HELL XX

CANTO XX

The eighth circle, fourth bolgia; the diviners; Amphiaraus, Tiresias, Manto, Eurypylus

canto summary and diagram

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1 Now must I turn new torment into verse And flesh out canto twenty of this first book, Concerning sinners condemned under the curse inferno xx 4 Of Hell. I was well placed and ready to look Into the depths exposed to me below, Where anguished tears, like an overflowing brook, 7 Moistened the ground. Peering down, I saw souls go Plodding around the circular valley, Weeping silently, moving in the same slow 10 Rhythm as that of a ceremonial litany In our world. When I lowered my eyes From their faces I saw a contorted parody * inferno xx 13 Of the human body in the space that lies Between the chin and the upper chest: Necks were twisted so that the organ which cries 16 Faced the rear, and the sinners walked backward lest They stumble blindly forward. No fit Of palsy, however violent, has ever messed 19 Anyone up as much as this; at least I've never seen it. So that God may let you profit from this passage, Ask yourself how I could keep the slightest bit inferno xx 22 Of dry–eyed composure when I saw our image So distorted that tears spilled down the face Onto the buttocks and into the cleavage. 25 Naturally I wept, pausing in that rugged place To lean against a rock, so that my guide said: "Are you as foolish as the rest of the human race? 28 Down here piety lives only when pity is fully dead, * For who is more impious than one who denies Divine judgment with his sorrow? Raise up your head, inferno xx 31 Raise it and see the one whom Theban eyes * Saw swallowed by the gaping earth right In front of them, provoking their cries: 34 'Amphiaraus, are you quitting the fight? Where are you rushing?' And he raced down here Until Minos, who gathers them all, ended his flight. 37 See how his back and chest are reversed; to peer Too far ahead was his desire, which is why He now looks behind him and walks toward the rear. inferno xx 40 And behold Tiresias of the blind eye, * Who changed his whole appearance in replacing Male by female, transforming his body limb by 43 Limb until he had to strike the two embracing Serpents with his rod in order to display His masculine plumage again. And that one facing * 46 Tiresias—with his body turned the other way So that his back and the Theban's chest blend – That one is Aruns, whose white marble cave lay inferno xx 49 In the hills of Luni, where the Carrarese tend The soil and live below. From this airy Yet hidden retreat his eye could subtend 52 A broad angle on the sea beneath and the starry Sky above. And she whose loose locks hide her breast, Who turns away those parts that are hairy, 55 Was Manto, who searched many lands in quest * Of a home before settling where I later Was born; and for this personal reason I request inferno xx 58 That you let me tell you about her. Soon after Her father departed this life and tyranny Befell the city of Bacchus, this daughter * 61 Of Tiresias wandered the world in company With her servants for years. High in fair Italy, beneath the mountains which border Germany 64 Beyond the Tyrol, lies lake Benaco. Water from there * Bathes the Alps from Garda to the Camonica valley, Water which, I think, a thousand springs or more share. inferno xx 67 At the lake's center is a place which could really Be blessed by any one of the bishops who reside In Trento, Brescia or Verona equally. 70 Peschiera, a magnificent structure fortified * Against a Brescian or Bergamese threat, Stands at the shore's lowest point beside 73 A cascade of waters which Benaco is forced to let Spill from its lap; these waters merge below In a river which keeps the countryside green and wet. inferno xx 76 No sooner has that river begun to flow Than the name Benaco becomes Mincio (up until Governo, where it falls into the Po). * 79 It hasn't gone far before it slows down and lies still Upon the lowlands, forming a fetid marsh that Reeks disgustingly in summer and makes one ill. 82 The savage virgin viewed the land which sat * In the middle of that swamp one day – Uncultivated, empty of inhabitants, flat. inferno xx 85 And it was here that she chose to stay With her entourage, practicing her magical art And shunning all human exchange. When her body lay 88 Empty the people who lived in this part Of the world came together on the plot Of ground containing her dead bones, to start 91 A city secured all around by the marsh. This spot They called Mantua, after her who first picked it; And to choose this name they needed to cast no lot. * inferno xx 94 Many more people used to inhabit This city before Casalodi gave his ear To Pinamonte's deceit, like a mad halfwit. * 97 Therefore I charge you, if you should ever hear Any other origin attributed to my native land, Don't let such lies pollute what I've told you here." 100 "Master," I said, "so firmly do your words command My reason and compel my belief That all other accounts would be as weak and bland inferno xx 103 For me as burned–out coals. But give me a brief History of the shades passing by, if there be Any worthy of note, for right now that's the chief 106 Concern of my mind." "When Greece," said he,* "Was so empty of males that the lack Stretched even to the cradles, that shade you see, 109 Whose beard spreads from his cheecks to his dark back, Was an augur; at Aulis he and Calchas said When to cut the cable which launched the long attack. inferno xx 112 His name is Eurypylus, and you must have read About him in my high tragedy somewhere, You who carry the entire poem in your head. * 115 That other one, whose thighs are quite spare, Is Michael Scot, who in truth * Played the game of magic fraud with a flair. 118 See there Guido Bonatti, and the one with no tooth, * Who repents too late that he let dwindle His cobbler's craft; and see the miserable, uncouth inferno xx 121 Hags who abandoned their needle, spindle, And shuttle and took up the divining art; With herbs and effigies did they kindle 124 And conjure their spells. But now let's depart, For Cain with his thorns touches the sea * Below Seville and is ready to start * 127 Changing hemispheres; and you should surely be Aware that the full moon did you no damage Last night, many times." Thus he spoke to me, * inferno xx 130 And as he did so, we pursued our passage.

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NOTES

12–17. The diviners and soothsayers, having tried to peer too far ahead, are here turned around so the are looking backward. ^
28.  In the original Italian, a single pietà is used for both piety and pity. ^
31–35.   Amphiaraus, prophet of Argos, was one of the seven kings 
who fought against Thebes.  He foresaw his own death and tried 
to avoid it by hiding, but soon died in an earthquake. ^
40–45. Tiresius was a famous soothsayer of Thebes. The reference here is to an incident in the third book of Ovid's Metamorphoses, in which Tiresius is changed into a woman when he strikes two coupling serpents with his rod, and then, seven years later, is changed back into a man after a similar act. ^
45–53.   Aruns, Etruscan soothsayer who forecast the Roman civil war 
and Caesar's victory,  lived in the hills near Luna, an ancient 
Etruscan city; the area is now called Carrara, known for its white 
marble. ^
55.   Manto, famous Theban soothsayer, daughter of Tiresias. ^
59–60.   Thebes was consecrated to Bacchus, and after the war of 
the Seven against Thebes, Creon became its tyrant. ^
64.   Lake Benaco is now Lake Garda, and lies at the center of the 
triangle formed by the dioceses of Trento, Brescia and Verona. ^
70. The Fortress and town of Peschiera are on the southeast shore of Lake Garda. ^
77–78.   Governo is at the junction of the Mincio and the Po, about 
twelve miles from Mantua. ^
82.   The "savage virgin" is Manto. ^
93.   Ancient custom demanded that the name of a new city be derived 
by sorcery, but this was not so with Mantua. ^
95–96.   In 1272 Alberto da Casalodi, a Guelph Count of Brescia, 
became lord of Mantua.  He was fooled by the Ghibelline Pinamonte 
de' Bonaccolsi into exiling the nobles, who were his only supporters, 
and consequently Pinamonte seized power. ^
106–108. During the Trojan War the men of Greece were off fighting. ^
110–114.   Calchas was an augur who divined the best time to launch 
the Greek fleet from Aulis to Troy.  Dante seems to think that 
Eurypylus participated in this divination, but in the second book of the 
Aeneid he is mentioned only as a soldier sent to the oracle 
for Apollo's advice—which was that the Greeks at Troy should 
return home. ^
116.   Michael Scot was a Scottish philosopher, scientist, 
occultist and astrologer at the court of Frederick II at Palermo.  
He translated Aristotle from the Arabic of Avicenna. ^
118. Guido Bonati of Forlė became an astrologer at the court of Guido da Montefeltro. The "one with no tooth" is Asdente, a shoemaker of Parma, who was known as a soothsayer in the thirteenth century. ^
125.   "Cain with his thorns" is something like the "man in 
the moon."  It was a popular belief that Cain was put in the moon 
when he tried to justify his murder of Abel. ^
126.   "Below Seville" means the westernmost point of the Northern 
Hemisphere, perhaps specifically the Straits of Gibraltar.  So 
the moon is setting in the west, and it is about six a.m. on 
Saturday Morning.  (Again, it is unclear how Virgil can make these 
observations from Hell.) ^
127–129.   Virgil seems to be reminding Dante that the previous 
night, when he was miserable in the dark, savage wood, the moon 
exempted him from her bad influence, which might have made him 
insane. ^

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