The Divine Comedy: Inferno By Dante Alighieri Summary and Analysis Canto XI

Summary

The poets descend further and come to a group of broken boulders, behind which they rest a bit so that they can become accustomed to the foul stink that rises from the lower circles. Dante sees a headstone with an inscription, "I guard Anastasius, once Pope, he whom Photinus led from the straight road."

While resting for a moment, Virgil begins explaining the structure of Hell, especially that of lower Hell. Virgil explains that there are other, smaller circles, which comprise the last three circles beyond the wall that begins the sixth circle.

Circle VII, the next circle, is comprised of three smaller circles: one circle for Violence against Persons and their goods, another circle for Violence against Themselves (suicides), and the final circle for Violence against God, Art, and Nature. Virgil goes into detail about who resides in which circle and for what sins. It is growing late and they must leave for the descent into the next circle.

Analysis

Keeping to his religious theme, Dante again mentions the Harrowing of Hell. The rocks that the poets wait behind fell as a result of the earthquake on the day Christ died and came to Hell (the Harrowing) to retrieve a number of the virtuous pagans. Dante sees the headstone of Anastasius, the pope who gave communion to Photinus, and a deacon who was part of the Greek Church that denied Christ's divine paternity. Dante was probably confused on the history, however, because Emperor Anastasius was the person that convinced Photinus to accept the heresy.

The geography of Hell is one of the most distinctive features of Inferno, and it is as meticulous as the structure of the poem. Virgil uses the waiting time, behind the boulders, to explain to Dante where the path they have been following will take them. This break in the action is a literary device that Dante uses to give a brief explanation of the structure of Hell.

The next circle, Circle VII, is divided into three smaller rounds that house sinners of violence, which are, symbolically, the sins of the lion.

The first round features sinners against neighbors, murderers, and the makers of war. Dante makes no distinction here between the punishment of those who commit acts of violence against people and those that commit acts of violence against property. Hence, the first round also houses those guilty of arson, plunder, and extortion.

The second round of Circle VII houses those who sinned against themselves with suicide. The third and final round houses those who committed the sin of violence against God, Art, and Nature.

People in the third round are the blasphemers, sexual deviants, and the usurers (money lenders). Dante held usurers in great contempt, believing that charging any interest on a loan was a great sin. Art in this usage means industry, and Dante believed that industry should be the sole means of man's prosperity. To go against this plan was to go against God. Virgil says that Art is the Grandchild of God, meaning that Art is the child of Nature, and to act against Nature is a sin of violence against God.

Glossary

Anastasius in Inferno, the leader (whether pope or emperor) who led Photinus to deny the divine paternity of Christ.

Photinus deacon of Thessolonica who commited heresy by denying the divine paternity of Christ.

Sodom Bible. a city destroyed by fire together with a neighboring city, Gomorrah, because of the sinfulness of the people: Genesis 18 and 19.

Cahors a city in France known for its usurers.

sycophants persons who seek favor by flattering people of wealth or influence.

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As the poets reach the final circle of Hell called Judecca, in what condition do they find the sinners there?




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