Character Analysis in Dante's Inferno
Character Analysis Examples in Dante's Inferno:
"that well-spring, From which such copious floods of eloquence Have issued?..." See in text (Canto 1)
One reason Virgil serves as Dante's guide through Inferno is that Virgil represents an artistic hero to Dante—both the protagonist of the epic and the poet himself. Indeed, Virgil has long been considered by many the greatest poet of Italian antiquity, an opinion Dante holds. Dante calls Virgil "that well-spring, from which such copious floods of eloquence have issued," as well as "my master."
"sleepy dullness..." See in text (Canto 1)
Dante has backslidden, though apparently more from inattention rather than a direct, willful act of disobedience against God. We do not know, however, if this inattention led him to commit specific sins that require restoration to the "path direct."
"My senses down, when the true path I left,..." See in text (Canto 1)
Dante personalizes the spiritual journey of The Inferno by presenting himself as the first-person protagonist. He is a middle-aged wanderer who lost his way and now finds himself on the wrong path—"Gone from the path direct"—in the dark forest. He doesn't remember how he lost his way, only that he was sleepy and unintentionally strayed from "the true path."
"O happy those, Whom there he chooses..." See in text (Canto 1)
Virgil's situation—being stuck in Limbo—is a difficult dilemma. Because he is a good and just man, he does not get sent to hell to be punished; but because he is a pagan and not a Christian, he cannot go to Heaven. Like all other good and just pagans, as well as infants who die before they are baptized, Virgil must remain eternally in the "holding tank" that is Limbo.
"Now not man, man once I was, And born of Lombard parents, Mantuana both By country..." See in text (Canto 1)
This is the first appearance of the Roman poet Virgil, Dante's guide to the Inferno and Purgatorio. Virgil (70–19 BCE), best known for the Aeneid, was born is a village near Mantua and lived in Rome during the reign of Julius Caesar and, later, Augustus Caesar. Virgil, because he recounted Aeneas' journey through the underworld in the Aeniad, is an appropriate guide for Dante on the same journey.
"Thou shalt be left: for that Almighty King, Who reigns above, a rebel to his law, Adjudges me, and therefore hath decreed, That to his city none through me should come..." See in text (Canto 1)
Virgil, a pagan who lived prior to Jesus's cleansing of sin, died unabsolved. Therefore, he is not allowed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Grace can only be given by God to Christian believers; it cannot be obtained either through virtue or reason.
"a spirit worthier then I..." See in text (Canto 1)
Dante is referring to Beatrice, whose name means "one who makes blessed." There was a "real" Beatrice, Beatrice Portinari (1255-1290), who was Dante's neighbor and with whom Dante fell deeply in love as an adolescent. She appears in Dante's 1295 poem "La Vita Nuova," wherein the poet extols her beauty and example of spiritual perfection.
"Speed now, And by thy eloquent persuasive tongue, And by all means for his deliverance meet, Assist him...." See in text (Canto 2)
The Roman poet Virgil has appeared to assist Dante on his spiritual quest. Virgil lives in Limbo, which is the first level of Hell reserved for those who either lived before hearing (or simply ignored) the message of God. Virgil, who awaits the chance to be granted entrance into Heaven, has been commanded by Beatrice (the love of Dante's life) to guide Dante along the journey back to salvation.
"her bright beaming eyes..." See in text (Canto 2)
Beatrice stands in direct contrast to the dark wood and, later, the underworld, because she generates light in the darkness. Her light is both literal and metaphorical, representing her capacity to offer both inspiration and illumination.
"I who now bid thee on this errand forth Am Beatrice..." See in text (Canto 2)
This is one of the most important lines in the Inferno in part because Beatrice, Dante's idealized woman, is Dante's savior because she is trying to put him on the right path. In this moment, Beatrice asks Virgil to serve as Dante's guide through Inferno, establishing her role as a kind of guardian spirit.
"Now much I dread lest he past help have stray'd..." See in text (Canto 2)
In a metaphorical sense, Beatrice is afraid Dante has lost his soul, has "stray'd." Dante's progress through Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso represent an extended—often painful, often numinous—attempt to re-align himself with the proper path and to find his soul again.
"not, Aeneas I nor Paul. Myself I deem not worthy..." See in text (Canto 2)
Dante declares himself unworthy to visit the underworld as Aeneas and the disciple Paul did. Both men are deeply associated with Rome and therefore, in Dante's view, helped to pave the way for the development of Christianity.
"by whose sight I am exalted in my own esteem..." See in text (Canto 4)
In other words, Dante is honored just to be in their company, to the extent that his own sense of self-worth rises due to the illustriousness of his context.
"The anguish of that race below With pity stains my cheek, which thou for fear Mistakest..." See in text (Canto 4)
Virgil and Dante are in Limbo, and Virgil pities the inhabitants because they are pagans and pre-Christian people who led nobles lives as well as the souls of unbaptized infants. Virgil himself is in this category.
"And I was sixth amid so learn'd a band..." See in text (Canto 4)
In this scene Dante includes himself among the "band" of poets he considers the six greatest in history. While this inclusion may seem hubristic, Dante would have considered his talent a gift from God, not something he achieved on his own. In the poem, Dante is chastising those who have wasted God's gifts; he can at least claim that he is not doing so with his own. In Paradise Lost, Milton makes the same argument but even more forcefully.
"Curs'd wolf..." See in text (Canto 7)
Plutus is a wolf in a metaphorical sense. The wolf, with its insatiable appetite, is a fitting figure for Plutus, with his insatiable hunger for material wealth.
"Plutus, in accent hoarse of wild alarm:..." See in text (Canto 7)
This is Circle 4, where those guilty of the sin of avarice—or greed—are doomed to spend eternity. In the Inferno, Plutus is associated not merely with wealth but with the insatiable desire to acquire wealth for its own sake. Plutus is depicted ambiguously as a kind of wild human being, capable of speech and understanding, but only barely.
""Fear not: for of our passage none Hath power to disappoint us, by such high Authority permitted. ..." See in text (Canto 8)
Evil guardian spirits refuse to let Virgil accompany Dante into the City of Dis, where Satan lives. They point out that Virgil is destined to remain in Limbo for the time being because he brought a living human into Hell. Therefore, they argue, Dante should have to continue alone. Dante is terrified and insists that if he and Virgil cannot proceed together, they should both turn back. Virgil assures him that though the guardian spirits forbid their entrance, they have been given permission by a higher "authority" and are thus qualified to enter.
"My liege..." See in text (Canto 8)
"My liege" is an important honorific, signifying royalty. Dante applies it to Virgil because it expresses the intense loyalty Dante feels to his mentor and guide.
"goes on the ancient prow, More deeply than with others it is wont..." See in text (Canto 8)
This is one of many instances throughout the Divine Comedy in which Dante's status as a living soul is apparent. Here, the boat seems to be weighted more heavily with Dante on board than it normally is with the dead souls.
"To Filippo Argenti..." See in text (Canto 8)
Filippo Argenti is Black Guelph and Dante's natural political enemy. He attempts to overturn the boat in which Virgil and Dante are crossing the Styx. It is possible that Dante's and Argenti's feelings about each other are intensely personal rather than just politica. Argenti may have slapped Dante across the face, a deadly insult in the Middle Ages. It is an act that Dante repays by having Argenti torn to pieces by his own followers in this canto.
"Phlegyas, Phlegyas, This time thou criest in vain," my lord replied..." See in text (Canto 8)
Phlegyas, who takes Virgil and Dante across the Styx in this circle of hell, is a victim of his own wrath. According to Greek mythology, after Apollo raped Phlegyas' daughter, he burned Apollo's temple, prompting Apollo to kill Phlegyas. Phlegyas therefore becomes emblematic of those who show contempt for the gods.
"Ah me! how full Of noble anger seem'd he! ..." See in text (Canto 9)
The heavenly messenger, although unidentified, is a Christ-like figure: aside from walking on water, he is able to open the gates of Dis with a touch of his wand. The messenger could also be Hermes (known to the Romans as Mercury), messenger of the the gods.
"Erewhile 'tis true Once came I here beneath..." See in text (Canto 9)
Dante fabricates this story of Virgil being forced by Erichtho to retrieve a soul from the underworld. In truth, Virgil's only experience in the underworld is fictional: his recounting of Aeneas' visit to Hades in Book VI of the Aeneid.
"Guido thy son Had in contempt..." See in text (Canto 10)
Here Dante is speaking to the departed soul and former leader of the Guelph party, Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti (died circa 128). His son was the poet Guido Cavalcanti, whose works were translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the 19th century and by Ezra Pound in the 20th century. Dante Alighieri and Guido were very close; Dante called the man his "first friend" in La Vita Nuova. Guido ended up marrying Farinata's daughter Beatrice in a effort to end the political fighting between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. In this passage, it is not entirely clear whom Guido holds in such ill-esteem. It might be Virgil, Beatrice, or even God.
"Now shalt thou say To him there fallen, that his offspring still Is to the living join'd..." See in text (Canto 10)
Dante asks Farinata to explain to Cavalcanti, who fell back into the tomb, that his son, Guido, is actually still living. Dante didn't answer Cavalcanti's question because he was unsure of the answer until talking further with Farinata.
"Our knowledge in that instant shall expire, When on futurity the portals close..." See in text (Canto 10)
In other words, as soon as the future becomes the present, the damned lose their ability to foresee events.
"Ye seem to view beforehand, that which time Leads with him, of the present uninform'd..." See in text (Canto 10)
Farinata and the other heretics, perhaps all of the damned, have "farsightedness." They can see distant events clearly and therefore predict the future, but as events come closer to the present, they lose their vision.
"So may thy lineage find at last repose," I thus adjur'd him..." See in text (Canto 10)
This is a magnanimous gesture from Dante. He reaches across political lines to acknowledge Farinata's courage in standing up to his own party. Farinata's principles transcend party divisions—Dante being a Guelph, Farinata a Ghibelline.
"Meanwhile the other, great of soul..." See in text (Canto 10)
"The other" refers to Farinata, who has been standing quietly listening to the exchange between Dante and Cavalcanti. Farinata is called "great of soul (in Italian magnanimo, which literally translates to "magnanimous") because, when the Ghibellines destroyed the Guelphs in Florence and wanted to sack the city, Farinata tried to stop the destruction.
"Where is my son? and wherefore not with thee..." See in text (Canto 10)
Cavalcanti seems desperate to learn the fate of his son, whom he knows is Dante's friend. In Dante's Vita nuova (1295), Dante's exploration of courtly love, Dante calls Cavalcante's son, Guido, his best friend.
"Rose from his side a shade, high as the chin..." See in text (Canto 10)
This refers to Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti. As a member of the Guelph family, Cavalcanti was an enemy of Farinata and the Ghibellines, and an ally of Dante. In an attempt to create peace between the Ghibellines and Guelph families, Cavalcanti arranged for his son, Guido, to marry Farinata's daughter, Beatrice degli Uberti (no relation to Dante's beloved Beatrice).
"Say, what ancestors were thine..." See in text (Canto 10)
This is a not-so-subtle way for Farinata to determine if Dante's family supports the Ghibellines, Farinata's party, or the Guelphs, Dante's.
"Farinata..." See in text (Canto 10)
This is Manete Degli Ulberti, a Florentine man who was commonly known as "Farinata." He was born in the early 13th century. By 1289, he was the leader of the Ghibellines, the party that had expelled the Guelphs from Florence in 1248. The Ghibellines were themselves exiled by the returning Guelphs. This pattern of ouster and return persisted until the Guelphs were thrown out permanently in 1260. Farinata died in 1264, the year prior to Dante's birth. In 1283, Farinata and his wife were posthumously branded as heretics for their mutual rejection of the resurrection of Christ.
"Wherefore in dotage..." See in text (Canto 11)
Virgil's reference to "dotage," or senility, may indicate Dante's age. He is thirty-five, an age which, during the Middle Ages, marks him as close to death. The average European person in the Middle Ages died at roughly thirty-one.
"My son..." See in text (Canto 11)
This is important because the phrase signals the growing relationship between Virgil and Dante as analogous to that between parent and child. During the journey, Virgil begins to take a paternal interest in Dante, and Dante begins to depend on Virgil as if he were a father.
"Rinieri..." See in text (Canto 12)
This refers to two notorious robbers, Rinier da Corneto and Rinier Pazzo, who plagued northern Italian roads in the 13th century. Pazzo was excommunicated after he robbed a bishop and his followers who were traveling to Rome and killed most of the group.
"Pyrrhus..." See in text (Canto 12)
Pyrrhus, king of Epirus (318–272 BCE), was the second cousin of Alexander the Great. Twice he lead groups of Italian Greeks in attacks on Rome—in 280 and 279. Although successful in these battles, he was unable to establish a foothold in Italy. He is the origin of the phrase "Pyrrhic victory" because, after the battle of Asculum in 279, he is reported to have said, "One more such victory and we are undone," meaning that he won a battle but lost too many troops to carry on the war.
"Sextus..." See in text (Canto 12)
Sextus Pompey (67 – 35 BCE), the son of Pompey the Great, was known as the "Sicilian Pirate" because after the murder of Julius Caesar he commandeered a Roman fleet and began raiding Italian coastal towns.
"Attila..." See in text (Canto 12)
Attila the Hun (406–453 CE) was known in the Middle Ages as Flagellum Dei (the Scourge of God) because of his success in conquering major parts of the eastern and western Roman Empire. Dante, as almost all Europeans were in the Middle Ages, is unaware that Attila actually allowed an unusual amount of freedom of religion and cultural expression in his conquered territories. Nonetheless, Attila's cruelty remains his defining characteristic in the annals of world history.
"He in God's bosom smote the heart, Which yet is honour'd on the bank of Thames..." See in text (Canto 12)
Nessus refers to Guy de Montfort (1244–1288 CE), Count of Nola, who fought, along with his father and elder brother, against the forces of King Henry III of England. Both his father and brother were killed in the Battle of Evesham (1265 CE), and de Montfort was badly wounded. He and his brother, Simon de Montfort, later avenged themselves against their cousin, Henry, Prince of Cornwall, who fought against them at Evesham, murdering the prince as he begged for mercy in a church. For this treacherous murder of a kinsman, Dante places him with the violent sinners.
"Let him Be to thee now first leader..." See in text (Canto 12)
Virgil refers to Nessus, the Centaur, who is their guide and protector in this part of Hell.
"Obizzo' of Este, in the world destroy'd By his foul step-son..." See in text (Canto 12)
Obizzo d'Este (1247–1293 CE) was a Guelph leader in northern Italy, murdered when his son smothered him with a pillow. Why Dante, who knows better, refers to the murderer as Obizzo's stepson is not clear, but Dante may have wanted to make the crime seem less horrific because Obizzo is, after all, a Guelph, and therefore a member of Dante's political party.
"Azzolino..." See in text (Canto 12)
"Azzolino" is a reference to Ezzolino da Romano (1194–1259 CE), the son-in-law of Frederick II and a Ghibelline leader in northern Italy. Among other atrocities, he was accused of burning to death over 10,000 Paduans. In 1255, Pope Alexander IV launched a crusade against him.
"Dionysius..." See in text (Canto 12)
This is a reference to Dionysius the Elder (432–367 BCE), king of Sicily, known for his relentless cruelty to his own subjects. His appearance among those damned for their violence is no surprise.
"Alexander..." See in text (Canto 12)
Alexander's inclusion in Hell might be a surprise to readers of Dante. In earlier works, Dante praised Alexander for his generosity and his ability to rule effectively a large territory. In Inferno, however, Dante has Alexander being punished for his cruelty and violence.
"To Nessus spake: "Return, and be their guide..." See in text (Canto 12)
There is a slight bit of irony here. Chiron asks Nessus to serve as a guide to Dante and Virgil. The last time Nessus agreed to such a task, he was murdered. The fault was his: he was killed because, when he carried Hercules's wife across a river, he tried to rape her.
"She left her joyful harpings in the sky, Who this new office to my care consign'd..." See in text (Canto 12)
Virgil refers to Beatrice, who sent him and Dante on this journey. In Canto 1, Beatrice explains, I' son Beatrice che ti faccio andare—translated as, "I am Beatrice, who makes you go."
"where the two natures join..." See in text (Canto 12)
The centaur's "two natures" are his human half and his horse half. The human part, his torso and head, begins at mid-chest.
"Are ye aware, that he who comes behind Moves what he touches..." See in text (Canto 12)
Chiron is noting that Dante is able to move things with his body as he walks, a result of the flesh-and-blood character of his existence. By contrast Virgil, a spirit, looms incorporeally over the infernal terrain.
"Nessus is this, Who for the fair Deianira died..." See in text (Canto 12)
In Greek myth, Nessus is the centaur whom Hercules trusted to take his wife, Deianira, across a river. Nessus subsequently attempted to rape her. Hercules killed Nessus with an arrow poisoned with the blood of the Hydra, but Nessus avenged himself on Hercules by giving Deianira a cloak soaked in his poisoned blood and telling her to give the cloak to Hercules if she ever doubts his fidelity. The blood in the cloak caused such pain that Hercules essentially committed suicide.
"Chiron..." See in text (Canto 12)
The mythical Chiron is, like the centaurs, half-man and half-horse. However, he is entirely different in character: wise, just, and knowledgeable in medicine and music. He is the teacher of Achilles, Jason, and Asclepius (known for his medical expertise).
"the Baptist..." See in text (Canto 13)
"The Baptist" is a reference to St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence. This speaker, although not identified, is thought to be a judge named Lotto degli Agli, who committed suicide after he unjustly sentenced an innocent man named Rocco di Mozzi, who had himself committed suicide after a business failure. Some scholars see the city of Florence itself as another suicide. In a metaphorical sense, the city commits suicide when it is destroyed during the political struggles of the Ghibellines and Guelphs. In the fourth century, Florence, to cement its Christian reputation, is reputed to have named John the Baptist as its patron saint, who replaced Mars, the Roman god of war. The fact that Dante begins Canto 13 with the comment "Love of our native city overcame me" is another indication that this passage may serve as a reference to Florence.
"On him, who squatted down, they stuck their fangs, And having rent him piecemeal bore away The tortur'd limbs..." See in text (Canto 13)
The second squanderer, who falls and is torn apart by the dogs, is Iacopo da Santo Andrea, reputed to have once been the richest citizen in 13th-century Padua. He was best known for having thrown money into a lake just to have something to do. He also set cottages on his property on fire to impress his dinner guests.
"Lano..." See in text (Canto 13)
This is the first of two sinners (squanderers) who are being chased by ravenous dogs. "Lano" is Arcolano di Squarcia Maconi, a young Sienese nobleman who squandered his wealth. During a battle, he and other Sienese troops ambused, and Lano chose to die when he had a chance to escape because he could not control his spending and thus did not want to face the resulting poverty he would face.
"That never faith I broke to my liege lord, Who merited such honour..." See in text (Canto 13)
Despite Pier's suicide, which is a serious sin for a Christian to commit, Dante is sympathetic to Pier and his ghastly fate.
"I it was, who held Both keys to Frederick's heart..." See in text (Canto 13)
Dante refers to Pier della Vigna (1190–1249 CE), a Sicilian poet who wrote several beautiful sonnets and served as a high-ranking official in Frederick II's court, eventually becoming the emperor's spokesman. According to his own account, Pier made many decisions on behalf of, rather than at the command of, Frederick II. Pier was eventually accused, perhaps falsely, of betraying Frederick's trust, and Frederick had him blinded and imprisoned. Pier, in despair, committed suicide by either smashing his head against the prison's walls or jumping out a high window just as Frederick was passing beneath.
"Thou art more punish'd, in that this thy pride Lives yet unquench'd..." See in text (Canto 14)
Capaneus suffers even greater punishment because he refuses to apologize for his blasphemy. That Virgil raises his voice to an "accent higher rais'd" indicates his condemnation of Capaneus's stubborn behavior.
"Such as I was When living, dead such now I am..." See in text (Canto 14)
The man speaking is Capaneus, a mythical Greek warrior-king known for his size and power as well as his scorn for the gods. It is this scorn that has placed him here among the blasphemers.
"I commend my TREASURE to thee..." See in text (Canto 15)
Brunetto refers to his own work Il tesoretto ("The Little Treasure"), which bears several similarities to Dante's journey in the underworld. Brunetto recounts how, after learning that he will have to live in exile after the Ghibellines defeated the Guelphs, he loses the right path and enters a "selva diversa," a strange forest. Like Dante and his Beatrice, Brunetto meets Nature in the form of a beautiful woman who leads him to a better path based on knowledge.
"Accorso's son Francesco..." See in text (Canto 15)
This is Francesco d'Accorso (1225-1293), the son of Accursius, a well-known legal scholar. His primary "sin" seems to have been abandoning his teaching position in legal studies at the University of Bologna and going with King Edward I of England to England, where he became a teacher at Oxford University. His change of allegiance may have been his real "sin."
"Priscian..." See in text (Canto 15)
Priscian Caesariensis was an influential Algerian scholar who lived at the turn of the 6th century CE. Priscian authored a well-known work of grammar with a wealth of quotations from classical writers. His work, because it contained so many quotations from classical writers, was used extensively by writers in the Middle Ages, including Dante. It is unclear why he is included in the sodomite category, other than the fact that many clerics and scholars were thought at the time to be susceptible to this vice.
"Sir! Brunetto..." See in text (Canto 15)
Here, Dante encounters Brunetto Latini (1220-1294), a Florentine philosopher and statesman who was a great influence on Dante's development as a scholar. His repeated salutation of "Sir" indicates Dante's high esteem for Brunetto. Brunetto and Dante, both of the Guelph party, are happy to see each other. Why Brunetto appears as a sodomite, however, is unclear. In Dante's time, sexual relations among men were not particularly unusual, and Brunetto appears to have been married, with children. It is possible that Dante places him with sodomites because he feels Brunetto engaged in metaphorical perversion—perhaps rhetorical in nature.
"Ever to that truth, Which but the semblance of a falsehood wears, A man, if possible, should bar his lip; Since, although blameless, he incurs reproach..." See in text (Canto 16)
Virgil tells Dante that if a man tells a truth the listener believes to be a lie, that man would be better off not saying anything at all. He will ultimately suffer the same scorn as if he had told a lie. Virgil is often a dispenser of moral wisdom.
"Borsiere..." See in text (Canto 16)
This refers to Guglielmo Borsiere, also among the sodomites. He has recently arrived among these sinners and therefore is able to tell them about Florence, which has been nearly destroyed by the struggles between Gibellines and Guelphs.
"I then began: "Not scorn, but grief much more..." See in text (Canto 16)
Dante's reaction of grief, rather than scorn, is not his acceptance of their sexual sins, but his knowledge of the good these men tried to do while alive. That they are all Guelphs, and therefore politically aligned with Dante, undoubtedly influences Dante's reaction to them.
"Am Rusticucci..." See in text (Canto 16)
The speaker describing the three men is Iacopo Rusticucci, another Guelph, but from a lower class than either Aldobrandi or Guido Guerra. His comment that "his savage wife destroyed me" recounts an incident in which has brought a young boy up to his room for sexual relations, and his wife, in order to denounce him as a sodomite, opened the window and yelled, "Fire!," which brought neighbors to the rescue. Iacopo told them the fire was out. After that, he is reputed to have forced his wife, as punishment for her treachery, to engage in "unnatural" sexual behaviors.
"Aldobrandi..." See in text (Canto 16)
This is Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, another 13th-century Florentine man. Aldobrandi was related to the powerful Adimari family and was, like Dante, a Guelph. After the defeat of the Ghibellines at Benevento, Aldobrani advised the victorious Guelphs against attacking the Ghibellines in Siena. The resulting battle at Montaperti in 1260 was a disastrous defeat for the Guelphs.
"As falcon, that hath long been on the wing, But lure nor bird hath seen..." See in text (Canto 17)
By comparing Geryon to a falcon that has not been able to find either food or a lure to justify his flight, Dante suggests that Geryon is displeased with the task carrying the two men. As soon as they land, Geryon disappears like an arrow from a bow, eager to be rid of them.
"who bore a fat and azure swine Pictur'd on his white scrip, addressed me thus..." See in text (Canto 17)
The usurer who addresses Dante, and whose purse is white with a blue pregnant sow, is thought to be from the Scrovegni family. He tells Dante to leave and then sticks his tongue out. This man may be Reginaldo Scrovegni, who was known for his greediness. Scrovegni predicts that two usurers still alive during Dante's visit—Vitaliano del Dente and Giovanni Buiamonte of the Becchi family—will join him in the underworld.
"than blood more red. A goose display of whiter wing than curd..." See in text (Canto 17)
The sinner whose purse is red with a white goose is a member of the Obriachi family of Florence, perhaps Locco Obriachi, notorious for lending at excessive rates in Sicily.
"His face the semblance of a just man's wore, So kind and gracious was its outward cheer; The rest was serpent all..." See in text (Canto 17)
In Greek mythology, Geryon is described as a three-headed or three-bodied monster, whom Hercules kills. In Inferno, Dante describes him as a serpent-like creature with a human head, with an appealing face, a serpent's body, hairy claws, and a scorpian's tail.
"Thais is this, the harlot, whose false lip Answer'd her doting paramour..." See in text (Canto 18)
Virgil draws Dante's attention to Thais, a Greek prostitute who was a well-known flatterer. When her lover sends Thais a slave and then asks her how she likes the gift, she answers with an unseemly amount of gratitude. Therefore she is considered a false flatterer, a reputation which lands her in this pouch.
"Alessio art of Lucca..." See in text (Canto 18)
Dante refers to Alessio Interminei, a White Guelph from Lucca, Italy. According to other commentators, Alessio is a consummate flatterer who "oozed flattery... reeked of it." For this reason Dante depicts him as covered in excrement.
"Hypsipyle beguil'd, a virgin young..." See in text (Canto 18)
When Jason and the Argonauts landed on Lemnos, they spent a year on the island. Jason married the Queen of Lemnos, Hypsipyle, and fathered twin sons, Euneos and Thoas (named after Hypsipyle's father). True to his character, Jason later abandoned them to continue his search for the golden fleece.
"Jason is he, whose skill and prowess won The ram from Colchos..." See in text (Canto 18)
The Greek mythical hero Jason is the leader of the Argonauts. He is in this circle of Hell because his chief sin is seducing women to help him and then abandoning them. Dante refers to Jason's voyage to Colchis to steal the magical golden fleece. He convinces Medea, the king's daughter, to help him. First, Medea puts to sleep a dragon protecting the fleece; second, she yokes powerful oxen in order to pull the fleece from the tree on which it hangs. After successfully acquiring the fleece, Jason leaves Medea and his two children by her to marry another woman.
"Venedico art thou..." See in text (Canto 18)
Dante sees a Bolognese, Venedico Caccianemico (1228–1302), a Guelph leader best known for having prostituted his own sister, Ghisolabella, to the Marquis d'Este, Obizzo II or his son, Azzo VIII, in order to win favor with royalty.
"with so compos'd A lip, he listen'd ever to the sound Of the true words I utter'd..." See in text (Canto 19)
Virgil listens with a satisfied expression on his face, for he knows the truth and discernment of Dante's words.
"I know not if I here too far presum'd..." See in text (Canto 19)
Dante knows full well that he may be overstepping in this criticism, but he continues anyway.
"a shepherd without law, Fated to cover both his form and mine..." See in text (Canto 19)
This refers to a French Archbishop named Bertrand de Got, who took the name Pope Clement V in 1305 and was elected through the influence of France's King Phillip IV. Clement repaid King Phillip by moving the papacy to Avignon, France, in 1309. This change threw the Catholic Church, which had always been headquartered in Rome, into a turmoil that lasted almost 100 years until 1417, when the papacy returned to Rome permanently.
"That in the mighty mantle I was rob'd, And of a she-bear was indeed the son..." See in text (Canto 19)
Nicholas III, who was himself pope from 1277-1280, was of the Orsini family (the "little bears") and is most remembered for committing nepotism by handing out powerful Church positions to his own family members.
"O Boniface..." See in text (Canto 19)
Dante has encountered a sinner who confuses him for Pope Boniface VIII. Boniface was originally Benedetto Caetani, a scholar of religious law who became pope after the abdication of Pope Celestine V in 1294, who may have abdicated because he was threatened by Caetani. Dante disliked Pope Boniface VIII intensely and considered him a danger to the church because Boniface believed that the pope should be both the leader of the church and of the secular government. Dante, on the other hand, believed in a balance of power between church and state. Boniface's greatest sin, in Dante's eyes, was that he intervened in the struggles for power in Florence between the White and Black Guelphs. Boniface sided with the Black Guelphs, who exiled the White Guelphs, including Dante. In this scene, another simonist, Nicholas III, mistakes Dante for Boniface because he is buried upside down and cannot see Virgil or Dante.
"WOE to thee, Simon Magus! woe to you..." See in text (Canto 19)
This the Third Pouch of the Eight Circle of Hell, in which those guilty of simony suffer. Simonists are those guilty of selling pardons and indulgences to sinners who want to avoid or reduce their punishment in the Hell—the original "get-out-of-Hell-free" card. Simon Magus, the namesake of simony, is here. Simon Magus was a famous magician who, after converting to Christianity, was deeply impressed with the ability of the Apostles Paul and John to infuse the faithful with the Holy Spirit. Magus then offered Christians money to give him the same power, which, according to doctrine, can only be derived from faith and good works, not money.
"See next the wretches, who the needle left, The shuttle and the spindle, and became Diviners..." See in text (Canto 20)
Virgil is pointing to a group of witches. They are characterized as women who abandoned the proper work of women (in the perspective of the 13th century), weaving, to become soothsayers and magicians.
"Asdente..." See in text (Canto 20)
Asdente, which means toothless, refers to Benvenuto of Parma, a shoemaker and prophet whose prophecies seem to have been often accurate. He successfully predicted, for example, the defeat in 1248 of Frederick II at Parma.
"Guido Bonatti..." See in text (Canto 20)
Guido Bonatti (1210–1296) was the premier astrologer of the 13th century. He served as court astrologer of several political leaders, including Frederick II, Guido Novello de Polenta, and Guido da Montefeltro. As a supporter of the Ghibellines, Dante's political enemies, Bonatti claimed that the key Ghibelline victory at Montaperti resulted in part from his astrological calculations.
"Michael Scot..." See in text (Canto 20)
Michael Scot (1175–1232 CE) was a Scottish scholar, astrologer, and alchemist widely known across Europe in the Middle Ages. He published commentaries on Aristotle and Averroes and served as court astrologer for Emperor Frederick II. According to legend, Scot predicted that he would die from being struck on the head by a rock. From then on he wore an iron skullcap to mitigate the coming calamity. One Sunday while he was in church, Scot removed his cap out of respect for liturgical tradition. A stone tumbled from the cathedral's roof, fell directly on Scot's head, and, killed him, fulfilling his prophecy.
"I forewarn thee now, That falsehood none beguile thee of the truth..." See in text (Canto 20)
Virgil wants his version of Mantua's founding and history to be considered the only true version, primarily because it denies the mythical connection to the pagan soothsayer Manto.
"Ere Casalodi's madness by deceit Was wrong'd of Pinamonte..." See in text (Canto 20)
Virgil refers here to the Guelph political leader of Mantua, Alberto de Casalodi (1320–1288 CE). In 1272, Ghibelline leader Pinamonte de Bonaccorsi convinced Casalodi to surrender Mantua to the Ghibellines. Dante, a Guelph, refers to Casalodi's actions as "madness" and Bonaccorsi's as "deceit."
"To shun All human converse, here she with her slaves Plying her arts remain'd..." See in text (Canto 20)
It seems important to Virgil that everyone understand that Manto, the founder of Mantua, was in the area before it had any permanent inhabitants. Because this "pouch" of the underworld punishes false prophets like Manto, Virgil does not want to connect the city close to his birthplace with Manto, and so on the timeline of Mantuan history, he places her before the city's founding.
"where he who bears Of Trento's flock the past'ral staff, with him Of Brescia, and the Veronese..." See in text (Canto 20)
Virgil refers to the bishops of Verona, Brescia and Trento, whom he characterizes as shepherds of their various flocks.
"Manto..." See in text (Canto 20)
Manto is the daughter of Tiresias and, like her father, can see future events. After Tiresias's death, she traveled to Italy and, according to legend, founded the Tuscan city of Mantua. This event is important to Virgil because he was born in a village near Mantua.
"Aruns..." See in text (Canto 20)
Aruns is an Etruscan prophet who foretold the disastrous Roman Civil War between Caesar and Pompey.
"Tiresias note..." See in text (Canto 20)
Next, Virgil points out Tiresias, a prophet from Thebes who spent part of his life as a woman as a punishment for having struck the female of a pair of snakes. Seven years later, he struck the same two snakes again and was changed back into a man. Eventually, Jupiter (Zeus) and Juno (Hera) asked him whether a man or woman enjoys the act of love more, and Tiresias supported Zeus's view that women get more pleasure from lovemaking. Juno in anger then blinded him, and Jupiter, to compensate for his blindness, granted him the power of prophecy.
"Amphiaraus, whither rushest..." See in text (Canto 20)
Virgil refers to Amphiaraus, a prophet from Argos, who was persuaded by his wife, Eriphyle, to join the expedition against Thebes, known in Greek mythology as "The Seven Against Thebes" (so named for the seven kings who led the army). Amphiaraus, who foresaw that none of the seven except Adrastus would survive, knew he was doomed, so he asked his son to avenge his death by killing Eriphyle should he not return. During the retreat from Thebes, Amphiaraus was swallowed by the earth and fell into the underworld.
"What, and art thou too witless as the rest..." See in text (Canto 20)
Virgil, who holds no sympathy for these sinners, rebukes Dante for his feelings of pity.
"Alichino forth," with that he cried, "And Calcabrina, and Cagnazzo thou..." See in text (Canto 21)
The names of the Malebranche are as follows: Alichino means "Harlequin"; Calcabrina means "Frost Trampler"; Cagnazzo means "Nasty Dog"; Libicocco means "Stormbreath"; Barbariccia means "Curly Beard"; Draghignazzo means "Nasty Dragon"; Ciriatto means "Wild Swine"; Graffiacane means "Dog Scratcher"; Farfarello means "Goblin"; and Rubicante means "Red-faced Terror." While the names are inventions, it is possible that Dante crafted them out of perversions of the family names of corrupt Italian politicians.
"Stay, stay thee, Scarmiglione..." See in text (Canto 21)
Malacoda orders the demon Scarmiglione, whose name roughly translates to "Troublemaker," not to touch Dante.
"Go, Malacoda..." See in text (Canto 21)
Malacoda, which literally means "evil tail," is the leader of the Malebranche, the demons who so enthusiastically enjoy torturing the corrupt officials.
"Behov'd him then a forehead terror-proof..." See in text (Canto 21)
It is important for Virgil to show that he is not terrified by what he sees. Cary translates this moment as Virgil displaying a "forehead terror-proof." In Dante's Italian, Virgil has a "sicura fronte," more accurately translated as a "face of security" or a "front of security," in the sense of a façade. Thus, "fronte" has two meanings: on a literal level, Virgil's face; on a figurative level, his demeanor.
"but the' other prov'd A goshawk..." See in text (Canto 22)
This passage refers to the demon Alichino, who is described as a goshawk, a medium-sized raptor often used by medieval noblemen for hunting.
"The spirit of Navarre..." See in text (Canto 22)
Here Dante refers to Ciampolo (Jean-Paul in French), a Navarrese man who most likely took bribes during the reign of King Thibault, who was king of Navarre from 1255 to 1270. Nothing else is known of Ciampolo.
"The chief of Logodoro, Michel Zanche..." See in text (Canto 22)
Michel Zanche (1203–1275 CE) was the governor of Logodoro, one of the four judicial provinces of Sardinia. Zanche was murdered by his son-in-law, Brancha d'Oria.
"friar Gomita..." See in text (Canto 22)
Appointed chancellor in 1294 by governor Nino Visconti, Gomita was a Pisan judge of Gallura. Gallura was one of the four judicial districts of Sardina. Despite numerous complaints against Gomita, Visconti took no action until he found out that Gomita had aided and abetted escaping prisoner. Visconti had Gomita hanged shortly after appointing him.
"as a child, Not a companion..." See in text (Canto 23)
Virgil carries Dante "in his bosom, as a child." The implicitly parental nature of the relationship between Virgil and Dante is now quite explicit. There is no doubt that their relationship is nearly that of parent and child
"Suddenly my guide Caught me..." See in text (Canto 23)
This passage marks another example of the father-son relationship that Virgil and Dante have developed on the journey. The relationship is much closer than that of leader and follower.
"so that from both I one design have fram'd..." See in text (Canto 23)
Virgil explains that, having intuited Dante's thoughts, he has formulated a plan that incorporates both of their wishes.
"I should not sooner draw unto myself Thy outward image, than I now imprint That from within..." See in text (Canto 23)
Virgil tells Dante that he can perceive his friend's thoughts more quickly than a mirror could reflect his face. This comment marks the deepening camaraderie between the two men.
"Those evil talons..." See in text (Canto 23)
In Dante's original, he invents the word Malebranche to describe the demons. The word literally translates to "evil talons," used here in Cary's version.
"Then Florence changeth citizens and laws..." See in text (Canto 24)
Vanni, true to his often disgraceful character, refers to something that he knows will be very painful for Dante to hear. The describes when the joined forces of Pistoian and Florentine Black Guelphs exiled the White Guephs, Dante's party, from Florence in 1301.
"Me the beastial life..." See in text (Canto 24)
Vanni Fucci is in the realm of hypocrites because, after stealing holy objects from a chapel in the cathedral at Pistoia, he failed to confess when another man was arrested for the crime and almost executed. Even then, Vanni only gave up an accomplice, who was executed, and never confessed his own guilt. Vanni's refers to his "beastial life" because his contemporaries actually called him "the beast."
"For not on downy plumes, nor under shade Of canopy reposing, fame is won..." See in text (Canto 24)
Virgil claims that fame does not come to someone who rests on down beds or lies under canopies. Virgil says this to rouse Dante out of his weariness and into a greater state of activity.
"And with the guilt another falsely charged..." See in text (Canto 24)
Sacred objects were stolen form the chapel of San Jacopo, causing an uproar. Fucci, in order to save the innocent man Ramipino di Francisco Foresi, named his own accomplice as the criminal, resulting in "another falsely charged."
"Vanni Fucci am I call'd..." See in text (Canto 24)
Vanni Fucci was a man from the Tuscan town of Pistoia, not far from Florence. Fucci was the bastard son of Fuccio de Lazari, an extreme partisan of the Pistoian Black Guelphs. He was infamous for his bouts of rage and was responsible for at least one murder. Dante is surprised, therefore, to find him here rather in the circle of the violent.
"Th' unsteady ballast of the seventh hold..." See in text (Canto 25)
Dante recognizes the "new" man—the one who just changed from lizard to man—as Francesco de' Cavalcanti, known as "Guercio" (Cross-Eyed). Buoso arranged to take over for him and continue stealing while in public office. Dante accurately describes him as "unsteady" because he was just transformed from a lizard into a man.
"Thus to another spake..." See in text (Canto 25)
Buoso Donati is in this part of the Inferno because he stole while serving the public. For Dante, such theft stands as one of the most serious sins of corruption.
"Then, as they both had been of burning wax, Each melted into other, mingling hues..." See in text (Canto 25)
Cianfa, in the form of a large lizard, attacks a second sinner, Agnel. Agnel is is thought to be Agnello dei Brunelleschi, a White Guelph who switched over to the side of the Black Guelphs. Cianfi and Agnello meld into one hideous snake-like creature.
"Had need to name another..." See in text (Canto 25)
Cianfa Donati (died 1289 CE) was a Florentine thief who had a reputation for stealing livestock and breaking into shops.
"Swarm not the serpent tribe, as on his haunch They swarm'd, to where the human face begins..." See in text (Canto 25)
The Centaur is depicted with snakes growing on his torso, up to the point at which his head begins.
"Where is the caitiff..." See in text (Canto 25)
Even the Centaur, a creature known for violence and hostility, cries out for Vanni Fucci because he wishes to punish Vanni himself. "Caitiff" means "lowlife" or "scum of the earth."
"WHEN he had spoke, the sinner rais'd his hands Pointed in mockery, and cried: "Take them, God..." See in text (Canto 25)
Dante and Virgil are in the Seventh Pouch of the Eighth Circle, the ditch in which thieves are punished. The sinner in question is Vanni Fucci, who "point[s] in mockery," most likely a crude Italian hand signal in which the mocker places the thumb between the first and middle fingers. This signal, similar to the modern practice of displaying one's middle finger, is an indication of Vanni's lack of respect even as a sinner.
"Gaville..." See in text (Canto 25)
This is Francesco de' Cavalcanti, also known as "Guercio" (which means "cross-eyed" or "squinty"). Cavalcanti was murdered by citizens of Galville, a town not far from Florence. His death was avenged by the Cavalcanti, who murdered a number of Galville's citizens. There is no solid historical evidence that Guercio was a thief.
"I mark'd Sciancato..." See in text (Canto 25)
This is a reference to Puccio Galigai, who was more commonly known as "Sciancato" (which translates as "lame"). Galigai was a member of the Ghibelline family. He appears to have gained a reputation as a gentleman thief.
"Cianfa..." See in text (Canto 25)
Apparently a member of the Donati family of Florence, Cianfa (died 1289 CE) is later depicted in this canto as transforming into a serpent.
"Cacus..." See in text (Canto 25)
In Greek mythology, the giant Cacus was the offspring of Medusa and Vulcan. The fire-breathing monster lived in a cave under Mount Avetine, trapping unexpecting passers-by. Although his parents are both gods, in Book IV of the Aeneid, Virgil calls Cacus a "half-human."
Dante has changed some of the details of the original story, diverging from Virgil's characterization by changing Cacus into a centaur who carries a fire-breathing dragon on his back.
In Canto 17, it is explained that Cacus took cattle from Hercules—cattle Hercules himself had stolen from Geryon. Hercules killed Cacus because of the theft. Virgil says that Hercules strangled the monster; Ovid, however, says the Cacus was clubbed to death.
Though other centaurs guard the violent, and Cacus here does function as a quasi-guard, he too is punished among the thieves.
"Ulysses there and Diomede..." See in text (Canto 26)
Ulysses and Diomedes are here because, in Dante's eyes, they are guilty of fraudulent rhetoric. In Ulysses' case, he lured Achilles away from his mother, Thetis, by promising the warrior eternal glory on the battlefields of Troy. Diomedes is guilty of stealing the Palladium, a statue of Athene, symbol of the goddess who protected Troy. Ulysses and Diomedes are jointly punished for the Trojan horse, a stratagem they devised. Finally, Ulysses committed fraud by convincing his crew to sail across the Atlantic Ocean for one final voyage. It was this final trip, never mentioned in The Odyssey, which killed Ulysses and crew.
"Threw out its voice, and spake..." See in text (Canto 26)
Tennyson's masterpiece "Ulysses" was modeled after Ulysses's speech here. Both Dante and Tennyson describe the actions of Ulysses after he returns home to Ithaca at the end of The Odyssey. The aged captain sets out again for a final adventure, only to lead his crew to ruin on the Atlantic. Scholars are unsure whether Dante devised this epilogue for Ulysses. Tennyson and Dante tell episode in different ways. In Dante's estimation, Ulysses is a failure, primarily because he shirks his duties as a father and husband. He is also guilty of hubris, and of not recognizing the limitations imposed by the gods. Tennyson, however, lauds the bravery of the quest and argues that human progress is made possible by those who, like Ulysses, dare to push limits.
"where lay The Theban brothers..." See in text (Canto 26)
The "Theban brothers" are Etecoles and Polynices, the warring sons of Oedipus who killed one another. The divided flame rising from their mutual funeral pyre is a testament to their eternal hatred.
"To Minos down he bore me..." See in text (Canto 27)
Minos is one of three judges in the underworld who determines where sinners will be punished. Minos is depicted in detail in Canto 5.
"The chief of the new Pharisees meantime, Waging his warfare near the Lateran, Not with the Saracens or Jews (his foes All Christians were, nor against Acre one Had fought, nor traffic'd in the Soldan's land)..." See in text (Canto 27)
Pope Boniface and the powerful Colonna family were in constant odds until actual warfare broke out in 1297. When Celestine V adbicated, the Colonna refused to accept it, which led them to deny the legitimacy of Boniface. Here Dante attacks Boniface for crusading against fellow Christians, yet doing nothing to oppose the Sacracens who had conquered Acre in 1291. Acre was the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land. Boniface also did not punish those who defied the order which criminalized trade with Muslims.
"Lamone's city and Santerno's range Under the lion of the snowy lair..." See in text (Canto 27)
Faenza is located on the Lamone River. Imola is located on the Santerno. Maghinardo Pagani da Susinana, who ruled both in 1300, is called the "lion" because of his coat of arms. Maghinardo was known for his political inconsistency.
"The' old mastiff of Verruchio and the young, That tore Montagna in their wrath, still make, Where they are wont, an augre of their fangs..." See in text (Canto 27)
Malatesta da Verruchio (1212–1312 CE) defeated the Ghibellines of Rimini in 1295. The leader of the Ghibellines, Montagne de' Parcitati, was captured and killed by Malatesta's son, Malatestino. Maletesta ruled until his death at age 100, in 1312. He was succeeded by Malestestino, who ruled until 1317. His brother, Pandolfo, then became the ruler. Malatesta had two other children, Gianciotto, the husband of Francesca, mentioned in Canto 5, and Paolo, her lover.
"There Polenta's eagle broods, And in his broad circumference of plume O'ershadows Cervia..." See in text (Canto 27)
This is a reference to Guido da Polenta, who ruled over Ravenna from 1275 to 1297. As Dante suggests, his coat of arms featured an eagle. Guido's grandfather, Guido Novello, was Dante's host in Ravenna in 1231. He was also the father of Francesca da Ramini, who was mentioned in Canto 5. Cervia, located on the Adriatic, lies southeast of Ravenna.
"Romagna..." See in text (Canto 27)
Romagna is a region located in northeastern Italy, extending from the Po River in the south, to the Appennines in the east. The range includes Mount Oranato, from which the Tiber originates. The speaker here, although not identified, is Guido da Montefeltro (1220–1298). He is considered the greatest of the Ghibelline commanders. He kept Romagna under Ghibelline rule when the majority of Italy, including the papacy, was controlled by the Guelphs. Montefeltro was excommunicated in 1289, although he was later reconciled with the Church and became a Franciscan in 1296.
"know that I Am Bertrand, he of Born, who gave King John The counsel mischievous..." See in text (Canto 28)
Dante has encountered Bertran de Born (1140-1215 A. D.), a well-known troubadour-poet from Provence. He is among the divisive because he is thought to have urged Prince Henry, son of King Henry II of England, to rebel against his father. Bertran is thus guilty of creating a rift not only between father and son but also between a subject and his king, thereby threatening the stability of a kingdom.
"Mosca..." See in text (Canto 28)
Mosca de' Lamberti (died 1243 CE), a Florentine Ghibelline, is blamed for inciting the struggles between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, which devastated Florence and resulted in Dante's permanent exile.
"Curio..." See in text (Canto 28)
This is a reference to the Roman statesman Gaius Scribonius Curio (died 53 BCE). When Julius Caesar deliberated in Gaul, trying to determine whether to cross the Rubicon river into Roman territory, it was Curio who urged him to carry on. Caesar's act of crossing the Rubicon with his forces sparked the civil war that resulted in Caesar's ascension to the throne of Rome and its territories. Dante viewed Curio's act as sowing discord.
"How is Mohammed mangled! before me Walks Ali weeping..." See in text (Canto 28)
Medieval Christian, such as Dante, viewed the succession of Mohammed (570–632 CE), the founder of Islam, as the primary cause of one of the greatest and most harmful divisions in religious history. Walking near him is his successor, Ali (601–661 CE), who became the Imam of the Shia sect of Islam. The Shia and Sunni sects have clashed ever since Mohammed's death. In Dante's vision of hell, Mohammed and Ali suffer horrific punishment not because they are sinners per se but because they founded a religion that Dante believed was a sin itself.
"how I aped Creative nature by my subtle art..." See in text (Canto 29)
Capocchio falsai li metalli con l'alchìmia, meaning that he "falsified metals through alchemy." Alchemy was the medieval science of transmuting base metals, such as lead, into gold through a series of arcane operations. It was, by definition, a pseudoscience, for such transmutations are not possible. Capocchio describes alchemy as an attempt to "ape/Creative nature by my subtle art."
"Abbagliato..." See in text (Canto 29)
This is Bartolomeo dei Folcacchieri (nicknamed Abbagliato, meaning "dazed" or "bedazzled"), a Sienese political leader who was once fined for drinking where it was illegal.
"Caccia of Asciano..." See in text (Canto 29)
Caccia d'Asciano was another luxurious, decadent man. He was forced to sell his major source of income, a vineyard, to pay for his spendthrift ways.
"Because I made him not a Daedalus..." See in text (Canto 29)
Griffolino d'Arezzo (died 1272 CE) is in this area of the Inferno because he convinced Albero di Siena that he could fly like Daedalus. Albero paid Griffolino to teach him to fly. Later, when Albero realized that Griffolino was a fraud, Albero denounced Griffolino for heresy. Albero's friend, the Bishop of Siena, ordered Griffolino to be burned at the stake. God understood his true sin—falsifying—and put him here rather than with the heretics.
"Niccolo..." See in text (Canto 29)
This is Niccolo di Giovanni de' Salimbeni, a member of the "brigata spendereccia" ("The Spendthrifts' Club"), a group of young nobles from Sienna who spent their wealth as lavishly as possible. It is estimated that they went through their entire fortunes in just two years. There are claims that Niccolo introduced cloves, the exotic and expensive spice, to the gardens of Sienna.
"Arezzo was my dwelling," answer'd one, "And me Albero of Sienna brought To die by fire; but that, for which I died, Leads me not here..." See in text (Canto 29)
There have been two identifications of "Albero of Sienna." Early scholars claim that this man is "Griffolino," an Arentine who was convicted of heresy and burned at the stake in 1272. Later scholars argue that Albero was the protege, and perhaps son, of the Bishop of Sienna.
"There is a spirit dwells, one of my blood..." See in text (Canto 29)
This passage refers to Dante's cousin, Geri del Bello, described more fully in the next annotation. Geri is in this part of the Inferno because he is thought to be a falsifier. Commentators at the time accused him of an being an alchemist, an imposter, a counterfeiter, and a sower of discord. Geri was accused of having created dissension among the Sacchetti family of Tuscany and, as a result, may have been murdered by a Sacchetti.
"Thou hast not shewn in any chasm beside This weakness..." See in text (Canto 29)
At the sight of the prisoners suffering in this region of the Eighth Circle, Dante is deeply disturbed. Seeing Dante's state, Virgil remarks that Dante has not shown "this weakness" in any other "chasm" of hell so far. Virgil urges Dante to rouse himself, for they have much left to see and do.
"To hear Such wrangling is a joy for vulgar minds."..." See in text (Canto 30)
Virgil commands Dante to ignore Sinon's and Adam's arguing, explaining that a man like Dante (who does not have a "vulgar mind") has no business finding joy in "such wrangling." Virgil chastises Dante for willful disobedience. Dante repents and quickly earns Virgil's forgiveness.
"Adamo's woe..." See in text (Canto 30)
"Adamo" is a figure from a late-13th-century scandal. In 1277, a document identified a "Master Adam," an Englishman who was a member of the Guidi household in Romena. In 1281, someone who worked for the Guidis, most likely Master Adam, was burned alive for coining underweight gold, passing off twenty-one carat florins for twenty-four carat florins.
"That sprite of air is Schicchi..." See in text (Canto 30)
According to early scholars, Buoso Donati died intestate—without a will. His nephew Gianni Schicchi impersonated Donati and created a will in order to bequeath himself Donati's property. This elaborate scam, plucked from the pages of Dante, inspired Puccini's 1918 opera Gianni Schicchi.
"Seems as men yet believ'd, that through thine arm The sons of earth had conquer'd..." See in text (Canto 31)
Virgil flatters Antaeus because he needs the giant's help. Virgil says that men believe the Titans would have beaten if the Olympic gods if Antaeus had participated in the attack. This is an example of dramatic irony, for readers know that Virgil's story may well be a lie.
"who five ells complete Without the head..." See in text (Canto 31)
An "ell" is an English measure equal to 45 inches. Antaeus, without considering his head, stands above the rim of the pit by almost 19 feet.
"Antaeus..." See in text (Canto 31)
Unlike the other giants, Antaeus, the brother of Briareus, is able to speak. His punishment is not quite as restrictive as those of the other giants because Antaeus did not participate in the attack on Mt. Olympus.
"Briareus..." See in text (Canto 31)
Virgil describes Briareus, another giant, as equal to Ephialtes in size but even more terrifying. Dante does not describe Briareus, who is traditionally described as one of three giants with one hundred arms who helped the gods defeat an attack by the Titans. Briareus is specifically credited with saving Zeus (Jove).
"Raphel bai ameth sabi almi..." See in text (Canto 31)
dThese words, spoken by a Giant, are essentially a string of Hebrew gibberish. Scholars suggest that this reflects Dante's refusal to allow the Giants to say anything intelligible. They are symbols of brute power, not intellectual capacity.
"Tribaldello..." See in text (Canto 32)
Tribaldello de' Zambrasi of Faenza, betrayed another Ghibelline family, the Lambertazzi, over a dispute involving two pigs. The Lambertazzi family had taken refuge in Faenza after being exiled by the Guelph in Bologna. In November, 1280, Tribaldello opened Faenza's gates and let in the Guelph enemies of the Lambertazzi, who slaughtered the Lambertazzis.
"Ganellon..." See in text (Canto 32)
Ganelon betrayed the Christian forces to the Saracens (Moors) in 778. Based on his counsel, Charlemagne crossed the Pyrenees into France, leaving Roland (referred to in Inferno as Orlando) and his rear-guard troops in Spain to cover Charlemagne's crossing. Roland and his troops were overwhelmed by the Saracens, despite Roland's blowing his horn for help. Ganelon convinced Charlemagne not to aid Roland by saying that Roland was merely blowing his horn while hunting. This lie resulted in the massacre of Roland and his troops. Charlemagne executed Ganelon for treachery by having four horses pull him apart, a torture known as "drawing and quartering."
"Soldanieri bides..." See in text (Canto 32)
Dante refers to Gianni de' Soldanieri, a member of a Ghibelline family. Soldanieri joined the Guelphs after Manfred, son of Frederick II, was defeated by Guelph forces in 1266 at Benevento. The pope, however, came to doubt his motives for switching allegiance and exiled him from Florence. However, some Florentines considered Soldanieri a patriotic fellow Florentine.
"Beccaria..." See in text (Canto 32)
Tesauro Beccaria (1258) was a papal legate and abbot of Vallombrosa. He was presumed to be a supporter of the Guelph party in Florence but secretly allied himself with the exiled Ghibellines. He was beheaded by the Guelphs. The pope, in retribution, excommunicated the city of Florence, a major religious crisis for its citizens.
"Him of Duera..." See in text (Canto 32)
"'Him of Duera'" is a reference to Buoso de Duera (died 1282 CE), a Ghibelline from Cremona. Taking a bribe from the French, Buoso refused to fight Charles of Anjou and his French troops as they advanced on the Kingdom of Naples. Buoso therefore betrayed the Ghibelline party supporting Manfred, son of Frederick II.
"What ails thee, Bocca..." See in text (Canto 32)
Bocca degli Abati is from a Ghibelline family that stayed in Florence after the Ghibellines were forced out of Florence in 1258 by the Guelphs, Dante's political party. Bocca joined the Guelph cavalry and fought at the decisive Battle of Montaperti near Siena in 1264 but betrayed the Guelphs by cutting off the hand of a Guelph standard bearer. When the standard fell, the Guelph cavalry, assuming the loss of their flag indicated a serious tactical loss, panicked and retreated. In the panic, the Guelph troops were routed and lost the battle, thereby losing control of Florence. This loss ultimately resulted in Dante's permanently exile from Florence. The Guelphs regained control of Florence and, uncertain of Bocca's betrayal, exiled him rather than execute him. He chose not to identify himself to Dante because his place in the Ninth Circle of Inferno confirmed his heretofore-unconfirmed betrayal.
"I await Carlino here my kinsman, whose deep guilt Shall wash out mine..." See in text (Canto 32)
Camiscion is waiting for his cousin Carlino, who is alive at the time of Dante's visit to the Inferno. Carlino will soon arrive in the Ninth Circle, having surrendered the White Guelph stronghold of Piantravigne to the Florentine Black Guelphs.
"Camiccione..." See in text (Canto 32)
"Camiccione" is Alberto Camiscion, a member of the Pazzi family of the Tuscan town of Valdarno. Alberto killed his cousin Ubertino to take control of two castles they jointly owned.
"Mascheroni..." See in text (Canto 32)
Sassolo Mascheroni was a 13th-century Florentine man who killed his cousin in order to take his inheritance. When he was caught, Mascheroni was stuffed into a barrel full of nails that was rolled through Florence. Then he was beheaded.
"Focaccia..." See in text (Canto 32)
This refers to Vanni dei Cancellieri, a White Guelph whose nickname was Focaccia. He killed his cousin, a Black Guelph, thereby creating a dispute between the Guelphs which began in Pistoia and came to encompass Florence as well.
"whence his wave Bisenzio slopes, did for its master own Their sire Alberto, and next him themselves..." See in text (Canto 32)
This refers to two sons of Count Alberto of Mangona (1203–1250 CE), who owned castles in the Bisenzio valley near Florence. After the death of their father, the two brothers—Napoleone, a Ghibelline, and Alessandro, a Guelph—killed each other over their inheritance.
"When this one left a demon in his stead..." See in text (Canto 33)
This passage explains how Branca Doria and Zanche are in both the world of the living and in Inferno at the same time. Their living bodies are inhabited by devils while their souls are in Inferno
"Branca Doria..." See in text (Canto 33)
Branca Doria (1233–1325 CE) was a Genoese leader of the Ghibellines. His presence here baffles Dante because at the time of Dante's journey he was still alive. In fact, Doria outlived Dante by several years. Doria is here because he invited his father-in-law, a corrupt judge named Michel Zanche, to dinner and then murdered Zanche and his companions.
"The friar Alberigo..." See in text (Canto 33)
Friar Alberigo (died 1307 CE) is one of the Jovial Friars found in Pouch 6 of Circle 8. These friars were a group of clerics whose ostensible goals were to foster peace within families and between cities but who became infamous for corruption and high-living. Alberigo is here, however, for betraying his guests. Alberigo and Manfred, a close relative, got into an argument, and Manfred slapped Alberigo, a very serious insult in the 13th century. Alberigo, acting as if the insult were forgotten and forgiven, invited Manfred and his son to a banquet. At the end of banquet, Alberigo signaled for his servants, who entered and killed Manfred and his son.
"A small grate Within that mew, which for my sake the name Of famine bears..." See in text (Canto 33)
Archbishop Ruggiero had Ugolino arrested. He threw Ugolino, along with his two sons and two grandsons, into a tower for eight months. When a new group of Ghibelline leaders took control of Pisa, they nailed shut the door of the tower and threw the keys into the Arno. Ugolino, his sons, and grandsons, all starved to death.
"Know I was on earth Count Ugolino, and th' Archbishop he Ruggieri..." See in text (Canto 33)
Count Ugolino della Gherardesca (1220–1289 CE) was born into a Ghibelline family but switched to the Guelph party. He betrayed his city, Pisa, and its leadership. After trying and failing to install a Guelph government in Pisa in 1274, he was exiled for several years. Upon his return, Ugolino led Pisan naval forces against Genoa. He was defeated but was appointed the political leader of Pisa along with his grandson, Nino Visconti. During this time, Ugolino turned over several Pisan castles to Lucca and Florence for political reasons. This decision created a rift among Guelphs and motivated Dante to place him among traitors to country.
Ugolino later cooperated with Ghibellines led by Archbishop Ruggieri degli Ubaldini, who demanded that Ugolino's grandson, Nino, be exiled from Pisa. Ugolino's compliance rendered him a traitor against family, as well as against country.
""Lo!" he exclaim'd, "lo Dis! and lo the place, Where thou hast need to arm thy heart with strength." ..." See in text (Canto 34)
In Canto 8, Dante and Virgil encounter Dis, the walled city that contains the deepest circles of hell, the 6th through the 9th. In this line, when Virgil exclaims, "'Lo Dis! and lo the place,/Where thou hast need to arm thy heart with strength,'" he is referring to Satan. In Roman mythology, Dis—often known as Dis Pater—was a subterranean god of agriculture and mineral wealth. Later, he was absorbed into Pluto and Hades, also subterranean gods. When Dante combined the Greco-Roman and Christian mythological traditions in the Inferno, he conflated Dis, Hades, Lucifer, and Satan into the same figure—the great devil at the bottom of the lowest ring of hell.
"Brutus: lo! how he doth writhe And speaks not! Th' other Cassius..." See in text (Canto 34)
Marcus Junius Brutus (85–42 BCE) and Gaius Cassius Longinus (85–42 BCE) were Roman statesmen from the Republican era of Rome. Both men fought with Pompey in the Roman Civil War against Julius Caesar. After Pompey's defeat at Pharsalus in 48 BCE, Caesar pardoned the two men and gave them influential positions. Cassius and Brutus later joined forces and assassinated Julius Caesar. Because Dante believed that Caesar's reign was vital to the development of Europe, he viewed the acts of Cassius and Brutus as a secular equivalent to Judas's betrayal of Jesus. For this reason, these three traitors are given the worst punishment of all by being tortured by Lucifer himself.
"Judas, he that hath his head within And plies the feet without..." See in text (Canto 34)
Judas Iscariot (died 33 CE), the betrayer of Jesus Christ, is depicted as having his head inside Lucifer's mouth and his legs protruding. As described in the biblical New Testament, Judas was one of Jesus's twelve disciples. He betrayed Jesus to the Romans for thirty pieces of silver, precipitating Jesus's crucifixion. Judas later regretted the decision, returned the silver, and hanged himself.
"Upon his head three faces: one in front Of hue vermilion, th' other two with this Midway each shoulder join'd and at the crest; The right 'twixt wan and yellow seem'd: the left To look on..." See in text (Canto 34)
Lucifer (Latin for "bearer of light") stands as the opposite of God in every way. Dante depicts him as a horrific trinity, with three faces—reddish, black, and a yellowish-white. This trinity contrasts the Christian Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Some scholars speculate that Dante chose the colors to represent the three races known to him: reddish, or ruddy, to represent Europeans; black for Africans; and yellowish-white for Asians.
"That emperor, who sways The realm of sorrow, at mid breast from th' ice Stood forth..." See in text (Canto 34)
"That emperor" is Lucifer. For Dante, Lucifer is the most important traitor to his benefactor in the history of mankind, for his benefactor was God.