[poetry] Canto XXV.V

This is a mock canto from Dante’s Inferno, written by me as an assignment for 12th grade English around October 2006. It’s about intellectual property. I included the footnotes because they are a large part of the humor of the piece.

Canto XXV.V

We continued our journey through the pocket of thieves,
And passed by a group of several sinners
[3] Whose punishment differed from those before them.

Cowering in fear, they stared at the sky,
And as we approached a great serpent descended
[6] And, taking a sinner, flew back up with his prey.

The chosen one was then released from on high,
Falling to the ground on top of the others.
[9] This one was blamed for the pain he inflicted,

Though in truth he was like a bearer of bad news –
Not anywhere at fault, but punished for the crime
[12] By the unjust anger of a wrathful lord.

It was when one had just fallen from the stars
That we came to the sinners, who at our passing
[15] Stopped their fighting and turned to us.

One of them had a great flowing beard,
All of white, and appeared to me
[18] To be one who belonged much farther up.

Then my guide motioned me to stop,
And, turning to these, he spoke, saying,
[21] “I know your thoughts, and I can see

“Your confusion, at the sight of this shade
But I assure you, his presence here is not unjust.
[24] Do you question the wisdom of God?

“Speak to him, and you shall find the reason
And doubt no longer.” Prompted thusly,
[27] I spoke to the one my master referred to:

“O you who discovered the secrets of geometry,
You who so honored God’s creation, mathematics,
[30] You who crafted the theorem of the triangle,

“Why are you down so low in this Inferno?”
The Mathematician sighed with agony,
[33] And answered me thusly: “If only it were true

“That I had done what you have honored me for!
I am here for claiming that I had done such a deed
[36] I learned too late the truth of the matter –

“I had stolen from God the honor He deserved
For only He can craft such a theorem
[39] And I, the discoverer, claimed the honor of creation.”

Our talk was interrupted by another sinner
Who fell from the sky and landed painfully
[42] On top of the honored Mathematician.

The others attacked him, and in their fighting
They did God’s work for him, punishing themselves
[45] With as much fervor in this, their death

As they had in life, when they constantly quarreled
Over the rightful author of God’s work,
[48] Be it geometry, algebra, or the calculus,

Which was discovered, not created, by two at once:
Newton, the Englishman, and Liebniz, the German.
[51] These two also I saw in that group.

The descending sinner retaliated in kind,
And Pythagoras, once so tranquil, entered the fray.
[54] My master and I watched and waited for it to end.

“Why, cursed one, did you fall upon us?
Why, William Gates, do you do us harm?”
[57] The sinners cried as they slew one of their own.

Once they had killed the lord of software
They left us, trying to escape the serpent.
[60] All that remained was Gates’ shade’s corpse.

Then his scattered limbs began to reform
Drawn to his heart as scraps of metal
[63] Attract to a magnet, slowly at first,

But soon are firmly attached to the lodestone.
Thus once again he was as one made whole,
[66] Save the open sores that infected his body.

Seeing this marvel, we stayed a while longer,
And I moved to question the one who had fallen.
[69] I recognized his name as that of a scoundrel.

“You who founded the multicolored banner,”
I said, “I know your sin – you sold God’s work,
[72] Declaring your formulas your own creation.”

He stared at me with blank eyes, and said,
“You speak the truth, after a fashion.
[75] I did exert a right I should not, perhaps, have had.

“But he who does not protect his property
Is no worse than the ones who steal it.
[78] God did not inform me I was in error.

“And what else was I do to? I will be no gnu
Sinisterly infecting those who touch me.
[81] Nor will I be the penguin. I have more pride than that.”

With this defense as his last words, he left us,
Running off to join the rest of his kind,
[84] Lest the winged serpents single him out, again.

So we, too, having spent enough time on these shades
Moved along the bridge to the next pocket.
We had seen enough of these wretched sinners –
[88] It seemed then that all mathematicians were thieves.

1. This canto takes place in the Pocket of the Thieves, the seventh Malebolge. It would be inserted after Canto XXV.

4-12. These sinners, whose sin has not yet been identified but are known later to be those who stole from God, are punished by flying serpents, who descend from the sky, representing that they offended God directly. They are then dropped onto their fellow sinners, inflicting pain on both of them. Ironically, the one who is dropped is blamed by the other sinners for the fall, which was God’s work, and attacked by them. Once the fighting ceases, another serpent descends.

16-18. The sinner described here is Pythagoras, who claimed to own mathematics. This has little basis in history, as Pythagoras is not known to have claimed such ownership. The only possible explanation is that the author took the name of the Pythagorean Theorem to mean that Pythagoras believed he owned said theorem. For Pythagoras to make such a claim would have meant he had stolen from God, the true creator of mathematics, the honor that comes from that creation.

21-26. Vergil rebukes Dante for believing that Pythagoras belongs in Limbo, not deep in the Eighth Circle of hell.

35-39. The sin in this canto is the sin of theft from God, i.e. claiming possession of something that that it is illogical to possess, or taking credit for what is God’s work. This sin is akin also to blasphemy, as it involves denying God’s ownership of something, and claiming it for oneself. Both of the sinners named in this canto stole from God by claiming credit for mathematics, but as Gates says in 62-63 not all here were mathematicians.

40-42. The newcomer, Bill Gates, is notorious for his founding of Microsoft, which claims ownership of the source code to its software products. Source code is actually a form of mathematics, and thus impossible to possess. Unlike Pythagoras’, Gates’ sin was not motivated by a desire for honor, it was purely economic.
This canto does not attempt to explain how Bill Gates can be in hell when he is still alive; it is to be assumed that the canto takes place after his death.

46-60. The remaining sinners flee the scene of their crime, leaving Gates’ body behind them. They will, however, soon begin cowering again in fear.

66. This is a pun. The term “open sores” has been used by Microsoft in reference to Open Source.

70. The multicolored banner is a reference to Microsoft’s logo.

75-78. This “right” is the copyright taken out on source code. Gates seems to say that God should have told him what he did was wrong, which he did not apparently do, since nowhere in the bible or elsewhere is it said that copyrighting software is a sin. However, it is clear that claiming to own mathematics is a sin, and since the source code to software is a form of mathematics, it is also a sin to own the source code to software. At least, this is the author’s argument.

79-81. The reference to a “gnu” is really a reference to GNU, which stands for “GNU’s Not Unix”, an organization that advocates Free (as in Freedom) Software. The word “sinister” as used here is another pun, since a common term for copyrighting something so that it remains Free is “copyleft”. The “penguin” is another such reference, this time to Linux, a Free operating system whose mascot is a penguin.

88. Of course, not all mathematicians are thieves, but the sin in this canto is primarily manifested in mathematicians who claim to own math. It would seem, though, that it would be a similar sin to claim to own the stars, or the air, or anything like that, as those are all just as much theft from God as stealing mathematics is.

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