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 Hell.
Discussion and Analysis
Dante notes the nearby Usurers on the ground. The purses about their necks bear the signs of their families and their coat of arms; they look toward their purses, their first love. They look toward the hot ground (or Nature) which God intended that they use for a livelihood and which they spurned. These burned creatures share the same area of Hell with the Sodomites, who also make the earth sterile. The person with the goats upon his satchel whom the Usurers seek is Satan; the Scriptures speak of Judgment Day when God shall separate the sheep from the goats. The goats will go to Dis with Satan; Satan bears this symbol on his satchel. It is logical that those in the fiery pit should seek the ruler of their abode.