summaries

Summaries and Diagrams

Canto I

 

canto i, text

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 Night of Thursday, April 7 through dawn of Good Friday,

 April 8, 1300. The Dark Wood.

 
 

At the age of thirty-five Dante realizes that he is lost in the dark wood of worldliness, ignorance and sin. He tries to escape by climbing a sunlit mountain—an ascent which may signify his quest for enlightenment, or, less likely, his hopes for a better life through philosophy or even a successful career. His advance is blocked by three beasts which represent evil tendencies: the leopard (lust), the lion (pride), and the wolf (avarice). These will later correspond to the three divisions of Hell where the sins of incontinence, bestiality, and fraud are punished. In the course of the poem Dante personally admits to the first two.

 
 

As Dante is being driven back down the mountain he meets the shade of Virgil, his ideal poet. This representative of reason—blurred and dim from long silence, both in the world and in Dante's consideration—declares that the only route of escape is back down through Hell. That is, one must comprehend evil before one can master it. He also foretells the coming of a world redeemer, a Hound which will drive the wolf of covetousness back into Hell. The identity of the Hound is a subject of critical debate, but the most common interpretation is that it is Dante's future benefactor, Can Grande della Scala ("great dog"), ruler of Verona from 1308 to 1329 and an Imperial viceroy, whose birthplace, Verona, lies between Feltre and Montefeltro. However, the prediction may have been less specific, referring to an Emperor who would come at the end of the world to restore justice and balance. A third possibility - if one takes the word feltro to mean felt or coarse cloth— is that salvation would come from those who wear the robes of poverty. There are several other possibilities, and it is likely that Dante intended both a historical and spiritual meaning.

 
 

Virgil offers to lead Dante through Hell and Purgatory, after which "a soul more worthy" than he would become his guide, for Virgil is not permitted into Heaven. Dante accepts, and they set off on the journey.

 
 

Canto I hints at many themes which will be developed in the Comedy, not the least of which is its physical division into the wild and dark wood (2), corresponding to Hell, the lonely slope (29), corresponding to Purgatory, and the sunlit mountain (16, 77), corresponding to Heaven.

 
 

Thus begins this journey which is at once personal—a voyage of discovery and revelation for the sake of Dante's salvation— and universal— a moral and spiritual education for all men and women.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood________________ 

  Vestibule

     ...................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   .......................................Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       ...................................River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 

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Canto II

 

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Good Friday, April 8, sunset

At the foot of the mountain

 
 

The canto begins with Dante trying to prepare himself for the difficult journey. Lacking confidence, he compares himself to the two figures who had previously visited the realms of the dead: Aeneas, who visited the lower world in the sixth book of the Aeneid, and St. Paul, who tells us in 2 Cor. 12 that he traveled to Paradise. The former's experience prepared the way for the Empire, and the latter's was fundamental in strengthening the Church. By comparison, Dante asks, why should an ordinary man like himself, without a comparable mission, be granted visions of the afterlife? (Of course in this way Dante is comparing himself with these two.)

 
 

Note that this is the first of many instances in which Dante balances scriptural and classical illustrations, Church and Empire. Also, the easily overlooked words "You say that..." (13) may indicate that Dante did not accept the literal truth of Virgil's account but looked for a deeper poetic truth, just as he expects the reader to do in his own epic.

 
 

In order to bolster Dante's courage, Virgil must give arguments which go deeper than reason. Virgil himself is not the source of his own action. God has sanctioned Dante's rehabilitation, and Virgil, as an embodiment of reason, is only the messenger and agent. Virgil describes how the Virgin Mary, distressed at Dante's situation, summons Lucia (probably St. Lucia of Syracuse), who in turn summons Beatrice, who enlists the aid of Virgil. Mary is traditionally the embodiment of mercy and compassion; Lucia, or "light", seems to have been held in particular veneration by Dante (98); and Beatrice, whose name signifies blessedness, represents revelation, and is the core link in Dante's journey to salvation. Among their many poetic and spiritual functions, these three ladies serve to counter the three beasts in Canto I.

 
 

Dante's journey thus has its origin not in the dark wood but in Mary's act of pity, and the culmination of the journey will be back at its source, in Heaven.

 
 

Virgil finishes his account by asking why, with three such blessed ladies supporting him, as well as Virgil's own encouragement, Dante still does not have enough confidence to set out (121-126). Dante's strength revives, and he declares that Virgil is now his guide and master for the journey.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood________________ 

  Vestibule

     ...................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   .......................................Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       ...................................River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 
 

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Canto III

 

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Friday, April 8, evening

The Gate of Hell, the Vestibule of Hell

The indecisive

 
 

The inscription above the open Gate of Hell is made especially ominous by the repetition of the words, "Through me," three times. Dante is here made aware of the judgmental nature of God. Virgil immediately cautions him against cowardice (14-15), for unlike the sinners they will witness, Dante still has the intellect with which to see clearly and achieve salvation.

 
 

The Vestibule of Hell houses those who were lukewarm in life, neither good nor bad, contributing nothing to human life. Appropriately, the shades rush eternally after an aimlessly whirling banner or standard (52). Both Heaven and Hell reject them, and Dante shows his particular disdain by mentioning none of them by name. Even the "cowardly creature" who "opts to decline" greatness (59-60) is too obscure to identify with complete certainty. The stinging of wasps and hornets (66) indicates the pettiness of what irritated them in life, and, like the whirling banner, is an example of contrapasso, the appropriate, often ironic punishment or retribution engendered by the sin itself.

 
 

The river Acheron ("joyless") flows between the Vestibule and Hell proper. Like the other rivers of Hell, Dante took its name from Virgil, who took it from Homer. The banks of Acheron are crowded with souls waiting to be ferried across by Charon, the classical boatman. Virgil explains their eagerness to cross as the product of divine justice working automatically in them, driving them to their eternal doom (124).

 
 

Charon recognizes that Dante is not one of the damned but one of the elect, and refuses to take him across. Thus he orders him to "take a lighter boat," (91) referring to the vessel piloted by an angel to Mount Purgatory, which carries souls destined for Heaven. Virgil chides Charon (93-96), in the first of many explanatory threats which he will deliver to obstinate figures in Hell.

 
 

A sudden earthquake, reminiscent of the one which preceded the descent of Christ into Hell, shocks Dante into a swoon, so that he will awaken in Canto IV on the other side of Acheron, without having experienced the crossing.

 
 

This canto owes much to the sixth book of the Aeneid, in which Aeneas visits the world of the dead. However, Dante is much more dramatic than Virgil, whose tone is sublime, even, and melancholy. In addition, the spells and tokens of magic which are instrumental in Aeneas' journey are here replaced by reason and spiritual forces.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule    

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 
 
 

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Canto IV

 

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Friday, April 8, evening

Circle I, Limbo

The unbaptized

 
 

A thunderclap awakens Dante on the other side of Acheron. From the abyss below he hears wailing, and misinterprets Virgil's look of pity for one of fear. Theybegin their descent to the first circle of Hell.

 
 

Limbo was invented by the early Church fathers to serve as the abode of two groups: unbaptized children and the virtuous patriarchs of the Old Testament.The former, having neither sinned nor believed in Christ, were to remain in Limbo forever. The latter, believers in Christ by anticipation, were released by Christ when he descended to Hell between the crucifixion and the resurrection. The Church called this the Harrowing of Hell, an event witnessedby Virgil, but interpreted by him as the coming of "one who was mighty andpotent," (53) since he could not understand the significance of Christ.

 
 

Dante takes the radical step of adding to these infants and ancient Hebrews a third group, the virtuous pagans. These worthy figures abide in a splendid castle representing natural wisdom without Christian faith, from which emanates the light of human genius. Among the honorable pagans are the five ancient poets whom Dante most esteemed. Their acceptance of him as their sixth signifies Dante's claim to equality, but the fact that they must remain in Limbo while he advances demonstrates his claim to an even higher ranking.

 
 

This is one of the most difficult cantos for a modern reader to agree with. Although Dante is careful to show the greatest respect and admiration for the poets, philosophers, scientists and others who reside in the magnificent castle, he nevertheless indicates that because they were ignorant of Christ, they cannot progress to Purgatory or Heaven. Even Aristotle, to whom all show admiration (133), and whose philosophy is so instrumental in the Church's own cosmology, is precluded from advancing. In addition, many readers cannot accept the perpetual condition of unbaptized infants in Limbo, although there is no other choice, given the logic of Dante's medieval scheme.

 
 

Finally, Limbo is obviously modelled on Virgil's Elysian Fields in Book vi of the Aeneid.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo    

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 
 

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Canto V

 

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Friday, April 8, night

Circle II

The carnal sinners or lustful

 
 

The sins of Circles II through V are in the general category of incontinence,(as distinct from those of violence and fraud, in lower circles). With this canto begins Hell proper, which we confront immediately in the figure of Minos. This is one of the pagan figures, not necessarily evil, whom Dante utilizes, often turning them into demons. In Book xi of the Odyssey Minos, the king of Crete, is the judge of the dead. Book vi of the Aeneid continues the tradition. Dante has transformed him into a hideous icon of cruelty and guilt. It is he who decides to which station each sinner will be damned for eternity, indicating this by the twists of his tail (11).

 
 

The lustful are blown about forever in darkness, a fitting contrapasso to the blind, uncontrolled passion they allowed to dominate them in life. Their sin is not that they pursued the natural instinct of sex, but rather (39) that they "put reason under lust's command." Unlike the sinners below, they are presented without grotesqueness, and with a near compassion never repeated in lower circles. This can be attributed to Dante's inexperience at this initial stage of the journey, to the lightness of the sin compared with others below, or perhaps to an affinity and sympathy which Dante—whether traveller or poet— felt with these sinners. While many shades are named and commented upon, one example is portrayed in detail.

 
 

Dante's meeting with Paolo and Francesca is perhaps the most widely known episode in the entire Comedy. Indeed, even in this century, seven hundred years after the poem's appearance, a play, Francesca da Rimini by d'Annunzio, and an opera by Zandonai based upon the play, were written about the figure who inspired one of Dante's most convincing creations. (The more popular orchestral work by Tchaikovsky, Francesca da Rimini, was composed in 1876.) The particular contrapasso portrayed here has an ironic perfection impossible to improve upon. Illicit lovers in life, Paolo and Francesca are condemned to an eternity of exactly what they would hope for—floating on the wind in each other's arms. Dante's attitude toward Francesca has been a matter of debate among critics for centuries. In some readings, Dante the pilgrim, but not the poet, is taken in by Francesca's genuine grace and smooth talk. In others, the poet himself is seen to be charmed by her. The most convincing view is that Dante the poet was truly moved by Francesca's plight, but used the insight of his sympathy to present a precise picture of her sin, whose sadly damning nature he never lost sight of.

 
 

Just as the poet swooned in Canto III and was mysteriously transported by higher powers across Acheron, so he swoons here and awakens in the next circle.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners   

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

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Canto VI

 

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Friday April 8, near midnight

Circle III

The gluttonous

 
 

Gluttony, the second sin of incontinence, has none of the potential charm of lust. It makes beasts of men, deprives them completely of their individuality, and is punished by eternal groveling in mire and filth. Whereas lust has the possibility of companionship, here each is alone in his degradation, cold and miserable.

 
 

Cerberus, guardian of this circle, is taken from the mythological, three-headed dog which guards the threshold of Hades. As always, the guardian himself is the personification of the sin he is guarding—in this case gluttony—and Virgil distracts him by throwing earth down his gullets.

 
 

One shade, Ciacco, sits up as Dante and Virgil pass. The name itself means "pig" or "piggish," and it is his image which leaves a lasting impression of gluttony upon us. At the same time he demonstrates the strange capacity of souls in Hell to see into the future but not the past. In reponse to questioning by Dante, he describes some of the political events Florence is soon to experience, (see footnote to line 64), and informs him that several men about whom he has inquired are further down in Hell. The courteous, almost respectful tone which Dante adopts toward Ciacco should not be surprising. There are at least two explanations for it. First, Dante is still a novice pilgrim in Hell, not yet disgusted with the sinners nor personally distant from them. And second, he may have cleverly understood that this was the best way to draw the glutton into revealing what he wanted to know.

 
 

After Ciacco falls down to join his companions, apparently exhausted from the strain of talking to a real person, the canto continues with Virgil and Dante engaging in conversation. The only part of this which is revealed to us is Virgil's proof to Dante that the sinners in Hell will feel increased torment after the day of Judgment.

 
 

Unlike previous beasts, Plutus, guardian of the next circle, appears in the last line of the canto devoted to this sin, but this is appropriate to a personification of the prodigal and avaricious, who always hunger for more than they are entitled to.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons    

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

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Canto VII

 

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Saturday, April 9, just after midnight

Circle IV

The prodigal and avaricious

Circle V

The wrathful and sullen

 
 

Plutus, the classical god of wealth, guards those who loved money, and their insubstantiality is portrayed by his immediate and total collapse at Virgil's admonition. The two poets now encounter the indistinguishable mass of misers and spendthrifts, those who were so extreme in their use of worldly goods that they have lost all individuality and are submerged in their sin. Virgil explains this precisely in lines 51 to 54. The misers or hoarders are on the poets' left, signifying the more despised of the two groups, for their avarice was more inhuman. The clergy, whose betrayal of Christianity always rouses Dante's fiercest reproach, comprise a good many of these.

 
 

The two groups—apparently opposite but really two sides of the same sin—perform a mutual dance which creates one broken circle from their separate semi-circles. Rolling huge weights in a futile, incomplete shifting of substance back and forth, they demonstrate how in life they hindered the operation of Fortune, an angellic intelligence whose purpose is to circulate goods among people and power among nations. These sinners prevented the flow of goods by hoarding or squandering, and their just contrapasso is to parody the complete circle which they never fostered in life. The poets descend to the fifth circle where Dante, following the Aeneid, portrays the second river of Hell, Styx, as a marsh. Here the fourth rank of the incontinent—the wrathful—are punished. On the surface are muddy figures furiously attacking each other, while the more sullen ones, those who kept their wrath bottled up inside themselves, are sunk beneath the surface in filthy slime. The division into these two groups derives from classifications by Aristotle and Aquinas, and neatly parallels the earlier division into two in the circle above.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious    

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen    

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 
 
 

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Canto VIII

 

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Saturday, April 9, early hours

Circle V

The wrathful and sullen

The Gates of the City of Dis

 
 

For the first time Dante is mistaken for one of the damned. Phlegyas, personification of anger and fury, races across the water in his skiff in order to ferry the next wrathful soul to its place in Styx. Virgil tells him to calm down, and as Phlegyas stews in his own frustrated anger, the two poets enter his boat to be taken onward. The prow sinks lower than usual under Dante's weight, for the shades in Hell, while visible and tangible, have no mass.

 
 

A muddy figure rises up out of the slime, irate with Dante for having come to Hell before his death. This is Filippo Argenti degli Adimari, a nobleman of Florence whose family was reputedly opposed to Dante. However, Dante's fierce response should not be attributed entirely, or even primarily, to personal antagonism. Nor is he simply being affected by the influence of the marsh, that is, taking on the attributes of the sin he is observing. He is somewhat uncontrolled when he says, "Weep in Hell," but he is still a novice traveller, and hasn't yet learned to feel the proper indignation without succumbing to it. Virgil, perhaps still remembering Dante's less than perfect response to Francesca, is pleased at the progress he is making, and congratulates him on being appropriately indignant (43-45). It has been suggested that Filippo Argenti represents a new class of Florentines whom Dante holds reponsible for the city's social and political problems. The attack would not be on the individual but rather on the social class he represents. The travellers now confront a great wall which encloses the city of Dis, marking the boundary between upper and lower Hell. The sinners they have seen so far have been guilty of sins of incontinence, lack of restraint on their passions, but the sins of those below are more significant and permanent. Just within the walls, in the sixth circle, they will meet the heretics, who are not merely impulsive like the sinners above, but evilly disposed. Violent sinners will be encountered in the seventh circle, and the fraudulent sinners in the eighth and ninth.

 
 

The approach to the city in Phlegyas' boat is ominous. The long, circuitous route, the red glow, the boatman's shouting, the thousand ferocious spirits at the entrance—all of this makes a terrifying introduction for the poet. Worse, it seems as if his progress is to be blocked, for the angry spirits defy Virgil and slam the gate in his face. On an allegorical level one can say that the inquiring soul, probing evil, comes to a fearful stop and cannot advance without assistance higher than reason. Indeed, the soul even fears that reason, its only guide backward now that its advance seems blocked, will abandon it (100). But Virgil assures Dante that he will not leave him, and that their passage is guaranteed. At that very moment help is on the way.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen    

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

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Canto IX

 

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Saturday, April 9, early hours

The walls of the city of Dis

Circle VI

The heretics

 
 

This entire canto is dominated by the sense of fear. In terror when the canto opens, Dante watches Virgil's apparent uncertainty and begins to doubt whether reason can guide him securely through Hell. Virgil assures him that he has descended to the lowest and darkest depths of Hell, and can remember every inch of the way.

 
 

While they are waiting for divine aid, the three Furies suddenly appear at the top of a tower and summon Medusa to turn Dante to stone. Virgil covers Dante's eyes and warns him against looking at the Gorgon, and at this point in the canto Dante asks the reader to be alert to the teaching buried in his words. Although many interpretations of this direct address to the reader have been offered, perhaps Dante is simply asking us to see that the Furies represent remorse, Medusa despair, and that the soul will be paralysed without the help of grace. Of course the reference may be to the insufficiency of reason to accomplish the journey, or there may be an even larger referral to the poem as a whole.

 
 

A divine messenger arrives, opening the gate with his wand and confronting the insolence of the damned with disdain. Immediately inside the walls are the arch-heretics and their disciples. They occupy a circle separate from the main division into three, for they have sinned neither from weakness of flesh or mind, as have the incontinent above, nor from violence or malice, as have those below. Because these sinners denied Christianity, they are punished outside the Christian framework of sin. Their sin is more significant than the sins of incontinence, and lies below them. But it is a sin of intellect and not a source of sinful action, and thus lies above the more pernicious sins Dante is yet to meet.

 
 

It is particularly ironic that those who denied the reality of a future life, contending that the soul died with the body, should spend that future life in tombs, which normally signify death.

 
 

The sin of heresy is the only sin punished in Hell which is specifically Christian. All others are potential moral failings for any human.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen    

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics    

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

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Canto X

 

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Saturday, April 8, early morning

Circle VI

The heretics

 
 

While all heretics are punished here, Dante writes only of Epicurus and his followers. At the time, "Epicurean" was applied to freethinkers who, esteeming nothing higher than comfort in this life, denied the immortality of the soul.

 
 

The participants in the drama of this canto are three Florentines: Dante, Farinata, and Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti. As the poets walk along and Virgil explains why the Epicureans are here, Farinata suddenly stands upright in his tomb and calls out to Dante, whose Tuscan accent he recognizes. This Ghibelline leader, who died the year before Dante's birth, had saved Florence from destruction after the Ghibellines had defeated the Guelphs at Montaperti. It is for this great act that Dante approaches him deferentially, even using the respectful "voi", which he uses only for Farinata, Cavalcante and Brunetto Latini in the entire Inferno.

 
 

Farinata's haughtiness is conspicuous in his question, "Who were your ancestors?" (42), and in his disregard for Cavalcante's interruption, continuing his speech as if nothing had interceded (76). Farinata reveals to Dante that he will be exiled, and explains that the damned can see into the future, know nothing but what they are told of the present, and will no longer see anything at the day of judgment.

 
 

Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti is the father of Dante's "first friend," Guido. The family were noble Guelphs of Florence, and the choice of this figure not only juxtaposes a Guelph and a Ghibelline— thus asserting that heresy cuts across party lines—but has the further symmetry of Guido's being Farinata's son-in-law. Cavalcante's placement in this circle is made plausible by Boccaccio, who in his commentary on the Comedy says that both he and his son were well-known Epicureans.

 
 

Cavalcante, consumed with family pride and the genius of his son, demands toknow why Dante is not accompanied by Guido on his journey. In a stanza whose meaning is much debated, Dante tries to indicate that perhaps Guido lacked something required for the journey (61-63). When Dante uses a verb in the past tense—"felt" —an alarmed Cavalcante asks if Guido is still alive. Dante hesitates to answer, aware that Guido is ill and dying in Florence, and Cavalcante, taking his lack of response as an affirmation of his son's death, falls back into the tomb.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics    

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

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Canto XI

 

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Saturday, April 9, four a.m.

Circle VI

The heretics

 
 

At the edge of the high bank leading down to the seventh circle the poets encounter the tomb of Pope Anastasius II. Dante places him here because for centuries he was erroneously thought to have permitted Photinus, a deacon of Thessalonica, to take communion, even though Photinus was a follower of the Acacian heresy which denied the divinity of Christ.

 
 

Most of this undramatic canto consists of Virgil's outlining for Dante the plan of Hell. The classification of sins is based upon Aristotle (Ethics, vii), and Cicero (De Officiis, i, 13). Aristotle divides bad conduct into incontinence (uncontrolled appetite), bestiality (perverted appetite), and malice (abuse of reason). Cicero wrote that wrong might be done by force or fraud, fraud being the more contemptible. Dante adapts these two sources to classify sins into those of incontinence (Circles II-V), violence (Circle VII), and fraud (Circles VIII & IX). To these sins of wrong behavior he adds, as we have seen, two circles of wrong belief, one for the unbelievers (Circle I, Limbo) and one for the heretics (Circle VI).

 
 

The circle of violence is subdivided into three rounds, comprising those who do harm to others, to themselves and to God. The first contains assassins, thieves and tyrants; the second contains the suicides; the third contains blasphemers, sodomites and usurers. While blasphemers are clearly appropriate, the other two deserve some explanation: sodomites do violence against Nature, God's minister;usurers do violence to human industry, the offspring of Nature.

 
 

Circle VIII, the circle of simple fraud or malice, Malebolge, is divided into ten bolgia, or pockets. The sinners in eight of these are mentioned here, while "filthy vultures" suffices for the other two, the fraudulent counselors and sowers of scandal and schism (60). Circle IX, the circle of complex fraud or malice, is divided into four regions.

 
 

After his outline, Virgil has to explain to his pupil why the sins of incontinence are punished outside the walls of the city. He does this by reminding Dante of Aristotle's description, in the Ethics, of the three conditions revolting to Heaven (79-84).

 
 

Note that although they have already passed through Circles I and VI, Virgil makes no reference to them, for the sins of these circles are not covered by this system; that is, they are not sins of incontinence, violence, or fraud. Observing the stars, Virgil declares that they must be moving on.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics    

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xi, text

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Canto XII

 

canto xii, text

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Saturday, April 9, four a.m.

Circle VII, Round I

The violent against others

 
 

The canto begins with the Minotaur, another of Dante's mythical guardians who portray the sin of their circle to an extreme degree. His fury at Virgil's confrontation symbolizes the impotence of brutishnes before the challenge of reason.

 
 

The intellectual nature of the previous canto is replaced by the largely physical quality of this one. The sinners, guilty of violent, bloody acts,fulfill the law of contrapasso by their immersion in a river of boiling blood, the seriousness of their sin dictating how deeply in it they are sunk. Yet the sinners themselves are much less prominent in this canto than their guards, the Centaurs. These half-human, half-animal creatures are appropriate to the bestial nature of the sinners they guard, yet they are depicted with grace and dignity. Indeed, Virgil trusts them enough to temporarily relinquish his leadership to them. Their contradictory depiction may be Dante's comment on the outward calm and courtesy of Italian courtly life, which underneath is vulgar and brutish.

 
 

Just as Virgil for a time takes second place (112-113), so Dante removes himself from center stage by saying nothing throughout the canto. He is an observer more than a participant, and his perceptions serve to convince us, by their precision and realism, that the fantastic world he is describing is tangible and true.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                                Ring 1 against others    

                                Ring 2

                                Ring 3

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xii, text

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Canto XIII

 

canto xiii, text

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Saturday, April 9, before dawn

Circle VII, Round II

The violent against themselves

 
 

The canto opens with six instances of "no" or "not" in the first seven lines, indicating the inherent negativity of suicide. The dark, thorny wood is home to despairing souls who, having separated themselves from their bodies before the time designated by God, now live in sub-human bodies for eternity. It is fitting that, having destroyed their corporeal selves by using a mobility and freedom unknown to plant life, they should now be clothed in that lower form. It is also fitting that as soon as the suicides have heard Minos' sentence they fall into the wood at random, in no predetermined spot, for they have put themselves beyond God's plan by revolting against it. The image of the wood is clearly influenced by lines 32-43 in Book III of the Aeneid.

 
 

The example Dante chooses to represent the suicides is Pier delle Vigne, chancellor of the Emperor Frederick II. The choice is subtle and daring,—as many of Dante's choices are—accentuating the specific sin against the contrasting background of a fine character. For Pier displays an obvious sense of self-worth and dignity. Indeed, he did not kill himself out of misery, but out of disdain for the disdain of others (70-71), thus foolishly putting reputation above the injunction against suicide. To some extent Pier is a reflection of Dante himself—a poet and politician brought low in the world's eyes—and thus is bound to generate sympathy in him. But Dante did not succumb to the temptation of suicide or any other ultimate sin, and sees clearly the eternal damnation which an otherwise excellent man brought upon himself. Dante perhaps chose to write about Pier as a warning to himself, housing him eternally in a wood which recalls the wild and dark wood where Dante himself was lost in Canto I.

 
 

By medieval times suicide had a long history—at least since Augustine—of being considered a crime as serious as murder in Christian eyes. Both were attempts to shorten the term of life assigned by God, and were acts of insubordination against Him.

 
 

Together with the suicides are the profligates or squanderers, whose violence to their own earthly goods was a form of self-ruination or suicide. They are differentiated from the prodigal of the fourth circle, who were merely wasteful without being violent. Two of them are pursued by swift black bitches (126) who seem to symbolize the violence which drove these sinners in their lives and now chases them for eternity.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                                Ring 1

                                Ring 2 against themselves    

                                Ring 3

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xiii, text

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Canto XIV

 

canto xiv, text

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Saturday, April 9, before dawn

Circle VII, Round III

The violent against God, Nature, Art

 
 

The lowest round of the seventh circle consists of a sandy plain rained upon by eternal fire, clearly signifying the wrath of the God the sinners defied. In one of three categories, all the sinners here went against the divine plan for human existence. Those who were violent against God himself, the blasphemers, lie prostrate, facing the Heaven they scorned. The sodomites, who sinned against God's child, Nature, run ceaselessly, driven by the restlessness of their passion in life. The usurers, sinners against art or industry, God's grandchild, crouch forever over their moneybags. (In many lesser, supporting ways the theme of antagonism to God's plan permeates the canto. For instance, Cato and Alexander are mentioned not merely for the historical analogy they offer, but because they pitted themselves in vain against God's larger scheme.)

 
 

The first group is the smallest, overt blasphemy being unusual. Surprisingly, its main representative is a pagan, Capaneus. One of the seven kings who attacked Thebes, he challenged Jove and was killed by a thunderbolt. Now, for eternity, he rages uncontrollably and pretends not to be bothered by the fire, a picture of furious, arrogant impotence.

 
 

Crossing the hot, sandy plain is a stream of blood, carried in a channel whose bed and banks are made of stone. Virgil tells Dante that since they arrived in Hell he has witnessed nothing as great as this stream, which quenches the fire falling upon it and makes it harmless (85-87). His appetite for knowledge whetted, Dante begs to know more, and Virgil tells him the story of the Old Man of Crete.

 
 

In antiquity the island of Crete—in the Mediterranean between Egypt (the old world) and Greece (the new)—was thought of as the cradle of Trojan (Roman) civilization, the central location of the Golden Age. The image painted by Virgil derives from Nebuchadnezzar's dream in Daniel 2:31-33, modified to fit the poem's needs. While Daniel interprets the figure of gold, silver, brass, iron and clay as prophesying four kingdoms, here it represents four degenerating stages of humanity. Only the gold head— representing the condition of Adam and Eve before the fall—is free from the crack down which flow the tears of man's sinful history. This stream of misery descends to Hell to torment the sinners who originally caused it, emerging as Acheron, Styx, Phlegethon, and Cocytus.

 

The poets leave this ring by walking along the cool margins of the river. The river's ability to lessen the heat could not be merely a device to permit the poets to exit this circle. Perhaps Dante wants the stream of human agony to soften the harsh Christian vision of divine retribution.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                                Ring 1

                                Ring 2

                                Ring 3 against God, Nature, Art    

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xiv, text

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Canto XV

 

canto xv, text

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Saturday, April 9, before dawn

Circle VII, Round III

The violent against Nature, sodomites

 
 

Brunetto Latini was a prominent figure in Florence in the generation preceding Dante's. Older than the poet by about forty-five years, he was a respected civic leader, scholar, translator of Cicero, intellectual and moral authority.

 
 

In 1260, while returning from the court of Alfonso X of Castile, where he had been sent as ambassador, he learned of the Guelph loss at Montaperti. Prudently remaining in France for the next six years, he wrote his encyclopedia, Li livres dou Trésor, in French, and a shorter didactic, allegorical work, the Tesoretto, in Italian. When the Ghibellines were defeated at Benevento in 1266 he returned to Florence, serving in various public offices, and dying in 1294.

 
 

While the majority of critics have assumed that Dante had some private information indicating Brunetto's homosexuality, a significant minority hold that sodomy is not Brunetto's sin. A convincing case is made for a more intellectual vice, a mental violence against Nature. Indeed, Brunetto shows no confidence in the potential goodness of man, and as a thinker completely lacks the benefit of the kind of grace bestowed upon his protegé, Dante. His desire is for worldly fame and influence, and the very last lines of the canto show him fit for—and trapped in—exactly such an ungodly achievement.

 
 

A third critical perspective holds that Brunetto's particular sin is much less important than the fact that he has sinned at all. Dante's surprise at finding him in Hell (29-30) demonstrates that even those friends and figures we consider morally and intellectually sound are fallible. He represents another self- warning to Dante, another semblance of himself which failed.

 
 

A fourth evaluation of Brunetto—held by a very small minority of commentators—is that he sinned in exalting a language other than his own (French) above his native tongue.

 
 

Aside from the question of his precise sin, Brunetto represents the deterioration of Florence and the bankruptcy of his generation's legacy. The city is even more corrupt now than it was before. In this Brunetto is a counterpart to the Old Man of Crete in the previous canto—specifically a symbol of deterioration for Dante's own time. Thus his portrayal implies that Dante's poetic effort is the only true salvation for Florence, and indeed Brunetto's own praise for the younger man unknowingly proclaims this.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                                Ring 1

                                Ring 2

                                Ring 3 against God, Nature, Art    

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xv, text

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Canto XVI

 

canto xvi, text

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Saturday, April 9, before dawn

Circle VII, Round III

The sodomites

 
 

Dante hears the distant roar of a waterfall, which grows louder as he and Virgil advance. Three Florentine shades recognize his dress and come to converse with him, continually turning together like a wheel. These well-known citizens of Florence ask for news of their city, and Dante delivers an invective against the degeneracy of their mutual home. Throughout the scene there is a stark contrast between the respect which these honored citizens draw from Dante, and the sin for which they are eternally condemned.

 
 

Toward the end of the canto Dante cultivates a sense of mystery. Virgil requests the rope around Dante's waist and flings it down into the pit. He then reads Dante's thoughts, and, as both wait expectantly, a strange creature approaches which Dante assures the reader was actually there before his eyes. Commentators do not agree about the significance of the cord. There is an unsubstantiated story that the young Dante became a novice of the Franciscan Order and later left it. The cord would symbolize external discipline against worldly temptations, and its being thrown away would mean that Dante no longer needed this restraint of vows but now had sufficient internal control and development. It is more likely that the rope represents some quality which Dante no longer relies upon and which he can fling as bait to the creature coming into view. One candidate would be the quality of unfounded, egocentric self-confidence. This might serve to satisfy and ensnare the creature which in the next canto is portrayed as the very image of fraud and deceit. Dante himself would no longer need this flimsy support, but rather base himself in humility and correct knowledge.

 
 

The entire canto is concerned with language, its plausibility and veracity. The model from which the episode of the cord derives —Virgil's account of Lacoon in Book II of the Aeneid—is itself concerned with the mistrust of a spoken truth. Dante, complimented by the three Florentines (80-81) on his clarity of speech, soon afterward (123-136) feels compelled to promise the reader that the fantastic story he is about to tell is true. Of course in asserting that what is patently imaginary is indeed the truth, Dante preempts us from disbelieving him. We go along with a fiction which presents itself as truth, for the sake of uncovering the truth concealed in the circles of Fraud and in the monster of deception we are about to confront.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                                Ring 1

                                Ring 2

                                Ring 3 against God, Nature, Art    

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xvi, text

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Canto XVII

 

canto xvii, text

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Saturday, April 9, before dawn

Circle VII, Round III

The usurers

 
 

Virgil sends Dante to investigate the usurers, while he convinces the beast Geryon to carry them down to the eighth circle. The usurers are on the lip of the chasm, at the limit of the third round, just as usury at the time was not quite fraudulent but on the edge of fraud. Some commentators think Dante believed it was a sin to profit by lending money, but the examples show that what was being punished was deceitful usury by men of wealth. This was antagonistic to true industry, "God's grandchild". Note that Dante is unable to recognize any of these sinners, for the love and pursuit of gold has worn away their human individuality, leaving them identified only by the moneybags which hang about them through eternity. Members of aristocratic families, they are known by the animal emblems they wear. As the final sinners of violence, yet with an asect of fraud, they make fitting transitions to the next circle, where fraud dominates.

 
 

Geryon is another figure adapted from classical mythology. He was a giant with three bodies who possibly ruled Spain, fed the flesh of his guests to his sheep, and was slain by Hercules. Dante's particular creation undoubtedly derives from Revelation 9:7-11 and to Pliny's description of a beast called a Mantichora, which had the face of a man, body of a lion, and tail with a scorpion-like sting (Historia Naturalis, viii, 30). Albert Magnus and Brunetto Latini also describe such beasts. Ultimately, ancient Egypt is the source (e.g. the sphynx), although Dante was probably unfamiliar with Egypt directly.

 
 

The transition to the eighth circle, where the sins of fraud and their punishments are even more severe than those Dante has witnessed, is accomplished on the back of this personification of fraud, Geryon. His "face of an honest man" (10) is clear to every reader, and has historical roots in the common medieval belief that scorpions had attractive faces. This is one of the few cantos in the entire Commedia in which Dante is completely silent. Indeed, he seems mesmerized into silence by the amazing and frightening figure of Geryon, and too disdainful of the usurers to say anything to them. His single attempt at speech (94) is stifled by fear.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent    

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent    

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xvii, text

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Canto XVIII

 

canto xviii, text

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Saturday April 9, nearly dawn

Circle VIII, Malebolge, Bolgia I

The pimps and seducers

Bolgia II

The flatterers

 
 

The canto begins with a plain statement that "there is a place called Malebolge in hell," as if to reveal the simplicity of fraud beneath all its intricate deceptions. Its iron-colored stone leaves no doubt that the sinners we find in the next thirteen cantos are prisoners of their own twisted, morally insensitive devices. Malebolge—evil pouches or pockets —is composed of ten concentric ditches or bolgias, with ridges across them like spokes of a wheel.

 
 

In the first bolgia a file of pimps is circling one way and another file of seducers the other, driven by horned demons— horns being the traditional icon of adultery. The comparison of this double file with the crowds in Rome during the Jubilee year is more than mere imagery, for Pope Boniface VIII issued a Papal Bull which granted indulgence to all pilgrims who stayed in Rome for fifteen days, visited St. Peter's and St. Paul's, and confessed and repented their sins.

 
 

Dante's disgust with the flatterers in the second bolgia is reflected in the briefness with which he talks to them as a pilgrim, or describes them here as a poet.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                             bolgia 1, pimps and seducers    

                               bolgia 2, flatterers 

                                —-—-—- -

                                   bolgia 8

                                    Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xviii, text

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Canto XIX

 

canto xix, text

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Saturday, April 9, nearly dawn

Circle VIII, Malebolge, Bolgia III

The simonists

 
 

The quiet contempt which Dante demonstrated in the previous canto changes to righteous anger when he deals with the sin of simony, the trafficking in sacred things. The very first words of the canto are an invective against Simon Magus, the magician after whom the sin is named.

 
 

The use of one's ecclesiastical position for personal profit was regarded as an offense against the Holy Ghost, but to fit it into his scheme Dante puts it into the category of fraud. The sinners are upside down, symbolizing the perverse nature of their sin, and since they have specifically betrayed God's trust—even more than man's, which is secondary—they are burned by the fire of God's anger on the soles of the feet.

 
 

For Dante, three of the popes who were his contemporaries exemplify the sin at its worst. Nicholas III, down in one of the holes (compared in lines 13-19 with baptismal fonts), mistakes Dante for Boniface VIII, his successor in the hole. Aware in advance of when Boniface is supposed to arrive, he cries out "this was not the plan," (51). He then reveals that Clement V will be the third in this perverse analogy to apostolic succession (81-88).

 
 

The narrative of Nicholas is delivered to Dante like a confession (49), the layman receiving the Pope's account but certainly not absolving him.

 
 

Reason occupies a particularly prominent place in this canto, as portrayed by Virgil's actually carrying Dante down to interview Nicholas and then back up again. Dante is operating under the guidance of not just his own reason, but of Reason itself. Furthermore, Virgil represents the Empire, which we know from Dante's views in De Monarchia had a responsibility to guard its own area of jurisdiction from the encroachment of the Church.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                            —-—-—

                              bolgia 3, simonists   

                                —-—- -

                                  Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xix, text

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Canto XX

 

canto xx, text

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Saturday, April 9, soon after dawn

Circle VIII, Malebolge, Bolgia IV

The diviners

 
 

Although Dante makes use of astrological images throughout the Comedy, he follows Aquinas in his condemnation of astrology or any other system of divination to foretell or control the future. Dante believes sorcery, augury or any other magical activity is sinful, a view which in fact was unpopular in medieval times, being confirmed by only the Bible and Aquinas. While the stars might have some influence on human dispositions, he holds, such effects were minor and certainly unpredictable. It was fundamentally the Will of God which determined the course of the universe.

 
 

The contrapasso is effected by having the faces of those who attempted to look into the future permanently fixed toward the rear. Dante, moved to tears by this distortion of the human figure, is rebuked by Virgil for showing pity, for such a response can only question God's judgment. It is possible that Dante's compassion derives from his once having appreciated the arts of divination, so honored by the ancient poets he valued.

 
 

It is typical of Dante's sense of drama to use daring illustrations. Here he selects one soothsayer from each of the great Latin poems he admired: Virgil's Aeneid, Ovid's Metamorphoses, Statius' Thebais, and Lucan's Pharsalia. He seems to be saying to his contemporaries that the poetic charm and skill of these works has deluded them into ignoring the sinful nature of divination.

 
 

In the medieval mind, Virgil was regarded as a magician, and his writings were even utilized in a method of divination called "sortes virgilianae." (Virgil still has this reputation in Naples.) Dante is clearly using this canto to dissociate his master from this popular misconception. Mantua is not founded by Manto but merely named after her, and there was no augury in its naming (93). Virgil is very clear about denying any rumors to the contrary (97-99). And he is also quite devoid of sympathy in naming and describing to Dante the sinners in this circle.

 
 

Interestingly, the account of Mantua's founding in this canto is different from the one which Virgil himself describes in the Aeneid, Book X, which concerned a different Manto. Dante had heard of the Theban Manto, and must have believed Virgil's original story was wrong. With grace and irony, he lets Virgil deliver the correct version.

 
 

A reader of the entire Comedy might notice that in Purgatory XXII Virgil places "the daughter of Tiresius" in Limbo, rather than here in the fourth bolgia of Malebolge. Perhaps Dante wrote this present canto first, with Virgil's original Manto in mind, but later changed to Tiresius' daughter and forgot to correlate it with Purgatory XXII.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                            —-—- -

                               bolgia 4, diviners    

                               —-—- -

                                   Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xx, text

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Canto XXI

 

canto xxi, text

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Saturday, April 9, about 7 a.m.

Circle VIII, Malebolge, Bolgia V

The grafters

 
 

The unusual amount of space devoted to the grafters—the next three cantos—can perhaps be attributed to a personal motive. The standard accusation of graft while Dante was in office was so absurd that not even his enemies really believed it. He himself did not deign to respond to it, and these cantos may be the reply he withheld at that time. The farcical, slap-stick manner in which the grafters and their demon tormentors are presented was perhaps the most appropriate as well as personally satisfying way Dante could deal with the issue.

 
 

The grafters are sunk in boiling pitch, corresponding to the dark, secretive atmosphere in which they used to do their dirty work. The way they scheme and cheat in the attempt to outwit and evade their tormentors is also a continuation of their previous behavior.

 
 

Dante and Virgil watch the demons attack a senator from Lucca, after which Virgil hides Dante from the demons while he goes to negotiate with them. Holding off their attack with his words, Virgil obtains a safe-conduct from Malacoda, the leader. He thereupon calls Dante out of hiding, but soon discovers that the nearest bridge across the sixth bolgia is shattered. Malacoda tries to entrap them by informing them that there are other bridges ahead still intact, and, like the perfect, wily official who disguises his lies in a web of exactitude, tells them that this bridge collapsed exactly 1266 years plus nineteen hours ago. Malacoda provides for them an escort of ten demons, absurdly comic to the reader, but so frightening to Dante that he suggests to Virgil that the two of them run off and find their own way, since Virgil has already been here.

 
 

The episode continues in the next canto.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                             —-—- -

                                bolgia 5, grafters    

                                 —-—- -

                                    Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xxi, text

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Canto XXII

 

canto xxii, text

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Saturday, April 9, about 8 a.m.

Circle VIII, Malebolge, Bolgia V

The grafters

 
 

Dante sees many grafters submerged in the pitch like frogs in water up to their muzzles. When the demons—the Malebanche— appear, the sinners duck down below the surface. One unidentified Navarrese is hooked by the demon Grafficane, and as he is being torn by Rubicante and others, Virgil questions him. He reveals that below in the pitch are Fra Gomita and Michele Zanche. He promises to lure some of his fellow sinners to the surface if the demons will hide. Cagnazzo is suspicious, but Alichino goes along with the plan, and as soon as the Malebranche have turned away, the sinner dives down and escapes. Alichino pursues him futilely and then Calcabrina races after Alichino, with whom he has a fight above the pitch so that the two of them tumble in. Barbariccia organizes their rescue, and in the confusion, Virgil and Dante slip away.

 
 

In his riotous account of the grafters and their tormentors, Dante seems to be dispensing with both his earlier accusors (the tormentors) and those with whom he was falsely accused of collaborating (the grafters). However, while many commentators see a personal tone to the description of this bolgia, others feel that such a view is purely speculative.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                             —-—- -

                                bolgia 5, grafters    

                                 —-—- -

                                   Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xxii, text

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Canto XXIII

 

canto xxiii, text

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Saturday, April 9, about 9 a.m.

Circle VIII, Malebolge, Bolgia VI

The hypocrites

 
 

Virgil and Dante feel in danger from the angry, fooled Malebranche, and slide down the slope to the sixth bolgia, just ahead of their pursuers.

 
 

Dante observes a line of weeping sinners, clothed in golden cloaks lined with lead. Two of these hypocrites identify themselves as Jovial Friars. Just as Dante begins to speak with them (110) he notices the shade of Caiaphas, crucified and transfixed by three stakes to the floor, so that every sinner here must tread on him. The image is clear: he bears the weight of all the world's hypocrisy, as Christ voluntarily bore the pain of the world's sin. Similarly crucified are Annas and the other false counselors who wanted to sacrifice Christ, really crucifying their own souls as they crucified His body.

 
 

The Jovial Friars reveal that the travellers have to climb up a rockslide in order to go on, and Virgil realizes that Malacoda lied to him about the bridges over the sixth bolgia, all of which were destroyed in the great earthquake at the moment of Christ's death.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                            —-—- -

                               bolgia 5, grafters    

                                 bolgia 6, hypocrites    

                                  —-—- -

                                     Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xxiii, text

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Canto XXIV

 

canto xxiv, text

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Saturday, April 9, about 11 a.m.

Circle VIII, Malebolge, Bolgia VII

The thieves

 
 

The travelers complete a difficult ascent up the ruins of the fallen bridge. Dante loses his breath and sits down, but Virgil encourages him onward. From the bridge over the seventh bolgia they hear confused sounds from below, and at Dante's request Virgil leads him down into the pit. Here serpents coil about the sinners, binding their hands behind them and knotting themselves through the loins. The analogy is clear: thieves are like serpents or reptiles, and their hands, which are the usual agents of their thievery, are here bound. Dante sees a serpent fly toward a sinner and pierce the jugular vein, at which the sinner bursts into flame, collapses to ashes, and takes shape once more (96-104). Again, just as thieves take away the property of their victims, so they themselves repeatedly undergo disintegration throughout eternity.

 
 

Dante is surprised to find Vanni Fucci in this bolgia, for in life he was known for his anger and brutality. As insolent as he is, the character is ashamed to confess that beneath his savagery—of which he is proud—was the even worse offense of stealing from the sacristy, for which he is being punished.

 
 

Deeply embarrassed at his admission, Fucci vents his malicious rage against Dante by predicting terrible strife in Tuscany and the dashing of Dante's political hopes.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                             —-—- -

                                bolgia 6, hypocrites    

                                  bolgia 7, thieves    

                                   —-—- -

                                      Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xxiv, text

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Canto XXV

 

canto xxv, text

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Saturday, April 9, nearly noon

Circle VIII, Malebolge, Bolgia VII

The thieves

 
 

In a crescendo of rage, Vanni Fucci makes an obscene gesture at God, and is immobilized by tightly coiling serpents. The centaur Cacus then speeds by angrily, carrying serpents and a fire-breathing dragon on his back.

 
 

The rapid betrayals of the dog-eat-dog world of thieves, the perpetual, reciprocal stealing, is represented by the animal-human transformations of Agnello and Cianfa, and the interchange of form between Buoso and Francesco. The occasional alternation in tense between present and future supports the sense of transformation.

 
 

Dante displays a somewhat disdainful attitude toward the use of similar metamorphoses by Lucan and Ovid. He is not just claiming to have done a better portrayal of transformation, but to have displayed something deeper, the exchange of higher and lower qualities between man and beast. This was necessary, for the sin of thievery utilizes human powers in the service of brute material possession.

 
 

Everything in this canto works toward a sense of reptilian coldness, a lack of humanity, the absence of all feeling.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                             —-—- -

                                bolgia 7, thieves    

                                 —-—- -

                                     Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xxv, text

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Canto XXVI

 

canto xxvi, text

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Saturday, April 9, noon

Circle VIII, Malebolge, Bolgia VIII

The deceivers

 
 

The deceivers or evil counselors are those who in life used their glibness and eloquence to mislead others. Because they possessed and misused higher human capacities than those of previous sinners, such as the thieves of the preceding canto, they have sinned more severely and are placed deeper in Hell. The sinners are wrapped in tongues of fire, which conceal them just as in life their speech concealed their thought. It is possible that this particular representation was suggested by the Epistle of James, which says that "...the tongue is a fire, an unrighteous world among our members.. ..setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell."

 
 

The narrative of Ulysses occupies nearly half the canto. The great, colorful, wily Greek voyager is surely another of those figures with whom Dante identifies, the victim or perpetrator of a sin into which Dante himself might have fallen. Indeed, Dante perhaps represents the quest for universal knowledge more than any other person of his time, and as such would sympathize with the hunger for understanding which drove Ulysses to his final doom. Deceiver from the start—his accomplishments in the Trojan war were the result of guile—he finally smooth-talks, cajoles and inspires his followers on a disastrous voyage westward in search of experience. Like Dante, the reader feels awe before a character brave and adventurous enough to risk death on such a journey of discovery. And just as the reader relishes the relief of this mini-epic in the midst of the horrors of Hell, so, we might assume, did Dante appreciate the opportunity to describe it.

 
 

The tale of this final voyage is, of course, Dante's invention, although it is not completely without precedent. There was at least one ancient tradition that Ulysses sailed through the pillars of Hercules and founded Lisbon, and there were other tales of voyagers to the Atlantic. The authenticated explorations of the Portuguese were still two centuries in the future.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                            —-—- -

                               bolgia 7, thieves    

                                 bolgia 8, deceivers    

                                  —-—- -

                                     Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xxvi, text

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Canto XXVII

 

canto xxvii, text

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Saturday, April 9, noon

Circle VIII, Malebolge, Bolgia VIII

The deceivers

 
 

After the departure of Ulysses and Diomed, another flame, having recognized Virgil's Lombard accent, approaches and asks the poets for news of Romagna, his native land. This is Guido Da Montefeltro, a renowned Ghibelline general who later became a friar but betrayed his vows when he urged Pope Boniface VIII to use fraud against the Colonna family. Boniface VIII—whom we know from Canto XIX is due to arrive in Bolgia III—managed to trick the otherwise shrewd Guido, by the promise of absolution, into providing counsel toward his evil ends. This occurrence has been independently confirmed, and thus is not Dante's invention. What Dante did imagine was the battle for Guido's soul after his death. St. Francis of Assisi is unsuccessful in claiming the soul, which is taken by one of the black cherubim (112-113). That is, even though the Pope had absolved him in advance, Guido's lack of true repentence nullified the absolution. By contrast, Guido's son (Purgatory V) undergoes a moment of genuine repentence and is saved, despite having lived an unreligious life until then. In the two contrasting stories Dante illustrates that the state of the soul at death is the crucial factor in determining its eternal fate.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                            Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                             —-—- -

                                 bolgia 8, deceivers    

                                  —-—- -

                                     Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xxvii, text

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Canto XXVIII

 

canto xxviii, text

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Saturday, April 9, early afternon

Circle VIII, Malebolge, Bolgia IX

The sowers of scandal and schism

 
 

The sowers of scandal and schism are divided into three categories: sowers of religious discord, political discord, and discord between kinsmen. All are appropriately hacked to pieces by a demon with a bloody sword, reconstituted, then hacked to pieces again and again for eternity.

 
 

A modern reader is likely to be offended at the way Dante treats Mohammed and Ali, his son-in-law. At the time, Islam was regarded as the primary agent of Antichrist, some even believing that Mohammed had originally been not just a Christian but a cardinal who aspired to the papacy. Thus to the medieval mind he was a symbol of the worst schism possible, the fracturing of the Church. As an early follower of Mohammed and a future Caliph, Ali shared responsibility for this alleged break with the Church. Dante may have been aware that Ali was the leader of a schism within Islam itself, thus reinforcing his status as a sower of schism. It is clear that in the early fourteenth century Dante could not have had sufficient knowledge of Islam to judge it properly.

 
 

Among the other sowers of schism punished in this bolgia is one who would have been particularly significant to Dante or any other Florentine. This is Mosca Dei Lamberti, whose advice to kill a Buondelmonte bridegroom who jilted a lady of the Amidei family instigated—according to local tradition—the ongoing, bloody feud between the Guelphs and Ghibellines.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                            —-—- -

                               bolgia 9, sowers of scanal and schism    

                                —-—- -

                                   Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xxviii, text

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Canto XXIX

 

canto xxix, text

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Saturday, April 9, early afternoon

Circle VIII, Malebolge, Bolgia X

The  falsifiers

 
 

Dante, who would remain and weep over the misery of the ninth bolgia, and particularly over the plight of Geri del Bello, a relative, is reproved and coaxed onward by Virgil, the voice of reason.

 
 

The tenth bolgia is filled with a confusion of falsifiers. The ones described fall into four categories: falsifiers of metals (alchemists), of persons (impersonators), of coin (counterfeiters), of words (liars). All suffer from diseases which change their appearance, just as they themselves tried to change the appearance of things and events in the world.

 
 

Only the alchemists are dealt with in this canto. It should be noted that Aquinas distinguished two types of alchemy. To seek a method of transforming lower metals into silver and gold was acceptable, but the alchemical charlatanism which played on others' ignorance and greed was not. This, of course, is the alchemy for which Griffolino and Capocchio are being punished.

 
 

Dante erroneously thought that lepers were subject to a terrible itch. The sinners' ceaseless scratching was meant to mimic their continual petty deceptions in the world.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                            —-—- -

                               bolgia 9, sowers of scandal and schism    

                                —-—- -

                                   Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xxix, text

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Canto XXX

 

canto xxx, text

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Saturday, April 9, early afternoon

Circle VIII, Malebolge, Bolgia X

The falsifiers

 
 

This canto deals with the three remaining categories of falsifiers: impersonators, counterfeiters and liars. Unlike all other sinners in Hell, the falsifiers are tortured from within themselves, rather than from without. (We speak of the immediate agent of torture, not the ultimate contrapasso punishment, which in all cases is engendered by the sin within the sinner.) As the alchemists in the previous canto were afflicted with leprosy, so the impersonators are mad, the counterfeiters have dropsy, and the liars have a fever which makes them smell. These sinners, who falsified nature, themselves, money or language, have basically corrupted their own souls, which are diseased for eternity.

 
 

The two illustrations of madness with which Dante begins the canto are an ironic contrast to the madness of Schicchi and Myrrha. The first of these classical torments was inflicted by the goddess Juno, and the second by fortune, while the sinners portrayed here brought about their own punishment through petty greed and cunning.

 
 

Master Adam, the counterfeiter, suffers from eternal thirst, and is fittingly more parched by his own images of running water than by the disease dessicating his face (64-68).

 
 

When one of the liars, Sinon the Greek, gets into an argument with Master Adam, Dante watches with great interest until Virgil rebukes him, as he did at the beginning of the previous canto. Dante blushes at once, for he knows that sympathetic curiosity is an unworthy stance toward such low behavior; nevertheless he needs Virgil to break his fascination. The incident adds a final metaphor to the theme of the canto, for Dante is being captured by this utterly spurious quarrel, briefly falling prey to its falsity. Indeed, through this display of curiosity he leaves Malebolge with a fitting tribute to the subtle power of fraud.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                            —-—- -

                               bolgia 10, falsifiers    

                                —-—- -

                                    Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

 
 
 

canto xxx, text

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Canto XXXI

 

canto xxxi, text

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Saturday, April 9, afternoon

The bank between Circles VIII and IX

The giants

 
 

Crossing from Malebolge to the central pit—a well at the bottom of which lies Cocytus, the ninth circle—Dante seems to see a city in the distance (21-22). As he comes closer he sees that what he took for towers are in fact giants, visible above the rim of the well from the waist up. Only a few of the giants are specifically named. Ephialtes and Briareus were prominent at Phlegra, when the giants threatened the gods. Ovid, Statius and Lucan all mention this incident.

 
 

The giants are personifications of pride, and in this they are exceeded only by Satan himself, whom they attend eternally. Ephialtes and Briareus dared to challenge the Greek gods, Nimrod tried to build a tower to heaven, and the mentioned Tityos and Typhon insulted Jove. Lines 54-57 sum up the severe threat posed by the giants, who combine evil will with both mental and physical power. These are no longer local, individual examples of incontinence, violence or fraud, whom the poets have met in earlier circles, and who affect only themselves and those around them. These are stupendous quantities of nearly unstoppable evil, able to challenge the rulers of creation. Indeed, the enormity these giants and their potential influence is represented by our inability to measure their physical size, or to get a full view of them at any single moment.

 
 

Among other items to note is the use of the word "tower" several times. In equating the frightening giants with towers, Dante may have been commenting on the proliferation of fortresses in his day. For him these were symbols of arrogance and violence, physical manifestations of the pride of the warring noble families.

 
 

Also note the absurd futility attributed to the giants. After their various unsuccessful attempts at assuming ultimate power, they stand impotent and defeated. Only Nimrod speaks, and he babbles in a language which, appropriately, no one else can understand. His blast of the horn has no more meaning than a childish need to make noise, and he is stupid enough to forget that the horn is hanging around his neck, right against his chest.

 
 

Finally, note that Antaeus, while not chained like the other giants—for he did not participate in the assault upon the gods— has a savage reputation in classical tales and is just as dumb as the others in this circle. For by promising that Dante can spread his fame above in the world, Virgil easily convinces the vain giant to lower them in the palm of his hand to the floor of Hell.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent    

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors    

 
 
 

canto xxxi, text

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Canto XXXII

 

canto xxxii, text

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Saturday, April 9, late afernoon

Circle IX, Cocytus, Rings I and II, Caïna and Antenora

The traitors to kin and country

 
 

The river flowing from the fissure in the Old Man of Crete (Canto XIV), into Malebolge (Canto XVIII), now freezes in a circular plain at the bottom of Hell. The metaphor is clear, for the heart of the traitor was the coldest heart of all. (Punishment by ice was not unprecedented in previous visions of Hell, as in the Visio Alberici. See the footnote to line 2 of this canto.) Cocytus, the lake thus formed, is divided into four concentric sections. Caïna, named for Cain, contains traitors to kindred; Antenora, named for the Trojan Antenor, contains traitors to country or party; Ptolomea, probably named for Ptolomy, a captain of Jericho, contains traitors to guests; Judecca, named for Judas, contains traitors to benefactors.

 
 

The traitors in Cocytus differ from all previous sinners in not wanting news of themselves delivered to the world above (95-96). Such reports would only increase the infamy in which they are already held by the living. Although they attempt to conceal their own identity, they eagerly betray the names and stories of those around them.

 
 

In the first three sections the sinners are buried in the ice up to their necks, while in the last they are completely submerged. In Caïna, the traitors to kin are permitted to lower their faces, letting them not only conceal their identities, but also shield themselves somewhat from the cold wind and prevent their tears from freezing their eyelids shut. In Antenora, where the treacheries have been against the public welfare and thus are more serious than the private treacheries of Caïna, the sinners' necks are held firmly in the ice and they cannot lower their heads. In Ptolomea, where the sinners violated a chosen friendship—as distinct from an inherited bond of family and country—treachery is punished even more severely, with the head bent uncomfortably back. Finally in Judecca, where the traitors to benefactors have in essence defied the entire structure of human relations, nothing is visible above the ice.

 
 

At the end of this canto the poets witness two sinners crammed into the same hole, one of them gnawing on the other. Their story is left for the next canto.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

                                 Caïna    

                                   Antenora    

                                     Ptolomea

                                       Judecca

 
 
 

canto xxxii, text

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Canto XXXIII

 

canto xxxiii, text

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Saturday, April 9, about 6 p.m.

Circle IX, Cocytus, Rings II and III, Antenora and Ptolomea

Traitors to country; traitors to guests and friends

 
 

The story told by Ugolino moves the reader to sympathize with the sinner the way Francesca's tale in Canto V did, or Ulysses' account in Canto XXVI. Indeed, in all three instances the poet is challenging both the reader and himself to accept and understand God's ultimate condemnation, in spite of the human response the story evokes. In another sense Ugolino's story parallels Francesca's, for she is forced to exist through eternity with the one she loved, while Ugolino shares the same hole forever with the one he hates. Remember that Ugolino is being punished for betraying his party, the Guelphs. For commentary on his story, see the footnote to line 14.

 
 

Treachery to guests and friends is punished by having one's soul sent down to Ptolomea while one's body remains in the world. This may have been suggested by Psalms 55: "....let them go down to Sheol alive....men of blood and treachery shall not live out half their days..." or John13:27, speaking of Judas: "Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him."

 
 

Ruggieri, often forgotten in the drama of Ugolino's narrative, is being punished for his treachery toward Ugolino, who was once his friend. Having withheld food from Ugolino, he is now himself eaten by his victim. In order to acommodate the two kinds of treachery, they must be buried at the unmarked boundary between Antenora and Ptolomea.

 
 

To deceive a traitor was not only permissible, but admirable, and those who had betrayed their guests or friends certainly had no claim to humane treatment. Thus Dante feels no qualms about betraying his own promise of lines 115-117. Note that this promise is cleverly worded—that is, Dante is well aware that his downward journey will go beneath the ice. In this way he deceives the traitor not only in failing to do what he'd "promised," but through the words themselves.

 
 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

                                 Caïna

                                   Antenora    

                                     Ptolomea    

                                       Judecca

 
 
 

canto xxxiii, text

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Canto XXXIV

 

canto xxxiv, text

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Saturday, April 9, about 7 p.m.

Circle IX, Cocytus, Ring IV, Judecca

Traitors to benefactors

 
 

"The banners of the King of Hell advance," Virgil begins, parodying a medieval hymn as the two poets approach the figure of Lucifer, himself a gross parody of the Godhead.

  
 

The traitors buried under the ice in this final section, Judecca, are entirely out of communication with humanity, and we never even know who they are. Only the greatest traitor of all—the rebellious angel Lucifer—and the three souls he crunches in his jaws, are identifiable.

 
 

Cast down from Heaven for rebelling against God, Lucifer (Satan, Dis, Beelzebub) is fixed for eternity with his upper body protruding into Hell. A parody or negative mirror of God, his three faces are the opposites of God's love, wisdom and power. Like the seraphim of Isaiah 6:2, and the four beasts around God's throne in Revelation 4:8, he has six wings, a pair beneath each face. From the wings under the face of hatred proceeds the wind of fraud or malice; from the pair under the face of ignorance comes the wind of violence; and from the pair under the face of impotence comes the wind of incontinence.

 
 

Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Christ, is chewed by the red face of hatred. As he sold Christ for silver, he is even worse than the simonists, and receives an analogous, although more severe, punishment, his head is stuck into one of Satan's jaws with his legs outside. (There is also a similarity to Lucifer's own position in relation to Hell.) Brutus and Cassius, betrayers of the Empire through their assassination of Julius Caesar, are only slightly less abominable, and are placed in the black face of ignorance and the whitish yellow face of impotence, with their heads out.

 
 

Virgil announces (69) that they have seen all of Hell and that it is time to leave. Using the "stairs" of Satan's hairy flanks, Virgil leads Dante down through a crack in the ice and out the other side. From this point they no longer descend, for they have passed through the center of the earth, but face an upward climb to the base of the Mountain of Purgatory. Without stopping to rest, they pursue a winding path toward the earth's surface, and just before dawn on Easter Sunday they emerge again to see the stars.

 

Earth's surface — the dark wood_______________________

  Vestibule 

     .....................................................  River Acheron

      Circle I, limbo

        Circle II, carnal sinners

          Circle III, gluttons

            Circle IV, prodigal and avaricious

              Circle V, wrathful and sullen

                   ...................................... Marsh of Styx

                   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Walls of Dis

                    Circle VI, heretics

                       .................................. River Phlegethon

                         Circle VII, violent

                           Circle VIII, Malebolge, fraudulent

                              Circle IX, Cocytus, traitors

                                 Caïna

                                   Antenora

                                     Ptolomea

                                       Judecca    

                                         SATAN    

 
 

canto xxxiv, text

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