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by Dante Alighieri

Man and the Natural World Quotes

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Quote #10

[Capocchio to Dante]: "…see that I’m the shade of that Capocchio
whose alchemy could counterfeit fine metals
And you, if I correctly take your measure,
recall how apt I was at aping nature." (Inf. XXIX, 136-139)

Though the concept of alchemy – changing other metals into gold to enhance one’s wealth – seems beneficial to mankind, it violates the stable nature of the material world. By changing one substance into another, man is imposing his art on nature and mutating it to serve his selfish ends. Such is the crime of alchemy. But what is interesting is that Capocchio relates his sinful practice to Dante’s profession, writing. He implies that writing, like alchemy is just as "apt…at aping nature." This is very true since nothing is easier to change than the flow of words and one’s verbal or textual description of something in the material world, thereby rendering language potentially as invalid as alchemy. In one of the most frightening moments of the Inferno, the legitimacy of poetry (and language in general) is called into question. This sets up one of the crucial questions of the Inferno: is writing a legitimate (or natural) art? And, if not, is one justified in using such an art for Divine justice, as Dante is doing?

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