The Divine Comedy: Inferno By Dante Alighieri Summary and Analysis Cantos XXIV-XXV

Summary

Virgil's anger, even though it is not directed at him, has made Dante as downcast and as troubled as a shepherd without a pasture for his sheep. Dante is dependent upon his master not only for physical help, but also for spiritual guidance and moral support, and it now seems to Dante that this has been withdrawn. But one look from Virgil soon calms his spirit because Virgil is now the same serene person as he was at their first meeting.

The climb to the next bridge presents problems. Virgil is weightless, but he has to give very careful directions for Dante to test each rock before he puts his weight on it.

They both climb to the top of the sixth chasm, but Dante is out of breath. They walk to the end of the bridge, where it rests on the wall between the seventh and eighth chasms, and look down on the mass of strange serpents below them.

After the poets reach the end of the bridge, they can see the masses of serpents and sinners in the seventh chasm where the Thieves reside. The sinners are naked, and their hands are tied behind them with a serpent whose head and tail are threaded through the spirit's body at the loins and tied in coils and knots at the front. Another serpent sinks its fangs in the neck of a shade, who immediately takes afire, burns to ashes, and falls on the ground, only to resume its shape and its torment once again. This shade seems as bewildered by what has happened as one who has been the victim of a seizure of some kind.

Dante asks the shade who he is, and he answers that he came recently from Tuscany, where he lived the life of a beast. He is Vanni Fucci of Pistoia. Dante asks what his crime was, for he had seen him once and considered him to be a man of violence. The spirit, ashamed, confesses that it hurts him more for Dante to see him here in this dreadful place than it did to be condemned to this chasm of thieves. In obscure language, he prophesizes that Dante's party shall suffer greatly.

Canto XXV opens with the same sinner, Fucci, making "figs" with his hands and blaspheming God. A Centaur, Cacus, races up to the group and asks the location of the blasphemer. Virgil explains to Dante that Cacus does not reside with his fellows at the banks of Phlegethon because he stole Hercules' cattle. Hercules avenged the theft by clubbing Cacus to death, and he continued clubbing long after Cacus was dead. Suddenly, hoards of serpents climb on to Fucci and a dragon perches on his shoulders.

The Centaur leaves and three sinners appear, apparently concerned, asking if a sinner named Cianfa has fallen back. At that moment a six-legged lizard fastens itself to one of the three sinners, Agnello, and weaves itself through the sinner's body, melding it with the sinner, like hot wax. The two beasts become one and the other two sinners mock Agnello.

A small black monster runs up to one of the remaining two sinners and bites him near his bellybutton. A mutual transformation begins. The monster takes on the human form of the sinner, and the sinner takes on the monster's form.

Analysis

In keeping with Dante's theme of retribution, where the punishment fits the sin, the Thieves in the seventh chasm consistently steal one another's forms, and they are condemned to spend eternity with their hands bound. Just as they stole the substance of others in life, they have their only substance (their body forms) stolen throughout their eternal damnation in death.

Dante becomes afraid when Virgil shows signs of confusion and weakness. Dante relies on Virgil, who symbolizes human reason and wisdom, to deliver him from Hell, and when his guide shows signs of failure, he becomes irritated and fearful. Virgil was deceived by Malacoda and as a result, is off track. Virgil's confusion illustrates the fallibility of human wisdom. Dante uses this fallibility to illustrate his notion that only things that are divine can reach perfection, and even though Virgil is a great guide, he cannot ever reach perfection. Dante shows his all-too-human side at the opening of Canto XXIV, where he can barely climb from the chasm of the Hypocrites. He does not belong in Hell, and he is tiring physically from this journey; fortunately, it is almost at a close.

Dante again uses prophecy as a devise to further the political narrative of his poem. The main action in the seventh chasm begins with Vanni Fucci, who was a Black Guelph in Piceno and was accused of stealing from the sacristy. His presence in this pit is not as significant as his malicious prophecy against Dante, who was a White Guelph. His prophecy is that there will be a battle at Pistoia and that the battle will result in wounding the Whites. Indeed, this did happen in 1302, far before Dante wrote this part of Inferno. However, no matter the dark prophecy — Fucci pays for his maliciousness and blasphemy in due course in Canto XXV.

The main action of Canto XXV, besides the serpents swarming Fucci and obscuring him, is the action surrounding the Five Thieves of Florence. Little is known specifically about them beyond the fact that they were thieves, but Dante apparently knew of their reputations. These thieves are damned to spend eternity stealing one another's forms.

The transformation of the spirits and the serpents are described at length with terrifying vividness. Watching in horrified fascination, Dante seems to be recalling an evil nightmare, and words fail him at the end — an effective literary device that he will use again.

Glossary

chelidrids, jaculi , phareans, cenchriads, amphisbands various reptilian cretures that torture the sinners in the seventh pit.

Ethiopia ancient kingdom (possibly dating to the tenth century b.c.) in Northeastern Africa, on the Red Sea, corresponding to modern Sudan and Northern Ethiopia (the country).

Red Sea sea between Northeastern Africa and Western Arabia; connected with the Mediterranean Sea by the Suez Canal and with the Indian Ocean by the Gulf of Aden.

Black Black Guelph.

White White Guelph.

making figs an obscene gesture, still used in Italy today.

Maremma low, unhealthful, but fertile marshy land near the sea, especially in Italy.

Gaville refering to Francesco dei Cavalcanti, who was killed by the people of Gaville; many townspeople were then killed by his kinsmen avenging his death.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

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




Quiz