“Canto 24: The Thieves, Including Vanni Fucci”
- Explain the beginning of Canto 24 (the peasant who thinks that frost is snow). What does it tell us about Virgil’s state of mind and about Dante’s state of mind?
Here we have a very good description of Virgil’s state of mind. He discovers that the devils lied to him when they said that there was an unbroken bridge across the 6thbolgia that Virgil and Dante could use. At first this bothers Virgil, but then he recovers his usual good humor.
Virgil is like a peasant farmer who wakes up, sees frost, but thinks it is snow. If snow has fallen, then the farmer’s herding animals will not get good fodder. However, the day warms up a little, the frost disappears, and the farmer is happy because now his herding animals will get good fodder. The farmer can take his sheep out to pasture.
We read that hoarfrost covers the ground and then this happens:
The husbandman, whose forage faileth him,
Rises, and looks, and seeth the champaign
All gleaming white, whereat he beats his flank,
Returns in doors, and up and down laments,
Like a poor wretch, who knows not what to do;
Then he returns and hope revives again,
Seeing the world has changed its countenance
In little time, and takes his shepherd’s crook,
And forth the little lambs to pasture drives.
This passage also describes the feelings of Dante the Pilgrim, about whom we read:
Thus did the Master fill me with alarm,
When I beheld his forehead so disturbed,
And to the ailment came as soon the plaster.
For as we came unto the ruined bridge,
The Leader turned to me with that sweet look
Which at the mountain’s foot I first beheld.
Note: Both “Master” and “Leader” refer to Virgil.
- Climbing up the ruins of the collapsed bridge is very difficult for Virgil and Dante the Pilgrim. Does this have any thematic significance?
Climbing up the ruins of the collapsed bridge is very difficult for Virgil and Dante the Pilgrim. Of course, this is a reminder that this is a very difficult journey that Dante is taking. Learning how to stay out of Hell can be very difficult.
We do know that Dante will undertake this journey successfully and that eventually he will have a seat in Paradise. We see that foreshadowed here when he and Virgil (who as a soul has no weight) make the climb successfully.
The 6thedition of A Handbook to Literatureby C. Hugh Holman and William Harmon defines “foreshadowing” in this way: “The presentation of material in a work in such a way that later events are prepared for” (201).
Here are a couple of other definitions:
Foreshadowing is the use of hints or clues to suggest what will happen later in literature.
Definition: A literary device used to hint at events that will follow later in the story, sometimes generating feelings of anxiety or suspense. Anton Chekhov once said that “if there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it must fire in the last.” That remark captures the essence of foreshadowing.
- Which “steeper stairs” (Musa, Inferno24.55) do Virgil and Dante have yet to climb?
Of course, Dante the Pilgrim has much more to see and much more to learn. Virgil tells him as he rests after the climb:
“And therefore raise thee up, o’ercome the anguish
With spirit that o’ercometh every battle,
If with its heavy body it sink not.
A longer stairway it behoves thee mount;
’Tis not enough from these to have departed;
Let it avail thee, if thou understand me.”
The “steeper stairs” (Musa, Inferno24.55) that Virgil and Dante have yet to climb are actually the legs of Lucifer. After they climb down to the lowest Circle of Hell, they will have to climb up to the other side of the world, where the Mountain of Purgatory is. They do that by climbing up Lucifer’s legs and climbing up a passage that leads to the surface of the Earth, directly opposite Jerusalem.
When Lucifer was cast out of Heaven, he fell to the Earth opposite to where Jerusalem is located. He fell all the way to the center of the Earth, creating the Circles of the Inferno. All the Earth that was moved by Lucifer’s fall forms the Mountain of Purgatory.
- What is Thievery, and which modern examples of Thieves do you know about?
Thievery is stealing someone else’s property.
A modern example of thievery is identity theft. Someone can steal your identity, get a credit card in your name, and start charging vast amounts of merchandise.
Plagiarism involves the theft of someone else’s ideas and sometimes even their words. Plagiarists may be punished here. However, plagiarists also lie because they say that the work — and sometimes the words — of other people are actually their own. Therefore, the plagiarists may be punished among the liars. Plagiarists can also be hypocrites who speak out against plagiarism while engaging in plagiarism. In my composition courses at Ohio University, I sometimes required my students to write a short research report on a famous plagiarist of their choice. Students have written about historian Stephen Ambrose and journalist Jayson Blair.
- How does Dante describe the bolgia where the Thieves are punished?
Dante the Pilgrim looks down into the bolgia where the Thieves are punished, and we read a description of what he sees:
And I beheld therein a terrible throng
Of serpents, and of such a monstrous kind,
That the remembrance still congeals my blood
We also read that the Thieves “ran terrified and naked, hopeless / of finding hiding-holes or heliotrope” (Musa, Inferno24.92-93). Heliotrope is a magical stone that has the properties of being able to cure snakebites and of being able to make the person holding it invisible. Both properties would be useful in this bolgia.
- Which kind of transformation do we see in Canto 24?
In the bolgia dedicated to punishing the Thieves, Dante will see a number of transformations. Here is the first kind of transformation that can take place in this bolgia.
Dante descends into a new ditch. There he sees Thieves running around, surrounded by serpents. A serpent bites a Thief, who is consumed by flames, but whose ashes immediately reconstitute again into the Thief. This sinner is Vanni Fucci.
- Who is Vanni Fucci?
John Ciardi gives the pronunciation of “Vanni Fucci” as “VAH-nee FOO-tchee” (194).
Dante had thought of Vanni Fucci in terms of his being an angry man; however, Vanni confesses that he once stole some religious objects, and an innocent person was blamed for the theft. This is true, as in 1293 he stole, with the help of two other people, the treasure of San Jacopo. This treasure was located in the Duomo (cathedral church) of San Zeno. One of the people falsely accused of the theft spent one year in prison. Vanni Fucci avoided paying the penalty for his theft by leaving the area.
Often, and not unexpectedly, a sinner has committed more than one kind of sin. Minos, who judges the sinners and who does not make mistakes, determines in which circle they ought to be punished.
- Which prediction does Vanni Fucci make, and why does he make it?
As other sinners do elsewhere in the Inferno, Vanni Fucci predicts coming trouble for Dante and for Florence. Vanni tells Dante of these coming troubles, including the expulsion of the White Guelfs from Florence by the Black Guelfs, and then he adds, “And I have told you this so you will suffer!” (Musa, Inferno24.151).
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