Summary and Analysis Canto XII



The poets enter round one of Circle VII and must navigate a steep passage of broken rocks. They come upon the Minotaur, and Virgil taunts it into a fury, so that the two may pass unharmed.

Virgil tells Dante to turn his eyes to the valley where he will see souls boiling in blood. Dante sees a group of armed Centaurs galloping toward them. Virgil names them and tells a bit of their individual histories. One of the Centaurs, Chiron, moves his beard aside with an arrow and notes that Dante must be alive since he moves things that he touches, such as rocks when he walks. Virgil gives Chiron an explanation about their journey and asks that one of the Centaurs guide them to a shallow place in the river of blood where Dante can cross, riding on the Centaur's back. Chiron volunteers Nessus, another of the Centaurs. Nessus explains that the souls boiling in the river of blood were people that were kings of bloodshed and despoilment. Dante turns to Virgil for guidance, but Virgil says that he will let Nessus guide at this point. Nessus goes on to point out the names of some of the souls in the river. Nessus explains that the river grows deep again on the other side of the ford, and he names some of the other souls punished there. Nessus leaves the poets at the other side of the bank and goes back the way he came.


In keeping with Dante's theme of justice, the sinners in round one of the seventh circle are the violent against others, and they spend eternity boiling in blood, just as they were steeped in blood in life. The river of blood is called Phlegethon and the souls in it are standing in a depth according to their sin — the worse the sin, the deeper they stand in the river. Should a soul try to leave the river, one of thousands of Centaurs will shoot it with an arrow but only so as to drive it back into the proper depth of the river.

The Minotaur is a perfect guardian for the sinners of the seventh circle because of his bestial and violent nature. Dante distorts neither the mythological Minotaur nor the Centaurs in Inferno; he found them appropriate as they were for this particular circle.

Unlike the other circles, Dante does not choose a soul to speak with or to make an illustration of; instead, he simply names some of the sinners in the round and moves on.

However, among the sinners are some of the most violent men in Dante's estimation, and two of them are of the Ghibelline party, the party in opposition to that of Dante's political party, the Guelphs. Dante again uses his divine narrative to make a political statement. In fact, rarely does a Ghibelline leader escape Dante's judgment.


Slides of Mark near Trent on the left bank of the river Adige about two miles from Roverto.

Infamy of Crete the Minotaur.

Minotaur Greek Mythology. a monster with the body of a man and the head of a bull (in some versions, with the body of a bull and the head of a man), confined by Minos in a labyrinth built by Daedalus, and annually fed seven youths and seven maidens from Athens, until killed by Theseus.

Centaurs Greek Mythology. any of a race of monsters with a man's head, trunk, and arms, and a horse's body and legs.

Chiron Greek Mythology. the wisest of all Centaurs, famous for his knowledge of medicine; he is the teacher of Asclepius, Achilles, and Hercules.

Nessus Centaur who tried to abduct Hercules' wife and was killed for doing so.

Dejanira Hercules wife.

Pholus mentioned by a number of classical poets, but not much detail is known about him.

Alexander Alexander the Great; 356-323 b.c.; king of Macedonia (336-323); military conqueror who helped spread Greek culture from Asia Minor and Egypt to India.

Dionysius father and son, I and II, tyrants of Sicily.

Azzolinao cruel Ghibelline tyrant.

Opizzo da Esti cruel Ghibelline tyrant.

That one before God's Altar pierced a heart Guy de Montfort, leader of a rebellion against Henry III.

Sextus the younger son of Pompeii the Great.

Pyrrhus either the son of Achilles or the king of Epirus; both were bloodthirsty warriors.

Attila king of the Huns and called "Scourge of God" because of his cruelty.