Dante and Virgil among the giants.
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The same tongue that had stung me with such shame then eased me with the balm of kindness. Apparently, Achilles’ spear could do the same – it struck with pain, but it could also heal the wound it made.Dante begins here with a brief segue that completes the action of the previous canto. He does this with an allusion to the spear of Achilles that had magical powers. Again, he borrows the story from … Continue reading
So, climbing up its lowest bank, we left Malebolge and that last vale of madness. There was silence all around us, and it was hard to see because there was even less light here than we had higher up. But as we walked along the plain, this silence was broken by a sudden horn-blast that made thunder sound dim. Right away, I looked in the direction where it came from. I thought about Charlemagne’s tragic defeat at Roncesvalles, and how Roland’s horn sounded too late. But even that sad horn wasn’t nearly as ominous as what had broken the silence around us.At last, climbing out of the tenth bolgia, the travelers leave the infernal region of Malebolge, the eighth of the nine circles of Hell. They have been moving down through it since Canto 18. Because … Continue reading
Still looking in the direction of that sound, I began to make out what looked like several high towers. Turning to Virgil, I asked: “My master, what city is that over there?”
He replied: “Because you’re too far away, your imagination is clouding the truth. When we get there, you’ll see just how much the distance has fooled you. Let’s keep going.” But in a moment he took my hand in both of his and said softly, “Let me tell you now before we go any farther. This will clear up all your doubts: those aren’t towers out there. They’re giants. But they’re standing along the banks of a great well, and you’re only seeing them from the belly up.”
When fog slowly clears away so you can see what was hidden in its mists, so my confusion also cleared away as we got closer to that well. But it was now replaced by fear. You know how Monteriggioni is surrounded by great walls topped with many towers. Along the edge of that well stood the fearsome giants whom Jupiter forever threatens from the skies when he thunders.Recalling that it’s getting more and more dim as Dante and Virgil descend further into Hell, the initial lack of precision in this scene adds to its believability and sets Virgil up to correct … Continue reading
By now, we were close enough that I could make out the features of one of them – face, shoulders, chest, belly, and two great arms. Believe me, after making creatures like these, Nature did the right thing by breaking the molds so Mars couldn’t have more of them to do his evil bidding. On the other hand, whales and elephants and other immense creatures can be excused because they lack intellect. If these great creatures did have intellect, no one could survive against them if it was mixed with brute force and malice.Coming close to the first giant and sizing him up, Dante reflects on the fact that creatures like these once populated the earth, borrowing the idea not only from ancient mythology but also from … Continue reading
As I looked at him, this giant’s face was about the size of the great bronze pine cone in Rome, and the rest of him that I could see down to his waist was in like proportions. And if three tall Frisians along the bank there stood on each other’s shoulders, they still wouldn’t have reached to his hair. I would estimate that the distance from his neck to his waist was about 30 feet!In making his comparisons throughout his journey, Dante often recalls sights he’s seen on his travels. Here he recalls the great bronze pinecone in Rome. It stands almost 12 feet high and was … Continue reading
Seeing us, that giant shouted: “Rafel may ameche zabi almi!” No better gibberish could have been spoken by those proud lips, and Virgil shouted back at him: “Shut up, you brainless idiot! Take it out on your horn when you feel the heat of anger. If you’re confused, feel around your neck and you’ll find the belt that holds it against your chest!” Turning to me with a smirk, he said: “This is Nimrod. It’s because of him the world no longer has a common language. His own words accuse him! He’s not worth wasting our breath on. Just as we can’t understand him, he can’t understand us.”In this most unusual passage, the elegant and beloved Virgil erupts with such vitriol that we hardly recognize him. If his rebuke of Dante at the end of the previous canto was unnerving, this one … Continue reading
Our journey kept us turning to the left, and we had to go quite a ways – more than an arrow shot – to reach the next giant. He was bigger than Nimrod, and more fierce. I have no idea who it might have been that chained this monster up – one arm bound behind him, the other bound in front. And from neck to waist that huge chain was wound around him five times.
Virgil told me about him: “This one here, in his pride, thought he could pit his strength against Jove. As you can see, this is the prize he won for trying! His name is Ephialtes. Far back in time those huge arms of his were raised in rebellion against the panicked gods. Bound as he is, he’ll never move those arms again.”Dante reminds us now of the travelers’ movements – along the edge of the well to the left, as with most of their turns, and notes that it’s much farther to the next giant than it was from the … Continue reading
Curious me, I asked him: “Do you think it’s possible that I could see the fearsome Briareus? I’d really love that.”
He replied: “Actually, he’s chained up just like this one here, except that he’s far more frightening to look at. But, he’s also too far away from us. Closer up is Antaeus, who’s not chained, and he can talk. He’s the one who will put us down right at the bottom of Hell.” No sooner did Virgil say this than Ephialtes suddenly shook himself violently. I can’t imagine that an earthquake ever shook a tower with such horrible force! It frightened me so terribly that I knew I was going to die right there! I give thanks for those chains!Apart from sheer curiosity, it’s hard to know why Dante was so intent on seeing the giant Briareus. Whatever his reasons were, Virgil dissuades him from pursuing the matter by telling him that … Continue reading
Leaving that raging brute behind, we arrived where Antaeus stood. From the edge of the well to his head was at least 20 feet! And Virgil called up to him: “Antaeus! We need you to take us and put us down on icy Cocytus below. Your great strength is remembered in the world above when you feasted on lions at Zama, where Scipio later defeated Hannibal. And, strong as you were, you didn’t join your brother giants in their rebellion at Phlegra. So, please, we appeal to you, heed our simple request. Don’t make us appeal to your evil brothers, Tityus or Typhon. This living man here can still keep your story alive in the world above because he has a long life ahead of him – unless the One calls him before his time.”Antaeus, a benign giant, is the last one we will meet. He was the son of Neptune and Earth and is the only one of the giants (apart from Nimrod) who did not threaten violence against the gods at the … Continue reading
Hearing Virgil’s request, Antaeus quickly stretched out those great hands of his, whose strength Hercules once felt in ancient times.But, as noted earlier, Hercules may have felt the strength of Antaeus’ hands, but in that wrestling match, it was Hercules who killed him. He gently grasped Virgil, who then beckoned me to follow him: “Come here, now. I’ll hold you.” Holding on to each other and together held by Antaeus, we were all as one. If you’ve been to Bologna, you’ll recall how the Garisenda tower seems to fall over when you stand against its leaning side and watch the clouds move over it. It was like that as I watched Antaeus bend over to pick us up. Thinking that he would fall over on us, I wished with all my heart that we had taken a different route! But once he had us in hand he gently set us down where the bottom of Hell contains Lucifer and Judas. Then, that leaning giant straightened himself up, looking like the mast of a great ship.This closing scene bears a strong resemblance to what happened in Canto 17. Dante and Virgil needed to get down the great cliff from the fiery plain to Malebolge. Here, they need to get down from the … Continue reading
Notes & Commentary
|↑1||Dante begins here with a brief segue that completes the action of the previous canto. He does this with an allusion to the spear of Achilles that had magical powers. Again, he borrows the story from Ovid, this time from his poem entitled, Remedia Amoris (ll. 43-44). At the same time, though he didn’t know Greek, he may have known of this story from Homer and from other sources. The legend is that Achilles’ father, Peleus, received the spear from Chrion the centaur (recall Chiron in Canto 12) and gave it to his son. It had both the power to wound and to heal.|
|↑2||At last, climbing out of the tenth bolgia, the travelers leave the infernal region of Malebolge, the eighth of the nine circles of Hell. They have been moving down through it since Canto 18. Because they are descending even further down into Hell, the place they find themselves in is even more dim than it was in the higher circles. Dante seems to relish the silence they experience after the madness they’ve witnessed above, starting with the panders and seducers, then flatterers, simoniacs, and practitioners of the occult arts, followed by grafters, hypocrites, and thieves, and ending with deceivers, schismatics, and counterfeiters.
Quietly making their way along what turns out to be a large plain leading away from the final wall of Malebolge, the silence is broken suddenly by the sound of an immense horn. While the thunderous blast makes Dante look for where it came from, it also reminds him of the scene when the forces of Charlemagne were routed. His nephew, Roland (see the Song of Roland), was bringing up the rear-guard of Charlemagne’s army through the Pyrenees when they were attacked at Roncesvalles and killed by the Saracens. When the attack started, Roland should have blown his signal horn, but he was too proud to do so, and was also killed in the battle. However, with his dying breath he blew the horn so loudly that Charlemagne heard it 8 miles away! The king, deceived into thinking that Roland was simply hunting, ignored the signal. The note of treachery “sounded” here will be taken up in full once Dante and Virgil reach the bottom of Hell in the next canto.
|↑3||Recalling that it’s getting more and more dim as Dante and Virgil descend further into Hell, the initial lack of precision in this scene adds to its believability and sets Virgil up to correct Dante’s faulty vision. Virgil has been here before. But notice that he doesn’t correct Dante immediately. Instead, while moving on he simply stretches out Dante’s confusion by putting the details into words and blames it on his companion’s overactive imagination. Dante the Poet at this point is probably chuckling to himself as he writes this because his whole Poem is the product of his imagination and, time and again, he has and will continue to claim that every bit of it is true! No one has ever carried this off like Dante. A similar scene of faulty vision will, by the way, repeat itself in Canto 34. One might think of the entire Poem as a slow correction or conversion of Dante the Pilgrim’s ability to “really” see.
Then Virgil stops. After his harsh rebuke at the end of the previous canto, perhaps he thinks twice about whether he should let Dante go on believing that what he sees off in the distance is a city with its towers. But no. With a tender gesture, recalling his tender words at the beginning of this canto, he takes Dante’s hand in both of his and tells him what’s really out there: giants! And to add to Dante’s amazement, they’re standing in a deep well up to their waists (a pose similar to Farinata standing in his fiery tomb in Canto 10). What we’ll soon discover is that these giants are actually standing on the very floor of Hell itself. One can imagine how tall these giants actually were (and we’ll soon get a sense of that) if, in the distance, they looked like city towers just from the waist up.
Having this issue cleared up, Dante’s fear takes over for a moment and he addresses the reader with what might be a tourist’s remembrance, but apropos of the present situation. If Italian cityscapes bristled with towers, the Italian countryside was strategically dotted with hilltops capped by walled-in cities with great towers built into the walls. Dante mentions one of the more famous of these hilltop castle-towns, Monteriggioni, about 18 miles north of Siena, which is very well-preserved to this day. Seeing the city from the distance one can well-imagine its 14 wall-towers as Dante’s “giants.” Of course, the giants here are all known mythological figures and, once again, Dante has them guarding the entrance to the ninth and final circle of Hell. They represent pride on a colossal level, having once threatened Jupiter. Now they stand here shuddering at Jupiter’s retribution. We will learn more about them momentarily.
A note on towers: In Dante’s time, many large Italian cities were filled with towers which, basically, were status symbols. Most of the time, the towers were attached to the homes of the wealthy and influential – the higher the tower, the more powerful the family was. These towers served several purposes. They were used to store goods in, they offered protection in times of strife within the neighborhood or city, and they could be used to attack enemies from. And it wasn’t unusual for a tower to be knocked down and destroyed if its owners were disgraced in some way, or if the political tides turned and their owners were expelled from the city. The most famous of these towered cities today is San Gimignano, about 30 miles south of Florence, which retains only 14 of its original 76 towers. Most other towered cities now have only a handful – in addition to Church bell towers.
|↑4||Coming close to the first giant and sizing him up, Dante reflects on the fact that creatures like these once populated the earth, borrowing the idea not only from ancient mythology but also from scripture: “There were the giants, those renowned men that were from the beginning, of great stature, expert in war. The Lord chose not them: neither did they find the way of knowledge. Therefore did they perish. And because they had not wisdom, they perished through their folly” (Baruch 3:26-28). Continuing his thoughts, he comforts himself by recalling that Nature, realizing the harm the giants could do, ceased creating them. Instead, he happily recalls, Nature continued creating immense creatures – but without intelligence, and thus without the ability to willfully cause harm.|
|↑5||In making his comparisons throughout his journey, Dante often recalls sights he’s seen on his travels. Here he recalls the great bronze pinecone in Rome. It stands almost 12 feet high and was created by Publius Cincius Salvius in 1st century AD Rome. Originally it stood atop a great fountain near the Pantheon. During the Middle Ages it was moved to a courtyard in the Old St. Peter’s, and this is probably when Dante saw it. It was moved to its present location in a large courtyard of the Vatican in 1608.
Comparing just the giant’s face with the pinecone the face is already an amazing 12 feet high. But Dante adds the three Frisians here and amplifies the truth of his comparison. Frisians, also known as Frieslanders, inhabit the northern coastal regions of the Netherlands. They are noted for their height, and Dante probably encountered some of them during his travels in the north. Three of them standing at the edge of the well, on each other’s shoulders, might have reached about 19 feet. Calculations vary among commentators, and many of them figure that this giant is about 70-80 feet tall!
|↑6||In this most unusual passage, the elegant and beloved Virgil erupts with such vitriol that we hardly recognize him. If his rebuke of Dante at the end of the previous canto was unnerving, this one directed at the blathering giant Nimrod is extraordinary for its length and intensity. At the same time, it’s his mid-tirade smirk at Dante that adds an entirely new dimension to his usually humorless guide, and it changes the tone of the encounter. We’ve seen Virgil angry before. A good example was at the beginning of Canto 7 when he and Dante encountered Plutus. Virgil’s nasty retort at that moment virtually deflated the jabbering Plutus. Here, the smirk actually makes the scene with Nimrod comically cruel. Furthermore, the smirk suggests the kind of adult condescension one would pay to a bothersome child: “Be quiet, Nimrod! Go play with your nice horn. See, it’s hanging around your neck.” One might make even more out of Virgil’s derision of Nimrod, knowing that he can’t speak. Actually, as we’ll see, most of the giants don’t speak, and Virgil’s rant may simply have been to reassure Dante who, as we’ll recall, was himself confused. It hardly need be noted that we talk to our pets all the time. And Hollander’s sense of humor must be highlighted here. He notes in his commentary: “Virgil treats Nimrod like a drunk at a New Year’s Eve party, telling him to give over attempts at speech and to content himself with blowing his horn.”
No one in the history of Dante study has deciphered Nimrod’s gibberish, though many have tried or offered suggestions. Hollander calls it “a veritable orgy of interpretive enthusiasm.” On one level, it’s simply a come-on to amplify the dim scene that Dante had already misinterpreted. And it’s appropriate that the classical master of elegant language – Virgil – should be the one to reply to him, even though Virgil’s response is hardly elegant.
Understanding the figure of Nimrod, whether real or fictional, is a complex historical enterprise. Even before he wrote the Inferno, Dante highlighted Nimrod in Part VII of his De Vulgari Eloquentia:
“Incorrigible humanity, therefore, led astray by the giant Nimrod, presumed in its heart to outdo in skill not only nature but the source of its own nature, who is God; and began to build a tower in Sennaar, which afterwards was called Babel (that is, ‘confusion’). By this means human beings hoped to climb up to heaven, intending in their foolishness not to equal but to excel their creator.”
If we simply remain with how Dante uses the story here in this canto, Nimrod first appears in the Book of Genesis (10:8-12) where he is described as both a mighty warrior and a mighty hunter. He is noted as the king of Shinar, that is, Babylon and its surrounding regions. He was also considered to be a great builder, and it may be in this context that he appears in the Judeo-Christian tradition – but not in the Bible itself – as the one who built, or directed the building of, the Tower of Babel. This story is related in Genesis 11:1-9. Note the subtle connection between this biblical story of language and pride on the one hand, and Nimrod’s “babble” as Dante the Poet presents it here. The biblical story begins by telling us that the whole world spoke only one language. One can imagine what kind of world that would have been, and what kind of world we would experience today were that the case. Countless scenarios present themselves.
As the story continues, a great migration is taking place from the east and people are settling in the land of Shinar. This is the (tenuous) connection with Nimrod. After making bricks, the people decide to build a great city with a tower that reaches into the heavens. This is most likely a reference to the ziggurats that were common in the Near East at that time and whose ruins one can still see today. They were great “pyramid-like” structures with temples to the gods at the top. Unlike the Egyptian pyramids, though, they were not tombs. In the mean time, God sees what the people are doing, and decides to put a stop to their prideful thinking that they can reach God by means of a tower. Cleverly, God confuses the people’s languages, the work ceases, and the peoples scatter over the earth according to their language groups. The story ends with this statement at verse 9: “That is why it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the speech of all the world. From there the Lord scattered them over all the earth.”
The reader will note that it is Virgil who perpetuates the connection between Nimrod and the fact that world no longer has a single language. And yet, as noted above, the connection exists in the tradition but not in the text. Nimrod seems always to have been a giant, and so he’s placed appropriately here. The Genesis text refers to him as a “mighty” warrior and as a “mighty” hunter. Some early (and even later) Christian writers, including St. Augustine, directly refer to him as a giant and connect him with Babylon and the Tower. In fact, Dante may be using the biblical account as context and Augustine’s several mentions of Nimrod as a giant (City of God XVI:3-4) as evidence. Even Brunetto Latini from Canto 15 writes in his Tresor (I,24): “Nimrod built the Tower of Babel in Babylon, where the mixture of languages and the confusion of tongues occurred.” Genesis 6:4 refers to the Nephilim who, in many ancient cultures, were considered to be pre-historic giants or semi-divine beings that inhabited the earth. The major difference among the giants in this canto is the fact that Nimrod is a biblical giant. The rest, whom we shall soon meet, were from pagan mythology. On the other hand, they also have something in common: all of them are associated with prideful attempts to reach heaven or Olympus, and all were frustrated in their attempts.
|↑7||Dante reminds us now of the travelers’ movements – along the edge of the well to the left, as with most of their turns, and notes that it’s much farther to the next giant than it was from the last wall of Malebolge to Nimrod. Here we meet the fearsome giant Ephialtes, so fearsome that Dante, amazed, is careful to note the exact manner by which he is bound and chained, and he expresses admiration for the one who did this. Virgil explains – in very neutral terms compared to his dealings with Nimrod – that Hell is the “prize” for his pride and violence against God/s. Sons of Neptune, Ephialtes and his twin brother, Otus, are mentioned by Homer, Statius, and Virgil. It’s hard to imagine, but at nine years old and reputed to be at least 60 feet tall, they attempted to pile two mountains on top of Mount Olympus, storm heaven, and make war on the gods. Apollo and Diana slew both of them and the heavenly order of things was restored.|
|↑8||Apart from sheer curiosity, it’s hard to know why Dante was so intent on seeing the giant Briareus. Whatever his reasons were, Virgil dissuades him from pursuing the matter by telling him that Briareus was more fierce than Ephialtes and that Antaeus will help them. Then, as though on cue, Ephialtes’ violent struggling against his chains almost literally scares Dante to death.
Briareus, the son of Uranus and Earth, was a monstrosity of a giant. In his Aeneid (X:565ff) Virgil describes him as having had
“a hundred arms and a hundred hands they say, and breathed fire from fifty chests and mouths, when he clashed with as many like shields of his and drew as many swords against Jove’s lightning-bolts.”
No wonder Dante was so curious to see him. Joining the Titans in their revolt against the gods, Briareus was killed by Jove and buried under Mt. Etna in Sicily.
In his commentary, Musa notes that Virgil does a curious thing here. In order to distract Dante and keep him focused on their journey, “…Virgil dismisses [Dante’s] request by changing what he said about Briareus in his own poem.” One can compare the quote above with the rather bland “…he’s far more frightening to look at.” Once again, though, Hollander’s insightful humor takes this interesting situation even further:
“Dante wants to see Briareus because he has read about him in the Aeneid: he has a hundred arms and hands and breathes fire from fifty mouths and breasts. It is important to note that Virgil himself apologizes for this account: ‘they say,’ he writes, the same tactic that Dante has used when warning us against the excesses of pagan myth-making when he imports it to his own poem (see Inf. XXIX:63 and XXXI:4). Dante, however, wants to have some fun at his fellow poet’s expense. Briareus, Virgil explains (like a host who does not want to produce a particularly embarrassing guest at a party), is way up ahead there, and he looks just like Ephialtes, anyway. What Dante has made his auctor do is to apologize for including such unbelievable rot in the divine Aeneid, while allowing Virgil to escape the discomfort of actually having to gaze upon the ‘normal,’ Dantean version of a proper giant, human in everything but his size. Most commentators do not perceive the humor of this moment.”
|↑9||Antaeus, a benign giant, is the last one we will meet. He was the son of Neptune and Earth and is the only one of the giants (apart from Nimrod) who did not threaten violence against the gods at the great battle of Phlegra (located on the present-day peninsula of Kassandra in Chalkidiki, Greece). He lived in the area of Libya and was renowned for his strength. Because his mother was Gaia (Earth), contact with the earth continually renewed his strength. Discovering this, Hercules defeated and killed him in a wrestling match by holding him up and off the ground. As Dante has done with other characters in Hell, so Virgil here not only flatters Antaeus, but urges him to help them for the sake of his fame which Dante – “this living man here” – can keep alive on earth. And, being the most benign of the six giants standing in the great well, he’s obviously the most likely to help the travelers overcome the last barrier on their journey to the bottom of Hell as Geryon did at the end of Canto 17. In line with Virgil’s flattery of Antaeus, it’s worth including Hollander’s insight that, in his request for the giant’s assistance, Virgil actually (cleverly?) quotes historical items that are drawn from Lucan. We’re very accustomed to Dante drawing from many different sources. Not Virgil.
Then, in quick succession, Virgil’s request includes other names and points of interest that lend continual reality to this canto. Cocytus is the name given to the last of the four rivers of Dante’s Hell. It is frozen and constitutes the very bottom of Hell – its ninth and last circle. The Battle at Zama (about 100 miles southwest of Tunis) marks the place where the Second Punic War ended in 202 BC with Scipio defeating Hannibal. It is said that Antaeus lived in a great cave not far from the battle site. Tityus and Typhon are the last of the six giants that stand in the great well leading to the bottom of Hell. Dante seems to ignore them except in this mention by Virgil. Tityus was born of Zeus and the mortal princess Elara. Well before his birth he was so large that he burst out of his mother’s womb. Killed for attempting to rape Leto, the mother of Apollo and Artemis, he was punished by being bound in the underworld and every night two vultures ate out his liver which, by morning, would regenerate. (Note the similarity in punishment between Tityus and Prometheus.)
Typhon was a monstrous giant, one of the most feared and dangerous, and said to be so large he could reach the sky. He was the son of Gaia and Tartarus. Like other giants here, he made war against the gods – in his case, attempting to overthrow Zeus, who killed him with his thunderbolts. He is often described as a mixture of features: serpentine, winged, and human. In his Theogony, the Greek poet Hesiod offers this amazing description:
“Strength was with his hands in all that he did and the feet of the strong god were untiring. From his shoulders grew a hundred heads of a snake, a fearful dragon, with dark, flickering tongues, and from under the brows of his eyes in his marvelous heads flashed fire, and fire burned from his heads as he glared. And there were voices in all his dreadful heads which uttered every kind of sound unspeakable; for at one time they made sounds such that the gods understood, but at another, the noise of a bull bellowing aloud in proud ungovernable fury; and at another, the sound of a lion, relentless of heart; and at another, sounds like whelps, wonderful to hear; and again, at another, he would hiss, so that the high mountains re-echoed.”
It’s curious that Dante asked Virgil to see the ferocious Briaraeus but seems to pass by Typhon who is worse. On the other hand, it was most likely the case that after he and Virgil encountered Nimrod, they continued moving around the edge of the great well to their left. Soon they encountered Ephialtes. At that point, Dante asked about seeing Briareus, but Virgil warned him against it. Finally, they come to Antaeus, the last giant they encounter. Tityus and Typhon are only mentioned at this point, and it’s probable that they along with Briareus are standing further along the circle of the well beyond Antaeus. It might be that one of these three was to the right of Dante and Virgil when they first encountered Nimrod, but they turned and followed a leftward path along the rim of the well.
Finally, the last part of this (flattering) passage deserves mention because Virgil seems to make a prediction that Dante will live a long life (during which he will continue to tell the story of Antaeus, of course).
|↑10||But, as noted earlier, Hercules may have felt the strength of Antaeus’ hands, but in that wrestling match, it was Hercules who killed him.|
|↑11||This closing scene bears a strong resemblance to what happened in Canto 17. Dante and Virgil needed to get down the great cliff from the fiery plain to Malebolge. Here, they need to get down from the top of the well of the giants to the bottom of Hell. In Canto 17, it was Virgil who summoned Geryon and negotiated with him. Virgil does the same here. Virgil was the first to mount the back of Geryon and the first to be grasped by Antaeus. Dante had the fright of his life as Geryon flew them down along the great waterfall, and here he fears that Antaeus will fall on them. And, finally, both Geryon and Antaeus quickly leave the scene when their respective roles are completed.
At the same time, what’s different about these two cantos is that in this one Dante offers another comparison so the reader gets a sense of what he was feeling when Antaeus bent over to pick he and Virgil up. His mention of the Garisenda Tower, very near the university in Bologna, is both clever and delightfully “touristy.” And it’s the last of several points in this canto added to increase the sense of reality. It’s also the second time in this canto that he alludes to a significant Italian landmark – the first one being Monterigioni. There are actually two notable towers in Bologna, they are quite close to each other, and both of them lean. The Garisenda Tower was erected by the Garisendi brothers in 1110. It stands 163 feet tall and leans 10 feet off perpendicular! Originally, it stood much taller, but it was shortened in 1355. The Asinelli Tower next to it stands 320 feet and leans four feet off the perpendicular. As noted earlier in this canto, major Italian cities seemed to bristle with towers, and Medieval Bologna had close to 100 according to modern estimates. We know that Dante was there, probably several times in different capacities, and he surely did what every tourist (and resident) does: he stood under the leaning side of the Garisenda when a cloud passed overhead and enjoyed the thrill of the illusion that the tower was falling over on him. And so, as this canto opened with Dante thinking he saw towers in the dim distance, he closes it with the pleasant recollection of a real one. But now – having encountered giants and towers – we are left standing on the floor of Hell.