Chapter 30: The Falsifiers (Evil Impersonators, Counterfeiters, and Liars)
The ancient world knew what insanity was.
Juno, the wife of Jupiter, was often jealous, for her husband often gave her good reason to be often jealous. His affairs with other goddesses and with mortal women were many.
When Jupiter had sex with Semele, she bore him the god whose name is Dionysus, aka Bacchus. Hera pretended to become friends with Semele, and she expressed doubt that the father of Semele’s child was actually Jupiter. Semele insisted that Jupiter reveal himself to her in his divine form, something that mortals are unable to look upon and live. She died, but Jupiter rescued the fetus that was inside her, and he sewed the fetus into his own thigh until the baby was ready to be born. This is why Dionysus is known as “twice-born.”
Juno also made insane King Athamas, the husband of Ino, Semele’s sister. Ino, the Queen of Thebes, had made Juno angry by raising Dionysus, who was Ino’s nephew and Jupiter’s son. After Juno drove King Athamas insane, he saw his wife coming toward him with two sons — each of her arms held a son. He thought that she was a lioness and his two sons were lion cubs, and he wanted to kill them. He grabbed one son, whose name was Learchus, and dashed his brain out against a rock. His wife drowned herself and her other son.
Another example of insanity from the ancient world was that of the aged Hecuba, Queen of Troy. For many years, she was happily married to Priam, King of Troy, but Troy was fated to fall, and at the end of her long life, she suffered much misfortune. She saw the great Greek warrior Achilles kill her son Hector, the main defender of Troy. During the fall of Troy, she saw Achilles’ son, Neoptolemus, kill her husband, Priam, at the altar of Jupiter. After Troy fell, Hector’s son, Astyanax, was thrown from the high walls of Troy and killed. Hecuba and the other women and children of Troy were made slaves. One of her daughters, Polyxena, was sacrificed on the grave of Achilles, and one of her sons, Polydorus, who had been sent away from Troy to Thrace so that the royal bloodline would continue even if Troy were to fall, was murdered for the treasure he had. Hecuba saw the unburied corpse of this son in Thrace. Because the corpse was unburied, her son’s soul could not enter the Land of the Dead. To be unable to enter the Land of the Dead is a horrible fate for a soul. All of this suffering took away Hecuba’s reason, and she became insane.
Two sinners whom Dante saw in the tenth bolgia of Circle 8 were insane. They were so driven to do acts of horror to the other sinners that no stories of insanity from the ancient world could match what these two sinners in the Inferno did. One insane sinner used his teeth to grab Capocchio by the neck and carry him off.
Griffolino d’Arezzo said, “The insane sinner who grabbed Capocchio by the neck and carried him off was named Gianni Schicchi. He has rabies, and he bites all of us.”
Gianni Schicchi is an evil impersonator, Virgil thought. He had acting ability and he could imitate well the voices of other people, so Simone Donati, the family son of a wealthy Florentine patriarch family named Buoso Donati, hired him after their patriarch died because he was afraid that the patriarch had left much wealth outside of the family and he wanted Gianni Schicchi to dictate a new will that would leave the wealth to the family. Gianni Schicchi did dictate a new will, but he stated (while pretending to be the dying patriarch) that he wanted a lot of the wealth, including a very valuable mare, to go to Gianni Schicchi.
“Who is the other insane sinner?” Dante asked Griffolino d’Arezzo.
“She is named Myrrha, and she is another evil impersonator. She fell in love with her own father, pretended to be someone else, and slept with him.
“While they were alive, the evil impersonators made people confused about who they were; now that they are dead, the evil impersonators are insane and are themselves confused about who they are.”
Dante then looked at the other sinners in the bolgia. He saw a sinner so afflicted with dropsy, which makes parts of the body swell up, that had his arms and legs been cut off, he would have resembled a lute, a musical instrument that is shaped like a pear. The sinner’s belly was enormous, in comparison with which his face was tiny. His mouth was open, in the manner of a person with a raging thirst and parched lips.
“You there,” the sinner said, “you who are not being punished here — why, I do not know — look at me and know that my name is Master Adamo. In life, I was rich and I had everything I wanted. In death, I would love to have even one drop of water. In my mind I picture the streams of water in my homeland, and this tortures me even more than my dropsy does.
“In life, I was a counterfeiter. Gold florins are supposed to be made with 24 carats of gold, but the gold carats I made had 21 carats of gold and three carats of a less valuable metal. I would love to see my employers down here in this bolgia with me. If it were possible for me to drag my body even one inch in 100 years, I would have already started on a journey around this Circle to find the one employer who is already supposed to be here and to find the others who will join him. I would have already started on this journey even though this Circle is 11 miles in length and a half-mile, at least, in width.
“As a counterfeiter, I made coins appear to be more valuable than they really were. Now my body is bigger than it should be.”
“Who are the two sinners next to you?” Dante asked Master Adamo.
“They were here already when I arrived,” Master Adamo replied. “One is Potiphar’s wife, who tried to seduce Joseph, who resisted her advances. She then bore false witness against him and said that he had tried to seduce her.
“The other sinner is Sinon, the lying Greek. His lies convinced the Trojans to take the Trojan Horse inside the city of Troy. He convinced the Trojans that if the Trojan Horse were taken inside the city, then Troy would never fall. Of course, he lied. The Trojan Horse was filled with Greek warriors who came out of the horse during the night. They went to the gates of the city, killed the guards, and then opened the gates to let in Agamemnon, leader of the Greek army, and his soldiers. Troy fell that night.
“These liars literally stink so bad in the Inferno because their lies metaphorically stank so bad in the Land of the Living.”
Sinon was one of the sinners in the Inferno who did not want his name to be remembered in the Land of the Living. He struck Master Adamo in the belly, which made a sound like a drum being struck. But dropsy had not affected Master Adamo’s arms, and he struck Sinon — hard.
The two started wrangling in argument.
Master Adamo said to Sinon, “I may have dropsy, but I still have an arm that is ready to hit you.”
Sinon replied, “But your arm was not ready when you were burned at the stake, although it was very ready to engage in counterfeiting.”
Master Adamo said, “You are telling the truth now, but you did not tell the truth at Troy.”
Sinon replied, “While I was alive, my words were false, and while you were alive, your coins were false. I am in Hell for a few false words, but you are in Hell for many, many false coins.”
Master Adamo said, “Remember the Trojan Horse, and may all the world remember the Trojan Horse and the part you played in its story.”
Sinon said, “May your punishment continue eternally. May your thirst always be agonizing, and may your body always be swollen.”
Master Adamo said, “As much as I suffer, you also suffer. I burn with thirst, and you burn with fever.”
Dante kept listening to this vulgar debate, and Virgil was growing bored. Already they had seen enough here. Nothing more was to be learned here, and Dante had much, much more to learn.
“Keep listening to this debate, and I will grow angry,” Virgil said to Dante.
Ashamed, Dante turned to Virgil. He was too ashamed to speak, but Virgil knew his thoughts and his repentance.
“You have repented your interest in this useless wrangling between sinners, so let us move on,” Virgil said. “We have more to see and more to do. Interest in such petty wrangling as this is useless and silly.”
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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