Study Guide Questions
Group 1 responsible for all #1’s & #6’s
Group 2 responsible for all #2’s & #7’s
Group 3 responsible for all #3’s & #8’s
Group 4 responsible for all #4’s & #9’s
Group 5 responsible for all #5’s & #10’s
Groups being responsible for supplying 1st response will reduce time wasted in
1. Why is the first stanza of The Inferno significant? How does it prepare us for the rest of
We learn the narrator’s age (thirty-five, exactly half the lifespan ascribed to man in the
Bible), that he has lost his way and cannot find a path back. Because of the phrase “life’s
journey,” we know that Dante is spiritually lost. From the very first stanza, we are made
aware of the allegorical importance of journeys, paths, and light and dark. These images all
recur in the next few stanzas.
2. How does Dante the poet portray Dante the narrator? Is this character emotional or
stoic? Do we sympathize with him?
The narrator is very emotional. Instead of simply describing the “Wood of Error,” he
exclaims that it is almost too terrible to remember. When the beasts blocked his way, he
says, his hope completely collapsed. Because his spiritual confusion is universal, and
because he seems so sincere, the reader sympathizes with him.
3. Why does the poet portray the narrator this way?
Dante is emphasizing the uncertain state of the narrator’s soul. In addition, this portrayal
prepares us for the changes the narrator will undergo (he is the only dynamic character in
the poem) before he reaches his goal. If we did not understand the intensity of Dante’s fear
in Canto I, we could not trace the change of his emotions through the poem.
4. What is the significance of the date and time of the beginning of Dante’s journey?
Make a note of the dates and times mentioned throughout The Inferno as you read
them, and explain their significance.
The sun is in Aries, just as it was, according to medieval tradition, at the dawn of Creation.
It is almost dawn on Good Friday, the Friday before Easter. Also, because the Biblical
lifespan is 70 years, and Dante tells us the narrative begins in the middle of his life’s
journey, we know that he is thirty-five years old when he awakes in the Wood. He was born
in 1265, so the year must be 1300, several years before the writing of The Inferno.
From the few stanzas detailing the position of the stars and the year of Dante’s life, we gain
a sense of what is to come on several levels. First, the narrative begins at a time of
resurrection and rebirth. Although is it currently dark, the journey through Hell will ultimately
culminate in a rebirth of the spirit, a new enlightenment. On another level, however,
the worst is yet to come: Dante the poet knows that he will be exiled from Florence in 1301.
The abstract, spiritual journey through Hell is motivated by the poet’s desire to understand
what actually happened to him, and why it happened.
5. What do the three beasts symbolize?
The lion, leopard, and she-wolf represent the three main divisions of hell. The wolf
foreshadows the first region of Hell, in which sins of incontinence are punished. The leopard
represents sins of fraud and malice, and the lion depicts violence and ambition; these sins
are punished on the second two levels of Hell.
1. Do Dante and Virgil go anywhere in Canto II? What takes up the largest portion of the
Canto II consists solely of Virgil’s encouraging lecture to Dante.
2. Which two people, “worthy of the vision”(II. 33) of Rome and her Church, preceded
Dante? How are they related?
Dante mentions Aeneas, the legendary founder of Rome, and the Apostle Paul. Because
Rome is the seat of the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire (descendant of the
original Roman Empire), Paul and Aeneas serve the same cause, in a way. In addition, both
Aeneas and Paul are associated with revelatory experiences: Aeneas visits the underworld in
Book VI of Virgil’s poem, and Paul mentions a vision of the “third heaven” in 2 Corinthians
3. Who comes to Virgil to tell him of Dante’s plight? Had they ever met before? Why is he
so eager to do as she asks?
Beatrice, Dante’s great love, about whom Dante had written La Vita Nuova in 1292, is now
a radiant presence in Paradise. She urges Virgil to lead Dante out of the darkness; though
he has never seen her before, her presence is so lovely and moving that he hurries to do as
she asks. Beatrice will be Dante’s guide through Paradise.
4. What, according to the account in Canto II, was the chain of command, or chain of
appeal, in Paradise? Who first noticed Dante’s predicament, and who was sent from
Heaven to remedy it?
The Virgin Mary first noticed Dante’s situation; she called Santa Lucia and told her the
problem. Lucia then urged Beatrice to help Dante.
5. Why is Beatrice, instead of Lucia or Rachel, sent to Virgil?
Beatrice is a real person, whom Dante has elevated almost to sainthood. Her tender
sympathy makes her an appropriate emissary from Divine Grace to Human Reason.
6. What is Dante’s reaction to Virgil’s speech?
He immediately takes heart and urges his guide to lead him on.
7. Summarize the end of Canto II on a symbolic level.
When Dante compares himself to those who have preceded him into Hell, he cannot
understand his own place in their company. Aeneas represents the literary journey into Hell,
which Dante feels he may be unable to imitate. Paul stands for the spiritual journey, which
the narrator, and all human beings, sometimes feel too weak to face. Human Reason,
represented by Virgil, intervenes, reminding Dante of the Divine Purpose.
1. What is the first thing Dante sees in Canto III? What is its significance?
Dante reads the inscription over the Gate of Hell.
Answers will vary. Example: It establishes a theme of endlessness for the rest of the poem.
All the punishments Dante sees from this point to the end of Canto XXXIV will be eternally
repeated, and none of Hell’s inhabitants can ever change. Dante is the only dynamic
character in the poem.
Dante also reads that “Sacred Justice” was responsible for the construction of Hell. As he
gradually comes to understand this, he feels less pity for the inhabitants of the Underworld;
he sees how they deserve their punishments.
Finally, the last line of the inscription sets the tone of the poem; there is no hope anywhere
in Hell, and nothing there will be pleasant.
2. Whom does Dante first see upon his entrance into the Gates of Hell? Why will neither
Heaven nor Hell receive them?
Dante sees the “Opportunists,” who were neither strongly good nor strongly evil, but only
acted upon self-interest. Their lack of any virtue makes them ineligible for Heaven; were
they allowed into Hell, the souls there might “feel some glory over them.”(III.39)
3. Is it significant that the Opportunists are not remembered by the living?
Being remembered on Earth provides the sinners of Upper Hell their only solace. Being
totally forgotten, therefore, is an additional punishment. Dante will dwell on the desire to be
remembered or forgotten at several other points in the poem.
4. What is Dante’s reaction to the sinners chasing the banner?
He describes himself as both horrified and sympathetic. Despite his reflexive reaction,
however, he recognizes these souls as “retrograde and faithless.”(III.59)
5. Who is Charon? How does he respond to Dante?
Charon is the boatman of classical mythology; his job is to ferry the dead across the river
Acheron to Hell. He knows immediately that Dante is “living yet” and “in Grace,” and
Charon refuses him passage across the river. (III.85, 24)
6. To what does Dante compare the souls leaving the shores of the Acheron? What
literary term is used?
He likens them to leaves and birds. This is an epic simile; it goes on for three stanzas, and it
contributes to the tone of the passage. Dante will use several other similes involving birds,
including the comparison of Geryon to a disobedient falcon in Canto XVII.
7. Why do the sinners blaspheme God, their parents, and all of humanity? What is the
importance of their blasphemy?
Since no one in Hell can repent, they blaspheme instead. All desires in Hell are perversions
of correct desires; as a result, the sinners actually desire their punishment, and continue to
8. What happens to Dante at the end of Canto III? Why does he say it happened? What is
the literary reason that it happens?
Dante faints at the crossing-station of the Acheron. He says that he fainted out of pure
terror: “all my shattered sense left me.” (III.132) This episode, like the prefatory Canto,
reveals Dante’s extreme sensitivity and active emotions. It also allows for an easy transition
into the next Canto.
1. Who dwells in the First Circle of Hell? What is their punishment? What inference can
you see here?
The First Circle, also called Limbo, is the home of the “Virtuous Pagans,” those who, while
morally sound in life, never knew the Truth as proclaimed by Christ. Greek, Latin and
Arabian luminaries live here. They do not suffer, but they have no hope. Their natural
talents are outstanding, but they cannot attain perfection, because they have not been
blessed by God.
Answers may vary. Example: Dante expects that the reader will feel that knowing Christ
will be the way to heaven.
2. Find a literary term that is used between lines 30 and 60.
Dante uses a metaphor: “they lacked Baptism’s grace, which is the door
of the true faith…” (IV.35-36)
3. Who, according to Virgil, did eventually leave Limbo for Paradise?
4. Why is Christ called “a Mighty One”? (IV.53)
5. How does recognition or remembrance play a part in the fate of the pagan poets? Name
the five poets in the group.
6. How do the great poets respond to Dante?
7. Describe and identify the people Dante sees standing around the citadel. You may need
an outside source, like an encyclopedia or the Internet to do so.
1. Who assigns each sinner to a particular circle of Hell? How is he symbolic of a sinner’s
2. What was the sin of the first people Dante encounters in Canto V? Why is their punishment
appropriate? How does it relate to birds again?
3. Locate an epic simile between lines 30-60.
4. Which famous characters does Dante see in the whirlwind? Are there similarities to
any other literary journeys into hell?
5. What are Dante’s feelings about Paolo and Francesca? Why is their fate somewhat
6. What happens to Dante at the end of the Canto? Compare it to a similar event at the
end of Canto III.
1. What are the first sensory images Dante uses to describe the Third Circle? Why does
he use this imagery?
2. Compare Cerberus to Minos. How is each beast appropriate for his location?
3. How does Virgil overcome Cerberus? What is the significance of this action?
4. What does Dante say about the substance of the spirits? Why is he so careful to point
5. What is Ciacco’s nationality? Why is this important?
6. What does Ciacco foretell? What is the purpose of this prophecy?
7. Note that Ciacco longs to be remembered in the world of the living. Why might
“sinners of the flesh” feel a relatively small amount of shame?
8. Summarize the brief discussion between Dante and Virgil at the end of Canto VI.
1. At the beginning of Canto VII, Dante and Virgil are threatened by yet another guardian
beast. Compare Plutus to Cerberus and Minos. How does Virgil respond to Plutus?
2. How does size of the population of this Circle compare to that of the population of the
previous Circle? What is the symbolic reason for this?
3. What is Dante’s reaction to the crowd of weight-smashers?
4. What, according to Virgil, is responsible for the impulse to hoard or waste?
5. What particular group makes up a large portion of “Hoarders and Wasters”? Is Dante
using sarcasm? How does his inclusion of this particular group here fit in with a major
theme of The Inferno?
6. Why is Dante unable to recognize anyone among the hoarders and wasters?
7. Summarize Virgil’s lecture on Dame Fortune. Why does he preface this speech with the
admonition to “strike error from your mind”? (VII.71)
8. Virgil warns, “the stars that marked our starting fall away.” (VII.97) What is the date
and time he says this? Why is it significant?
9. What is the significance of the song emanating from the water-holes? Why does Dante
include this detail?
1. Why does the poet have Phlegyas take the narrator and Virgil to Dis? How is he like or
unlike Charon? How is each boatman appropriate to his station?
2. Why does Dante describe the boat sinking into the water?
3. What is the poet’s reaction to Filippo Argenti? What are some possible reasons for
4. What is significant about the buildings of Dis? Why does Dante describe them this
5. What is the allegorical significance of the Rebellious Angels’ refusal to admit the poets
to Dis? Why do they encourage Virgil to abandon Dante in the Underworld?
1. At the end of Canto VIII, Virgil seems certain his plea for assistance will be answered.
At the beginning of this Canto, however, he seems to vacillate. What is the allegorical
meaning of this?
2. What is the precedent upon which Virgil bases his hope for a successful journey and
safe return from Hell?
3. Why must Virgil place his hands over Dante’s eyes? What symbolism can we infer?
4. To what “strange allegory” does Dante refer?” (IX.60) Why is this invocation here?
5. What is the demeanor of the “Messenger from God’s Throne”? (IX.83) Why has Dante
drawn him this way?
6. What does the Messenger say to the Rebellious Angels? Compare his admonition to
Virgil’s extended lecture in Canto VII.
7. What are Dante’s emotions upon entering the city of Dis?
8. How are the heretics punished? What does Virgil mean by “to each depravity its own
1. What is Dante’s primary desire at the beginning of Canto X? What is the unspoken
wish to which Virgil responds?
2. Why are the Epicureans entombed here?
3. What is the literary purpose of Farinata’s interruption?
4. Would you classify Dante’s response to Farinata as sympathetic, unsympathetic, or
something else? Explain.
5. Why is Farinata classified as a heretic?
6. Analyze the “three-part” conversation between Dante, Farinata, and Calvacanti. Why is
it a classic example of the marriage of symbolism and drama?
7. Why, according to Dante, is Guido Calvacanti not present? How does his answer fit
into the larger scheme of The Inferno?
8. Relate the following to one another: the faint of the elder Calvacanti, the explanation
of the prophetic ability of the dead by Farinata, and Dante’s own development.
9. What sense-detail in the next Circle does Dante hint at as he ends this Canto?
1. What does the foul smell of Hell allow Dante, as poet, to do here?
2. Why is Virgil’s lecture on Hell placed here?
3. Against whom are the three kinds of violence directed?
4. What does Virgil have to say about Nature in this speech?
5. What does the wording of Dante’s question about the sinners in the Upper Hell betray
about his feelings?
1. What do you notice happening to the geography of Hell as Dante and Virgil descend?
2. What is Virgil’s tone when he speaks to the Minotaur? Why does he deal with the
Minotaur this way?
3. Why does Virgil mention the time before the ruinous blast? (XII.35) What does the
division of time signify allegorically?
4. How are the centaurs appropriate to this Canto?
5. Why does Virgil say again that Fate has ordered Dante’s journey through the
6. Why does Virgil prefer to let Nessus narrate the tour?
1. How does Dante describe the “Wood of the Suicides”?
2. Why does Virgil compel Dante to learn by doing and “breaking off a twig”? (XIII.29)
3. Upon what scene in The Aeneid is this incident based?
4. Why is Virgil so sympathetic to Pier delle Vigne (see Notes for this Canto)?
1. Why does Dante mention “the hand of Justice” at the beginning of this Canto? (XIV.6)
2. What is the principal imagery of this Canto? Why is it significant?
3. Why does Dante place these three groups together?
4. What was the sin of Capaneus?
5. Why does Dante use the simile involving the Bulicame?
6. Summarize the allegory of the “Old Man of Crete.”
1. How does Dante react to Brunetto Latino? Why?
2. Why, does Dante say, is he unafraid of the disaster foretold to him? How might the
statement he makes here be related to his agenda as he looks back on his exile and
composes the poem?
3. How will Brunetto Latino live on?
1. What about Dante prompts the Three Noble Florentines to run after him?
2. Compare this Canto to the previous one. Is the focus on Dante’s future or the future of
3. How does Virgil speak of the three spirits?
4. What, according to Dante’s aside, were his impulses upon seeing the three noble
Florentines? Why does he say, “I think my Teacher would have let me go”? (XVI.48)
5. Compare the cord, as literary device, to Dante’s two fainting spells in the earlier
6. Why does Dante “swear by the lines/of [his] Comedy” that he did see the apparition
mentioned at the end of this Canto? (XVI.127,128)
7. Dante’s reference to his own poem in the previous question is an example of what
1. What is the symbolism of Geryon?
2. Why does Dante include the brief interlude in which he goes to observe the Usurers?
3. What is the allegorical significance of Virgil’s encouragement?
4. Why does Dante use the similes involving Phaeton and Icarus? What development of
his character might we expect from these similes?
5. Why is Geryon compared to a disobedient falcon?
6. What literary term is used when Dante writes about Daedalus and Icarus?
1. Previously, the geography of Hell was rough, and Dante was forced to ask what lay
ahead. Why is he now offered a “general prospect” of the ten ditches? (XVIII.10) What
is the significance of the number ten here?
2. Why is the procession of frauds compared to the crowds at the Jubilee?
3. Why does Caccianemico “speak unwillingly”? (XVIII.52)
4. What is Dante’s opinion of Jason? Why is he described this way?
5. Of what is the “river” in which the flatterers stand a perversion?
6. Why does Dante mention Thais at the end of the Canto?
1. Why does Dante begin this Canto with the cry against Simon Magus? Why might he be
especially unforgiving toward the Simoniacs?
2. Why does Dante compare the holes in which the Simoniacs are placed to the baptismal
fonts at San Giovanni?
3. Why must Virgil carry Dante down to Pope Nicholas III?
4. Why does Pope Nicholas mistake Dante for Boniface VIII?
5. To whom is Dante referring when he mentions “She who Sits upon the Waters”?
6. Why does Dante respond to Nicholas with such scorn?
1. Why does Dante mention the “clear view” his “vantage point” affords (XX.4)?
2. As Dante writes, he is looking backwards upon his own exile. In light of this, what is
the significance of the fortune tellers’ punishment? What do their tears symbolize?
3. Why does Dante weep?
4. What is the purpose of Virgil’s tale of the founding of Mantua?
5. Why does Virgil mention the position of the stars?
1. Why does Dante use the comparison to the Venetian army? What literary term is used
from lines seven through eighteen?
2. What is the tone of the Demons’ conversation? How do they treat the sinners in their
3. How does Virgil convince Malacoda to let him pass? Why does he use this argument?
4. Why does Dante mention the Pisan surrender at Caprona? How does this relate to
Dante’s own experiences?
5. How does Virgil, representing Reason in accordance with Nature, react to the highly
6. What is the significance of the Demons’ salute?
1. Dante continues the war imagery in this Canto. What are some reasons for this?
2. Why is Dante careful to learn all the names of the Demons?
3. What is the significance of the Navarrese grafter’s word, “account”? (XXII.54)
4. To whom does the grafter’s loyalty extend? What is his concept of sacrifice?
5. Why do the Demons begin to fight each other?
1. Why does Dante tell us his train of thought at the beginning of this Canto? How is
explanation of the thematic point of violence begetting violence in the last Canto
blended with exposition of the action in this Canto?
Dante is remembering and reflecting on the Demons’ remarkable propensity for violence.
Suddenly he realizes that he has given the Demons, who are already quick to anger, even
more reason to be angry and that they will almost certainly pursue him. Immediately he
comes out of his musing state and mentions his worry to Virgil, who seconds it; their fears
are confirmed as they hear the Demons coming after them. The poem moves from an
analysis of the Demons’ temperament occurring inside Dante’s head to vivid depiction of
2. Why is Virgil compared to a mother? Why does Dante compare himself to Virgil’s son?
Virgil rushes Dante away from the Demons as a mother might rush her child away from a
fire. Obviously, the poets are in serious danger; the grotesquely violent Demons do not seem
likely to heed Virgil’s claim of a divine mandate a second time. Dante shows us, at one of
the most desperate moments in the journey, the most noble action of which men are capable:
unhesitating sacrifice and love.
Dante is also Virgil’s “son” because his reasoning powers are improving (as shown by his
prediction of a moment before), and because his poetic inspiration is growing as he gains
3. What force does Dante say is responsible for the Demons’ limited movement?
Providence, according to Dante, gave the Demons power over the Fifth Bolgia only.
Providence seems to be slightly different from Fate; Fate affects men, and Providence deals
with the orderly design of the universe.
4. Why does Dante consider the Friars’ misuse of office especially bad?
The Jovial Friars were given the task of peacekeeping in Florence. Not only did they betray
God by their sinning, they betrayed the citizens whom they were to protect. Thus, they
committed a double treason and contributed to religious breakdown and civil strife.
4. Who is “crucified upon the ground/by three great stakes”? (XXIII.106,107) Why does
he react the way he does to Dante?
The person on the ground is Caiaphas, the head of the council that condemned Christ to
death. Dante prompts something close to hyperventilation in Caiaphas: “he began to puff
great sighs/into his beard, convulsing all his body.” (XXIII.109,110) The poet sees the agent
of Christ’s persecution robbed of breath. Breath is the vehicle of both speech and the Holy
Spirit; Dante has both, but Caiaphas has neither.
6. Why does the end of this Canto focus on the bridge out of the Bolgia?
After the poets have marveled at Caiaphas, the rational Virgil reasserts the priority of their
mission, and resumes looking into practical matters like accessible transport. Once more
before the Canto ends, however, the unsavory nature of this neighborhood reasserts itself.
Virgil finds that Malacoda lied into him about a bridge out of the Bolgia. The Canto ends by
looking both forward and backwards; the action lies ahead, but the vices that the poets have
already witnessed have far-reaching effects.
1. Why does Dante give us the description of Virgil slowly making his way out of the
ditch? What is the tone of this Canto?
It is careful work, requiring planning and analysis; though the poets have been faced with a
seemingly impossible task, Reason again triumphs. Dante also adds, however, that if the
design of Hell (established by Holy Providence) had not aided them, the climb probably
would have been unmanageable, and “I at least…/would have turned back.” (XXIV.36,37)
After the grim violence of the previous Bolgia, the poets find a period of calm; the upward
climb even seems to signify some hope. At the top of the slope, Dante is so weary that he
wants to rest; Virgil warns him, however, not to stop moving forward; a reward awaits him,
but only if he presses on.
2. What does Virgil say to encourage Dante? What is the double significance of the line,
“There is a longer ladder yet to climb”? (XXIV.55)
Allegorically, Dante has still to climb the Mount of Purgatory. In light of Virgil’s
exhortation, “show that you mean to profit from your time”(XXIV.57), the “longer ladder”
foreshadows the personal struggle ensuing from Dante’s coming exile.
3. Why does Dante twice mention his lungs and breath?
Breathing is a symbol of Dante’s continuing life and distinguishes him from everyone else in
Hell, except for Caiaphas. Dante has not been overcome by the obstacles and horror he has
encountered; he is still physically and spiritually alive.
4. Why are snakes the most suitable animals for the punishment of thieves? What are
some classical attributes of the snake?
Thieves, like snakes, commit violent acts by means of stealth. A snake was responsible for
both the theft of the forbidden fruit by Adam and Eve and, by extension, the theft of
mankind’s innocence. In this Circle, thieves and snakes are interchangeable.
5. Why is Vanni Fucci roused to speak by Dante’s comment to Virgil?
Vanni Fucci is actually ashamed because the sin for which Virgil remembers him is not his
worst. He has no choice but to speak the truth to Dante.
6. Why does Vanni Fucci make the prophecy about Florence?
Humiliated by the confession that he is forced to make, Vanni Fucci uses prophecy as a tool
of retribution. He reveals yet another piece of the story of the “White” faction’s defeat in
Italy. Once again, Dante is linking the pain of Florence to the viciousness of its citizens;
gluttons, arrogant men, and low thieves all seem to have had some involvement in the acts
that brought Florence to its present condition.
1. Why is the gesture of Vanni Fucci ultimately “to his disgrace” (XXV.1)?
Obscenity directed at God has no effect on Heaven, but only plunges the sinner further into
darkness and evil.
2. Why does Dante signal Virgil to be quiet?
It is best for the poets, and the reader, to simply observe the dramatic occurrences in Hell;
Dante silences the analytical Virgil and takes up the whole Canto with very effective
3. Why is it fitting that one of the thieves becomes something neither human nor animal,
but distorted and unnatural?
Theft transforms the human into something reptile-like, a monstrous entity with human
intelligence and bestial aims.
1. Why does Dante begin this Canto with a lament for Florence?
Having penned his most damning passage on the morality of Florence in the previous Canto,
he must come to terms with the fate of the city and its effect on himself in the years after
2. What does Dante say he is doing as a result of what he observed in Canto XXV?
He will not describe the next Bolgia in full, for fear that he might misuse his literary gift.
3. What, according to Dante, is the danger of his gift?
Dante says only that it may cause him to “stray from Virtue’s course”(XXVI.22); he fears
that he may get caught up in the political affairs he has been describing and use his poetry
wrongly in the service of politics.
4. What is Dante’s tone as he describes the view from the rocks? Why does he write this
He is thoughtful and sad, not only because of what he has just witnessed, but because
looking down over the evil counselors is like looking down upon the pathetic future of
5. Why are Ulysses and Diomede punished here?
They advised the Greeks in deceptive tactics, most notably the Trojan Horse. Dante
considers their strategem especially evil because it was committed against the ancestors of
Rome, a “chosen city” by reason of its classical achievements and connection with the
6. Why are Ulysses and his men unable to reach the Mountain of Purgatory?
As Ulysses states, they were prevented by the will of God; symbolically, like the virtuous
poets in Limbo, they could go only so far by means of their own intelligence.
1. How does the end of the poets’ conversation with Ulysses overlap with their
introduction to Count Guido?
As the flame in which Ulysses is contained is departing, another flame, containing the
Count, approaches the poets.
2. Why is Count Guido like the victims tortured inside the brass bull of Phalaris?
The cries of those inside the bull were distorted until they seemed to be the bellowing of the
bull. Similarly, the fire deforms Count Guido’s words. Eventually, though, the words of
Guido do find an outlet at the tip of the flame.
3. What is the significance of the discussion of Romagna?
Guido, like Dante, is concerned about the state of his native land, which is also in decline;
the Count has obviously had some hand in this, though Dante portrays him sympathetically.
Romagna, like Florence, symbolizes the corruption of both ecclesiastical and civil authority.
4. Why does Count Guido agree to reveal his identity?
He does not understand that Dante is living, and soon to return to the world; if he thought
that Dante would return, he would not speak further. The great shame of the souls of Lower
Hell is again exhibited.
5. Why does Count Guido refer to the time when he was living as the time when “I was
still encased/ in the pulp and bone my mother bore”? (XXVII.71) Explain the literary
term that is employed.
This is a very humanizing description of an abstract figure; it also underscores the
mortality of which Guido is now very aware. The use of “pulp and bone” to represent the
living is an example of synecdoche.
6. Was Guido’s conversion sincere?
Guido tells Dante that the conversion was motivated by the caution that comes with age;
this seems closer to a self-serving decision than from heartfelt repentance. In addition,
Guido was swayed fairly easily by Pope Boniface.
7. What did Guido advise Boniface VIII to do?
The Count suggests that the Pope promise many things, but keep only a few of them. Dante
is depicting a very dishonest policy to the Pope through the mouth of Boniface’s own advisor.
8. Why does the Black Angel send St. Francis away?
Even though Count Guido was technically a monk and belonged to St. Francis, the sin of
“false counsel” dictated his placement in Hell. The Black Angel injures him further by
making use of Guido’s own logic.
1. Why does Dante begin this Canto the way he does? What is the force of this opening?
This opening tells us that this Canto will be emotional and vivid, and that Dante will
attempt literary maneuvers in the style of his classical predecessors. It also re-emphasizes
the horror of this level of Hell. The comparison Dante makes to actual battles, mutilations,
and sorrow cannot equal what he sees here.
2. Why is Mahomet punished?
Dante believes, of course, that Islam is an attack on and a distraction from Christianity.
Since Mahomet (Mohammed) founded Islam, he too, according to Dante, must suffer in
3. Why does Pier de Medicina give the warning to be passed on to Guido and Angiolello?
Even in death, this “Sower of Discord” is focusing on political intrigues and the factions
responsible for them.
4. Why is Curio punished here?
The advice that Curio gave to Caesar was the seed, in Dante’s opinion, of the Roman Civil
War. Abstract principles of historical causation are not on Dante’s mind; he traces the causes
of history to individual morality.
5. Why are Mosca dei Lamberti’s words now so ironic?
Instead of having an end, they spawned the long period of violence with which Dante deals
through the entire Inferno.
6. Explain the symbolism of the punishment of Bertrand de Born.
Bertrand fomented both political and familial division; he struck at a unity that was as
fundamental as the unity of the head and body. Consequently, his own are separated.
Bertrand is also putting his head, the center of rationality and self-governance, to unnatural
use as a lamp and signal.
1. How is this Canto connected to the last one by the conversation about Geri de Bello?
Dante tells Virgil that he believes a relative of his might be found among the “Sowers of
Discord”; Virgil responds that he actually saw the relative, Geri de Bello, while Dante was
concentrating on Bertrand de Born.
Dante skillfully reminds us where he left off at the end of the last Canto by making it the
subject of the poets’ conversation; this conversation continues casually as they make their
way to the next Bolgia, and it leads smoothly into the next scene.
2. Why does Dante use terms like “cloister” (XXIX.41) and “lay brethren” (XXIX.40) in
describing the last Bolgia of this Circle?
He is continuing to develop the idea of Hell as a perverted church, with perversions of
sacraments and Holy Orders. True “lay brethren” renounce the world and seek God; these
souls have renounced God and sought the world. Their “cloister” is not a refuge or a place
of purification; it is a punishment chamber where they cannot escape their own evil.
3. What does Dante say about his view of the last Bolgia? Why is this significant?
Dante had described the “clear view/of the depths of the pit below” (XX.4); here, the
landscape offers an equally good view, but everything is shrouded in a polluted fog.
The low visibility allows Dante to bring in a different sensory detail: the painful sounds
made by the doomed. In this land of the false, it is difficult to gauge one’s true position.
4. To what does Dante compare the sound of the shrieks and groans emanating from this
pit? Why does he use this imagery? Do other details also suggest pestilence?
He compares the pain he hears in these sounds to the pain in all the hospitals at the height
of summer, the plague season.
Falsehood is a disease of the soul; in this Bolgia, Dante is not only suggesting that the
sinners feel terrible pain, but that their evil is contagious. The Bolgia is overspread by an
unhealthy fog (XXIX.42), like the swamps that breed malaria, and is called “dank” and
5. Who “reigns eternally/over the falsifiers in their distress”? (XXIX.55,56) Why is it
important for Dante to say this, and what does the statement suggest about the
progress of his understanding?
Dante makes the important statement that “High Justice” is responsible for the punishment
scheme of the falsifiers. (XXIX.54) Their condition is not pitiable (as it seems to the
narrator at first), but indicative of the sinners’ previous lives; it exemplifies the moral state
of the falsifier as well as the pain of his conscience.
6. What is the disease alluded to in line 75?
Smallpox covers the body “with great scabs from head to foot,” and Dante would probably
have seen victims or heard of this disease.
7. Why does Griffolino D’Arezzo tell the story of his death, even though it is not the sin
for which he is punished?
Griffolino did commit a sin when he tricked Alberto de Siena by claiming to be able to fly.
Alchemy, however, overshadows this crime; Dante seems to be saying that the impulse
underlying the practice of Alchemy is closer to fundamental evil (since the alchemist
presumes to have a godlike power over matter) than lying and cheating for money.
8. What did the men whom Cappochio mentions have in common? What, ultimately,
motivated them to practice alchemy?
They were all Sienese, and they all perverted their natural gifts, seeking excessive pleasures,
vanities, and wasting their time on Earth.
1. How do the images of madness that Dante introduces here develop the theme of disease
from the previous Canto?
2. Why are Myrrha and Gianni Schicchi running through Hell together? What is Dante
saying about the crime of impersonation?
3. Why does Master Adam suffer from thirst?
4. Does Master Adam take responsibility for his crime?
5. What is the main thrust of the argument between Sinon and Adam?
6. Why is Virgil’s intervention necessary? How does Dante respond?
1. How are Virgil’s words like Achilles’ lance?
2. What is Dante able to see as they move forward? What causes his original
3. Why was it proper for Nature to destroy the “exemplars” of the Giants? (XXXI.49)
How does Dante’s reasoning about men, whales, and elephants apply to all of Lower
4. What does Nimrod symbolize? Why does he have the horn?
5. Why is Antaeus here? What is Dante’s tone at the end of this Canto?
1. What is the purpose of Dante’s invocation to the Muses, the “Ladies of the Heavenly
The invocation to the Muses is a convention of epic poetry, and signifies the great
undertaking involved in writing the poem. Dante uses the invocation here to emphasize the
intensity of the Ninth Circle.
2. What insult does Dante hurl at the denizens of the Ninth Circle when he apostrophizes
to them? What are some implications of this?
He says that it would have been better for them to have been animals rather than humans.
Like Dante’s statement about men, whales, and elephants in the previous Canto, this shows
a growing preoccupation with rationality in man; Dante even dares to say that, if thought
causes us to sin so grossly, it might be better for us not to think at all.
3. To what does Dante compare the “livid dead”? (XXXII.34) What is the force of this
Their heads, protruding from the ice, remind him of the heads of frogs just visible in the
water during harvest-time. The contrast is especially strong between the warmth and
bounty of the autumn season, the burning of the dead in previous Cantos, and the cold,
barren wastes of the Ninth Circle.
4. Why do the dead in this Circle wish to be forgotten?
Their shame is so great that they hope to cease existing in the memories of other men. Their
desire parallels Dante’s assertion that they never should have had human lives.
5. What are some significant details of Dante’s description of the pair at the end of the
One sinner is so close to the other that he eats the other’s flesh “at the base of the skull.”
(XXXII.129) Both are encased in ice.
1. Is Ugolino a sympathetic character? Why is the poet is becoming more accepting of the
justice of Hell’s punishments? Does Dante feel for Ugolino?
Ugolino’s story seems to elicit compassion from the poet, but Dante offers no implication
that the sinner’s punishment in Hell is unfair. He is doomed to commit endless, unsatisfying
violence against his old enemy.
2. How is Ugolino’s story similar to Dante’s own future? What overtones does the passage
have in light of The Inferno’s post-exilic composition?
Dante, like Ugolino, will be subjected to extreme punishment at the hands of a rival
political faction. In a sense, Ugolino’s agony is Dante’s, but Dante can overcome his pain
through the medium of poetry.
3. Why does Dante call for the demise of Pisa? What is he saying about civil war?
Civil war propagates itself; total destruction seems to be the only way to end it.
4. Why does Dante trick Friar Alberigo with his oath?
Dante does not actually lie; he simply plays on the Friar’s expectations. Moral rules are
reversed in Hell, and deceiving a deceiver is virtuous. In addition, this episode reveals
Dante’s growing foresight, and contrasts it with the limited understanding of the dead.
5. Why are Branca D’Oria and his nephew already condemned to Hell?
Like Friar Alberigo, D’Oria had not yet died in 1300. The assertion that one can be in Hell
without having died underscores Dante’s idea that the state of one’s soul is more important
than the condition of one’s body. Hell mirrors the condition of the soul and corresponds to
sin, rather than punishing sin arbitrarily.
6. Is there hope for the citizens of Genoa?
Genoa is the only city mentioned whose living citizens are already condemned; it seems
strongly unlikely that it will submit to reform.
1. Why does Virgil, in referring to Satan, quote a medieval hymn?
The poets have reached the perpetrator of the ultimate betrayal, eternally gnawing on his
human counterpart (Judas). Satan’s sin was the first, and the worst; it transformed sacred
virtues into dark forces. Virgil’s song emphasizes Satan’s relation to holy love and truth.
2. Why are the souls of this final Circle completely frozen and silent?
All human and holy love is absence from their hearts, and their souls lack any light or
3. What connection does Dante make between beauty and monstrosity?
He can still see traces of Satan’s original beauty, but they only accentuate his hideousness.
The gravest crimes are defouled versions of the most perfect virtues.
4. Why does Satan have three heads?
In appearance, as in spirit, he is a blasphemous parody of the Trinity.
5. Why are Brutus and Cassius punished along with Judas Iscariot?
They betrayed a fundamental trust. Dante’s placement of them here seems to indicate that,
while salvation depends on Christ, sins of betrayal are committed by Christians and pagans
6. Explain the poets’ exit from Hell. What is the allegorical significance of the shift in
As Dante and Virgil exit Hell, they enter the opposite hemisphere, and gravity reverses.
From this point, they will be climbing (metaphorically, struggling towards the higher
virtues) towards the spiritual heights rather than descending (moving toward and
witnessing the lowest depravity).