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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 VI

Summary

The Pilgrim recovers from his faint to find himself in the Third Circle of Hell where the gluttons are punished. Everywhere he looks he sees new sinners being punished in a new way ("new" means different from what he has previously encountered in the other two circles). This circle is a victim to constant rainfall, heavy and cold in nature. It is composed of hail, dirty water and snow. And the ground stinks because of this rain.

Cerberus, a beast with three dog-like heads, all of which keep up their loud barking, guards the Third Circle. He looks fierce and uses his claws to rip apart the spirits in this circle. The ripped and mangled souls fall to the ground and howl out their pain. When Cerberus spies the two poets he gets ready to attack them. Virgil distracts him by flinging mud at him, which the beast immediately starts devouring. The noise of Cerberus's barking torments these souls and the heavy rain beats them down. So, that all the sinners are lying flat on the ground. One such soul gets up to address Dante the Pilgrim asking the latter if he (pilgrim) remembers him. The pilgrim is unable to do so because the soul has been battered, by its punishment, out of all recognition. The soul says he is from Florence and his name is Caicco. He says he is being punished for his gluttony and so are all the other souls surrounding him. The pilgrim expresses his pity for Ciacco's sorry state and asks him about the future of Florence and her citizens. Ciacco prophesizes that the "rustic party" (whites) will come to power for a short time (3 years). Then the other party (Blacks) with the help of Pope Boniface VIII will send the whites into exile. And these (Blacks and Pope Boniface VIII) will hold onto power for a long time. He also adds that there are a few honest men in Florence but no one pays heed to them. After this Dante the Pilgrim asks him the whereabouts of a few men, namely Farinata, Tegghiaio, Rusticucci, Arrigo, Mosca who are all worthy men, according to the Pilgrim. Dante desires to know whether they are in Heaven or Hell. He is told they are all deeper down in Hell, being punished for their individual and different sins. Ciacco assures him as the Pilgrim descends deeper he will undoubtedly encounter them. He also requests the Pilgrim to refresh the memories of their mutual friends about him (Ciacco). After saying this he once again, falls back to the ground.


Virgil informs the Pilgrim that the only time Caicco will awaken next is on the Judgement Day and each soul is reunited with its body. As they proceed the Pilgrim questions his guide about the Judgement Day. He wishes to know whether the suffering of these souls will increase or decrease on that day. Virgil says that since these souls will move closer to perfection (they will be reunited with their bodies) on that day their pain will be magnified. They move on and come to a place where the ledge they're walking on begins to descend, towards the Fourth Circle. At this intersection they encounter Plutus described by Dante the poet as "mankind's arch enemy".

Notes

Dante awakens to find himself in the Third Circle where Gluttons are punished. He writes the third tercet in the present tense. This is a noticeable change (in the tense) from the first two tercets. The present tense and his employment of the sharp staccato effect of one word pounding another underlines this scene where rain and hail are pounding down on the sinners.

This circle is guarded by Cerberus. (In classical mythology he is a fierce three-headed dog that guards the entrance to the underworld. His task is to let everyone enter and permit no one escape. In the "Divine Comedy" he stands guard over the Third Circle and inflicts punishment on the souls of gluttons. He uses his claws to tear them apart and thus subject them to pain. Thus these souls, who on Earth indulged their appetites excessively, as their punishment, have pounding rain beating them down. They will collapse under this rain. The rain is a symbol of excesses. Cerberus, with his three throats that gobble up anything without discrimination (even the mud Virgil throws at him) can be seen as a personification of appetite. Gluttony is a sin because one eats more than is necessary and thus eats without use of reason. This is true of Cerberus. Moreover just as appetite lashes out at its victim and pushes them into excesses, Cerberus lashes out at his victims (with his claws) and pushes them into howls of pain (their Contrapasso / punishment for their sin on Earth). Cerberus bears three head, as does Lucifer (Canto XXXIV) and this is a symbol of distortion of the Holy Trinity. Cerberus three throats keep up a loud barking adding to the discomfort of the punished souls. The poet adds that they "wish that they were deaf". Thus, as a part of their punishment their senses are being overwhelmed with Stimuli making them realize that any excesses can indeed be a defect.

The two poets proceed, passing the souls laid flat on the ground Dante describes these souls as "emptiness that looked like human form". It is important for the reader to understand and remember that these souls look as if they are made of flesh and blood. In actual truth their bodies are on Earth (in their graves). They are pure spirit (not made of any physical matter). In spite of this they can be ripped apart and suffer pain. In truth they are just airy shapes without any weight. As they two poets proceed, they trample over these shades (who cover the ground). Once again, this image recalls to the reader the inhumanity of the entire scene. These souls are treated no better than objects. And are denied individuality, as they lie there naked and punished. Hell, after all, is a place of punishment and it cannot be expected to be pleasant or merciful.

One shade rises from its stupor and addresses the pilgrim, whom he recognizes. But Hell has rendered this shade beyond recognition. Therefore the Pilgrim is unable to identify him. The shade then tell him that he also from Florence (Dante's native city). And his name is Ciacco. Many commentators think that the reference is to Ciacco dell'Anguilloia. Who was a minor poet of the time (Dante's time). This same man is also believed to be the Ciacco who appears in the stories of Boccaccio's "Decameron IX, 8. In Italian "Ciacco" translates to mean "pig / hog" or used as an adjective meaning "filthy" or "of a Swinish nature". Thus the shade may be saying that he had been nicknamed "Ciacco" because of his gluttonous nature. He does say "You citizens game me the name of Ciacco", thus the second interpretation seems more likely.

Ciacco says that "rain ..... beats me weak". Thus gluttons who exercised energy to consume excessively on Earth are now drained of all energy. Ciacco's state, along with that of others who surround him move the Pilgrim's heart to pity. Since he is talking to a Florentine he naturally asks Ciacco about the future of the city that is torn by the rivalry between the two factions of the Guelf party - the whites and the Blacks. In 1289 A.D. Guelfs defeat the Ghibellines and take total control over Florence. In 1300 A.D. the Guelf party divides into two factions: - "White" headed by Cerchi family and the "Blacks" led by the Donate family. Dante wishes to know the fate of the city, if there are any honest men in it and why it is a victim to such conflict.

Ciacco then makes a prophecy about Florence. He says that eventually the two factions will fight each other. And the "rustic party" or the whites will drive the Blacks out of the city. After three years the Blacks will return to dominate aided by Pope Boniface VIII. ("One new listing toward both sides"). And this domination, by the Blacks will last a long time. He also adds that there are a few,-"two just men"- honest men in Florence but the voice of honesty is unavailing in the face of "pride, envy, avarice" that inflame men's passions.

Shades in Hell can foretell the future as is shown by Ciacco's prophecy. They are also aware of the past. But, as will be revealed later (Canto X) they know nothing of the present. Thus although they know what will happen in the future they are unaware of what is happening on Earth at the present time. As regards Ciacco's prophecy, historically, the two factions came into direct conflict on May 1, 1300. As a result, in 1301 Blacks were expelled from the city of Florence. But they returned in 1302 within three years and with the aid of Pope Boniface VIII sent the whites into exile. Dante, belonging to the whites, was also exiled from Florence. Dante describe Boniface VIII as "one now listing toward both sides" because the Pope wasn't committed to either faction. His hidden goal was to be on the side of the ultimate winner. The reader should remember that although the fictional date of the poem is 1300 (as mentioned in Canto I), the poem itself was written a few years after that. By that time all that Ciacco has prophesied had already come to pass. Dante wrote the "Divine Comedy" in exile.

After satisfying his curiosity about the fate of Florence Dante asks Ciacco about the fate of a few men who are now dead - Farinata, Tegghiaio, Rusticucci, Arrigo and Mosca. He describes them as "worthy" and "bent on doing good" and is curious to know whether they're in heaven or hell. It is clear that Dante is uncertain about their fate despite their worthiness. Caccio confirms these doubts by saying they are in lower circles of Hell. As he descends the Pilgrim will encounter Farinata in the Circle of Heretics (Canto X) and Tegghiaio and Rusticucci among the Sodomites (Canto (XVI). Mosca is found among sowers of Discond in (Canto CXXVIII) and there is no other mention of Arrigo in the "Divine Comedy".

Ciacco asks the pilgrim to refresh the memory of Ciacco's friends about him once the Pilgrim reaches the Earth. Souls in Hell are concerned about their worldly fame because they can remain alive on Earth, now, only in the memory of those who once knew them. This explains Ciacco's request to the Pilgrim. If his friends remember him (Ciacco) he lives (in a sense on Earth).

After making this request Ciacco seems to fall into some kind of a stupor or trance and drops to the ground. Virgil says now he (Ciacco) will awake only on the day of Judgement. On that day each soul will be reunited with its body. God will then pass eternal judgement. Dante the Pilgrim is curious about this matter and asks his guide whether the Judgement day will result in any increase or decrease in a soul's suffering. Virgil reminds him of his "philosophy". The reference here is to the commonly held belief that the closer a thing is to perfection, the more it realizes what pleasure / pain is. That is, it experiences more deeply. The joining of the body and soul will lead to a state of perfection-from a technical point of view. Hence, after the Judgement Day, the sinners will feel more pain. Just as the blessed souls in Paradise will experience God's bliss more deeply They move on, till they reach a point where the ledge leads downwards into the fourth Circle of Hell. This is guarded by Plutus.

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