violence (Inferno 12) because he fraudulently stole from a herd of cattle belonging to Hercules, who brutally clubbed Cacus to death (28-33). In the Aeneid Virgil portrays Cacus as a half-human, fire-breathing monster who inhabits a cavern--under the Aventine hill (near the future site of Rome)--filled with gore and the corpses of Cacus' victims. Cacus steals Hercules' cattle--four bulls and four heifers--by dragging them backwards into his cavern (in order to conceal evidence of his crime). When Hercules hears the cries of one of his stolen cows, he tears the top off the hill and, to the delight of the native population, strangles Cacus to death (Aen. 8.193-267). The account of Hercules using his massive club to kill Cacus--instead of strangulation--appears in Livy's History of Rome (1.7.7) and Ovid's Fasti (1.575-8).
 
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Ulysses and Diomedes (26)
 
Ulysses and Diomedes Fraudulent Counselors
 
Appearing in a single yet divided flame in the eighth pit of circle 8 are Ulysses and Diomedes, two Greek heroes from the war against Troy whose joint punishment reflects their many combined exploits. Dante would have known of these exploits not from Homer's poetry--as the Iliad (recounting the Trojan War) and the Odyssey (telling of Ulysses' ten-year wandering before returning home to Ithaca) were not available to him--but from parts and reworkings of the Homeric story contained in classical and medieval Latin and vernacular works. Virgil, who writes extensively of Ulysses from the perspective of the Trojan Aeneas (Aeneid 2), now as Dante's guide lists three offenses committed by Ulysses and Diomedes: devising and executing the stratagem of the wooden horse (an ostensible gift that--filled with Greek soldiers--occasioned the destruction of Troy); luring Achilles--hidden by his mother, Thetis, on the island of Skyros--into the war effort (for which Achilles abandoned Deidamia and their son); and stealing the Palladium--a statue of Athena which protected the city of Troy--with the help of a Trojan traitor, Antenor (Inf. 26.58-63).
 
That Virgil is the one to address Ulysses--the "greater horn" of the forked flame (85)--is itself noteworthy. On the one hand, this may simply reflect a cultural affinity between Virgil and Ulysses, two men from--in Dante's view--the ancient world. On the other hand, Virgil's appeal to Ulysses based on whether he was "deserving" of Ulysses in his "noble lines" rings false (Virgil in fact has nothing good to say about the Greek hero in the Aeneid)--so false that some think Virgil may be trying to trick Ulysses by impersonating Homer!
 
Blissfully ignorant of the Odyssey--and either ignorant or dismissive of a medieval account in which Ulysses is killed by Telegonus, son of the enchantress Circe--Dante invents an original version of the final chapter of Ulysses' life, a voyage beyond the boundaries of the known world that ends in shipwreck and death. However, the voyage itself may or may not be implicated in Ulysses' damnation. Certainly, Ulysses' quest for "worth and knowledge" (120) embodies a noble sentiment, one consistent with Cicero's praise of Ulysses as a model for the love of wisdom (De finibus 5.18.49). Conversely, Ulysses' renunciation of all family obligations (94-9) and his highly effective use of eloquence to win the minds of his men (112-20) may be signs that this voyage is morally unacceptable no matter how noble its goals. You be the judge.
 
Ulysses, in any case, represents an immensely gifted individual not afraid to exceed established limits and chart new ground. Sound familiar? It is perhaps appropriate that Dante prefaces the presentation of Ulysses with a self-reflective warning not to abuse his own talent (Inf. 26.19-24).
 
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Guido da Montefeltro (27)
 
Guido da Montefeltro Guido da Montefeltro
 
Whereas Virgil addresses the Greek hero Ulysses in Inferno 26, Dante himself inquires of Guido da Montefeltro--a figure from Dante's medieval Italian world--in Inferno 27. Guido (c. 1220-98), a fraudulent character who may himself be a victim of fraud, immediately reveals the limits of his scheming mind when he expresses a willingness to identify himself only because he believes (or claims to believe) that no one ever returns from hell alive (Inf. 27.61-6). T. S. Eliot uses these lines in the Italian original as the epigraph to his famous poem about a modern-day Guido, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock":
 
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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 thought my answer was
to someone who might return to the world,
this flame would move no more;
but since from this depth it never happened
that anyone alive returned (if I hear right),
without fear of infamy I'll answer you

 
Note how the double s's imitate the hissing sound of the speaking flame.
 
Similar to Ulysses, Guido was a sly military-political leader--more fox than lion--who knew "all the wiles and secret ways" of the world (Inf. 27.73-8). He was a prominent ghibelline who led several important military campaigns in central Italy. In the 1270s and the early 1280s he scored decisive victories over guelph and papal forces before suffering defeat in 1283 at Forlí (in Romagna). Excommunicated, he later captained the forces of the Pisan ghibellines against Florence (1288-92); in 1296 Pope Boniface VIII rescinded the excommunication as part of a political strategy to remove the dangerous Guido from the scene. Thus Dante relates how Guido, unlike Ulysses, made an attempt--at least superficially--to change his devious ways when he retired from his active warrior life to become a Franciscan friar (Inf. 27.67-8; 79-84). In a previous work, Dante praises Guido's apparent conversion as a model for how the virtuous individual should retire from worldly affairs late in life (Convivio 4.28.8); Dante certainly uses Guido's story for a very different purpose here in the Inferno. Now the poet calls into question Guido's pretense to a pious life at the same time that he strikes another blow against the pope he loves to hate: Boniface induces Guido to provide advice for destroying the pope's enemies--a broken promise of amnesty for the Colonna family--in exchange for the impossible absolution of this sin even before Guido commits it (85-111).
 
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Mohammed and Ali (28)
 
Consistent with medieval Christian thinking, in which the Muslim world was viewed as a hostile usurper, Dante depicts both Mohammed--the founder of Islam--and his cousin and son-in-law Ali as sowers of religious divisiveness. One popular view held that Mohammed had himself been a cardinal who, his papal ambitions thwarted, caused a great schism within Christianity when he and his followers splintered off into a new religious community. Dante creates a vicious composite portrait of the two holy men, with Mohammed's body split from groin to chin and Ali's face cleft from top to bottom (Inf. 28.22-33).
 
According to tradition, the prophet Mohammed founded Islam in the early seventh century C.E. at Mecca. Ali married Mohammed's daughter, Fatima, but a dispute over Ali's succession to the caliphate led, after his assassination in 661, to a division among Muslims into Sunni and Shi'ite.
 
Still very much part of the collective memory in Dante's world were the crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries, in which Christian armies from Europe fought--mostly unsuccessfully and with heavy losses on all sides--to drive Muslims out of the "holy land" (Jerusalem and surrounding areas). In the Middle Ages, Islam had great influence in Europe in terms of both culture--particularly in medicine, philosophy, and mathematics--and politics (e.g., complete or partial Muslim control of Spain from the 8th through 15th century).
 
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Bertran de Born (28)
 
Bertran de Born Bertran de Born Bertran de Born Bertran de Born
 
Dante selects a troubadour poet--Bertran de Born--for the defining example of contrapasso, the logical relationship between the sin and its punishment in hell (Inf. 28.139-42). Because he allegedly instigated a rift between King Henry II of England and his son, the young prince Henry, Bertran is now himself physically divided: he carries his decapitated head, which--though separated from the body--inexplicably manages to speak (Inf. 28.118-26).
 
Bertran (c. 1140 - c. 1215) was a nobleman of a region--mostly contained in southern France--famous for the production of Provençal literature, in particular the first lyric poems written in a vernacular romance language. Most of these poems speak of love but others deal with moral or political themes. In the case of Bertran, Dante likely had in mind the following verses, in which the troubadour 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.

 
(trans. James J. Wilhelm, Lyrics of the Middle Ages [Garland: New York & London, 1990], p. 91)
 
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Master Adam and Sinon the Greek (30)
 
Mohammed
 
Adam and Sinon--counterfeiter and liar, respectively--trade blows and then an escalating series of verbal barbs that illustrates the hostile attitude of shades toward one another in lower hell (Inf. 30.100-29). Adam was probably an Englishman who plied his illicit trade in late thirteenth-century Italy by manufacturing florins--the prestigious medieval currency of Florence--each containing only twenty-one of the standard twenty-four carats of gold. Sinon, a Greek participant in the Trojan War known to Dante from Virgil's Aeneid (2.57-198), earned his place in the pit of the falsifiers for telling a devastating lie: claiming to have escaped from his Greek comrades before they left Troy (he says they planned to sacrifice him in return for a safe voyage home), Sinon convinces the Trojans that the Greeks built the large wooden horse to placate the goddess (Athena) whose statue Ulysses and Diomedes had stolen from Troy. The Trojans believe Sinon and think to protect Troy by bringing the horse inside the city walls; this enables the Greeks (hidden inside the horse) to accomplish by fraud--destroy Troy--what they failed to do by force alone.
 
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Incarnational Parody (25)
 
Thieves
 
The second transformation of the thieves, in which a human and a six-legged serpent fuse into a grotesque new form that is "neither two nor one" [né due né uno] (Inf. 25.69), is likely meant to be understood as a parody of the incarnation. This doctrine, established at the Council of Chalcedon (451 C.E.) after years of acrimonious debate among theologians, states that Christ is both human and divine, with each nature complete in its own right. Christ, who--along with the Virgin Mary--is never named in the Inferno, therefore comprises "two natures in one person." It is only natural for this theologically correct formulation to be parodied in hell, perhaps by the hybrid creatures (e.g., Minotaur, Centaurs, Harpies) as well as by the thieves joined in a form that is "neither two nor one." Look for other examples of incarnational parody in the Inferno.
 
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Lucan and Ovid (25)
 
Lucan and Ovid are two of the elite group of poets in Limbo--the others are Homer, Horace, and Virgil--who honor Dante by welcoming him as one of their own (Inf. 4.100-2). Here Dante interrupts his extraordinary description of a mutual transformation of natures--a man and a reptile exchanging forms--to brag that his verses surpass those of Lucan and Ovid, who wrote merely of uni-directional transformations (Inf. 25.94-102). Lucan, for example, tells how Sabellus--a soldier fighting in the Roman civil war--liquefies into a small pool of gore after being bitten by a snake in the Libyan desert, and how another unfortunate soldier, Nasidius, falls victim to a serpent's venom as his body swells into a featureless mass (Pharsalia 9.761-804). Ovid's Cadmus, brother of Europa and founder of Thebes, is transformed into a serpent at the end of his life for slaying a dragon sacred to Mars, and Arethusa is a nymph transformed into a fountain (by Diana) to avoid the amorous advances of Alpheus, a river-god in human form who then reverts to his watery nature; he thus succeeds in merging with Arethusa before the earth opens up and she plunges into the cavernous underworld (Metamorphoses 4.571-603 and 5.572-641).
 
Note how Dante's language suggests that he is the actual creator of this mutual transformation and not merely an observer who later describes what he saw. What might this imply about Dante's participation in the realm of theft?
 
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Elijah's Chariot (26)
 
In the eighth pit of circle 8, Dante compares the flames that conceal the shades of the damned to the chariot that carried the prophet Elijah to the heavens (Inf. 26.34-42; 4 Kings 2:11-12). As "he who was avenged by bears" (26.34)--that is, Elisha: two bears killed the boys who had mocked him (4 Kings 2:23-4)--could only follow Elijah's ascent by watching the fire-ball high in the sky, so Dante sees the flames but not the human forms they envelop.
 
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Eteocles and Polynices (26)
 
Dante compares the twinned flame concealing the shades of Ulysses and Diomedes to the divided flame that rose from the funeral pyre containing the corpses of Eteocles and Polynices (Inf. 26.52-4). These twin brothers were sons of Jocasta and Oedipus, who prayed that Eteocles and Polynices would be forever enemies after they forced him to abdicate and leave Thebes. This prayer-curse came to fruition when Eteocles refused to give up power (the brothers had agreed to take turns ruling Thebes): Polynices enlisted the aid of King Adrastus of Argos, thus initiating the war of the "Seven against Thebes" (see Capaneus). After the brothers killed one another in combat, their bodies were placed together in a single pyre but their mutual hatred, even after death, was such that the rising flame divided in two (Statius, Thebaid 12.429-32). Consider the implications of this story for imagining the relationship between Ulysses and Diomedes in hell, now concealed within a single yet divided flame.
 
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Audio
 
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"Togli, Dio, ch'a te le squadro!" (25.3)
Here you are, God, I point them at you!
 
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"Vedi che già non se' né due né uno" (25.69)
Look how already you're neither two nor one
 
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"fatti non foste a viver come bruti" (26.119)
you weren't made to live like beasts
 
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"ed eran due in uno e uno in due" (28.125)
and they were two in one and one in two
 
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"Così s'osserva in me lo contrapasso" (28.142)
thus you observe in me the contrapasso
 
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Study Questions
 
How do the transformations of the thieves relate to their sin?
 
How is Dante the poet participating in the sin of theft?
 
What differences and similarities do you see between Ulysses (26) and Guido (27)? Why are they both punished as tongues of fire in the same ditch?
 
Why does Dante take Ulysses' story so personally (see 26.19-24)?
 
How do you understand the contrapasso for the falsifiers (29-30)--that is, why does their punishment consist of diseased bodies and minds?
 
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