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

Summary

Geryon, the monster, lands on the brink of the abyss, his tail hanging over the side. Geryon's face is that of an innocent man, but his body is half-reptile, half-hairy beast, with a scorpion's stinger at the end of his tail. The poets approach him, and Virgil tells Dante to go and see the sinners in the final round of Circle VII, warning him to make his talk brief.

Dante moves around the circle alone and approaches a group of sinners whose eyes are full of tears and set on enormous purses hanging around their necks. Dante sees no one that he knows among the group, though he seems to recognize the coat-of-arm symbols emblazoned on the purses. This group, the Usurers, tells Dante to go away and leave them alone. Fearing that he has stayed too long, Dante goes back to Virgil, who is already mounted on the rump of Geryon. Dante is terribly afraid but mounts Geryon anyway, and before he can ask for assistance, Virgil embraces him and helps him hold on. Virgil tells Geryon to fly smoothly, which he does, and he lets the poets off at the bottom of the pit near the eighth circle. Geryon takes off like a shot, relieved of Dante's living weight.

Analysis

Like the beginning of the other two main sections of Hell, a familiar mythological monster rules the entrance of the particular souls in this sphere. In Canto XVII, the monster Geryon symbolizes Fraud, the sin of the souls in Circle VIII. Furthermore, like Fraud, his innocent face fools the onlooker long enough to be stung by his scorpion-like tail.

Again, Dante alters the figure of a mythological creature from its traditional form (one of the poet's favorite literary devices), functioning to make Hell a place where traditional expectations may not exist. Geryon is the mythological king of Spain who was killed by Hercules, and he was traditionally represented as having three heads and three bodies.

Dante the Pilgrim is indeed beginning to understand the true nature of sin as he confronts the Usurers, the sinners in the final round of Circle VII. He does not linger among them, insisting on their names, but coolly observes them and moves on.

Dante the Poet places these sinners in dire circumstances, and tells none of their names, hiding them from Earth, making sure that none were remembered. The faces of the Usurers lack individuality because their concern with money made them lose their individuality. However, the signs and symbols on the sinner's purses indicate their families.

As the sinners' sins become more vulgar and base, the language in the poem becomes more graphic, so as to illustrate the misery of the usurers. In this canto, the Usurers are described as dogs in summer, and their very nature and description is disgusting. The power of the language increases as the poem goes on, which Dante illustrates in later cantos.

Glossary

Tartar or Turk Tartars and Turks were the great weavers of Dante's time.

Arachne famous spinner who challenged Minerva to a spinning contest; Minerva became enraged at the result of the contest and turned Arachne into a spider.

Phaeton Son of Apollo who drove the chariot of the sun and lost control of the horses, so Zeus struck him down so that the world would not catch fire; the track of the horses is the Milky Way.

Icarus Greek Mythology. the son of Daedalus; escaping from Crete by flying with wings made by Daedalus, Icarus flies so high that the sun's heat melts the wax by which his wings are fastened, and he falls to his death in the Aegean sea.

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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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