Summary and Analysis
The poets begin walking along the high banks of the stream, protected from the snow-like flames by the steam that the boiling brook emits. A company of wandering shades comes into sight and they stare closely at the poets. One of the shades recognizes Dante and is overjoyed to see him. The shade is Ser Brunetto Latini, and once identified, he asks to walk with Dante for a bit because if he stops for even a moment, he will have to lay still under the flames for 100 years and not be allowed to fan them off.
Dante and Brunetto begin walking, with Dante up on the high bank and Brunetto at his hem. Dante explains how his journey though Hell came to be, and Brunetto praises Dante's work with the highest of words and gives him some advice, as well as a prophesy about his coming exile. Dante tells Brunetto that he wishes him alive again, that he sees him as a paternal figure, and that he feels deep gratitude for his teachings.
Dante speaks with great kindness and gratitude for Brunetto's past help and teaching, and tells him that he thinks of him often. Dante also says he will ask a certain lady about the prophecies and is prepared to accept what Fortune wills for him.
Dante asks Brunetto what other souls reside with him in this burning plain and is told that only a few can be mentioned. All of the spirits with him were scholars of renown, and all of them are guilty of the same crime — sodomy (even though Brunetto does not name it). Suddenly, Brunetto feels a calling and must return to his band. Before he goes, he tells Dante to remember his great book, the Treasure.
The most significant moment in Canto XV is the meeting between Dante and Ser Brunetto, Dante's mentor and a source of encouragement. Dante was influenced by Ser Brunetto's works, one of which he mentions — the Treasure.
This is one of the high points in the Inferno. Clearly, Dante felt that Ser Brunetto was an important man and cared for him deeply. When he addresses him (in the original Italian), for example, Dante uses the respectful form of "you," something he does not do with the other shades. Brunetto Latini was one who understood Dante's genius when others failed to do so. Now the poet still finds in his master the support and the encouragement that he needs to withstand the attacks that his fellow citizens are going to direct at him. In Brunetto Latini, Dante finds a sympathetic fellow artist, especially since he encourages Dante to follow his (Dante's own) star to achieve the glorious fortune for which he is destined.
Dante consistently places men he respects in Hell, and he gives them the respect they are due in his meetings with them. However, respect and good deeds on Earth are not enough to survive damnation in Dante's ideology.
At this point in his journey, Dante hears the third of three prophecies concerning his exile from Ser Brunetto. Brunetto prophesizes that Dante shall be hungered for on both sides, meaning that both political parties (the Guelphs and the Ghibellines) will hunger to destroy him. This is hardly a real prophecy, considering that the events Brunetto warns Dante about already came to pass well before Dante wrote Inferno.
The symbolism of the rain of fire and the scorching sand is that of sterility and unproductiveness: The rain should be life giving, the soil fertile. Instead, symbolically, the sex practices of the sodomite are not life giving.
Francesco d'Accorso Florentine scholar.
Servent of Servents Boniface VII, Dante's enemy.
Arno river in Tuscany, central Italy, flowing west through Florence and into the Ligurian Sea.
Bacchiglione river in Italy.