Canto 19 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 537

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Simoniacs: Include Pope Nicholas III; profited from sale of holy items

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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 Pope wiggle his feet with all his power.

After praising Dante for his words to the shade, Virgil leads him on the rest of the journey.

Discussion and Analysis
Simon Magus in the Book of Acts is the person for whom the sin of simony was named. One who simonizes sells the holy articles of God for profit. Dante sees their punishment: they are placed head down in a hole and their feet are burned. The holes are similar to those that priests stand in to perform baptisms.

The sinner in the hole (a Pope) believes that Pope Boniface VIII betrayed the Church (the Fairest among Women) by selling holy items and is there for punishment. Dante finds that the Popes are stacked on top of each other and that there is only one hole for Popes.

The sinner in the hole (Pope Nicholas III) tells Dante that he once wore the Great Mantle, another name for the Papal Cloak, and was the Son of the Bear, a reference to his family name of Orsini which means “bear.” He is now in a pouch or hole just as his coins from selling holy items were in a pouch before his death.

Jason is a reference to one who bought his position in the Church. Dante reminds Pope Nicholas III that Jesus required no money from the disciples in order for them to follow him; no money was required of Matthias, who took Judas’s place after Judas betrayed Jesus and hanged himself.

The reference to seven is to the Seven Sacraments and the reference to ten is to the Ten Commandments. The reference to Constantine is to the Christian Emperor who allegedly transferred his rule over Italy to the Papal See.

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