Autori: Robert Turner, Robert M. Durling, Ronald L. Martinez
Tratto da: The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. 1. Inferno
Editore: Oxford University Press, New York-Oxford
1-3. The color... new pallor: That is, Virgil, seeing that the pilgrim has turned pale with fear, more energetically represses his own pallor, causing his blood (!) to flow more freely into his face. Viltà [cowardice] was used of the pilgrim’s fear in 2.45.
5-6. his glance ... the thick fog: Again the theme of the difficulty of sight, in terms of the Platonic theory of vision discussed in the note to 4.11.
7-9. Still, we must win . .. until someone arrives: Virgil’s listening attitude and these words show that he has lost the clear knowledge of the location of the “one” to whom he referred in the last words of Canto 8. His “still” (Italian, pur) has the force in this context of “even if the messenger is not in fact coming.” If perhaps only rhetorically, he entertains the possibility that they will not “win the fight” (i.e., gain entrance to the city), momentarily envisaging the negative consequences (“if not…”). As the pilgrim notices in lines 10-12, the next sentences (from “Such a one” to “until someone arrives’”’) are meant to cover up his spontaneous expression of uncertainty.
8. Such a one was offered: The Italian pronoun in s’offerse has no gender, but the reference is presumably to Beatrice”s implicit offer of heavenly assistance related in Canto 2. Note the parallel with the use of the verb offrirsi in 1.62.
15. a meaning worse than perhaps they held: That is, Virgil was perhaps not expressing fear; perhaps he was exploring the logical implications of the assurance he was given: if they are not to enter the gate, some other path through Hell will have to be found.
16-18. Into this depth… hope cut off: The pilgrim’s anxiety and curiosity prompt the natural question (see the note to 8.82--117). Compare “hope cut off” with “truncated words” (line 14) and “cut short” (line 95).
22-30. It is true... be free of care: The story of Virgil’s soul having been sent by the sorceress Erichtho to the lowest part of Hell is apparently of Dante’s invention, based on an episode in Lucan's Pharsalia in which Erichtho (Lucan's invention, called by him effera [savage]) conjures up a dead soldier to learn the outcome of the imminent battle of Pharsalus, in which Julius Caesar defeated Pompey the Great (48 b.C.). This is one of the few places in the Comedy where Dante even faintly associates his Virgil with the medieval traditions of the historical Vergil’s having been a sorcerer. This earlier descent of the pilgrim’s guide was perhaps suggested by the Sybil’s (Aen. 6.562—65).
27. the circle ofJudas: Judecca, the place ofthe worst traitors (Canto 34). As we know from 5.107, some circles of Hell are named for their most famous occupants.
29. the sky that turns all things: The Crystalline Heaven, or Primum Mobile; possibly, the Empyrean (the Italian can also mean “that surrounds all things”).
38-42. three Furies… about their fierce temples: Vergil’s Sybil describes Tisiphone and her sisters (the three Furies, or Erinyes, punishers of crimes of blood) as the gatekeepers of the city of Dis (Aen. 6.570-75):
... continuo sontis ultrix accincta flagello
Tisiphone quatit insultans, torvosque sinistra
intentans anguis vocat agmina saeva sororum
tum demum horrisono stridentes cardine sacrae
panduntur portae. Cernis custodia qualis
vestibulo sedeat, facies quae limina servet?
[… always, taker of vengeance for crime, brandishing her whip,
Tisiphone towering shakes her frightful snakes
and, holding them out, calls forth the fierce battle line of her sisters.
Then finally the cursed gates, resounding fearfully on their hinges,
are opened. Do you see what kind of guardian
she makes sitting at the entrance, what kind of face guards the threshold?]
Dante clearly saw this passage as one of the keys to Vergil’s conception of why Aeneas cannot descend to Tartarus (see the note to 8.82-117). Allecto, in the Aeneid a personification of war fever, is described as having hydras (poisonous water snakes) for hair (Aen. 7.447).
49-50. With her nails ... with their palms: Traditional classical gestures of rage and grief.
52. Let Medusa come: Dante’s principal source on the Medusa was the account, in Mer. 4.606—5.249, ofhow Neptune raped one of the three Gorgons, sisters, in the temple of Minerva, who turned her into the monster with snakes for hair, turning all who saw her to stone. Perseus, using Mercury’s winged sandals and Minerva’s shield, was able to kill her by looking at her reflection in the shield. The Furies’ snakes (lines 40-42) anticipate the Medusa’s. The episode as a whole is discussed in the note to lines 61-63. The Furies’ use of the term for “concrete” is humorous.
54. we didill... his attack: That is, we should have killed Theseus. According to the myth, Theseus was imprisoned in Hades after Pirithous was killed by Cerberus; Hercules rescued him (for the traditional Christian interpretation of this story, see the note to line 98). In Aen. 6.392-97, Charon challenges Aeneas:
Nec vero Alciden me sum laetatus euntem
accepisse lacu, nec Thesea Pirithoumque,
dis quamquam geniti atque invicti viribus essent.
Tartareum ille manu custodem in vincla petivit
ipsius a solio regis traxitque trementem;
hi dominam Ditis thalamo deducere adorti.
[Nor did I rejoice, when Alcides [Hercules] went down,
to accept him on the lake, nor Theseus and Pirithous,
though they were begotten by gods and unvanquished in their strength.
The first sought out the watchdog with chains
and from the very threshold of the king dragged him up trembling;
the others were attempting to carry off Dis's queen from his bed.]
55-60. Turn around... with his own as well: That is, Virgil turns the pilgrim to face away from the walls, has the pilgrim cover his eyes with his hands, and places his own hands over the pilgrim’s. Since he is now facing away from the Medusa, it is not clear what function (other than a purely symbolic one) the multiple coverings (veilings) have (see the note to lines 61-63).
61-63. O you... the strange verses: This is the second of the apostrophes of the reader in the Inferno (see the note to 8.94). “The strange verses” most probably refers to the entire episode, not merely to lines 52-62. There has been considerable discussion of the nature of the danger represented by the Medusa. The medieval commentators on Ovid interpret his Medusa as representing fear so intense as to paralyze (they also preserve the interpretation that saw her as a prostitute so beautiful she destroyed men). Dante’s commentators vary in their interpretations. Boccaccio pointed out that the walls of Dis enclose the obstinate, hardened sinners who resist God's efforts to convert them, and he saw the Medusa as obstinate sensuality blind to spiritual matters, thus relating the episode to the recurrent theme of the difficulty of sight. Others see her as heresy (Lana), terror, or despair (most fourteenth-century commentators).
A noteworthy modern interpretation is Freccero's (1972), which calls attention to parallels with Dante’s rime petrose, especially with “Io son venuto al punto de la rota” [I have come to the point on the wheel], and sees the danger as that ofa kind oferotic fixation on the literal surface of texts, as opposed to a spiritual or allegorical view that sees beneath the veil (this is actually a version of Boccaccio’s interpretation). In support of such a reading is the common metaphor of entering into or penetrating a text when understanding its “inner” meanings, often compared to entering a building; for instance, Augustine points out that those who approach the Bible in pride, especially the Old Testament, cannot understand it, for they will not stoop (humble themselves) to enter its door (Confessions 3.5.9; cf. 6.4ff.). The entire episode focuses sharply on the nature of Dante’s poem as a text. Further discussion of the Medusa will be found in the notes to 32.130-31, 33.55-57, and in Additional Note 15 (cf. Purgatorio 22).
64-72. And already ... beasts and shepherds flee: There are Vergilian precedents for this magnificent simile, for instance, Aen. 2.416-19 (describing the destruction of Troy):
adversi rupto ceu quondam turbine venti
confligunt, Zephyrusque Notusque et laetus Eois
Eurus equis; stridunt silvae saevitque tridenti
spumeus atque imo Nereus ciet aequora fundo.
[as opposing winds breaking forth from a whirlwind
collide, west wind, south wind, and, with the horses
of the dawn, the east wind; the woods shriek and with his trident
Nereus rages and foaming urges the deeps to the very bottom.]
The early commentators point out the scientific accuracy of correlating the violence ofa wind with the difference in temperatures of the contiguous air masses.
The thundering sound represents the approach ofthe messenger from Heaven (line 85), though it strangely subsides when he becomes visible. It draws on the account of the Harrowing of Hell in the Gospel of Nicodemus (see the note to 4.52-63), where the wind heralds the approach of Christ, reinforcing the parallel of the present episode with it.
73-74. Now direct your beam of sight: See the note to 4.11-12, and compare lines 5-6.
76-78. Like frogs ... huddles on the bottom: See Ovid’s account of the transformation of the churlish Lycians (Met. 6.370-81), especially lines 370—73:
iuvat esse sub undis
et modo tota cava submergere membra palude,
nunc proferre caput, summo modo gurgite nare,
saepe super ripam stagni consistere, saepe
in gelidos resilire lacus…
[they enjoy being under the waves,
and now to submerge all their members in the deep pond,
now to put forth their heads, now their nostrils above the flood,
often they sit still on the bank of the pool, often
jump back into the freezing water…]
See the note to 7.117-26, derived from the same passage.
81-85. one who was walking... he was sent from Heaven: The phrase “sent from Heaven” is equivalent to “an angel from Heaven” (the Greek, angelos, like the Hebrew word it translates, is derived from the verb “to send”). Note the parallel here with Virgil’s reference to Christ in 4.53 (with note); the brightness of the angel is dimmed both by the atmosphere of Hell and by the pilgrim’s unreadiness to see it (on the gradual increase of the brightness of angels in the Purgatorio, see Purg. 24.142-44, with notes). The angel’s walking on the water recalls Christ’s doing so on the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 14.24—32), as well as the figure of Mercury in Statius (Theb. 2.1-3), slowed by the thick air of Styx.
89. with a little wand: Because of the implications of the episode for Dante’s theory of interpretation (see the note to lines 61-63), Freccero (1972) suggests that the wand is meant to recall Mercury’s caduceus, Mercury being the patron of hermeneutics and the pagan messenger of the gods.
94. Why do you kick back: This line echoes the words of Christ to Saul/ Paul at his conversion, “It is hard for you to kick [calcitrare] against the goad” (Acts 9.5, cited also in Acts 26.14); the metaphor is of a horse or ox.
94-95. that Will whose ends can never be cut short: Compare Virgil’s rebukes of Charon (3.94-96) and Minos (5.22-24).
97. fate: The messenger speaks classically: Latin fatum (plural, fata) means literally “what has been said’—that is, decreed.
98. Your Cerberus... because of it: A reference to Hercules” chaining of Cerberus (see the note to lines 52-54). Because of his preeminence among the heroes as a benefactor of humanity, his descent to Hades to rescue Theseus, and his apotheosis at death, Hercules was regarded in the Middle Ages as a chiefmythic parallel to Christ; thus in terms of Dante’s syncretism, always seeking to establish continuities between the classical and Christian worlds, this pagan reference seems much less outlandish than it does to moderns; for a survey of the Christological references to Hercules in the Inferno, see Miller 1984.
112-15. Asat Arles...tombs variegate the place: The references are to Roman cemeteries. According to a widespread legend, the tombs at Arles miraculously enclosed the Christian dead after a great battle of Charlemagne’s against the Muslims.
121. All their covers were lifted: The Italian is sospesi [suspended] (see the note to 10.8-9).
125. arks: Cassell (1984) points out the implicit reference to Noah's ark and the iconography of baptism (see the note to 10.33).
127-28. Here are the chiefs of heresies: Heresy, the obstinate rejection of all or part of orthodox Christian faith and the adherence to a separate group (thus a tearing of the unity of the Church, often compared to Christ’s “tunica inconsutilis” [seamless garment], John 19.23), was seen as distinct from schism, which need not involve theological error, and from error itself, which need not be willful or obstinate. It was regarded as both heinous and a major threat to the Church and was vigorously investigated (the term “Inquisition” means “investigation”) and prosecuted, especially from the early thirteenth century on; the Dominican order was founded expressly to combat it, and the Franciscans also became prominent in the Inquisition. Heresy is not included in Virgil’s discussion of the arrangement of Hell in Canto 11, and its placement here, associated with the unusual turn to the right in line 132, has occasioned discussion. We discuss it in Additional Note 2.
132. when he had turned to the right: As the commentators have noticed, on only two occasions in Hell are Virgil and the pilgrim said to turn to the right (here and at 17.31), but this instance is really unique, for in 17.31 there is of course only one direction in which the two can descend. In association with the walls of Dis, the turn may have been in part suggested by Aen. 6.540-43 (Grandgent):
Hic locus est partis ubi se via scindit in ambas:
dextera quae Ditis magni sub moenia tendit,
hac iter Elysium nobis; at laeva malorum
exercet poenas et ad impia Tartara mittit.
[Here is the place where the path splits in two directions:
the right one, which leads under the walls of great Dis,
will be our path to Elysium; but the left one punishes
the wicked and leads to the crimes of Tartarus.]
This is a version of the so-called Pythagorean choice: the left path leads downward; the right one, upward. Aeneas and the Sybil tum right outside the walls of Dis: they may not enter, since in Vergil’s classical terms evil is simply to be shunned. This turn of the pilgrim and Virgil inside the walls helps emphasize the difference: the pilgrim must see evil in its entirety (see the notes to 30-51 and 8.82-117). See also 10.22-28, with note.