"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Dante's Inferno, Cantos XXIV thru XXIX

Continuing on with the summary of Dante's Inferno.  First installment was here. Second installment here. Third installment here.  Fourth installment here.  

As it turns out the bridge of the seventh ditch is also out and so the pilgrims need to make their way through the boulders and terrain.  It’s a struggle for Dante to climb up the upside of the ditch but finally they reached the seventh ditch, that where thieves are placed.  The sinners here are placed to reside with snakes, and in a tour de force of poetic skill Dante describes the metamorphic exchange between the bodies of the sinners with the bodies of the snakes.  And when the exchange is complete, the pilgrims witness the beings burst into flame, be consumed to ashes, and then reconstituted back into the original form, only to go through this cycle for eternity.  They meet a man Dante recognizes from the town of Pistoia, Vanni Fucci, who reveals he is there because he stole religious articles.  Spitefully he tells Dante how his White Guelphs will be routed by the Black in the near future.  (Canto XXIV)

After Vanni Fucci made a profane hand gesture and let out a blasphemous curse, a snake curls around his neck and merges into him.  The pilgrims observe other souls being metamorphosed and scorched, the centaur, Cacus, and then a group of Florentines. Here the metamorphous is described in excruciating detail so that Dante the poet is actually outdoing the poeticism of the Roman poets Lucan and Ovid, who were known for their description of transmutation of beings.  (Canto XXV)

The pilgrims struggle on to make through the terrain of the seventh ditch until they finally reach the eighth, where they see the crevice filled with flickering lights like fireflies.  Here reside the sinners who gave false counsel, forever locked inside of flames just as their tongues on earth were flames.  One particular flame catches Dante’s interest.  It contains the Greek heroes Ulysses and Diomedes from the Trojan War who devised the notion of the Trojan Horse to bring down Troy.  Dante wants to hear their story and Virgil beseeches Ulysses, who tells of his epic quest after the war to gain supreme knowledge.  He tells how with his crew they sailed to other side of the earth to where they came across a mountain that reached the heavens, but then in a whirlwind the ship was flipped under and they all drowned.  (Canto XXVI)

Another flame makes his way toward the pilgrims and this one asks about the recent political developments between the northern Italian cities.  Dante the pilgrim delineates the political status of his day, and asks who the soul inside the flame.  Cunningly he never provides his name but gives enough of his personal bio for us to identify him as Guido de Montefeltro, the Ghibelline captain who was known for his devious strategies.  He tells of how toward the end of his life, he decided to give up being guileful so that he would enter heaven, and so became a Franciscan friar.  But then Pope Boneface VIII, in the middle of a war, called on Guido to provide him with a winning strategy, and he would absolve him of whatever sin he recommended.  Guido told him to lie to trick the enemy, and so it worked.  But when Guido died, despite St. Francis coming for his soul, a demon overruled St. Francis and brought Guido down to hell.  (Canto XXVII)

Having made their way upon the span once again, the pilgrims come to the ninth ditch where those who caused schisms reside.  In perfect divine justice, these souls have their anatomies cleaved apart in some fashion.  These souls forever healed but then re-severed by a demon with a sword.  They meet Mohammed (who apparently Dante believed was once a Christian) split open from the neck to the groin and his son-in-law Ali split from the head to the chin.  They meet an Italian, Pier da Medicina, who’s throat is severed, and others until finally they meet the war poet Bertran de Born who stands with his head severed, held by the hair in his hand.  (Canto XXVIII)

Virgil observes that Dante is lingering overly long in this ditch of the schismatics, and prods him to hurry since their allotted time is approaching.  Dante observes a relative there, Geri del Bello, who is upset with him, and so moves on.  The pilgrims move to the tenth ditch, that of the counterfeiters.  Here the sinners lay about in mortal agony like the dying at a hospital, lamenting from eternal ills such as malaria, plague, and leprosy.  They come to two sinners, Griffolino and Capocchio, sitting on the ground back to back, both forever picking at scabs that cover their skin and speak about their deeds.  (Canto XXIX)


  1. One of Dante's remarkable acts in Inferno is showing subdivisions of sin - like the eighth circle's fraud done with out much malicious intent.

    Thanks for continuing this 'tour.' :)

    1. My pleasure Brian. I'm really glad you're getting something out of this.