Dantes? Cacus Essay, Research Paper
Character review: Of Cacus in Dantes? Divine Comedy
While on his famed excursion into the depths of Hell, Dante and his guide Virgil, have an encounter with the vile half-human Cacus. Whom is this one they call Cacus and what abominable thing did he have to do, to earn himself a place as one of the tormentors in the Inferno? Little is know about Cacus even in 1300s? because Dante had to have Virgil retell the legend of Cacus so people would understand how Cacus fit into this place of Hell.(Canto XXV line 25) Virgil himself had had this same legend retold in his work The Aeneid. In ?The Aeneid? the legend is told by King Evander (book VIII line 255)to compare Cacus with the evil Turnus of his story.
The word Cacus was taken from the Greek word kakos which means evil.(Anderson 166) These similar sounding words were meant, to be a play on words, for the Greeks so when they heard his name, they automatically associated him with evil. In Latin his name is Furor impius, the monster of disorder.(71) In our language his name means nothing to us but, to the Greeks and Romans, his name left little doubt about his nature.
The image that Dante gives Cacus, describes him as a centaur, which is a race of monsters having the head, arms, and trunk of a man and the body and legs of a horse. Behind his head was ?a snorting dragon?with its wings outspread.?(canto XXV line 23) On the back of Dantes? Cacus were also many serpents that went ?from the haunch to the first sign of human form?.(line 21) There is absolutely nothing appealing about this creature giving him the appearance of ?evil incarnate?.(Anderson 71) Not only was the outward appearance of Cacus repulsive, so was his soul.
There are several different versions of the story of Cacus being that he is one of the lesser figures in Greek and Roman mythology. Most of the main points remain the same and the others were up to the storyteller.(Rose 325) Cacus was the son of Vulcan the god of fire and metalworking. (Being the son of the fire god Cacus was a fire breathing monster.) He lived in a cave, on the Palatine hill at the foot of Mount Aventine near the river Tiber.(Grant) The age of this story is shown here because the location described is where the city of Rome now sits, so this legend takes place at the future site of Rome.(Rose 325)(Anderson 71)(Grant) This is not the story nor the reason of how the city was started, it is just a coincidence. No matter how the story is told one thing is clear Cacus is a ?very old Roman deity?.(Rose 325) Cacus lived on human flesh, and his cave was littered with the skulls and bones of his victims. Virgil illustrates the monster?s cave best in his writings. ?The ground was always warm with recent slaughter; and fastened to the proud doorposts, the faces of men hung pale with putrefaction.?(bookVIII line259) As evil as he was, it was not the murder of humans that did him in, it was the stealing of cattle. This is where Hercules enters the story. Hercules was traveling back from fighting Geryon with a herd of cattle (which he had stolen from Geryon: heroic double-standard) and stopped to rest near the cave. While Hercules slept Cacus dragged four bulls and four heifers by the tail into his cave. When Hercules awoke and couldn?t find them he started to leave. As he was leaving one of the missing heifers answered one of his own cattle?s lowing, giving away the position of Cacus. Cacus quickly closed the mouth of the cave with a huge boulder. Hercules couldn?t find a way into the cave and searches for an entrance. In some of the earliest accounts Cacus has a sister named Caca who falls in love with Hercules and betrays Cacus? lair to Hercules.(Grant) But in Virgils? version he becomes so enraged he pushes the top of the mountain off revealing the interior of the cave. The hero then starts to hurl arrows and rocks down upon Cacus who responds with smoke and fire temporally blinding Hercules who becomes furious and jumps down upon Cacus.(bookVIII line334) In Dantes? version Hercules gives Cacus a hundred blows with a club.(CantoXXV line33) In The Aeneid Hercules strangles him, either way Cacus dies.
In the afterlife Cacus is sent to the Seventh ditch of Malebolge named ?The Thieves?.(CantoXXV) He is sent here because of his theft and because of his overwhelming desires for evil. ??then the mind of Cacus was driven wild with frenzy; lest he fail to dare or try all ways of crime or fraud,??(Virgil bookVIII line270) Cacus is so monumentally evil he is not sent here to be punished but to be the punisher, sentenced to chase the damned ?round perdition?s flames? for eternity.(Sorry Melville had to throw that in there, Cpt. Ahab wouldn?t mind.) When seen by Virgil and Dante he was in the process of doing his job, chasing Vanni Fucci, a notorious thief, who had just blasphemed.(cantoXXV line18)
The presentation of Cacus into the Inferno by Dante represents the mixed beliefs of the times bringing together both the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions of the time. By incorporating the ?Pagan Gods? by having them serve in assisting roles in a Christian hell. The reason he did this could be it made it a more interesting story and therefore sell more books or he actually had some belief in the Roman gods. Since he was a citizen of what is now Italy he was brought up to believe in both. At least he put them in hell and not necessary for salvation which was his predominating theme. That?s why Virgil was there in hell and not heaven because he didn?t have belief in the Christian faith. Dante did take the liberty to make Cacus a more colorful creature by adding the Dragon and the serpents, but he strayed just a little to far when, he changed Virgils? version of the legend. Being such an admirer of Virgil I?m surprised that he took one of the least accepted versions of the tale; and had Virgil retell it, knowing that was not what Virgil adhered to.(cantoXXV line25)
?The gates of Hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way:
But, to return, and view the cheerful skies;
In this, the task and mighty labour lies.?
Alighieri, D. The Divine Comedy, Translated By John Ciardi
New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1977.
Anderson W. S. The Art of The Aeneid
Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969.
Grant M. and Hazel J. Gods and Mortals in Classical Mythology
Spingfield, Mass.: G.& C. Merriam Company, 1992
Rose, H. J. Handbook of Greek Mythology
Boston: E. P. Dutton, 1929.
Virgil. The Aeneid of Virgil, A Translation by Allen Mandelbaum
London: University of California Press, 1981.