Canto 20 Summary and Analysis
Sinners with Their Heads on Backwards: Astrologers, sorcerers, and magicians; represented by Michael Scott, Asdante, and Guy Bonatti
Dante describes the sinners with their heads on backwards and how he was moved to pity and to weeping upon seeing them. Virgil on the other hand, reprimands Dante for crying and asks who could be more wicked than one who is tormented here.
Virgil refers to Amphiaraus and Tiresias in his speech telling of the origin of Mantua. Some of the people whom Dante sees just before he and Virgil leave the area are Michael Scott, Asdante, and Guy Bonatti.
Discussion and Analysis
The punishment for trying to predict the future is to be forced to look forever backward. These shades have no hope for the future. Another interpretation for this punishment is that fortune telling, sorcery, and magic are contorted arts.
Virgil’s question of who is more wicked than one who is tormented has a double meaning. It can mean no one is more wicked than those whom God must chastise; it can mean no one is more wicked than those who are tormented by seeing God’s justice meted out in Hell.
Amphiaraus saw his death and tried to leave a battle only to be killed by an earthquake. Tiresias was also a prophet; he changes himself into the shape of a woman; then he broke the spell seven years later and became a man again. Michael Scott was a magician; Asdante, a soothsayer; and Guy Bonatti, an astrologer.