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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 XXVII

Summary

Having finished the conversation with Virgil the flame holding Ulysses and Diomed moves away. Another flame approaches them, its tip emitting sounds. Dante compares this with Phalaris’ bronze bull of torture. The bull would be heated up and the cries of the victim inside would be heard as the bellowing of the bull. Thus now the sinner’s painful words seem like the flame speaks them.

The sinner tells Virgil he heard Virgil talk in Lombard and has come now to talk to the poet. He desires to know the fate of the Romagnols. He reveals himself to be from Montefeltro; a region between Urbino and Mount Coronaro ("the mountain chain that lets the tiber loose."). Since the sinner is Italian, Virgil asks the Pilgrim to speak to him. The Pilgrim tells the sinner that there is no visible strife in Romagna although the people are eager for a war. Ravenna and Carvia are still under the domination of the Polenta family. The city of Forli ("the land that ... bloody heap") has been taken over by the Ordelaffi family. (Verrucchio’s rulers, Malatesta and his first born son ("New Mastiff") killed Montagna. And are still exploiting the people. The cities on the banks of river Lamone and Santerno are ruled by Maghinardo Pagani da Susinana ("the Lion of the white Liar"), who is politically unstable. Cessna’s government is marked both by freedom and control. The Pilgrim asks the soul to reveal its identity and promises to mention his name on Earth.

The sinner replies that he has no desire to be talked about the earth. He doesn’t want anyone to know that he is languishing in Hell. He will reveal his identity to the Pilgrim because he knows that no one from Hell can go back to Earth. He started his life as a soldier and later on, to repent became a friar. But the mechanization's of Pope Boniface VIII caused him to sin again. He spent his earlier life committing fraud (like a wily "fox") and near his death he became a monk because he wished to repent. When Pope Boniface VIII ("Prince of the New Pharises") became engaged in a conflict with the Lateran he threw aside all scruples. Disregarding his sacred office and the sinner’s vows he asked the latter to suggest a strategy to defeat his enemies. This strategy would be an evil one so the Pope assured the sinner that he is already forgiven on the Pope’s say-so. The Pope asked him how to conquer the Palestrina fortress. He says that since he is the Pope he can assure the sinner a place in Heaven. He mentions that his predecessor didn’t know the power of the office of the Pope.


The sinner replies that since he is already forgiven for the sin he has been asked to commit he will tell the Pope how to defeat his enemies through fraud. He suggests that the Pope make false promises to them to gain power. So when the sinner dies a black Cherubim prevents Saint Francis from taking him to Heaven. The Cherubim says that he deserves hell because he gave false counsel. He adds that forgiveness is only granted after repentance. Forgiveness is only granted after repentance. If someone repents an action and yet performs it, the good of the repentance is negated by the sinful act. Thus the sinner is brought to Hell. The cherubim taunts him saying that the sinner probably never figured that the cherubim might see through his using logic.

The sinner is brought to Minos who assigns him to the eight Bolgia of the Eight Circles where the deceivers burn in fire. Now the sinner spends his full time of anger against Pope Boniface VIII, the man who caused him to sin. The sinner stops talking, groans in pain and moves away. The two poets proceed further till they reach the next bridge (over the ninth Bolgia where the sowers of discord are punished).

Notes

Right after Ulysses and Diomed leave the two poets are joined by another sinner-flame. The sinner is addressing them and his voice causes the flame tip to move. So it appears as if the flame itself is speaking. Dante compares this with the "Sicilian bill". The "Inferno" is rife with numerous comparisons and similes. This one can be explained as a reference to a historical fact. King Phalaris of Agrigentum in Sicily wanted an instrumental of torture. So, Phalaris made a bull. The victim would be closed inside the bull and the bull would be heated. The cries of pain of the victim would emerge from the bull sounding like bellows of the bull. The King tested the instrument on Phalaris, its maker. Thus this monstrosity got his just reward. As Dante states "and it served him right".

The new sinner heard Virgil speaking in "Lambard" (dialect of the region) and its eager to converse with him. He wants news of his homeland. His first question is about the state of affairs of the Romagnols. The Romagnols lived in Romagna, the region within the Pope and the Reno rivers, the Apennines and the Adriatic Sea. He reveals that he is from Montefeltro, the region that lies between the town of Urbino and Mount Coronaro (one of the Tuscan Apennines, where the River Tiber originates). The sinner is Guido de Montefeltro. He was a Ghibelline captain renowned for his knowledge of military tactics.

Since Guido is an Italian, Virgil asks the Pilgrim to talk to him. The Pilgrim is eager to do so because he has the answer to Guido’s question. He reveals that there is no open warfare in Ramagna right now although there are undercurrents of violence (in the heart of its rulers). Ravenns is still under the rule of Polenta family. The time the Pilgrim is referring to is, of course, the year 1300. This is the present time while he is making his journey for through Hell. During 1300 Guido Vecchio, the head of the Polento family governed Ravenna and the surrounding region, which contained the small town of Cervia, near the Adriatic sea. The coat of arms of the Polento family bore an eagle. Hence Dante refers to "the eagle of Polento" which signifies Polentian domination over the area.

Next the Pilgrim talks about "the land that stood...verdant claws". The city in question is that of Forli. It was attacked by the French and Guelf troop and they laid seize to it for many months. In May 1282 the citizens of Forli led by Guido da Montefeltro defeated their enemy. But in 1300 Forli came under the rule of the tyrannical Ordelaffi family. Their insignia had a green lion and hence Dante says that the city is "beneath the verdant claws." (verdant means green).

Next the Pilgrim talks about the city of Rimini and its ruler Malatesta. Malatesta was the Lord of Rimini from 1295 to 1312. He is the "old Mastiff". His first - born as "Verrucchio’s Old Mastiff and its New One" because they were given the castle of Verrucchio for their services, by the Rimini citizens. After defeating the Ghiellines of Rimini in 1295, Malatesta imprisoned the head of the Ghibelline party, namely Montagna de Parsitati. Later on Montagna was murdered in prison by Malatestino. Hence the Pilgrim says the father and son were "bad custodians of Montagna."

Now the Pilgrim talks about the cities of Faenza (situated on the Lamone River) and Imola (near the Santerno). Both the cities are being governed by Maghinardo Pagani da Susinana, whose cost of arms bore a blue lion on a white field. The pilgrim says that Maghinardo, "changes parties every season" because the latter was known for his political instability. He supported the Guelfs in Tuscancy and sided with the Ghibellines in Romagna.

The "town whose side the savio bathes" is Cesena. Unlike other cities so far mentioned Cesena wasn’t under the rule of any tyrant. Cesena had a government, partly determined by the people. And this government was led by a competent ruler, Galasso da Montefeltro (a cousin of Gruido). This system of partial democracy and partial autocracy is what the pilgrim means by "it lives between freedom and tyranny."

The Pilgrim has conscientiously imparted all the information Guido sought. Now he asks the sinner (Guido) to reveal his identity. The Pilgrim promises to mention his name on Earth. The sinner agrees to reveal his name only because he is sure that no one ever escapes from Hell. If his name were spoken on Earth and his sinful deeds revealed, it would bring him "dishonor". This reluctance to be remembered on Earth shouldn’t surprise the reader. A similar attitude was exhibited by Vanni Fucci in Canto XXIV. In deeper Hell the sinners are ashamed of their deeds and their fate. They have no wish to be discussed on Earth. If the truth about them were known (their sins and their damnation in hell) the people would spit on their name.

The sinner reveals that he was first a soldier and then became a "friar". In 1260 Guido joined the Franciscan order to repent for her sins. He would have succeeded in this if it were not for the interference of the "High-Priest" who led Guido again to the life of sin. The "High-Priest" is Pope Boniface VIII. Guido reveals that his deeds were like a "fox" and he was well aware of "the miles and court paths". Using his tactics and strategies he became famous. But the tactics employed by him were dishonest and sly. So when he grew old he wished to repent and became a monk.

He believes he would have been absolved. But it was not so. Because in 1297 Pope Boniface VIII came into conflict with the Colonna family. The Colonna family resided near the Lateran palace, the pope’s residence. They did not consider the resignation of Pope Celestine V valid and hence did not accept Boniface VIII as the new pope. In this conflict the pope’s antagonistic were fellow Christian. Not the Saracens or Jews who were the traditional enemy of the Christians. The pope was busy fighting his own people who were loyal to the church. They didn’t help the Saracens when the latter conquered Acre in 1291. Acre was the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land. Nor did they trade with the Muslim people. It was forbidden to do so. Thus Boniface, for personal reasons was against staunch Christian men. He ignored his scared office and its duty and Guido’s status as a monk to obtain revenge. He approached Guido to help him (Boniface) defeat his enemy who had insulted him by not accepting him. Guido compares this to the help Constantine sought from Sylvester. Constantine the great was the Emperor of Rome.

Pope Sylvester cured him of his leprosy. (See also notes in Canto XIX). Guido believes the Pope Boniface VIII to be under the sway of emotions, not guided by reason. Hence he keeps quiet. The Pope sensing his hesitation says that Guido need not worry about committing any sin by helping him to defeat the Colonna family. He promises Guido that he is already absolved of the sin the Pope is asking him to commit. He asks how he can "level Palestine to the ground." The excommunicated Colonna family was hiding in the fortress at Palestine. Boniface VIII had excommunicated them. The Palestrina fortress lay 25 miles east of Rome and the Pope’s s were unable to get inside.

The Pope tells Guido he controls men’s entry into heaven. Thus he can get Guido into Heaven on the basis of his power as a Pope. His predecessor Pope Celestine V has renounced the papacy in 1294, 5 months after having being elected. Hence Boniface says that "these keys my predecessor did not cherish" meaning that Celestine didn’t realize or want the power bestowed by the papacy: the power to give or deny men admission into Heaven.

The Pope’s clever argument wins Guido over and he consents to help Boniface. According to Guido, he consented because the Pope has already absolved him for the sin is in going to commit. This is where Guido makes his mistake. He breaks his vows by giving sinful to Pope Boniface. He feels that this will not be considered a sin because he has already been forgiven. And here again he is mistaken.

The advice he gives Boniface is to falsely promise the Colonna family that they will be granted pardon. Believing this they surrender and lose everything. Because Boniface had lied about the pardon. Thus Guido’s advice helps Boniface avenge himself on his enemies.

When Guido dies Saint Francis comes to take his soul to Heaven. But he is stopped by a "Black Cherubium" who claims Guido’s soul for Hell. The Cherubium are the eight orders of angels. Some were changed into demons in the Eight Circle and the Eight Bolgia of Hell.

The black Cherubim reveals that Guido is going to hell because of the "false counsel" he gave Boniface. Now he points out the mistake Guido make. Guido deceived himself into believing the Pope’s illogical promise. A man can’t be absolved from a sin before he commits it. Nor can be actively plan out a sin and repent for it simultaneously. The black Cherubim points out this fallacy and claims Guido’s soul. He taunts the sinner by saying that "Perhaps you never stopped to think that I might be somewhat of a logician." Perhaps Guido had hoped to outwit Divine Justice by an illogically constructed argument based on Boniface’s words. In this he fails miserably and the Cherubim’s words strike home. Guido has met to be able to defraud or deceive Divine Justice.

Minos assigns Guido to the eighth circle of Fraud where the Deceivers are punished ("...those the thievish fire burns.") The "resentment" that Guido fells is directed at Pope Boniface VIII whom he holds responsible for his damnation. In earlier lines Guido cruses Boniface saying "(his soul be damned!"). The readers are aware that Boniface will indeed be damned. (see Canto XIX) punished for Simony.

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