Canto 11 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 467

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.

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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 Pope inside into sin. Photinus was a deacon from Thessalonica whom the Pope gave communion even though Photinus was a member of the Church of Constantinople.

Virgil informs Dante that the next three circles are arranged according to whom they offended: God, self, or neighbor. Sins against one’s neighbor are closest to the bottom of the pit. Using Aristotle’s Ethics to provide examples, Virgil also explains why there are levels of Hell. Murderers, robbers, and plunderers are in ring one; those who rob themselves of your world, who gamble and waste their purse are in ring two; those who dishonor God’s name and who commit the sins of Sodom (homosexuality) and Cahors (usury) are in ring three. The poet reminds Dante that people, after Genesis, ought to get their own bread and make prosperity for all. Those who engage in usury, or money lending, scorn Nature, the followers of Nature (Art), and God because they refuse to use the means of survival given to them by God.

Virgil reminds Dante that the Wain (Ursa Major) was over the Caurus (northwest wind) and that the time was that of the Fishes, or Pisces (mid-February to mid-March); this means that the time is two hours before sunrise (probably 4 a.m.) on Holy Saturday. Some interpreters point out that Virgil probably could not see the sky from Hell.

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