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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 XXVI

Summary

Dante addresses Florence and starts the Canto with an ironic comment about the fact that Florence is a great city. He is being ironic because he finds the five most respectable Florentines in the Bolgia of Thieves. This is a slight against Florenceís name. He makes a prophecy that what "Prato and the others" wish for, Florence will come about soon. He prays that it happen soon because waiting for it only extends his pain.

The two poets climb back to the bridge and make their way along the difficult rocky path. What he saw made him sad, as does its memory. The eight Bolgia was filled with numerous flames and they lit up the ground so that the Pilgrim could see its depths from the bridge. He canít see anything except the flames just as Elisha could see fire of the Prophet Elijahís fiery chariot and not the chariot itself. So also the Pilgrim can just see the light of the flames but not what is inside each flame. For he feels that each flame holds a sinner inside it.

The Pilgrim leans over the bridge to have a better look. Seeing his interest Virgil reveals that each flame indeed holds a sinner and being thus burnt is their punishment. Dante admits that he had guessed this. He points out to a flame, the tip of which is split in two, and asks who is punished in it. The divided flame reminds him of the flame from the pyre of Eteocles and his brother. Virgil reveals that Ulysses and Diomed are punished together in that flame. Both angry with the otherís presence; just as they were angry, when they sinned on Earth. They are cursing the way they were duped by the Greeks who left a wooden horse (concealing soldiers) for the Trojans. They are paying the price for causing Achilles to abandon Deidamia and for stealing the "Palladium". (Explained in the Notes).


The Pilgrim begs Virgil to be allowed to wait for the two sinners and to hear what they say. Virgil grants this request. But tells Dante to remain quiet and let Virgil talk to the two sinners. Because he knows what Danteís questions to them are and moreover because the two men are Greek and may not follow Danteís Italian.

Virgil addresses the two souls in the flame with great respect. He says that if they think him worthy, to stay and tell how they met their ends. He asks either one of the souls to describe this. The longer of the two flamesí tips starts to sway and a voice proceeds from it. It is Ulysses who answers. He makes a reference to Circe and how she had kept him with her for a year near Gaeta. When he eventually returns to his family his quest for adventure causes him to leave behind his old father, his wife Penelope and his son. He sets out on a ship with a few of his remaining men. The pass Spain, Morocco and Sardinia and finally reach the Pillars of Hercules beyond which it was forbidden to travel. The cross these reach Seville and Ceuta. Although he and his men are old he urges them to travel on to see places they have never seen. He says they are all Greek and their goal is knowledge and excellence. Inspired by his words they continue their journey forward always keeping to the left. In the Southern Hemisphere, they see the constellations there in the night sky. Five months after their crossing the Pillar of Hercules these see a huge mountain in the distance. At first they are excited at having discovered a new land. But a storm arising from that land lashes their ship, turning their elation to misery. The storm whips their ship around three times in the new stormy sea. And the fourth strong gust sinks the ship and drowns them all.

Notes

The canto begins with a strong invective against Florence because Dante has discovered five, thought to be respectful Florentines, in this Bolgia. It is a shame for the city to have given birth to such sinners. Danteís shame and anger are both directed against a city which he had loved and is now becoming disillusioned with. His pain at such disillusionment comes across very clearly.

Close on the heels of this bitterness Dante makes a prophecy he starts by say "But if early morning dreams have any truth" this an illusion to the belief held during medieval times that dreams occurring just before down come true.

According to this prophecy. Florence will soon be a victim to political trouble and violence. The ill will be caused by "Prato and the others". To understand this, the reader must know that the Blacks of Prato were expelled from their home in 1309 by Florentine Whites. Thus Prato along with other small Tuscan towns, which are under Florentine domination, will soon rise up against Florence. This event is a cause of grief for Dante and he wishes to get over it as soon as possible. For waiting for it to happen, as it surely will, just increases Danteís anguish on behalf of Florence. Despite all his disillusionment with his native city he is still loyal to it.

The next few lines he devotes to describing his climb to the bridge over the eight Bolgia. And by descriptive similes prepares the readers for what he has to see next: numerous moving flames on the Bolgia floor. He sees the flames and is convinced that each holds a sinner within itself. Bu the fire doesn't reveal what is inside it. Thus he compares his hampered vision to a similar one experienced by Prophet Elisha ("As he who was avenged by bears") The prophet Elisha witnessed Elizahís journey to Heaven in a fiery shape chariot. All he could make out was the fiery shape moving but couldnít see Elizah inside the brilliant light. The reference to "avenged by bears" is explained by the fact that once Elisha was being troubled by some children...they were mocking him! Angry at them, he cursed in the name of the Lord, and two bears came from the forest and ate the children.

The Pilgrimís eager curiosity can be easily pictured when he leans so far over the bridge that he almost falls over. This builds up a mood of curiosity and anticipation and serves to capture the readers attention for what follows next. Virgil, confirms the Pilgrimís assumption that there is a sinner in each flame. This is their punishment: they are clothed in burning fire from head to foot, for eternity. It means constant, unrelenting agony. As is revealed later, the souls thus punished are those of the deceivers.

The Pilgrimís eager eyes soon spy a flame that looks different from the rest: its tip is split in two. It brings to the Pilgrimís mind a comparable picture: the joint pyre of Eteocles and Polynices, which had a similar split flame. Eteocles and Polynices were the sons of Oedipus and Jocasta. Both wanted the throne of Thebes and this led to a big conflict called the throne of Thebes and this led to a big conflict called ĎThe Seven against Thebesí. Eventually the two brothers slew each other. Their bodies were placed on the pyre, but their hatred for each other caused the flame to split.

The split flame, Virgil reveals, contains Ulysses and Diomed. Ulysses was the son of Laertes an important figure in the Trojan war. Diomed was the son of Tydeus and Deipyle. Diomed ruled Argos and was a major Greek figure in the Trojan Ulysses and Diomed were together in many adventures. And now they suffer together in their fiery punishment. But this togetherness does not bring either any joy. Indeed a part of their punishment is the resentment they feel about being joined together for all eternity. This is revealed in the words "Ulysses and Diomed are suffering in anger with each other." Just as they were partners in crime on Earth (they fought together) was they are partners in punishment. These two figures and their joint suffering is comparable to that of Paslo and Francisco (Canto V) It is fitting that perpetuators of sin, who aided and abetted each other. Now find Divine Justice meeting out an ironic and painful justice on both their heals. The continued presence of the other is a constant reminder of what each wishes to forget (their ghastly deeds) and thus hard to bear. It follows then, that they feel anger over the fact that they found are forced to be with each other.

This is confirmed by the next lines, "And they lament seeds to issue forth" and also "Therein they mourn Palladium." The "ambush" refers to the Trojansí naivete over the wooden horse the Greeks leave outside their city. They believe it to be a sign of the Greek capitulation and bring the horse inside the city. The Greek soldiers hidden in the horse, emerge and destroy their enemy. The fall of Troy led to Peneas and his followers ("noble seed") to set out on a journey that leads to the establishment of a new nation on Italian shores, which eventually became the heart of the Roman Empire. (Also see notes Canto I and Canto II). Thus Ulysses and Diomed cleverly defeated the Trojans by deception and new they are suffering for it.

"Therein they mourn the trick pay for the Palladium." Thetis disguises her son Achilles as a girl and takes him to the court of King Lycomedes on the island of Scyros. This way she hoped Achilles wouldnít have to fight in the Trojan War. Achilles falls in love with Deidamia and impregnates her. Ulysses and Diomed come to look for him and "trick" him into revealing his identity. They bring gifts of King Lycomedesí daughters, which also include a shield and a lance. Unlike other women Achilles is very taken up with the weapons and this leads to his identity as a man being revealed. Urged by Ulysses and Diomend he abandons the pregnant Deidamia and leaves to join the war. It is the grief that they are aware of the sin they perpetrated and now suffer for. It is clear that their present suffering causes them to wish they had not done it.

"They pay for the Palladium." Again the word "pay" reveals another of their sins which has brought them to this Bolgia Deceivers. "Palladium" was a statue of goddess Pallas Athena. As long as it remained in Troy, nobody would be able to conquer it. Ulysses and Diomend stale it and book it to Arges. This led to the victory of the Greeks over the Trojans.

The Pilgrim is eager to hear these illustrious souls speak. And Virgil praises this desire of his words. He tell Dante that he (Virgil) should be the one to address to the Greeks, who may not listen to Dante. Virgil respectful words show his great regard for them. He asks them, in the name of his poetry, to talk to them. Perhaps he feels that the two souls wouldnít stop to talk to just anybody. Or he is showing his respect this way; not wanting to appear presumptuous in engaging them in a conversation. He asks either one of them to relate the events that led to their death. Ulysses, the greater of the two replies. His uninterrupted narrative goes on to close this canto. By making just one of the souls talk, Dante the poet, provides his readers with a clear flow. By not letting Diomed speak he means no disrespect to him. The emphasis is on the story, and for narrative purpose it is lucidly told by one character.

Ulysses starts the narrative with a reference to the time he spent with Circe. When he was journeying back to Ithaca from Troy Circe, the daughter of the sun, captured him. He stayed with her for more than a year. An enchantress, Circe, turned his men into swines. She kept him close to Gaita before Aeneas called it by that name. Gaita a promontory lay along the coast of southern Italy, above Naples. Aeneas gives it the name of Gaeti in the memory of his nurse of the same name because she died there.

Once home, Ulysses was eager and restless to explore the world. Even his duty to his family didnít suppress this desire. Thus he left his father Laertes, his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus. Mark Musa says that thus, "he sinned against the classical notion of Pietas." Ulysses words "not recurrence I owned Penelope to make her happy" reveal that he was aware that he was deserting his duty to his family. Nonetheless he set sail with a few of his remaining loyal men. He sailed from Greece, passed Sardinia, Morocco and Spain. Finally he reaches the strait of Gibraltar. He and his men were by now, as he puts it, "old and tired". He describes the strait of Gibraltar as "the marrow neck/where Hercules put up his signal - pillars." During ancient times the strait was known as the Pillars of Hercules. Mt. Abyla on the North African coast and Mt. Calpe in Europe from these two pillars. It was believed that they were originally one mountain, which Hercules split to mark the boundary of the world. It was impermissible for any man to cross this boundary. Nut Ulysses and his men, boldly crossed the strait and sailed on into the Atlantic Ocean. This reveals the intrepid spirit on these men, undeterred either by age or fear. A true spirit of adventure and exploration leading them on. It indeed presents on inspiring picture showing why Ulysses holds his great place in manís History.

"On my right I saw Seville... Ceuta had already sunk behind me." Ceuta is a town on the North African coast. It is located opposite Gibraltar. Seville represents the Iberian Peninsula and marks Herculeís boundary. Having crossed these, the North African coast. It is located opposite Gibraltar. Seville represents the Iberian Peninsula and marks Herculeís boundary. Having crossed these, Ulysses is now in the Atlantic Ocean.

Ulysses exhorts his men to discover what lies beyond. He reminds them of their Greek inheritance of intelligence and courage and reminds them of the dangers they have so far overcome. Inspired with his words the men are eager to sail on. It is possible that they may have been losing heart of been afraid of what lay ahead. They move ("with our stern...to the left") down the West Coast of Africa, thus moving to the Southern Hemisphere. As they sail on, 5 months elapse since their crossing of the strait. Then they see a dark mountain looming in the distance. An explanation given by Mark Musa clarifies what his mountain is. He says, "In Danteís time the southern Hemisphere was believed to be composed entirely of water; the mountain that Ulysses and his men see from afar is the Mount of Purgatory, which rises from the sea in the Southern Hemisphere, the polar opposite of Jerusalem." The formation of this mountain is explained in Canto XXXIV.

The Greek sailors were joyous at having discovered a new land. But when a storm arising from the mountain lashes against their ship they become aware of imminent disaster. The strong wind turns their ship around thrice in the now churning ocean. The fourth attack of the wind sinks their ship and all in it drown to their death. Ulysses says that this sinking was according to God, ("as pleased Anotherís will"). His words show his acceptance of the fact that ultimately, men, even intrepid one must bow down before the will of God.

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