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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 XXXIV

Summary

Virgil warns the pilgrim that they are getting closer to the figure of Lucifer. In the distance, the pilgrim can make out the flapping of Lucifer's huge wings. The wind thus created, causes him to take shelter behind Virgil. The ice beneath their feet contains sinners that are fully buried in the ice.

When they reach further on, Virgil steps aside and points "Dis" (Lucifer) out to his guide. And he exhorts the pilgrim to be brave. The sight of Lucifer terrifies the Pilgrim out of his units. He sees Lucifer, with his chest stuck above the ice. Dante states that the size of Lucifer is so gigantic that the huge giants (of Canto XXXI) are smaller than his arm. The Pilgrim states that the once beautiful Lucifer is now very ugly. And since he rebelled against God, it is fitting that he is the Lord of pain and suffering. The pilgrim is amazed to note that the head of Lucifer bears three faces. The three faces are attached to one other and at the crown they are fully joint. The central face is bright red, the right a blend of white and yellow and the left is black in color. Beneath each face are two wings larger than that of a bat not of a bird. These wings Lucifer constantly flaps thus creating wind in the Cocytus. From all six eyes of Lucifer tears are dripping. These tears mix with the blood in his mouth and drip down his chin. In each of his three mouths is a sinner on which he is chewing with sharp teeth keeping the sinners in constant pain.

Virgil points out to the sinner in the central mouth. The head of the sinner is inside the mouth and his legs are sticking out. Not only is he being bitten, but his back is also clawed, so that the skin comes off. This sinner endures the maximum pain and he is Judas Iscariot.

Brutus and Cassius are in the other two mouths, with their bodies inside the mouth and their heads sticking out. Brutus is in the mouth of the black face and Cassius in the mouth of the yellow and white face. Dante describes Cassius as looking "sturdy" meaning stout of fat.


Virgil says its soon going to be night and since they have seen all of Hell, it is time for them to leave. The Pilgrim climbs on Virgil's back and Virgil climbs down the body of Lucifer. They climbs down till they reach the point where the thighs being. Then Virgil turns his head in the direction of Lucifer's legs and begins to climb upwards. This confuses the Pilgrim who thinks that they're going back to Hell. But Virgil assures him that this is the only way to get out of Hell. They reach a rocky crevice and Virgil puts the Pilgrim there and climbs up to join him. From the crevice the pilgrim can see the legs of Lucifer pointing upwards. He is still confused. Virgil points out that they must continue their journey for the time is short and they have a long distance to cover.

Before they continue the Pilgrim wants his confusion cleared. He wants to know how the ice has disappeared, and how the body of Lucifer is stuck upside-down and how they suddenly find themselves from night to daytime. Virgil explains that they are now on the other side of the Earth. When he shifted their position on reading Lucifer's thigh they passed the center of the Earth and reached below "the hemisphere which is opposite the side covered by land", that is the Southern Hemisphere. He explains that there is a time difference between the two places: when it is morning in one place, it is evening in the other.

He explains to the Pilgrim that when Lucifer's body fell from Heaven, it struck "on this side" that is the Southern Hemisphere headfirst and plunged inside the earth. Due to this fall the landmasses of the Southern Hemisphere moved to the Northern Hemisphere. The land at the center of the earth (that Lucifer's body displaced) rushed out into the Southern Hemisphere. This formed the cave above Lucifer's legs and the land formed the mount of Purgatory, the only land in Southern Hemisphere.

Virgil adds that there is a passage, through which a stream runs. Through this passage they climb and reach the base of the Mount of Purgatory. The two poets climb up that passage and eventually reach where it opens into the world. This opening is "as far from Beelzebub [Lucifer] as the limit of his tomb." This means that the opening lies at the edge of the natural dungeon that forms Luciferís "tomb". Through this passage the two poets move, till they reach the opening that leads to the surface of the Earth. They climb out of this unto the Earth and gaze upon a star laden sky.

Notes

This is the last Canto of the "Inferno" and the most dramatic one. For it is in this Canto the Pilgrim sees Lucifer or the Devil with his own eyes. This can be considered as the climatic moment of "Inferno" towards which all action of the poem has been leading.

The Canto opens with Virgil saying, "Vexilla regis prodeunt Inferni." Translated it means " The banners of The King of Hell advance." This line is an altered version of the opening lines of the hymn "Vexilla regies prodent" meaning "The banners of The King advance." This hymn was written by Venantius Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers. This hymn belongs to the church liturgy (a regular ritual of a church). By addition to it the word "Inferni" Virgil gives it a dramatic impact. And his words indicate to the pilgrim that he will soon behold the Devil. Mark Musa elaborates saying, "sung on Good Friday the hymn anticipates the unveiling of the cross, Dante, who began his journey on the evening of Good Friday, is prepared by Virgil's words for the sight of Lucifer, who will appear like a 'windmill' in a 'thick fog'. The banners referred to are Lucifer's wings. The ironic nature of the parodied line and its effect are evident: with the first three words the reader is prepared to think in terms of the cross, the symbol of man's redemption through Christ; but with the fourth he is abruptly recalled to the present reality of Hell and moreover to the immediate presence of Lucifer, the personification of Evil and the antithesis of Christian Love."

The first view that the Pilgrim has of Lucifer is hazy; he can only perceive a huge shape with flapping wings. The wind created by these wings causes him to seek shelter behind Virgil's form. At this moment the two poets are in the fourth and final division of Cocytus, namely Judecca. This region is named after Judas who betrayed his leader Jesus Christ.

In Judecca are punished all those souls who betrayed their lords. The punishment is the total entombment of the sinners in ice. They are fully buried in the ice. The Pilgrim sees them rigidly fixed in the ice in various positions. They can neither move nor communicate and it is as if they have been entombed a second time. Their total rigidity does present a picture of death and hence their punishment can be considered the worst in Hell. These are men who betrayed their own benefactors and leaders. They repaid benefits derived by disloyalty and treachery. Mark Musa refers to them as "souls in whom all warmth of love of God and for their fellow man has been extinguished." Their cold-heartedness has now delivered them into being frozen in ice. Even in Hell they are denied any semblance of ice-like speech and movement. Thus being forced to remain life-less in the bitter cold ice compounds their suffering. On Earth through their actions they betrayed the men to whom they owed loyalty. And now in Hell their freedom of any sort of action has been snatched away.

The two poets move ahead, with the Pilgrim walking shielded by the form of Virgil. When they are near enough Lucifer, Virgil steps aside so that the Pilgrim can see the Devil for himself. Virgil puts it simply, saying, "This is he, this is Dis." His simple words like the importance of the sight before him. Their simplicity only underlines the dramatic impact of this moment. Nonetheless he is aware of the effect of the sight on his ward and exhorts him to be courageous. And indeed the sight of Lucifer strikes Dante dumb. He becomes quite numb with fear. Through his accounts the readers can vicariously experience the horror of such a moment: to behold the Devil himself.

Lucifer was one of God's most beautiful angels. But in his pride, he rebelled against God, wishing to become God himself. For this insurrection he fell out of grace with God. And from that time onwards represents Evil, Misery and Sin. Dante states that the fallen angel is now very ugly looking and a filling symbol for grief and evil.

Lucifer has three faces, representing an infernal distortion of the Holy Trinity. Mark Musa writes about the three faces saying, "The symbolic value of the three single faces has been much debated. Although many commentators believe that the colors (red, yellow, black) represent the three known continents (Europe, Asia, Africa) it seems more logical that they should be antithetically analogous to the qualities attributed to the trinity (see Canto III, lines 5 - 6). Therefore, Highest Wisdom would be opposed by ignorance (black), Divine

Omnipotence by impotence (yellow), criminal love by hatred or envy (red)." He adds about the Lucifer's appearance that, "The entire figure of Lucifer is a parody of the angelic. Originally belonging to the order of the Cherubim, he retains his six wings even in Hell, though here, devoid of their heavenly plumage, they appear as those of a bat (the standard depiction of the Devil's wings in the Middle Ages)."

In the central face of Lucifer is punished Judas Iscariot. His head is lying chewed in Lucifer's mouth while his legs are outside, kicking in pain. In addition the skin of his back is also clawed off. Judas had betrayed Jesus Christ for thirty pieces of silver. And this punishment is more severe than the one endured by the other two souls in the two other mouths. Judas position in Lucifier's mouth is similar to that of Simonists, who lie in a hole with their heads, stuck inside and their legs sticking out. When the poets pass the center of the earth, the pilgrim notices that Lucifer appears to be stuck upside-down in earth, with his legs pointing upwards. According to Mark Musa, " The Simonists, then prefigure the principal traitors against God and Christ, both in act (treachery to Christ/Church) and spatial disposition of their bodies."

The sinner being chewed in the black face is Marcus Brutus. His head is sticking out of the mouth and it is his lower body and his legs that are being bitten. Marcus Brutus was cunningly led by Cassius to join a band of conspirators. Brutus joined them in the assassination of Julius Caesar. Brutus was not only a recipient of Caesar's kindness but also loved by him as a dear friend.

The sinner, lying with his head sticking out of the mouth of the yellow face is Caius Cassius Longinus. He belonged to the band of conspirators who assassinated Julius Caesar. As for Dante's description of Cassius as "still looking sturdy", Mark Musa clarifies, "Dante has evidently confused him with Lucius Cassius, whom Cicero calls 'adeps' or 'corpulent'."

The reader must not forget that Lucifer, the fallen angel, lying buried in the depths of the Earth is also punished. His beauty is lost to him, he is evicted from heaven, and he lies powerless in the bowels of the Earth. He suffers, as is shown by the tears Dante describes as flowing out of his six eyes. Dante says that, "it is fitting that all grief should spring from him ". This is because Lucifer is the perfect symbol of the sad consequences that follow anyone who goes against God or who follows the evil path.

Having seen Lucifer they have completed their tour of Hell. And since it is getting closer to night they have to make haste. Now their objective is to get out of Hell. To do this Virgil climbs down Lucifer's body till he reaches Lucifer's thighs. This point is the center of the universe and also of terrestrial gravity. So once Virgil passes this point, he must turn his position so that his head now points to Luciferís feet. Having thus turned around, Virgil places the pilgrim on a rocky surface and climbs up. They walk along this rocky passage till they reach an opening leading out.

Once they have passed the center of the earth Virgil says they must hurry for "the sun approaches middle tierce!". This means that the time is approximately halfway between the canonical hours of prime and Tierce i.e. 7.30 a.m. In a few lines earlier Virgil tells the pilgrim it'll soon be night. So this reference soon to the time as being that of early morning confuses the pilgrim. So does the fact that Lucifer's body appears to him stuck upside down in the earth. Because a while back he would look up to see Lucifer's head and now when he looks up he sees Lucifer's feet. Virgil tells him that when they passed Lucifer's thighs, they passed the center of the earth. And are now in the Southern Hemisphere. This is why Virgil had to turn his position and why Lucifer looks stuck upside down. This explains the rapid shift from night to day because the Southern Hemisphere is twelve hours ahead of the Northern Hemisphere.

Lucifer fell headfirst from Heaven to the Southern Hemisphere. His fall caused his body to be driven through the earth's center, trapping him there. His fall caused the land in the Southern Hemisphere to sink beneath the sea and move to the Northern Hemisphere. But the land at the center of the Earth, displaced by Lucifer's body, rushed outwards into the Southern Hemisphere. This shifting of the land left a stony passage above Lucifer's legs. And the displaced land formed the Mount of Purgatory, the only land in the Southern Hemisphere. At the base of this Mount is an opening through which a stream flows. It is first along the stony passage and out of this opening that the two poets make their way out of Hell.

The two poets move along the stony passage till they reach the "small round opening... and we came out to see once more the stars". With these words "Inferno" ends. The pilgrim has journeyed through Hell and has finally come out, back on the surface of the earth. That this journey ends with a sight of the stars is significant. It is a hopeful symbol. The darkness of Hell is now behind him. The stars are a symbol of this success. And they also represent God and his Heaven. Thus the Pilgrimís coming out to see the stars signifies that fact that his journey will now proceed in the direction of God and Heaven.

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