Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 593
Cacus: Dragon with spread wings and breath of fire
Five Spirits: Florentine noblemen who (except for Puccio) change to animal shapes; include Agnello dei Brunelleschi, Cianfa die Donate, Buoso Degli Abati, Francesco Guercio dei Cavalcanti, and Puccio dei Galigai
Vanni Fucci, the thief, makes a rude gesture and blasphemes; even the snakes seem to try to prevent Fucci from his actions. Dante admits pleasure at the placement of Fucci in the Inferno at this point and says that on his journey he has seen no other shade so defiant toward God. Pursued by an angry centaur, Vanni leaves at this point. On the back of the centaur, Dante sees a dragon with spread wings and fiery breath; Virgil tells him that this creature is Cacus.
Three spirits appear. One inquires as to who the two travelers are and Virgil and Dante pause in their conversation to reply. Dante hears one spirit ask the other why the spirit Cianfa lingers; Dante warns Virgil by a finger over the mouth to be cautious in his comments.
Suddenly a six-legged worm appears and leaps upon one of the spirits with its claws outstretched. The two join together and one head becomes two; two faces become one. The new creature reels away just as a lizard comes and jumps upon one of the others. The lizard pierces the mouth of the spirit. The spirit seems to yawn; smoke pours out of the mouth of the spirit and merges with the smoke from the lizard. A lizard becomes a man and a man becomes a brute before Dante’s eyes; the man turns to say that he wants to see Buoso crawl as he had crawled. The spirit Puccio is the only one of the five spirits who does not undergo a metamorphosis. These sights remind Dante of tales he has read, but the tales do not compare with what he sees.
Discussion and Analysis
It is evident from the beginning of this canto that the shame that Fucci professes in Canto XXIV is shame at being caught and not shame from remorse. Even the demons express anger toward Vanni Fucci.
The next portion of the canto is a description of a scene which Dante observes as spirits, serpents, and lizards changing their forms before him.
Agnello dei Brunelleschi is a spirit who becomes blended with Cianfa die Donate, a six-legged creature. Buoso Degli Abati appears first as a man and changes shapes with another—Francesco Guercio dei Cavalcanti, who appears first as a serpent. Puccio dei Galigai, the only spirit which does not undergo a transformation, is easily recognizable by Dante because he moves with a limp as he exits the scene. All five of the spirits were at one time nobles in Florence.
During the scene Dante remembers tales of others changing shapes. When Cato marched across the desert, Sabellus and Nasidius were stung by scorpions; Sabellus turned to water and Nasidius swelled to such an extent that he broke the mail on his body. Like Ovid the ancient Roman poet who wrote Metamorphoses, told of Cadmus (who became a serpent after killing Mars’ sacred serpent) and Arethusa (a nymph who was changed by Diane of the Hunt to a fountain), Dante tells his readers of what he sees.
Dante does not give all the details because of his confused, blurred vision, of the rapid speed of transformation, and his distraught mind. He will later use this guise again as he unravels to the reader the rest of his trip through The Inferno.
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