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Free Study Guide-The Divine Comedy-The Inferno by Dante Alighieri-Notes
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CANTO SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

CANTO XXXI

Summary

Virgilís scolding the Pilgrim and then soothing him in compared to the lance of Achillesí father, which could heal the wound if inflicted.

The two poets move up across the bank that separates the last Malebolge from the pit of hell, the Ninth (and last) circle of Inferno. The light is diffused and the Pilgrim cannot see what lies further on. Then he hears a very loud sound of a horn. He compares the sound of this horn to the one heard by Charlemagne and his men before they were destroyed. Charlemagneís blast was sound by Roland.

The Pilgrim gazes in the direction of the sound and sees high towers in the distance, which he presumes to be a city. Virgil tells him it is not a city, as he will soon find out for herself when they go nearer to that place. He tells the Pilgrim that the large structures in the distance are giants, embedded in the pit of Hell, from their navel downwards.

As they draw nearer the Pilgrim sees this for himself and gets scared. He compares them to the towers that are on the perimeter of the fortress of Montereggion. These giants are in fear of Jupiter and his thunder.

Soon he can clearly see the body of one giant. He says he is grateful that Nature made the race of giants extinct. For such great strength joined with a mind and evil intentions can destroy mankind. For Mars with the help of the giants would have easily eliminated men. He says that other brute animals like the Whales and the elephant havenít been made extinct. And this is a alright for they donít threaten mankind.


The Pilgrim compares the giants huge face to the big cone of St- Peterís in Rome. The giantís body was in keeping with the proportion of its face, and therefore very huge. The height of the giant from waist up is more than combined height of three tall Friesians.

The giant says some meaningless words and Virgil mocks his stupidity. Saying that it is better he blow his horn than try to talk. Virgil tells the Pilgrim that this giant is Nimrod whose tower of Babel caused the formation of many languages in the world. Virgil wants to waste no time with the giant who is unable to talk or understand what others say. So the two poets move on, keeping to the left, till they reach an even bigger giant. This giant has a chain wound five times around his chest and his arms are therefore immobile. Virgil says this is Ephialtes who rose in rebellion against Jove and the other gods.

Pilgrim wants to see Briareus. Virgil says he is father on and tied just like Ephialtes although he looks more fierce than the latter. He adds that Antaeus who is not bound by chains and capable of speech will put them down in the pit of hell.

While they are talking Ephialtes shakes himself violently causing a disturbance like a powerful earthquake. The Pilgrim fears for his life and says he would have died of fear if the monster had been unchained.

They move on and reach Antaeus. Virgil asks the giant to put them down in Cocytus. Virgil says he doesnít want to ask the help of Tityus or Typhon. He adds that the Pilgrim is alive and will talk about Antaeus on earth, thus keeping his name alive. Antaeus takes a hold of Virgil and Virgil grabs the Pilgrim. The giant bends down to put them on the pit of Hell. His bent body reminds the pilgrim of the tower Grarisend, when a cloud across its surface gives it an appearance of being about to fall. This makes the pilgrim afraid. But the giant puts them safely on the bottom of the pit, where Lucifer and Judas lie, and straightens up after having put them down.

Notes

Dante opens this Canto with a reference to the previous Canto, when Virgil is at first angry with the pilgrim and then comforting. Dante compares the nature of his guide's words with the spear of Achilles and his father, Peleus. The spear was able to heal the wounds it had inflicted. The purpose of this mention is to show the Pilgrim's preoccupation with his guide. And his sensitivity to Virgil's moods and words.

The climb the bank out of the 10 th Bolgia. And are now out of the Malebolge which forms the Eight Circle of Hell. As they move forward the pilgrim has difficulty in seeing what lies ahead because the air is murky and the light is diffused. It is at this point that he hears a loud blast of a horn. This blast serves a dramatic function. Just as it captures the pilgrim's attention to where the sound is coming from, so does it startle the reader and capture his attention to what is coming next.

Coming unexpectedly as it does, the sound scares the pilgrim and he feels it bodes ill. He compares it to the horn blast heard by Charlemagne and his men. The horn was sounded by Roland whose task was to warn if the enemy was coming from behind. But the proud Roland only sounded the warning when it was too late. And Charlemagne and his men were destroyed. Dante takes this example from the French epic "La Chanson de Roland."

Gazing toward the source of the sound the pilgrim makes out large towers in the distance. When he takes them for a city, Virgil disabuses him of this notion. And to prepare him for what he will soon see he tells the pilgrim that those towers are the bodies of giants. The giants are embedded in the surface of the Cocytus, forming an outer boundary. Dante compares this to the fourteen high towers on the perimeter of Montereggioni, a fortress constructed by Sienese in 1213 on the crest of a hill eight miles from their city. This also has great structural importance. Mark Musa says, "From afar, the pilgrim, who has mistaken the great giants for towers, asks Virgil, "What city lies ahead?", a question that should recall the scene before the gates of the walled city of Dis in Cantos VIII and IX. By this device not only are we introduced to a new division of Hell (the pit of the Giants and Cocytus : Complex Fraud), but also the unified nature of Lower Hell (i.e. from the city of Dis to Cocytus) is underscored. And the Fallen Angels perched on the wall who shut the gate to the city in Virgil's face (VIII) are analogous to the Giants here, who stand at the boundary of the lowest part of Hell. The fact that the Giants--in terms of pagan mythology - and the Fallen Angels - in terms of Judeo-Christian tradition both rebelled against their respective gods not only links the parts of Lower Hell together, but also suggests that the bases for all the sins punished in Lower Hell (Heresy, Violence and Fraud) are Envy and Pride, the sin of both groups of rebels.

Canto XXXI revolves around the pride of the Giants, exemplified by Nimrod's mumbling gibberish through his 'prideful lips', and even by Virgil's flattering Antaeus about his hunting exploits in order to persuade him to transport Dante and himself down to the pit's floor. Of course the greatest evidence of Envy and Pride on the part of the giants is their rebellion against their gods. Nimrod, envious of God's dominion, tried in this pride to build a tower to Heaven, and the Titans (save Antaeus who took no active part) rebelled against Jove. The Fallen Angels, of course (spurred on by their and envy), also rebelled against God.

The lines, for when the faculty of intellect... no man can win against such an alliance.' describe the terrible combination of qualities represented by the extreme evil of the Giants, as well as of the others in the Ninth Circle. The difference between the sins of Incontinence (the first five of the Seven Capital Sins) and the sins punished in the lower Hell is that the former are sins of the appetite, not the product of an 'evil will', while the sins of Heresy, Violence and Fraud are all inspired by a will to do evil. (That Heresy is caused by intellectual pride and its inseparable companion, envy, seems obvious. See Canto IX and its Notes). Violence is an alliance of 'evil will' and 'brute force' while simple fraud (in the Malebolge) is the product of 'evil will' allied with 'the faculty of intellect'. But Complex Fraud, exemplified by the Giants, the Fallen Angels, Lucifer and the other figures in the Ninth Circle, is a combination of simple frauds and violence (all of the figures in this circle are here for violent rebellion or treacherous murder) that is, of "the faculty of intellect...joined with brute force and with evil will."

It can be seen that the key to the sins in Lower Hell is the 'evil will' that is, an active willing of evil ends; and of all the capital sins, only pride and envy could cause such a will to evil.

These Giants (also called the Titans) when they rebelled against the gods were struck by the lighting bolts of Jupiter. Dante's words "the terrible giants, forever threatened / by Jupiter in the heavens when he thunders" refer to this fact. It also indicates that the giants still fear Jupiter's anger and his bolts.

As the pilgrim realizes the awful power of the Giants he is grateful that nature discontinued making any more of them. For as he gazes on their huge forms he realizes that their power with their evil minds could easily have, otherwise, destroyed mankind. He says that other powerful beasts like "Whales and elephants" fall in a different category and it is not harmful that they still exist on Earth. For although these animals are stronger than Man, they do not have Man's rational powers of the mind. Hence Man can subjugate them. It is clear that the pilgrim is very much in awe of these huge creatures (Giants). He wishes to impress the readers with this awe. And so he describes Nimrod's huge body. He says Nimrod's face is "just as wide as St. Peter's cone in Rome, and all his body's bones were in proportion." The cone in question, is a bronze cone more than seven feet in height. During Dante's time it lay in the courtyard of St. Peter's. Now it resides in an inner courtyard of the Vatican. He says that the height of the giant from his navel to his neck was about that of / or more than "three tall Erisians on each other's shoulders."

Erisians were residents of Eriesland, a northern province of the Netherlands, and were well known for their height. Thus Dante the poet using examples (from his time and age) paints a picture of the huge giants and their immense height for his readers. And once a reader visualizes the giants with the aid of Dante's example, the poet succeeds in his purpose of making his readers see what he wants them to.

The first giant they come across is Nimrod who says "Raphel bai ameth sabi almi !" Early Christians including Orosius and Saint Augustine believed Nimrod to be a giant. The "infamous device". Dante mentions is the Tower of Babel, which Nimrod constructed to help him climb to heaven to attack Jupiter along with the other giants. The tower of Babel is believed to be the reason that men now speak in different languages. It is believed that before the tower all men on Earth spoke in one common language. As for the sentence uttered my Nimrod, most modern commentators believe it to be utter gibberish. And this view is supported by Virgil's saying "Blathering idiot" in response to it. Virgil rudely tells him to use his horn, implying that any attempt to talk is useless. And adds that it is impossible for Nimrod to understand anyone's words or to make his own words understood. This again suggests that Nimrod is speaking utter senseless rubbish or that no one knows the language he is using.

The next giant they come across is Ephialtes, whose are tied to his body by a chain wound five times around him. Ephialtes was the son of Neptune and Iphimedia. He along with his brother Otus put Mt. Pelison on top of Ossa to climb up to the gods to fight them. They (Ephialtes and Otus) were slain by Apollo.

The pilgrim expresses the desire to see Briareus. He was the son of Uranus and Gaea (Earth), he joined the other giants in their rebellion against the Olympian gods as well. Virgil tells him that Briareus is further along the pit. And that he looks just like Ephialtes except he is more fierce. So the pilgrim has to satisfy himself just by looking at Ephialtes. He fears for his life when Ephialtes shakes himself and is grateful that the giant is tied. The pilgrim's fear underlines his vulnerability and mortality in this infernal places of sins and giants. Thus giving the readers a taste of what they would feel like if they found themselves there. In this way the poet conveys to them a share in his experience of the grotesque region and its fearsome inhabitants.

Finally they reach Antaeus, whose hands see free. Virgil plans on taking Antaeus help to descend to the pit of Hell. Antaeus was the son of Neptune and Gaea. Although he was a titan he didnít take part with other giants in their rebellion against the gods. Therefore unlike other giants, his hands are free. If he had taken part the titans may have overpowered the Olympians. On earth, Antaeus lived in Libya and was a great hinter. He performed great feats of hunting in the valley of Bagrada, where Scipio later defeated Hannibal. Virgil refers to these feats while addressing him, probably to flatter him into helping them. Virgil adds that he doesnít want to approach Tityus or Typhon for help in descending to cocytus. Both Tityus and Typhon were titans and killed by Jupiter, the former because he tried to rape Diana and the latter for rebelling against the gods. Both were cost down to earth and buried under Aetna.

When Virgil tells Antaeus that the Pilgrim is a living man and will keep his (Antaeusí) memory fresh in the world, the giant steeps scowling and wordlessly picks them and puts them down on the floor of Cocytus. As he is bending to put them down, he reminds the Pilgrim of a tower called Garisenda. It is one of the two leaning towers in Bologna, built around 1110, it is the shorter of the two. When a cloud passes against it, it appears as if it is about to fall. The Pilgrim feels that Antaeus is going to fall too as he lends and he becomes very afraid. But the giant puts them down without any mishap and at once straightens up. Now, ad Dante says, they are in "the pit that swallows Lucifer with Judas". His words built up tense expectations in the readers for finally the poets are in the center of Hell, where the Devil himself is trapped and punished. The Canto ends on this note making the readers eager for what unfolds next.

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