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Why is Capaneus so important in understanding Inferno?
The seventh circle of Hell is where the violence against God (Blasphemers), Nature (Sodomites), and Art (Usurers) are found. The chief Blasphemer, Capaneus is known as one of the seven captains or kings who warred on Thebes. When he was scaling the wall of Thebes, he defied Jupiter who then struck down the blasphemer with his thunderbolt while Capaneus was saying, “come now, Jupiter, and strive with all your flames against me! Or are you braver at frightening timid maidens with your thunder, and razing the towers of your father-in-law Cadmus?”. Capaneus reminisced the battle of Phlegra in Thessaly, wherein the Titans tried to storm Olympus, and Jupiter drove them away with the help of the thunderbolts which Vulcan forged for him in Mongibello, Mt. Etna. Just like the Titans, he was also a giant and he was just as impious. In the same manner that Capaneus lost in the battle in Thebes, Dante depicts Capaneus as someone who is still suffering in defeat. His body is stretched on the sand continuously burning, as his rage against God, while fire persists to rain on him. Capaneus continues to mock God, and Virgil tells him that Capaneus will never win against God. When Capaneus was still alive he was scorning God, and in death, it is God who shall scorn him. Capaneus is important in understanding Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy because he embodies a soul that is so great and powerful, and yet can never win against God even after death, which provides an excellent moral lesson to the religious and the pagans.
Dante’s attitude toward Pier dell Vigne in Inferno XIII
Pier dell Vigne is found in the woods of the suicides. He was a prominent minister who served Emperor Frederick II and received his full confidence until the year 1247 where he was accused of treachery and was imprisoned and blinded. To escape further torture, he decided to take his own life. Like Dante, he was a great poet of the Sicilian School of Italian Poetry. Pier dell Vigne replied to Dante’s inquiries and spoke from the heart simply and passionately. Ironically, his name, Vigna literally means “vineyard”, and like a vine was attached to the trunk of a tree, waiting for harpies to punish them. Dante seemed to express pity towards his fellow poet who received excruciating punishment. Moreover, the fact that in the Last Judgment, Pier dell Vigne will be unable to bring his body as punishment for someone who did not cherish his body while he was still alive is something worth pity.
Dante’s presentation of Lucifer (Inferno 34)
Lucifer is found in the center of all hell, where half of his body towers over hell. His huge wings like that of a windmill beat and spread the icy wind in Cocytus which is the exhalation of all evil. Satan was depicted as a creature that was as ugly as he was beautiful when he was still known as Lucifer, one of the greatest angels and the bearer of light. Satan had three heads of different colors, red, whitish-yellow, and black, which is a parody of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In each mouth, he eternally rips the bodies of the three main figures that were treacherous to their masters. On the head towards his left and his right, the whitish-yellow and blackhead, as Brutus and Cassius who betrayed and killed their benefactor, Ceasar, who for Dante was the world’s supreme secular ruler. The two figures complimented Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of the man-god, Jesus Christ for thirty pieces of gold. Unlike Brutus and Cassius who have their feet engulfed first, Judas was made to suffer more with his head being chewed on first by the central head, and his back skinned by Satan’s claws. Aside from this, Satan is trying to escape from the icy pit in which he is trapped with the help of his huge wings but ends up being encased even more in the ice because of the cold winds brought about by his wings.
Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy (Translation, J. Ciardi), M.E. Mentor. 2002.