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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes
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Vanni Fucci, in his rage, gives "the figs," an obscene gesture,
to God, is immediately aswarm with serpents, and flees.
Cacus, a centaur, also encircled with snakes and carrying a
fire-breathing dragon on his back, chases the wretched Thief.

The next scene would be a real challenge to a movie maker or
a special-effects artist. The imagination it displays is
astounding. As the attention of the poet is drawn to the arrival
of three sinners, Dante feels he has to beg the reader to believe
the description of the next series of events.

A six-legged worm leaps, catches one of the Thieves with all
of his legs, and takes the sinner's face in his mouth. Dante
watches in awe as the two forms melt into one perverse form,
so wretched that it defies description. The melded monstrosity
moves slowly out of sight as a lizard scampers into view. It
faces one of the sinners, leaps, and takes a huge bite out of the
sinner's throat. From both the wound and the lizard's mouth
smoke emerges and the streams of smoke blend. As they do,
the two forms begin a very strange metamorphosis, each
shriveling or sprouting where necessary to deform and reform
as the other, the man becoming the lizard and the lizard the
man. Dante swears that, although he was bewildered by the
scene, the description is accurate.

NOTE: Because the main tool of the thief is his hands, the
hands of the Thieves are bound. Because the Thieves made no
distinction between what's yours and what's mine, they are
deprived of any distinct form. Because stealing has such
reptilian sneakiness, the Thieves continually exchange shapes
with reptiles, and then attack other Thieves to rid themselves
of their reptilian forms. The punishment is certainly
understandable for those who chose to ignore the ownership
of goods, which, in Dante's age, were considered extensions of
the owner himself.

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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes

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