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Cartographic Dante.


In this essay I propose to explore the thesis that mapping Dante's Hell and, in particular the Malebolge, is not, as it is usually been taken to be, simply an anachronistic critical approach "invented" by Quattro-cento Florentine vernacular humanists, that subsequently fell irremediably into scholarly disrepute, and is practiced today in an anodyne manner by modern editors seeking to provide an aid for readers. (1) Rather, I would like to suggest that a cartographic impulse profoundly stimulated Dante's imagination in the first place, and that it found expression throughout the poem, beginning with Virgil's first meeting with the pilgrim in the prologue, where the Roman poet offers a kind of itinerary of the otherworldly journey to come in implicit contrast to the "unmapped" selva (wood):

e trarrotti di qui per loco etterno; ove udirai le disperate strida, vedrai li antichi spiriti dolenti, ch'a la seconda morte ciascun grida; e vederai color che son contenti nel foco ... (Inf. 1. 114-119)
   [I will be your guide, leading you, from here, through an eternal
   place/'where you shall hear despairing cries/and see those ancient
   souls in pain/as they bewail their second death.' Then you shall
   see the ones who are content to burn ...]

Moreover, infernal cartography is established as an authorized interpretive approach to the poem by no less an authority than Dante himself, from the moment when Virgil provides the pilgrim with a verbal map or itinerary of Hell in Inferno 11. Indeed, the guide's seminar in the "map room" of Inferno 11 has potential relevance for current discussion among historians, geographers and cultural critics concerning the epistemological boundaries of cartography. For we presently find ourselves in a situation not unlike that of the pilgrim in Hell, having recognized the limitations of cartography as an aid to navigating the labyrinthine reality of a contemporary world that defies the "ragion cartografica" of early modernity. In the same way, the reality of Hell and, in particular, the specific topography of the Malebolge proves to be beyond the ken of Virgil's philosophical "rationalist" mapping of Hell in Inferno 11. Furthermore, from the perspective of Dante's artistic evolution, we find that in the transition from the rationalist "bird's-eye" cartographic projection of Dante's linguistic treatise, the De vulgari eloquentia, to the highly subjective and autobiographically rooted mental mapping of Italy that characterizes the thirteen Malebolge cantos of the Commedia, the poet foreshadows aspects of the shift from an early modern cartographic paradigm (within which the Renaissance Ptolemy-inspired mappings of Dante's Hell were first developed) to a post-modern perspective. (2) For these reasons current research into the relationship between modern and post-modern cartographies ought to involve a renewed attention to the mapping impulse in Dante and its development, beginning with the problem of mapping Dante's Hell.

Hermeneutic Cartography

My characterization of Virgil's mapping of Hell as inadequate is in part inspired by a recent lectura of Inferno 11 by Zygmunt Baranski who has emphasized the limitations of Virgil's preliminary charting of Hell arguing that the poet Dante is making a point in this canto about the limited capacity of both pagan and Christian rationalist epistemologies for an understanding of evil. (3) But even scholars who would take Virgil's explanation at face value, such as Marc Cogan, author of The Design in the Wax, the most recent attempt to explain the moral and ethical structure of the poem as a whole, will also acknowledge that when it comes to the divisions and ordering of the Malebolge, Virgil's presentation in Inferno 11 is, at the very least, incomplete, and also out of order:

Questo modo di retro par ch'incida pur lo vinco d'amor che fa natura; onde nel cerchio secondo s'annida ipocresia, lusinghe e chi affattura, falsita, ladroneccio e simonia, ruffian, baratti e simile lordura. (Inferno 11. 55-60)
   ['Fraud against the latter only severs/the bond of love that nature
   makes./Thus in the second circle nest/ 'hypocrisy, flatteries, and
   sorcerers;/ lies theft, and simony;/ panders, barrators, and all
   such filth.]

As scholars have noted, Virgil's ordering of the sins of Malebolge in this passage from Inferno 11 does not correspond to the actual structure of the bolge, and their arrangement appears to be quite random. (Benvenuto da Imola was perhaps the first commentator to signal the problem when he observed: "et vide quod autor non servavit ordinem in numerando dictas species fraudium.") Most noticeable are the sins and sinners missing from the list given by Virgil: no less than the fraudulent counselors including Ulysses and Guido da Montefeltro of Inferno 26 and 27 respectively, and the sowers of discord, including Bertran de Born, of Inferno 28. (4) Mazzoni, to cite just one modern critic regarding this crux, refused to believe that Dante would have thought to cover these sins and these sinners with the hurried clause tacked on at the end of line 60, "simile lordura," and dismissed the possibility that the lacunae would have been the result of lack of planning on the poet's part. (5) Be that as it may, I prefer not to dwell on the exegetical problem presented by the passage. (6) Instead, for now I propose to take Virgil's sketchy account of Malebolge as simply Dante's invitation to us as readers to investigate the matter further and to create our own maps. This is demonstrably the effect of Virgil's account of the plan on the pilgrim Dante who peppers the guide with questions that lead him to clarify the broad Aristotelian divisions of upper and lower Hell according to the medieval distinction between the concupiscent (upper Hell), and irascible and intellectual appetites (lower Hell), and to discourse on usury as a sin against nature. Virgil's attempted mapping has the same effect on Dante the poet if we are to take, as I think we must, the grand cartographic opening to the Malebolge cantos at the beginning of canto 18 ("Luogo e in inferno detto Malebolge") to be his response to Virgil's tentative and incomplete account back in Inferno 11. (7)

Thus, whether one opts for Baranski's "deconstructive" reading of Virgil's map in Inferno 11 or Cogan's more straightforward medieval Aristotelian gloss, the most important result of Virgil's attempt to chart the ethical structure of Hell is to establish infernal cartography and, in particular, the mapping of the Malebolge as an interpretive problem for both Dante the poet (who is charged with providing his own map of Malebolge on his return from the journey) and for the reader who is enjoined to undertake his or her own mapping. For, as Cogan succinctly stated at the start of his chapter on Hell, "[t]he moral significance of the physical structure of Hell is itself an explicit subject of the narrative of the poem" (1). To interpret the structure requires a form of hermeneutic mapping that Virgil models, albeit imperfectly, for the reader of the poem in Inferno 11.

Yet the reader's mapping of Dante's Hell is complicated considerably by the fact that, unlike the pilgrim and his guide, the reader is not directly confronted with the physical reality of Hell but with Dante the poet's representation of it. The space of the poem has come between the reader and the reality of Hell. Mapping Dante's Hell, therefore, needs to be undertaken at several levels. First, the poem's representation of the physical topography of Hell (its rivers, plains, deserts, hills, bridges, ditches, city walls, towers, and so on), no less than the poem's representation of geo-physical reality outside the text (of the Mediterranean world, in particular of Italy, its seas, mountains, coastlines, hills, plains, rivers, and cityscapes) invite hermeneutic mapping. Perhaps most importantly from a meta-poetic point of view, the very space of representation is susceptible to interpretive mapping. Mapping the intersection between textual space (that is, the space of representation) and represented space (both the physical space of Hell and the physical spaces outside the poem that are referenced) provides a more complete picture of the ethical terrain of the poem. In this essay I propose to address the problem of mapping Dante's Hell, bearing in mind all three levels and emphasizing the third of these in the case of Malebolge. For here in the realm of the meta-literary monster Geryon, we find that an increased level of complexity with regard to the ordering of sin is developed in tandem with an increasing level of metapoetic sophistication. In fact, the topographical proportion of the space of representation to the represented space, that is, the relationship between the ten ditches which are described in the thirteen cantos (Inferno 18-31) of the Malebolge (see appendix: outline of the Malebolge cantos to bolge), (8) speaks to the question of Dante's truth claim for his poem and its ties to God's creation and justice.

Mapping Italy in the Inferno: "Di quella umile Italia ..."

But before attempting our own map of Malebolge, it is necessary to illustrate in more general terms what one might provisionally term Dante's "cartographic ethos" (with a nod to the geographer Franco Farinelli), in the hope of providing a premise for future analyses of Dante's cartographic writing in the Inferno and throughout the poem. To begin with, the Virgilian intertext for Inferno 1. 106-108 (part of Dante's prophecy of the future salvation of Italy by the veltro [hound] to be born between feltro e feltro [between felt and felt or between Feltro and Feltro]), (9) has not been fully explained by the commentary tradition:

Di quella umile Italia fia salute per cui mori la vergine Cammilla, Eurialo e Turno e Niso di ferute. (Inferno 1. 106-108)
   [He will be the savior of low-lying Italy,/ for which maiden
   Camilla, Euryalus,/Turnus, and Nisus died of their wounds.]

Dante's echo of Aeneid III, 522-23, "cum procul obscuros collis humilemque videmus / Italiam" [when from afar we saw the dim hills of Italy lying low on the horizon] suggests that Italy is glimpsed here at the poem's outset from the perspective of a ship arriving for the first time at the peninsula's shores. Dante assumes here the role of a new Aeneas or of a Columbus ante literam. Accordingly, it is in the new world of the poem that he will undertake to remap Italy, following the abandoned cartographic experiment of his linguistic treatise, the De vulgari eloquentia. (10) For to understand the word "umile," as it is usually taken, to refer simply to the abject state of Italy is to miss the geographic resonance of the adjective within the specific rhetorical context of Dante's Christian Comedia. In fact, "umile Italia" (low-lying Italy) represents a poetic program that Dante develops cartographically as well as rhetorically in the poem's treatment of Italy and Italian places. In other words, Dante effectively undertakes to sacrilize the peninsula territorially in a Christian sense by means of the poem. Thus, not only Trojans and Latins, but implicitly all the Guelphs and Ghibellines of Italy, are recast as Italian martyrs from the perspective of a salvation history that has shifted its geographical focus from the Holy Land to the Italian peninsula. For Dante, in keeping with the poetics of the Biblical sermo humilis that informed his Christian epic, the humble, "low-lying" shores of Italy, no less than the humble manger in Bethlehem, stand by as witnesses to the Incarnation and the promise of ultimate redemption. (11) Accordingly, just as every language and style is worthy to be registered by the poem, so every place is authorized to be included in the poem taken as a map. Words that the De vulgari eloquentia eschewed, such as "introque" featured in the last verse of Inferno 20 (130: "Si mi parlava, ed andavamo introque"), make their appearance, as do lowly places such as "Gaville," which like "introque," is highlighted in an analogously ostentatious manner by its placement in the last verse of Inferno 25 (151: "l'altr'era quel che tu, Gaville, piagni."). Mention of the humble Tuscan village is juxtaposed with no less than the Aventine hill in the same canto of the Malebolge: "Lo mio maestro disse: 'Questi e Caco,/ che, sotto 'l sasso di Monte Aventino,/ di sangue fece spesse volte laco'." [Inferno 25. 25-27]; it thereby coincides with one of the Inferno's most important epic geographical themes--the poem's Hercules-Dante-Geryon subplot. (12) The conjunction of contrasting geographical referents points to an important and generally underappreciated geographical aspect of the rhetorical mixing of high and low that will be one of the hallmarks of the Malebolge cantos. A geo-rhetorical criterion, for example, informs the juxtaposition in the first of the Malebolge cantos (Inferno 18) between Jason's Aegean and the "salse" of Venedico's Bologna, (13) a contrast that foreshadows the one between Ulysses' heroic Mediterranean periplus in Inferno 26 and the domestic Italian chorography of the Romagna evoked in the Guido da Montefeltro episode of Inferno 27.

Indeed, the structural significance of the specifically Italian cartographic dimension of Dante's Inferno has been generally overlooked by Dante studies since the systematic nature of the poet's deployment of chorographic similes and descriptions of Italy has not been recognized. To begin with, just inside the gates of Hell, Dante describes the tombs of the Epicureans in a simile that compares their cemetery to those found near Pola and Arles, in other words, at the north-east and northwest borders of Italy respectively:

Si come ad Arli, ove Rodano stagna, si com' a Pola, presso del Carnaro ch'Italia chiude e suoi termini bagna, fanno i sepulcri tutt'il loco varo, cosi facevan quivi d'ogne parte, salvo che 'l modo v'era pit amaro; (Inferno 9. 112-114)
   [Just as at Arles where the Rhone goes shallow,/ just as at Pola,
   near Quarnero's gulf,/ which hems in Italy and bathes her borders,
   the sepulchers make the land uneven,/so all around me in this
   landscape/the many tombs held even greater sorrow.]

By marking the northern frontiers of Italy in this manner, Dante establishes a different orientation for the poem's map of Italy, in contrast to the De vulgari eloquentia's. The peninsula was described in the linguistic treatise as running west to east ("videlicet usque ad promuntorium illudi Ytalie qua sinus Adriatici maris incipit et Siciliam"), (14) in keeping with antique and medieval cartographic representations of the Mediterranean; hence the conventional designation of the Adriatic and the Tyrrenean as the "upper" and "lower" seas respectively. Dante in the Commedia, however, shifts the orientation of the peninsula from east-west to north-south so that having entered lower Hell, we as readers find ourselves entering the borders of Italy from the north and headed south. By this means, Dante places the map of Italy and the map of Hell, whose principal ethical orientation is defined by the rule that down is worse, into general alignment. Significantly, this change from a classical cartographic conception of the peninsula's orientation to a modern one more characteristic of some portolan charts of the period corresponds to a shift from the neo-classical or pre-humanist poetics of the De vulgari eloquentia to those of the modern Christian Commedia. (15)

Moreover, the evocation of the boundaries of Italy at the gates of Dis is part of a system of cartographic correspondences that emerges progressively in subsequent similes from the circles of violence that mark the entrance and the exit from that territory respectively. The first of these is the only simile that occurs in the nearly two cantos of textual space that separate it from the Pola and Arles simile of Inferno 9. 112-117, thus constituting the longest stretch between similes in the entire poem. (16) The mountain terrain that the pilgrim and the guide encounter at the beginning of Inferno 12, which marks the actual entrance into the seventh circle, is described as follows:

Era lo loco ov' a scender la riva venimmo, alpestro e, per quel che v'er' anco, tal, ch'ogne vista ne sarebbe schiva. Qual e quella ruina che nel fianco di qua da Trento l'Adice percosse, o per tremoto o per sostegno manco, che da cima del monte, onde si mosse, al piano e si la roccia discoscesa, ch'alcuna via darebbe a chi su fosse: cotal di quel burrato era la scesa; e 'n su la punta de la rotta lacca l'infamia di Creti era distesa che fu concetta ne la falsa vacca; (Inferno 12. 1-13)
   [Steep was the cliff we had to clamber down,/ rocky and steep,
   but--even worse--it held a sight that every eye would shun./ As on
   the rockslide that still marks the flank/ of the Adige, this side
   of Trent, whether by earthquake or erosion at the base,/ from the
   mountain-top they slid away from,/ the shattered boulders strew the
   precipice and thus give footing to one coming down--/just so was
   the descent down that ravine./And at the chasm's jagged edge/was
   sprawled the infamy of Crete, conceived in that false cow.]

Dante refers in the second tercet to the so-called Slavini di Marco, an immense landslide between the towns of Marco and Mori, three miles below Rovereto, on the left bank of the river Adige. The commentary tradition bifurcates between attributing the passage to a bookish geographical source (Albertus Magnus) or to Dante's first-hand observation of the site, as if the two were mutually exclusive. (17) In fact, Dante's knowledge of Italy in its physical characteristics derived from both books and experience, and the authority of his descriptions of Italy, in their mix of textual sources and empirical observation, can be considered modern insofar as they combine the two. Moreover, while we are accustomed to thinking of the exile as foundational for Dante's poetic breakthroughs in the poem, the specifically geographical implications of the "life of Dante" and the role of geography in the construction of his literary authority represent comparatively undeveloped critical issues in the critical literature. If a characteristic feature of epic literature from Gilgamesh to Homer to Virgil to Melville is authority in geographical matters, the need to ground the poem in the geo-physical reality of this world was perhaps greatest for Dante, who was engaged in representing to his readers no less than the three realms of the other-world. (18) That Dante himself viewed this dimension of his cultural authority as vital is evident from a late work, the Questio de aqua et terra, written implicitly in defense of the geo-physical substance of the poem at the same time that he was engaged in finishing the Paradiso. (19)

The North Italian Alpine setting of the first simile at the beginning of lower Hell proper finds its complement in a second simile further down in the cartography of the poem. It occurs at the end of the circle of violence in the crucial transition between violence and fraud, and as a prelude to the encounter with the monster Geryon in Inferno 16:

Io lo seguiva, e poco eravam iti, che 'l suon de l'acqua n'era si vicino, che per parlar saremmo a pena uditi. Come quel fiume c'ha proprio cammino prima dal Monte Viso 'nver' levante, da la sinistra costa d'Apennino, che si chiama Acquacheta suso, avante che si divalli giu nel basso letto, e a Forli di quel nome e vacante, rimbomba la sovra San Benedetto de l'Alpe per cadere ad una scesa ove dovea per mille esser recetto; cosi, giu d'una ripa discoscesa, trovammo risonar quell' acqua tinta, si che 'n poc' ora avria l'orecchia offesa. (Inferno 16. 91-105)
   [I followed him, and we had not gone far/before the roar of water
   was so close/we hardly could have heard each other speak./ As the
   river that is the first to hold/its course from Monte Viso
   eastward/on the left slope of the Apennines,/ and up there is
   called Acquacheta,/ before it pours into its lower bed / and,
   having lost that name at Forli/ reverberates above San Benedetto/
   dell'Alpe, falling in one cataract/where there might well have been
   a thousand,/ so, down from a precipitous bank, the flood/ of that
   dark water coming down resounded/in our ears and almost stunned

This simile signals the transition from the circle of violence, which ends with a steep cliff over which the Phlegethon cascades down to the circles of fraud. The falls are appropriately compared to the Acquacheta-Montone in torrential flood, and in particular to the waterfall of the Montone near the monastery of San Benedetto in Alpe. For the reader, having encountered at the beginning of the seventh circle a simile alluding to the telluric violence of an earthquake or landslide that had occurred in the Alps, here, at the end of the seventh circle, the violent flood of a river in the Apennines serves as the appropriate vehicle for a simile marking the boundary between two different regions of Hell. In his particular focus on the din of the roaring waters, as Durling and Martinez note (after Vellutello), Dante implicitly suggests a parallel to the cataracts of the Nile, which, according to the Somnium Scipionis (5.3), make the inhabitants there deaf and whose sound Macrobius compared negatively (Commentarii 2.4.14) to the music of the spheres. (20) Yet, the simile's ostentatiously featured geo-cartographic character has not been much appreciated by a commentary tradition that has ignored the structural function of the passage. Sapegno considered it "too long," while Bosco-Reggio found that "the attempt at geographical precision of the clauses without doubt weighs down and obstructs somewhat the development of the thought." Momigliano criticized the heaviness of the long sentence "weighted down with the useless geographical specifics of the first two tercets." Mestica complained that the simile was "a little too precise; but Dante greatly enjoys and often lingers over the description of places seen by him by emphasizing their particular characteristics even if they are unrelated to the main subject." (21) In fact, Dante's chorography of Italy here goes beyond surviving cartographical and geographical descriptions from the period in its synthetic description of the mountain and hydrographic systems of north-central Italy. (22) The fact is that there really is not a literary source or surviving map that I know of that one can point to as Dante's source. The simile captures the whole Po valley implicitly in a remarkable bird's-eye cartographical view that stretches from the source of the Po in Piedmont (Monte Viso Iv. 95]). It identifies the first of the rivers on the left side of the Apennines not to flow into the Po and thereby marks a precise geo-physical boundary. (23) Moreover, the simile is perfectly functional from a structural, thematic and narrative point of view. As Benvenuto da Imola noted, the changes in the name of the same river that Dante describes (from Acquaqueta to Montone) parallels the name changes of the infernal river, and anticipates the change in name that the river Phlegethon will undergo in becoming the Cocytus when it reaches the bottom of Hell.

But why does Dante, the reader might ask, introduce chorographical similes in the structural and cartographical sense only beginning with the circles of violence? Bearing in mind the poem's general ethical structure, according to which to go down is to go from bad to worse, the polemical significance of the correspondence that Dante draws between the map of Italy and lower Hell is unmistakable. Moreover, in terms of that same ethical structure, one might well expect sins of the concupiscent appetite to be less differentiated in geographical and linguistic terms than the sins of lower Hell, since the former represent the expression of the lower aspects of human nature. Dante seems to be saying that while the expression of the concupiscent appetite, that is, the pursuit of food and sex, and other goods as if they were food and sex represents a sinful disposition found without distinction in all of mankind, the Italians distinguish themselves particularly in sins of violence and, especially, of fraud. Accordingly, as Dante's anthropological portrait of sin progresses up the chain of being, that is, as we descend lower into Hell, Italy and its spaces (and its languages) come into greater focus.

From a geo-cartographic point of view, there is moreover an intriguing analogy that can be drawn between the transition from upper to lower Hell and the transition from the biblical to the Italian chapters of the De vulgari eloquentia, Dante's first major foray into the genre of cartographic writing. A rough structural analogy exists between upper Hell and those chapters dedicated to Dante's geo-cartographical discussion of biblical linguistics (I. i-ix), in particular of the history of Babel, which provides the scriptural and historical premises for the treatment of the Italian linguistic situation that eventually emerges as the specific focus of the first book of the treatise. (24) In fact, the instinctual and deficient intellectual characteristics of the sins of the concupiscent appetite punished in upper Hell ethically correspond to the world-wide state of linguistic confusion that initially resulted from Babel. This stage is chronologically, spatially and ethically prior to the Italian linguistic situation viewed from the rational and scientific perspective of the treatise. The differentiation of the languages of Italy thus corresponds to a higher level of human development, whose linguistic and sinful intellectual elaborations are explored in chapters xi-xv of the treatise and in the seventh and eighth circles of Hell respectively.

In the transition from treatise to poem the scientific and rational taxonomy of the treatise undergoes an ethical translation. The Inferno can be said to remap the De vulgari eloquentia in a moral-allegorical fashion. The entrance to lower Hell corresponds to the point in the treatise where Italy becomes the focus and the subject of cartographic description; accordingly Malebolge will prove to be the region of the poem where the dialogue between the De vulgari eloquentia and the Inferno is most intense and achieves a kind of crescendo. Dante explores different mappings of Italy in the two texts: we might say that the cartographically "realistic" mapping of Italy that characterizes those chapters of the treatise dedicated to the hunt for the "illustrious vernacular" (De vulgari eloquentia xi-xv) is kaleidoscopically reconfigured in the poem's representation of the pilgrim's travel through the eighth circle. In the Tuscan-centric tour of the Malebolge, the poet will explore and express the more subjective contours of his own mental map of Italy.

But the poem's broader, more institutional re-mapping of Italy, begun just inside the gates of lower Hell and continued in the seventh circle, is only completed in the eighth circle. This occurs specifically at the beginning of Inferno 28, when southern Italy is brought together with Alpmic and Apeninic Italy in turn featured by the similes of the seventh circle:

Chi poria mai pur con parole sciolte dicer del sangue e de le piaghe a pieno ch'i' ora vidi, per narrar piu volte? Ogne lingua per certo verria meno per lo nostro sermone e per la mente c'hanno a tanto comprender poco seno. S'el s'aunasse ancor tutta la gente che gia, in su la fortunata terra di Puglia, fu del suo sangue dolente per li Troiani e per la lunga guerra che de l'anella fe si alte spoglie, come Livio scrive, che non erra, con quella che sentio di colpi doglie per contastare a Ruberto Guiscardo; e l'altra il cui ossame ancor s'accoglie a Ceperan, la dove fu bugiardo ciascun Pugliese, e la da Tagliacozzo, dove sanz' arme vinse il vecchio Alardo; equal forato suo membro equal mozzo mostrasse, d'aequar sarebbe nulla il modo de la nona bolgia sozzo. (Inferno 28. 1-21)
   [Who, even in words not bound by meter,/ and having told the tale
   many times over,/ could tell the blood and the wounds that I saw
   now?/ Surely every tongue would fail,/ for neither thought nor
   speech/has the capacity to hold so much./ Could all the wounded
   troops again assemble:/ first from Apulia, land laid low by war,/
   who grieved for their lost blood/shed by the Trojans, then all
   those/ of the long war, whose corpses were despoiled/of piles of
   rings--as Livy writes, who does not err--/ together with the ones
   who felt the agony of blows/ fighting in the fields against
   Guiscard,/ and those whose bones still lie in heaps/ at Ceperano,
   where each Apulian played it false,/ and those near Tagliacozzo,/
   where old Alardo conquered without force of arms/ and should one
   show his limb pierced through,/ another his, where it has been cut
   off,/ it would be nothing to the ninth pit's filth.]

While the similes of the seventh circle are based upon shattering rockslides and rivers in flood of the Alps and Apennines respectively, here the plains of Apulia (which metonymically refer to the whole of southern Italy) stand as silent witnesses to a distinctively human carnage, a shift in perspective from nature to culture that is consistent with the transition from violence to fraud in so far as it reflects the greater "humanity" of the sin of the fraudulent sowers of discord. Even the hypothetical form of the simile is itself consistent with the higher level of intellectual and rhetorical complexity that is characteristic of the Malebolge cantos. This opening hypothetical epic simile of Inferno 28 can be said to represent the terminus within the context of the Inferno for the theme of sacred "umile Italia" announced in Inferno 1 by the tragic evocation of Virgilian martyrs of Italy: "per cui mori la vergine Cammilla,/ Eurialo e Turno e Niso di ferute" (Inferno 1. 106-108).

But before turning to address the problem of mapping Malebolge, it should be noted that the Italian places described in the seventh circle were all evoked by means of epic similes. The major Italian chorographical passages of Malebolge proper on the other hand--which include the Alpine territory around Mantua minutely described by Virgil in Inferno 20. 61-87 and the geo-political reconnaissance of contemporary Apenninic Romagna reported by the pilgrim to Guido da Montefeltro in Inferno 27. 25-54--present descriptions of the geophysical truth of the world above, outside the poem. Dante's account of the founding of Mantua, which he puts into the mouth of Virgil and which includes a detailed geo-historical description of a part of Alpine Italy, is designed to support the truth claim of Dante's Commedia in contrast to the account of Mantua's founding given in Virgil's tragedia which it corrects. (25) The level of cultural and geographical elaboration and complexity that characterizes these examples of choro-cartographic writing of Malebolge is much greater than what we have encountered previously both in terms of the substance of the passages and in the way in which these relate to the ideological structure of the poem. This "value added" dimension characterizes also the detailed chorographical descriptio of the Romagna in Inferno 27, where Dante the poet, in a kind of pre-figuration of Machiavelli, provides a tour de force geo-political review of the contemporary state of Romagna. In fact, if the cartographic writing of Inferno 20 has its source in the epic sub-genre of the geographical account of the founding of cities and territories, Dante's geo-political writing in Inferno 27 looks forward instead to the modern political writings of a Machiavelli in his dispatches to the Ten in Florence concerning Cesare Borgia's movements in the Romagna or to the De Principatibus itself, where the prince is instructed to "take the greatest care" to know "something of the nature of localities, and [...] to find out how the mountains rise, how the valleys open out, how the plains lie, and to understand the nature of rivers and marshes" (Chapter 14: "That which concerns a prince on the subject of the art of war").

Both the major cartographic passages of Malebolge, while apparently tangential to the main line of the poem's argument, are in fact strategically located in the ditches of the Malebolge dedicated to the false prophets and to the false counselors respectively, bolge which implicate most directly the risks that Dante poet was running in writing the poem in the first place. In both contexts Dante's display of knowledge and persuasiveness as a carto-geographical authority serves implicitly to reiterate the good faith of his own moral state and intentions, and the truth of his poem in stark contrast to the fraudulent infernal environment of the eighth circle. In fact, the manner in which the descriptions of the spaces of Hell and the descriptions of space outside the poem mutually reinforce one another in support of the truth claim of the poem reaches new levels of complication in the eighth circle. This is to be expected given, on the one hand, the intellectual nature of the sin of fraud, and on the other, the non-fraudulent nature of the poem's fiction, its status as "non-false error." (26) The making of the poem as a physical territory or space in its own right thus emerges as a primary preoccupation of the poet in the Malebolge. This is made explicit, for example, in the striking exordium of Inferno 20: "Di nova pena mi conven far versi/ e dar materia al ventesimo canto/ della prima canzon, ch'e de' sommersi" [Of strange new pain I now must make my verse,/ giving matter to the canto numbered twenty/of this first canzone, which tells of those submerged (Inferno 20. 1-3], which is, as Teodolinda Barolini noted, the "only locus in the poem where Dante affixes a numerical tag to a canto." (27) Accordingly, the question of the criteria guiding the proportion that the poet establishes between the ten ditches of the physical space of the Malebolge and the thirteen cantos that Dante writes to describe that space cannot be disregarded.

Mapping Malebolge

In the final section of this essay, I propose a preliminary chart of the topography of the eighth circle, and suggest how it might be used to undertake more detailed readings of the poet's own mental map of Italy in the poem. The anomaly of Inferno 18, which is the only Malebolge canto to treat two ditches or "evil-pouches," suggests at the outset that the lack of correspondence between the ten ditches of Malebolge's topography and the thirteen cantos that Dante dedicates to its poetic descriptio (Inferno 18-30) is programmatic in nature. In fact, by mapping the alternation of cantos that treat one bolgia with those that treat two, we can discern various patterns and a structure or architectural plan for the Malebolge as a whole.
I-II   III    IV     V      VI     VII    VIII   IX     X

2      1      1      1      1      1      1      1      1

_      _      _      _      _      _      _      _      _

1      1      1      2      1      2      2      1      2

18     19     20     21     23     24     26     28     29

                     22            25     27            30

There are at least two patterns to which I would draw attention. First there is the division of the thirteen cantos into two segments of five and eight cantos each, which correspond to the first five and the second five ditches of Malebolge respectively. In other words, the first five cantos (18, 19, 20, 21, 22) cover five ditches or half of Malebolge in terms of territory, while it takes eight cantos (23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30) to cover the remaining number of ditches of the eighth circle. Second, there is a quasi-chiasmic symmetry in the alternation between ditches that are treated by one canto and ditches that are treated by two. The two to one ratio of the anomalous Inferno 18, which treats both seducers and flatterers, is reversed by the one to two ratio of Inferno 29 and 30, which treat the falsifiers. This reversal of proportion that frames the structure as a whole is recapitulated in the reversal of the proportion in the segments covering bolge III-V and VII-IX respectively. In the former we find two ditches of Malebolge (simoniacs and diviners) treated by one canto each (19 and 20) followed by one pouch (barrators) treated by two (21 and 22). Following a bolgia (6: hypocrites) treated by one canto (23), the pattern is repeated in the latter segment, but according to the reverse order: one bolgia (thieves) is dealt with in two cantos (24 and 25). It is followed by a bolgia (evil counselors) treated in two cantos (26 and 27), and a third bolgia (sowers of discord) covered by one canto (28). This pattern on either side of 23, taken together with the framing reversal of proportion at either end, converges around the central canto of the hypocrites, to which I will return.

But first, I want to highlight the general structure of 5 + 8=13 cantos and the considerable meta-literary implications of that proportion. For the 5/8 proportion in the structure of the Malebolge's thirteen cantos has not been noted before, as far as I know. Thus the correspondence between this structure and what the ancient Greeks termed the golden section or ratio, also known as the "extreme-and-mean ratio" has not been previously appreciated and assessed for its critical implications. This ratio is obtained when a line is divided in such a way that the smaller part is to the greater as the greater is to the whole. The condition applies to the proportion informing the structure of the Malebolge cantos since 5 is to 8 (approximately) as 8 is to 13. Moreover, 5 and 8 and 13 are numbers in what is known as the Fibonacci sequence, named for the 13th century mathematician Leonardo of Pisa (also known as Fibonacci, from "figlio di Bonacci"). (28)

Dante's ordering of the Malebolge cantos according to the proportion of the even-mean ratio is inspired by the same kind of geometric poetics that motivated the use of various approximations of [pi] in the overall design of the poem. In fact, Thomas Elwood Hart has convincingly uncovered Dante's use of correspondences or patterns relevant to geometric constants like x in the placement of certain passages, words and rhymes. (29) His findings encourage us to advance the hypothesis that geometrical concerns, like those at work in the poem's structure at the macro level, also inform the structure of the poetic treatment of the Malebolge, in such a way as to implicate broader questions of poetics, including the poem's putative relationship to divine justice and its truth claim. For, in making his poem, Dante had sought to imitate the divine geometer, "Colui che volse il sesto/Allo stremo del mondo, e dentro ad esso;/ Distinse tanto occulto e manifesto" [... He who with His compass/ drew the boundaries of the world, and then, within them, created distinctions, both hidden and quite clear (Paradiso 19. 40-42)]. Dante's proportional arrangement of the Malebolge cantos, like his approximations of x in establishing the boundaries of the poem and in his ordering of places within it, reflects his imitation of God's art, geometry, in constructing the poem. The artistic criteria guiding the construction of the textual spaces of the poem is informed by geometrical conceptions, the squaring of the circle and the even-mean ratio ([phi]) that allude to the ineffable parameters of God's creation on the one hand and to the unfathomable character of His justice on the other. (30)

Indeed, one finds that number and mathematical measurements have different implications for the interpretation of Malebolge, depending upon the frame of hermeneutic cartography that one applies to their analysis. It is therefore essential to bear in mind the distinction that we have made here between the fictional physical space of Hell and the text itself as a spatial construct. The circumferences of the ninth and tenth circles of 22 and 11 miles for instance, as registered in Inferno 29. 7-9 and 30. 82-87, inspired the Renaissance cartographers to attempt to map the "site, size and dimensions" of Hell. Yet these distances, when used to extrapolate a map of the physical space of Hell prove to be incongruous and useless for this purpose, as John Kleiner has demonstrated. (31) Hart, on the other hand, has shown that the same two measurements from Inferno 29 and 30 are situated within the textual topography of the poem according to a proportion that is precisely calibrated with respect to the beginning and the end of the poem and the beginning and the end of the Purgatorio and Paradiso respectively. (32) Incongruous and erroneous for the purpose of charting an early modern map of Dante's Hell, the passages from cantos 29 and 30 are nonetheless accurate for computing the measure of the Commedia itself. They serve to mark the geometrically proportional boundaries of the textual space of the poem, and thereby serve to authorize that space as constitutive of a divinely imitative and inspired artifact. Dante reiterates in his geometric poetics in Malebolge the same point he had already made in staking his truth claim for the poem in conjunction with the appearance of his ostentatiously fictional symbol of fraud, the monster Geryon, an exemplary invention of Dante's art, which is "quasi nepote" to God's [almost God's grandchild (Inferno 11. 105)]. If at one level, the poem is to be taken as a fiction, it nonetheless represents a "non-false error" and a higher dimension of truth. Just as the fictional Geryon, like the poem itself, is a marvelous product of Dante's divinely inspired and therefore ultimately truthful invention, the poem itself, as a textual space, is authorized by its geometrical poetics, including the placement of passages according to the various approximations of [pi] and the 5+8=13 structure that Dante the artist gives to Malebolge.

On the one hand, the 5/8 structure of the 13 cantos of the Malebolge has the meta-literary effect of signaling that an ineffable geometrical proportion inspires Dante's poetic treatment of the ten ditches; on the other, the grid-like ordering of the eighth circle that we have mapped above serves the more practical purpose of ordering the physical space of Hell (and the space outside Hell) according to a system of symmetries and antinomies that support an ethical reading of the text. But the hermeneutic value of these structures for the interpretation of the text have not been fully developed owing to the fact that the structure itself has not been recognized as a topographical system. In this context, we can only suggest in general terms how a reading of the Malebolge through the lens of hermeneutic cartography might be undertaken.

As noted earlier, the proportion of ditches to cantos is reversed between the treatment of bolge III (simony), IV (false prophets), and V (barratry) and that of bolge VII (thieves), VIII (false counselors), and IX (sowers of discord). That is to say, one canto is dedicated to simony and false prophecy respectively and two to barratry, while two cantos are dedicated to thievery and false counsel respectively, and just one to the sowers of discord. This structure invites the reader to consider the ways in which simony corresponds to thievery, false prophecy to false counsel and barratry to sowing discord. At one level the relationship is relatively secure. Simony is related to thievery in that both involve the misappropriation of goods or property. False prophecy corresponds to false counsel since both are considered sins of the tongue and of rhetoric. Barratry, like the sowing of discord, undermines the bonds of community. Down is worse according to the geographical ethical system of Hell. Thus thievery is more damnable than simony, and false counsel than false prophecy and sowing of discord than barratry. The ordering of the thirteen cantos into these parallel yet contrastive segments on either side of Inferno 23 thus serves to raise ethical questions of interpretation that may not have occurred to the reader unless they had been marked in this way. In fact, this patterning of contrasts in the categories of fraud is not apparent if one simply matches the first five ditches with the second five. The pattern complicates at the topographical level of the poetic treatment of the bolge the even-odd ethical breakdown between sins of representation (even numbered bolge: 2,4,6,8,10) and sins against covenants (odd numbered bolge: 1,3,5,7,9) uncovered by James Nohrnberg.

In fact, Canto 23, dedicated to the hypocrites, emerges as central within the structure. From a thematic point of view the centrality of hypocrisy derives from the fact that hypocrisy is present as a defining characteristic of all the sins of fraud punished in Malebolge, that is to say, hypocrisy is intrinsic to fraud as a sin of the intellect and a misuse of reason. By definition it is not possible to commit fraud without being aware of it and therefore you cannot commit any form of fraud without being, at bottom, a hypocrite. The centrality of hypocrisy explains the presence of Caiaphus (Inferno 23. 111-126) and the unprecedented role of the ruina created by the earthquake at Christ's death at this juncture at the level of the narrative (Inferno 23. 137). The structural focus on the canto dedicated to hypocrisy and its Christological resonances also reinforces and coincides with an assertion of Dante's authority and good faith as a poet-prophet. For if, on the one hand, as Nohrnberg has recalled, one of the early illustrators of the Inferno specifically labeled Geryon's face as hypocrisy, (33) on the other we just recalled how Dante had staked by contrast the truth claim of his Commedia on the truth of the monster Geryon. Dante's claims for the ethical authority of his poetic vision are accordingly evoked at the heart of fraud from a conceptual point of view by means of one of the most powerful and resonant of Dante's autobiographical references to his own historicity in the poem. For it is precisely in this canto that he informs the Frate Godente Catalano, who has recognized the pilgrim's Tuscan origin from his speech, that "I' fui nato e cresciuto/ sovra 'l bel flume Arno alla gran villa, / e io son col corpo ch'i ho sempre avuto" ['In the great city, by the fair river Arno,'/ I said to them, 'I was born and raised, / and I am here in the body that was always mine' (Inferno 23. 94-96). In a recent contribution entitled "Dante's Poetics of Births and Foundations," Giuseppe Mazzotta has argued that for Dante "every event of birth is significant because it alters the web of existing relations and changes each of us into potentially historical agents capable of willing and shaping both the past ... and the future" (13) and that Dante's theory of the future "depends on the most natural and commonplace event of all: the fact of birth" (23). Who can doubt that among the many births and foundations recorded by the poem the poet's own birth is registered here in the context of a canto dedicated to hypocrisy in order to underscore by contrast Dante's own claim to privileged status, the radical originality of his poetry, and its ambition to shape the future?

The cartographic signature that Dante applies here to his "self-made map" (34) is central within an array of chorographically self-referential passages that characterizes the Malebolge cantos. These are cartographically arranged in such a way as effectively claim to assert and reinforce the integrity and probity of Dante's personal history in contrast to the fraudulent behavior of the sinners he encounters in the eighth circle. Thus we find that the specific sin of the hypocritical Frati Godenti more or less coincided with the time of Dante's birth. Catalano and Loderingo in 1265 and in 1267 held jointly the office of podesta in Bologna and in 1266 that of Florence. It was in 1266, following the defeat of Manfredi at Benevento, that the pair hypocritically and fraudulently favored the victorious Guelfs when it had been their duty to remain "super partes." Their conduct led directly to the exile and dispossession of the Florentine Ghibellines. The coincidence between Dante's cartographic signature and the record of the political hypocrisy that was the beginning of the series of political events that would condition Dante's existence and eventually lead to his exile, represents the central point from which ramifies throughout the Malebolge and beyond the poet's Tuscan-centric cartographical autobiography or mental map of Italy. Departing in the west from the Black Guelph barrators of Lucca, it encompasses the Pistoia of Vanni Fucci, Florence itself (and Prato), the southwest Tuscany of Griffolino's Siena as well as the northeast sector of Master Adamo's Casentino, and eventually extends beyond the borders of the Malebolge to embrace Ugolino's Pisa and even the islands of the Tuscan archipelago which are evoked in a nightmarish culminating cartographical flourish that implicates the entire peninsula in a prophetic apocalyptic furor:

Ahi Pisa, vituperio de le genti del bel paese la dove 'l si suona poi che i vicini a te punir son lenti, muovasi la Capraia e la Gorgona, e faccian siepe ad Arno in su la foce si ch'elli annieghi in te ogne persona! (Inf. 33. 79-84)
   [Ah Pisa, how you shame the people/of that fair land where 'si' is
   heard!/ Since your neighbors are so slow to punish you,/ may the
   islands of Capraia and Gorgona/ move in to block the Arno at its
   mouth/ and so drown every living soul in you!]

Dante's cartographic journey in Malebolge is thus anything but neutrally geographic or touristic in its inspiration. In stark contrast to the cartographic paradigm that had informed the De vulgari eloquentia (pointedly alluded to here in the verse "del bel paese la dove 'l si suona"), and which had aspired to the perspective of a rationalist verticality and "objectivity," Dante's tour in the Malebolge is instead distinguished by its unapologetic subjectivity. In the transition from the De vulgari eloquentia to the Commedia, Dante came to accept and to fully embrace the marginality of his political situation and translated it into a new form of cartographic writing that he employs in the poem as a means for achieving the regeneration of Italy. In other words, he utilizes cartography as part of a poetic effort to represent the ethical state of the peninsula from his own subject position. In this sense the Malebolge cantos represent Dante's radical rewriting of the hunting expedition through Italy that he had undertaken in the linguistic treatise in search of the panther of the illustrious vernacular. In the poem he leaves aside any regrets about the lack of a central curia and/ or aula and all nostalgia for Frederick II. (35) He sets aside any aspiration to cartographic authority for himself based on an external human political power and replaces it with his subjective mental map of Italy, utilized as an instrument of a powerfully persuasive poetic argument. In this, Dante foreshadows the transition in the history of cartography from the pretence of objectivity of early modern mapping to a post-modern cartographic paradigm described by Denis Wood in The Power of Maps: "Once the map is accepted for the interested representation it is, once its historical contingency is fully acknowledged, it is no longer necessary to mask it. Freed from this burden of dissimulation ... the map will be able to assume its truest character, that of instrument for ... data processing, that of instrument for reasoning about quantitative information, that of instrument for persuasive argument" (182).

But there is an important difference between the unhinged subjectivity of post-modernity and the late-medieval subjectivity of Dante and his mapping, which is ultimately authorized by its ties to God's geometry. Dante's signature on the map in this sense serves to situate him through the space(s) of the poem "geometrically," and therefore in relation to salvation history. In this sense, the poem needs to be understood as a global, or rather as a cosmic positioning system, whose Dante-centric cartographic tracings are ramified throughout the first canticle and throughout the realms of the Purgatorio and the Paradiso as well.
Appendix: Malebolge bolge/cantos

Bolgia I. Panders/Seducers;                                   Canto 18

Bolgia II. Hatterers.
Bolgia III. Simoniacs--Traffickers in Offices of the Church.  Canto 19

Bolgia IV. Diviners.                                          Canto 20
                                                              Canto 21
Bolgia V. Barrators--Traffickers in Offices of the State.     Canto 22
Bolgia VI. Hypocrites.                                        Canto 23
                                                              Canto 24
Bolgia VII. Thieves.                                          Canto 25
                                                              Canto 26
Bolgia VIII. Evil Counsellors.                                Canto 27

Bolgia IX. Schismatics--Sowers of Discord.                    Canto 28
                                                              Canto 29
Bolgia X. Falsifiers.                                         Canto 30


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University of Notre Dame


(1) This is essentially the account of Dante mapping given by John Kleiner in his insightful volume Mismapping the Underworld, to which I return below. Kleiner's essay informs Ricardo Padron's recent discussion of Dante mapping, which considers 15th century mappings by the architect Antonio Manetti (1423-1497) at the beginning of its treatment of the modern phenomenon of "Mapping Imaginary Worlds." For Manetti's studies and the maps based on these, which were published for the first time in an appendix to Girolamo Benivieni's 1506 edition of Dante's Commedia (Florence: Giunti), see Cachey and Jordan, "Renaissance Dante in Print (1472-1629)": "Dante's Hell."

(2) Farinelli (1997) reads the De vulgari eloquentia as a precursor of modernity's "cartographic ethos." For Farinelli, Dante foreshadows in the ideal of the "illustrious vernacular" a national political perspective erected on the foundation of reason (constituting a "bird's eye" perspective on the peninsula conceived as a territorial unity, although not yet the perspective from the early modern national and "zenitale" perspective of a Tasso [above Jerusalem] or a Manzoni [above Lake Como]). For an account of the momentous shift in the history of cartography and of space that leaves us today in need of "modelli per la piu accurata descrizione delle nuove non euclidee e invisibili linee che dividono gli uomini fra loro" (Farinelli, 1997 58-59), see Farinelli (2003), in particular, the chapter titled, "Critica della ragione cartografica" (200-201).

(3) See Baranski (2000 159): "Piuttosto che chiarire l'organizzazione dell'In ferno, Virgilio mette in evidenza la propria limitatezza intellettuale, culturale e religiosa. E non unicamente la propria, ma pure quella di tutto il suo mondo e di tutti coloro, pagani e cristiani, che pongono una fiducia eccessiva in epistemologie razionali."

(4) Baranski includes this passage from Inferno 11 in his discussion of the guide's "errori di omissione," attributing its lacunae, like Virgil's failure to include the sin of heresy in his map, to be an expression of the pagan poet's inability to appreciate Christian belief: "In effect, the entire description of the eighth circle is unsatisfactory: the order in which the sins are presented does not follow their real order; furthermore, the Latin poet, massing together the occupants of the eighth and ninth bolge under the general heading of 'simile lordura' (v. 60), forgets to note the not insignificant fact that Malebolge is divided into ten parts--that is, that its structure reveals the hand of the divine artist, since, according to Christian numerology, ten was symbolic of the perfection of God" (159). Mazzoni had already noted the fact that Virgil's ordering of the sins of Malebolge in Inferno 11 did not correspond to the actual structure and collocations and instead appear in vv. 57-60 "completely casual;" in fact, "ipocresia, lusinghe e chi affattura" of v. 58 corresponds in the actual order to cantos 21, 18, 20; "falsita, ladroneccio e simonia" of v. 59 to 29, 24-25, 19; "ruffian, baratti e simile lordura" of v. 60 to cantos 18 and 21. In some cases the list from Inferno 11 creates duplications, as in the case of the panderers and flatterers who, as noted earlier, are punished together in canto 18 but here find themselves separated in v. 58 and v. 60.

(5) Some commentators do accept that the blanket expression "simile lordura" refers to the fraudulent counselors and the sowers of discord. Most recently Nicola Fosca (2003-2006) blithely asserts that "La simile lordura si riferisce ad altre due categorie di fraudolenti contro chi non si fida: i consiglieri di frode (8a bolgia; canti 26 e 27) ed i seminatori di discordie (9a bolgia; c. 28)." The approach exemplified by Fosca, which is characteristic of a significant part of the commentary tradition, has the effect of glossing over a significant critical and interpretive problem. By contrast, Hollander at least poses the question in his commentary: "Here Dante for whatever reason (to keep his readers on their toes?) allows Virgil to name the sins in no discernible order, while also omitting two of them" (195).

(6) Nohrnberg (1996 154) has recently proposed an ingenious solution. For him the passage foreshadows the pattern of the Malebolge cantos which alternates even numbered cantos dedicated to sins against the truth of representation (2, 4, 6, 8, 10) and odd numbered cantos dedicated to crimes against the integrity of covenants and bonds (1, 3, 5, 7, 9): "Virgil may help us divine this pattern, in Inferno 11, 58-60, when he enumerates eight of the frauds in the following rhythmic order: 6, 2, 4, 10, 7, 3, 1, 5. The odd numbered set dishonors representation; the even-numbered one honors greed--ruffian (1) refers to pimps not gigolos. The place of I in the odd set is inconsistent with that of 10 in the even--the order of 1 and 5 is reversed, so in lieu of ending with panders Virgil puts his nemesis barratry: 'And like trash' retrieves them, and also replaces any more definitive closure. False counsel and schism are conspicuous by their absence. The revelation of their places (8, 9) is reserved until a contrast between preying inwardly on rational faculties and outwardly outraging public integrities has become apparent--late in Malebolge itself."

(7) Nohrnberg (1996 133-4) notes that "Once Geryon has carried the pilgrims over this [into fraud] major volitional impasse or threshold, Dante is in a position to learn Malebolge's actual geography, with its bridges, trenches, and multiple sogli (18, 14: "thresholds')--that is, before his walk with the seducers and his talk with the panders."

(8) Dante's eighth circle, in which simple fraud is punished, is made up of ten bolge or "evil-pouches," which the poet describes over thirteen cantos. (More than a third of the Inferno is dedicated to the Malebolge, that is to say, more cantos are dedicated to the eighth than to any of the nine circles by far.) Why are certain categories of fraud treated in one canto while others in two; and why are two classes of fraud punished in the first of the Malebolge cantos, Inf. 18? No doubt, by means of these incongruities Dante extends to the reader an explicit invitation to investigate the deeper significance of the relationship between textual and physical topography in the eighth circle. Yet, the question of the significance of the overarching structure has remained at the margins of the critical literature, with the exception of Nohrnberg's studies (most recently, "The Love that Moves the Sun," cited here, 89). But see also Ferrante. The topographical and terrestrial cartographic reading developed in these pages is proposed as complementary to Nohrnberg's. For an account of earlier attempts to describe the ethical structure of Malebolge see Mazzamuto's entry for "Malebolge" in the Enciclopedia dantesca.

(9) In his note to the passage, Hollander notes that in disagreement with Petrocchi's text, he "would capitalize the two nouns "Feltro" and "Feltro," so that they would indicate place names in northern Italy. The person in Dante's mind would then be Cangrande della Scala, the youthful general of the armies of Verona when Dante first visited that city ca. 1304. In that case, what we would deal with here is the first of three (see also Purg. XXXIII.37-45, Par. XXVII.142-148) 'world-historical' prophecies of the coming of a political figure (in the last two surely an emperor) who, in his advent, also looks forward to the Second Coming of Christ."

(10) See Carlo Dionisotti, Geografia e storia della letteratura italiana (36) for whom Dante: "... ormai solo e 'lungi dal lito' [...] muove alla scoperta di un mondo nuovo. Questo mondo e, anche, l'Italia: geograficamente la stessa del De Vulgari ... ma non piu soltanto l'Italia aristocratica e curiale cui potevasi accedere per la via del linguaggio e dello stile tragico, proposti nel De Vulgari, bensi l'umile e vasta Italia cui appella la 'cantilena' della Commedia."

(11) On the scriptural sermo humilis as a source for Dante's poetics, see Auerbach's classic essay.

(12) For the geographical aspect of the Inferno's Hercules-Dante-Geryon subplot, see Cachey, "Dante's Journey Between Truth and Fiction: Geryon Revisited."

(13) Inferno 18. 49-51: se le fazion che porti non son false,/ Venedico se' tu Caccianemico./ Ma che ti mena a si pungenti salse?" ['if I'm not mistaken in your features,/ you're Venedico Caccianemico. What has brought you to such stinging torture?'] Lost in translation is Dante's play on the Bolognese place-name salse, which contributes to the canto's more general Bolognese dialect patina (sipa of line 61 is ancient Bolognese dialect for "yes"). Benvenuto da Imola, cited here from Singleton's commentary, first noted: "volo te scire, quod Salse est quidam locus Bononiae concavus et declivus extra civitatem post et prope sanctam Mariam in Monte, in quem solebant abiici corpora desperatorum, foeneratorum, et aliorum infamatorum. Unde aliquando audivi pueros Bononiae dicentes unum alteri ad improperium: Tuus pater fuit proiectus ad Salsas. Ad propositum ergo autor vult dicere: Quid ducit te ad vallem tam infamem, sicut est vallis Salsarum apud patriam tuam?" [I want you to know that Salse is a certain sloping, concave place outside Bologna, just past Santa Maria in Monte. The bodies of desperate criminals, usurers, and other unspeakable persons used to be thrown there. And I have heard boys in Bologna say to each other as an insult: your father was thrown to Salse. Thus, what the author means to say is: what has brought you to a valley as infamous as the valley of Salse in your homeland?]

(14) The borders of Italy as described in the De vulgari eloquentia (Dye, I, viii, 6) have a different orientation from those described in Inferno 9. 112-114, if one accepts the view expressed by Mengaldo in his commentary regarding this controversial passage: "Istorum vero proferentes oc meridionalis Europe tenent partem occidentalem a Ianuensium finibus incipientes. Qui autem si dicunt a predictis finibus orientalem tenent, videlicet usque ad promuntorium illud Ytalie qua sinus Adriatici maris incipit, et Siciliam" [Of these, those who say oc occupy the western part of southern Europe, starting from the borders of the Genoese. Those that say si occupy the eastern parts far as the promontory of Italy from which begins the bay of the Adriatic sea, and as far as Sicily]. Mengaldo (68, n. 1) notes that of the various identifications proposed for promuntorium illud ... incipit, that of Istria and specifically Cape Promontore (Andriani, Revelli, Vinay) is unacceptable. There remains some question whether Dante refers here to lower Calabria (Catona?) [cf. Par. 8.62], which was the opinion of Casella, who followed the commentary of Giuliani, or to the Cape of Otranto, as Magnaghi and Marigo held.

(15) For the most authoritative treatment of the rhetorical and ideological shift that takes place between the two works see Albert Ascoli, Dante, The Making of a Modern Author, in particular part 1: "The Author in the Works: Dante Before the Commedia," 67-174.

(16) Hollander notes in his commentary that the space between Inferno 9. 112 114 to Inferno 12. 1-10 represents "the longest stretch in the poem between similes except for that between Paradiso VI.1 and VIII.15 (unless we were to count the brief comparison at Par. VII.8-9 as a simile)." Cited from the Dartmouth Dante Project, ad loc., (3.24/09).

(17) Typically, the commentary tradition remarks in connection with this pas sage something along the lines of Fosca's observation that Dante often utilizes earthly landscape elements "per dare concretezza realistica alla storia," thereby ignoring the possibility that such similes might be part of a broader structural intention.

(18) For an anthropological perspective on the ties between geography, travel and cultural authority, see Mary W. Helm's classic study Ulysses' Sail. For examples of a geographical approach to literature see Wyman Herendeen's From Landscape to Literature, and James Romm, The Edges of the Earth in Ancient Thought. For a still useful bibliographic survey, see Fabio Lando, "Fact and Fiction. Geography and Literature."

(19) On the Questio de Aqua et Terra, see Freccero, and more recently Mazzoni (1996), and Barafiski (2000 [1997]).

(20) For Nohrnberg as well (1999 242), the allusion would be a negative and parodic allusion to the music of the spheres discussed by Macrobius. The connection with Cicero's Dream of Scipio noted by Durling and Martinez in their commentary (257), was first observed by Alessandro Vellutello (1544): Inferno 16. 100-105: "Onde dicono, che gli habitatori vicino alle catarate del Nilo, per lo troppo eccessivo suono, che fa nel cader d'altissimo monte, assordano. Et questo afferma Marco Tullio, in quel de somnio Scipionis, ove dice. <<Sicut in illis ubi Nilus ab illa, quae Catapulta nominatur, praecipitat ex altissimis montibus, ea gens, quae illum locum accolit, propter magnitudinem sonitus sensu audiendi caret>> [Cic. De re pub. 6.19]."

(21) All of the commentators are cited from the commentaries available through the Dartmouth Dante Project. The translations are mine.

(22) Singleton notes: "The river to which Dante refers is the Montone, which rises as a torrent in the eastern Apennines, about six miles from the Benedictine monastery of San Benedetto dell'Alpe, near which it is joined by the torrents of the Acquacheta and Riodestro. At Forli and Ravenna it is joined by two more streams, and enters the Adriatic above Sant'Apollinare. In Dante's day the Montone entered the Adriatic below the Po and was then the first river after the Po that, rising on the eastern slope of the Apennines, flowed into the sea (all the others flowed into the Po).

(23) Dante anticipates the bird's-eye view of a Google Maps perspective. See Note the parallel encompassing of the Po in the later Marcabo simile from Inferno 28. 73-75: "rimembriti di Pier da Medicina,/ se mai torni a veder lo dolce piano/che da Vercelli a Marcabo dichina." See Ignazio Baldelli," 'Lo dolce piano che da Vercelli a Marcabo dichina'."

(24) Our proposal finds support in the work of scholars who have focused on the relation between biblical Babel and Dante's Inferno. In particular, Baranski's 1989 essay has important implications for the cartographical rewriting of the De vulgari eloquentia that we have proposed here as a key to a reading of the poem. Baranski found that Babel "is an important influence behind Dante's artistic perception of his first otherworldly realm," and that "his Inferno is presented as a senseless world of confused babbling voices" from the very start. More particularly, Baranski notes that "The equation between the muddle of languages in the 'valley' of the Senaar and the "ntrono [...] d'infiniti guai' of Dante's 'valle dolorosa' (Inf. 4. 8-9) is most evident in Inferno III-VII" (278), and that "After this infernal confusio linguarum, from canto VIII onwards, a relative silence can be said to descend on Dante's Hell." The confusio linguarum of upper Hell corresponds to the relatively un-evolved ethical status of the sinners punished there, where the noises which reach the pilgrim's ears belong, as Baranski shows, to the semiotic category of "natural" signs which, according to Jan Pinborg "are common to all men and not dependent on any convention. Generally, they are compared to the sounds of animals which are thus included in the same category" (1984 407).

(25) Dante attributes his guide in Inferno 20 an account of the founding of Mantua that is inconsistent with the one the poet Virgil gave in the Aeneid (X 198-200). See Robert Hollander, "The Tragedy of Divination in Inferno XX."

(26) See Barolini (1989 and 1992) and Moevs (1999) on Dante's poem as "non-false error." For Moevs, "God's Feet and Hands,": "Barolini's revision of Singleton's formula is exact: 'the Commedia is a non false error, a non falso errore, not a fiction that pretends to be true but a fiction that IS true' (13). This is Dante's understanding of his own poem. It is also--and this is the fundamental point--his understanding of all physical reality: contingent form disguising the act-of-being in which it alone and entirely consists. It is also the nature of Scripture, which must communicate the experience of non-contingent self-awareness ("truth") through spatio-temporal contingencies ..." (8).

(27) Barolini (1999), "Canto XX: True and False See-ers," 276.

(28) Mathematicians inform us that the sequence of ratios of consecutive Fibonacci numbers (1/1, 2/1, 3/2, 5/3, 8/5, 13/8, 21/13.... ) approach a single real number that the terms of the sequence approach more and more closely, eventually arbitrarily closely. The ancient Greeks called this number the golden section or ratio and it is usually denoted by the Greek letter [phi] and sometimes by [mu] (mu). They believed that the proportion [phi] was the most pleasing and aesthetically perfect proportion, and their artwork, sculpture and architecture made use of it. For a recent review of the question and an argument for the deliberate use of the ratio among the Greeks, see Vittorio Hosle, "Did the Greeks Deliberately Use the Golden Ratio in An Artwork?" See also Mario Livio, The Golden Ratio. The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number. According to Joseph and Frances Gies, the biographers of Leonardo of Pisa, architects still today "often approximate the ratio as 5/8 (0.625)--5 and 8 being two numbers in the Fibonacci sequence." It was discovered during the modern period that nature exhibits properties governed by the same Fibonacci sequence in the growth of populations but also in the crisscrossing spiral pattern in the head of a sunflower or in a pinecone where the number of spirals in each direction are invariably two consecutive Fibonacci numbers. For Fibonacci, see Leonardo Fibonacci: matematica e societa nel Mediterraneo nel secolo XIII and Hemenway, Divine Proportion. Whether Dante was familiar with the mathematical work of Fibonacci is a subject of some controversy. Maracchia is convinced that he was, while Hart is more skeptical and finds no evidence that proves that he did. Nevertheless, in his landmark studies that illustrate convincingly Dante's use of [pi] in his proportional design of the poem, Hart did find some values for [pi] utilized by Dante in the proportional placement of certain passages that might reflect Dante's knowledge of Fibonacci's Practica geometriae (1995 286-289).

(29) Hart (1998 129) offers general observations regarding the esthetics of numerical and geometric structuring in the arts during the medieval period, observing that: "The presence of (in part geometric) proportionality governing both overtly and less overtly 'geometrical' contexts in the Commedia indicates that Dante emulated the 'geometry and eternal logic of creation' inter alia by utilizing the physical dimensions of his text as a kind of syntax for structural metaphor, that is, as a means of saying one thing in terms of another by juxtaposing both things structurally in proportional patterns. As a result, the 'lines' or 'vectors' of his design may, to the extent that they were fundamental factors in the poem's genesis, serve almost as a kind of commentary on the poem by the author."

(30) The fundamental connection between Geometry and God's justice in Dante's mind had originally derived from the fact that, as Giuseppe Mazzotta has it, "like geometry, justice is neither adventitious nor is it vulnerable to chaotic vagaries and to the inconsistencies of opinion. Like geometry, which is based on the law of inference, whereby one point in space entails other points, justice joins together the individual soul to the city and to the entirety of the cosmos" (1993 87).

(31) In an insightful chapter "Mismapping the Underworld," from his eponymous volume, Kleiner notes that the emphasis on measurement increases as we descend lower into Hell, in particular in the last six cantos. He focuses on two passages spoken by Virgil and Master Adam, in cantos 29 and 30 respectively, in which are given the precise measures of the ninth and tenth bolge. We learn from Virgil in 29. 9-10 that the ninth ditch is 22 miles in circumference, while in 30. 84-87 we learn that the tenth and final pouch is eleven miles in circumference and a mile and half across. Kleiner discusses how the Renaissance cartographers of Dante's Hell used these measurements to extrapolate the site, size and dimensions of Dante's Hell, and he shows convincingly that in fact, the use of these measures for this purpose is quite absurd and leads to impossible incongruities as do the other measurements given by Dante about the size of the giants and Lucifer, including the calculations that we are invited to extrapolate concerning the height of Nimrod which would be based on the size of the "pina di San Pietro." Kleiner's conclusion, besides showing why "Dantean cartography remains today a thoroughly discredited discipline" is that "the measurements of Hell produce only a semblance of order." Kleiner proposes three interpretive options concerning these measurements and favors the last of the three. They are a. that by giving erroneous measurements Dante expresses doubts about Divine justice or b. that the erroneous measurements reflect an infernal perspective or c. that Dante's pretensions to judge his fellow men are being parodied. Kleiner arrives at the conclusion that Dante has a taste for dark-self-reflection on the fact that "To name those who will be damned and to measure out their 'just' punishments for all eternity is to edge simultaneously toward fraud [Master Adamo] and hubris [i.e. Nimrod]" (55).

(32) Hart in "Some Thoughts" (1995 282-283, and Figures 3A and 3B) demon strates proportionality and homology in the disposition of the two passages indicating the dimensions of the ninth and tenth bolge: "The placement of the two numerical terms, relative to the limits of the three cantiche, conforms to the proportions of two concentric circles with circumferences (approximately) twenty-two and eleven 'miles,' as follows: if the larger circle has the dimensions circumference + diameter =14233 (the total of verses in the Commedia corresponding to 29,000 [circumference + diameter of bolgia 9] in figure 3A), the smaller circle has, to the nearest whole number, a circumference of 5398 (corresponding nearly to the 11,000 [circumference of bolgia 10] in Figure 3A and a radius of 859 (859 is also the distance between the two circles, corresponding to the 1,750 [radius of bolgia 10] in Figure 3A." Hart discovers that there are accordingly 859 lines between the position of the first measurement in Inferno 29 and the end of the Inferno and the start of Purgatorio and there are 5398 verses between the second measurement in Inferno 30 and the end of the Purgatorio and the start of Paradiso.

(33) Nohrnberg (1996 136) also provides a rationale for the centrality of hypocrisy that our map has revealed when he notes in his gloss on Geryon: "Thus one of the early illustrators of the Inferno specifically labels Geryon's face as hypocrisy [Oxford, Bodleian Can. It. 108, 15 verso]. For Geryon not only stands for fraud, but also disingenuousness regarding fraud. The bridge over the ditch occupied by the poem's actual hypocrites proves to be broken: expediency and fear will force the pilgrims to descend into the bolge at this point. Hence the pilgrims' regress towards the primal sinner via the descent of Geryon is re-encrypted in their epicyclic descent into actual hypocrisy."

(34) For the concept, see Tom Conley's The Self-Made Map: Cartographic Writing in Early Modern France.

(35) For a similarly "de-territorialized" reading of the De vulgari eloquentia, see Justin Steinberg's chapter on the De vulgari eloquentia, "A terrigenis mediocribus," in Accounting for Dante (122): "The contrast between space and place in the discussion of the canzone stanza also provides a final illustration of the tension between poetic authority and history in the De vulgari. Through a poetic theory based on microcosmic space, the exiled Dante attempts to remake himself, to be poetically reborn outside his current historical conditions."
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Author:Cachey, Theodore J., Jr.
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Sep 22, 2010
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