When Juno was incensed with Semele
and thus, against the Theban family
had shown her fury time and time again,
then Athamas was driven so insane
that, seeing both his wife and their two sons,
as she bore one upon each arm, he cried:
"Let’s spread the nets, to take the lioness
together with her cubs along the pass";
and he stretched out his talons, pitiless,
and snatched the son who bore the name Learchus,
whirled him around and dashed him on a rock;
she, with her other burden, drowned herself.
And after fortune, turned against the pride
of Troy, which had dared all, so that the king
together with his kingdom, was destroyed,
then Hecuba was wretched, sad, a captive;
and after she had seen Polyxena
dead and, in misery, had recognized
her Polydorus lying on the shore,
she barked, out of her senses, like a dog –
her agony had so deformed her mind.
But neither fury – Theban, Trojan – ever
was seen to be so cruel against another,
in rending beasts and even human limbs,
as were two shades I saw, both pale and naked,
who, biting, ran berserk in just the way
a hog does when it’s let loose from its sty.
The one came at Capocchio and sank
his tusks into his neck so that, by dragging,
he made the hard ground scrape against his belly.
And he who stayed behind, the Arentine,
trembled and said: "That phantom’s Gianni Schicchi
and he goes raging, rending others so." (Inf. XXX, 1-33)
In the first two mythological anecdotes, Dante suggests that certain uncontrollable emotions – while rendering one bestial – are appropriate in context and may even be worthy of pity from an onlooker. Athamas, driven to madness by the gods, and Hecuba, howling like a dog for her murdered children, inspire compassion in readers, and rightly so. However, Gianni Schicchi – attacking others in the midst of his maniacal rage – does little to move readers to see him in a favorable light. Indeed, his animalistic attributes (his tusks), unlike Hecuba’s pathetic howl of grief, are menacing and even make his fellow shades "tremble" in fear.