Even the precise way that Minos winds his tail about himself is a subject in dispute. Does he flap it back and forth as many times as he wishes to indicate the appropriate circle? Or does he wind it like a vine around a tree? Sinners are 'ill-begotten' in that their end is this, eternal damnation, because of their sins and not because their procreation in itself so fated them.
Dante presents Minos as a parody of a confessor meting out penance to a sinner. The word confessa marks the beginning of this canto's concern with confession, which will be parodied again when Dante 'confesses' Francesca Inf. For now we are perhaps meant to ruminate on the perversity of sinners. In the world above they were offered, through this office of the Church, the possibility of confession and remission of sins. We may infer that those sinners whom we find in Hell probably did not avail themselves of their great opportunity. We never hear the word 'confession' on the lips of any of them except for Guido da Montefeltro [ Inf.
And he, having confessed and become a friar, then sins again and is condemned. His second [and vain] confession is made, too late, to Dante. This moment offers a brief but cogent vision of human perversity: in their lives all those whom we see in hell had the opportunity to be rid of their sins by owning up to them in confession.
They apparently did not do so. Here, in hell, what is the very first thing that they do? They make full disclosure of their sins Dante has apparently conflated the general function of Minos as judge of the dead in general Aen. The mechanical nature of Minos's judgment — he is a judge who renders judgment with his tail, not his head — underlines the lack of authority of the demons in hell: Minos is merely doing God's work.
Hell is presented as a perfectly functioning bureaucracy. If some of Satan's minions are at times rebellious e. IX, the winged demons in Inf. Hell, too, is a part of God's kingdom. Once the narrated action of Dante's descent continues it had been suspended at v. Minos, seeing a rarity, to say the least — a living man before him at the entrance to hell — steals a moment from his incessant judgment to offer this warning.
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How kindly are his intentions? Most commentators seem to think he is the most 'humane' of the infernal demons, and even courteous to Dante. However, and as Padoan points out comm. He would obviously prefer not to have such visitors. Commentators customarily note that here Dante builds his line out of two sources: Aeneid VI. The adverb pur in Virgil's response can be variously understood: as 'vainly' with the sense of the Latin frustra ; as 'indeed' in the sense of 'why do you persist in? Our translation has tried to accommodate the first two possibilities.
Virgil obviously understands that Minos's words were meant to scare Dante off and perhaps he also understands the implicit insult to himself contained in them. For the repetition here of the exact same verses 23 and 24 used to quell Charon's rebellious desires see Inf. It seems clear that Virgil would not have used them again had they not been efficacious the first time, that is, had Charon not relented and rowed Dante across. See the note to Inf.
Here the present tense is an example of the 'historical' or 'vivid' present. The 'hellscape' that is established by the sounds in the darkness once again Dante's eyes need to adjust to the deepening shadows mates well with the sin of lust: darkness, passionate winds in conflict that bear their victims in unceasing agitation. The dark and tempestuous 'hellscape' is a fit background for the sin of lust, carried out in darkness at least in the common imagining amidst the storms of passion. For a passage that Dante surely knew and which might have had some effect on his shaping of this scene, see II Peter , the apostle Peter's denunciation of the lustful.
It has become fashionable to speak of Dante's use of 'synaesthesia,' the blending of different sense impressions see, e. The term, however, was coined some years later in literary history. Dante would perhaps have referred to the trope rather as 'catachresis,' a daring, even 'improper,' comparison.
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And see Inferno I. One of the most debated verses in this canto because of the words la ruina literally, 'the ruin'. What precisely do they mean? Mineo points out that there have been six identifiable schools of interpretation for the meaning of la ruina. Unfortunately, there are severe problems associated with all of them. Many American and some Italian students of the problem have been drawn to Singleton's solution comms.
The resultant explanation is so attractive that even many of those who doubt its literal applicability do not wish to jettison it. However, it does remain extremely dubious, as many rightly point out, that Dante would, for the only time in his poem, place the 'antecedent' necessary to a word's clear literal sense seven cantos after its first appearance. A grammatical approach, however, yields still other difficulties. Who are these people who are arriving 'before the ruin'?
Are they those who are being driven on the wind in the preceding tercet grammatically the most probable reading? If that is true, Dante would at least seem to be contradicting what he will shortly say Inf. However, what he says there is only that their plight will never be ameliorated — a phrasing that might allow for its aggravation, as we would be witnessing here. Others, most trenchantly Padoan comm. The result of this interpretation is, as is the case for Singleton's, welcome but unlikely: we have a 'flashback,' as it were, to what happens when the newly arrived souls not the ones we have just been observing first reach this depth.
And so that solution, too, seems dubious on grammatical grounds. And then, again following Mazzoni, one argues that the meaning here is not 'ruin,' but the secondary meaning of the word, 'fury, violence. Petrocchi La Commedia secondo l'antica vulgata , Inferno , pp. The position of a translator who does not have a clear idea of what the original means is an impossible one. We chose the path taken by Mazzoni, translating ruina as 'violence,' before we consulted his work. The main reason for doing so is grammatical: all the verb tenses of this scene that describe the actions or reactions of the sinners are in the present vv.
Thus it seems incorrect to attempt to mark a temporal shift in the action that is not reflected in the text. If the tense of the verb giungono were past instead of present, Mazzoni's solution would seem optimal. But there is no instance of a single variant of the verb in the manuscript tradition. Thus, as things stand, there seems to be no optimal solution.
Par quoi on se doit estudiier que raisons soit sor la concupiscence , en tel maniere que l'un et l'autre desirent de bien faire. The first two similes of the canto and see the third one, Inf. The first vast group of the 'ordinary' lovers T. Eliot's typist and house agent's clerk in the Waste Land , vv. For the Virgilian source, see Aeneid VI. The group in the second simile of the canto is more select, the 'stars' of lustful living. Where the starlings are as though without individual identities, the 'masses' of the lustful, as it were, each of these has a particularity and a certain fame, and is thus worthy of being treated as exemplary.
For a discussion of exemplary literature in the middle ages see Carlo Delcorno, Exemplum e letteratura tra medioevo e rinascimento Bologna: Il Mulino, , with special attention to Dante, pp. The evidence for such a view does not seem present in the text. For the cranes see Virgil, Aeneid X. The rhyme words lai and guai suggest a relationship between the French tradition of love songs Padoan, comm.
The cranes are imagined as singing their sad songs of love much as these sinners are presented as drawing sighs of love-sickness, their 'poetry,' as it were. This is the second important 'catalogue' that we find in Inferno. The first was the forty identified inhabitants of Limbo see the note to Inf. In the circle of lust we find these seven identified sinners and two more: Francesca and Paolo, who bring the total to nine.
As Curtius argued quite some time ago, given the importance for Dante of the number nine the 'number' of his beloved Beatrice , it seems likely that these nine souls who died for love are associated with her by opposition Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages , tr. It is also notable that Dante's catalogues are unlike and pronouncedly so in this case later humanist catalogues of the famous, which thrive on additions, in display of the most arrant 'erudition': the more the better seems to be the motto of such writers.
Dante, on the other hand, frequently sculpts his groupings to a purpose. One of the insistent poetic topoi that we find in medieval writers — and certainly in Dante — is that of translatio. This is the notion that certain ideas or institutions have their major manifestations in movement through historical time and space. The two most usually deployed examples of this topos are translatio imperii the movement of imperial greatness from Troy to Rome to 'new Rome' — wherever that may be in a given patriotic writer's imagination [in Dante's case the empireless Rome of his own day] and translatio studii the development of serious intellectual pursuit from its birth in Athens, to its rebirth in Rome, to its new home [Paris, according to some, in Dante's day].
It is perhaps useful to think of Dante's catalogues as reflecting a similar sense of history, of movement through time and space. In this one we have three triads: Semiramis, Dido, Cleopatra: lustful queens of the African coast; Helen, Achilles, Paris: Greek and Trojan lovers whose lusts brought down a kingdom; Tristan; Francesca, Paolo: a man caught up in destructive passion in King Mark's court in Cornwall, as we move into Europe and toward the present; and, finally, lovers from the recent past in Rimini, here in Italy.
Semiramis was the legendary queen of Assyria Dante has confused the name of her capital, Babylon, for that of the Egyptian city, and thus misplaced her realm. She was supposed to have legalized incest in order to carry out her sexual liaison with her son. Dante's use of periphrasis circumlocution represents one of his favored 'teaching techniques,' in which he generally, but certainly not always offers his readers fairly easy problems to solve.
There is not, it seems reasonable to believe, a single commentator or student? The 'Dido' that we scribble in our margins stands out from the page, partly because it is we who have supplied the name. That Dido is the quintessential presence in this 'flock' is underlined by Inferno V. Dido's presence here frequently upsets readers who think that she ought to be found in canto XIII, since she committed suicide. It is clear that Dante thinks of the psychology of sin with a certain sophistication, isolating the impulse, the deeper motive, that drives our actions from the actions themselves.
In Dido's case this is her uncontrolled desire for Aeneas. She does not kill herself from despair as do the suicides in the thirteenth canto , but rather to give expression to her need for her lover — or so Dante would seem to have believed. Virgil's similar one-line description of Dido's 'infidelity' occurs at Aeneid IV. For Dante's knowledge that Cleopatra committed suicide by having an asp bite her, see Par.
And see the note to Inferno V. It is important to remember that Dante, Greekless, had not read Homer, who only became available in Latin translation much later in the fourteenth century. His Achilles is not the hero of the Iliad known to some of us, but the warrior-lover portrayed by Statius and others. For mille one thousand here and elsewhere in the poem see Baldelli, Dante e Francesca Ravenna: Longo, , p. The echo of the first line of the poem Inf. Dante was lost 'midway in the journey of our life' and, we will later learn, some of his most besetting problems arose from misplaced affection.
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He was, indeed, near death as a result of his transgressions. The repetition of the word smarrito to describe Dante's distraught condition also recalls the first tercet of the poem Inf. Here we can see an emerging pattern in his re-use of key words from previous contexts in order to enhance the significance of a current situation in the poem. See also Inferno II. Dante refers to the great figures of the olden days with strikingly anachronistic terms, the medieval 'ladies and knights' emphasizing the continuity of the historical record.
No 'humanist' writer would be likely to use such a locution that so dramatically erases the gap between classical antiquity and the present age. Mazzoni claims that the canto is divided into two precise halves vv. It is surely true that the rest of the canto — its second half — is devoted mainly and essentially to Francesca.
To be 'light upon the wind' is, to some readers, a sign of Francesca's and Paolo's noble ability to triumph over their dismal surroundings; to others, it indicates that they are driven even more wildly than some other shades by the winds of passion. This first detail begins a series of challenging phrasings that invite the reader to consider closely the ambiguities of the entire episode. And for a thorough consideration of the history of interpretation of the episode of Francesca see A. Quaglio, 'Francesca' ED. Virgil's only complete tercet in the second half of the canto see the note to Inf.
The protagonist's adjective for the two sinners they are 'anime affannate ' may well be meant to remind us of the only other time we find that adjective in the first cantica , at Inferno I. If that is true, it further binds the character's sense of identity with these sinners. The third simile involving birds in this canto and there are only three similes in it compares the two lovers to doves.
Dante's nest-seeking doves seem to reflect both Aeneid V. The beginning of Francesca's highly rhetorical speech reflects the tradition of classical rhetoric that would have a speaker first seek to gain the sympathy of the audience, a device referred to as captatio benevolentiae , the capturing of the goodwill of one's auditors. For noteworthy earlier examples of captatio see Beatrice's first words to Virgil Inf.
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