Analysis Pages

Historical Context in Dante's Inferno

Historical Context Examples in Dante's Inferno:

Canto 1

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"O happy those, Whom there he chooses..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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.

"For whose fair realm, Camilla, virgin pure, Nisus, Euryalus, and Turnus fell..."   (Canto 1)

Camilla was the daughter of the king of the Volscians. Nisus and Euryalus were young Trojan soldiers. Turnus was the king of the Rutulians.  All were leaders of indigenous Italians; enemies in life, here they are patriots, key elements in the founding of Rome.

"She fastens, and shall yet to many more, Until that greyhound come, who shall destroy Her with sharp pain..."   (Canto 1)

The symbolism of the greyhound is one of the most contested elements of the entire work, attributed to various religious and historical figures as well as the second coming of Christ. However, the most frequent attribution is to the ruler Cangrande della Scala, who governed Verona from 1308 to 1329; his name suggests "Great Dog."

"I look'd aloft, and saw his shoulders broad Already vested with that planet's beam, Who leads all wanderers safe through every way..."   (Canto 1)

The "planet" to which Dante refers is the sun. This reflects a pre-Copernican model (1543) of the cosmos, postulated by Claudius Ptolemy (100–170 CE), in which Earth was the fixed center of the universe.

"IN the midway of this our mortal life..."   (Canto 1)

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) was thirty-five years old in 1300, the year the poem takes place.  the Bible's projection for a human lifespan was threescore years (sixty) and ten—seventy years. Thus, Dante-the-protagonist begins his journey when he is precisely "midway" through his life. Dante-the-author began composing the poem in 1308, when he was forty-three years old.

"O courteous shade of Mantua..."   (Canto 2)

Beatrice refers to Virgil's birthplace, a town called Andes, near Mantua, in the region of Northern Italy the Romans referred to as Cisalpine Gaul.

"not, Aeneas I nor Paul. Myself I deem not worthy..."   (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.

"Within that heaven which hath the smallest orb..."   (Canto 2)

Cosmologist Claudius Ptolemy (100–170 BCE) believed that the moon had the smallest orbit from the sun. Between the moon and heaven was the zone was the Earth, his perceived center of the universe.  

"Thou hast told that Silvius' sire..."   (Canto 2)

In the "Aeneid," Silvius is the son of Aeneas and his second wife, Lavinia (daughter of the King of Latinus of Lathum). In Book VI, Aeneas travels to the underworld, where the shade of his father shows him the future glories of Rome.  

"For these defects, And for no other evil, we are lost; "Only so far afflicted, that we live Desiring without hope."..."   (Canto 4)

Virgil explains that, like himself, the people damned to spend eternity in Limbo were not baptized—they either lived before the Gospel or died before their baptisms could take place. None of the people in Limbo are particularly evil; however, they did not achieve the redemption required to enter heaven.

"When I beheld a puissant one arrive Amongst us, with victorious trophy crown'd..."   (Canto 4)

Virgil refers to Christ's Harrowing of Hell, an episode following Christ's crucifixion when he descended into Hell and "rescued" several biblical figures, including Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Jacob and his twelve sons, Isaac, and Rachel.

"The portal to thy faith..."   (Canto 4)

In traditional Roman Catholic doctrine, an infant who is not baptized and who dies, cannot go the Heaven because he or she is still considered to bear original sin. Baptism is the minimum means of entrance into Heaven (Paradiso).

"BROKE the deep slumber in my brain a crash Of heavy thunder..."   (Canto 4)

When Dante awakes from his fainting spell, he and Virgil are in the First Circle of Inferno, known as Limbo, where worthy pagans and infants who died before being baptized are kept.

"Lucretia..."   (Canto 4)

Lucretia, wife of Tarquinius Collatinus, was raped by Sextus, son of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. After revealing this shame, she committed suicide.

"The anguish of that race below With pity stains my cheek, which thou for fear Mistakest..."   (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.

"Avicen, and him who made That commentary vast, Averroes..."   (Canto 4)

Avicen—often known as Avicenna—was an Arabic philosopher and author of a medical textbook. Averroes was a Spanish Islamic philosopher who wrote a well-known commentary on Aristotle. Scholars have argued that Dante's inclusion of these Islamists (as well as Saladin) is evidence of Dante's hostility towards Islam. There are mosques in the Dis (Canto 8) and Mohammad is found among the damned (Canto 28).  

"Euclid and Ptolemy..."   (Canto 4)

Euclid was a Greek geometer who wrote the Elements of Geometry in the third century BCE. Ptolemy was an Egyptian astronomer who in the second century CE devised the geocentric model of the universe which prevailed until the scientific revolution of the 16th century. 

"Orpheus I mark'd And Linus, Tully and moral Seneca..."   (Canto 4)

By placing the mythical figures Orpheus and Linus together with the historical figures Tully and Seneca, Dante seems to be suggesting that poetry and values, as well as fiction and fact, exist side-by-side. 

"Hippocrates, Galenus..."   (Canto 4)

Both Hippocrates (for whom the "Hippocratic Oath is named) and Galenus were Greek physicians. 

"Dioscorides..."   (Canto 4)

Pedanius Dioscorides was a first-century Greek scienitist and physician. He was the author of De materia media, a volume that cataloged the uses of medicinal plants. 

"I spied the master of the sapient throng, Seated amid the philosophic train. Him all admire, all pay him rev'rence due. There Socrates and Plato both I mark'd, Nearest to him in rank; Democritus, Who sets the world at chance, Diogenes, With Heraclitus, and Empedocles, And Anaxagoras, and Thales sage, Zeno..."   (Canto 4)

Aristotle (384–322 BCE) is the unnamed "master of the sapient throng" to whom Dante refers. When Aristotle's works were translated into Latin, they were disseminated through Christendom through the efforts of the Italian friar and philosopher Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225–1275 CE). The other philosophers mentioned here are known as the pre-Socratic philosophers, the Greek thinkers who preceded Socrates (470–399 BCE) and Plato (428–348 BCE)—the two primary founders of the Western philosophical tradition.

"Marcia, with Julia and Cornelia..."   (Canto 4)

Marcia was married to Cato the Younger, the Roman statesman. Julia was Caesar's daughter and Pompey's wife. Cornelia was the daughter of Scipio Africanus and the mother of the tribunes, Caius and Tiberius, together known as the "Gracchi." 

"Brutus I beheld, Who Tarquin chas'd..."   (Canto 4)

Lucius Tarquinius Superbus was the last of the great Roman kings. Superbus's son, Sextus Tarquinius, raped Lucretia, an event which led to the king's banishment, ordered by Lucius Junius Brutus. Brutus was the brother of Lucretia and the nephew of Tarquin. Note: this is not the same Brutus as Julius Caesar's assassin, Marcus Junius Brutus. 

"Soldan..."   (Canto 4)

Soldan—usually referred to as "Saladin"—was the sultan of Egypt in 1174. He scored a number of wins against the European Crusaders but was eventually defeated by Richard the Lionhearted at the Battle of Arsuf in 1191. Saladin was held in great esteem in medieval Europe. Despite his resistance to Christianity, he was acknowledged for his piety and noble nature.   

"Old King Latinus, seated by his child Lavinia..."   (Canto 4)

In Roman mythology Latinus was the king of Latium, the region of central Italy in which Rome was founded. Lavinia was his daughter.  

"and by Camilla there Penthesilea..."   (Canto 4)

Camilla was the daughter of Metabus, king of the Volscians. Metabus and Turns, king of the Rutulians, were the leaders of indigenous Italians who resisted invasions by the Trojans. Penthesilea was the queen of the Amazons, a race of women warriors. She was killed by Aeneas as she fought to save Troy. These events, which are described in The Aeneid, are so old as to be more mythical than historical in nature.

"Electra there I saw accompanied By many, among whom Hector I knew, Anchises' pious son..."   (Canto 4)

"Electra" here is not a reference to the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, the Electra made famous by Sophocles and Euripides. Rather, it is a reference to the daughter of Atlas and the mother of Dardanus, founder of Troy. Her descendants include Aeneas and Hector. 

"The third is Naso..."   (Canto 4)

"Naso" is Publius Ovidius Naso, the Roman poet best known as Ovid (43 BCE – 18 CE). Ovid's most influential poem was the epic Metamorphoses, which Dante references heavily. 

"Lucan..."   (Canto 4)

"Lucan" is the Roman poet and historian Marcus Annus Lucanus (39–65 BCE). Lucan is the author of Pharsalia, an epic bout the conflict between Caesar and Pompey.  

"Flaccus..."   (Canto 4)

"Flaccus" is Quintas Horatius Flaccus (65–8 BCE), a Roman poet. In the Middle Ages he was known mostly for his satires, though he also wrote odes. Flaccus describes himself as a satirist in *Ars Poetica. *

"This is that Homer, of all bards supreme..."   (Canto 4)

Here, Virgil is paying his respect and indebtedness to Homer, from whose works (The Odyssey and The Iliad) Virgil heavily borrowed. Dante himself could not read Greek and thus his knowledge of the works was only indirect. 

"Israel with his sire and with his sons, Nor without Rachel whom so hard he won, And others many more, whom he to bliss Exalted..."   (Canto 4)

In the Bible, Jacob's name was changed to "Israel" (Hebrew for "struggles with God") after he wrestled with an angel. Jacob's father was Isaac, the son of Abraham. Jacob married Rachel and had twelve sons who became the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel.

"I would address those two together coming, Which seem so light before the wind..."   (Canto 5)

Dante refers to Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, lovers who died while trying to escape from Francesca da Rimini's enraged husband and Paolo's brother, Gianciotto.

"with his tail so oft Himself encircles, as degrees beneath He dooms it to descend..."   (Canto 5)

Minos, the judge, has a tail that wraps around the sinner the number of times that represents the sinner's circle of hell.  In this context, Minos is most likely a conflation of two King Minoses—the first, a decent king; and the second, his grandson, a Cretan king of the same name, who was a cruel tyrant and who was responsible for requiring the Athenians to supply young men and women each year to be sacrificed to the Minotaur at the Minoan Labyrinth.

"The book and writer both Were love's purveyors..."   (Canto 5)

This is an allusion to Gallahad (or "Gallahault") who acted as go-between for his friend Lancelot in his illicit affair with King Arthur's wife, Guinevere. Because of his assistance in the betrayal, Gallahad's name became synonymous with "panderer." 

"Lancelot..."   (Canto 5)

In the French story Lancelot du Lac, Lancelot, one of the Knight of Arthur's Round Table, falls in love with King Arthur's wife, Guinevere. When he has an affair with her, Lancelot loses his purity and thus becomes incapable of finding the Holy Grail. 

"Caina waits The soul, who spilt our life..."   (Canto 5)

Caina is the first section of Cocytus, the ninth and final circle of Hell. A full description of Caina can be found in Canto 32. It is named after the first human murderer, Cain, whose story is told in the biblical Book of Genesis. In this section of the circle, those who betray their families are punished. Caina "waits" because Gianciotto has not yet died 1300, when Inferno takes place. Gianciotto died in 1304, early enough for Dante to have been aware of his death during his composition of the poem.

"The land, that gave me birth..."   (Canto 5)

Dante was born in Ravenna, a city in Northern Italy. In midlife, he was exiled to Ravenna, where he composed The Divine Comedy and eventually died. Ravenna is also the birthplace of Francesca da Rimini, mentioned a few lines later in this canto. Francesca was forced into an arranged marriage in 1275 with the physically deformed Gianciottoa Malatesta (according to Boccacio, the poet and humanist). Francesca was allegedly tricked into the union, having ostensibly been promised Gianciotta's younger brother, the dashing young Paolo. When Gianciotta discovered his wife and his brother had been having an affair, he murdered them both. 

"Tristan..."   (Canto 5)

Here Dante refers to the tale of Tristan and Iseult (also, Isolde). Tristan, King Mark of Cornwall's nephew, falls in love with Iseult, King Mark's fiancee, after they accidentally drink a love potion originally intended for King Mark and Iseult. In a rage, King Mark shoots Tristan with a poisoned arrow, and Tristan, who happens to be embracing Iseult when struck, goes into muscle spasms and inadvertently chokes Iseult as he dies of the poison. 

"Helen..."   (Canto 5)

Helen was the wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta. She was kidnapped by Paris, the son of Priam, king of Troy. Helen's departure to Troy sparked the Trojan War.

"Cleopatra..."   (Canto 5)

Cleopatra (69–30 BCE) was a queen of Egypt. She is referred to here as "lustful queen" for her affairs with the Roman statesmen Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. 

"The next in amorous fury slew herself..."   (Canto 5)

This is a reference to Dido, the queen of Tyra, and later, queen of Carthage. She broke her vow to remain faithful to her husband after his death when she had an affair with Aeneas. When he abandoned her, she killed herself. See Book IV of the Aeneid for the full story.

"This is Semiramis, of whom 'tis writ, That she succeeded Ninus her espous'd..."   (Canto 5)

Semiramis was a legendary queen of Assyria, infamous for legalizing incest so that she could have sexual relations with her son. Semiramis is based on the historical Shammuramat, a queen who reigned in the 9th century BCE.

"Minos..."   (Canto 5)

In greek mythology, Minos was the king of Crete and the son of Zeus and Europa. In the Aeneid, Virgil depicts Minos and his brother, Rhadamanthus, as judges in the underworld. 

"Plutus, the great foe..."   (Canto 6)

In Greek mythology, Plutus is the personification of wealth and abundance, originally an agricultural god. Dante refers to him as the "great foe" because, in Roman mythology, Plutus (Pluto) is in charge of the underworld.

"Farinata and Tegghiaio say, They who so well deserv'd, of Giacopo, Arrigo, Mosca..."   (Canto 6)

All of the individuals named here are prominent Florentine citizens with whom Dante is familiar. Later on in the poem, Dante encounters several of these men in the Inferno's lower circles.

"For the sin Of glutt'ny, damned vice..."   (Canto 6)

Gluttony, like lust, is one of the Catholic church's seven mortal sins. Although lust and gluttony are the two least harmful of the sins, they still merit severe punishment and infernal damnation.

"and the other rise By borrow'd force of one..."   (Canto 6)

This passage refers to the intervention of a French prince, Charles of Valois. The prince was sent by Pope Boniface VIII, purportedly to settle the dispute between the two groups. His real goal, however, was to instigate a rebellion against the White Guelphs, one result of which was the permanent exile of Dante, who numbered among them.

"the wild party from the woods..."   (Canto 6)

Dante's political faction, the White Guelphs, were known as the "party of the woods" because of the rural origins of the Cerchi family.

"befall the citizens Of the divided city..."   (Canto 6)

During Dante's life, two political factions divided Florence, the White Guelphs and Black Guelphs. After a Black Guelph victory, Dante, a White Guelph, was banned for life from Florence—to be executed by fire if he ever returns. The conflict among the Guelphs originated as a struggle for power between two families: the Black Guelphs supported an aristocrat named Corso Donati, and the White Guelphs supported a banking family headed by Vieri di Cerchi.

"O thou!" He cried, "who through the infernal shades art led..."   (Canto 6)

Dante recognizes an old acquaintance, a Florentine man whose name is later disclosed to be "Ciacco." The name is most likely a nickname that meant pig in the Florentine dialect of the mid 14th century. We do not know much about Ciacco from Dante, but, according to Boccaccio, Ciacco was respected and liked for his smooth manners and agreeableness.

"The just are two in number, But they neglected.  Av'rice, envy, pride, Three fatal sparks, have set the hearts of all On fire..."   (Canto 6)

This is the first of the prophecies made by condemned souls in the poem. Here, Ciacco is predicting events in the future, but occurred prior to the writing to the Inferno. In 1289, the Ghibellines had been driven from Florence, the Guelph party had broken up and rival factions were formed: the White Guelphs (the party to whom Dante belonged) and the Black Guelphs. By 1300, full war had broken out between the White Guelphs and Black Guelphs. The Black Guelphs lost and were forced out. However, due to the support of Pope Boniface VIII, the Black Guelphs were able to retake the city. The White Guelphs were then forced into exile, including Dante, who would never return.

"Cerberus..."   (Canto 6)

Cerberus is the three-headed dog from Greek mythology who guards the gates of Hades. In Book VI of the Aeneid, Cerberus is fooled when Sybil throws him a honeycake, allowing Aeneas to slip past unnoticed. It is Dante's poetic innovation, however, to anthropomorphize the beast into a speaking, judging agent with canine characteristics. 

"Into a lake, the Stygian nam'd..."   (Canto 7)

This is actually the river Styx, which in Greek and Roman mythology is the river in the underworld the dead must cross to reach Hades.

"Those with close-shaven locks..."   (Canto 7)

This refers to the tonsure, a hairstyle among clerics and monks in which the top of the head is shaven, leaving a ring of hair around the head. The style was common among all ranks of the clergy in the Middle Ages.

"both Popes and Cardinals, o'er whom Av'rice dominion absolute maintains..."   (Canto 7)

Virgil is pointing out to Dante that some of these condemned souls are former "Popes and Cardinals," leaders of the Roman Catholic Church who were completely controlled by their greed. In Dante's time, when the Roman Catholic Church bore tremendous political and economic power, the great flow of money through the institution made avarice a genuine temptation.

"Charybdis..."   (Canto 7)

In Book VIII of The Odyssey, Odysseus must sail past a vicious whirlpool named "Charybdis." Charydbis is also mentioned in the Aeneid and in the works of Ovid and Lucan. 

"So 't is will'd On high, there where the great Archangel pour'd Heav'n's vengeance on the first adulterer proud..."   (Canto 7)

In the Bible, the figure of Satan—the "first adulterer proud"—begins as Lucifer, one of the heavenly angels. Lucifer's revolt against God leads to his expulsion, a task carried out by the archangel Michael. 

"that of Dis is nam'd..."   (Canto 8)

Dis originally refers to Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld. In his epic, Dante imagines Dis as a city that encompasses the entirety of the lower part of the underworld. Dis, which is described as having moats, walls, towers, and a threatening population, seems to be a heavily fortified town typical of northern Italy in the Middle Ages. San Gimingnano, near Florence, one of few Tuscan towns to retain its guard towers, offers a fit example.

"To Filippo Argenti..."   (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..."   (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.

"Erewhile at gate less secret they display'd..."   (Canto 8)

This is the entrance to Hell described at the beginning of Canto 3. Despite the protests of Satan and his followers who tried to stop him, Christ opened the outer portal in his Harrowing of Hell. 

"Farthest from heav'n's all-circling orb..."   (Canto 9)

This is a reference to what was called the Primum Mobile, the Prime Mover, the force that imparts motion to all the heavenly spheres. The idea of the Primum Mobile was articulated in detail by Aristotle. Aristotle's writings were in turn popularized in the Middle Ages by the scholastic philosophers, namely Thomas Aquinas, whose work Dante was familiar with.

"Ah me! how full Of noble anger seem'd he! ..."   (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..."   (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.

"Megaera; on the right hand she, Who wails, Alecto; and Tisiphone..."   (Canto 9)

These are the three Furies, also called Erinyes, Eumenides, or Dirae.  Of the three, Alecto is sometimes referred to as the Queen of the Furies.  In the Middle Ages, the Furies were thought to embody specific sins, which makes their appearance here appropriate.

"What profits at the fays to but the horn? Your Cerberus, if ye remember, hence Bears still, peel'd of their hair, his throat and maw..."   (Canto 9)

Hercules chained the three-headed dog Cerberus down and rescued Theseus, who had become imprisoned in the Underworld after trying to rescue Persephone.

"E'en when by Theseus' might assail'd, we took No ill revenge..."   (Canto 9)

In one episode of Greek lore, Theseus, king of Athens, goes to the Underworld to rescue Persephone. He becomes imprisoned himself until he is rescued by Hercules.

"Medusa..."   (Canto 9)

In Greek mythology, Medusa was the youngest of the three monstrous sisters known as the Gorgons. Medusa was raped by the god Neptune, as told in Book IV of Ovid's Metamorphoses. The goddess Minerva turned Medusa's hair into horrifying snakes. From then on, Medusa was so terrifying to look at that anyone who did so turned to stone. 

"three hellish furies..."   (Canto 9)

The Furies appear in many classical works, perhaps most notably the Oresteia by Aeschylus. The Furies are avengers, primarily of crimes committed against kin. In the Aeneid, they appear in Book VI, serving as the gatekeepers of the City of Dis. 

"Erictho, sorceress, who compell'd the shades Back to their bodies..."   (Canto 9)

The sorceress Erichtho is found in Book VI of Lucan's work *Pharsalia. *In the story, Erichtho has been asked by Sextus to reanimate a dead soldier who had fought for Pompey. Sextus wants to find out in advance the outcome of Pompey's campaign against Caesar.

"Queen of this realm,..."   (Canto 10)

"The Queen of this realm" is Hecate (also known as Proserpine), the wife of Hades. She was often linked with the moon. In 1304, a little over four years after this prophecy, the Whites tried to overtake Florence. It would be their final attempt. Dante would remain in exile for the remainder of his life.

"Guido thy son Had in contempt..."   (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.

"Within is Frederick, second of that name, And the Lord Cardinal..."   (Canto 10)

Of all the heretics here, Farinata mentions only two: Emperor Frederick II and Cardinal Ottaviano degli Ubaldini. Frederick is a critical political figure for Dante because he and his son, Manfred, supported the Ghibellines against the Guelphs. Frederick, who is praised by Dante in a later work for his support of art, music, and literature, is among the heretics most likely because Dante still holds him responsible for aiding the Ghibellines. Cardinal Ubaldini is here because, as a church leader, he should have supported the Guelph party (allied with the Pope), but instead supported the Ghibellines, allies of the Emperor.

"The one who openly forbad the deed..."   (Canto 10)

Farinata refers to his attempt to stop the destruction of Florence when his political party, the Ghibellines, defeated the Guelphs in 1304.

"That colour'd Arbia's flood with crimson stain..."   (Canto 10)

Dante refers to a battle in 531 B. C. between Alexander the Great and Darius, the Persian king, near the Tuscan river Arbia (Arbeia). The conflict is often known as the Battle of Gaugamela. Alexander defeated Darius.

"Meanwhile the other, great of soul..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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).

"Farinata..."   (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.

"From Josaphat return'd shall come, and bring Their bodies, which above they now have left. The cemetery on this part obtain With Epicurus all his followers, Who with the body make the spirit die..."   (Canto 10)

Josaphat is a mythical locale in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It is thus described in the Bible, Joel 3:2: 

I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land.

Josaphat is a valley that lies between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. This is the site of Last Judgment, when bodies wil be reclaimed, sent to Heaven or sentenced to Hell.

Epicurus (342-270 BCE) was a Greek philosopher who argued that everything had a natural, not a supernatural, explanation. He also argued that the greatest good was freedom from pain and anxiety.  To be free, one must strive towards virtue, temperance, and a harmonious mind and spirit. Epicurus denied that any sort of divine intervention existed, denied the idea of eternal punishment, and denied the eternity of the soul.

"thy ethic page..."   (Canto 11)

Virgil is asking Dante to think about Aquinas's commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle's treatise stands among the most influential philosophical discussion of ethics in history and was widely studied by medieval writers and scholars. Ethics are of great concern to Dante, for they focus on how men lead moral lives or, in Dante's metaphor, walk the right path.

"Wherefore in dotage..."   (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.

"simony..."   (Canto 11)

"Simony" was a serious problem in the Catholic church in the Middle Ages. Simony is the selling, usually by monks or other clergy, of indulgences and pardons to allow Christians to preemptively avoid Purgatory— a kind of 'get-out-of-jail-free' card.

"Photinus..."   (Canto 11)

Photinus was a 4th-century deacon of the Catholic Church in Thessalonica and influenced Pope Anastasius to support Emperor Anastasius.

"Pope Anastasius..."   (Canto 11)

As Virgil and Dante try to avoid the foul odor, they stand behind a monument to Pope Anastasius II, who served for only two years (496–498 CE). Anastasius is in the Circle of Heretics because of his support of Emperor Anastasius I (no relation). The emperor attempted to restore the reputation of the Patriarch of Constantinople (the capital city of the Eastern Roman Empire, formerly Byzantium) named Acacius, who was condemned for the heresy of denying Christ's divinity.

"Rinieri..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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.

"Obizzo' of Este, in the world destroy'd By his foul step-son..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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.

"The infamy of Crete, detested brood Of the feign'd heifer..."   (Canto 12)

This is an allusion to the wife of King Minos of Crete, Pasiphae, who fell in love with a beautiful white bull and desired to mate with him. She asked Daedalus, a great artisan, to construct the shell of a "fake" heifer; she climbed into this shell and mated with the bull.  The result of this liaison was the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull creature consumed by rage. King Minos had Daedalus construct a maze, called the Labyrinth, to keep the Minotaur. Because Athenians had killed King Minos's son, Androgeos, Minos required Athens to send seven young men and women each year to Crete to be sacrificed to the Minotaur. One year, Theseus, with the help of Ariadne, Minos's daughter, entered the Labyrinth as a sacrifice and killed the Minotaur. The Minotaur stands as a symbol of animalistic rage and violence.

"the Baptist..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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.

"I it was, who held Both keys to Frederick's heart..."   (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.

"Strophades the Trojan band Drove..."   (Canto 13)

The Strophades are a pair of islands where the exiled Trojans landed and set up a feast to celebrate their safe arrival. The Harpies, who had been exiled from their previous home, attacked the Trojans and fouled the feast with their excrement. Aeneas and the Trojans fought them off in three skirmishes, finally succeeding in driving off the Harpies, but one of the Harpies (Celaeno) predicts that the Trojans will not reach their destination safely until they have suffered such hunger that they will eat their plates instead of food.

"Lethe thou shalt see,..."   (Canto 14)

Lethe, the "river of forgetfulness," is the river in which those souls who are to be reincarnated wash themselves in order to forget their past lives, the memory of which would disturb them once back among the living. 

"Cocytus..."   (Canto 14)

"Cocytus" is a tributary of the Acheron River in Epirus and, in Greek mythology, one of several rivers in the underworld. In Dante's Inferno, Cocytus is found in the lowest region of Hell.

"Damiata..."   (Canto 14)

"Damiata" most likely refers to Damietta, the easternmost mouth of the Nile River, which stands west of Port Said, Egypt.

"Call'd Ida..."   (Canto 14)

This refers to Mount Ida, in the center of the island of Crete, which has a cave reputed to be the birthplace of Zeus.

"This of the seven kings was one, Who girt the Theban walls with siege..."   (Canto 14)

Virgil refers obliquely to the Thebaid, an epic by Statius recounting a war of seven kings, including Capaneus, who siege the city of Thebes. One of the themes in the Thebaid is Capaneus's constant and unrelenting scorn for the gods.

"Phlegraean warfare..."   (Canto 14)

Capaneus refers to a fight between Zeus and the Giants at Phlegra, the battle during which Zeus strikes Capaneus with thunderbolts (from the aegis, his shield). This causes Capaneus' fatal fall from Phlegra's walls. Phlegra is a volcanic region west of Naples and east of Cumae and serves as the root for our word conflagration.

"good Mulciber..."   (Canto 14)

"Mulciber" is an alternate name for Vulcan, the Greek god of fire and the forge, and maker of the gods' armor.

"Such as I was When living, dead such now I am..."   (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.

"the son Of Ammon..."   (Canto 14)

Ammon is an Egyptian god, sometimes considered a counterpart to the Greek god Zeus. Alexander the Great (356–323 BCE), who had once called himself "Son of Zeus" decided to add the epithet "Son of Ammon" after conquering Egypt. To Alexander, the two titles were identical because the two gods were one and the same.

"The soil that erst by Cato's foot was trod..."   (Canto 14)

This is an allusion to the Roman statesman Cato (234–149 BCE), specifically his early life spent on a farm. Cato later became a revered philosopher and urged the Roman elite to return to the simpler, more natural life of an agriculture-based economy. He spoke out against ostentation and displays of wealth, as well as criticized some of the most powerful leaders in Rome.

"I commend my TREASURE to thee..."   (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.

"Who by the servants' servant was transferr'd From Arno's seat to Bacchiglione..."   (Canto 15)

This refers to the Bishop of Florence, Andrea de' Mozzi, who was transferred by Pope Boniface VIII from Florence to Vicenza (near Venice) because of alleged acts of sodomy. He was also considered to be very stupid and was an embarrassment to the Pope in an important position in Florence.

"Accorso's son Francesco..."   (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..."   (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.

"But that ungrateful and malignant race, Who in old times came down from Fesole..."   (Canto 15)

Fiesole, a small mountain town above Florence, was, in the Middle Ages, almost as politically powerful as Florence. The two cities fought a number of times until Florence defeated it and required its leading citizens to relocate to Florence.

"Sir! Brunetto..."   (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.

"As the Flemings rear Their mound, 'twixt Ghent and Bruges, to chase back The ocean..."   (Canto 15)

Dante is referring to the dykes that hold back the North Sea in the area between the cities of Ghent and Brussels in what is now Belgium.

"Borsiere..."   (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.

"Am Rusticucci..."   (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..."   (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.

"Guidoguerra..."   (Canto 16)

Guido Guerra, the son and grandson of well-known Tuscans, is of Dante's party, the Guelphs, and was instrumental in defeating the Ghibellines in 1266 at the Battle of Benevento.

"who bore a fat and azure swine Pictur'd on his white scrip, addressed me thus..."   (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..."   (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.

"A yellow purse I saw with azure wrought, That wore a lion's countenance and port..."   (Canto 17)

Dante identifies the usurers not by their names but by the symbols on their purses, which tell him which money-lending family they represent. In the first encounter, Dante sees a yellow purse with a blue lion, the emblem of the Gianfigliazzi family. This was most likely held by Catello di Rosso, well known for his usury in France and Italy but most condemned because he left his family in poverty after his death.

"the greedy German boor..."   (Canto 17)

The phrase "greedy German boor" is evidence of the Middle Age Italians' attitude towards their Germanic neighbors, who are often characterized as drunken country bumpkins, unsophisticated,  and compared to relatively slow-thinking, stubborn animals.

"Nor spread Arachne..."   (Canto 17)

In Greek mythology, Arachne is an expert weaver who challenges Pallas Athena to a weaving contest. Arachne chooses as her subject the gods' love affairs, angering Athena, who then destroys the weaving. In despair, Arachne commits suicide by hanging, and Athene turns her into a spider. The Latin word arachnid, which denotes spiders, derives from Arachne.

"His face the semblance of a just man's wore, So kind and gracious was its outward cheer; The rest was serpent all..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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.

"SIPA..."   (Canto 18)

In the Bolognese dialect, sipa means "yes." In this context, Dante is reinforcing the trend of Bolognese men being willing to prostitute their relatives by signifying, "yes, go right ahead." In modern Italy, the word sipa is synonymous with the city of Bologna.

"Nor alone Bologna hither sendeth me to mourn Rather with us the place is so o'erthrong'd..."   (Canto 18)

Caccianemico claims that in this "pouch" of Hell he has a lot of company from men of Bologna, who are, apparently, well known for prostituting family and friends. One commentator argues that this vice is the result of both the greed of Bolognese men and the number of young men who travel to Bologna to study at its university.

"Venedico art thou..."   (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.

"She who with seven heads tower'd at her birth, And from ten horns her proof of glory drew..."   (Canto 19)

Dante interprets the seven heads as the Catholic Church's Seven Sacraments, and the ten horns as the Ten Commandments. "Filthy whoredom" most likely refers to the corruption within the Catholic Church, created by the wealth acquired through the secular power of the church.

"Ah, Constantine! to how much ill gave birth, Not thy conversion, but that plenteous dower, Which the first wealthy Father gain'd from thee..."   (Canto 19)

This passage refers to what is known as the "Donation of Constantine." In the Middle Ages, many believed that when Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Byzantium (later, Constantinople), he transferred political control of Italy and other parts of the western Roman Empire to the Catholic Church (i. e., to the Pope). Dante was convinced that this was a serious mistake because it created a politically powerful, wealthy, and therefore corrupt, church. After Dante died, the document upon which the "donation" was based was proven to be fraudulent, most likely written in the papal court or in France several centuries after Constantine died.

"Which against Charles thy hardihood inspir'd..."   (Canto 19)

This refers to Pope Nicholas's conspiracy against Charles d'Anjou, King of Naples and Sicily.

"Or gold or silver of Matthias took..."   (Canto 19)

In the New Testament, Matthias paid 30 pieces of silver to replace Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Christ, as the 12th Apostle.

"Jason shall be call'd, of whom In Maccabees..."   (Canto 19)

This passage refers to the story of the biblical Jason, who was named high priest after successfully bribing King Antiochus, as detailed in Maccabees 4.

"a shepherd without law, Fated to cover both his form and mine..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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.

"shrive..."   (Canto 19)

Shrive is an archaic word referring to the process by which a priest, pastor, or friar hears someone's confession and offers absolution for their sins. Shriving is generally associated with Roman Catholicism.

"Saint John's fair dome..."   (Canto 19)

Dante refers to the baptismal font in the baptistry of San Giovanni—"Saint John's fair dome"—in which he was baptized. The baptistry stands adjacent to the famous Florentine Duomo.

"WOE to thee, Simon Magus! woe to you..."   (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.

"For now doth Cain with fork of thorns..."   (Canto 20)

Virgil refers to the medieval belief that God adorned Cain's head with thorns and exiled him to the moon for having murdered his brother Abel. Cain became, therefore, a kind of medieval "man on the moon."

"See next the wretches, who the needle left, The shuttle and the spindle, and became Diviners..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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.

"Eurypilus..."   (Canto 20)

Eurypilus is character in Virgil's Aenied. He was a Greek soldier who went to Apollo's temple to determine when the Greeks should sail back to Greece at the conclusion of the Trojan War. Here, however, Dante categorizes him as a prophet, indicating that Dante may have misunderstood, or misremembered, his role in the Aenied, or that he chose to tell Eurypilus's story in a new way.

"Calchas gave the sign..."   (Canto 20)

At the dawn of the Trojan War, Calchas was the Greek prophet who determined when the Greek fleet should cut its cables at Aulis and sail for Troy.

"Aulis..."   (Canto 20)

Aulis was an Ancient Greek city, corresponding to modern-day Avlida. It was the embarcation point of the Greek fleet on its way to Troy to begin the Trojan War.

"Ere Casalodi's madness by deceit Was wrong'd of Pinamonte..."   (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."

"Nor ask'd another omen for the name..."   (Canto 20)

Virgil wants to emphasize the fact that the city's founders did not engage in any divination in the establishing of the city.

"To shun All human converse, here she with her slaves Plying her arts remain'd..."   (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.

"Benacus..."   (Canto 20)

"Benacus" is a reference to Benaco, also known as Lake Garda, where Manto is thought to have founded Mantua.

"Manto..."   (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..."   (Canto 20)

Aruns is an Etruscan prophet who foretold the disastrous Roman Civil War between Caesar and Pompey.

"Tiresias note..."   (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.

"Fell ruining far as to Minos down..."   (Canto 20)

When Amphiaraus was swallowed by the earth, he fell deep enough into the Underworld to reach one of the three judges, Minos, who determines sinners' punishments.

"Amphiaraus, whither rushest..."   (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.

"Caprona..."   (Canto 21)

The Caprona was a castle approximately five miles from the Tuscan city of Pisa. The castle surrendered to the Guelphs (both Florentines and Lucchese) in 1289. Dante was a member of the invading Guelph army. 

"Serchio's wave..."   (Canto 21)

The Serchio is a river near Lucca. It seems to have been a popular spot for summer swimming. 

"one of Santa Zita's elders..."   (Canto 21)

Canonized in 1690, Zita was a servant woman of the Italian city of Lucca, and several miracles were attributed to her. She is known as Saint Zita, or, in Italian, Santa Zita.

"The spirit of Navarre..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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.

"good king Thibault..."   (Canto 22)

This refers to Thibault II, who ruled Navarre from 1253 to 1270. He was held in high esteem for his sense of justice and for his generosity. 

"Born in Navarre's domain..."   (Canto 22)

Although it is now divided between northern Spain and southwestern France, the region Navarre was at one time its own independent kingdom.

"Arezzo! have I seen, And clashing tournaments, and tilting jousts, Now with the sound of trumpets, now of bells..."   (Canto 22)

On June 11, 1289, Dante (according to a letter which has not survived) rode as a cavalier in the battle of Campaldion. The Ghibellines were defeated by Dante's party, the Guelphs.

"That pierced spirit, whom intent Thou view'st, was he who gave the Pharisees Counsel..."   (Canto 23)

This passage refers to the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas, who in John 18 advised that it is better for one man to die—a nod to Jesus Christ—than for the whole nation to perish. Caiaphas does not specifically say that Jesus should be executed, but his meaning is understood by the council of the Pharisees (religious leaders of the Jews in the early 1st century). The Pharisees thus judged Caiaphas a hypocrite.

"Catalano I, He Loderingo nam'd..."   (Canto 23)

Dante and Virgil have encountered two friars, Catalano de' Malavolti (1210–1285 CE) and Loderingo degli Andalo (1210–1293 CE), members of a group known as Knights of the Militia of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was a militant religious group, similar to the Knights Templar, established to protect widows and orphans. Their opulent lifestyle and lax religious practices resulted in their being called the Jolly Friars. Although they were forbidden to hold political office, Catalano, who was a Guelph, and Loderingo, a Ghibelline, jointly became political leaders in Florence through the offices of Pope Clement IV. The pope appointed them ostensibly to maintain peace between the two political parties. At the pope's prompting, they allowed the Guelph side more influence, which resulted in an uprising that ousted prominent Ghibelline families from a key stronghold known as the Gardingo (the "Watchtower").

"Their outside Was overlaid with gold, dazzling to view, But leaden all within..."   (Canto 23)

Dante is referring here to the widespread belief that the Benedictine monks of Cluny were more drawn to the wealth of their monastery than to their calling, which required poverty. Bernard of Clairvaux, a Benedictine, was so appalled by the Cluny opulence that he and others left the Benedictines and joined the Cistercians, all of whom were former Bendictines attempting to return to a state of proper piety and poverty in their monastic lives.

"And sorrow to the Jews..."   (Canto 23)

Caiaphas was the high priest of the Jews. He argued that Jesus' teachings threatened political authority. He urged that Jesus be secretly turned over to the Romans. Caiaphas's father, Annas, as well as other members of the Sanhedrin, aided and abetted Caiaphas in his mission. In Dante's estimation, Caiaphas's betrayal lead the the destruction of Jerusalem and the diaspora (Jews living outside of Israel)

"How there we sped, Gardingo's vicinage can best declare..."   (Canto 23)

"Gardingo's vinciage" is a reference to the Knights of the Blessed Virgin Mary. These friars attempted to reconcile warring factions and protect the weak. These friars were not well regarded; they were often sarcastically called the "Jolly Friars" because of their lax rules and corrupt activities. 

"That Frederick's compar'd to these were straw. Oh, everlasting wearisome attire..."   (Canto 23)

Emperor Frederick II (1194–1250 CE) punished those convicted of treason by ordering them to be boiled in a cauldron while wearing a lead cape. When the cape melted, it would peel away the traitor's skin.

"monks in Cologne..."   (Canto 23)

The monks of the German city of Cologne—Köln in German—are known as "Clony." These monks inhabit the abbey founded by the Benedictines in 910 CE. As Dante mentions here, these monks wore their hoods so low as to veil their eyes.

"minor friars..."   (Canto 23)

"Minor Friars" are Franciscan monks, members of a monastic order founded in 1209. Following their spiritual leader, Francis of Assisi, the Franciscans strove toward humility and lived in purposeful poverty. They went begging in pairs, the older friar walking ahead of the younger. Virgil and Dante walk through the Fifth Pouch of the Eighth Circle in such a manner.

"Then Florence changeth citizens and laws..."   (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..."   (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."

"And with the guilt another falsely charged..."   (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..."   (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. 

"Let Lybia vaunt no more: if Jaculus, Pareas and Chelyder be her brood, Cenchris and Amphisboena, plagues so dire Or in such numbers swarming ne'er she shew'd, Not with all Ethiopia, and whate'er Above the Erythraean sea is spawn'd..."   (Canto 24)

Lybia (or "Libya"), Ethiopia, and Arabia were supposedly largely uninhabitable and full of dangerous beasts. The species mentioned here are drawn from Book IX of Lucan's Pharsalia.

"Gaville..."   (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..."   (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. 

"What if in warbling fiction he record Cadmus and Arethusa, to a snake Him chang'd, and her into a fountain clear..."   (Canto 25)

In Book IV of Ovid's Metamorphoses, Prince Camdus (son of King Agenor of Phonecia) and Camdus's wife, Harmonia, were both turned into serpents for the crime of killing a dragon sacred to the god Mars. Arethusa's story is also found in Book V of Ovid's Metamorphoses. She was transformed into a fountain to escape Alpheus, the river god. Her attempt to escape was unsuccessful, however, as Alpheus mingled his waters with hers.

"Lucan in mute attention now may hear, Nor thy disastrous fate, Sabellus! tell, Nor shine, Nasidius..."   (Canto 25)

In Book IX of Lucan's Pharsalia, he tells the story of Sabellus, a soldier in Cato the Younger's (95–46 BCE) army. While in the Libyan desert, Sabellus is bitten by a snake. The wound becomes infected and festers. His whole body swells until finally bursting. 

"Cacus..."   (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. 

"Pistoia! Ah Pistoia! why dost doubt To turn thee into ashes, cumb'ring earth No longer, since in evil act so far Thou hast outdone thy seed..."   (Canto 25)

The "seed" of Pistoria is an allusion to the remnants of the army of Catiline (108–73 BCE), the Roman senator who sought to upend the Roman Republic in a battle near Pistoia, where he and his army was crushed.  

"Ulysses there and Diomede..."   (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.

"To the strait pass, where Hercules ordain'd The bound'ries not to be o'erstepp'd by man..."   (Canto 26)

This I a reference to the Strait of Gibraltar, which separates Spain to the North from Morocco to the South, and connects the Atlantic Ocean to the west with the Mediterranean Sea to the east. On either side of the strait are two mountains known as the "Pillars of Hercules": Calpe on the Spanish side and Abyla on the Moroccan side. Legend has it that the two were originally a single mountain until Hercules, with his mighty strength, ripped them into two. Because of how unknown the Atlantic was to classical-era Greeks, the strait was considered the edge of the world, the point beyond which no sailor can pass and hope to survive. 

"Threw out its voice, and spake..."   (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..."   (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. 

"Elijah's chariot, when the steeds erect Rais'd their steep flight for heav'n; his eyes meanwhile, Straining pursu'd them..."   (Canto 26)

In the Old Testament Book of Kings, Elijah is a prophet and miracle worker who encourages worship of the Hebrew God. This passage of Inferno describes his final miracle. As detailed in 2 Kings 2:3–9, Elijah is assumed into heaven when a chariot of fire wheels down through the sky, drawing Elijah upward in a spiraling whirlwind.

"Prato..."   (Canto 26)

There is some controversy over the identity of "Prato." Some scholars claim that that "Prato" is Cardinal Niccolo da Prato, who unsuccessfully attempted to reconcile Prato's rival factions in 1304. But other scholars argue that the reference is to Prato itself, a Tuscan city which expelled the Black Guelphs in 1309. 

"But if our minds, when dreaming near the dawn, Are of the truth presageful..."   (Canto 26)

These lines express the common belief in Dante's time that dreams which occur shortly before waking are prophetic. 

"then came Saint Francis for me..."   (Canto 27)

Guido did actually die in 1298, the same month that Boniface deceived the Colonna. 

"Father! since thou washest me Clear of that guilt wherein I now must fall, Large promise with performance scant, be sure, Shall make thee triumph in thy lofty seat..."   (Canto 27)

There is no additional evidence that Guido gave Boniface this advice. Later scholars have only been able to cite Dante as their source for such an event. 

"Sylvester's aid..."   (Canto 27)

This is Pope Sylvester I (died 335 CE), who had been in hiding in a cave on Mount Socrate, until summoned by Constantine to come and baptize him. Allegedly, Constantine was instantly cured of his leprosy upon Sylvester's baptism. Constantine then gave the Papacy temporary power over the western portion of the Roman Empire (See Canto 19). This controversial event has come to be known as the "Donation of Constantine."

"Constantine besought To cure his leprosy..."   (Canto 27)

Constantine (277–337 CE), who served as Roman Emperor for three decades, was infected with leprosy. His fate was deserved, in the opinion of many during the Middle Ages, for his persecution of Christians.

"Penestrino cumber earth no more..."   (Canto 27)

Penestrino ("Palestrina" in some translations) is a city approximately twenty miles east of Rome. Here, the Colonna resisted Boniface's siege until 1298. They surrendered under the promise of amnesty. Although they were allowed to live, their city was destroyed, their family ruined. 

"nor in me that cord, Which us'd to mark with leanness whom it girded..."   (Canto 27)

This is a reference to the cord traditionally worn around the waists of Franciscan friars. When the cord had been worn thin, it symbolized the friar's persistent adherence to his vows of poverty and abstinence. 

"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)..."   (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. 

"If I did think, my answer were to one, Who ever could return unto the world, This flame should rest unshaken.  But since ne'er, If true be told me, any from this depth Has found his upward way, I answer thee, Nor fear lest infamy record the words..."   (Canto 27)

T.S. Eliot used these lines, untranslated and unidentified, as the epigraph of his 1915 poem "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock"

"And she, whose flank is wash'd of Savio's wave, As 'twixt the level and the steep she lies, Lives so 'twixt tyrant power and liberty..."   (Canto 27)

Guido's cousin, the relatively begnin Galasso da Montefeltro, ruled Cesena, a city in Romagna that lies near the Savio river. 

"Lamone's city and Santerno's range Under the lion of the snowy lair..."   (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..."   (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.

"green talons..."   (Canto 27)

The "green talons" mentioned here (in some translations, "green paws") form the emblem of the coat-of-arms of the Ordelaffi family. The Ordelaffis were despots who ruled Forli—a city southwest of Ravenna—at the end of the 13th century.

"There Polenta's eagle broods, And in his broad circumference of plume O'ershadows Cervia..."   (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..."   (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. 

"As the Sicilian bull, that rightfully His cries first echoed, who had shap'd its mould, Did so rebellow, with the voice of him Tormented, that the brazen monster seem'd Pierc'd through with pain..."   (Canto 27)

There are many classical tales about a bronze bull constructed by Phalaris, the tyrant of the Sicilian city-state of Akragas in the 6th century BCE. The "Sicilian bull" was a torture device. Victims were placed inside the hollow interior and roasted alive. Their cries of pain would pass through pipes in the neck of the bull, making a grotesque sound resembling the bellowing of a bull. The creator of the bull, the Athenian Perillos, expected to be handsomely rewarded for completing the device. Instead, Phalaris forced Perillos into the bull, scorching him close to death before ordering him to be thrown from a cliff.

"Novara's power..."   (Canto 28)

Pope Clement V (1264–1314) recruited troops from Novara and nearby towns to capture and execute heretics in the area.

"The grinding force of Guiscard's Norman steel..."   (Canto 28)

This refers to Robert Guiscard of Normandy (1015–1085 CE), the Norman king who conquered southern Italy in the 11th century.

"For Absalom And David more did not Ahitophel, Spurring them on maliciously to strife...."   (Canto 28)

This refers to the biblical figure Ahitophel, a trusted counselor to King David. Ahitophel urged King David's son Absalom to rebel against his father by sleeping with his concubines and then attacking him. Absalom was eventually defeated. The entire episode is described in 2 Samuel:15-17.

"know that I Am Bertrand, he of Born, who gave King John The counsel mischievous..."   (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.

"The deed once done there is an end..."   (Canto 28)

This is the advice Mosca gave to the Amadei family after Buondelmonte de' Buondelmonti jilted a young woman of the Amadei family. Mosca's advice, which was interpreted to mean that the Amadei should revenge themselves upon the Buondelmonti, led the Amadei family to murder Buondelmonte in 1215. This event triggered the larger struggle between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, who went to war with each other.

"Mosca..."   (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..."   (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.

"whom Fano boasts Her worthiest sons, Guido and Angelo..."   (Canto 28)

This passage describes the story of a man from Rimini named Malatestino who wanted to acquire Fano, an area on the Adriatic Sea near the mouth of the Metauro River. Malatestino invited Guido del Cassero and Angiobello de Carignano, chief citizens of the town of Fano, to a meeting at a a cape known as La Cattolica, only to have them thrown into the sea to drown.

"Piero of Medicina..."   (Canto 28)

Piero da Medicina (little about whom is known) is guilty of sowing discord by falsely telling two families, one from Ravenna, the other from Rimini, that each had malicious intentions against the other.

"Bear to Dolcino..."   (Canto 28)

Mohammed refers to Dolcino de' Tornielli of Novara (1250–1307 CE), who became the leader of a group known as the Apostolic Brothers, also known as the Dulcinians. They formed a heretical sect that believed in the sharing of belongings and wives, as well as violence against their opponents. According to some accounts, Dolcino and his wife, Margaret of Trent, were burned at the stake in 1307. Others claim Dolcino was torn limb from limb.

"How is Mohammed mangled! before me Walks Ali weeping..."   (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.

"The old Alardo conquer'd..."   (Canto 28)

"Alardo" is Erard de Valery, who helped Charles win by holding reserve troops in the rear at Tagliacozzo.

"Tagliacozzo..."   (Canto 28)

This is a reference to the Battle of Tagliacozzo, in which Charles defeated the emperor's troops for the second time in 1268.

"Pour'd on Apulia's happy soil their blood, Slain by the Trojans..."   (Canto 28)

Dante describes a catalog of wars fought by the Romans and their successors in the southern half of Italy. These include the war against the Samnites (343–290 BCE), a warrior tribe from the area of Abruzzo; the war against Tarentum (280–275 BCE), in which the Tarentines had help from King Pyrrhus of Epirus, who defeated the Romans in two major struggles; the Punic Wars against Hannibal and Carthage (264–146 BCE); Robert Guiscard's struggles against the Saracens and Sicilians (1061–1091 CE); the struggles between Charles of Anjou against Manfred, son of Frederick II, including the betrayal of Apulian barons at Ceprano Pass in 1266, which allowed Charles's forces to win.

"born of Latian land..."   (Canto 29)

"Latin land" means Italy. Latian or Latium refer to Italy and the people who inhabited Italy before Roman times. In Greek and Roman mythology, the Romans were the descendants of the Trojans, who ventured to Latium in the wake of the sacking of Troy.

"how I aped Creative nature by my subtle art..."   (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."

"Then to the bard I spake: "Was ever race Light as Sienna's..."   (Canto 29)

Dante asks Virgil if there was ever a race as stupid ("light," perhaps of brain) as those from Siena. He offers the French as another contender for the most "frivolous and vain" people.

"For that I practis'd alchemy on earth..."   (Canto 29)

Griffolino was also known for his attempts at alchemy—changing base metal into gold—which was a pseudo-scientific means of committing fraud and tricking his customers.

"Because I made him not a Daedalus..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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.

"Geri of Bello..."   (Canto 29)

Geri del Bello degli Aligheri was Dante's cousin on his father's side. Dante's son Pietro said Geri was murdered by Broaio dei Sacchetti in 1271. By the time of Dante's writing, the murder had not been avenged. Peace between the feuding families did not occur until 1342. It was completely legal at the time to avenge the murder of a family member.  

"induc'd by them I stamp'd The florens with three carats of alloy..."   (Canto 30)

Master Adam admits to debasing coinage by claiming that the coins were forged from metal worth three additional carats—24 rather than the actual 21. This was a serious threat to the monetary system. As soon as the market loses confidence that the coins contain the proper amount of precious metal—silver and gold—the economic system collapses.

"Guido, Alessandro..."   (Canto 30)

Adam (Adamo) was in the service of the Guidi Counts—Guido, Alessandro, and Aghinolfo—whose base of operation was their castle in the Tuscan town of Romena.

"Much more than the disease, which makes the flesh Desert these shrivel'd cheeks..."   (Canto 30)

The "disease, which makes the flesh/Desert these shrivel'd cheeks" is most likely a reference to leprosy, a disease that eats away the flesh. Leprosy was very common in Europe in the Middle Ages.

"One is that dame The false accuser of the Hebrew youth..."   (Canto 30)

This biblical story is told in Genesis 39:6-20. The "dame" is the wife of Potiphar, one of the Pharaoh's officers. She repeatedly tried to seduce Joseph, but he spurned her advances. Joseph was Potiphar's overseer. In revenge for his rejection, she claimed that he tried to rape her. Joseph was imprisoned due to the charges. For her lies, she is punished in hell as a falsifier.

"Adamo's woe..."   (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..."   (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.

"three Friezelanders Had striv'n in vain to reach but to his hair..."   (Canto 31)

"Friezelanders" refers to people from Frisia, a nation in the Middle Ages that roughly corresponds to modern-day Netherlands.

"Saint Peter's Roman fane..."   (Canto 31)

These lines allude to the statue of a bronze pine cone that stands in Castel Sant'Angelo, the mausoleum built for the Roman Emperor Hadrian. The cone is said to "top/Saint Peter's fane," or temple, because in Dante's time Castel Sant'Angelo was connected to Saint Peter's Basilica, the seat of the Roman Catholic Church.

"As with circling round Of turrets, Montereggion crowns his walls..."   (Canto 31)

Monteriggioni is a fortress near Siena whose walls are topped with a series of sixty-foot-tall sentry towers. In its design, it is a typical Tuscan fortified town of the 13th century. Dante uses Monteriggioni as a visual metaphor for the ring of turrets that gird the abyss at the heart of the Ninth Circle.

"So terrible a blast Orlando blew not, when that dismal rout O'erthrew the host of Charlemagne..."   (Canto 31)

This is an allusion to the Old French epic The Song of Roland. Late in the poem, Roland (Orlando) takes charge of King Charlemagne's rear guard in the fight at Roncevalles against the Moors. Roland is too late in blowing his horn for aid from Charlemagne's main forces, and Roland and all his men are slain. The battle, a historical event, took place in 778 CE.

Later, we will find Ganelon, the Frenchman who assisted the Moors (Saracens) and betrayed his stepson, Roland. As a result, he became a traitor to his family, his kingdom and, most importantly, his religion.

"Tribaldello..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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.

"Through Antenora roamest..."   (Canto 32)

The second pouch of the Ninth Circle is where those who betray their countries are punished. "Antenora" is a reference is to the Trojan prince Antenor, who wanted Paris to return Helen to Menelaus for the good of Troy. Homer casts Antenor in a positive light in the Iliad. Dante, following the accounts set forth in medieval histories of the Trojan War, believed that Antenor conspired with the Greeks and therefore placed him here with other traitors to their country.

"Unless thy errand be some fresh revenge For Montaperto..."   (Canto 32)

On September 4th, 1260, Florence and Siena fought in the Battle of Montaperti. The battle was part of the broader struggle between White and Black Guelphs.

"I await Carlino here my kinsman, whose deep guilt Shall wash out mine..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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.

"Caina..."   (Canto 32)

This part of the Inferno is called Caina. This is where traitors against family are punished. It is named for the biblical Cain, son of Adam, who committed the first murder when he killed his brother Abel.

"whence his wave Bisenzio slopes, did for its master own Their sire Alberto, and next him themselves..."   (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.

"Had Tabernich or Pietrapana fall'n,..."   (Canto 32)

"Tabernich," now called Monte Tambura, and "Pietrapana," now called Pania della Croce, are the two highest peaks in the Apuan Alps, a mountain range in northern Tuscany.

"Branca Doria..."   (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.

"Ptolomea..."   (Canto 33)

Dante and Virgil are now in Ptolomea, the Third Ring of the Ninth Circle. The ring is named after either of two historically significant men named Ptolemy. The first Ptolemy, who appears in the Hebrew Bible, was a captain of Jericho who gave a feast for the high priest Simon Maccabee and two of his sons. He murdered them all, much like Alberigo did to Manfred and his son. The second Ptolemy is Ptolemy II, the brother of Cleopatra. In 48 BCE, when the Roman general Pompey sought refuge with the Egyptians after his defeat at Pharsalia, Ptolemy had him murdered.

"The friar Alberigo..."   (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.

"Lanfranchi with Sismondi and Gualandi..."   (Canto 33)

The Lanfranchi, Sismondi, and Gualandi are three powerful families allied with Archbishop Ruggiero.

"A small grate Within that mew, which for my sake the name Of famine bears..."   (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..."   (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.

"On this part he fell down From heav'n; and th' earth, here prominent before, Through fear of him did veil her with the sea, And to our hemisphere retir'd..."   (Canto 34)

Virgil describes the fall of Lucifer from Heaven through the Southern Hemisphere. When Lucifer hit the earth, the displaced earth went to the Northern Hemisphere but left a mountain known as the Mount of Purgatory.

"banners of Hell's Monarch do come forth Towards us; therefore look," so spake my guide, "If thou discern him..."   (Canto 34)

Virgil's comment is an ironic reference to a 6th-century Christian hymn, “The Standards of the King Advance.” The hymn refers to the cross, an emblem adopted later by the Crusaders for their shields and tabards, the cloak they wore over their armor.

Dante and Virgil have entered the Fourth Ring of the Ninth Circle, also called Judecca, where traitors to their benefactors are punished. Among them is the most notorious traitor in Christian history, Lucifer.

The name Judecca reflects the unfortunate but prevalent anti-Semitism of 13th century. Christian Europeans viewed Jews as the assassins of Christ, a view that led most European countries to restrict Jews to living in specific areas away from the Christian majority.

"Brutus: lo! how he doth writhe And speaks not!  Th' other Cassius..."   (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..."   (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.

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