Week 8: Dante's Inferno

Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

Canto 30: Sinon

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 800 words.

Among the "falsifiers" in this chasm, Dante also meets Master Adam of Brescia, who had produced counterfeit copies of Florentine money. He was executed in 1281 by being burned at the stake. Dante also sees Sinon, the Greek who persuaded the Trojans to admit the Trojan Horse into their city, thus bringing about their destruction. He also sees a character from the Bible, "Potiphar's wife," the woman who falsely accused Joseph of raping her when he refused her seductions.

Adam of Brescia

I saw one, who would have been shaped like a lute, if he had only had his groin cut short, at the place where a man is forked. The heavy dropsy, that swells the limbs, with its badly transformed humours, so that the face does not match the belly, made him hold his lips apart, as the fevered patient does who, through thirst, curls one lip towards the chin, and the other upwards.

He said to us: 'O you, who are exempt from punishment in this grim world (and why, I do not know), look and attend to the misery of Master Adam. I had enough of what I wished, when I was alive, and now, alas, I crave a drop of water. The little streams that fall, from the green hills of Casentino, down to the Arno, making cool, moist channels, are constantly in my mind, and not in vain, since the image of them parches me, far more than the disease, that wears the flesh from my face.

'The rigid justice, that examines me, takes its opportunity from the place where I sinned, to give my sighs more rapid flight. That is Romena, where I counterfeited the coin of Florence, stamped with the Baptist's image: for that, on earth, I left my body, burned. But if I could see the wretched soul of Guido here, or Alessandro, or Aghinolfo, their brother, I would not exchange that sight for Branda's fountain. Guido is down here already, if the crazed spirits going round speak truly, but what use is it to me, whose limbs are tied?

'If I were only light enough to move, even an inch, every hundred years, I would already have started on the road, to find him among this disfigured people, though it winds around eleven miles, and is no less than half a mile across. Because of them I am with such a crew: they induced me to stamp those florins that were adulterated, with three carats alloy.'

Sinon - Potiphar's wife

I said to him: 'Who are those abject two, lying close to your right edge, and giving off smoke, like a hand, bathed, in winter?

He replied: 'I found them here, when I rained down into this pound, and they have not turned since then, and may never turn I believe. One is the false wife who accused Joseph. The other is lying Sinon, the Greek from Troy. A burning fever makes them stink so strongly.'

And Sinon, who perhaps took offence at being named so blackly, struck Adamo's rigid belly with his fist, so that it resounded, like a drum: and Master Adam struck him in the face with his arm, that seemed no softer, saying to him: 'I have an arm free for such a situation, though I am kept from moving by my heavy limbs.'

At which Sinon answered: 'You were not so ready with it, going to the fire, but as ready, and readier, when you were coining.'

And he of the dropsy: 'You speak truth in that, but you were not so truthful a witness, there, when you were questioned about the truth at Troy.'

'If I spoke falsely, you falsified the coin,' Sinon said, 'and I am here for the one crime, but you for more than any other devil.'

He who had the swollen belly answered: 'Think of the Wooden Horse, you liar, and let it be a torment to you that all the world knows of it.'

The Greek replied: 'Let the thirst that cracks the tongue be your torture, and the foul water make your stomach a barrier in front of your eyes.'

Then the coiner: 'Your mouth gapes wide as usual, to speak ill. If I have a thirst, and moisture swells me, you have the burning, and a head that hurts you: and you would not need many words of invitation, to lap at the mirror of Narcissus.'

Virgil reproves Dante

I was standing, all intent on hearing them, when the Master said to me: 'Now, keep gazing much longer, and I will quarrel with you!' When I heard him speak to me in anger, I turned towards him, with such a feeling of shame that it comes over me again, as I only think of it. And like someone who dreams of something harmful to them, and dreaming, wishes it were a dream, so that they long for what is, as if it were not; that I became, who, lacking power to speak, wished to make an excuse, and all the while did so, not thinking I was doing it.

My Master said: 'Less shamefacedness would wash away a greater fault than yours, so unburden yourself of sorrow, and know that I am always with you, should it happen that fate takes you, where people are in similar conflict: since the desire to hear it, is a vulgar desire.'

One and the same tongue at first wounded me, so that it painted both my cheeks with blushes, and then gave out the ointment for the wound. So I have heard the spear of Achilles, and his father Peleus, was the cause first of sadness, and then of a healing gift.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what kind of punishment does Adam of Brescia suffer from?
  • why was the Greek hero Sinon imprisoned in this chasm of hell?
  • why is the Biblical character "Potiphar's wife" imprisoned here?

Source: Dante's Inferno, translated by A.S. Kline (2000). Website: Dante and Others.

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM