The eighth circle, tenth bolgia; the falsifiers; Gianni Schicchi; Myrrha; Master Adam; Potiphar's wife; Sinon; Virgil's reproof

canto summary and diagram

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1 One time when Juno, furious with Semele, * Was venting her rage once again Upon the whole Theban family, inferno xxx 4 Athamas went so utterly insane That when he saw his wife carrying Their two sons on each arm, in pain 7 He shouted, "Spread the nets!" crying, "Take the lioness at the pass with her young!" Then he stretched out his deranged, unpitying 10 Talons to the one named Learchus and flung Him about and smashed him down against a stone; His wife then drowned herself as the other clung inferno xxx 13 To her neck. And when fortune laid low the proud throne * Of Troy, (which had dared all), destroying Both king and kingdom, the wretched Hecuba, alone 16 And captive, having witnessed the Greeks slaying Polyxena, having been forced to grieve Over her murdered son Polydorus lying 19 Unburied on the shore, took complete leave Of her senses and began to bark like a hound, So twisted was her mind with the unrelieved inferno xxx 22 Agony of it all. But never were furies found In Thebes or Troy, in neither brute nor human guise, As vicious as two pale, naked shades who ran around 25 In a frenzy, like pigs escaped from their sties, Snapping wildly at everything in sight. One of them fastened his teeth like a vise 28 In Capocchio's neck, dragging him along by the bite As he scraped his belly against the ditch's bed. The Aretine, who remained trembling with fright, * inferno xxx 31 Watched what was happening and said: "That rabid phantom, that mad creature, Is Gianni Schicchi; all of us here dread * 34 Being ripped apart by him." "So may this figure Never afflict your neck with such torment," I said, "please tell us, before its departure, 37 Who is that other deranged one?" "That is the ancient * Shade of Myrrha," he said, "one so depraved That she loved her father more than was decent. inferno xxx 40 To sin with him she disguised her form and behaved Like another woman, just as that shade you see Fleeing there, in order to possess the one he craved, 43 The queen of the herd, made himself out to be Buoso Donati, drawing up a will whose fallacious Terms were convincing in the highest degree." 46 And when those rabid two, from whom my suspicious Eyes had never strayed, at last were out of sight, I turned to observe the rest of the malicious, 49 Ill–born shades. I saw one there who might Have been shaped exactly like a lute, Had his groin and legs been amputated right 52 At the fork. His heavy dropsy—so acute * That the body was out of proportion And the small visage didn't at all suit 55 The bloated belly—all this from poor digestion Of humors—made him open his mouth in a gape, Like a patient stretching in either direction inferno xxx 58 With thirsty lips. "O you who for some reason escape Every punishment in this grim world," he said, "Pay careful attention to the miserable shape 61 Master Adam finds himself in, now that he's dead. * Alive I had all I desired, but alas, here below I long for a single drop of water; in my head 64 I have visions of rivulets which flow Down from Casentino's green hills through Cool, moist channels into the Arno; I grow inferno xxx 67 More parched from these images than I do From the disease which dessicates my face. Unbending justice, dispensing my proper due, 70 Torments me with scenes from the very place Where I sinned, drawing sighs of agony From me at an ever more rapid pace. 73 There's Romena, where I falsified money Which bore the Baptist's image upon it; My body burned to pay for that felony. inferno xxx 76 But if I could just see the miserable spirit Of Guido, or Alessandro, or their brother Down here, Branda's fountain would not be a fit 79 Exchange for that sight. Already one or another * Of these is here, if what the mad shades say Is true; but why should I care whether 82 It's true or not, since my legs forever stay In one place? If I were light enough to move a bit, Just one inch a century,I'd already be on my way inferno xxx 85 To catch a glimpse of him in this pit Of twisted humanity, though there's more than Half a mile across and eleven miles around it. 88 It's their fault I'm down here with this clan; They had me forge the florins which contained Three carats of alloy—it was their plan." 91 And I asked him: "Who are those two pained Souls, steaming like wet hands in the winter cold, Sprawled close to your right side?" He explained: inferno xxx 94 "They were here when I poured into this rocky fold, And since they've never budged they'll carry on Like that for eternity, I suppose. The woman who told * 97 Lies about Joseph is one of them, and false Sinon, * The Greek from Troy, is the other; both stink From raging fever." This dismal introduction 100 Seemed to offend the latter, for he tried to sink * His fist deep into Master Adam's tight, Swollen belly, making a sound you'd think inferno xxx 103 Came from a drum. At this, with equal might, Master Adam hit the other in the face With his arm, saying: "I'm always ready to fight 106 With my free arm, even though I'm held in place By these swollen limbs, which weigh A ton." The other replied: "There was no trace 109 Of that free and ready arm on your way To the fire, was there?—though much more When you were coining." "What you now say inferno xxx 112 Is true," retorted the dropsied one, "but you bore No such witness when you were asked to tell The truth at Troy." "If I spoke false, don't ignore 115 Those false coins!" yelled Sinon. "Anyway, I'm in hell For just one crime, but you're here for more than Any other demon." "Perjurer! The whole world well 118 Remembers the horse!" parried the paunchy man, "And let that notoriety be your torture!" "And let your torture," the Greek began, inferno xxx 121 "Be the thirst which puts a constant fissure In your parched tongue, and the putrid water Which swells your belly to such a stature 124 That it blocks your eyes." And again the minter: "There goes your foul mouth as usual, Pouring out insults; for if humors make me fatter 127 And I feel thirst, you burn and have a perpetual Headache; the task of inducing you to lick The mirror of Narcissus would be trivial." * inferno xxx 130 I was listening intently to this fast, slick Argument when my master warned me: "To keep staring at those two is to pick 133 A quarrel with me!" When I heard him disagree With me so vehemently I turned and gave A blush of such shame that even now it seems to be 136 Alive in me. And like someone who, to save Himself within a dream, wishes he were Simply dreaming, so that he appears to behave inferno xxx 139 Illogically, hoping that something will occur Which already has, so I, could I have spoken, would Have anxiously apologized, for I was unable to infer 142 I was already doing so. "Less shame than yours could Wash away a greater fault," said my guide, "So abandon all sorrow, and remember this: should 145 Fortune ever bring you again to where people chide And harangue each other in such vulgar sport, I will always be there at your side; 148 It's coarse to want to hear talk of this sort."

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1–13. Semele was the daughter of Cadmus, King of Thebes. Beloved by Jupiter, she bore him a son, Bacchus, enraging Juno, Jupiter's wife. Juno wreaked her vengeance on Thebes by driving King Athamas, the husband of Ino, Semele's sister, insane. Imagining that Ino and their two sons were a lioness and two cubs, Athamas killed his son Learchus, after which Ino drowned herself and her other son, Melicertes. See Ovid, Metamorphoses IV, 512–530. ^
13–22. After the fall of Troy, King Priam's wife, Hecuba, was carried off as a slave to Greece. On the way there she went mad when she saw her daughter Polyxena sacrificed on Achilles' tomb. Later, seeing the body of her son Polydorus, slain by his uncle, Polymnestor, King of Thrace, she howled like a dog and leapt into the sea. See Ovid, Metamorphoses XIII, 404–575. ^
30. The Aretine is Griffolino d'Arezzo, introduced in the previous canto. ^
33–45. Gianni Schicchi, a member of the Florentine Cavalcanti family, was known for his impersonations. Simone Donati hired him to impersonate his dead father, Buoso Donati, so as to alter the will in Simone's favor before the death was publicly revealed. Gianni had himself willed a prize mare, "the queen of the herd." ^
37–41. Myrrha was overpowered by desire for her father, King Cinyras of Cyprus, and went disguised to his bed. Discovering the deception, he vowed to kill her, but she escaped and was transformed by the gods into a myrrh tree. From the incestuous union Adonis was born. See Ovid, Metamorphoses X, 298–502. ^
52–58. This corresponds to the medical knowledge of Dante's time; the dropsy results from improper digestion of the body's "humors." ^
61–90. Master Adam was probably not Italian. Encouraged by the Guidi, counts of Romena, he counterfeited gold florins. Like those of Florence, his were stamped with the image of John the Baptist, the patron saint of the city, but contained only twenty–one and not twenty–four carats of gold, the rest being the "three carats of alloy" of line 90. He was burned at the stake in 1281. "Branda's fountain" is either the name of a spring near Romena, or the famous fountain in Siena. ^
79–80. This is Guido II of Romena, who died in 1292, the only one of the four counts who died before 1300. ^
97. Potiphar's wife falsely accused Joseph of trying to seduce her, whereas it was really he who had rejected her advances. See Genesis 39:7–19. ^
97.   The Greeks deliberately left Sinon behind for the Trojans 
to capture; he then convinced them to bring the wooden horse into 
the city.   See Canto XXVI, 58 and note. ^
100. "The latter" is Sinon. ^
129. The "mirror of Narcissus" is water. In love with his own reflection in a pool, Narcissus stared at it until he faded away and was transformed into the flower which bears his name. ^

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