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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes
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CANTO XXXI

Virgil and Dante climb the path in semidarkness and head
toward the pit that houses Satan. In the darkness, Dante thinks
he sees a series of towers and asks Virgil what city they are
approaching. Virgil tells Dante he will see more clearly as
they get closer; then he decides it is best to tell Dante about
what he is to see before he becomes too frightened. When they
reach the wall of the well, he tells Dante he will see the Giants
and the Titans who fought the gods, frozen to their navels in
the ice.

Despite Virgil's warnings, Dante becomes more and more
frightened as the sight becomes clearer. Nevertheless, Dante
has the presence of mind to think that it was wise that Nature
stopped making Giants, for a thinking mind joined to such
strength and malice would be too much for a man to defend
himself against.



One of the huge monsters begins to howl in a language Dante
does not understand. Virgil explains that this Giant is Nimrod,
who was responsible, according to the myths, for the Tower of
Babel.

The poets continue to walk and come upon another Giant who
is not only frozen in the earth but has a chain wound around
him five times, binding the left hand in front of him and the
right hand in back. (The left hand symbolizes evil, while the
right hand is supposed to be good.) When Dante learns from
Virgil that this is Ephialtes, who was killed by Apollo in the
battle against the gods, Dante asks if they might not see
Briareus, his famous fellow-fighter with fifty heads and one
hundred arms. Virgil tells Dante that Briareus is too far away,
yet describes him as twice as fierce as Ephialtes and bound in
the same way. Instead, the poets seek Antaeus, who is not
bound to the earth because he did not fight the gods.

At this point, Ephialtes begins to thrash about so hard that
Dante says he would have feared for his life had he not
remembered the Giant was chained. The poets find Antaeus,
who responds to Virgil's flattery and the promise that Dante
will make him famous on earth. He gently lifts the poets and
places them down on the surface of the frozen lake, Cocytus,
the bottom of the pit of Hell.

NOTE: You may ask why Dante has the Giants guarding this,
the very bottom of Hell. It's a good question. Possibly they
represent the possibility of power without the controlling
influence of love and reason. The Giants are very proud.
Notice Antaeus' response to Virgil's flattery. Most of them
revolted against the gods and thus share or represent Satan's
place as the one who revolted against God. Unloosed, these
Giants would reduce to uncontrollable chaos the order that
God has created. As representatives of the basic earth-
primitive forces in the human spirit, we see that Dante feels
they must be contained, or else the world would be run by the
forces of stupidity, vanity, violence, and treachery.

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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes
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