Notes for Dante's Inferno
Powers of Literature


For a timeline on Dante's life, see Lesson 18.

     Middle of life: Following the example of Homer's Iliad, epic poems conventionally begin in the middle of things (and then flash back and then narrate forward), so the Inferno begins in the middle of Dante's life (Inf I:1) when he has lost his way. The setting is Easter 1300 AD, when Dante was age thirty-five, in the middle of a hypothetical seventy-year life-span (Inf I:1, Inf 18::28, Inf  21:112-114, Purg  2:98-99, Par 9:40).  (Actually age 35 didn't turn out to be the mid point in Dante's life; he died of malaria at 54.)
      The personal opening of the Commedia is unconventional in that epic poets traditionally did not write about themselves or their experiences, though this practice has been common since the middle ages. Other medieval dream visions include William Langland's Piers Ploughman and Geoffrey Chaucer's House of Fame; romantic autobiographical epics include William Wordsworth's The Prelude and Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass

The Inferno

     Subject and inspiration of the Inferno: In epic tradition, a poem's opening lines state the subject matter, so the Inferno begins with Dante's statement that he will tell everything that he saw in a vision. What's different here is that it's not about a hero; it's about Dante himself, or "everything" as only he saw it. The subjectivity of this approach is unlike anything in ancient epic. Classical poets recited what the Muses sang to them, but in Dante's personal mythology Virgil and Beatrice are substituted for the Muses. These guides talk to Dante and help to direct his attention, but they don't recite the words of the poem. They "guide" and "teach" him, but he reports what they said and what they showed him.

     Time in the Inferno:  The setting for the Commedia is Easter weekend in 1300 AD, when Dante was age 35, still serving as a municipal officer and statesman in Florence. Holy week forms the background to the poem, much as the Theseian festival forms the background to Plato's Phaedo. The inferno opens at the end of the night of Holy Thursday (the time in the "dark wood"), when the pilgrim Dante witnesses the dawn of Good Friday. It is also the Spring equinox with the sun rising in the constellation of Aries (the ram of sacrifice). Dante travels with Virgil for the whole day and all of Holy Saturday.
                         According to Catholic belief, Holy Thursday is the night of Jesus' agony in the garden, his arrest and trial and scourging prior to the crucifixion. Good Friday is the day of Jesus crucifixion, death and decent into hell, and Holy Saturday is Christ's second day in the underworld, prior to the third day, Easter Sunday, when he is resurrected from the dead.

     In the footsteps of Jesus: according to medieval legend, based on the Nicean creed, Jesus opened the gates of hell and liberated the Jewish patriarchs and their good followers to go to heaven. This so-called "harrowing of hell" is the prototype for Dante's journey from Inferno to Paradiso, as he follows Jesus' path from Good Friday through Easter. In the Commedia, Virgil never calls Jesus or Mary or God by name, indicating that he does not know how to call them: his magic has no power over them.
     The rockslide in Inferno Canto 12 is the result of an earthquake; the earth shook at Jesus' death, prior to his descent into Hell according to Matthew 27:51.

     Sense that is hidden under the weird mask of this story: when pilgrim Dante and Virgil are rescued in Canto 9, poet Dante asks his readers to use their intellect and consider the allegory. The messenger who crosses the Styx with dry feet, scattering the frogs, is an analogy for the Israelites' crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus and Psalm 113, which Dante explicates in his famous letter to Can Grande della Scala. It is a figure of redemption by Christ, a moral conversion, and an anagogical prophecy of the soul's fate at death. The entry into the City of Dis as a dark parallel to the entry into paradise. This polysemantic interpretation is described in Lesson 19.   

     The real question that pilgrim Dante wants to know in Inferno is: what's going to become of him in his earthly life? Will his faction be victorious in Florentine politics? Pilgrim Dante is consulting the spirits in the afterlife for their prophetic knowledge; he wants practical answers from Farinata, Ciacco and the dead Florentines (Inf 10:6). The poet Dante is detached from this aspect of the young pilgrim's quest because he knows what the pilgrim does not know about Dante's long exile.

Cast of Major Characters

     Aeneas: legendary prophet of Rome, Trojan son of the Goddess Aphrodite and mortal Anchises (see Iliad 20). He escaped the sack of Troy and sailed via Carthage to Italy with his young son Silvius (also called Ascanius, or Iulus, namesake of Julius Caesar). The first half of Virgil's epic tells how Aeneas came to foresee the Roman Empire (Aeneid 1-6), and the second half tells how he acted on this vision by establishing himself as a prince of the Latin people in Italy (books 7-12). The key vision occurs in book 6, when Aeneas visits the underworld with a sibyl who shows him the shadows of things to come. For Dante, Virgil is an experienced guide to the underworld because he took Aeneas there before him. In Inferno 4:106-129 Aeneas is found among the virtuous pagans in Limbo. More discussion of Aeneas and Virgil in Lesson 18.  

     Beatrice Portinari: Dante's mistress of courtly love and personification of divine wisdom, all in one. Dante first saw her as a child of eight at a neighborhood May Day party in 1274, when he was nine years old. She died at age 25 in June 1288, and Dante afterward wrote of his love for her in his lyric collection Vita Nuova ("New Life") and in the Commedia

     Boniface VIII: pope in 1300, when the Commedia takes place. He succeeded Celestine V, who abdicated in 1294, and he issued a bull declaring that the papacy was entitled to rule all of Italy. He backed the Black Guelphs in their takeover of Florence, and he paid French troops to occupy the city. Dante held him responsible for his exile from Florence. In the Commedia, a place in the 8th circle of hell is reserved for Boniface among the simonists (sellers of indulgences). Boniface died in October 1303, and was succeeded by Benedict XI.

     Can Grande della Scala: (1291-1329), the ‘Greyhound’ of Inferno I: 61-99, was Dante’s patron at Verona from 1316 and after. The Paradiso is dedicated to him, and he received the its last thirteen cantos, left unfinished at Dante’s death, from Dante’s son Jacopo. Can Grande became lord of Verona in 1311, was an Imperial Vicar, and in 1318 the head of the Ghibelline or anti-papal party. He was an art patron, and famous soldier.  

     Ciacco: a nickname meaning hog. Dante may have had a specific Florentine in mind with Ciacco, but his reference is no longer clear. Ciacco's prophecy tells what will happen in Florentine politics between 1300, the date of the vision when the real Dante was a magistrate in Florence, to 1303, the time when the real Dante was forced into exile. The Whites and Blacks are the White Guelphs and Black Guelphs who fought for control of Florence. On May 1, 1300, the Blacks were driven from the city, apparently with Dante's support, but their leaders gained the backing of Pope Boniface VIII, and in 1303 they returned with French troops engaged by the Pope, and they seized control of the city. The Whites were driven from the city, and when Dante failed to show for his trial he was sentenced to death. He lived in exile for the rest of his life, and had obsessive thoughts about what had happened to him. The disruption of the tour of hell by Ciacco's prophecy, which seems to have little or nothing to do with gluttony, is one of these compulsive reflections.

     Florence: on conversion to Christianity, Dante's native city adopted John the Baptist as its patron, displacing Mars, the Roman god of war. Mars' temple was pulled down and the Baptistry was built on the site. The statue of Mars from the old temple was set up beside the Arno, but it fell into the river when Florence was vandalized by the Ostrogoths under Totila (ruled 541-552 AD). Legend had it that Florence could not be rebuilt for many years until the statue was rescued from the river. In Dante's time, a mutilated Mars stood beside the Ponte Vecchio (the bridge across the Arno), but it was finally washed away in a flood in 1333. The Florentines mistreatment of Mars was said to be the cause of their endless fighting among themselves and with their neighbors.
          Another myth had it that the Florentines could not be unified because they consisted of two groups of people, some Roman and some from the Tuscan city of Fiesole which the Romans had conquered when they established Florence. Dante is flattered by Brunetto Latini that he is one of the noble Roman race, and his persecutors are malicious descendants of Fiesole (Inf 15:55).

     Lucia: 3rd century virgin martyr of Syracuse, traditionally associated with light and vision (because her eyes had been put out in her martyrdom). She was Dante’s patron saint, as he had deteriorated eyesight, perhaps as a result of his reading.

     Lucifer (aka Dis or Beelzebub): The beautiful but rebellious angel who was defeated by the loyal archangel Michael and thrown out of heaven. In mainstream Christian theology he is the tempter to sin (for the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, see Matthew 4).
     In Inferno, Lucifer is King of Inferno. His fall to earth penetrated the crust and formed the cavern of Beelzebub, where he is imprisoned (Inf. 34:70); the splash from hitting the earth also may have formed the Mountain of Purgatory in his wake (Inf. 34:70). The city of Dis in Inferno is named for him (Inf. 8:64). He stands in the 9th circle (Cocytus), the 4th ring (Judecca) with his head below Jerusalem, the center of the old world (Inf. 11:1, 31:97, 34:1).  His banners parody a  6th century Latin hymn by Fortunatus, "Vexilla regis prodeunt" ("the banners of the king advance," Inf. 34:1). His red, yellow and black faces indicate Hate, Powerlessness, and Ignorance, contrasted to the attributes of the Holy Trinity: Love, Power, and Wisdom. The triple-aspect also carries forward pagan traditions of the triple-goddess to which several references are made in the poem. Lucifer's wings freeze the tears of sinners, so that they find no relief from their suffering. Closest to him are those who were treacherous to their families, to their countries, and to their guests.
     In Lucifer's three mouths he chews on Judas Iscariot (the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Jewish authorities, according to the Gospels), Brutus and Cassius (the chief republican conspirators who murdered Julius Caesar).
     In Purgatory, Lucifer is associated with the Mars, the ancient god of Florence (Purg 9:127). He is depicted in the roadway (Purg 12:1). In Paradise, he is said to have desired what he did not have, and ought not to have, knowledge of God's will (Par 19:1). He is said to have fallen because of his pride, and that he is imprisoned at the base of the universe (Par 29:1).
     See also Dis.

     Ulysses: a major alter ego for Dante, the man whose homecoming was delayed for ten years. Ulysses is the Roman name (Virgil's name) for Homer's Odysseus, King of Ithaca, son of Laërtes and Anticlea who was daughter of the thief Autolycus [recall Lesson 2, Lesson 7, and Lesson 8 of this web].
     Ulysses is placed in the 8th circle of Inferno because he lived by pillage and  fraud. As Dante's Virgil notes, Ulysses stole the Palladium, a wooden statue of Pallas Athene, the safety of which guaranteed the safety of Troy, and he invented the Trojan Horse, by which he deceived the Trojans and destroyed their city. The only redeeming feature of this career, in Virgil's view, is that Troy’s destruction led to Aeneas’ wanderings and the later founding of Rome by Romulus.
     Dante's relationship to this figure is very complex. On one hand, Dante sees himself through Virgil's eyes as a Roman descended from Aeneas; in this view, Ulysses appears as his enemy, but in fact Dante is suffering from a Roman imperialist delusion that has brought him unhappiness, so Virgil's views are unsatisfactory. On the other hand, Dante identifies himself with Ulysses man who suffers and wanders, homeless, unable to find the way.
     Ulysses burns in the eighth circle (Inf 26:43). He makes a last voyage to the Mount of Purgatory via Gibraltar and the South Atlantic, but he is shipwrecked and drowned (Inf 26:85).  Purgatorio (19:1) mentions his adventure with the Sirens (Odyssey 12). Paradiso 27:67  mentions his voyage beyond Cadiz

     Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro), was born near Mantua (Italy) in 70 BCE, died of malaria in 19 BCE and was buried at Naples. He is remembered as a poet for his celebration of rural life, for his patriotism in support of Augustus' Roman Empire, and for the careful craftsmanship and elegance of his Latin verse. He wrote the pastoral Eclogues, the philosophic Georgics, and the Roman epic Aeneid, based on Greek models by Theocritus, Hesiod and Homer. In Dante's Commedia, he guides Dante the pilgrim through Inferno and part of Purgatorio, but he is barred from Paradise because he did not serve God (Inf 1:100). His soul resides in Limbo, the first circle of hell (Inf 4:1). Dante's characterization of Virgil is not entirely historical; for instance, Virgil's ancestors could not have been Lombards (cf. Inf 1:52), since the Lombards invaded the Italian peninsula only in the 6th century AD.
     The wood of the suicides (Inf 13) is one obvious example of the pilgrim Dante seeing with Virgil's eyes: Dante's interview with tree spirit of Pier della Vigne is borrowed directly from Aeneas' encounter with the tree-man Polydorus in Aeneid 3:22. 
More general discussion on Virgil and Dante appears in Lesson 18 of this web.

Major Symbols

     Leopard, lion and she-wolf (Inf 1:25): the three beasts that keep Dante from climbing up to happiness in Canto 1 (compare Jeremiah 5:6) can be understood in political terms as Florence, France and the Papacy. Afraid, Dante avoids censorship by not naming these animals with complete clarity. As mage, he can't control these beasts because he can't call them by their real names.

The black-and-white spotted leopard represents Florence which, in 1300 AD, was bitterly divided between rival political factions known as Black Guelphs and White Guelphs. Essentially the Blacks were supporters of the pope's claims to become the temporal ruler of all Italy, while the Whites opposed the pope's imperial claims and sought protection from the pope's forces by supporting a variety of secular leaders. Dante, as a chief magistrate in Florence, made enemies among both the Blacks and Whites in his futile efforts to keep the peace. In the summer of 1300 he would help to banish several of the feuding Guelphs, even including his own friend and fellow poet Guido Cavalcanti. Two years later, in 1302, exiled Black Guelphs would seize control of the city with the backing of the pope and France, and all who had not supported their cause would be killed or banished. The setting of Dante's poem is spring 1300, while Dante still held power in Florence, but Dante wrote the poem in exile during the years 1313-1321. This time scheme allows Dante as a character in the Inferno to hear prophecies of his coming exile. 

The lion is the symbol of the King of France who aligned himself with the pope. French troops in the pope's pay occupied Florence in 1302 and installed the Black Guelphs who tried Dante in absentia and sentenced him to death, if ever he returned to the city.

The she-wolf is traditionally associated with Rome and represents the papacy which seized political control in Florence in 1302. Dante is in torment presumably because he fears that he will be damned  for his political opposition to the pope. However, the wolf symbol can be taken more broadly to mean Rome itself, of which Virgil was the greatest poet laureate. The wolf drives Dante away from his higher aspirations toward becoming an imperial Roman poet.

The greyhound who will save Italy from the Roman wolf is Dante's patron in Verona, Can Grande della Scala. (Ironically Can Grande's name means "big dog," so maybe he's only a domesticated wolf.) Verona lies between Feltro in Venetia and Montefeltro in Romagna. This flattering prophecy about Can Grande is Virgil's, not necessarily Dante's.


Miscellaneous notes

Abati, Bocca degli: though a Ghibelline, he fought on the Guelph side at Montaperti in 1260 when the Florentine Guelphs went down to defeat. Dante follows the report that at the critical moment in the battle, Bocca cut off the hand of the standard bearer and threw the Guelph force into confusion. Bocca is in the suburb of traitors, Antenora, in the 9th circle (Inf 32:70).
          Like a traitor, Bocca names several others who lie with him. Buosa da Duera was accused of taking a bribe to allow the French under Charles of Anjou to enter Parma unopposed in 1265, betraying King Manfred of Naples. Tesauro de' Beccheria was beheaded by the Florentines in 1258 for plotting with exiled Ghibellines to overthrow the Guelphs. Gianni de' Soldanieri betrayed the Ghibellines in an uprising against them 1266. Ganelon is a treacherous advisor to Charlemagne in The Song of Roland; his advice sends Roland's contingent to their deaths. Tribaldello Zambrasi was a Ghibelline who opened the gates of the city of Gaenza to the attaching Guelphs in 1280.

Acheron: lake of the dead in classical literature. Visitors went there to see the dead brought back by necromantic spells. Dante thinks of it as a river, which helps to connote images of the river of time and stream of consciousness.

Achilles: if you don't know this character, you haven't read Lessons 2-10, or you need to study them some more. Homer never kills off Achilles, so later versions of the Troy story worked out the demise in various ways. In the late, highly moralized, very non-Homeric version that Dante thinks of in circle two of the Inferno, Achilles is a complete scoundrel and fool. He is killed by Paris in a temple in Troy, where he has arrived all dressed up to marry the beautiful princess Polyxena, daughter of Trojan King Priam and Queen Hecuba. The girl has been promised to him if he will switch sides and fight with the Trojans, and he has greedily accepted the bribe.
          Another entirely non-Homeric, medievalized Achilles had married and started a family with Deidamia before he sailed off to the Trojan War. Dante displays knowledge of this story, which he puts into Virgil's mouth in Inferno 26:43. It was Homer's point that Achilles died childless, but later generations included a lot of people (like Alexander the Great) who wanted to claim Achilles as their ancestor, so they lied, adding him to their family trees.
          Achilles' spear of Pelian ash is mentioned in Inferno 31:1; its magical powers of healing are not Homeric but relate to a late classical tradition in which the spear has the properties of a magic wand, the gift to Achilles from his first teacher, the centaur Chiron (Ovid, Metamorphosis 13:171; see also Shakespeare 2 Henry VI :5.1; contrast Iliad 16:143).

Adamo of Brescia: directed by Guido, Alessandro, and Aghinolfo Guidi, Counts of Romena, Master Adam of Brescia precipitated a currency crisis by counterfeiting Florentine gold florins, stamped with the figure of St John the Baptist. Adamo used debased metal, 21 carats of gold rather than 24. He was burnt to death for this crime in 1281, on the Consuma, the pass that leads out of the Casentino toward Florence. The Guidis escaped punishment. Count Giudo was dead by 1300, but the other two were still alive. The Fountain of Branda, the spring, is not the more famous one near Siena, but a lesser one near the castle of Romena, near where Adamo died on his way to Dante's circle 8, ditch 10 (Inferno 30:49).

Adige, this side of Trent: a local Italian landmark, the Slides of Mark beside the River Adige lie between Verona and Trento, near Rovereto. 

Aegina: a nymph loved by Jupiter who begot on her Aeacus. Out of jealousy, Juno struck the whole island of Aegina with plague, and all died except Aeacus who petitioned his father for help. Jupiter responded by turning all of ants on the island into people, restoring the population (according to Ovid's Metamorphosis 7:523).

Aesop's fable of the frog and the mouse: in the fable about fraud, a frog agrees to ferry a mouse across a pond. The sly mouse, however, secretly plans not to pay the frog when they reach the other side, and the treacherous frog secretly plans to drown the mouse in the pond and steal the payment without making the voyage. They have paddled only a little way into the pond when a hawk swoops down and gobbles up both of them. Dante compares the grafter Ciampolo, and the Malabranche Alichino and  Calcabrina to Aesop's mouse and frog (Inf 23:4).

Alardo, Erard de Valéry: at Tagliacozzo in 1268, where Charles of Anjou defeated Manfred's nephew, Conradin, Alardo advised Charles to use reserve troops. He is mentioned in Inferno 28:1. 

Alberigo: Friar Alberigo Manfredi of Faenza, a member of the order of the Joke Friars, avenged a blow from his younger brother Manfred by inviting him, and his son, to a banquet in 1285, and at a given signal ‘bring the fruits’ Manfred and his son were murdered. Le male frutta (the evil fruit) of Friar Alberigo became proverbial. He was still alive in 1300, but his soul is in the ninth circle anyway (Inf 33:91).

Alberti, Alberto, Alessandro and Napoleone degli: Alessandro and Napoleone, the two sons of Count Alberto degli Alberti, who held Vernia and Cerbaia in the valley of the Bisenzio River. The brothers quarrelled over their inheritance and killed each other, sometime after 1282. They are together in Caïna in the 9th circle (Inf 32:40).
        Napoleone's son, Count Orso, was murdered by Alessandro's son Alberto in the continuing vendetta, and this Alberto is among the late-repentant (in Purg 6:1).

Alexander the Great and the snow of fire: Alexander's adventures grew to super-hero proportions in the imagination of medieval Europeans. They saw him as the prototype of the successful crusader in the east. There is no clear classical source for Dante's reference to Alexander's firestorm (Inf 14:38).

Amphion: an Orphic bard who is said to have constructed the great stone walls of Thebes through the magical power of his music. The ladies (spirits) who helped him move the stones were the Muses. See Ovid, Metamorphosis 6:176 and 15:427.

Anastasius: a Byzantine Emperor (ruled 491-518 AD) who was noted for his tolerance and attempt to reconcile conflicting beliefs. The deacon of Thessalonica, Photinus, led him to reconcile the heretical Monophysite doctrine that Christ appeared as a man but not with human nature and substance, with the orthodox belief in Christ's nature as both fully human and fully divine.  

Ancient Giant under Crete: the huge statue (based in part on the Book of Daniel 2:32) represents all of human history. The four metals are the four ages of man: gold, silver, bronze, and iron in classical mythology (see Ovid, Metamorphosis 1). The clay and iron feet are the medieval present age, which is the weakest and most corrupt, threatening to topple the whole creation. This place is important to Dante's Virgil as the original homeland of the Romans. Crete in Virgil’s Aeneid  3:104 is the ‘cradle of our (Roman) race’ traced back via Troy to Teucer. Damietta stands for Egypt, superseded by Rome when Augustus defeated Antony and Cleopatra. Only the golden age, the earliest time under the reign of king Kronos, was free of tears, as it was the time of deathless ones.

Ancient seers: Amphiarus, Teiresias, Aruns:  Dante goes to the underworld to consult prophets about his future, just as Odysseus, Aeneas and other classical heroes did before him, but Dante discovers that some of the prophets are frauds, who can't see much of anything at all, except their own backsides (Inf 20:31).

Amphiaraüs was one of the seven Achaean kings who assaulted Thebes in the war of the Seven against Thebes. Knowing that he would die in the battle, he fled along the banks of the Ismenus River in his chariot. He was on the point of being killed when Zeus split open the earth with a thunderbolt, and Amphiaraüs vanished from sight, chariot and all. He thus became a living prophet who could be consulted in the underworld. See Ovid, Metamorphosis 8:317, 9:407. Dante's joke (or perhaps Ovid's) is that Amphiaraüs could not foresee the hole in the ground ahead of his chariot.

Teiresias: the Theban seer famously consulted by Odysseus in the Odyssey (Lesson 2), is treated less reverently in Ovid's account, where he spends seven years in the form of a woman after striking a pair of coupling snakes. On striking them again he is changed back. As a result of this adventure, he is called upon by Jupiter, to judge an argument, between himself and Juno, as to whether men or women get the most pleasure from sex. He judges that women do, for which Juno struck him blind, but Jupiter gives him the power of prophecy to compensate for his blindness. Ovid, Metamorphosis 3:324.

Aruns: a local boy from Dante's region, this Etruscan seer prophesied the Roman Civil War that ended in Julius Caesar's victory over Pompey the Great, setting the stage for the creation of the Roman Empire (Lucan, Pharsalia 1:584). Most translators of Dante apparently accept the idea that Aruns could see the sky and the sea from his cave in the mountains of Tuscany (well inland).  

Manto: the daughter of Teiresias, about whom there are various traditions. By one account she became Apollo’s prophetic Pythoness at Delphi, who married Rhacius, King of Caria, and bore him (or Apollo) a son Mopsus who was a famous soothsayer. Dante's Virgil makes her the founder of Mantua, Virgil's birthplace (Inf 20:52). (But the actual Virgil described a different version of Mantua’s founding in Aeneid 10:198.)  To add to this mystery, Dante elsewhere puts "the daughter of Teiresias," presumably Manto, in Limbo with the ancient poets (see Purg 22:94).

Eurypylus: according to the lying Greek Sinon, Eurypylus had been sent to the oracle of Apollo to ask for a favourable wind to return home at the end of the Trojan War. The oracle replied that the Achaeans would have to perform another sacrifice, as they had done before at Aulis. See Virgil, Aeneid 2:110. (At Aulis, before the war, the Greek ships had waited for a favorable wind to sail to Troy; the auger Kalkhas had prophesied that Agamemnon's daughter, Iphigenia, would need to be sacrificed to obtain favorable winds for Troy. Recall Homer's Kalkhas from Lesson 3.) The real story about Eurypylus, Dante's Virgil implies, is that he assisted Kalkhas at Aulis (Inf 20:100).

Antenor: a Trojan warrior in the Iliad who in Virgil's Aeneid (1:242) escaped to Italy and founded Padua; but medieval accounts remade Antenor into one who betrayed Troy to the Greeks. (See Dictys Cretensis, Dares Phrygius, and the  Roman de Troie) The district of traitors in the middle part of the 9th circle is thus named for him, Antenora (Inf 32:87).

ArachneA Lydian girl, famous for her weaving, who dared to challenge the goddess Minerva (Athena) to a competition, was defeated, and was changed by the goddess into the mother of all spiders. Her story is related in Ovid, Metamorphoses 6:42.

Arethusa: a nymph of Elis, and virgin attendant on Artemis (Diana), was loved by Alpheus, a river-god, but turned into a fountain as she was pursued by him. The story appears in Ovid, Metamorphosis 5:572.

Aristotle and the philosophers: Pilgrim Dante can see, just above the poets' vision of Troy, Greek philosophers and classical scientists who follow Aristotle, "the master of those who know." Ancient philosophy and science bring higher knowledge than poetry, but misguided Dante does not have time for them. Historically, Aristotle (384-322 BC) was the student of Plato (cir. 427-348 BC), so pilgrim Dante sees their relationship incorrectly. The sighting of Socrates is also an error. The historical Socrates did not admire Aristotle because Socrates died in 399 BC, before Aristotle's time. Interestingly, just as he saw Saladin with the Greco-Roman heroes, pilgrim Dante sees Arab commentators on Aristotle (Avicenna and Averrhoes) as belonging with the pagan Aristotelians. Christian Aristotelians like Thomas Aquinas are up in Dante's Paradiso. 

Aristotle's Ethics: Virgil's plan of hell follows Aristotle's classical philosophy. In the Nichomachean Ethics (7:1) Aristotle speaks of traits that should be avoided: incontinence (=lack of self-control), brutishness or bestiality (=violence) and viciousness (=fraud). Natural human impulses (i.e., traits shared with animals) generally are thought to be less negative than the peculiarly human disposition toward viciousness, Aristotle notes. The pilgrim Dante has been naive about these ideas that underlie the Inferno, and Virgil rebukes him for it. Recall how the pilgrim showed no real interest in philosophy earlier, when he saw Aristotle and other philosophers in Limbo. At this point in the poem he is not yet a fully rational, understanding person.

Aristotle's Physics: Virgil refers to Physics 2:2, where Aristotle suggests that art mimics nature. The Aristotelian idea is examined at much greater length in the Poetics. Recall Lesson 11, where we described the key differences between Plato's idea of art (as idealism) and Aristotle's notion of it (as imitation of nature).

Arles and Pula: swampy places noted in medieval times for their ancient and enormous cemeteries. Old burials at Arles in Southern France were supposed to include, among others, Charlemagne’s warriors who were massacred at Roncesvalles (the story of The Song of Roland). Pula, in the north of Italy, east of Venice on the Adriatic, contained Slavic and Roman remains.

Arrigo and Mosca: initiators of the murder of Buondelmonte de’ Buondelmonti, who was betrothed to a daughter of the Amidei, but broke faith at the instigation of Gualdrada Donati. In the debate as to whether he should be killed Mosca said the evil word, ‘A thing done has an end.’ Buondelmonte was murdered, at the foot of the statue of Mars, on the Ponte Vecchio, in 1215. This incident set off the factional wars in Florence between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. "Mosca" (Mosca de' Lamberti) means "fly," and he appears among the sowers of discord in Canto 23 . Arrigo does not appear in the afterlife, except for Dante's question about him in Canto 6. Dante married into the Donati family, who were Guelphs.

Asdente ("the toothless") Benvenuto (d cir. 1284): a shoemaker of Parma who practised as a soothsayer. Seen among the fraud prophets of the 8th circle (Inf 20:100).

Atropos: one of the three fates, or Moerae, in Greek mythology: Clotho (’the spinner’), Lachesis (‘the measurer’), and Atropos (‘the unavoidable’). Clotho spins the thread of a life, Lachesis measures it out, and Atropos cuts the thread. (Atropos is mentioned in Inf 33:91, and the other two are mentioned in Purg 21:1.)

Baptistry of St. John: Dante's mention of breaking a baptismal font seems to indicate that this accident may have been misinterpreted by Dante's enemies. For Pope Boniface to have detained Dante in custody in Rome (as happened in 1303), presumably some charge or accusation of religious crime must have been made against him, and perhaps the font figured in it some way.

Bello, Geri del: a first cousin of Dante’s father, who apparently was killed by members of the Sacchetti family, with whom the Alighieris were feuding. The origins of the feud are unknown, but there had been killings on both sides before Dante's time. Geri’s nephews, the sons of Messer Cione del Bello Alighieri, killed one of the Sacchetti in his own house in about 1310. The families were reconciled in 1342. Gerio calls on Dante to avenge him in Inferno 29:1, and the pilgrim is attracted, but by feuding, one joins the sowers of discord who are ripped apart like Mohammed in the 8th circle, ditch 9. Blood feuds of this type appear to have been commonplace in Dante's Italy.

Bertrand de Born (cir. 1140-1215): lord of the Castle of Hautefort (Altaforte), near Périgord, who spent his life in feudal warfare, ended it in the nearby Cistercian monastery of Dalon. He was one of the noted Provençal troubadours and was remembered for ‘Si tuit li dohl elh plor elh marrimen,’ a lament on the death of Prince Henry Plantagenet, son of Henry II of England and the elder brother to Richard Coeur de Lion, nicknamed the ‘Young King’ because in strife with his father he twice claimed to have been crowned in his father’s lifetime. Bertrand was accused of stirring up the strife between Henry II and his son, which lasted until the Young King’s death in 1183. Bertrand is one of the hideous sowers of discord in circle 8, ditch 9 (Inf 28: 112).
     Bertrand compares himself to Ahitophel, Biblical King David's Gilonite counsellor from Giloh  who conspired with David’s rebellious son Absalom and subsequently hanged himself when his advice was rejected (2 Samuel 15-18).

Blessed be she who bore you: these shocking words parody Luke's gospel blessing of Mary, mother of Jesus. Dante's comparison of his former self to Jesus at this point is ironic. The pilgrim is sinking into anger with Virgil's encouragement. He accepts the perverse notion of righteous anger, that hatred somehow can be not only justified but good for the soul. The object of Dante's anger, Fillipo Argenti, was a Florentine nobleman of the Adimari family who must have died by 1300. Dante is too angry to tell his reasons for his anger toward Argenti, and nothing is known about their relationship historically. Argenti appears as a character of fierce temper and overbearing arrogance in Boccaccio's Decameron 9.8 (Ciacco the glutton is also portrayed there.), but Boccaccio may not have had sources of knowledge about Argenti, apart from Dante's caricature.  

Bloodbath canal: the tyrants who stew in the river of blood in the seventh circle (canto 12) include Alexander the Great [discussed at length in Lesson 9] and Dionysius the Tyrant of Syracuse (405-367 BC) who perfected the catapult but refused to allow Plato to teach his son. The black and white parties of Italy are also represented there, in terms of hair color, by Ezzellino da Romano (1194-1259), the tyrant of Verona, Vicenza and Padua, a Ghibelline leader known as ‘the son of the devil,' and also Ezzollino's Guelph rival, Obizzo of Este, Marquis of Ferrara and the March of Ancona (1264?-1293). Obizzo was rumored to have been murdered by his son and successor, Azzo VIII. There are also Attila the Hun (433-453), known as the scourge of God who terrorized the Eastern Roman Empire until his defeat in 451, Pyrrhus, the heartless Greek who slaughtered Priam and sacrificed Polyxena on Achilles' grave (according to Aeneid 2:469), and Guy de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, who murdered his cousin Henry in the church of San Silvestro at Viterbo. Also swams include Sextus Pompeius a rival of Julius Caesar and Augustus who was accused by them of notorious acts of piracy, and two famous highwaymen, recently deceased in Dante's time, Rinieri da Corneto and Rinier Pazzo.  

Bonatti, Guido: astrologer, author of Liber Introductorius ad Judicia Stellorum (c1170).

Bonturo: Bonturo de' Dati, a politician in the city of Lucca, apparently the most crooked one in Dante's judgment. The demon's comment about Bonturo is sarcastic.  Saint Zita was actually the patron saint of Lucca. The Serchio River flows a within a few miles of Lucca.

Borsiere, Guglielmo. a Florentine who died in 1300. His name means "purse maker," but he was perhaps an aristocrat. Boccaccio mentions a noble character of this name as a knight and diplomat who moved in courtly circles (Decameron 1:8).

Branca d'Oria: in about 1290 AD murdered his father-in-law Michel Zanche, who he had invited to dinner. D'Oria was a Ghibelline from Genoa. He was still alive in 1300, but his soul nonetheless is in the 9th circle, in Ptolomaia where violators of xenia are frozen to Cocytus, the Lake of Tears, on their backs (Inf 33:91) . Zanche is above him in the eighth circle (Inf 22:76).

Bulicame spring: part of the Bulicame flows through an ancient red light district, where the prostitutes could bathe. (They apparently weren't allowed access to the public baths.) It was a hot sulphur spring, red from its mineral content. Inf 14:76.

Caccianimico, Venedico de:  this pimp in circle 8, ditch 1 [Inf. 18:40], was a once-leading Bolognese Guelph who was exiled in 1289. He was a follower of Marquis Obizzo d'Este of Ferrara. He assisted the Marquis in the seduction of his own sister, Ghisolabella, who later married Niccolò de Fontana of Ferrara in 1270. Dante met Caccianimico in exile.

Cadmus: legendary founder of Thebes; at death he and his wife Harmonia turned into snakes (probably a reference to a python oracle at Thebes).  [Recall the story from Lesson 10.] A version of the story is told in Ovid, Metamorphosis 4:563.

Caiaphas: the high priest of the Pharisees, responsible for prosecuting Jesus, who in John's gospel says ‘it is good for us that one man should die for the people, so that the whole nation should not perish’ (John 9:47-53). His father-in-law was Annas (John 18: 13). Caiaphas is crucified in the 8th circle (Inf 23:82).

Caïeta: Aeneas cremated his old nurse Caïeta in Italy, at modern Gaeta, in Campania. See Virgil's Aeneid 7:1 and Ovid’s Metamorphosis 14:157, 14:443 and 15:716

Camilla, Euryalus, Nissus and Turnus: warriors who die in battle in the wars of the Latins with the Rutilians in Virgil's Aeneid (books 9-12).

Capaneus, "that wraith" on the hot sands in circle 7, ring 3 (Inf 14:43): in classical legend, the giants made war against the gods but were bombed by Jupiter’s [Zeus's] lightning bolts and blasted down into the earth (accounting for gigantic, often charred bones that ancient people found buried in volcanic and seismic regions around the Mediterranean). The lightning bolts were made by the blacksmith god Vulcan [Greek Hephaistos, recall the shield of Achilles from Lesson 5] and the Cyclopes at their forge in the fires of Mount Aetna, under Sicily. Capaneus (Inf 14:39) a king of the Argives was said to have been killed by lightning in the war of the Seven Against Thebes (at about the time of the Trojan War), as he scaled the wall of the city defying Jupiter to protect it. The story of divine justice is from Statius' epic Thebiad 10:845.

Capocchio: a Florentine alchemist, known to Dante, burnt alive at Siena in 1293 (appears in Inf 29: 121).

Caprona: a Tuscan army (which probably included Dante) attacked the fortress of Caprona, near Pisa, in 1289, and forced the Pisan defenders to surrender. By some accounts, which Inferno 21:97 seems to support, the Tuscans massacred  those who had surrendered to them.

Capraia and Gorgona: islands held by Pisa.

Casalodi: The Brescian Counts of Casalodi held Mantua until 1272 , Pinamonte de Buonaccorsi, obtained control by persuading Alberta Casoldi to banish the powerful nobles; after Alberta had done so, Pinamonte got rid of Alberta, massacred many of the Mantuans, and maintained control of Mantua until 1291.

Catalano de' Catalini (or de’ Malavolti) c.1210-1285, a Guelph, and Loderingo degli Andalò, c. 1210-1293, supposedly a Ghibelline, were called to Florence, from Bologna, in 1266 to rule as joint mayors and reform the government. They are hypocrites in Inferno 23:82, because they were supposed to be neutral outsiders who would bring peace to the city, when in fact they had a secret agenda to cause conflict. The election that installed them in office had been rigged by Pope Clement IV, who wanted the Ghibellines thrown out of Florence so the Guelphs could control the city. Catalano and Loderingo quickly were accused of hypocrisy and corruption and expelled from Florence.
     The two friars belonged to the so-called Jolly Friars, a derisive name for the Military Order of the Blessed Mary which had been founded at Bologna in 1261, with the approval of Urban IV, to act as mediators, and protect the weak. After many scandals, which earned the order its nickname, the organization was disbanded due to its laxity.
     Catalano and Loderingo were responsible for destruction in the Gardingo district of Florence (near the Palazzo Vecchio). This had been the site of the Uberti Palace which was the Ghibelline headquarters, destroyed in the uprising against the Ghibellines in 1266, the scars of which were still felt in Dante's time.

Cavalcanti, Cavalcante de’he was the father of Dante's friend and fellow poet Guido Cavalcanti  Guido was still alive at Easter 1300, the time of the setting of the Inferno. Cavalcante's inference of his son's death is incorrect (Inferno 10: 52). Dante is slow to answer Cavalcante's question about his son's fate, however, because Dante is about to banish Guido from Florence. This act is weighing on Dante's conscience even before it happens; ironically, Dante is the one who is being prophetic in the graveyard of the heretics of Canto 10. 

Cavalcanti, Guido de’: friend of Dante and fellow poet (1250? - 1300), he was son-in-law to Farinata, and a prominent member of the White Guelf party. He and Dante were noted as the chief poets of the Florentine School of lyric poetry; Dante dedicated his lyric collection, Vita Nuova ("New Life") to Guido. He was exiled with other White Guelphs in June 1300, and as a city magistrate Dante evidently was a party to this banishment. In exile Guido soon became ill, and he was permitted to return to Florence, where he died in August. Guido is an alter-ego of Dante's. He must have caused Dante to reflect deeply on the irony of his own exile.

Cavalcanti, Franchesco: was slain in the village of Gaville, near Florence; the village was decimated when the Cavalcanti family took revenge on the whole populace. Franchesco is presented as a thief in the 8th circle (Inf 25: 151).

Cato the Younger: Marcius Portius Cato (95-46BC) unsuccessfully defended the Roman Republic against Julius Caesar. Cato marched an army across the Libyan desert to join with Namibian forces, as described in Lucian's Pharsalia 9:587 (see also 2:373). Defeated by Caesar at the battle of Thapsus, he committed suicide near Carthage and the Roman Senate lost its power forever. Dante alludes to him when describing the desert that joins the Wood of Suicides in the seventh circle (Inf  13:15), but he is also in charge of the Mount of Purgatory (Purg 1:28), because Virgil thought highly of him. He appears among the righteous Romans in Aeneid 8:670.)

Centaurs: mythical creatures of the heroic age with heads of men and bodies of horses, said to be native to the mountains in Achilles' homeland of Thessaly. They could be intelligent but were noted mostly for belligerence and gross sexual misconduct. The wisest was Chiron, Achilles' teacher. The most famous was Nessus, who was killed with a poisoned arrow by Heracles for attempting to rape Heracles' beloved Deianira; before he died, Nessus got even with Heracles by making a gift of his blood-soaked shirt to Deianira, telling her that it was a love charm that would arouse Heracles when he put it on; Heracles donned the shirt and was poisoned by Nessus' poisoned blood. Pholus was one of the centaurs who fought at the battle of the lapiths (men) and centaurs, a donnybrook caused at a lapith wedding when one of the guest centaurs attempted to rape the bride. Dante's centaurs complement the Minotaur, the creature with a human body but bull's head. They keep the inmates of the seventh circle from escaping, while the Minotaur guards the entrance to keep intruders from getting in. 
The Centaur Cacus was a thief, so he appears separately in the 8th circle (Inf 25:1-33). His hideout was a cave in the Aventine forest. He stole two of Hercules' prize bulls, and four heifers, after Hercules had taken the cattle from Geryon (the three-headed king) in his Tenth Labour. Hercules battered him to death. Dante follows Livy's History of Rome 1:7, and Virgil's Aeneid 8: 193-267.  He is in the eighth circle, with the thieves (Inf 25:1).

Cerberus: a nasty three-headed dog, according to classical legend, guarded the underworld to prevent the living from gaining safe access to the dead. Theseus and other heroes who visited the underworld were said to have tricked Cerberus by throwing him food that distracted him from his duty long enough for them to pass. (See for example Aeneid 6:417.) Cerberus falls for the same old trick when Dante's Virgil throws him putrid earth to eat. Legends of Heracles included a labor in which the hero once dragged the monster up from hell; Dante's Cerberus still bears the scars of this struggle on its necks and chins.

Charles of Anjou, King of Naples and Sicily:  Pope Nicholas III accepted money from the Eastern Emperor Palaelogus to conspire against Charles and the House of Anjou. Pilgrim Dante seems to characterize this money as a bribe (Inf 19:95), but the pope apparently supported Sicilian attempts to overthrow French domination.

Charon: The ferryman of the dead to the afterlife in classical mythology, often associated with Acheron where he collected a fare of one obolus per customer. This is why some Greeks placed an obolus in the mouths of their dead, to pay Charon for the boat ride. Charon may have been an actual character in a necromantic visitor attraction where the dead could be seen. Dante turns him into a devil.

Charybdis. and the monster Scylla, formed two dangerous cliffs that Odysseus and crew had to pass between in the Odyssey. Scylla and Charybdis reached Latin poetry in Ovid (see Metamorphosis 13.730) and became associated with the whirlpool in the straits of Messina.

CiampoloA member of the household of, Teobaldo II, "Thibaut," King of Navarre (1253-1270). He is the subject of William Blake's engraving, ‘Ciampolo tormented by Devils,’ in the British Museum, London.

Circe: a goddess-witch in Homer's Odyssey, who holds Odysseus and his crew for a year, nourishing them back to health, and providing them with instructions for visiting the underworld on the way home. How much of Homer's story was known to Dante is problematic, but the artful retelling of Ulysses' last voyage in Inferno 26:85 indicates either familiarity with the original or else exceptionally good guesswork about it. Circe sends Odysseus to the far side of the world. In Homer, that place is the entrance to the underworld and meeting with the prophet Teiresias; in Dante it is the place of Mount Purgatory. Dante certainly knew Circe through Ovid's Metamorphosis 14:247.

Clement V, Pope: "one from the west, a lawless shepherd" whose misdeeds overshadowed those of his predecessors, Nicholas III and Boniface VIII [Inf 19:82]. Bertrand de Got (Goth), Archbishop of Bordeaux, became Clement V in 1305, through the support of the King of France, Philip IV, "Philip the Fair." Subservient to the king, Clement moved the papal headquarters from Rome to Avignon, in France, where it remained until 1377. He died eleven years after Boniface VIII in 1314.

Cleopatra: the last of the pharaohs of Egypt and last of the Ptolemies, Cleopatra VII (cir 68-30 BC) in imperial Rome was portrayed as the loose woman who had attracted both Julius Caesar and Marc Antony to have illicit affairs with her. She probably was murdered by Augustus Caesar, but the story read that she committed suicide with Antony after the Battle of Actium, when they had been defeated by Augustus, reunifying the Roman Empire. Antony was smeared as one who had played the unfaithful husband to Augustus' sister, Octavia. Virgil has a hand in developing this Augustan myth about Cleopatra, as his Dido is an allusion to her.

Constantine the Great: the first "Holy Roman Emperor" (cir 280-337) became ruler of Rome after his victory over Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge on the Tiber in 312 AD. After this success, he made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire. Then he defeated Licinius at Adrianople and Chrysopolis in 324, and so become sole ruler of the eastern empire, too. Byzantium was renamed Constantinople in 330, and it became the seat of the combined empire.

A set of foundation myths grew up around Constantine, as they had surrounded Alexander, Augustus and other founders before. One of these legends was a later medieval invention known as "the Donation of Constantine." The story was that Pope Sylvester I cured Constantine of leprosy, for which Constantine transferred his capital from Rome to Constantinople, and left the Pope to rule politically in Italy. Dante saw this story as the genesis of the corruption of the church, involving itself in temporal power and thereby turning itself into an adversary or competitor of other temporal states and rulers (Inf 19:88). Dante argued that the donation was null and void, since the emperor had no authority to relinquish temporal power, nor could the Pope receive it (De Monarchia 3:10).

Coward who made the great refusal: Probably Pietro da Morrone, a saintly hermit from the Abruzzi, was elected Pope Celestine V in 1294, at the age of eighty, but he never wanted to be pope. Five months later, he made the so-called "great refusal": he quit. He was confined under house arrest by his successor Boniface VIII until his death in 1296, and he was canonized in 1313. It shows the pilgrim Dante's alienation from the church that he sees this saint as one of the damned. Dante was upset that Celestine's retirement allowed Boniface to come to power; Boniface backed the Black Guelphs who took over Florence and forced Dante's banishment. (Other candidates for the "coward" include Pontius Pilate, Esau and others. By refusing to name the "coward" Dante keeps up the idea that the world has forgotten the names of all those who were neutral between good and evil.)    

Curio: according to Lucan (Pharsalia 1: 281) Curio advised Caesar to cross the Rubicon, near Rimini, and declare war against the Roman Republic, inaugurating the civil war in 49 BCE.

Daylight was departing: Canto 2 starts with the evening of Good Friday.

Dido: According to the Aeneid, the African queen who fell in love with Aeneas and committed suicide when he left her. She was the widow of Sichaeus, and having fallen for Aeneas she accused herself of infidelity to her husband's memory. 

Diomede: Roman name for Diomedes, the son of the hero Tydeus, King of Argos, who fights with Odysseus at Troy. In Homer Diomedes and Odysseus are contrasted as figures of youth and age, hot headedness and cool collectedness, but in Dante Diomede and Ulysses (Odysseus) are consigned to the same fire in the eighth circle (Inf 26: 43). Diomede's story is told in non-Homeric, Roman fashion in Ovid's Metamorphosis 14-15.

Dis: a god of the dead in classical mythology, sometimes associated with Pluto, best known as the ravisher from the story of Demeter and Persephone that formed the basis for the Eleusinian mystery rites. At Eleusis, the initiates discovered the hidden "mystery" of life by talking to the spirits in a simulated underworld; the cast of characters down there included Dis as the king. See also Lucifer.

Donati, Cianfa: Agnello Brunelleschi, Buoso Donati, and Puccio Sciancato:  Florentine nobles described as thieves in the 8th circle, where they are transformed into serpents from time to time (Inf 25:148). The relationship of these historical figures to historical Dante is uncertain, but Cianfa and Buoso were in-laws. A dispute arose over Buoso's last will and testament, which may have been created by an impersonator Gianni Schicci (Inf 30: 1).

Electra: she was mother of the Zeus-man Dardanus who founded Troy. Homer and the Roman poets take Dante to see a vision of Troy that includes not only Homer's original conception of it (in the figure of Hektor) but also the Romans' versions. According to Virgil's Aeneid, Aeneas was the Trojan forefather of Julius Caesar, who brought about the Roman empire, and Aeneas established Troy in Italy by winning the Princess Lavina to be his wife (she was the heir to Latinus, the King of the Latins). The Amazon Camilla died defending the Latins, as Amazon Penthesilea died defending the Trojans, according to Latin retellings of the Trojan War story. Good Roman women famed for their fidelity also find their place here: Lucretia (who killed herself because she had been raped by Tarquin; she was avenged by Lucius Junius Brutus who forced Tarquin from Rome), Julia (daughter of Julius Caesar), Marcia (wife of Cato of Utica)  and Cornelia (mother of the Gracchi twins). A seemingly strange outlier in this Greco-Roman vision of Troy is the one who stands a little apart from the others, Saladin.  Of the poets, only Dante could have seen this part of "the Troy story." The Sultan (1137-1193 AD), Kurdish founder of the Ayyubid Dynasty of Egypt, became famous throughout Europe after he defeated the Christian crusaders and drove them out of Jerusalem and most of the Levant in 1187AD. Misguided Dante does not see this event as a Christian; he sees Saladin as a virtuous pagan (actually he was a Muslim) who is like Aeneas as a hero who re-establishes his ancestral city. 

Elisha: the prophet who witnessed Elijah’s ascension to Heaven. When he was mocked by little children near Beth-el, he cursed them, and two she bears came out of the wood and ate forty-two of them (2 Kings 2:23-24). Elijah was a prophet who opposed the cult of Baal among the Israelites. He lived as a hermit on Mount Carmel, according to legend, and was regarded by the Carmelites as a founder of their order. He mounted to Heaven in a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2:11). 

Epicurus: Greek philosopher of Samos (341-270BC) noted for his worldly teaching that happiness is simply the absence of pain. Epicureans were materialists and denied the immortality of the soul, contrary to Virgil who takes revenge by showing the Epicureans roasting in their caskets (Inf 10:1).

Erichtho: a famous sorceress of Thessaly (old turf of Thetis). In Lucan's epic Pharsalia (vi 508), she summons up a ghost to prophesy to Sextus Pompeius about the outcome of the battle that he is about to lose to Julius Caesar. There is no known story in which Erichtho raised the spirit of Virgil or commanded it to do anything. Such a story may have been known to Dante and his audience, but it seems more probable that Dante's Virgil is making up his tale about Erichtho, so that his experience as a guide will not be doubted. Poor Virgil means well but is clearly out of his depth at this point in the inferno, and so Dante is afraid.

Erinyes or furies: in Greek mythology, three sisters who lived in hell and punished serious offenders by driving them mad, often pushing them to suicide. Recall the Erinyes in the Iliad, that craze the sons and daughters who commit crimes against their parents. As protectors of the ancestors, Dante's Erinyes naturally resist the poets' assault on the underworld. Dante imagines that the three sisters are priestesses of the queen of the underworld, the gorgon Medusa, and that they can call her.

Farinata degli Uberti: a Florentine nobleman in the generation before Dante, Farinata had been driven from Florence by his adversaries but in exile had gained the support of the neighboring cities of Siena and Pisa. Farinata's forces annihilated the Florentines at the battle of Montaperti (a village near Siena) on September 4, 1260. After the victory, Siena and Pisa proposed that Florence be razed to the ground, but Farinata successfully opposed the destruction and so "saved" the city. Farinata died in about 1264, and when his old enemies returned to power in 1266, Farinata's family was banished from Florence forever. As an exile who had tried to force his return with the help of enemies of Florence, Dante recognized his similarity to the arrogant and hated Farinata who is tortured in a fiery coffin (Inf. 10:22).
          The river Arbia ran red with Florentine blood when the battle of Montaperti was fought by its banks.

Focaccia de' Cancellieri: one of the Cancellieri family of Pistoia, who began a feud in which many of his kinsmen died. This feud was the source of the division of Blacks and Whites that the Neri and Bianchi factions introduced into Florence. Focaccia is in Caïna, in the 9th circle (Inf 32:40)..

Fortune: the Roman goddess Fortuna, based on the more ancient spinners, the Fates, became in medieval times one of the demon sprits, the strumpet Fortune, ruiness of aspiring men. Dante's praise of Lady Fortune in Canto 7 is quite unusual. He is plainly attracted to her, though repulsed by the greedy and prodigal souls in circle 4. 

Fra Dulcino: Tornielli of Novara, leader of the Apostolic Brothers, a community of Christian communists and polygnists who were declared to be heretics. Dolcino and his followers took refuge in the mountains but were besieged, starved out and then massacred; he and his mistress Margaret of Trent were burned at the stake in 1307. In Inferno Mohammed shows his concern for Dulcino as a kindred spirit of discord.

Franchesca da Rimini and her silent partner Paolo: they were central figures in one of the sensational tabloid stories of adultery in Dante's youth. Franchesca was born in Ravenna, where Dante found his final refuge. In fact, Franchesca had been an aunt of Dante's patron in Ravenna, Guido Novello. She married Paolo's brother, Gianciotto. These brothers were sons of Malatesta da Verucchio, Lord of Rimini. In about 1285, Gianciotto said that he caught Franchesca and his brother having sex, he was enraged, and he murdered them on the spot. (He had not yet died in 1300, when the inferno takes place, so Caïna is still waiting for him, in Franchesca's judgment. Caïna, the first ring of the ninth circle, is the place of murderers of their kin, "the suburb of Cain.") Various excuses for Franchesca's misconduct circulated at Guido Novello's court. One was that Gianciotto was deformed and impotent. Another was that Paolo had been her intended husband. Of course in Inferno, she makes other excuses, that love and the book of Lancelot made her do it. Dante's little scene of Franchesca and Paolo is a brilliant parody of medieval courtly love and romance conventions. As a young man, Dante himself had been a poet of courtly love. More about it in Lesson 19.  

"That day we read no further": the last words of Franchesca to Dante parody the passage in Augustine's Confessions where Augustine puts down Saint Paul's book, which has converted him to Christian belief: "No further would I read, nor did I need to read further, for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away." (See the full quote and discussion in Lesson 16.) Franchesca reads Paolo's book, not Paul's, and it leads her into the darkness of the second circle.  

Frederick II: (1194-1250 AD), King of Sicily and Naples, became Holy Roman Emperor in 1212 and was crowned in Rome in 1220. He led a crusade in 1227 but turned back from it and was excommunicated by Pope Gregory IX. Later he was declared a heretic at the First Council of Lyon and deposed. He is an alter-ego for Dante in Inferno 10:112.
     The hypocrites in the 8th circle wear lead-lined robes (Inf 23:58), similar to torture devices that Frederick used to execute people he charged with treason; as the victims were scalded to death as their suits were heated to the boiling point.

Frisians: a group of Scandinavians, related to the Anglo-Saxons, who were thought to be the tallest people in Europe, also reputed to exaggerate their exploits (Inf 31:46). If a "span" (that is, the reach from tip of thumb to tip of pinky, when stretched) is about 8 inches, then the giant Nimrod guarding the pit of the Inferno is about 40 feet tall, with a visible upper body of about 20 feet; therefore Dante believes Frisians are less than 6 feet 8 inches tall, though they may claim otherwise.
          The giants Dante meets are progressively taller; Antaeus is a head taller than Nimrod.

Galeotto: Gallehaut was a pandar or go-between for Guenevere and Lancelot, and he persuaded the queen to give Lancelot the first kiss that initiated their love, according the old French romance, Lancelot du Lac. The pandar in medieval romance convention is simply the person who gets the blame for introducing a man and woman whose love is improper or turns out badly. As she looks to escape personal responsibility, Franchesca calls the book of Lancelot a pander.

Garisenda's leaning tower: stood in Bologna in Dante's time (Inf 31:136).

Gentle lady: Virgil refers to Mary, mother of Jesus, but does not directly name either her or Jesus or God, indicating that he does not know how to call them; his magic is powerless over them.

Geryon:  the monster who conveys Dante and Virgil down from the 7th to the 8th circle, the transition from the realms of the violent to the realm of the fraudulent (Inf 17:1). Geryon is tripartite with human head, mammalian limbs, and reptilian trunk--a remarkable image of mankind as the animal that uses its face to deceive others of its own kind.  Dante's monster is based on the three-headed King of Spain whom Hercules (Heracles) killed for the sake of his herd of cattle (described in Virgil’s Aeneid 8:202, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses 9:184), and the creatures of the bottomless pit in Revelations 9.
     Geryon is Dante's emblematic beast of fraud, parallel to the Minotaur and Centaurs (beasts of violence), Minos (monstrous judge of the damned) and Cerberus (the three-headed beast of gluttony). Geryon is also the vehicle that takes Dante across the water (like Phlegyas; contrast Charon).

Giants: Nimrod, Ephialtes, Briareus, Antaeus. These figures rebelled against divine authority. Their size alludes to how much they thought of themselves.
is the hunter, son of Cush, grandson of Ham, great grandson of Noah, ruler of Babel, according to Genesis 10:9. Dante's Virgil attributes to Nimrod the building of the tower of Babel, in the land of Shinar, which God frowned on, confounding their language (Genesis 11:4). Un-biblically, Dante's Virgil's Nimrod is a giant who speaks a tongue known only to himself  (Inferno 31:60). (Nimrod also is depicted in Purg 12:1.)
the giant and his brother Otus, warred against the gods, and tried to pile Pelion on Ossa, and both mountains on Olympus, but they were killed by Apollo. Ephialtes is associated with earthquakes but bound by the central well in Inferno 31:82.
          Briareus: a giant son of Earth and Tartarus who fought against the Olympian gods. In Virgil’s Aeneid 10:565, he is described as having fifty heads and a hundred arms (hence Virgil's unwillingness to show Dante the real thing in Inferno 31:97?). See also Statius Thebiad 2:596 and Dante Purgatorio 12:1.
          Antaeus: a giant son of Earth and Tartarus. He is unchained in Inferno 31:97 because he did not show up for the battle against the gods of Olympus. Antaeus received his strength from contact with the earth, so in order to kill him, Hercules/Heracles had to lift him off the ground. In Inferno its Virgil and Dante who are lifted off by Antaeus. Dante borrows from Lucan, Pharsalia 4: 593 and Ovid, Metamorphosis 9:184.
          Tityus and Typhon were other giants that were hurled into Tartarus under Mount Etna by Zeus/Jupiter.

Gomita: a Sardinian friar who was hanged by his boss, Nino Visconti of Pisa, allegedly for taking bribes to release prisoners and other corrupt practices.  At the time, Sardinia was territory of Pisa. (Pisa was an enemy of Florence.)

Gorgon Medusa: a priestess of a very ancient fertility cult at Athens, similar to the role of Semiramis at Babylon. Her god-consort was Poseidon, in the days before Athena challenged Poseidon for control of Athens. In pre-Homeric times, Athena was victorious in this cult competition, and the Athenians mangled Medusa's story almost beyond recognition. The Athenian legend is that she was raped by Poseidon in the temple of Athena, and for this impure act,  Athena changed her to a winged monster with snakes for hair, her gaze turning anyone who looked at her to stone. (Apparently this story explained that the temple really had belonged to Athena, not Poseidon; it also accounted for the old statuary that still was left over from the days of the cult of Poseidon.) So, as Virgil thinks, Dante will be fixed in stone, if he sees Medusa. Both Virgil and Dante are beside themselves with terror and not in their right minds.
          There had been three gorgons (priestesses), of which Medusa was one, because Poseidon was considered to be a god of three persons: one was "father in heaven" and the others ruled  the sea and the underworld. By Homer's time the three had been split apart as three "brothers": the sky god Zeus, the sea god who retained the name Poseidon, and the underworld god Dis. (Compare and contrast the Christian trinity with its heavenly father, death-conquering son, and water spirit, the holy ghost of baptism.)  In the polytheistic arrangement of separate territories, the help of the sky god would have been unavailable in the City of Dis. This is the problem for Virgil; he believes that he has fallen into the land of an alien god, where he may be beyond assistance of the sky god. He worries about Dante turning to stone and remaining buried, unable to rise back to the land of sunlight.   

Great bear in Caurus, fish on the horizon: It is shortly before dawn on the morning of Holy Saturday. The great bear (the constellation of the Big Dipper or Wain) appears in Caurus, which is the source of the northwest-wind according to classical mythology. The fish (the constellation Pisces) is visible on the horizon in the early morning hours, perhaps 3 or 4 am.  

Green cloth at Verona: Olympics-style games were held in Verona at the start of Lent.

Griffolino of Arezzo: a Sienese burned by the Bishop of Siena for alchemy (a form of magic or witchcraft, often involving the manufacture of precious metals out of common materials, i.e., counterfeiting), though his shade denies the charge (in Inf 29:73). Griffolino names the spirits for Dante (in Inf 30:1).
     Griffolino jokes that he is no Daedalus--the artist who invented flight to escape the Minotaur's labyrinth, according to Greek legend. (Daedalus is discussed extensively, in connection with Socrates, in Lesson 14.)

Guerra, Guido (1220-1272) and Tegghiaio Aldobrandi (d. before 1266) were Guelf leaders in Florence who had advised against going to war with Sienna, shortly before the disastrous battle of Montaperti (1260) that drove the Guelphs from power. Jacopo Ructicucci (fl. 1235-1266), who appears in their circle as their spokesman, is apparently a third Guelph but nothing is known about him. Interpreters often regard the three as sodomites. In this view, Jacopo's comment about his shrewish wife (Inf 16:45) is seen as his explanation for his homosexuality. It is doubtful that Dante would have been as attracted to such characters as the pilgrim is attracted. The more certain view is that these three were embittered by political events in Florence, and they had no use for God.
     Guido Guerra 's grandmother, "the good Gualdrata," was known throughout Italy for her beauty, wit and modesty.

Guiscard, Robert: the Norman French invader (d 1085) who founded the Norman dynasty in southern Italy and Sicily, following wars against the Saracens and Byzantines from 1059 to 1080. He won the title Duke of Apulia from Pope Nicholas II in 1059, and died in 1085 having rescued Pope Gregory VII, and sacked Rome in the previous year. Dante mentions his bloody deeds among the sowers of discord in hell (Inf 28: 1), but then places him in Paradise, in the 5th sphere of Mars (Par 18:1).

Harpies: monstrous birds with women's faces that descended on Aeneas' Trojans as they attempted to make a feast on the Strophades Islands (= "clashing islands") in the Ionian Sea. The harpies fouled dinner, and when the Trojans wounded some of them while trying to drive them off, they prophesied that the Trojans would reach Italy only after being reduced to starvation. (See Aeneid 3: 209-267.) They protect the wood of the suicides (Inf 13: 1), where Virgil controls how Dante sees; these woods have no fruit, only thorns.

Hecuba: primary wife of Priam, King of Troy, who lost all of her children and was taken as a slave at the end of the Trojan War. Her madness in captivity is recounted in Ovid's Metamorphosis 8:568 (compare Euripides' The Trojan Women).

Helen: Helen of Troy for whose beauty, the Trojan Paris angered Hera and Athena. Stealing her from  the Spartan King Menelaus, he precipitated the Trojan War which resulted in the destruction of Troy. Helen shares the blame with Paris, apparently because she's thought to have consented to her rape. Like Dido, Cleopatra and Semiramis, Helen is shown to pilgrim  Dante as an unfaithful woman. They're all loosely associated with Egypt, the place of the Hebrew's captivity and Potiphar's lustful wife (Genesis 39:7). Helen went to Egypt after the Trojan War, according to Odyssey 4 (see also Iliad 24). The lustful women are all foreign, from a Virgilian point of view.

Heliotropes: stones with magical properties, at least in folktales. They could cure snakebites and turn people invisible, among other things. For an example, see Boccaccio's Decameron 8:3.

Hercules straits: the straits of Hercules or pillars of Hercules are the modern straits of Gibraltar, between the southern tip of Spain and northern tip of Morocco, the exit from the Mediterranean Sea into the Atlantic Ocean.

Homer, King of Poets, and his princes: The Pilgrim Dante considers Homer (the subject of Lessons 2-10 of this web) to be the leader of all poets. He has four Roman offspring: Virgil, the lyric poet Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 65-8 BC), the love poet Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso 43-8 BC), and Lucan, the epic poet of the Roman civil War (Marcus Annaeus Lucanus 39-65 AD). Pilgrim Dante sees himself as a fifth prince in Homer's line (Inferno 4:85). Homer leads the poets to a highly artificial and unremarkable vision of Troy on the green of a medieval castle.

Icarus and Daedalus: Icarus' father Daedalus made wings of wax in order for the two of them to escape from the Minotaur's labyrinth on Crete, but Icarus flew too near the sun, his wings melted and he fell into the Icarian sea. The story is told in Ovid’s Metamorphosis 8:195, and it is reflected in Plato's dialogues on the death of Socrates (recall Lesson 14).

Interminei, Alessio degli: nothing is known of this individual except that he came from a family of White Guelphs in Lucca. 

Jacopo Rusticucci: appears among the homosexuals in Canto 16.

Jason the Argonaut: the ancient Hellenic hero sent by Pelias to bring back the Golden Fleece from Colchis, on the Black Sea, to Thessaly. The legendary voyage of the Argo is dated skillfully by Dante to 1200 BCE. (See Paradiso 33:49.) At Colchis, the king's daughter Medea fell in love with Jason, and helped him obtain the fleece, but once Jason had what he wanted, he abandoned her for Creusa. See Ovid’s Metamorphosis 7 and 8. Another story told of Jason is that he ravished and abandoned Hypsiple, the daughter of King Thoas of Lemnos, whom she had saved when the women of the island killed all of the male inhabitants. See Ovid, Metamorphosis 13: 399.

Jason the priest: to become high priest of the Jews, he bribed King Antiochus IV, who called himself a god and who ruled of the Seleucid  Empire from 175-164 BC, and he also allowed the introduction of pagan customs in the Jewish Temple, according to the partisan account in 2 Maccabees 4:7.

Jehoshaphat: a valley between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives where the Last Judgment is to take place. (In the Hebrew Bible, see Joel 3:2.) According to Dante's Virgil, bodies will be reunited with souls at Jehoshaphat, or perhaps Virgil means that is what will happen to the heretic Epicureans who taught that the soul cannot exist without the body (Inf 10:1).

John the Evangelist: envisioned the great whore in Revelation 17. In John's allegory, the whore is Rome; for pilgrim Dante, it is the papacy that lusts with worldly desires (Inf 19: 106).

Joseph the Hebrew patriarch: the best beloved and youngest son of Jacob (Israel). His brothers cast him into a pit, stripping him of his coat of many colours, and sold him to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt. There he became an overseer in Potiphar’s household, whose wife tried to seduce him. He refused, and she perjured herself, blaming him, and causing him to be imprisoned (Genesis 29). She appears in circle 8, ditch 10 (Inf 30:91).

Judas: the favored disciple who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14 and 26:47, Mark 14:43, Luke 22:21, and 22:47, John 18:2). He afterwards repented, threw the thirty pieces of silver in front of the chief priests and elders, and then hung himself (according to Matthew 27:3). The thirty pieces of silver bought the potter’s field, called the field of blood, to bury strangers in (according to Matthew 27:7-10).

Lamberti, Mosca ("the fly") de’: One of the initiators of the murder of Buondelmonte de’ Buondelmonti, who was betrothed to a daughter of the Amidei, but broke faith at the instigation of Gualdrada Donati. In the debate as to whether he should be killed Mosca said the evil word, ‘A thing done has an end.’ Buondelmonte was murdered, at the foot of the statue of Mars, on the Ponte Vecchio, in 1215. The family divisions created the Guelph and Ghibelline factional conflicts. The name "Mosca" is a nickname, meaning "the fly." Inferno Canto VI:64-93. Dante asks Ciacco about Mosca's whereabouts in the afterlife (Inf 6: 64), then sees Mosca among the sowers of discord in circle 8, ditch 9 (Inf 28:91). The Lamberti family is mentioned in Paradise  (Par 16: 88). 

Lancelot: For the romantic story of Lancelot's adultery with King Arthur's wife, Guenevere, see Lesson 17. Probably Franchesca isn't referring to Chretien's version of the story but to a later retelling of it.

Lano da Siena and Jacomo da Sant' Andrea: famed destroyers of their own wealth. Lano of Sienna is said to have squandered his fortune, then scorned to live in poverty, and successfully sought his death at the Battle of the Toppo River, near Arezzo in 1287. (In the ironic Wood of Suicides, Jacomo taunts Lano for failing to run away and save himself at Toppo.) Jacomo was a Paduan who won infamy as arsonist after he entertained dinner guests by burning down the laborers' huts, barns and outbuildings on his estate. He was murdered in 1239. 

Latini, Brunetto (cir. 1210-1294), an influential, highly partisan Florentine Guelf orator and writer, who composed a prose encyclopedia Li Livres dou Trésor during his exile in France after the Guelf defeat at Montaperti, and also the Tesoretto, a popular allegorical poem in Italian that influenced Dante's Commedia. Pilgrim Dante meets Latini in the circle 7, ring 3 of the Inferno (Inf. 15:1), the place of the violent against God, where Latini travels with a band of famous scholars, all of whom "committed the same error." Many commentators have said that the error is sodomy (based on Virgil's explanation of the seventh circle), but that argument is doubtful; Latini's more probable fault was atheism. He may have been a teacher of Dante's only in the same sense that Virgil is his teacher--that is, as a model writer--but the interview in Canto 15 suggests that Latini instructed Dante personally. He returned to Florence from exile in 1266 and held various political posts until his death in 1294.
     The fellow travelers with Latini include Francesco d'Accorso, a Florentine who taught law at Bologna and Oxford; another Bolognese professor named Priscian; and Bishop Andrea di Mozzi who was transferred by the pope from Florence to Vicenza for sex offenses.

Libya's sands bred strange serpents, according to Lucan's epic Pharsalia. The chelydri left smoking trails on the ground, while jaculi fly through the air and pierce everything in their way.  Phareans dig trenches in the earth with their tails, cenchres swim the sand by wavering across it, and amphisbenes are snakes with heads at both ends.  

Lion, goose, sow, and eagles beaks: the sealed money bags of the money men: the money men represent what's wrong with modern Florence. In place of the traditional aristocracy that defended the city, the new "knights" who are obtaining coats of arms for their families are only selfish misers who don't notice that the money bags around their necks weigh them down.  The bearer of the lion is a member of the Gianfigliazzi family, probably Catello di Rosso Gianfigliazzi who became a banker in France and was knighted on his return to Florence. The bearer of the goose is a member of the Ubriachi family of Florence, probably the banker Ciappo Ubriachi. The bearer of the pregnant-looking sow, who shouts at Dante, is probably the banker Reginaldo Scrovegni, from Padua. He awaits the arrival of a fellow Paduan, Vitaliano di Iacopo Vitaliani.  Meanwhile, his Florentine peers are calling for the knight of the three eagle beaks, apparently the wealthy Florentine banker Giovanni Buiamonte, who died in 1310, having lost all of his money. Florence and Padua appear to be locked in a race to amass the most wealth. Those engaged in this competition, Dante suggests, have no regard for their spiritual condition or for their community.

Livy: according to Roman historian Titus Livius, after the battle of Cannae in 216 BC in the Second Punic war, Hannibal showed the senate at Carthage three bushels of gold rings taken from the Roman corpses (History of Rome 13:11).

Maremma: a district on the Tuscan coast, infested with snakes.

Mascheroin, Sassol: a Florentine and member of the Toschi family who killed a nephew or brother to obtain an inheritance.  He is in Caïna, in the 9th circle (Inf 32:40).

Matthias: chosen by the Apostles, by lot, to fill the place among the disciples forfeited by Judas (according to Acts 1: 13).  

Medicina, Piero Biancucci da: from a family of lords of Medicina (about twenty miles east of Bologna), Pier and his family were driven out of Romagna in 1287, but hoping to return he sowed dissent among the rulers of Romagna, setting Polenta and Malatesta against each other. The city of Vercelli in Piedmont and the castle of Marcabò near Ravenna, at the mouth of the Po, are the western and eastern extremities of old Romagna, the plain of Lombardy.  Pier is in circle 8, ditch 9 as a sower of discord (Inf 28:55).

Michael: Archangel Michael fights the dragon of Revelation XII, ‘that old serpent called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world.’ 

Mid-tierce: 7:30 am. Because of the 12 hour time zone change, Dante and Virgil have come out on the surface of the western hemisphere half a day earlier than they were on the other side of Lucifer's thigh. It's now the beginning of Holy Saturday again.

Minos: the judge of the infernal regions in Virgil's Aeneid and older classical sources, including Plato. It was Minos who imprisoned Socrates' ancestor, Daedalus, as well as the Athenian youths that were rescued by Theseus when he slew the Minotaur.  (Recall Lesson 14.) Dante retains the Platonic idea of the human soul imprisoned in the alien body of a beast, represented by the grotesque monster Minos with his serpentine tail. Hell is a howling zoo. Watch the animal imagery.

Minotaur: the bull-headed guardian of the labyrinth on King Minos' Crete where the youths of Athens were imprisoned, until Theseus released them by slaying the Minotaur. We have covered this myth at length in Lesson 14, in connection with Plato's Phaedo, but Dante follows an un-Platonic version of the story in which the Minotaur had been born after Minos' wife Pasiphae disguised herself as a wooden cow in order to mate with ‘a white bull from the sea,’ sacred to Poseidon. This story seems to refer to a fertility ritual practiced in pre-classical times on Crete, where the ceremony called for the priestess to "mate" symbolically with the king, using wooden figures of a cow and bull. In the view of Dante's Virgil, the Minotaur is the subhuman result of human bestiality or brutishness. (See also the Minotaur story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 8:132) This Virgil also characterizes "the Athenian Duke" Theseus as the rapist of Minos' daughter Ariadne, the Minotaur's half-sister.

Mohammed (cir. 570-632 CE): the founder of Islam and prophet of the Koran. His ‘Hegira,’ flight to Medina, occurred on 15 June 622, the beginning of the Islamic calendar. He returned to Mecca on 1 November 630, purified the city, and eliminated idolatry in the Kaaba, the ancient Arab shrine of the black stone. A western medieval understanding was that Mohammed had been trained as a Christian. Dante treats him as a Christian schismatic of a particularly ungodly sort, one who brought division and strife to the community of God's believers (Inf 28: 22-54).  Punished in the 8th circle with Mohammed is Ali (cir. 597 -661), Mohammed's cousin and son-in-law who spent most of his adult life engaged in military power struggles over succession. As Caliph he moved his capital to Kufa after conflict with Mohammed’s widow A’isha (First Islamic Civil War). He was murdered in 661 AD and is looked upon as the founder of Shiite Islam.

Montefeltro, Guido Da: (1223-1298) "the Fox," a Ghibelline prince, Lord of Urbino, who postured as one who repented his Machiavellian career and took the vows of a Franciscan friar in 1296. In 1297 Pope Boniface VIII consulted Guido about the laying siege to the fortress of Palestrina (Penestrino) in the Lateran, twenty-five miles east of Rome, then held by the Colonna family, who contested Boniface's succession as pope. (They thought that Boniface's predecessor, Pope Celestine V did not have authority to quit.) Guido treacherously advised Boniface to promise the defenders immunity and then break it. This plan was followed. The Colonna surrendered in September 1298, and their fortress was razed to the ground. Dante finds Guido apparently repenting this deed in the 8th circle (Inf 27:136), where he is compared to Ulysses as a military strategist, deceiver, and one who does not know when to quit. He is an alter of Dante in that he had been exiled by the Pope, excommunicated for breaking his exile, and finally deceived by Boniface VIII. (He is mentioned in Dante's Convivio 4: 28). 
     The political update that Dante gives to Guido shows the lack of peace in Romagna, the province of Italy south of the River Po and east of the Apennine mountains. The capital city of Romagna was Ravenna, which was ruled from 1270-1441 by the lords of Polenta whose symbol was the eagle; during his exile, Dante found protection with this family.
     Guido's shade would have had particular interest in the town of Forli, a city he successfully defended in 1282 against an attack by French troops directed by Pope Martin IV. The town had realigned with the Pope in 1285 and expelled Guido. By 1300 Forli was ruled by the Ordelaffi family, whose emblem was a green lion.
     In the City of Rimini, father and son black Guelphs Malatesta and Malatestino had a castle known as Verrucchio in which they imprisoned the Ghibelline leader Montegna de' Parcitati. Malatestino murdered Montegna there. Malatestino also invited Guido de Cassero and Angiolello di Carignano to a conference at La Cattolica, but when they approached his men attacked their boat and drowned them (Inf 28:71).
     In the cities Faenza (on the Lamone River) and Imola (on the Santerno), Mainardo Pagano maintained his rule by frequently shifting between Guelph and Ghibelline parties.. The town of Cesena on the Savio River underwent numerous changes of government.

Monterregione: a fortress built by the Sienese eight miles outside of their city in 1213, noted for its twelve great towers.

Mordred: the nephew of King Arthur who attempted to usurp Arthur's kingdom. In the last battle Arthur pierced Mordred with his lance, at the same time receiving his own death-wound. According to an Old French version of the story, Lancelot du Lac, a ray of sunlight passed through Mordred's wound as the lance was withdrawn. Mordred is in Caïna, in the 9th circle (Inf 32:40).

Myrrha: legendary daughter of Cinyras, King of Cyprus, who conceived an incestuous love for her father, and in darkness, using an assumed name, entered his bed. She conceived Adonis, and was changed into the myrrh-tree from which Adonis was born, according to Ovid’s Metamorphosis 10:489. She appears as a vampire in circle 8, ditch 10 (Inf 30:1).

Narcissus: the son of the naiad Liriope and the river-god Cephisus who fell in love with his own image, as reflected in a still pool. He turned into a flower, the narcissus, and his lover Echo wasted away to nothing but a sound. See Ovid, Metamorphosis 3:407.

 Nicholas III: wore the great mantle of pope from 1277 to 1280. His name was Giovanni Guatani Orsini; the emblem of the Orsini family was a she-bear. Nicholas represents simony in the third ditch of the 8th circle [Inf 19:90].  He had to wait 23 years until the death of Boniface, his successor in 1303, who would in turn wait only eleven years for the death of Clement V.

One who crossed Styx with dry feet: a veiled allusion to Jesus, the water walker. Though this "great one" drops from the sky, and Dante hears him as the weather god (the storm), Virgil shows him to Dante in his classical form as the snake god of the underworld.

Pazzi, Camiccione and Carlino: Camicion, of the Pazzi family of Valdarno, killed his kinsman, Ubertino. Carlino Pazzi, still living in 1300, held the castle of Piantravigne for the Whites of Florence against the Blacks, but be took a bribe to surrender it treacherously to the enemy, causing the deaths of many of the Bianchi. Camiccione is in Caina in the 9th circle (Inf 32:40).

Perillus: an artist who made a bronze bull for the tyrant of Sicily, Phalaris. It could be heated by fire to roast victims inside it. Phlaris made Perillus himself the bull's first victim. (Dante's tortured simile on Perillus appears at Inf 27:1.)

Peter: was recruited by Jesus to become an apostle through the simple words, follow me (Matthew 4:19, John 21:19). Jesus eventually entrusted the keys of the Church to Peter, as the ‘rock’ on which the Church would be built  (according to Matthew 16:18). The Angel at the Gate of Purgatory holds the keys (Purgatory 9:106 and 21:34). According to Roman tradition, Peter died at Rome as a martyr in the persecutions under Nero. But his memorial monument at the cemetery on the Vatican Hill was not built until about AD160-170. The Bishops of Rome (from Stephen onwards, bishop AD 254-256), and the Popes, described themselves as Peter's successors.

Peter's Pinecone: outside of the old St Peter's cathedral in Dante's time was bronze pinecone, eight feet high. This curiosity is currently in the Vatican. It is mentioned in Inferno 31:47.

Peter's throne: the papacy. The pilgrim Dante, being misled by Virgil, mistakes the Aeneid for divine revelation. He thinks of Aeneas is a forerunner to Saints Peter and Paul in establishing Christianity.  

Phaëthon: no, this is not the name of a US space program. This son of Apollo asked his dad's permission to drive the chariot of the sun, but he was not a careful driver. He could not control the chariot and was killed by Jupiter’s thunderbolt, to keep planet earth from being destroyed by the sun. One legend says that he was buried by the Naiads on the banks of the River Po. The Milky Way was said to show the traces of his fiery journey. See Dante, Convivio 2; Ovid, Metamorphosis 1:751 ff.

Phlegyas: In ancient Greek legend, this mortal son of Mars had good cause to be angry. He burned Apollo's temple at Delphi because the god had seduced his daughter Coronis. He was condemned to eternal punishment in the underworld (see Aeneid 6: 618). Phlegyas is a lesson in self-control.  

Pier della Vigne: a trusted chancellor of Sicily under the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (cir. 1190-1249 AD). While in power, he seemed to have free license to adopt whatever laws he wished, so he was compared to St Peter, who held the keys to heaven and hell, but ultimately he paid a price for his knowledge of the secrets of Frederick's heart. In 1247 he was accused of conspiring with Pope Innocent IV against Frederick. He was blinded and imprisoned, and then reputedly he committed suicide. He intrigued Dante not only as a political figure and self-destroyer but as a poet. He invented the Italian sonnet. Pier is stashed away as a bush in the Wood of Suicides (Circle 7, ring 2, the violent against self); he refers to his emperor Frederick as "Caesar" and "Augustus."

Plutus: god of riches dug from the ground (possibly a corruption of the name Pluto, classical god of the underworld), associated by medieval moralists with the sin of avarice, the root of all evil. Plutus guards the entrance to the 4th circle and apparently speaks nonsense words: ‘Pape Satan, pape Satan, aleppe.’ Perhaps this is Plutus' call to Satan for assistance when he sees  Virgil and Dante entering his area.
Dante, like St. Francis, opposed the materialism and rising commercialism of his time. Dante's father may have been a money changer who became wealthy enough to accumulate  land holdings around Florence.

Prato (Inf 26:1): the reference may be to the village near Florence that wished to rebel from Florentine domination. Instead or in addition, the allusion may refer to Cardinal Nicholas of Prato, who was sent to Florence by Pope Benedict XI in early 1304 to reconcile the warring factions. He failed, and laid the city under an interdict, excommunicating various citizens. Several local disasters that happened at this time were attributed to Prato's curse: for example, a factional fight caused a fire that destroyed many houses, and a bridge (the Ponte Carraia) collapsed during a May day festival. 

Ptolomaea: the name of the third district in the ninth circle of Inferno, the place where the murderers of guests are fast-frozen on their backs and unable to cry (Inf 33:91). The notion relates all the way back to Homeric xenia, but its Gothic twist has devils taking possession of the bodies of the guest abusers.

Proserpina the infernal moon goddess (also called Persephone or Kore): consort of Dis (god of the underworld) in the ancient mystery at Eleusis that celebrated the natural cycle of life and death, associated in later times with Hecate. Dante associates this goddess with Florence, a changeable source of light that shines on the people of inconstant beliefs (and hence fit to rule the heretics of Canto 10, including the rebel Dante). Farinata prophesies that Dante will be exiled in less than 50 moons (50 months).

Rachel: the beloved wife of Jacob (see Genesis 29-30).

Rhea: wife of Kronos and mother of Jupiter (Zeus). To avoid a prophecy that one of them would depose him, Kronos developed the nasty habit of swallowing his children at birth. But Rhea made Kronos swallow a lie when Jupiter was born. She fed her husband a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, and hid the baby in the cave of Dicte under Mount Ida on Crete. Her armed Curetes (or Corybantes) stood round his golden cradle clashing weapons when Jupiter cried, so that Kronos would not hear anything but noise rising out of the cave. The myth reflects an ancient Zeus-man ritual performed at the cave in classical times. Plato's Socrates makes fun of the story in the Euthyphro, as we have seen in Lesson 11.

Roland: Charlemagne's nephew, and the hero of the battle of Roncesvalles, in which the rear guard of Charlemagne's army, under Roland's command, was annihilated by Saracen forces in 778 AD. Roland's horn was loud enough to alert his uncle, eight miles away, but Charlemagne was misled by the advice of the traitor Ganelon, and did come to the rescue in time to save Roland. The epic is told in the Old French Song of Roland (cir 1200). The horn is mentioned in Inferno 31:1, and Roland is in the fifth sphere of Mars in Paradiso 18:1.

Sabellus and Nasidius: in Lucan's epic, two soldiers from Cato's army are stung by snakes in the Libyan desert; Sabellus melted away and Nasidius swelled up so that his coat of mail burst  (Pharsalia 9:763, 790).

Schicci, Gianni: a Florentine of the Cavalcanti family, known for his skills as a mimic. He was persuaded by Buoso Donati's son, Simone, to impersonate the Buoso and dictate a last will and testament in favor of Simone. Schicci is a rabid vampire in circle 8, pit 10 (Inf 30:1).

Scipio Africanus: Roman senator and general Publius Cornelius Scipio, in the Second Punic War brought an end to the power of Carthage by defeating Hannibal at the battle of Zama near Carthage in Libya, 202 BC. Dante's Virgil sneaks in an unhistorical inference that the Romans defeated the Carthaginians at the same time that the gods defeated the giants (Inf 31:106).

Scot, Michael: Michael Scot of Balwearie (c1109-1250) was a famous scholar and astrologer who studied at Oxford, Paris and Toledo.

Semele: daughter of the founder of Greek Thebes, Cadmus, who was loved by Zeus/Jupiter in the form of a thunderbolt. From this stormy union came the orgiastic god Dionysus/Bacchus, as well as the enmity of Hera/Juno toward Thebes. The story of Semele's sister Ino and brother-in-law King Athamas is told in Ovid's Metamorphosis 4:512. Dante recalls the story in Inferno 30:1.

Semiramis: Assyrian queen who ruled 810-805 BC, after the death of her husband "Ninus" (Shamshi-Adad V), while their son Abadnirari was still a child. She walled Babylon with brick, and students of Genesis long have associated this construction with the Tower of Babel--hence, according to Dante, her rule over "people of many languages." [Recall Lesson 1.] In the west, her name became associated with Babylonian fertility religion, which featured ceremonial prostitution by the temple priestesses with the king. Hence, in the Judeo-Christian perversion of her story, she is presented as the priestess who had sex with her child (Abadnirari), and who must have repealed the laws against incest so that she could do it. 

Seven Against Thebes: the story of the seven Argive kings who made war against the Greek city of Thebes (at about the time of the Trojan War) is told in Statius' Thebiad , but its essence is captured in Aeschylus' tragedy where two brothers Eteocles and Polynices simultaneously strike one another dead, so that the wound inflicted is identical to the wound received. Dante reflects this perfect image of the irony of anger in his depiction of Capaneus, one of the seven against Thebes, who lies in the hot sands of circle 7, ring 3. Capaneus' raging against the king of the gods is in reality only an assault against himself.  Dante uses a similarly ironic image in connection with Ulysses (i.e., Odysseus) and Diomede (Diomedes) who burn together as one in the 8th circle (Inf 26:43).
          In the war Tydaeus killed his opponent Menalippus but was mortally wounded by him at the same time (a parallel story to Eteocles and Polynices). Tydaeus ordered his enemy's head brought to him, and in a fury he gnawed on it (Thebiad 8). The story is mentioned in Inferno 32:124, in connection with Ugolino and Ruggieri.

Shipwrecked sailor: the metaphor for death in epic tradition goes back to Homer's Odysseus, washed up at paradise-like Phaeacia and later at Ithaca. [Recall Lesson 2.]

Simony is the sale of indulgences or spiritual blessings, named after Simon Magus, the magician in Acts 8:9-24 who tried to buy from Peter the power of conferring the Holy Spirit..

Sinon: a character invented by Virgil to stereotype the Greeks as treacherous liars. In Aeneid 2:25, Sinon plays the role of persuading the Trojans to admit the Trojan Horse into Troy. He lies to them about who he is and what the horse is all about. Dante's Sinon is a low comic figure among the falsifiers in circle 8, ditch 10 (Inf 30:91).

Sipa for si: Bolognese dialect for "si" (yes) was "sipa." This was spoken between the Savena River and Reno, regions beyond the city of Bologna itself.

Sodom and Cahors: Sodom is the place of sodomy or male homosexuality, which Virgil regards as unnatural sex. (See Genesis 19.) Cahors on the River Lot in southern France, was famed in the Middle Ages as a place of bankers ("usurers") who charged interest for loans. Orthodoxy in the Middle Ages said that sex is for getting children, and money is for getting things. To confuse means and ends was to corrupt the soul with false desires. So, to practice sex non-reproductively, as an end in itself, was a sin; to use money as an end in itself (i.e., to lend it out at interest to make more money) was likewise a sin. Islamic banking generally still maintains this medieval prohibition against usury. "Usury laws" in the USA are very different. They are modern consumer protection laws (against "excessive interest," "predatory loans," and so forth); they don't exist to protect the banker's soul from avarice.

Sperm and egg: consistent with medieval, patriarchal thought about conception, Dante's language translates more literally as "the seed and womb," rather than "sperm and egg" of conception.  However, both parents are catching blame by Dante's damned--father and mother equally, along with God. Dante's damned have a classical, passive view of their condition as externally caused.

Stars are falling: it is past midnight, the morning early hours of Saturday as Libra (the Scales) is beginning to decline. They must complete their journey through the whole inferno before sunrise.

Stricca, Niccolo, Caccia, and Bartolommeo de’ Folcacchieri, (nicknamed Abbagliato, ‘the foolish’) of Siena: these four were members of the Brigata Spendereccia, the Spendthrift Brigade, a club founded by twelve wealthy Sienese, in the second half of the thirteenth century, who vied with each other in squandering their money on riotous living. They are mentioned in Inferno 29:121.

Styx: a classical river of the underworld in which the infant Achilles was dipped, for his protection. In Dante the waters apparently flow down through a subterranean passage from Acheron (see Inf 14:12). Styx divides upper hell, and the sins of incontinence, from lower and darker regions, beginning with the City of Dis where the violent and fraudulent are punished. 

Tegghiaio Aldobrandi: a member of the generation before Dante, Tegghiaio had tried to make peace between Farinata and his enemies, the conflict that led to the Florentine disaster at the battle of Montaperti in 1260. Tegghiaio fought with the Florentines at Montaperti and lived in exile afterward.  He appears in Inferno 16.

Thais the prostitute is a figure from ancient Roman comedy, Terence's The Eunuch. Her flattery is mentioned by Cicero in "On Friendship" 26:98, which is thought to be Dante's source for Virgil's off-color joke (Inf 18:118).

That gate was broken open: a references to the medieval legend of the Harrowing of Hell, in which after the crucifixion, Christ descended into hell, broke down the gate, and released Adam and the patriarchs from their captivity by devils. Virgil and Dante are retracing the path or attempting to imitate Christ, while the devils block the way as they tried to stop Christ before.

Theseus: In addition to slaying the minotaur and releasing the youths of Athens from King Minos' labyrinth [the story covered in Lesson 14],  Theseus is said to have attempted the rescue of Proserpena who had been ravaged by Dis and held by him in Hades. In the version of this story that Dante follows, the raid was unsuccessful, and Theseus was held prisoner in the underworld until Heracles came to rescue him. The Furies don't want Dante to escape them as Theseus did.  

Tonsured ones: the tonsure was bald-shaven crown commonly worn by monks and other churchmen in the Middle Ages.

Totila the Ostrogoth sacked and destroyed Florence in the sixth century.

Tristan: passionate, illicit lover of his queen Isolde (or Iseult) in early medieval romances. A magical love potion causes these lovers to break faith with their liege lord, King Mark of Cornwall, and to run away together into the woods where they live the free life of animals. More in Lesson 17.  

Tuscan: Florence is in the district of Tuscany (homeland of the ancient Etruscans). The spirit of Farinata takes note of Dante's Tuscan dialect. Dante's promotion of Tuscan speech  is thought to be one of the reasons that modern Italian emerged primarily from that dialect. In Dante's day, there were many local dialects, all derived from Italian but different enough from one another so that one's speech identified one's birthplace.

Ubaldini, Ottaiano degli: "the Cardinal." infamous in Florence, favored the Ghibelline party and delighted at the victory of Farinata over the Guelphs at the Battle of Montaperti. He rests with the heretics in Farinata's tomb and is an alter-ego of Dante (Inf 10:113).

Ugolino: a leading Guelph of Pisa, Ugolino della Gherardesca in 1288 conspired with Archbishop Ruggieri, a leading Ghibelline in Pisa who was supported by the Lanfranci, Sismondi, Gualandi and other families. But before this conspiracy reached fruition, the Archbishop betrayed Ugolino and had him and four of his sons and grandsons imprisoned in the Torre dei Gualandi in July 1288. Ugolino's sons were Gaddo, and Uguccione, his grandsons were Nino (called Brigata) and Anselmuccio (‘little Anselm’).
     When Guido Da Montefeltro took command of the Pisan forces, in March 1289, the keys were thrown into the Arno River, and the prisoners were left to starve to death, even a priest being denied them. The tower was known afterwards as the Torre della Fame (the Tower of Famine). Ugolino had surrendered castles to the Florentine and Lucchese after the defeat of the Pisans by the Genoese at Meloria in 1284. Ugolino is in the 9th circle (Inf 33:1-90).

Vanni, Fucci. otherwise known as Fuccio de' Lazzeri, a bastard and Black Guelph from Pistoia (near Florence). Dante held special venom for Pistoia, since it was the place where the strife between the Black and White Guelphs first erupted. Pistoia was supposed to have been founded by soldiers from the army of Catiline, rebels who unsuccessfully tried to overthrown the Roman state in the first century BCE.
     Together with two accomplices, Fucci stole the treasure of San Jacopo from the church of San Zeno in 1293. Rampiono de’ Foresi and others were imprisoned for the crime, and one was hanged, while the culprits went undetected for a year until one of them confessed. Fucci then fled into the wilderness to escape the authorities; hence his description as a wild animal.
      Fucci prophecies Dante's exile in Inferno 24:97-129
. In 1301 Florentine and Pistoian Whites threw out the Blacks from Pistoia, but the exiles went to Florence and allied themselves with the Florentine Blacks. They participated in the looting of the Whites properties after the French entered the city. In the Battle of Picento in 1302, the Blacks defeated the Whites and consolidated their power in Tuscany, leaving Dante an outcast from Florence.

Zanche, Don Michel: allegedly corrupt governor of Logodoro, Sardinia, who was murdered by his son-in-law Branca d'Oria in about 1290. Zanche is boiled in pitch in the eighth circle (Inf 22:76).







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