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CANTO SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

CANTO XV

Summary

As they walk along the river's (Phlegethon) margin they are protected from the flames by the water vapor released by the river that forms an umbrella of safety around them. He compares the safety afforded by the river's banks to the safety which the Lykes of the Flemings and the great walls built by Paduans gave them against onrushing sea water and rushing mountain streams respectively.

They had to move quite a distance ahead when the pilgrim sees a band of running souls. He is recognized by one of these souls. Dante recognizes him, although his face is burnt, as being Brunetto Latinic. Latini asks to walk by his side and the pilgrim readily agrees.

When he offers to stop Latini tells him that if any member of his group pauses even for a moment he is punished for a hundred years. He has to lie down for that duration being unable to brush off the fire from his body. So they continue moving, Dante on the stream's margin and Latini in the desert.

It is clear that Dante has great respect for Latini as evidenced by his "head bent low in reverence." Latini asks him why he is here before his death and who his guide is. Dante tells him how he got lost in the valley and how Virgil is guiding him homewards through Hell. Latini praises Dante and his talent. He prophesizes that men who originally came from Fiesole and from Caesar's troops will fight against him. He advises Dante to escape the clutches of the descendents of Fiesole. Dante expresses his regret for Latini's death and voices his great respect and love for him. He says he will consult with Beatrice on Latini's prophecy. He says that as long as he is an honest man he is ready for whatever Fortune has in store for him. Virgil praises the pilgrim for remembering the earlier prophecies.


Dante asks Latini who other well-know men in his group are Latini says his group consists of learned and famous men. Since there are too many, he names a few: Priscian, Francesco d' Accorso, Andrea de Mozzi ("one the servant of servants transferred to Bacchiglione".) All these men are guilty of the "one same sin" that is, the sin of sodomy. Latini notices another band of souls approaching, with whom he can't mix and asks Dante to remember "Trisor" his most important work. Then Latini returns to his own group. He compares Latini's running to the race held at Verona.

Notes

This Canto begins with the poet using present tense, "Now one of those ... bears us on" a device he uses to involve the reader directly in the experience he is describing. He compares the protection offered by the river's bank and the water vapor rising from it to dykes built by the "Flemings." The city of Wissant was located between Boulogne and Calais and the city of Brgues was in eastern Flanders. They were both trade centers during the 13 th century. Wissant was an important port and Bruges well known for its trade. Dante may have believed them to be dens of Sodomy. Filled as they were with sailors and traders (This Canto deals with Sodomites). The Paduans built walls to protect their town from the water that rushed from the mountainous Chiarentana during summer (the melted snow rushed down the mountain towards the homes of the Poduans). The writings of the 17 th century William Lithgow, a traveler and a writer reveal, that the Paduans were drawn to Sodomy.

A group of Sodomites passes them by and one of these recognizes Dante. This is Brunetto Latini (1220-94) a Florentine. Dante addresses him with respect "Ser Brunetto", in Italian he uses "voi" a pronoun showing respect. Latini was a Guelf statesman and writer, whose works "Tresor" and "Tesoretto" influenced Dante's life and work. Dante uses the title "ser" because Brunetto was a notary in his lifetime. After the Guelf defeat in 1260 Latini and exiled and stayed in France for six years. In 1266, after the Ghibellines were defeated he returned to Florence and took part in its affairs until his death. Dante was a great admirer of Latini as it clear by the reverential manner in which he addresses the latter.

The aesthetic structure of this Canto uses imagery that is in keeping with the sin of Sodomy with which this Canto deals. It is shown in the carefully examination that the group of sodomites subject the two poets to. And it is clearly reflected in speech of Latini. He greets Dante with "How marvelous !" and goes on to describe him as a "sweet fig" that will be consumed by "both parties". He also compares Dante with "grass" that will be eaten by a "goat". These words are all suggestive of lust and appetite. Latini talks of Andrea de' Mozzi and explicitly describes his sin talking of his "sinfully erected nerves." The punishment of the Sodomites is to walk eternally on the hot desert, rained upon lay fire. Even a moment of rest is denied them. For if they pause for a moment even, they are punished by having to lie down on the burning sands having to endure the firestorms (they aren't allowed to brush off these sparks). Their Contrapasso is comparable to the punishment of the lustful (Canto V) who are eternally blown about by a wind. Only sodomy is a bigger sin than lust and the punishment is proportionally much more severe.

Latini also prophesizes about the pilgrims future. He mentions Dante's enemies, "that ungrateful and malignant race". The reference can be explained by history. At the time of a Roman power struggle, Catiline flies from Rome and finds protection for himself and his soldiers in Fiesole, an Etruscan town. Caesar attacks Fiesole and wins. Later on the survivor of both camps (of Caesar's and Catiline's) build the city of Florence. Latini tells Dante that both these political groups will turn against him, jealous of his success, and try to destroy him. Through Latini's words, Dante the poet, is critiquing the current political scenario in Florence. This prophecy continues the political theme started with the speech of the unnamed Florentine suicide in Canto XIII and carried on in the symbol of the Old Man of Crete in Canto XIV.

Dante expresses his regret at Latini's death and gives voice to the great affection he holds of the man. He thanks him for having taught him how man may become immortal through his work (in this case through literary accomplishments, since both Dante and Latini are poets). He says he will remember Latini's prophecy along with another text, the prophecies of Ciacco (Canto VI) and Farinata (Canto V) and consult with Beatrice about them. Virgil praises the pilgrim for remembering all he has heard so far. He adds that as long as his conscience is clear he is ready for whatever fortune or fate has in store for him. He says that the spinning of fortune's wheel is as natural as the peasant (farmer) turning his spade. And he, (Dante) will face the grim future (about which he has heard before) with equanimity.

Latini mentions a few others from his group: Priscian, Francesco d' Accorso, and Andrea Le Mozzi. He says that all the men in the group are well respect and educated men, guilty of the "one same sin" of Sodomy. "Priscian" is Priscianus Caesariensis, a well known Latin grammarian, born at Caesarea in Cappadoccio in 6 A.D. Francisco d' Accorso was a famous lawyer of Florence (1225 -94). He taught law at the University of Bolonga and also at Oxford. Andrea de Mozzi was Bishop of Florence from 1287 to 1295. Then Pope Boniface VII (the "servant of servants") transferred him to Vicenza, which lay on the Bacchigliane River. He died there soon after his transfer. Andrea's "sinfully erected nerves" refer to his sodomy.

Another group of souls is approaching and Latini has to move on. He asks Dante to remember his "Tresor" which make him immortal. It was Latini's most important composition, called "Livers du Tresor". He wrote it during his exile in France and it is comprehensive work written in French prose. Then Latini turns his back to Dante and runs towards his group. He compares the naked (all souls in "Inferno" except the Hypocrites in Canto XXII are naked) Latini's sprint to the annual footrace held in Verona during the thirteenth century. It was one of the many games held. And the first prize for the foot race was a green cloth. This race in Verona is an aesthetic link between this Canto and the next where athletic imagery predominates.

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