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Dante takes his sweet time introducing the eighth circle of Hell to us.
This circle has a nickname, Malebolge (which translates roughly to "evil pouches"). It’s surrounded by a wall of dull iron-colored stone, and the valley itself is divided into ten pouches.
Of course, Dante can’t help but compare the design of the eighth circle to stuff like a moat protecting a castle or fortresses seen from a birds-eye view that are scored with lots of bridges and ditches.
As usual, Virgil takes the lead, walking to the leftmost side while he and Dante witness the sinners on the right.
These nude sinners march in a long line while they are whipped on every side by horned demons.
Dante compares their march to one he saw the year of Jubilee in which Pope Boniface VIII (yes, the man Dante hates) granted indulgences to those who visited Roman churches. Predictably, a bunch of guilt-induced peasants flooded Rome, forcing the soldiers to herd them across the bridge in two lines, a gigantic one headed toward St. Peter’s Cathedral and the other headed back.
Dante locks eyes with one of the sinners and realizes he’s seen him before. The sinner, in response, tries to hide his face. But it’s no use.
Bluntly, Dante names him as Venedico Caccianemico and asks him what brings him on such a trip to Hell.
In answer to Dante’s "plain speech," Venedico responds reluctantly. He admits that he pandered his sister Ghisolabella into doing sexual favors for a Marquis. (Just for reference, "panderer" is a euphemism for "pimp." So this is the pouch of pimps.)
But Venedico defends himself, saying he’s not the only Bolognese (from the region of Italy called Bologna) here. He claims there are many who say "sipa" (the Bolognese word for "yes") in this circle.
At this point, a demon steps in to ram Venedico on the head with a cudgel. That’s the demon way of saying, "Shut up! And get a move on because there are no women for you to pimp here."
Dante and Virgil then come across a rocky ridge, which marks a boundary. The marchers (also harassed by demons) now return, walking in the same direction as our pilgrims.
Virgil points out one majestic looking man among them, Jason of the Argonauts. He explains that this handsome man seduced and impregnated Hypsipyle of Lemnos, then abandoned her in her pregnancy, to steal the Golden Fleece from Colchis.
After this unhappy news, our dynamic duo crosses a bridge into the second pouch where flatterers are immersed in a ditch of excrement.
Here, the sinners howl and fight among themselves. They’re so nasty that their sighs turn into mold that grows on their bodies.
Dante and Virgil just manage to keep themselves clean by watching from the very top of the bridge, where Dante spies someone he thinks he recognizes. He can’t tell for sure whether it’s a layman or cleric
Upset that he’s attracted undue attention, the sinner screams at Dante, asking why he has picked him out among all the filthy people here.
Dante answers, identifying him as Alessio Interminei of Lucca.
At which point, Alessio beats himself over the head and admits that he is here because of the things he used to say: he is a flatterer.
Virgil then points out another sinner—this time a girl. He explains that she is Thais, a courtesan who gave excessive thanks to her lover for sex. And now she scratches herself with her excrement-filled nails.