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

Summary

The poets climb to the top of the stony chasm that ends the eighth circle and they begin their approach to the ninth and final circle, which is a great, dark pit filled with ice and cold, strong winds caused by Lucifer beating his wings. Dante thinks that he sees a city with many towers in the distance, but Virgil tells him that his eyes deceive him. The towers are actually the Giants, plugged into the center of the well up to their waists. Indeed, as they grow closer, Dante sees the Giants clearly, and at close range, Dante says that Nature was wise to discontinue the creation of these monsters. One of the Giants is Nimrod, builder of the tower of Babel, and he speaks in a nonsense tongue. Virgil reprimands Nimrod, calling him stupid and telling him that his horn is around his neck. Nimrod is condemned to babble through eternity, not understanding and not being understood.

The second Giant the poets encounter is Ephialtes, who endeavored with the other Giants to war against the gods. Ephialtes is bound with a chain five times around his body, and Dante wonders who could have had the strength to bind the Giant. Ephialtes begins to rock back and forth, causing the ground to tremble and scaring Dante.

The third Giant they meet is Antaeus, and Virgil praises him for his deeds and strength on Earth and with this flattery, gains passage on Antaeus' palm down to the bottom of the pit, the final circle of Hell, Cocytus. Dante is terrified that the Giant will harm him, but Antaeus gently places the poets on the bottom of the final hole.

Analysis

Retribution is not the main concern of this canto, as it has been in previous cantos, though it is easy to see how at least two of these Giants come to be the guardians of the final circle. Nimrod, the legendary king of Babylon, constructed the Tower of Babel to reach heaven, but he was prevented from doing so by a confusion of tongues. This Giant is damned to spend eternity babbling, without any comprehension of himself or others. The second Giant, Ephialtes, son of Neptune, warred against the gods, and so has his arms bound so that he can do no more harm. The third Giant, Antaeus, is there for the many murders he committed; he should be in another circle, but suffers with the other Giants merely because of his nature as a Giant. Antaeus is the son of Neptune (the sea) and Tellus (the Earth) and was invincible, as long as he touched the Earth, his mother. Hercules killed him by holding him over his head and strangling him in mid-air. He is unchained because he did not join the other Giants against the gods. Here, again, the sinner with the worse sin is punished more harshly.

This canto functions largely as a device to get the poets to the final circle, Cocytus, where Satan resides, and it also serves to introduce the reader to the next division of hell. The Giants serve as another terror that Dante must encounter and can also be read as symbols for the worst that human nature has to offer — these beasts are powerful slaves to their passions. Dante even says that Nature was right when she decided to stop producing them.

The Fallen Angels guarding the gates of the City in Canto VIII are analogous to the Giants guarding Cocytus, as both the Fallen Angels and the Giants are guarding boundaries and serve to link the parts of Lower Hell together. They are also analogous because both groups rebelled against their gods, and the basis of all the sins punished in Lower Hell is Envy and Pride. This canto revolves around the pride of the Giants and also explains the extreme evil of these Giants as intellect joined with brute force and evil will.

Glossary

Jove Roman Mythology. the chief deity; god of thunder and the skies.

Mars Roman Mythology. the god of war.

Hannibal 247c.-183 b.c.; Carthaginian general; crossed the Alps to invade Italy in 218 b.c.

High Olympus mountain in Northern Greece, between Thessaly and Macedonia; c. 9,580 ft. (2,920 m); in Greek mythology, the home of the gods.

Judas Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus: Matt. 26:14, 48.

Lucifer Satan; specifically, in Christian theology, Satan is the leader of the fallen angels. He was an angel of light until he revolted against God and with the others, was cast into hell.

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