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CANTO SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
In January the hoarfrost covers the ground looking very much like snow. In the early morning, the peasant mistakes it for snow and is disappointed for it means that his sheep wonít be able to graze. When he comes out again he sees the ground is clear and his spirits lift. He brings his sheep out to graze. The pilgrim compares his sorrow to the farmer who is saddened by seeing the ground covered up with what he thinks is snow. The Pilgrimís sorrow stems from the document look Virgil is wearing. But soon Virgilís troubled look disappears and the Pilgrim is elate just like the farmer who realizes that it was the hoarfrost that covered the ground and that it has now melted and the sheep can graze.
When they reach the ruins of the bridge Virgil is in good cheer again just as he was when the Pilgrim first encountered him in Canto I. After studying the ruins and deciding on how to climb them Virgil lifts the Pilgrim up. With Virgilís help Dante makes his way up on the rocks. But even with aid he finds the climb difficult. He says that this bank is not as steep as the one they slid down. The construction of the "Evil Pits" or the Malebolgia is such that the bank leading down to the next one is lower than the bank leading up to the previous one. Otherwise the Pilgrim would have given up the attempt to climb the ruined bridge.
By the time they finish their climb the Pilgrim is out of breath and too tired to move on. So he sits down to rest. Virgil encourages him to move on saying laziness is no way to become successful. He tells the Pilgrim to overcome his weariness with inner strength. For they have yet to complete their journey through Hell. The Pilgrim gets up and pretending to recover asks Virgil to continue the journey.
They make their way to the bridge over the next Bolgia. From there the Pilgrim hears an indistinct voice from below. He canít understand what it says and gets the impression that the speaker was running while he spoke. He is unable to see anything from the bridge and suggests to Virgil that they descent into the pit of the seventh Bolgia. Virgil agrees and they climb down and the Pilgrim gets a clear picture of the scene there.
He sees numerous monstrous looking snakes everywhere. He says that such a variety of snakes canít be found even in Libya that is home to many snakes. Not even if the region of Libya was added to Ethiopia and the area around Red Sea would it hold so many serpents. Among these snakes are frightened people running around to find a hiding place or Ďheliotropeí. The sinners are naked, and their hands are tied behind their back with snakes, while the head and tail of the snakes pass through the spiritsí bodies and come out at the groins of the sinners in large knots.
A sinner runs past the two poets. A snake strikes him. He collapses into a pile of ash. Then, the scattered ash comes together and once again changes into the shape of a man. Dante compares this scene to the rebirth of the phoenix after she becomes 500 years old and dies. The phoenix feeds on the juice of frankincense and balm and goes to die in nard and myrrh. The sinner rises groggily to his feet, like a man awakened from an epileptic fit. He is still in pain from his recent attack and Dante wonders at the cruel justice that God metes out to sinners.
At Virgilís inquiry the sinner reveals himself to be a Tuscan by the name of Vanni Eucci. He adds that he had a bestial temperament and that he was born illegitimate. He comes from a place called Pistoria. The Pilgrim knew him as a wrathful man and asks Virgil to find out for what sin he is punished in Hell. Vanni Eucci, overhearing this question directs a look full shame at the Pilgrim. He tells the Pilgrim that he is more sorry at being found here by the Pilgrim than he was when he lost his life. He says he is here because he was a thief. He stole the treasure of the sacristy. A theft for which innocents man was thought to be guilty! He asks the Pilgrim to keep quiet about having met him here.
Then he makes a prophecy concerning the political situation in Florence. The Blocks will be expelled from Pistoia. And take over Florence driving out the Whitis. A man from Valdimagre will battle with the Pistonians in an area near Picenoís fields. This man (Morsello Malaspina) will triumph over the whites (Pistonians). The thief ends his prophecy with the frank admission that he has revealed all this to grieve the Pilgrim.
Dante opens the canto with an elaborate simile comparing the changing moods of the peasant with his own reactions to Virgil. The peasant believes the hoarfrost to be snow and becomes angrily disappointed. But later one he realizes his mistake, he is happy to see the cleared countryside. Now he can bring his sheep out to graze. Thus the peasantís misery quickly turns to joy. Similarly Danteís unhappiness at seeing Virgil downcast quickly turns to happiness when Virgil recovers his good- humor. Virgil has been troubled over that fact that he was so easily taken in by Malacodaís lies. Another quick change that occurs is in the picture presented by the countryside itself. One minute it is snow-white and the next it is clear and green. All these sudden changes are suggestive; in fact they are leading up to the next canto which is full of such rapid transformations.
Next Dante describes the difficult climb they undertake and how he soon finds himself exhausted. It is only Virgilís exhortation that compels him to continue further. Here the Pilgrim indeed presents an admirable picture. Being human, it is natural enough that he tires by the hard exhaustion and by pure will alone continues his journey. Moreover he presents a brave face and presents to recover when in fact he is still out of breath.
Unable to see much from the bridge the two poets go down to the bottom of the seventh Bolgia. The scene that meets their eyes is wild indeed: numerous serpents chasing naked sinners. Dante says that even Libya didnít have so many types of monstrous snakes. He uses Libya in this comparison because Libya along with Ethiopia and Arabia ("the sands that lie by the Red Sea") were well known as a home for gruesome snakes and other reptiles. The snakes found here were quite fantastic: the "Chelydri" was thought to leave a smoking trail; the "Jaculi" would hollow a trail with their tails; the "Cenchres" would make a wavering trail in the send and the "Amphisbences" had two heads, one at each end. These snakes are all described in the "Charsalia" written by Lucan. Thus Dante says that the snakes he now saw, were more fearsome than these. He leaves it to the readerís imagination how unearthly the scene must be.
The wretched sinners are pursued by these horrible serpents. And their state is made worse by the fact that they have no place to hide or obtain heliotrope. According to folklore heliotrope is a stone that cures a snake bites and makes its possessor invisible. This state, without any hope for escape, shows the desperate flight of the sinners. The snakes are coiled around their bodies. Snake is a dreaded animal, and has always been held in great fear by men. To be thus attacked and surrounded by such beasts makes for a very gruesome punishment indeed!
Punished in this Bolgia are the thieves, as is later revealed. Their punishment isnít just limited to being tormented by snakes. It has another aspect. This is revealed when a snake bites a man. The man flares up and turns to ashes. These ashes then collect again to form the man. Dante compares this change to the metamorphosis of the phoenix. Legend says when the phoenix becomes 500 years old it burns down into a beep of ashes. From these ash emerges a worm, which three days later turns into the phoenix again. The phoenix is a mythical creature and was mentioned by both Ovid and Brunetto Latini.
The sinner reveals himself to be Vanni Fucci, the illegitimate son of Fuccio de Lazzari. He was the leader of Blacks in Pistoia and well known for his anger. Hence the Pilgrim is perplexed to find him here, he would have though Fucci would be punished in the 7 th circle with the Wrathful. Fucci hears what the Pilgrim says and is angry and ashamed to have been recognized. He is angry because the truth about his sin will now be revealed. He admits that he is here because of theft. Around 1293 the treasury of San Iacopo in the church of San Zeno at Pistoia was looted. At first an innocent man was accused. This was Rampino Foresi but he was later clear when the truth came out. Nonetheless Fucci escaped and remained free till he died in 1300. Now he makes it clear that he doesnít want the fact that he is in Hill punished as a thief to be aired on Earth. Unlike other souls this sinner is not anxious to be remembered. The reader should note as the sins become more and more serious the sinners are anxious to remain forgotten. This is because their deeds have been so shameful that they donít want them to be remembered on Earth. Fucci himself becomes red with a "look of ugly shame", thus it is clear that they realize they have left nothing but a dishonored name on Earth.
Out of pure spite to grieve the Pilgrim, Fucci makes a prophecy about the coming strife in Florence. The whites of Pistoia will expel the blacks from the city. These expelled blacks will join hands with Florentine Blacks and take our Florence. And thus the Whites will be driven out of Florence. "Valdimajra" was a territory ruled by Moroello Malaspina who the thief calls the "bolt of lighting." Malaspina will lead troops against Pistois. The Pistoians ("thick, foreboding clouds") will fight him at Serravalle, a town near "Picenoís fields." But eventually Malaspina will win destroying the Pistonians.
Of course, in actual fact all this had occurred already for Dante the poet wrote his "Divine Comedy" after all of the events prophesied had already occurred. But since the fictional time of the poem is 1300 these events have still to occur. So, the Pistoian Whites expelled the Blacks in May 1301. These Blacks together with Florentine Blacks, expelled the Whites and look over Florence in 1301. Charles of Valois aided them in this. Then in 1302, Maroello Malaspina of the territory of Valdimagra led a force of Florentines and Lucchesi against Pistoia. The Pistoians catch him unawares and attack him at the battle of Serravalle, a town near "Picenoís fields" Morolleo emerges victorious. Pistoians are defeated. Since the Whites are thus defeated at Serravalle and the Blacks are in power over Florence. It is a state of affairs that would cause Dante misery. In 1300 Dante was one of the six priors of Florence. In 1301, following the threatened interference of Charles of Volois against the Cruelfs, he was sent as an ambassador to Pope Boniface VIII in Rome. Political machinations and deception meant he never set foot in his native city. He was banished from Florence in 1309 accused of opposing the Pope and Charles of Valois, and he was sentenced to death in his absence. Thus the spiteful Fucci tells Dante what the future has in store for him just to cause him unhappiness. Thus its clear that Fucci for from being sorry for his sins is angry at his fate and eager to cause others misery.