Canto 16 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 489

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Three Florentines: Ask Dante about Florence; now in Hell

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Summary
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 Aldobrandi, spokesperson for the Guelphs: and Jacopo Rusticucci, who was mentioned earlier in Canto VI, who was a Guelph of great wealth, and whose wife drove him into vice. They speak of the arrival of a Florentine named Guillim Borsier’ who tells them of changes in the city. Borsier’ was originally a purse maker but in his previous life, he began to “rub elbows” with the nobility. He helped them arrange marriages, make treaties, etc. Borsier’ had shared the changes that he knew of while he and his fellow Florentines ran about in Circle VII. The shades request that when Dante is able to say that he was in Hell—but is there no longer—to mention their names to others.

The symbolism of the rope girdle is not immediately evident. Perhaps Virgil uses the rope girdle to draw the monster forth since the girdle is the only thing available to throw as a signal. Perhaps the rope—which Dante says was once intended to capture a leopard—is a symbol of the earlier sins of incontinence which continue to crop up in one’s life. Dante was unable to capture a giant cat with the rope, but it is now used to draw forth a monster from the pit. The rope may also symbolize false hope that Virgil wants Dante to cast aside in favor of reason. There are many symbolic interpretations.

Canto VII has an open ending. The reader knows that some creature has come up from the depths of the water, but Dante does not reveal what that creature is.

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