Lucan and Ovid: Circle 8, Inferno 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).