Summary and Analysis
Canto 1 Summary and Analysis
Dante: The writer, narrator, main character, and traveler in The Inferno
Leopard: The first character (Self-indulgence) whom Dante meets
Lion: The second character (Violence) whom Dante meets
She-Wolf: The third character (Malice) whom Dante meets
Virgil: Ancient Roman poet who appears to Dante and becomes his guide
Midway on his journey through life, Dante falls asleep and loses his way. He wakes during the night of Maundy Thursday to find himself in a dark wood; he does not know how he got there. Dante loses the right way; the narrow road he had wanted to travel has disappeared. Dante feels hope when he sees the morning rays of sun over the mountain, even though he is still alone in the valley.
As he scales the mountain, Dante encounters a leopard; the leopard impedes his progress but it is not very frightening. The second animal that Dante meets is a fierce, hungry lion, which comes toward him swiftly and savagely. The third—and worst—animal that Dante encounters is a vicious she-wolf; she terrifies Dante so much that he is unable to continue his travels.
The shade of the poet Virgil appears to Dante. Until the greyhound comes to secure the wolf in Hell, Virgil explains, the only way past the wolf is by another path. Virgil offers to show Dante the...
(The entire section is 689 words.)
Canto 2 Summary and Analysis
Beatrice: Woman who begs Virgil to rescue Dante (Heavenly Wisdom)
St. Lucia: Messenger from the Virgin Mary
The Virgin Mary: Sends the messenger St. Lucia to Virgil
Aeneas: A character from Virgil’s Aeneid; author of “young Silvius’ birth”
St. Paul: One who, like Dante, writes of his view of Hell
Friday has almost ended. Dante and Virgil have been climbing most of the day. Dante begins to question whether he should continue the journey. Dante remembers that Aeneas and St. Paul traveled to Hell and he feels inferior to both of them. Dante asks who said he should go to this place and what would happen if he should fail.
Virgil tells him that an angelic spirit named Beatrice had concern for Dante. The Virgin Mary sent Beatrice to Virgil through St. Lucia, her messenger, to ask Virgil to bring Dante from his wandering.
Virgil tells Dante to be brave; three women in Heaven are concerned for him. Dante confesses that his courage is now stronger. Virgil moves on and Dante follows him.
Discussion and Analysis
Aeneas was a Trojan prince and the hero of Aeneid, written by Virgil. In Aeneid, Aeneas, the father of Silvius, goes to Hades, guided by the Sibyl, and returns safely; while there,...
(The entire section is 501 words.)
Canto 3 Summary and Analysis
Uncommitted: Souls not rebellious against God and yet not committed
Charon: One who takes travelers across the Acheron River
Dante and Virgil pass through the wide gates of Hell. They read the inscription there (“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”) and enter the Vestibule of Hell. They see those who were true only to themselves in their prior life; these people were not rebellious against God and yet they were not committed to Him in their life on earth. These people rush about but never make any decision; their faces bleed from the sting and bite of hornets and wasps and worms devour the blood which drips to the ground.
Virgil and Dante find a boat rowed by a white-haired man. This ferryman of the Acheron River reminds them that those who cross do not return; Virgil explains that one with will and power has deemed otherwise. When Dante hears the noise of the wind and sees the danger below, he swoons.
Discussion and Analysis
The gates of Hell are wide and easy to enter; this is in direct contrast to the straight, narrow way that Dante lost before he found himself in the wood on Maundy Thursday. The inscription reminds those who enter that they must give up all hope; they make the trip to Hell as a choice and cannot return. This inscription, Virgil reminds him, does not...
(The entire section is 410 words.)
Canto 4 Summary and Analysis
The Blameless but Unbaptized and Those Who Lived Before the Age of Christendom: Souls in limbo from the First Circle
Dante awakens to find that he is on the brink of Hell. When Dante looks into the pit, he cannot see its bottom. Virgil tells him that they must travel into the pit. Dante says that Virgil’s pallor frightens him, but Virgil says it is the anguish within the pit and not the journey that causes his pallor.
From the First Circle come not the wails of anguish but the sounds of sighing. The souls which are sighing are those who are blameless but unbaptized and those who lived good lives before the time of Christendom. Dante asks if anyone had ever come from this circle and Virgil tells him that those who left were the first father (Adam), Abel (son of Adam), Noah (patriarch saved during the flood by heeding God’s command to build an ark) Moses (leader who received the Ten Commandments), King David (King of Israel) Abraham (the father of Isaac), Israel (Jacob) with his father and generation, Rachel (mother of Joseph), and others. The one with a crown of victory removed these from the First Circle.
Virgil and Dante see four shadows: Homer (ancient Greek poet and author of The Iliad and
(The entire section is 712 words.)
Canto 5 Summary and Analysis
Minos: Legendary King of Crete who occupies the threshold of the Second Circle and assigns places to the damned
Those Guilty of the Sin of Lust: Include Lancelot, Cleopatra, Achilles
Francesca and Paolo: Adulterous couple killed by Francesca’s husband, Gianciotto da Verruchio
As Dante descends from the First Circle, he finds that the Second Circle holds greater woe. As he goes further down into Hell, he finds those guilty of the sin of lust. The threshold to the Second Circle is guarded by Minos; each person who enters must confess to Minos, who decides their fate. The place is dark and the sounds of the souls reach the ears of Dante.
Dante sees first the mistress of Babel. Next he notes Cleopatra and Helen in the Second Circle; both had experienced lust and yielded to their desires. Men, too, had yielded to lust and now reside in the Second Circle. From his studies of history and mythology Dante recognizes three: Achilles, Paris, and Tristram.
Dante speaks with Francesca (wife of Gianciotto da Verruchio and lover to his brother Paolo). She tells Dante of how she and Paolo had been reading of Sir Lancelot, Guinevere, and Galleot and of how she died at the hand of her husband when he found that she was unfaithful. Dante sympathizes with Paolo and Francesca and swoons in pity.
(The entire section is 573 words.)
Canto 6 Summary and Analysis
Cerberus: Three-headed dog who watches over the Third Circle of Hell
The Inhabitants of Circle Three: The gluttonous
Ciacco: Gluttonous male inhabitant of Florence; nickname means “pig”
In Circle Three Dante finds constant rain, sleet, snow, and hail. Cerberus, the three-headed dog, meets Dante and Virgil; Virgil manages to quiet the dog’s attacks by throwing mud from the ground into the three mouths. All around Virgil and Dante are gluttons lying in the mud.
One of the gluttons named Ciacco is from Florence. He speaks to Dante and Virgil. Ciacco predicts that the political strife between the Black and White factions in Florence will continue and bloodshed will come. The Wood party will drive out the other faction but within three suns, he tells them, the confidence of the Woods will suffer a fall. The other faction will rise after this time.
Ciacco answers Dante’s questions about the location of the worthy men Tegghiaio and Farinata; the zealous Rusticucci; Mosca and Arrigo; “and the rest as well.” Ciacco tells Dante that they are all deeper in Hell.
As a last request, Ciacco asks Dante to recall his name once Dante reaches the world again.
Virgil tells Dante that more woe is to come. They continue their descent and find the great enemy Pluto ahead....
(The entire section is 395 words.)
Canto 7 Summary and Analysis
Pluto: God of the underworld and riches; at entrance to the Fourth Circle
The Hoarders and the Spendthrifts: Condemned to push and pull great weights for their sins
The Wrathful: Those who are ferocious and those who withdraw in black sulkiness and can find no joy; condemned to a marsh
As Dante and Virgil enter the Fourth Circle, they encounter Pluto. Pluto begins to say a chant to Satan. Virgil reminds Dante that Satan has no power over them.
Dante compares the movements of the souls in the Fourth Circle with the waves caused by the Charybdis. The souls hoarded and squandered in their life and for punishment they must move great weights with their chests. Those who squandered are pushing the weights away; those who hoarded are pushing the weights toward themselves. The pushing and pulling results in bumping and bruising. Virgil explains that Luck, through Divine Providence, is responsible for the distribution of wealth; riches do not remain in one nation or with one family for long because of the workings of Luck.
Virgil and Dante cross near a bubbling spring which had cut a cleft in the rock; the pair go down a stair into a marsh—the Styx, one of the most famous features of classical Hell. In the mire beneath, Dante sees people fighting and tearing one another with their teeth;...
(The entire section is 539 words.)
Canto 8 Summary and Analysis
Phlegyas: The mariner on the Styx who comes for Dante and Virgil
Filippo Argenti: Florentine resident; had differed politically with Dante
At the top of the tower Dante and Virgil see two sparks of light; in the distance two sparks answer and Phlegyas, the angry oarsman, arrives. Phlegyas does not like the fact that Dante and Virgil are only visitors and not to be permanent residents of the area.
Dante expresses anger toward the soul in the mud who tries to hold their boat. Dante expresses this contempt toward the man—whom he recognizes. Virgil commends Dante for his expression of contempt toward the shade and agrees with Dante’s actions.
Virgil goes to the gates of the City of Dis, or Lower Hell. In the lower regions, more serious sins find greater punishment. The enemy, however, slams the gate in Virgil’s face. When Virgil is unable to enter, he calls to ask for help.
Discussion and Analysis
The ferryman Phlegyas may be the same mythological Greek King who burned Apollo’s temple upon finding that Apollo was in love with his daughter. Apollo killed Phlegyas and condemned Phlegyas to Hades. Because of his own wrathful and sacrilegious actions, Phlegyas would be an appropriate oarsman between the Wrathful and Impious Souls.
There are several possible...
(The entire section is 453 words.)
Canto 9 Summary and Analysis
Three Furies: Queen Medusa’s handmaids: Alecto, Magaera, Tisiphone
The Heavenly Messenger: Helper to Virgil and Dante; possibly St. Paul
The Heretics: In open graves; had trusted reason rather than the church
Medusa: Evil, serpent-haired goddess; could turn people to stone
Dante begins to lose hope when Virgil is denied entrance to the City of Dis. Even Virgil is pale at this point. Dante asks Virgil if he has ever made the trip before and Virgil tells him that he had once gone to the City of Dis at the insistence of a witch named Erichtho. Virgil’s task at that time had been to bring a soul from Judas’s circle in the lower realms. Dante, however, does not listen well because he is watching the red-hot battlements (breastworks) of the tower.
Dante’s eyes are drawn upward to the tower, where he sees three shapes: the three Furies named Alecto, Magaera, and Tisiphone. They threaten to summon Medusa to turn Dante and Virgil to stone. Virgil turns Dante around to prevent his looking in case Medusa does come.
A great wind blows and then one comes from Heaven to help the two travelers. The messenger chastises the spirits and reminds them how Cerberus had tried to rebel, was chastised, and still bears the scars from the experience.
The heavenly messenger returns to...
(The entire section is 758 words.)
Canto 10 Summary and Analysis
Farinata degli Uberti: Leader of the Ghibellines, the party responsible for killing Dante’s grandfather; favored imperial authority
Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti: A shade who was once of the Guelph party
Virgil and Dante pass near the city walls. Virgil reminds Dante that in the days of Jehoshaphat those buried shall come anew. They are greeted by Farinata degli Uberti. Dante and Farinata exchange words about the fighting between the Ghibellines and the Guelph parties through the years. Farinata foretells the length of Dante’s exile and explains that the dead have knowledge of the future. Farinata refers to the queen which rules the lower regions when he talks with Dante. He makes reference to the queen of the Nether Hell.
Another spirit—that of Cavalcante of the Guelph party—appears and asks about his son Guido dei Cavalcanti, who was Dante’s best friend and a fellow poet. Dante becomes aware that the spirits can see and prophesy the future but that they have difficulty seeing things as they are now. Dante accidentally reveals to Cavalcante that his son is dead.
After Dante finds out the identity of some of those who lie in the graveyard, the shade tells Dante that when he sees one whose eyes are able to see all things (Beatrice), he will learn the meaning of life.
(The entire section is 432 words.)
Canto 11 Summary and Analysis
As the two poets pause before entering the Seventh Circle, they note the writing on a vault by which they rest. The writing indicates that the vault holds Pope Anastasius whom Photinus lured. As they wait Dante asks that they spend their time well.
Virgil complies; he explains that the three circles below them are devoted to sins of violence. The acts of violence committed by souls in these circles are directed against God, against self, and against neighbor. Since God hates sins against neighbors the most, this circle is most distant from God and closer to the bottom of the pit. Virgil explains also that there are two kinds of fraud: that which betrays the confidence of humanity in general and that which betrays the confidence of a particular person. The second type of fraud becomes even more treacherous. Furthermore, the poet tells Virgil why there are levels of Hell and the punishment for each.
Virgil goes into great detail as to why usury is a sin and why contempt of art or Nature is contempt of God. Virgil uses many terms connected with the stars to remind Dante that the time to resume their journey has come. At the end of Canto XI the guide leads and Dante again follows.
Discussion and Analysis
Overcome by the stench of the pit, Virgil and Dante pause. The inscription they read on the vault indicates that Photinus lured the...
(The entire section is 467 words.)
Canto 12 Summary and Analysis
Minotaur: Creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man
Centaurs: Creatures with the heads of men and the bodies of horses
Chiron: Chief centaur
Deianira: Wife of Hercules; dipped his shirt in blood of Nessus
Nessus: Centaur who tried to carry off Deianira (wife of Hercules); his blood on Hercules’s shirt caused Hercules so much pain that Hercules burned himself to death
Violent Sinners: Guilty of violence, included Pyrrhus, Achilles’ cruel son
Dante and Virgil see a place where a great landslide has occurred and where the Minotaur has come forth from the resulting cleft. Virgil comments that when he passed that way before the rock had not yet fallen; he states that the great Prince had entered and taken His prey from Dis.
Dante and Virgil look down in the valley and see the river of blood; this boiling river (the Phlegethon) is used to punish those who were violent in life. On the bank at the side of the river Dante sees centaurs racing through the woods with bows and quivers; their arrows keep the violent from escaping from the river of boiling blood. This canto includes some specific persons: Chiron, Deianira, Nessus, and Pholus.
The travelers see the tyrants Alexander, Dionysius, Azzolino, and Obizzo d’ Este. The centaur points out...
(The entire section is 581 words.)
Canto 13 Summary and Analysis
Harpies: Voracious creatures with bodies of birds and heads of women
Bleeding Trees: Trees containing the souls of suicide victims
“Two that ran”: A reference to Lano of Siena (who sold his estates with other young men in a club and who wasted his money and life) and to Jacomo di Sant Andrea (who burned his own home for fun)
Pier delle Vigne: Accused of plotting against Fredrick II; took own life after being blinded and imprisoned; deemed guilty of only suicide—not betrayal—by Dante since in upper level
Dante and Virgil find themselves in a dark forest which is not green but dark. In this forest are Harpies—creatures with the bodies of birds and the heads of women. Dante finds that the trees contain the spirits of those who were suicide victims. He listens to their stories of being imprisoned in the trees and of feeling pain when the leaves are plucked or the limbs broken. Dante recognizes some of these spirits; the one who held the key to Fredrick’s heart tells Dante his sorrowful story, which is interrupted by the two hounded spirits “Two that ran.”
Discussion and Analysis
Originally in mythology the Harpies were personifications of the storm winds; later they became the bird-women with piercing cries.
Since those who have committed...
(The entire section is 388 words.)
Canto 14 Summary and Analysis
Blasphemers: Includes Capaneus, one of seven kings in siege of Thebes
Dante gathers the scattered leaves and places them about the tree to whom he is speaking; Dante and Virgil continue their journey.
They next find themselves in a desert pelted by a rain of fire; Dante speculates that Cato once marched here. They find the blasphemers. Virgil speaks with anger to Capaneus and compares his hot rage to the hot sands. The two travelers see a brook whose color is red near the sand. Virgil tells Dante that this brook puts out all flames.
Virgil tells Dante of the past days of Rhea and of the old man who stands on the mountain. Dante asks about the origin and the course of the rivers Lethe and Phlegethon. After Virgil answers, they continue on their journey.
Discussion and Analysis
Dante’s gathering of the leaves is significant of his love for his native city and the land from which the soul in the tree had come.
Cato’s complete name was Marcus Porcius Cato the Younger; he was a Roman statesman who opposed the war between Caesar and Pompey but finally took sides with Pompey. After one battle he escaped and marched across the Libyan desert in 47 B.C. Rather than making peace with Caesar, he committed suicide.
Capaneus was one of those who participated in the...
(The entire section is 373 words.)
Canto 15 Summary and Analysis
Violent Against Nature: Committed sins against the body and Nature; punished by running; Including Sodomites and alcoholics.
When the two continue their journey Dante notes that the banks of the river are comparable to the dikes of Flanders and of Padua, Italy. They see the Violent against Nature who are running perpetually. One of these runners speaks and Dante sees that it is Brunetto Latini, a former advisor to Dante. They greet each other and convers; Dante thanks him and Brunetto predicts that Dante will be treated poorly by those in Florence. Latini notes Dante's merits and speaks ill of the injustice of Florence. Dante asks him who is there and, after naming a bishop transferred from Florence to Venice, Latini tells him to remember the books of Latini where Dante still lives.
Discussion and Analysis
Those who are violent against Nature include the Sodomites; the rain (or aimless running) of these people is not fruitful but infertile much like the rain of fire on the desert. Dante is pleased to see his former teacher; Latini tells Dante not to give up even if he is ill-used by those in his home town of Florence. Latini tells Dante that Francis of Accorso and Priscian are there; Priscian had been a grammarian and Francis had been a lawyer. Latini believes that his books will preserve his memory.
(The entire section is 229 words.)
Canto 16 Summary and Analysis
Three Florentines: Ask Dante about Florence; now in Hell
Near the waterfall Dante encounters three Florentines; they recognize Dante’s dress as being Florentine. The three men were once nobles and one introduces them: Guido Guerra, Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, and Jacopo Rusticucci. Jacopo inquires of Florence; he explains that the shades have had concerns since Guillim Borsier’ told them many tales. After Dante tells them of self-made men and excesses in Florence, they ask that he tell the living of them. As suddenly as they had come, the three run away.
The two travelers find that they are very close to the waterfalls. Dante compares the water to the Acquacheta and Forli (rivers) in the Apennines (mountains) of Italy. Oddly Virgil removes Dante’s rope girdle and throws it into the water. A shape in the water rises and engulfs the belt or sash.
Discussion and Analysis
The three men who hail Dante recognize by his clothing that he is from Florence. Virgil informs Dante that the three who have just hailed him had been nobles in life. If they were not now in Hell, Virgil continues, Dante would have run to them, rather than vice versa, since he would admire them for their political virtues.
The three men are Guido Guerra, a Guelph who was noted for his sword and his counsel; Tegghiaio...
(The entire section is 489 words.)
Canto 17 Summary and Analysis
Geryon: The monster from the Circles of Fraud; also a monster killed by Hercules; part beast, part man, and part reptile
Usurers: Moneylenders who multiply luxuries at the expense of the earth and others; with Sodomites since both make a steril earth
The monster Geryon which rises from the Circles of Fraud has a kindly face, the body of a snake, and hairy arms and paws. The two travelers must approach him, however, in order to continue their journey; to reach the Nether Region, they must descend on the creature’s back.
Near the monster is a group of people on the sand. Virgil instructs Dante to talk with this unhappy lot. Dante notes that about their necks are purses; their eyes are fixed on these objects and on the ground. As they cry, one speaks to Dante. He tells how the Florentines kept shouting for a knight with a satchel bearing three goats. Dante, fearing to keep his host too long, rushes back to Virgil.
Virgil tells Dante to take courage while they mount Geryon, which they must ride to the depths below them. Dante compares their ride with that of Phaeton when he drove his sun-chariot across the sky and of Icarus who flew too near the sun with his wings of feathers and wax.
Upon depositing the travelers, Geryon departs quickly. The pair are ready to continue their journey through...
(The entire section is 371 words.)
Canto 18 Summary and Analysis
Venedico Caccianemico: Member of the Guelphs who sold his own sister
Horned Fiends: Those who beat the naked sinners in the Malbowges
Jason: Greek hero who searched for the golden fleece and seduced others
Alessio Interminei: A White Guelph; a flatterer with “slick” manners
Dante describes the region in Hell called the Malbowges, or Evil Pockets. He explains that this area is made of iron-gray stone and has ten divisions. In the middle of this cone, or narrowing round, is a well. Dante describes how the traffic of the souls in the Malbowges is controlled: one side keeps their eyes on the Castle (perhaps the Castle on the road called the Castello Sant’ Angelo) and the other side keeps their eyes on the Mount (perhaps the mountain called Janiculum).
Dante observes the naked sinners and the horned fiends who beat them and drive them along with heavy whips. The trail moves in opposite ways; the first procession is composed of panders and the second procession is composed of seducers. Dante recognizes Venedico Caccianemico coming from one direction and Jason moving from the other direction.
Dante sees, deep in the trench, people submerged in filth. One of these persons is Alessio Interminei; this former resident of Lucca explains that flatteries brought him here. Virgil also...
(The entire section is 369 words.)
Canto 19 Summary and Analysis
Simoniacs: Include Pope Nicholas III; profited from sale of holy items
This canto begins with a reference to Simon Magus and his disciples who have sold the things of God for profit.
Dante describes those in the Third Bowge (Trench) of the Malbowges; he sees holes in the banks and grounds where only the feet of the sinners are showing. The feet of these shades are on fire; their joints quiver with pain. When Dante asks whom he is seeing Virgil asks Dante to follow him and they will go to the lower bank so that Dante can see for himself what is going on in the holes.
Dante addresses one of these sinners; the sinner addresses Dante as Boniface and reminds “Boniface” that he betrayed the Fairest among Women. Dante admits, at the insistence of Virgil, that he is not Boniface. The sinner explains that he once wore the Great Mantle and was the son of the Bear. In his previous life this former Pope wanted to advance his litter and placed his coins in a pouch up above and placed himself in a pouch down below.
The Pope in Hell refers to Boniface VIII as being a Jason; Dante responds with the question of how many coins God required of Peter and Matthias. Dante goes on to remind Pope Nicholas that “she” sits on the floods; he also mentions the numbers seven and ten. Dante calls on Constantine and watches...
(The entire section is 537 words.)
Canto 20 Summary and Analysis
Sinners with Their Heads on Backwards: Astrologers, sorcerers, and magicians; represented by Michael Scott, Asdante, and Guy Bonatti
Dante describes the sinners with their heads on backwards and how he was moved to pity and to weeping upon seeing them. Virgil on the other hand, reprimands Dante for crying and asks who could be more wicked than one who is tormented here.
Virgil refers to Amphiaraus and Tiresias in his speech telling of the origin of Mantua. Some of the people whom Dante sees just before he and Virgil leave the area are Michael Scott, Asdante, and Guy Bonatti.
Discussion and Analysis
The punishment for trying to predict the future is to be forced to look forever backward. These shades have no hope for the future. Another interpretation for this punishment is that fortune telling, sorcery, and magic are contorted arts.
Virgil’s question of who is more wicked than one who is tormented has a double meaning. It can mean no one is more wicked than those whom God must chastise; it can mean no one is more wicked than those who are tormented by seeing God’s justice meted out in Hell.
Amphiaraus saw his death and tried to leave a battle only to be killed by an earthquake. Tiresias was also a prophet; he changes himself into the shape of a woman; then he broke...
(The entire section is 254 words.)
Canto 21 Summary and Analysis
Barrators: Sinners who made money in public office
Demons: Include Hacklespur, Hellkin, Harrowhound, Libbicock, Dragonel, Barbinger, Grabbersnitch, Rubicant, Farfarel, Belzecue
The Fifth Bowge is dark and filled with the bubbles of boiling pitch; to prevent the sinners from drawing themselves from the pitch, demons keep pushing them down, much as a cook stirs a cooking pot of stew to make sure all bits and pieces in the pot are submerged.
Virgil suddenly pulls Dante aside and cries, “Look out!” A winged demon, carrying an alderman, is moving quickly behind Dante. This alderman is a barrator, who made money from hidden deals and from grabbing money in secret.
Virgil instructs Dante to hide and wait; Virgil confronts the demons directly and explains that he and Dante must pass. The demons summon another of their numbers; this demon, named Belzecue, protects them and allows them to pass.
Belzecue tells them that five hours from this time (minus one day) will mark the time that an earthquake occurred 1266 years ago. This quake destroyed a bridge without which passage will be difficult. Belzecue tells the two travelers that he will send some demons to protect them as they travel.
Dante is reluctant to have these companions, but Virgil says that the grimaces the demons make are...
(The entire section is 395 words.)
Canto 22 Summary and Analysis
The Soul from Navarre: Probably Gian Polo; Spaniard; former servant
Dante says that the many sights and sounds of his past do not compare with the journey that he is now beginning. Dante sees sinners jumping into the hot-pot to escape the wrath of the demons; one soul, however, does not submerge himself and is hooked by a demon. This soul is from Navarre and tells of events in his life; after his narrative the demons torture the shade.
The soul tells of others who occupy the pit with him: Fra Gomita and Don Michael Zanche. He makes a deal with the demons to fetch up seven to substitute for himself. The demons threaten to come after him if he fails to deliver. When the demons look away, the soul dives into the pit.
This trickery causes the demons to squabble among themselves. While they argue, splutter in rage, and fight among themselves, Dante and Virgil slip away.
Discussion and Analysis
Dante is horrified and amazed at the sights he sees. The soul that does not return promptly to the pit may be Gian Polo, a Spaniard, from Navarre. Fra Gomita, who was hanged, was at one time a judge of the province of Gallura. Don Michael Zanche was a son of Fredrick II; his son-in-law murdered him in 1290. Canto XXXIII refers to Branca d’Oria, the murderer of Zanche.
(The entire section is 292 words.)
Canto 23 Summary and Analysis
Hypocrites: Wear cloaks with hoods, bright colors, and lead linings
Catalano and Loderingo: Two hooded friars from Bologna
Caiaphas: High priest; condemned Christ; crucified in Hell by triple stake
Dante and Virgil continue their journey single file. Dante recalls a story from Aesop of a frog and a mouse; these thoughts occupy his mind for a while, and he has a feeling of fear of the demons in the back of his mind. When he expresses his concern, Virgil admits similar fears. The two travelers now see the demons swooping low as if trying to snatch up the pair.
Dante and Virgil flee to the next trench and see the hypocrites with their brightly painted hoods which are lined with lead. Two of the hypocrites who had been Jovial Friars ask about Dante and then introduce themselves as Catalano and Loderingo. Catalano explains that the crucified sinner on the ground was one who had given advice to the Pharisees.
Virgil asks directions and the hypocrite tells them the way to go. Virgil says that the one who uses a spear to hook the sinners must have given them bad advice. The two move on and Dante senses anger in Virgil.
Discussion and Analysis
The story from Aesop which Dante recalls is one about a frog who ties a mouse to his leg in order to carry it across the...
(The entire section is 547 words.)
Canto 24 Summary and Analysis
Vanni Fucci from Pistoia: A thief; a runner from the serpents in the trench; predicts the future to hurt Dante
The poets continue their journey. Dante is glad when Virgil’s anger cools and they can continue the journey in a more pleasing manner. Virgil continues to help Dante and to give advice as they go; Dante heeds his recommendations.
In looking down into the pit, the two see only blackness. Dante suggests descending further so that he can look below. When they are finally able to see in the chasm of the seventh trench, the two see serpents of all types. Naked shades run terrified in their midst; the hands of these runners are tied behind their backs with snakes; the heads and tails of these snakes writhe at either side of the runners. One runner is stung and burns to ashes. His ashes resume his former state and he comes to talk with the two travelers.
The shade describes to Virgil and Dante the life he led as a beast instead of a person. The runner, whose name is Vanni Fucci from Pistoia, admits his shame at being found in this place and of his sins of stealing. Fucci predicts that Pistoia will change from the Blacks and that a new political party will take over the cities of Florence and Pistoia. Then he mentions that Mars shall bring “vapor” and the result will be a blow against the Whites. He readily...
(The entire section is 413 words.)
Canto 25 Summary and Analysis
Cacus: Dragon with spread wings and breath of fire
Five Spirits: Florentine noblemen who (except for Puccio) change to animal shapes; include Agnello dei Brunelleschi, Cianfa die Donate, Buoso Degli Abati, Francesco Guercio dei Cavalcanti, and Puccio dei Galigai
Vanni Fucci, the thief, makes a rude gesture and blasphemes; even the snakes seem to try to prevent Fucci from his actions. Dante admits pleasure at the placement of Fucci in the Inferno at this point and says that on his journey he has seen no other shade so defiant toward God. Pursued by an angry centaur, Vanni leaves at this point. On the back of the centaur, Dante sees a dragon with spread wings and fiery breath; Virgil tells him that this creature is Cacus.
Three spirits appear. One inquires as to who the two travelers are and Virgil and Dante pause in their conversation to reply. Dante hears one spirit ask the other why the spirit Cianfa lingers; Dante warns Virgil by a finger over the mouth to be cautious in his comments.
Suddenly a six-legged worm appears and leaps upon one of the spirits with its claws outstretched. The two join together and one head becomes two; two faces become one. The new creature reels away just as a lizard comes and jumps upon one of the others. The lizard pierces the mouth of the spirit. The spirit seems to yawn;...
(The entire section is 593 words.)
Canto 26 Summary and Analysis
Counselors of Fraud: Sinners who convince others to practice fraud; spiritual thieves who rob others of integrity
The Dual Flame: Ulysses and Diomede; planned the Trojan horse
Dante appears to praise Florence because its reputation is scattered across land, water, and Hell. Dante refers to the bitter favor which Prato wanted for the city.
As they move on the stairs, Dante reflects that he must curb his “hot spirit” so as to use wisely his good gifts. Ahead Dante sees the Eighth Trench with its fires. These spires of flame come from the bodies of each thief below. While Dante watches, he nearly falls but is saved by Virgil.
Dante asks who walks in the tall, fiery spire he sees, and Virgil answers that it is Eteocles and his brother who had killed one another in a battle. Virgil also recognizes Ulysses and Diomede.
Virgil says that Dante should not talk to these spirits. Instead Virgil will ask the questions since he can sense Dante’s thoughts and can speak to the Greeks who may spurn the language spoken by Dante.
Ulysses tells of his love of travel which not even his wife, his son, or his aging father could quell. On the sea voyage he recounts, his ship made good speed and he saw many things. He observed the “other pole” by night; five times the light kindled and waned....
(The entire section is 701 words.)
Canto 27 Summary and Analysis
Guido da Montefeltro: Ghibelline leader who persuaded Pope Boniface VIII to use treachery to gain the fortress of Palestrina
The flame moves on when Virgil dismisses it.
Another flame speaks. Dante compares the speaking voice of this flame to the voice coming from a metal bull which was used to roast victims alive. The voice asks for news from earth.
Virgil gives Dante the right to answer. Dante says that there is no strife in Romagna; that Ravenna and Cervia have the same ruler; that another city is governed by the Green Claw; and that Cesena is suffering from misrule by its leaders.
Dante asks that the flame now tell him who he is. The flame says that he will tell the truth since he does not believe that Dante will be able to return to the earth. The shade says that he was a soldier and then a friar; the High Priest, however, forced him to go back into the mesh of battle. The Priest asked the shade to tell him how to defeat Palestrina and promised that the shade would be absolved. The shade died before he had been contrite; uncontrite is unabsolved. The shade found himself in Hell for counseling fraud.
The two travelers see that those who cause division in life receive their own merchandise in death.
Discussion and Analysis
Another flame asks Dante for...
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Canto 28 Summary and Analysis
Sowers of Discord: Created discord on earth; their bodies are torn apart in Hell
Mahomet: Founder of Islam (Mohammed)
Pier da Medicina: Incited civil strife; disseminated scandal and misrepresentation; incited feuds between two Romagna families
Curio: Brought about civil strife; tongue removed for punishment
Mosca: Brought Florentine division by creating Guelphs and Ghibellines
Bertrand de Born: Headless shade who helped increase feud between Henry II of England and his young son Prince Henry
Dante is appalled at the suffering he sees from the bridge over the Ninth Bowge. He tries, in vain, to verbalize the extent of the pain by comparing it to battles, deaths, and wounds which the readers may recognize.
The two travelers see the Sowers of Discord in the Ninth Trench. The punishment of these shades is that a fiend rends their bodies in two with a sharp sword; the sinners can even rend their own bodies in two pieces.
The two poets are addressed by Mahomet, the founder of Islam, who states that Ali walks in the pit before him. He refers to places (like the plains between Vercelli and Marcabo, the passage near La Cattolica) and people (like Guido and Angiolello of Fano; the men of Argo; and Mosca). Mahomet shows the poets Curio, now with a missing tongue.
Dante sees an amazing sight: a body...
(The entire section is 729 words.)
Canto 29 Summary and Analysis
Falsifiers: Punished in the Ninth Trench; victims of disease and illness
Capocchio: Student with Dante; an alchemist who called self an “ape of nature” because of his power to mimic or to produce a draught
Aretine: Griffolino d’Arezza; a physicist; took money for promising miracles; burned at stake for falsifying
Dante spends some time watching the people in the Ninth Bowge because he expects to see one of his kinsman, Geri del Bello; Virgil urges Dante to continue the trip immediately and think of other things. Virgil indicates that he saw Geri del Bello while Dante was watching one who lived in Altaforte. Dante explains that Geri had been killed and his death was still unavenged.
Virgil and Dante note that disease is rampant in the trench. Dante compares it with Valdichiana, Maremma, and Sardinia. The pit contains the falsifiers. Dante says that no sadder sight was seen even in Aegina.
One of the shades in the Bowge X identifies himself as Aretine, who was burned at the stake because of Albero of Siena. Aretine had said he could fly; such falsification, along with his work as an alchemist, brought his execution since Albero told of being cheated by Aretine.
Capocchio, who could produce a drought and had been a fellow student with Dante, identified himself after mentioning...
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Canto 30 Summary and Analysis
Gianni Schicchi: Falsifier who dressed as Buoso and dictated a new will
Myrrha: According to Ovid disguised self and was impregnated by own father (King of Cyprus); turned into a myrtle tree and bore Adonis—a son—through the bark
Master Adam: Counterfeited Romena coins bearing John the Baptist
Guido, Alexander, and their Brother: Blamed for Adam’s counterfeiting; part of the Conti Guidi family
Sinon of Troy: Greek spy who persuaded the Trojans to bring the wooden horse into the gates of Troy
The False Wife: Reference to the wife of Potiphar (Book of Genesis); tries to lie with Joseph and, when he refuses, falsely accuses him
Dante begins Canto XXX with examples of fury from mythology. First, he identifies Jupiter and his obsession for Semele, which brought about Juno’s vengeance upon the Thebans. Juno caused Athamas, the brother-in-law of Semele, to undergo a fierce madness which resulted in Athamas’s killing his baby. Athamas’s wife drowned herself and her other child.
Dante recalls how Hecuba, the wife of the King of Troy, saw her daughter slain, found her son dead by the sea, and, while a captive herself, became insane. Dante remarks that none of this fury compares with what he sees from two shades in the Eighth Circle.
One shade falls on...
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Canto 31 Summary and Analysis
The Giants: Visible from the waist up above the rim of the well; include Nimrod (who loosed the bands of common speech), Ephialtes (who attacked Jove), and Antaeus (who is invincible on earth but not in the air or sky; carries Virgil and Dante to the pit bottom)
Dante speaks of Virgil’s tongue which had wounded him but now salves his wounds. As Dante and Virgil continue on their journey, they hear the clamor of those below them. Dante sees some towers and asks what they might be. Virgil says that the fog has changed Dante’s vision and kindly tells Dante that the pillars are giants set in a ring and hidden from the navel down. Dante says that the decision of nature to discontinue the making of these giants was a good one; he says that a thinking mind combined with strength and malice would give a combination against which people of a regular size would not be able to protect themselves.
From the place on the giant where the mantle is buckled downward to the ground is a full 30 hands.
Dante hears one of the giants begin to howl in a garbled tongue. Virgil commands the giant to use his horn and not his tongue; Virgil tells Dante that the giant is Nimrod, who caused the world’s many languages to appear.
The next giant that Dante sees is Ephialtes, who had fought against Jove. Dante sees that he is in...
(The entire section is 652 words.)
Canto 32 Summary and Analysis
Napoleone and Alexandro degli Alberto: Two shades in Region i, Circle IX; brothers; slew one another in fight over family land
Sassol Mascheroni: In Region i, Circle IX; murdered uncle’s only son (Sassol’s cousin) and took the inheritance.
Camicion de’ Pazzi: Introduced shades to Dante in Region i, Circle IX; quick to identify other wrong-doers; less-likely to identify own wrongs; murdered Ubertino, his own kinsman
Dante has doubts about his ability to describe with words what he has seen in Hell. A new sight reaches his eyes in Region i of Circle IX. He sees a river, the river Cocytus, frozen solid and remarks that even the Danube in Austria could not freeze as solidly. Dante predicts that even if high mountains crashed upon it, the ice would not break under their weight.
Dante sees shades in the cold and notes that their tears are frozen. One shade explains to him that the two which seem inseparable are Napoleone and Alexandro degli Alberto, whose father once controlled the valley. The chatty shade tells Dante that one of those near him is Sassol Mascheroni.
Only after identifying others does the shade tell Dante about himself.
The shade is Camicion de’ Pazzi. He is waiting for Carlin to “make excuses” for Camicion.
Dante sees the faces of the shades in...
(The entire section is 747 words.)
Canto 33 Summary and Analysis
Count Ugolino della Gherardesca: Guelph leader who ate human flesh; imprisoned in the Tower of Famine; saw sons and grandsons starve
Archbishop Ruggieri degli Ubaldini: Imprisoned Count Ugolino
Friar Alberigo: Soul in Patolomaea, where traitors to their guests reside
Ser Branca d’ Oria: Shade in Patolomaea responsible for murder
The shade who had eaten of the body of another person begins to speak to Dante. He tells Dante that he is Count Ugolino and that his victim is Archbishop Roger. In life he had trusted Roger, but Roger had betrayed him.
(An explanation of the above helps the reader to understand the summary. Count Ugolino della Gherardesca and his grandson Nino Dei Visconti headed two rival, powerful Guelph parties in 1288. Ugolino turned traitor and joined ranks with the Archbishop Ruggieri degli Ubaldini. As soon as the Archbishop and his forces were able to drive Nino out, however, the Archbishop turned on Ugolino. The Guelphs placed Ugolino and four of his sons and grandsons in a tower, which the people later called “the Tower of Famine.”
The Archbishop ordered the key to be thrown in the river and the prisoners were isolated. After eight days the tower was opened and all the occupants were dead.
In the canto, the shade tells Dante that one night he...
(The entire section is 753 words.)
Canto 34 Summary and Analysis
Dis (Satan): Ruler of the pit
Judas Iscariot: Resident of Region iv of Dis; betrayer of Jesus
Brutus: Later a Shakespearean character; opposed to the Divine and secular world; a resident of Dis
Cassius: Defeated by Anthony and took his own life; later a Shakespearean character; a resident of Dis
Canto XXXIV begins with the statement that “The banners of the King of Hell go forth.” Virgil asks Dante if it will be possible for Dante to recognize Dis (Satan) if they see him. The two pass over Judecca.
Dante sees Satan in Region iv, Dis. Satan is devouring Judas Iscariot. Cassius and Brutus are also residents of this lowest region.
The two poets climb down—and then up—the body of Satan. At the end of the journey they can see the stars once more.
Discussion and Analysis
The two poets pass over the region of Judecca, the last ring of the circle; this region is that in which the traitors to their Lords reside. The traitors here are totally covered with ice.
Symbolism is used in the description of Satan. His colors refer to the colors of people all over the world. If Lucifer’s present ugliness is equivalent to his earlier beauty before his desert, his betrayal must have been monstrous to have created such hideousness.
(The entire section is 366 words.)