Context: Dante, in the first chamber of hell, sees the trimmers, or those who did nothing, either good or bad. Here are found the legions of the angels who took neither God's nor Satan's side during the war in heaven. Among these neutral folk, Dante sees the man who through cowardice made "the great refusal." Although there are a few critics who hold this person to be Esau, the great majority consider him to be Pierro Morrone, who was taken from his hermitage when he was eighty years of age and was made pope in 1294. He assumed the name of Celestine V and resigned but five months after he assumed the papal office; he was succeeded by Boniface VIII, to whom Dante ascribes much of the evil of the times. The abdication of Celestine V caused great wonder and wide contemporary comment even as far away as Iceland.
And I, who looked again, beheld a banner,Which, whirling round, ran on so rapidly,That of all pause it seemed to me indignant;And after it there came so long a trainOf people, that I ne'er would have believedThat ever Death so many had undone.When some among them I had recognised,I looked, and I beheld the shade of himWho made through cowardice the great refusal.Forthwith I comprehended, and was certain,That this the sect was of the caitifi wretchesHateful to God and to his enemies.These miscreants, who never were alive,Were naked, and were stung exceedinglyBy gadflies and by hornets that were there.