Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
CANTO SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
Dante writes of Juno’s anger against Semele and the consequent revenge Juno takes against the Thebans (since Semele was a Theban.). Juno causes Semele’s brother -in - law king Athamas to go mad. Insane, he kills one of his sons, Learchus. His wife, in her grief, drowns herself and his other son. Then Dante mentions the Trojan Hecuba who is made slave by the Greeks. When she sees the dead bodies of her daughter and son, namely, Polyxene and Polydorus, she goes mad due to her grief.
Dante compares two shades to the above examples, saying the shades appeared more out of control. One of the shades drags Capocchio away "The Aretine" (Griffolino d Arezzo) tells him that the mad shade is Gianni Schicchi. The other crazy shade, Arezzo tells them is Myrrha who committed incest with her father. She disguised herself so he wouldn’t know who she was similarly, Gianni Schicchi pretended he was Buoso Donati and altered the latter's will for Donati’s son.
Looking around at the sinners the Pilgrim sees one whose body is in the shape of a lute. It is bloated up so that the punch has become very big. His disease makes him keep his mouth open. He reveals himself to be "Master Adamo" and tells the Pilgrim that he craves for water. He is haunted by visions of streams and this is a part of his punishment. He counterfeited coins in Romena and was burnt for his crime. He accuses Guido, Alexander and their brother of making him a counterfeiter. He wants revenge on them. Although Guido is already in the 10 th Bolgia he (Adamo) is unable to find him, since he is too bloated up to move.
The Pilgrim asks Guido to identity two storming shades lying near him. Adamo tells him that they are Potiphar’s wives ("false accuser of young Joseph") and sinned, in Troy. He says their burning fever causes them to smell bad. Hearing this one of the sinners hits Adamo in the stomach. The latter strikes back with his strong arm, saying he may not be able to move but he can use his arm. The other sinner jibes back saying his arm was useless when he was burnt at the stake although it was very useful when he was counterfeiting coins. Adamo comment reveals the other to be Sinon. Adamo accuses him of lying to the Trojans. One Comment leads to another and very soon the two are engaged in a verbal brawl.
The Pilgrim listens avidly to this verbal fight and this angers Virgil. When the Pilgrim realizes this he is filled with shame. His shame and apology cause Virgil to forgive him. Virgil advises him that interest in such fights is a waste of time.
Dante begins this canto by giving two examples of insanity from classical mythology. The first example deals with the Roman Goddess Juno, the wife of Jupiter. Jupiter had an affair with simile, the daughter of Cadmus, king of Thebes. Out of the affair was born Bacchusw. Enraged by her husband’s infidelity with Semele. Juno vows to destroy Semele and her family. Juno has Semele struck by lighting and causes Semele’s brother - in - law king Athamas to go mad. Athamas was the husband of Juno, Semele’s sister. In his insanity he killed his son Learchus. The grief-stricken Ino drowns herself with the other son Melicertes.
The second example Dante presents before his reader is of Hecuba, wife of Priam, King of troy. After the Greeks defeat the Trojans they capture Hecuba and bring her to Greek as a slave Hecuba finds the dead body of her daughter Polyxena on Achille’s grave. And sees the unburied corpse of her son Polydorus on the coast of the race. Her grief at these discoveries causes her to go insane.
By this introduction Dante prepares the scene for introduction the only two insane sinners of "Inferno". Namely, Gianni Schicchi and Myrrha. Dante describes as violent animals attacking everything within their reach. Gianni Schicchi pounces on Capocchio and drags him off. It is left to "The Aretine" or Griffolino D Arezzo to tell the Pilgrim about the two mad shades.
Gianni Schicchi came from the Florentine Cavalanti family and was a good actor and impersonator of people. He was hired by Simone Donati to impersonate his (Simone’s) dead father, Buoso Donati and alter the dead man’s will in Simone’s favor. Gianni does this, in addition he also wills himself several things, including a prize mare ("the ‘queen of studs’ "). Hence Gianni now finds himself punished in the bolgia of Falsifiers. He took on the identity of a dead man to carry out his crime. His punishment (insanity) is that his sanity is denied him. Thus he effectively loses himself, for an insane person is unaware of who he is or what his surroundings are.
The other insane shade is Myrrha, the daughter of King Cinyras of Cyprus. She had an incestuous lust for her father to satisfy this she disguises herself and makes love with him. When Cinyras discovers the truth he vows to kill her. Myrrha runs away and roans around till the gods take pity on her and turn her into a myrrh tree. From this tree is born Alonbis, the child of her incestuous union. Dante takes this story from Ovid’s "metamorphoses." Just like Gianni, Myrrha too falsifies her true identity and gets the same punishment (that of insanity).
A grotesquely shaped sinner catches the pilgrim's attention. The sinner is bloated up, his mid-riff huge and his mouth open and dry. This man reveals himself to be Master Adamo. He was a counterfeiter. He falsified gold florins (bearing the image of john the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence) throughout northern Italy, led to do so by the encouragement of the Conti Guidi, the lords of Romena. In 1281 he was arrested by Florentine authorities and burnt to death of his crime. He added alloy to corrupt the gold coins and now, as punishment, his body is corrupted by disease. Dante’s words the "bloating dropsy" mean that Adoma’s dropsy is caused by the failure of the humors in his body to follow a natural course of change. Now he, who had everything on earth, just craws a drop of water. He is haunted by visions of streams and these visions are a part of his punishment. They increase his thirst. He sees the hilly region of Casentino (lying southeast of Florence) from where the headwaters of the Arno river spread out. Great as this thirst for water, still greater is his thirst for revenge on men who led him on the path of crime. He wishes to see them in hell more than he wishes for "Branda’s fountain", a spring that once flowed near Romena. The men he wants damned are the Conti Guidi made up of Guido, Alexander, Aghinolfo and Ildebrando. Although Guido (one is here already") is already in hell Adamo’s bloated condition presents him for seeking to Guido out.
A gold florin supposed to have twenty-four-carat gold. But under the direction of the guide, Adamo made florins that had only twenty-one carats.
The Pilgrim’s attention is caught by two shades lying steaming with fever, next to Adamo. Adamo answers the Pilgrim’s question about them saying that one is Potiphar’s wife ("false accuser of young Joseph") and the other is Sinon, the Greek.
Potiphar’s wife unjustly accused Joseph, the son of Jacob and Rachel, of trying to seduce her. In truth it was he who had tried to seduce him.
Sinon was a Greek soldier. They left him in Troy to help them defeat the Trojans. The Trojans capture him and he lies about being on the side of the Greeks. He persuades the Trojans to bring the wooden horse within the city. And thus with the deceitful lying leads to their defeat.
While pointing them out to the Pilgrim Adamo says that their fever causes them to stink. This remark irks Sinon who punches Adamo in the stomach. Adamo retaliates with a blow from his arm. From this soon erupts a verbal free-for-all with Adamo and Simon flinging insults and curses ate each other., Dante makes this exchange very funny and indeed quite absorbing. The reader can easily appreciate the cheap enjoying to be derived from such a fight. The Pilgrim not unnaturally, stands there and listens to what is happening. Such immature behavior angers Virgil and when the Pilgrim realizes this he is deeply ashamed and apologetic. The depth of his shame nullifies Virgil who then forgives him, admonishing him not to waste time on such a futile exercise as listening to brawls. Here it is easy to see the very human and thus fallible side of the Pilgrim that is found in every person: interest in other’s quarrels and the like. But it is the task of Reason (which Virgil personifies) to guide man away from such futile interests.
The readers should note that Falsifiers include alchemy, impersonators, counterfeiters and liars. This is the last Malebolge and this contains the most extreme form of Fraud (the sin punished in the ten Malebolge). The Alchemists have leprosy, the Impersonators are demented, the counterfeiters are afflicted with dropsy and the liars burn with a fever that makes them stink. Mark Musa has this to say about the tenth bolgia, "In this, the last of the Malebolge, we see simple Fraud at its most extreme, and because of the miscellaneous nature of the sins of the Falsifiers, we see perhaps the essence of the sin of simple fraud in general. In that case, Dante would be telling is that Fraud in general is a disease: the corrupt sense of values of the Fraudulent is here symbolized, in the case of the falsifiers, by the corrupt state of their mind and bodies."