Dante's Inferno Canto 12 Summary and Analysis
by Dante Alighieri

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Canto 12 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
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 Pyrrhus, Sextus, Attila, and the Pazzian and Cornetan Riniers; he turns, crosses the ford again, and leaves Dante and Virgil alone.

Discussion and Analysis
The landslide was a result of the earthquake at Christ’s crucifixion. The Minotaur is a monster with the head of a bull and the body of a man and is guardian of the Seventh Circle. “The rock that had not fallen” has two meanings: Christ had not yet died and the rock with the Minotaur had not yet fallen. “The prey from Dis” is a reference to those whom Christ had rescued from the pit; Canto IV discusses this rescue.

The boiling river of blood is a fitting punishment for those who in life used violence against their neighbor. They had caused blood to be shed; blood now punishes them.

Several specific characters in this Canto probably need further explanation. Virgil and Dante see centaurs—half man and half horse—regulating the punishment of those in the River...

(The entire section is 581 words.)