Canto 14 Summary and Analysis
Blasphemers: Includes Capaneus, one of seven kings in siege of Thebes
Dante gathers the scattered leaves and places them about the tree to whom he is speaking; Dante and Virgil continue their journey.
They next find themselves in a desert pelted by a rain of fire; Dante speculates that Cato once marched here. They find the blasphemers. Virgil speaks with anger to Capaneus and compares his hot rage to the hot sands. The two travelers see a brook whose color is red near the sand. Virgil tells Dante that this brook puts out all flames.
Virgil tells Dante of the past days of Rhea and of the old man who stands on the mountain. Dante asks about the origin and the course of the rivers Lethe and Phlegethon. After Virgil answers, they continue on their journey.
Discussion and Analysis
Dante’s gathering of the leaves is significant of his love for his native city and the land from which the soul in the tree had come.
Cato’s complete name was Marcus Porcius Cato the Younger; he was a Roman statesman who opposed the war between Caesar and Pompey but finally took sides with Pompey. After one battle he escaped and marched across the Libyan desert in 47 B.C. Rather than making peace with Caesar, he committed suicide.
Capaneus was one of those who participated in the war of the “Seven against Thebes.” When he mocked the gods and boasted that not even Jove could stop him, a bolt of lightning struck him.
Rhea is a reference to the wife of Saturn and the mother of Jupiter. Saturn was fearful that his child would take over his role so he devoured his sons as they were born. Rhea allowed Jupiter to escape to a far place. The old man is a reference to the four ages of man: gold, silver, brass, and iron. Since people have not been perfect since the Golden Age, the statue is cracked.
In his impromptu geography lesson, Virgil tells Dante of the River Lethe on the other side of the wall and of the Phlegethon which they had just passed. After the lesson which serves to orient both Dante and the reader, the two continue.