Inferno Canto 27 Analysis Essay

Summary: Canto XXVII

After hearing Ulysses’ story, Virgil and Dante start down their path again, only to be stopped by another flame-immersed soul. This soul lived in Italy’s Romagna region, and now, hearing Dante speak the Lombard tongue, he asks for news of his homeland. Dante replies that Romagna suffers under violence and tyranny but not outright war. He then asks the soul his name, and the sinner, believing that Dante will never leave the abyss and thus will be unable to spread word of his infamy, consents to tell him.

He introduces himself as Guido da Montefeltro and states that he was originally a member of the Ghibellines. After a time, he underwent a religious conversion and joined a Franciscan monastery, but he was then persuaded by Pope Boniface VIII to reenter politics on the opposing side. At one point, Boniface asked him for advice on how to conquer Palestrina (formerly called Penestrino, it served as the fortress of the Ghibelline Colonna family). Da Montefeltro showed reluctance, but Boniface promised him absolution in advance, even if his counsel were to prove wrong. He then agreed to give his advice, which turned out to be incorrect. When he died, St. Francis came for him, but a devil pulled him away, saying that a man could not receive absolution before sinning, for absolution cannot precede repentance and repentance cannot precede the sin. Such preemptive absolution he deemed “contradictory,” and thus invalid. Calling himself a logician, the devil took da Montefeltro to Minos, who deemed the sinner guilty of fraudulent counsel and assigned him to the Eighth Pouch of the Eighth Circle of Hell.

Summary: Canto XXVIII

Virgil and Dante continue on to the Ninth Pouch, where they see a line of souls circling perpetually. Dante sees they bear wounds worse than those suffered at the battles at Troy and Ceparano. A devil stands at one point of the circle with a sword, splitting open each sinner who walks by. One of the sinners speaks to Dante as he passes—it is Mohammed, prophet of the Muslims. These are the Sowers of Scandal and Schism, and for their sins of division they themselves are split apart. Worse, as they follow the circle around, their wounds close up so that they are whole by the time they come back to the sword, only to be struck again.

Many others in this line look up at Dante, hearing his living voice. The Italians among them beg Dante to carry messages to certain men still living on Earth. They make predictions of a shipwreck and give a warning for Fra Dolcino, who is in danger of joining them when he dies. Finally, Dante sees a man carrying his own head in his hands: it is Bertran de Born, who advised a young king to rebel against his father.

Summary: Canto XXIX

Virgil reprimands Dante for staring so long at the wounded souls, reminding him that their time is limited; this time, however, Dante stubbornly follows his own inclination. He takes note of one more soul, an ancestor of his who died unavenged.

Finally, Virgil and Dante follow the ridge down and to the left until they can see the Tenth Pouch below them. This pouch houses the Falsifiers, and it is divided into four zones. In the First Zone, souls huddle in heaps and sprawl out on the ground. Scabs cover them from head to foot; they scratch at them furiously and incessantly.

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Canto 27

Recognizing him as Italian, a soul, by moving the tip of its tongue of flame asks Dante to tell him the state of things in Romagna, from which he comes. Dante tells him of endless warfare between the nobles there, and begs to know his name. The soul answers, "If I believed my answer were to someone who would ever return to the world, this flame would remain still. But since never from this depth has anyone returned alive, if I hear true, without fear of infamy I answer you" (lines 61-66). Still, he does not say his name (Guido da Montefeltro), but simply tells his story. While he was young, he played the fox, and was famous for his knowledge of all the tricks and deceptions that are effective in the world. As he got older, he repented and became a Franciscan friar, and that would have meant his salvation, if Pope Boniface VIII hadn't sent for him to ask his advice on how to get the best of an Italian family he was feuding with. When Guido didn't answer, Boniface absolved him ahead of time for any sin, boasting of his power as pope to control who would get into Heaven. Guido advised him to promise and then break his promise. When Guido died, St. Francis came for him, but a devil got in first and claimed him, pointing out that absolution does no good without repentance first, and it's obvious one hasn't repented if one goes ahead and does the deed.
The passage quoted above was used by T.S. Eliot as the epigraph for The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. It illustrates here how deep the infamy of these souls is. "Politics as usual" was no excuse in Dante's eyes for this misuse of human intelligence. The advice Guido da Montefeltro gave was that the pope should promise to spare the city he was fighting if they surrendered, and then should go ahead and destroy the city. Boniface did just that.


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