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CANTO SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

CANTO XX

Summary

The two poets are atop the bridge over the fourth Bolgia. Dante notice that the floor below him is sudden with the sinner's tears. The sinners are moving in a slow sad circle below him. Their necks are twisted around. And so their eyes face backwards, lying over their buttocks instead of over their feet. Hence they moved backwards, where their eyes were facing. To move they moved their feet backwards, instead of forward. Dante says that such an incredible and gastly sight brought tears to his eyes. The sinners themselves are weeping, their tears flowing down the left of their buttocks.

Virgil rebukes the pilgrim for feeling pity for souls who had tried to manipulate Divine Will. He points out Amphiarus, who disappeared in the Earth before the Thebans. He says that Amphiarus tried to see the future and hence he has been relegated by Minos to this Bolgia where his face is now turned backwards. And he has to walk backwards.

Virgil points out Tiressias to Dante. He says that Tiresias converted himself from a man into a woman by transforming all his body parts into that of a woman. And to become a man again he had to strike two snakes (who were making love) with a wand. Tiresias is followed by Aruns who lived in a marble cave in Luni. From his cave he had an unobstructed view of the sea and the stars. Then Virgil points out Manto, who is from the same place as Virgil. He relates Manto's story to the pilgrim. After her father's death, when the city where she lived was enslaved, she went wandering off into the world. After many years of wandering she reached Italy. Lake Benaco, in Italy, is near the mountains that mark the German border. This lake collects water from the Alpine streams which drains into it. There is an island in the lake's center and the southeast shore of the lake's center and the southeast shore of the lake is the fortress and town of Peschiera. The overflow of water from Lake Benaco forms a stream called Mencio and it drains off in the river. Before it reaches somewhere along its course it forms a marsh in lowland. It was this marsh that Manto eventually reached. In the midst of it was a deterred island. She wished to avoid human contact and so she inhabited that island with her servants. Here she practiced magic till she died. People from that region picked that protected spot and built a city there (over her grave). Since she was the island's first inhabitant they named their city Mantua, after her name. They didn't obtain the city's name through sorcery (as was the ancient custom). He says that many lived there. Their number became less after Casalodi, listening to the false advice of Pinamonte, drove some people from there. Virgil ends the story by telling Dante that this is the true version of the city's origin. And any other version is false, so the pilgrim must remember this and not get confused. The Pilgrim accepts the truth of Virgil's words and says so.


He asks his guide to point of note-worthy shades to him. Virgil points out one with a flowing dark beard as Eurypylus. Eurypylus along with Calchas told the Greeks the best time to launch the Greek fleet from Aulis. Virgil wrote about him in the "Aeneid". He also shows Dante Michael Scot, Guido Bonatti, and Asdente. He says that Asdente is repenting having given up his trade as a cobbler to become a magician. He also shows Dante women who turned to magic for selfish reasons, are now in Hell.

He points out the time by the location of the moon in the sky and says that it is time for them to move on. He adds that the pilgrim should remember how moonlight aided him when he was lost in the dark woods. As Virgil is talking, the two poets are moving inexorably onwards.

Notes

This Canto begins in a very undramatic and matter-of-fact way, with the poet declaring that he must put down in verse, for the twentieth Canto, all that he saw in the fourth Bolgia. Here are punished that soothsayers or fortunetellers. Their punishment consists of having their necks twisted so that their faces are turned around on their body. They weep as they circle around in the ditch. The contrapasso is befitting the crime. During their lifetime they were always looking to far ahead, trying to divine the future. Now as punishment they are denied any forward vision. Dante is moved to tears by this sight and is sharply rebuked by his guide and teacher. Virgil is angry at his student who has regressed again and allowed himself to feel sorry for sinners. To disabuse him of such a misguided pity he points out the sinners to him.

The first of these is Amphiaraus. He was a seer and one of the seven Kings who attacked Thebes. With his knowledge of the future he knew he would meet his end during the siege. To avoid this he hides himself. His wife Eriphyle reveals his hiding place to Polynices. Thus Amphiaraus is forced to join the battle. His dies when the earth opens up and swallows him. Dante's source for this story was Statius. "Thebaid"--VII & VIII.

Another sinner he points out to the pilgrim is Tiresias. Tiresias was a soothsayer of Thebes. Ovid mentions him in his "Metamosphoses". According to Ovid, Tiresias once separated them using his rod. As a result he changes into a woman. He finds the same serpents, which were coupled together. He separated them using his rod. As a result he changes into a woman. He finds the same serpents after seven years. He hits them with his rod again and turns back into a man. Later he is questioned by Jupiter and June as to which of the sexes enjoy love making more. He replies "woman" and is struck blind by Juno. To compensate Jupiter gives him the gift of prophecy.

Another sinner pointed out by Virgil is Aruns. He was an Etruscan fortuneteller. He predicts the Roman civil war and its outcome. He lived in the hills of Luni, now called Carrara and famous for its white marble.

Then Virgil points out to a woman with "her hair lose, flowing back". She is Manto, the daughter of Tiresias. After his death, she leaves Thebes ("Bacchus' scared city") which is taken over by the tyrant Greon. She wanders around for a few years till she reaches Italy and becomes the founder of the city of Mantua, where Virgil was born. Virgil gives a detailed account of how this happens to provide a true account of the origin of Mantua. Again the story Virgil tells is prosaic and matter-of-fact. The tone is similar to the one, which begins this Canto. The entire slant of this Canto is on facts and the truth.

Virgil begins his narrative by describing a lake "beyond the Tyrol, know as Lake Benaco". This lake (now called Lake Garda) is in northern Italy. It lies at the center of the triangle formed by the three cities of Trent, Brecia, and Verona. It is fed by water from the "Alps". "Alps" refers to the range between the Camonica Valley and the city of Garda.

Many streams that flow to these "Alps" ultimately drain all this water into Lake Garda. He further talks of "its center ..... where all three bishops". This is explained by the fact that on an island in Lake Garda the boundaries of the cities of Trent, Brescia and Verno meet. Thus all the three bishops can hold their services or Mass there. The fortress of Peschiera and the town of Peschiera lie on the southeast shore of Lake Garda. Eventually the lake water flows off in a stream called Menico and then drains into the river Poat a place called Grovernelo. Now called Grovernelo, it is twelve miles from Mantua and lies at the meeting of the rivers Mincio and Po. But before Mencio meets Po it forms a marsh, somewhere along its course. In this marsh lies an island. It was here Manto (" the savage virgin") stopped her wandering. She stayed here, with her servants and practiced magic till the time of her death. The people of the region eventually built the city of Mantua on this island, naming it after her. Virgil says they did not get the cities’ name by using sorcery. It was an ancient custom that the name of a new city by obtained through sorcery. Virgil says that the place was quite populated before Casalodi followed Pinamonte's advice. Alberto da Casalodi was a Gruelf count of Brescia. He was the lord of Mantua in 1272. He was unpopular with the people. The Grhibelline Piamonte de Bonaccolsi duped him into believing that he could retain his power only if he exiled nobles from Mantua. Casalodi does this and so loses all his allies and supporters. This allows Pinamonte to come into power and he banishes the Gruelfs and rules till 1291.

Eurypylus is one of the shades pointed out to the pilgrim by his guide. During the Trojan Wars, the Greek anger Eurypylus is asked to foretell an auspicious time to launch the Greek fleet from the port at Aulius. Calchas also mentioned was also a Greek augur. Eurypylus is mentioned in Virgil's "Aeneid " where he is a soldier (not an augur) who is sent to the oracle to find out from Apollo the last time to sail from Troy.

The next soothsayer brought to the pilgrim's attention is Michael Scot. He was a Scottish philosopher belonging to the court of Frederick II at Palermo. He was believed to be a magician an augur. The last two soothsayers mentioned are Guido Bonatti and Asdente. Guido was from Forli and a well known astrologer and diviner. He was consulted by many lords, included among these was Frederick II, Ezzelino and Guido da Montefeltro. "Asdente" is Benvenuto, he was a cobbler from Parma who was said to have magical powers.

Virgil talks to the moon's position ("Cain with his thorn-bush", the medieval Italian equivalent of the modern "Man in the Moon") directly atop the line separating the Northern (land) and the southern (water) Hemispheres. Thus the moon is setting on the western horizon ("waves below Seville"). The time is about six a.m. Virgil further points out that the moon has guided him (pilgrim) when he was lost in the dark woods. Thus he should heed the moon. Thus speaking the two poets move on.

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