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

Summary

The poets reach the final round of the last circle of Cocytus, the ninth and final circle of Hell called Judecca, and see the sinners there completely encased in the ice, in all sorts of strange and twisted positions. These are the sinners who were treacherous to their masters, and since they cannot speak, the poets move on to see Satan, the master of this place.

Dante uses Virgil as a windbreaker, because Satan's bat-like wings are flapping, creating a cold wind that freezes the ice firmer. Dante stands dazed and shaken in the presence of this hideous being and can only attempt to describe him.

Satan is bound in the ice to his mid-point and has three faces — a red one, a yellow one, and black one. In each of his three mouths he chews a sinner. Virgil explains that Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Christ, is the one in the middle and suffering most, and that the other two are Brutus and Cassius, who betrayed Caesar.

Virgil tells Dante to hold on to him as he climbs Satan's back, waiting for a moment when the wings are open so that they can have a safe passage down. Finally, Virgil climbs through a hole in the central rock, turning around — Dante is afraid that Virgil is going back through Hell, but both of the poets find themselves on their feet and standing on the other side of the world, having passed the mid-point of the Earth. They can see Satan's legs on this side, his body still frozen in the ice above.

Without pausing to rest, the poets make the long journey to the other side of the world where they are delivered though a round opening into the world under the stars.

Analysis

This final canto is the climax of the Inferno, the meeting with Satan. The sinners in this final round, Judecca (named after Judas Iscariot), keeping with the theme of retribution, are permanently frozen in the ice; they were treacherous to their masters, the ultimate sin of malice, and are forever encased in their sin of coldness.

Dante's two-fold theme of religion and politics is found in the very mouths of Satan. The ultimate sinners of this kind of malice spend eternity being chewed and flayed by Satan's teeth. The greatest sinner of the world is Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Both Brutus and Cassius betrayed Caesar, founder of Dante's beloved Roman Empire.

The image of Satan is a startling one, beginning with its three faces, which symbolize the perversion of the Holy Trinity. Dante says that Satan is as ugly as he was once beautiful, recalling his former incarnation as an angel. Satan, here, seems less powerful than traditionally depicted; he is dumb and roaring, trapped in the ice, punished as the rest of the sinners, perhaps worse.

Glossary

Dis, Lucifer, and Beelzebub All meanings are the same: Satan.

middle tierce seven thirty.

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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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