Inferno XX, devoted to the seers and diviners, elicits disproportionate reactions from its readers: streams of critical ink have been spilled on a canto routinely omitted from their syllabi by harried pedagogues, who at the very least pass over the digression on the founding of Mantova which takes up 42 of the canto's 130 lines. This same digression is an integral factor in the fascination the canto exerts on its professional interpreters, since it is a key feature in the aberrant behavior that overcomes Dante's guide at this point of the journey signaling an intertextual node of particular bumpiness in the Comedy's never smooth texture. That Vergil behaves in an odd and noteworthy fashion in canto XX is indisputable: he displays unprecedented anger toward the pilgrim, harshly rebuking him for the tears called forth by the twisted shapes of the diviners, and he dominates the discourse in a way he has not done before and will not do again. Beginning to speak in line 27, Vergil does not give up the floor __ but for a six line break in which Dante asks him a question __ until the canto's penultimate verse; he takes it upon himself to present and describe each of the sinners whom Hell has rendered speechless, as well as to initiate the lengthy digression on the founding of his natal city with an unusual assertion of his own desires: «onde un poco mi piace che m'ascolte» (57). Vergil's comportment has been connected by critics with his medieval reputation as a sorcerer and magician; indeed, exegetes from D'Ovidio on have claimed that, by allowing Vergil to vociferously condemn and thus disassociate himself from the diviners he sees here, Dante intends to rescue his magister from any guilt by association.

      Inferno XX falls into four narrative segments. Lines 1-30 present the sin of divination in general terms; lines 31-57 introduce famous diviners of antiquity, each of whom figures in and represents a major classical text: Amphiaraus from Statius' Thebaid, Tiresias from Ovid's Metamorphoses, Arruns from Lucan's Pharsalia, and Manto from Vergil's Aeneid; lines 58-99 encompass the digression on Mantova; lines 100-130 contain Dante's query regarding further diviners, and Vergil's response, in which he names Eurypylus from the Aeneid and various contemporary practitioners. We note the canto's symmetry; the general opening and closing sections, each of thirty lines, frame the more particularized interior sequences. The seemingly extraneous section on Mantova is thus entirely surrounded and informed by the commanding issue of prophecy, an issue which is directly related to the canto's highlighting of poets and poetry, to its evocation of the classical auctores and to the arresting behavior of Vergil. For prophecy is in fact a textual issue; a profeta for Dante is one who foretells, who reads in the «magno volume» of God's mind (Par. XV, 50), and deciphers the book of the future. Because prophecy is therefore essentially a matter of correct and incorrect reading, the canto's emphasis on textuality is insistent: from the initial terzina, which proclaims in deliberately technical language the author's need to make verse and give form to his twentieth canto, to the equally technical reference to the Aeneid as an «alta tragedìa» in line 113; if this is the only locus in the poem in which Dante affixes a numerical tag to a canto, it is also a unique definition of Vergil's poem as a text belonging to a specific genre. Moreover, the textual awareness of the canto's opening lines __ «Di nova pena mi conven far versi / e dar matera al ventesimo canto / de la prima canzon» __ is shared by its final verse: «Sì mi parlava, e andavamo introcque». Here the presence of a word, introcque, whose use by the Florentines is caricatured in the De Vulgari Eloquentia, raises a host of questions about writing and genre, and serves to close the canto on the same textual key with which it began.

      Inferno XX deals with the validity and legitimacy of the acts of writing and reading. As Hollander has shown, Dante evokes his classical auctores in order to correct them, misreading their texts in such a way as to damn diviners, like Amphiaraus and Tiresias, whom the ancients considered noble practitioners of the art, tellers of truth. By placing these diviners in the fourth bolgia, Dante establishes their falsity, and his disagreement on this score with his classical predecessors. One of the classical predecessors so invoked is Vergil, the Comedy's resident poeta, and it is as his new self that Vergil retells the story of Manto, altering the earlier account found in the tenth book of the Aeneid. The Latin poem relates that the prophetess bears a child, Ocnus, who founds the city and gives it his mother's name: «qui muros matrisque dedit tibi, Mantua, nomen» («who gave you walls and the name of his mother, O Mantua» [Aen. X, 200]). The Comedy, on the other hand, relates that Manto, «la vergine cruda» (82), settled and died in a spot later chosen by men from the surrounding regions as suitable for a city: «Fer la città sovra quell' ossa morte» (91). Most interesting about Vergil's speech is his closing injunction to the pilgrim to disregard all other accounts of Mantova's founding; since the only true story is the one he has just heard, the pilgrim must «let no lie defraud the truth», i.e. he must reject all other accounts as false (97-99):

      Però t'assenno che, se tu mai odi
originar la mia terra altrimenti,
la verità nulla menzogna frodi.

But in what source could Dante find the story of «mia terra» told «altrimenti», if not in the Aeneid? According to Vergil's own statement, then, the Aeneid is a text which __ like the false prophets of this bolgia __ is capable of defrauding the truth.

      The language of line 99, with its harsh juxtaposition of the two absolutes verità and menzogna, is emblematic of the chief concern of this canto, which is precisely the truth or falsity of a statement, reading, or text. It is no accident that in both places in the poem where Dante employs traditional expressions denoting genre he also uses the terms ver/verità vs. menzogna, just as it is no accident that the question of textual truth or falsity should arise so insistently in the canto of the diviners, those who claim to divine the truth. Fourteen lines after Vergil's extraordinary self-indictment __ «la verità nulla menzogna frodi» __ the Aeneid is defined as an «alta tragedìa»; as Ferrucci points out, this is a passage which recalls the end of canto XVI, where Dante first names his poem «questa comedìa» (128). When the monster Geryon swims up through the murky air at the end of Inferno XVI, the poet tells us that he is in the position of a man who must recount an unbelievable truth and for whom it would be easier to keep silent, since his story will only bring him the reproaches of his listeners; although he does not expect us to believe him, we must, for his story is «quel ver c'ha faccia di menzogna» (124). The terms ver and menzogna are analogous to Inferno XX's verità and menzogna; most important is the different alignment vis-à-vis these terms accorded to the two texts in question. Vergil's poem, a tragedìa, is implicitly defined in canto XX as a lie which defrauds the truth, while Dante's poem, a comedìa, is implicitly defined in canto XVI as a truth which has the appearance of a lie. The disjunction between the two genres and the two representative texts __ Vergil's and Dante's __ is deepened at the outset of canto XXI where Dante refers to his poem for the last time as «la mia comedìa» (2), thus confirming that it is the opposite of the Aeneid, which has just been defined a tragedìa, and therefore also the opposite of menzogna.

      If Vergil's text is capable of falsehood, Dante, by revising it, restores truth to it. The process of disassociating Vergil from the inhabitants of this bolgia begins with the first words he speaks, the lacerating question addressed to the pilgrim: «Ancor se' tu de li altri sciocchi?» (27). Up to Vergil's intervention, Inferno XX consists primarily of description, first of the sinners and then of the pilgrim's reaction to them; Dante sees the souls approach in a slow procession, «tacendo e lagrimando» (8), with their faces twisted around in the direction of their loins so that they have to move backwards, «perché 'l veder dinanzi era lor tolto» (15). Thus, their status post mortem consists of silence, fittingly imposed on those who once spoke excessively and falsely, compounded by an inability to look ahead in even the simplest physical sense, let alone in an attempt to read the future. In the following address to the reader, we learn that the pilgrim had been unable to refrain from tears at the sight of «our image so distorted» (22-24):

      quando la nostra imagine di presso
vidi sì torta, che 'l pianto de li occhi
le natiche bagnava per lo fesso.

«Certo io piangea», resumes the narrator, and it is as a result of his weeping that Vergil explodes with «Ancor se' tu de li altri sciocchi?», implying that he, unlike the pilgrim, is completely unmoved by the vision that has so shaken his charge. Indeed, Vergil appends his strongest statement on the impossibility of pity in Hell __ «Qui vive la pietà quand' è ben morta» (28) __ and concludes his rebuke with another fierce question, impugning those who, like the diviners, attempt to render the divine will inactive: «chi è più scellerato che colui / che al giudicio divin passion comporta?» (29-30).

      Thus, Vergil's first four lines in Inferno XX consist of a reproof which, for greatest effect, is articulated as two questions separated by an apparently paradoxical injunction of enormous vigor and universal infernal applicability, «Qui vive la pietà quand' è ben morta». He passes directly from his final condemnation, on the wickedness of viewing God's judgment as an extension of our own, into his presentation of Amphiaraus, who appears on the narrative horizon as a concrete exemplum of the indeterminate scellerato of the preceding lines. (There has been much debate as to whether Vergil's second question refers to the pilgrim or to the diviners: who is the scellerato of line 29? This issue is linked to the interpretation of line 30, «che al giudicio divin passion comporta», for which the variants «passion porta» and «compassion porta» exist. The variant «compassion porta» is undoubtedly the lectio facilior; if we were to read thus, the question would follow from «Ancor se' tu de li altri sciocchi?» and refer to the pilgrim's compassion. The interpretation offered here is based on Petrocchi's text and Parodi's gloss, which takes «passion» as «passivity»; in this reading, the second question refers forward to the diviners, whom Vergil begins to present in the following verse, rather than backwards to the pilgrim.) Vergil's presentation of the canto's first seer is marked by the same agitated style that has characterized his speech thus far in this bolgia: he begins with a series of imperatives __ «Drizza la testa, drizza, e vedi a cui / s'aperse a li occhi d'i Teban la terra» (31-32) __ and continues with the insertion of a brief vignette of Amphiaraus' final moments, complete with dialogue between the seer and the gloating Thebans («per ch'ei gridavan tutti: 'Dove rui, / Anfïarao? perché lasci la guerra?'» [33-34]), to culminate finally in a relatively calm and straightforward rendering of Amphiaraus' destruction and arrival in front of Minos, followed by a reiteration of the contrapasso (37-39):

      Mira c'ha fatto petto de le spalle;
perché volse veder troppo davante,
di retro guarda e fa retroso calle.

After the nine lines devoted to Amphiaraus, Vergil presents Tiresias and Arruns in six lines each; the presentation of Manto beginning in line 52, seems to conform to the same pattern, until rather than ending at the end of the second terzina as we expect, Vergil uses the sixth line to request Dante's further attention, and launches into his speech on Mantova. One striking feature of the language Vergil employs to introduce the diviners is the preponderance of imperatives and verbs of sight: «Drizza la testa, drizza, e vedi» (31); «Mira c'ha fatto petto de le spalle» (37); «Vedi Tiresia» (40). This is the language of prophecy, which the Comedy's author hands his character deliberately as part of his strategy of disassociation; because what Vergil sees is the truth, such language __ illegitimate in the mouths of the diviners __ is now fully justified. Vergil's legitimacy is conferred by Dante, who as God's secretary, the writer of «quella materia ond'io son fatto scriba» (Par. X, 27), cannot err. In that he speaks for Dante here, Vergil too speaks as a scriba, whose words are guaranteed true by the highest authority. In this context, it is noteworthy that Dante omits from the Comedy a term that he uses for Vergil in the Monarchia, and that is particularly relevant to Inferno XX, namely vates. In the second book of the political treatise, where his attempt to legitimize Roman rule is buttressed by quotations from Latin authors, Dante calls Vergil «divinus poeta noster» (II, iii, 6) and «noster Vates» (II, iii, 12), both expressions that relate to Vergil's prophetic powers, his divine gifts of divination. The word vates is directly linked to the thematic material of our canto, in that it historically embraces and conflates the two realms of prophecy and poetry: originally signifying «foreteller, seer, soothsayer, prophet», it came to mean «poet» (interestingly, the Lewis and Short Latin dictionary points out that vates was the oldest name for poet, but fell into disfavor, until it was restored to honor by Vergil). As Mineo notes, Isidore of Seville (who in his Etymologies treats the terms propheta and vates as synonymous) explained that a Latin poeta was also called vates, thus firmly connecting prophecy with poetry.

      Dante's avoidance of vate in the Comedy seems related to the term's prophetic and divinatory connotations. One of the medieval legends attached to Vergil regards a bronze fly, allegedly fabricated by the Roman poet which had the power to keep all other flies out of Naples; Dante's friend and confidant, Cino da Pistoia, refers to this legend in his satiric canzone on Naples, «Deh, quando rivedrò 'l dolce paese»:

O sommo vate, quanto mal facesti
(non t'era me' morire
a Piettola, colà dove nascesti?)
quando la mosca, per l'altre fuggire,
in tal loco ponesti... (13-17).

The fact that Cino here rebukes Vergil for the evil he committed in creating the fly, while simultaneously addressing him as «O sommo vate», is suggestive; perhaps Dante felt that in the popular mind vate was associated more with witchcraft than with the providential calling it describes in the Monarchia. Dante's position, however, is ambivalent if he strives on the one hand to disassociate Vergil from divination and witchcraft, avoiding terms like vate and dramatizing Vergil's disgust at the diviners of his fellow poets, on the other hand he goes out of his way to link his guide with Lucan's witch Erichtho, inventing the story whereby Vergil was once sent to lower Hell by the hateful sorceress of the Pharsalia (Inf. IX, 22-27). Such behavior suggests that Dante wants to distinguish between the utterly false prophets housed in the fourth bolgia, and Vergil, the propheta nescius as he was known in the Middle Ages, who is unknowingly a carrier of both truth and falsehood. As I sought to demonstrate in Dante's Poets, Dante both accepts and corrects Vergil, according to his perception of whether he is dealing with verità or with menzogna.

      Dante's characterization of Vergil as an unwitting prophet provides an ideological framework for Dante's ambivalent treatment of his magister's text in the Comedy, and for the running critique of the alta tragedìa which in Inferno XX invests not only its content but also the crucial issue of its style. We have noted two stylistic features of the canto that have dismayed or startled critics, strategically situated at its beginning and end: 1) the allegedly tired and useless opening terzina, which at least one scholar wanted to delete from future editions of the Comedy; 2) the ostentatious ending on introcque, carefully planted in a canto which invokes the authority of the De Vulgari Eloquentia at its outset, in its use of the word canzone in line 3. I would suggest that both the canto's opening terzina and its last line are part of a unified commentary on style that runs through Inferno XX, and that the critical reactions are not only justified but deliberately induced. The initial terzina's «prosaicità», as Barchiesi puts it, is indisputable; equally incontrovertible is the De Vulgari Eloquentia's judgment of introcque, used only this once in all of Dante's verse, as a word unfit for poetic discourse (I, xiii, 2). When Machiavelli, in the Discorso o dialogo intorno alla nostra lingua, points to the last verse of Inferno XX as an example of a line from the Comedy that does not succeed in avoiding «il goffo», he is reacting precisely as Dante would have wished: the line's prosaic clumsiness is intentional, as is that of the first terzina. Such prosaicità signals the presence of the «comedic» (a term I coin rather than use «comic») style.

      The comedic style is one which is not shy of using clumsy or ugly language if such language is called for, because it is devoted more to the truth than to the parola ornata. While the comedic style need not be prosaic or low, since it is characterized by the ability to exploit whatever register it needs, Dante goes out of his way in Inferno XX to display it at its humblest, even humbling himself to use a word that he mocks in his treatise. The fact that introcque appears at the end of the canto, immediately preceding the reference to «la mia comedìa» at the beginning of canto XXI, is significant; the mark of a comedìa, a poem that tells the truth, is its freedom from stylistic restrictions. Vergil's text, on the other hand, is defined precisely in terms of its stylistic restrictions, as an alta tragedìa, i.e. a poem written exclusively in the high style. Inferno XX seeks to correct the Aeneid not only with respect to its content, regarding the founding of Mantova, but also with respect to its unremittingly high style. This last «flaw» is corrected by way of the digression on Mantova, which is deliberately written in the same unexciting prosaic manner which characterizes the canto's opening verses. In other words, I am suggesting that the tedium of the digression, experienced by so many naive readers, is intentional: Dante not only makes Vergil rewrite the story of Mantova, but he has him write it in a style that is distinctively not his own.

      The simplest and most orthodox type of terzina in the Comedy is, as Valerio Lucchesi demonstrates, the type he calls «closed», in which the metrical unit corresponds to the syntactic unit. As the poem progresses, however, Dante has ever more frequent recourse to techniques such as enjambement, resulting in more «open» terzine. Longer periods which overflow the bounds of the metrical unit are, as Lucchesi points out, «often used to impart variety, to raise the tone of the narration, or to confer solemnity, eloquence, or pathos on the speeches of his protagonists» (187). One might expect that Vergil's discourse on Mantova, his most personal speech in the poem, coming in the canto where his epic is singled out for its loftiness, would be written by Dante in a particularly elevated style. Instead, we find that the opposite is true: the digression consists of an unusually long series of unrelievedly basic terzine, in which the end of the terzina is consistently the end of the sentence. The prosaic simplicity of the digression is the more noticeable because the section which immediately precedes it, devoted to introducing the diviners, is characterized by syntactic units which regularly overflow the metrical unit; the presentations of Amphiaraus, Tiresias, Arruns, and Manto are all accomplished in sentences which require two terzine. We recall the convoluted verses on Amphiaraus, where the transition from one terzina to the next coincides with the interpolated comments of the Thebans witnessing his downfall: «per ch'ei gridavan tutti: 'Dove rui, / Anfïarao? perché lasci la guerra?'» (33-34). Following the digression, we find the equally complex description of Eurypylus in lines 106-111; here the sentence is interrupted by a parenthetica1 remark inserted at the terzina break: «fu __ quando Grecia fu di maschi vòta, / sì ch'a pena rimaser per le cune __ / augure» (108-110). Both passages are strikingly different from the perfect closed terzina, in which each line constitutes a complete syntactic unit, with which Vergil begins his discussion of his native city (58-60):

      Poscia che 'l padre suo di vita uscìo
e venne serva la città di Baco,
questa gran tempo per lo mondo gio.

      Vergil continues in this way for fourteen terzine; if we add the terzina in which Dante reacts to Vergil's account, and the terzina in which he asks about other diviners, we accumulate sixteen terzine of one sentence each (48 verses) before arriving at the syntactic relief of lines 106-111. In itself such an accumulation does not seem so unusual; looking at the cantos on either side of Inferno XX, we find that canto XIX contains a spate of fifteen end-stopped terzine in a row (22-46), while canto XXI contains thirteen such (97-135). The similarities, however, are only apparent, for in cantos XIX and XXI the chains of closed terzine belong to passages of fast-paced dialogue and action, in one case involving Pope Nicholas and in the other the Malebranche where the dramatic content disguises the metrical regularity. In canto XX, on the other hand, instead of action or dialogue we find an account rendered graceless and choppy by the short and symmetrical units of which it is composed, units which parse out the syllables of Manto's story with a deadeningly equal emphasis: the location of Lake Garda, Manto's death, Mantova's medieval vicissitudes are all related with the same numbing detachment. Indeed, the quantitative emphasis placed on geography serves to further distance the narrator from the object of his narration, in so far as this is Manto; of the 42 lines required for her story, fully half are devoted to the course of the river Mincio as it leaves Lake Garda, heading for the Po and the swamps around Mantova.

      The story of Mantova is told in a style which is remarkably nonVergilian, which could indeed be defined as a parody of the seamless classical line for which Vergil is renowned. Such stylistic inversion befits the revisionism of the account. In the passage of Aeneid X which Dante is revising, Ocnus is a hero sailing to the aid of Aeneas; his ship's prow is emblazoned with the figure of the river god Mincius referred to as the son of the lake from which the river flows, Benacus (205-206). Dante omits the man, Ocnus, the hero of the Vergilian account, in order to dwell at length on «Benaco», otherwise known as Lake Garda, and the lake's «son», the river Mincio (61-81):

      Suso in Italia bella giace un laco
a piè de l'Alpe che serra Lamagna
sovra Tiralli c'ha nome Benaco.
      Per mille fonti, credo, e più si bagna
tra Garda e Val Camonica e Pennino
de l'acqua che nel detto laco stagna.
      Loco è nel mezzo là dove 'l trentino
pastore e quel di Brescia e 'l veronese
segnar poria, s'e' fesse quel cammino.
      Siede Peschiera, bello e forte arnese
da fronteggiar Bresciani e Bergamaschi,
ove la riva 'ntorno più discese.
      Ivi convien che tutto quanto caschi
ciò che 'n grembo a Benaco star non può
e fassi fiume giù per verdi paschi.
      Tosto che l'acqua a correr mette co,
non più Benaco, ma Mencio si chiama
fino a Govèrnol, dove cade in Po.
      Non molto ha corso, ch'el trova una lama,
ne la qual si distende e la 'mpaluda;
suol di state talor esser grama.

At this point, twenty-one verses later, the vergine cruda is reintroduced into the story. Dante's redistribution of emphasis is in fact a reordering of Vergilian priorities, as is indicated by the stream of anachronisms that flood the new Vergilian account; the Latin Benacus is now the place where the bishoprics of Trent, Brescia, and Verona converge. Dante has redesigned the founding of Vergil's heroic birthplace in such a way that geographical genealogy takes precedence over heroic genealogy (which is suppressed to the degree of making Manto a virgin), the quotidian realities of landscape over the exalted exploits of heroes.

      Extrapolating from the passages on Mantova to the larger narratives in which they are situated, Inferno XX can be read as a commentary on Aeneid X, one of whose themes is mankind's tragic ignorance: «Aeneas ignarus abest» («Aeneas is unknowing and away» [25]), complains Venus at the council of the gods with which Book X opens, and her adversary Juno repeats «Aeneas ignarus abest: ignarus et absit» («Aeneas is unknowing and away; let him be unknowing and away!» [85]). Two-thirds of the way through the book, Turnus too will be called «ignarus» (666); even more telling is the commentary on the «unknowing mind of man» which follows Turnus' exaltation at the death of Pallas, whose baldric will later seal his fate: «nescia mens hominum fati sortisque futurae» («O mind of man, ignorant of the end and future fate» [501]). So speaks Vergil, the poet of «fati nescia Dido» («Dido, unknowing of her fate» [I, 299]), himself the propheta nescius, the unknowing prophet.

      For Dante, the issue entails no tragic ignorance, but our ability to read. He, for one, is quite sure of his ability to read correctly in his Epistle to the Florentines, where he warns his former citizens of the destruction that will attend their erring ways; indeed, how can he fail to read correctly, when the very signs he must decipher are labeled «veridici», «truth-telling»: «Et si presaga mens mea non fallitur, sic signis veridicis sicut inexpugnabilibus argumentis instructa prenuntians» («And if my prophetic mind does not err, that announces the future instructed both by truth-telling signs and by unassailable arguments» [Ep. VI, 17]). Thus, if Vergil is a propheta nescius, an unwitting prophet capable of error (like the «tragic error and mistaken prophecies of Troy», to which Jupiter refers in Aeneid X, 110), Dante is an unconditionally true prophet, the bearer of a «presaga mens», a prophetic mind instructed by truth-telling signs. It seems only fitting that the commentaries to the Epistles should point to a passage from none other than the tenth book of the Aeneid as the source for Dante's presaga mens. The passage in question follows the death of Lausus, in itself a kind of tragic balancing of the death of Pallas; Lausus' father, Mezentius, as yet ignorant of his son's death, interprets all too keenly the wails he hears, deciphering them with his «praesaga mali mens»: «adgnovit longe gemitum praesaga mali mens» («his ill-boding mind knew their moans from afar» [843]). Thus the passage from the Aeneid, which stands as one more testament to tragic human ignorance, to knowledge acquired only when it is too late, is translated __ with the significant omission of «mali» __ into the ringingly confident clairvoyance of Dante's Epistle.

      Mezentius' dark knowledge is transformed into Dante's bright knowledge, the same knowledge which underlies Inferno XX and which ultimately condemns Vergil. The disjunction between Dante and the inhabitants of the fourth bolgia is established even before the beginning of canto XX, in the last line of canto XIX, where he tells us that «Indi un altro vallon mi fu scoperto», thus insinuating revelation into the discourse: «mi fu scoperto» will be immediately echoed by «scoperto fondo» of XX, 5. Dante appropriates for himself as scriba the contrapasso of describing the prophets in their own language: thus, we find not only the repetition of scoperto, but the adverb mirabilmente, with its etymological undertones relating to miraculous revelation, used in the opening description of the diviners: «mirabilmente apparve esser travolto / ciascun tra 'l mento e 'l principio del casso» (11-12). Perhaps most suggestive in this regard is the canto's first line: «Di nova pena mi conven far versi...». The diviners wanted to be like God, Who is defined in Purgatorio X as «Colui che mai non vide cosa nova» (94). God never saw a new thing, because nothing is new to Him; nothing is new to Him, because He sees everything before it happens, before it becomes «new». For God, Who knows the future, there are no surprises in store, no new things ever on the horizon. The diviners aspired to precisely this condition; they divine in order to become divine, see in order to reach a vantage from which there will be nothing left to see. They desired to know all the «new things», to achieve a state in which such things would no longer be new: God's own state. Thus, there is a particular irony in Dante's making of their appearance a «nova pena»; they appear to the pilgrim as one of those very marvels of the future, those new things that they were dedicated to making «un-new», to obliterating by foretelling.

      We are left with a final problem, the problem of an author who is himself dedicated to obliterating the new things that await us upon our deaths. Dante would say that he foretells what we may expect to find after death in order that we may choose more wisely in life. He is distinguished from his colleagues in the fourth bolgia only by his ability to persuade us that he alone is a teller of truth; indeed, the only way to distinguish one presaga mens from another is to distinguish between those that are truthfully inspired and those that are not. Although the see-ers of canto XX were not instructed by «signis veridicis», they are nonetheless Dante's colleagues, differentiated from him by the outcome of their experiments but similar to him in their desire to see. There is a Ulyssean dimension to the diviners, as there is to the poet himself. (It is worth noting in this respect that, for Aquinas, the quest for knowledge can degenerate into the vice of curiositas as a result of the «inordinateness of the appetite and effort to find out»; one example of the abuse of true knowledge is when a person «seeks to foretell the future by recourse to demons» [Summa Theologiae, 2a2ae, q.167 («de curiositate»), 1].) The diviners' retroso calle will be evoked by the retrosi passi of the prideful Christians condemned in Purgatorio X, the trapassar del segno __ the prideful transgressing of the limits set for humans __ is the common denominator that unites Ulysses, the diviners, and Dante himself. Thus, Benvenuto was undoubtedly right when he wrote of canto XX that «praesens negotium tangebat autorem ipsum, qui aliquantulum delectatus est in astrologia, et voluit praedicere aliqua futura, sicut patet in libro isto» («the present matter touches the author himself, who to some degree took pleasure in astrology, and wanted to predict some future things, as appears in this same book» [2: 67]). I take issue only with Benvenuto's qualification «aliqua futura», by which he most likely intends the Comedy's specific prophecies regarding the veltro, the DXV, and so forth. More to the point is the fact that the entire poem is a prophecy, a revelation concerning matters hidden to ordinary mortals, matters not given to us to see. In canto XX Dante is dealing, as nowhere else, with versions of himself, immeasurably distanced because of their potential proximity; the uneasy surface of Inferno XX conceals the outermost limits of its author's textual daring.*

New York University

*Lecture given at the University of Virginia on November 4, 1988. __ This essay is the slightly longer version of a lectura originally composed in 1982 for the California Lectura Dantis. I acknowledge the kind permission of the University of California Press for its prepublication here.


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