Depending on the week's assignment, you may have several pages of Background Reading. This week, you have TWO PAGES of Background reading.
Characters You Will Meet
There are many times when Dante will make allusions to classical mythology or figures from the Bible; don't worry if you do not recognize some of these details. Below you will find a list of some of the main figures that you meet, and with whom you should be familiar before you begin the reading.
Adam of Brescia: a contemporary of Dante; a famous counterfeiter and forger
Caiaphas: a leader of the Pharisee Jewish community at the time of Jesus and involved in the prosecutions prior to Jesus's crucifixion
Capaneus: one of the warriors who fought against the city of Thebes; because of his boastful pride, Jupiter struck him down with a bolt of lightning
Centaurs: creatures who are half-man and half-horse, including Chiron, who was Achilles's tutor, and Nessus, who brought about the death of the hero Hercules
Cerberus: the three-headed dog guardian of the underworld. You met Cerberus in last week's readings.
Charon: Charon steers the boat that ferries the souls of the dead across an underworld river. You met Charon in the readings from last week.
Furies: the Furies (Greek "Erinyes") are old women with the heads of dogs, snakes for hair and the wings of bats
Geryon: a mythological monster; one of the labors of Hercules was to steal the cattle of Geryon
Gianni Schicci: a contemporary of Dante who was famous as an impersonator; he pretended to be Buoso Donati in order to make out a false will in Donati's name
Griffolino: a contemporary of Dante who offered to teach people how to fly; he was executed for the crime of alchemy
Harpies: bird-like monsters with the faces of women who torment the souls of the suicides in the underworld
Homer: legendary Greek epic poet; Dante revered him, although he did not have direct access to Homer's work (it was only rediscovered in western Europe in the later Renaissance). You learned about Homer in the readings from last week.
Jason: the Greek hero who set out to acquire the Golden Fleece; the princess Medea helped him to succeed in this quest but then Jason abandoned Medea - she took revenge by murdering their two children
Medusa: a Gorgon, a winged monster with snakes for hair; anyone who looked directly at her turned to stone
Minos: while alive Minos was a king, whose wife, Pasiphae, had an affair with a bull, giving birth to the Minotaur; in death, Minos was one of the judges of the dead in the underworld.
Myrrha: a figure from Greek mythology who was notorious for falling in love with her own father and deceiving her father into sleeping with her; she became pregnant with her father's child
Nimrod: the legendary giant hunter from the book of Genesis in the Bible; he is associated with the building of the Tower of Babel
Paolo and Francesca: a pair of lovers known to Dante, who were killed by Francesca's husband when he discovered their adulterous love affair
Phlegyas: another boat man who ferries souls across the marshes in the underworld
Plutus: the god of wealth
Potiphar's wife: Potiphar's wife is a character from the book of Genesis in the Bible; she tried to seduce Joseph and when he refused her she falsely accused him of rape
Satan (Lucifer, Beelzebub, Dis): Satan was a rebellious angel who was hurled to earth by God, and confined to hell as punishment
Sinon: a member of the Greek army who used lies and deception in order to persuade the Trojans to admit the Trojan Horse into their city
Ugolino: a contemporary of Dante who was imprisoned with his sons in a tower where they died of starvation
Ulysses: Greek hero famous for his cunning; he helped to devise the Trojan Horse. According to Dante, Ulysses went on another journey after he returned home, sailing to the most distant west and south
Virgil (Vergil): Roman poet, author of the epic poem the Aeneid. You learned about Virgil's life in the readings from last week.
MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D.
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