Inferno Inferno Canto XXVII (the Eighth Circle, Eighth Pouch: the Fraudulent Counselors) Summary
Ulysses, in his flaming garb, is silent. Virgil condescends to let him leave.
But he’s immediately replaced by another inquisitive tongue of flame. Except this one is making a weird sound.
So weird that Dante compares it to…a medieval brass bull that someone constructed as an instrument of torture. As victims were roasted inside, their screams supposedly imitated the sounds a bull makes.
So this new flame/sinner sounds like dying bull. He’s in a lot of pain. So much so that at first, Dante cannot understand a word he’s saying.
But eventually the words find their way up the flame and to the tongue/flame tip.
This sinner has gotten the impression that Virgil’s a nice guy because he granted Ulysses permission to leave. So now, he implores Virgil to stay and talk to him and have some pity on a poor creature being roasted alive.
The first thing he wants to know is if his hometown, Romagna, is at war or peace.
Dante is listening attentively (read: dying to answer), when Virgil elbows him and says, "What are you doing? TALK to the guy. He’s Italian."
Dante obeys and we find out that Romagna is still being ravaged.
Then, Dante goes into all the specifics about cities within Romagna. Ravenna is still standing. Forli has defeated the French. Rimini has fallen to the rule of two evil Italians who spend their days plotting against the world and sinisterly twisting their mustachios. Faenza and Imola follow the lead of a flip-flopping lion ("Lion" being a metaphor for some Italian leader we’ve never heard of). And Cesena is still struggling for its freedom.
Now down to business: Dante asks the sinner who he is.
Because it would be rude to just take all the information and leave, the sinner replies. He tells Dante he’s only revealing his identity because Dante – being in Hell and all that – can’t possibly tattle on him in the living world. Hmm, English majors would call this dramatic irony.
Enter into sinner’s story: First he was a soldier and then saw the light, repented of his ways, and became a friar of the Franciscan order. (Note: if you were a medieval Italian like Dante, you’d know this fellow’s name is Guido da Montefeltro.) He did this with the goal of absolving his sins. But then Pope Boniface VIII ruined everything!
Here, he gives us some history: as a young man, he is…ahem…crafty. In other words, a backstabber, turncoat, snitch, and general cheater.
But then, he sees the error of his ways and becomes a friar. He even would’ve made peace with God if it weren’t for that blasted pope.
See, Boniface isn’t doing nice Popish things like curing the sick or baptizing kittens, but is instead feuding with Christian families. Namely, the people who support the previous pope and see Boniface as illegitimate. Or really mentally sick. (We’re going to go with the sick interpretation since Guido describes the "fevered" Pope seeking his counsel just as the leper Constantine sought Sylvester’s advice.)
So Guido is stuck with the job of telling the leader of the Christian faith whether or not to go to war with this rival family. Here is the deciding factor: Boniface goes, "Psssst! Guido! If you side with me, I’ll clear all your sins from your record. Free ticket to Heaven!" In other words, the Pope trades absolution (or forgiveness of one’s sins) for a friar’s permission to wage war on an innocent family.
When Guido dies, Saint Francis (remember, he’s in the Franciscan order) appears and he’s all ready to ascend with him to the pearly gates when…drumroll please…a demon appears. Or "a black cherubim" if you’re Dante.
St. Francis is debriefed on Guido’s evil counsel, the demon snatches Guido up, Minos judges him fit for the eighth circle, and voila! Here he is.
Back to the present: Guido is so distraught after telling his story that he leaves.
Then our heroes leave too, crossing the bridge into the next pouch.