Canto 26 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 701

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Counselors of Fraud: Sinners who convince others to practice fraud; spiritual thieves who rob others of integrity

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The Dual Flame: Ulysses and Diomede; planned the Trojan horse

Dante appears to praise Florence because its reputation is scattered across land, water, and Hell. Dante refers to the bitter favor which Prato wanted for the city.

As they move on the stairs, Dante reflects that he must curb his “hot spirit” so as to use wisely his good gifts. Ahead Dante sees the Eighth Trench with its fires. These spires of flame come from the bodies of each thief below. While Dante watches, he nearly falls but is saved by Virgil.

Dante asks who walks in the tall, fiery spire he sees, and Virgil answers that it is Eteocles and his brother who had killed one another in a battle. Virgil also recognizes Ulysses and Diomede.

Virgil says that Dante should not talk to these spirits. Instead Virgil will ask the questions since he can sense Dante’s thoughts and can speak to the Greeks who may spurn the language spoken by Dante.

Ulysses tells of his love of travel which not even his wife, his son, or his aging father could quell. On the sea voyage he recounts, his ship made good speed and he saw many things. He observed the “other pole” by night; five times the light kindled and waned. Foul weather struck, a whirlwind hit, and the seas closed over the ship.

Discussion and Analysis
Dante is actually being sarcastic when he praises Florence for its reputation because its reputation is not all good and, therefore, extends to Hell—where many of its citizens dwell. Even the Church, through Cardinal Nicholas of Prato, cursed Florence; Pope Benedict XI had sent the Cardinal to Florence in hopes of bringing together the hostile political factions. The Cardinal gave up on Florence and said that since it refused to be blessed, Florence could remain cursed. After his departure, a bridge collapsed and a fire killed over 2,000.

Dante sees the thieves with a spire of flame rising from each body. Virgil saves Dante from the fall; this could be a literal statement, but it could also be allegorical since Virgil is also rescuing Dante from the woods in which he was lost.

Dante questions whose spire burns so brightly and Virgil explains that Eteocles and his brother had killed each other in battle. The two brothers had fought in the war of the Seven against Thebes. Their bodies had been placed on a funeral pyre, but even in death the flames would not merge because of their hatred for each other.

Virgil explains also that the dual fires belong to Ulysses, a Greek hero who fought against the Trojans, and Diomede; Ulysses and Diomede had advised the Greeks to build the horse which allowed them to go inside the Trojan walls and to steal the Palladium, a statue which kept Troy safe. Ulysses persuades Achilles to go to Troy with Diomede and him; Deidamia, Achilles’ mother, dies from sorrow since she knows that Achilles will be killed in Troy. These deaths avenge the theft of the Palladium.

Virgil conjures the spire of Ulysses to speak, and Ulysses speaks through the flame. The story he tells is not one from any classical source; rather it is a tale that Dante himself wrote. Ulysses seems to be recounting a tale rather than speaking directly to a person. The tale that Ulysses tells may have come from Homer the author of the Odyssey. Some critics believe that this story refers to the final voyage of Ulysses in the Odyssey. Although Dante did not read Homer’s work, he may have been familiar with this tale through translated quotations.

The “other pole” to which Ulysses refers is the South Pole; it seems that his vessel has crossed the equator. When the whirlwind came, the seas closed over Ulysses and the other voyagers. The “other pole” Ulysses sees in his tale is usually identified with the Mountain of Purgatory, which Dante will ascend in the next poem. The connection being that Ulysses died in the shadow of a “mountain” just as he is in Hell.

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