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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 XVIII

Summary

The pilgrim describes the structure of the Eighth circle. It is made up of ten concentric rounds called "Malebolge". Each round is made up of grey stone and surrounded by high stony cliffs. Each of these rounds is connected to the other by means of a bridge. After these ten rounds--Bolgia is a deep pit. The pilgrim reserves the description of this pit for later. Rocks that cut across the Ten Bolgia and end at the deep pit form the bridges across Bolgia. There are many such rocky bridges connecting the ten Bolgia of the Eighth circle. They are like spokes of a wheel with the pit as the center.

After getting down from Greyon's back the two poets find themselves here and Virgil moves on taking a left turn. Dante walks behind him. In the first Bolgia Dante witnesses a new set of sinners. He sees two lines of sinners, walking in opposite directions. He compares this procession to the one that occurred at Rome during the Jubilee in 1300 (explained in the Notes). Horned devils whip these sinners to keep them walking. The two types of sinners punished thus are Pimps and the seducers. The Pimps are the sinners walking towards the two poets and the seducers are the line of sinners walking in the same direction as the two poets.

Dante recognizes one of the Pimps although the latter tries to hide from Dante's gaze. He is Venedico Caccianemico and encouraged by Dante's plain speaking he reveals that he procured Chrisdabella for the Marquis of Este.


He says that this Bolgia is full of numerous Bolognese who became Pimps because of their greed. A devil whips Venedico forcing him to move on and Dante rejoins his guide. They reach the bridge and walk onto it. They have turned right and are now facing the seducers.

The seducers too are kept in motion under the whips of the devils. Virgil points out one of them who seems impervious to pain. He tells that it is Jason who conned the Colchians of their golden ram. Jason then went to the Isle of Semnes and seduced their princess Hypsipyle. He eventually deserts her and his child by her. He later married Medea and deserted her as well.

They move along the bridge and reach the edge of the second bolgia. From here they can hear the sounds of the souls here bring slapped and whimpering in pain. The walls of this Bolgia are covered with filth as is the bottom giving off a very bad stench. They climb the next bridge and look down into the second bolgia. Dante sees the souls there sink in excrement. He stares at one man covered with filth and recognizes him as Alessio Interminei from Lucca. Punished in this bolgia are the flatters and Alessio is one such. Virgil asks Dante to note one particular shade. This is Thais the where who gave exaggerated praise to her lover to flatter him.

Notes

Dante the pilgrim starts this Canto with a structural description of the Eighth circle (given in the above summary). The ten ditches of this circle are collectively called the "Malebolge". He has seen this structure from his position on Greyon's back as they descend to the Eighth circle.

Two classes of sinners are punished in the first Bolgia : the pimps and the seducers. Each moves along in a single file but in opposite directions. The pimps walk in one direction while the seducers in the other direction (opposite the pimps). Their punishment to walk endlessly in this circular bolgia. If they aren't allowed any rest, for if they stop, they are whipped by horned devils who guard them. Dante compares the progression of these souls to the pilgrims who came to Rome for a Jubilee in 1300. Half of these pilgrims crossed the bridge going towards Castel Sant Angelo and St. Peter's while the other half moved in the opposite direction (on the other side of the bridge) heading towards the "mount" or Monte Giordana, a small hill on a river.

Dante recognizes one of the pimps although the latter is at first anxious to keep his identity hidden. The reader should note this point. Although the sinners Dante has encountered so far are keen on being remembered this sinner doesn't share their keeness. This is because as the pilgrim descends deeper and deeper in Hell he encounters soul guilty of much more shameful sins. As such they have no desired to be remembered so shameful are their sins. The man Dante recognizes is Venedico Caccianemico. He was born in 1228 and led the Guelfs in Bologna from 1260 to 1297. He provided his own sister to satisfy the best of Marquis to Este (either Obizzo II or his son, Azzo VIII) to get in good books with him. Venedico states that innumerable Bolognese are damned to this Bolgia. He says that there are more pimps here from Bologna than there are present day residents of the area stretching from Savena and Reno rivers. "Sipa" means, "yes" as used in the language of the Bolognese.

The two poets climb the bridge leading to the next Bolgia. They are now facing the seducers and Virgil points out the proud figure of Jason to Dante. Jason was the leader of the Argonauts. His half brother Pelias snatched the throne of Iolcus from him. Pelias later promised to return Iolcus to Jason in return for the Golden Fleece of King Acetes of Colchis. Jason sets out for Colchis. He stops at Lemnos and there seduces the daughter of the King of Lemnos, Hypsipyle. He reaches Colchis where king Acetes sets a condition before Jason. If Jason can yoke two fires breathing even to plow and sow the teeth of the dragon that guard the fleece, the fleece would be Jason's. Jason succeeds in doing this with the help of Medea. She was a sorceress and the daughter of the king. Having obtained the fleece, they go back to Greece and get married. But Jason abandons her for Creusa, daughter of Creon, King of Corinth. He falls in love with Creusa and marries her. The angry Medea kills Creusa and then her own children. Grief-stricken by this Jason himself dies. Dante mentions that Hypsipyle "deceived the other women". This is a reference to the fact that when the women of Lemnos slow all the men on the island, Hypispyle lies about having killed her father; king Thoas. She saves his life by hiding him.

The poets move on to the bridge towards the second Bolgia and look down at the sinners there. The entire Bolgia is covered with filth and stinking. The punished shades (Flatters) are covered in excrement. This is their punishment, to stew in filth. Just as they immersed others in their lying words they are now immersed in filth. Their condition is repulsive. Dante recognizes one soul, Alessio Interminei from Lucca. His family was important in the white party at Lucca. And as he himself admits he is punished here for being a flatterer. Virgil points out a repulsive figure to Dante revealing her to be Thais, the whore. This Thais is a character from Terence's play "Eunuchus" and not the historical person by the same name (the most famous courtesan of all times). Cicero also wrote about this fictional character (not to be confused with the historical one) in his "De Amicitia". In this instance her exaggerated thanks to her lover (for a present) is used by Dante to show the hyperbole and exaggeration that are the tools of flatterers

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