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Saturday, April 9, 2016

Time of caucus --- and Cacus!

Hercules kills Cacus
by John Sibbick

Commonplace first: Reading the Classics is worth the trouble. These very days Ovid's Fasti (Feasts) in Latin, bought by chance, are proving a gold mine from both a literary and a historical/cultural viewpoint.

Let us examine just one interesting episode in book 1, namely Hercules killing the monster called Cacus. The monster is not described except by saying that 'he' is terrifying and very strong. His behavior is more meaningful, though: Cacus lives in a hidden cave, "almost impossible to be found even by wild beasts," and spits fire from his mouth. In one word, a dragon. This may explain why a reader and admirer of Ovid, Dante, in Inferno 25 shows him as a centaur with a dragon perching on his shoulders. The centaur is a personal interpretation of Dante's from other sources, according to which Cacus was "half human and half beast," but the dragon can well come from Ovid's Fasti. In this line, in the 1980s the great British illustrator John Sibbick, famous especially as a paleo-artist, was in his own right when he portrayed Cacus as a modern dragon, i.e. a dinosaur.

Another feature of Ovid's Cacus, who hangs parts of human corpses all around his den, would be reused by Ariosto in Orlando Furioso as a model for the Egyptian ogre.

For more insights into Dante and the fantasy genre: