Inferno -- Canto XX

False Prophets, Manto
























34 Amphiaraus was another of the seven kings who fought in the siege of Thebes. He was a seer who foresaw his own death; he is damned to the fourth bolgia. See also Purgatorio XII, n. 50, and Paradiso IV, n. 103.


40 Tiresias, the Theban soothsayer, spent part of his life as a woman, according to Ovid’s Metamorphoses III.



46 Aruns was an Etruscan diviner who prophesied the Roman civil war.





55 Manto, Tiresias’ daughter, fled Thebes after his death and, after much wandering, came to Lake Garda (Benaco, l. 63) and settled on an island there where she founded Mantua, Virgil’s birthplace. The dioceses of Trent, Brescia, and Verona meet there (l. 67). The other places named are all located around the lake.























95 Alberto de Casalodi, lord of Mantua, was a Guelph who was duped by Ghibelline Pinamonte de’ Bonaccorsi into surrendering the city in 1272.








110 Eurypylus and Calchas are given here as examples of Greek augurs involved in choosing the sailing date for Troy. See Aeneid II, 161-186.


116 Michael Scot, a Celtic scholar in Frederick II's court, studied the occult.

118 Guido Bonatti from Forlė was a thirteenth-century astrologer; Asdente, a cobbler from Parma, practiced magic.




126 Cain with his thornbush was the medieval version of the Man in the Moon. It is early morning on Holy Saturday.

          Now new punishments I must fit to verse,
          Shaping the subject for my twentieth canto
          Of the first canticle on the buried damned.
          Already I was fully set to look
5         Far down into the depth that opened to me
          To see its bottom bathed with tears of anguish,
          When through the valley’s circling I descried
          People coming hushed and weeping, at the pace
          Followed by processions in this world.
10       As my fixed gaze descended lower to them,
          Each seemed bizarrely twisted at the neck
          Between the chin and top part of the chest,
          Because their faces turned round to their haunches
          So that they were compelled to walk backwards
15       Since they could not possibly see ahead.
          Perhaps a stroke of palsy once has twisted
          Someone so completely, but I doubt it
          For I have never seen a case like this.
          May God so grant you, reader, to find fruit
20       In your reading: now ponder for yourself
          How I could keep the eyes in my head dry
          When I saw close at hand our human image
          Contorted so the tears streaming from their eyes
          Bathed their buttocks and ran between the cleft.
25       I wept, surely, while I leaned back against
          A rock there on that rugged ridge; my escort
          Said, "Still like all the other fools, are you?
          "Here pathos lives when its false meaning dies,
          Since who is more pathetic than the person
30       Who agonizes over God’s just judgments?
          "Lift up your head, lift it, see him for whom
          The earth cracked open before the Thebans’ eyes
          While they all cried, ‘Where are you rushing off,
          " 'Amphiaraus? Why do you flee the battle?’
35       And he didn’t once pause in his headlong flight
          Down to Minos who snatches every soul.
          "Look how he’s made a chest of his own shoulders:
          Because he wished to see too far ahead
          He stares behind and takes a backward path.
40       "See Tiresias, who changed his likeness:
          Being a man he then became a woman,
          Transforming all the members of his body,
          "Until, a second time, he had to strike
          The two lovemaking serpents with his staff
45       Before he donned again his manly down.
          "And backing against his belly is Aruns
          Who, in the hills of Luni where the folk
          Of Carrara cultivate the valley,
          "Dwelt in a cave among white marble cliffs,
50       And from that vantage with an unblocked view
          He gazed out at the stars and at the sea.
          "And she who with her wild disheveled hair
          Covers up her breasts so you can’t see them
          And keeps all of her hairy parts to that side
55      "Was Manto, who had searched through many lands
          Before she settled there where I was born:
          On this I want you to hear me for a while.
          "After her father Tiresias left this life
          And the city of Bacchus lay enslaved,
60       For long years she wandered through the world.
          " High up in lovely Italy, at the foot
          Of those Alps that wall in Germany
          Above Tirol, lies a lake called Benaco;
          "A thousand brooks and more, I believe,
65       Bathe Garda, Val Camonica, and Pennino
          With the waters flowing through that lake,
          "And in its center is a spot the three
          Bishops of Trent, Brescia, and Verona,
          If ever they should pass that way, would bless.
70      "Peschiera, a strong and handsome fortress
          Built against the Bergarnese and Brescians,
          Sits at the low point of the surrounding shore.
          "There all the waters which cannot be contained
          Within the bosom of Benaco tumble
75       To form a river down through greening fields;
          "As soon as this water starts to course,
          It is known as the Mincio — not Benaco —
          To Governolo where it falls into the Po;
          "Not running far, it finds a level ground
80       Where it spreads out and turns into a marsh
          Which is in summer sometimes low and foul.
          "Passing that way, the savage virgin saw
          Land there in the middle of the swamp,
          Untilled and barren of inhabitants.
85       "There, to flee all human fellowship,
          With her slaves she stopped to ply her arts,
          And there she lived and left her empty body.
          "Later the people who were dispersed about
          Gathered to that place, since it was protected
90       By the swamp that ringed it on all sides.
          "Over her dead bones they built a city
          And, after her who first picked out the site,
          Without casting lots, they named it Mantua.
          "Once far more people dwelt within it,
95       Before Casalodi through his foolishness
          Was taken in by Pinamonte’s tricks.
          "I charge you, therefore, if you ever hear
          Another origin claimed for my city,
          Don’t let false stories cheat you of the truth."
100     And I said, "Master, this account of yours
          Makes me so sure and so wins all my trust
          That I think other versions just dead coals.
          "But tell me if among the people passing
          You notice anyone worth mentioning,
105      For that alone keeps coming to my mind."
          To this he said to me, "That one whose beard
          Streams down from his cheeks to his brown shoulders
          Was — when Greece became so drained of males
          "That scarcely were there sons for the cradles —
110     An augur, and he set the time with Calchas
          To cut the first ship-cables at Aulis.
          "His name was Eurypylus, and of him
          My high tragedy sings in one passage
          Which you know well who know the whole of it.
115      "That other one, so thinned-out in the shanks,
          Was Michael Scot, who certainly perceived
          How to play the game of magic fraud.
          "See Guido Bonatti; see Asdente,
          Who wishes now he had kept to his thread
120      And shoe-leather, but he repents too late.
          "See those wretched women who left needle,
          Spool, and spindle for their fortune-telling;
          They cast their spells with herbs and image-dolls.
          "But come now; already Cain with his thornbush
125     Stands at the border of both hemispheres
          And touches the waves below Seville,
          "And last night’s moon was already round and full.
          Remember her well, for through her in times past
          No harm came to you deep in the dark forest."
130     So he spoke to me as we journeyed on.
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