The Divine Comedy: Inferno By Dante Alighieri Summary and Analysis Cantos XXIX-XXX

Summary

Having arrived at the chasm or evil pouch in the eighth circle, Dante wants to stop for a moment to observe these suffering shades, but Virgil is impatient and tells him to move along. Dante tells Virgil that he is seeking one of his own kinsmen who, he believes, is here. "I think a spirit of my own blood is among the dammed." Dante is tarrying only because he wants to speak with this relative, and he wishes Virgil would be more patient.

Virgil responds that he saw Dante's kinsman under the bridge that they had just crossed, and that this shade, which the others had called Geri del Bello, had shaken its finger threateningly at Dante as they passed by. It is then that Dante realizes that the murder of Geri del Bello had never been revenged by any member of Dante's family. And for this failure, Dante expresses his sorrow for his un-avenged kinsman.

While Virgil and Dante are talking, they reach the bridge over the tenth and final chasm of the eighth circle. Here they see the suffering and hear the wails and weeping of the Falsifiers. The noise is so loud that Dante covers his ears, and the stench is so powerful that it reminds him of rotting human flesh, lying exposed to the world.

Dante compares their state to that of the miserable people who cram the hospitals at three different cities. These souls lay about, as if dying from pestilence and disease. Some lay gasping, some lean on one another, and some pick one another's scabs as if scaling a fish.

Virgil interrupts two of the souls who are picking at each other's scabs and asks them if there are any Italians (Latians) among them. One replies that they are Italian and once Virgil explains their presence in the circle, the souls tell their history. One is from Arezzo ,and he supposedly joked with Albert of Siena that he could fly and thus, he was burned for the lie, though he is in this circle for alchemy, another form of falsifying. The other soul is Capocchio, Dante's friend in his school days, who was burned for alchemy in 1293.

Dante begins Canto XXX with a long metaphorical mythological comparison to describe the rage of the two spirits that come furiously out of the darkness, one of which descends on Capocchio. The other alchemist tells Dante that this raging beast was Gianni Schicchi, who impersonated a dead man so that he cold benefit from the will. The other raging shade is Myrrha, who posed as another and mated with her father; once caught, she changed herself into a tree and bore Adonis from the trunk. These are the Evil Impersonators, damned to rage though Hell and seize on souls, and in turn, they are seized upon by one another.

The next class of Falsifiers that the poets encounter is in the form of Master Adam, a Counterfeiter who made florins from alloyed gold and was burned for the offense. On top of his afflictions and the curse of not being able to move, he is damned with extreme thirst, though his belly is waterlogged. He says that he imagines sweet water running from the Arno's banks.

Finally, the poets meet a soul of the final class of Falsifiers, Sinon the Greek, a False Witness who beguiled the citizens of Troy to allow the Trojan Horse into the gate of Troy, thus allowing the soldiers inside to wreak havoc on that city. And they also meet Potiphar, who falsely accused Joseph.

Master Adam and Sinon the Greek exchange blows and begin bickering about who is the worse sinner. Sinon says that he is there for one sin, while Master Adam is there for thousands — each coin being a separate sin. Dante listens, fascinated, until Virgil reproaches him soundly, and Dante is overcome with shame, so much so that he cannot speak. Virgil senses his shame and says that less shame would wash away a greater fault, but that to listen to such petty arguing is degrading.

Analysis

In Dante's time there was a tradition, even a right protected by law, of avenging the death of kinsman. Geri del Bello's death had not been avenged at the time of the writing of the Inferno, though the death was avenged thirty years later by del Bello's nephews with the accepted code of "a life for a life."

Virgil upbraids Dante for weeping and pausing at the ninth pit, consistent with the hardening of his character in these later circles. There is no time for pure emotion at this point in the journey; time is growing short and Virgil must move Dante along, even if that means taking on a harsher nature. Dante is still utterly human, his emotions changing with each moment of the journey, though he is coming to realize that his pity does not change the fate of these sinners, that his only proactive choices are to remember them to the upper world, and in some cases, cause a sinner more pain.

The final chasm of Circle VIII contains the Falsifiers, who are, as are the other sinners in other circles, suffering the pain of retribution. These sinners affected the senses of others, showing themselves or substances to be what they are not, thus they spend eternity in a corruption of the senses — filth, thirst, disease, stench, darkness, horrible shrieking, physical pain — these sinners are damned to an eternity of what they put others through in life. In Canto XXX, the two mythological examples of insanity are a link and/or a parallel the two sinners in this circle who suffer from insanity.

As usual, Dante gives faces to each of these four classes of sins, in allowing the sinners to speak. It is noteworthy what sins Dante considers worse than others. Here, there are four classes of falsification, ranging from those that harm others least to those that harm others most. This is in keeping with Dante's positioning of all of the sinners in Hell — those on the inside of any given chasm were less outwardly harmful than the others that are closer to the center of Hell.

Interestingly, the sinners here that are allowed to tell their tale are only vaguely related to religion or politics, though one could argue that they are connected to both in some manner. Remember, Virgil stated earlier that God despised Malice the most, out of all of the possible sins, and these souls in the final chasm of Circle VIII are certainly guilty of Malice — they knew exactly what they were doing, and they did it with malicious intent.

In this particular canto, readers should note that the sinners aren't suffering from an outside, foreign influence in the environment as in the other cantos. The sinners here are suffering from systemic infection within themselves. Alchemists have leprosy, impersonators are mad, counterfeiters have dropsy, and the liars have a fever that makes them stink. They are punished by the corrupt state of their minds and bodies. Their corrupt sense of values is symbolized by the corrupt state of their minds and bodies.

Just before the poets leave this circle, Virgil gives Dante a strict and swift reprimand, again illustrating how he has changed from the earlier circles. Dante is immediately filled with shame, something that probably would not have happened in an earlier circle, where he would not have known better than to listen to two shades bickering. Dante is coming to understand the nature of sin and is learning to be disgusted by it. Virgil sees his immediate shame and is relieved at this behavior; Virgil's toughness on Dante is teaching him to be diligent and watchful, though Virgil indicates that something similar may happen again, illustrating that he understands the fallibility of Human Nature.

Glossary

Daedalus Greek Mythology. the skillful artist and builder of the Labyrinth in Crete, from which, by means of wings he made, he and his son Icarus escaped.

Alchemy an early form of chemistry, with magical associations. Its chief aims were to change base metals into gold and to discover the elixir of perpetual youth.

Juno Roman Mythhology. the sister and wife of Jupiter, queen of the gods, and goddess of marriage.

Semele daughter of King Cadmus of Thebes.

King Athamas Semele's brother-in-law.

Hecuba taken to Greece from Troy as a slave; written about by Ovid.

Baptist's image John the Baptist's image was stamped on gold florins.

Guido, Alessandro the Counts of Guidi.

Narcissus' mirror Greek Myth. a beautiful youth who, after Echo's death, is made to pine away for love of his own reflection in a spring and changes into the narcissus.

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