Chapter 24: The Thieves, Including Vanni Fucci
When spring is coming but cold days remain, a peasant will sometimes get up early in the morning, look out at the fields, and see what appears to be snow on the ground. Nothing for his sheep to eat! Disappointed, the peasant hits his thighs with his hands. But later, the peasant looks again, and he sees grass. What had appeared to be snow was merely frost. The peasant’s brow unfurrows, and he is happy again as he drives his sheep to the grass to eat.
At first Virgil’s brow was furrowed as he thought about how he had been tricked by the black devil who had told him that a bridge remained unbroken across the sixth pocket, but as time went on he began to think about how he and Dante had escaped the black devils, and his brow unfurrowed, and he was his usual self again.
Dante and Virgil came to the broken remains of the bridge, and Virgil looked carefully at the ruins, deciding how best to climb them. He then began to climb them, helping Dante to go from rock to rock, and sometimes telling him, “Grab that rock next, but test it to make sure that it will bear your weight.”
The climb upward was tough, even though Dante had the help of Virgil and even though Virgil, who was a soul without a body, weighed nothing. This was not a climb for anyone who wore the cloak of the hypocrites! Also fortunately, the bank that they were now climbing was lower than the bank that they had slid down.
Dante thought, I can’t speak for Virgil, but if the bank that we are climbing were as high as the bank that we slid down, I would have given up and stopped climbing.
They had reached the top, and Dante, severely winded, had to rest and sit down.
“Don’t be lazy,” Virgil said to him, “Sloth does not result in fame. Sitting on a cushion or lying in bed will not make you famous. Unless you win fame, you will be forgotten. Some kinds of fame are worthwhile and long lasting. If you slothful, you will be like smoke in the wind or foam upon the water. Stand up, and conquer your laziness! We have another climb — steeper than this! — ahead of us, and we have more sinners to see!”
Dante stood up, pretended to be less winded than he was, and said, “I am ready now. Lead on.”
They continued their journey, and they reached and began to cross the next bridge. Dante heard noises, although he could see nothing when he looked down in the pocket, which was shrouded in darkness.
Dante said to Virgil, “Can we go to a point where I see into this bolgia? I can hear sounds, but I cannot see anything.”
“Yes, of course,” Virgil replied. “Your request is fitting; knowing the punishments in each bolgia is part of your necessary education here.”
After they crossed the bridge over this, the seventh bolgia, on the other bank they climbed down to a place where they were able to look down and see into the bolgia. There they saw massive numbers of snakes and lizards and other reptiles, and they saw terrified sinners.
Although the sands of Libya are the home to many reptiles, those sands cannot compare to the seventh bolgia. Many sinners ran in this bolgia among the snakes and lizards. They were terrified and naked. Nowhere was a hiding-place or heliotrope, a stone with the power to cure snakebites and to make its possessor invisible — something that the sinners here wished to be.
Snakes tied the sinners’ hands. Snakes wound themselves around the sinners’ bodies.
And then a snake struck and bit a sinner, who immediately was consumed by fire and turned to ashes, which then reconstituted themselves into the sinner again. The sinner was dazed, like a person who has suffered and come out of an epileptic fit. The Phoenix will burn into ashes and then be reborn, and so was this sinner.
Virgil asked the sinner, “Who are you? What is your story?”
The sinner replied, “My name is Vanni Fucci, and I have not been in the Inferno very long. I come from Pistoia.”
Dante then asked Virgil, “Ask him what is his sin that has put him here. From what I know of him, he was a very angry man and I am surprised that he is not punished in a higher Circle.”
The sinner overheard Dante and looked at him, and then said, “I am sorry that you know that I am here. I grieve more for that than I do for my death. But I am here because I am a thief. In 1293, I stole the treasure of San Jacopo. This treasure was located in the Duomo — the cathedral church — of San Zeno. One of the people falsely accused of the theft spent a year in prison. I, however, avoided paying the penalty for my theft by leaving the area.”
Like other sinners here, Vanni Fucci has committed more than one kind of sin, Virgil thought. He could have been punished in a different Circle, but Minos is a just judge who never errs. Minos sent this sinner to this Circle, and this is where the sinner most deserves to be.
“I don’t want you to feel happy because you have seen me here, so I will make a prophecy for you. Pistoia will lose its Black Guelfs, Florence shall have a change of government, battles and arguments will take place, and the White Guelfs will grieve.
“I have told you this so that you will be unhappy.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce
This is an excerpt from Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Retelling in Prose by David Bruce, available here:
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