Inferno Inferno Canto XXVIII (the Eighth Circle, Ninth Pouch: the Sowers of Scandal and Schism) Summary
Here, in the ninth pouch, Dante’s words fail him. Words can no longer capture the sheer volume and degree of suffering, of all the "blood and wounds," present here.
Dante does the next best thing; he crafts a metaphor. He compares all the wounded here to the carnage wrecked in about five different battles. All those dead piled up couldn’t match the horror of this pouch.
Because it really is gross. The first sinner Dante sees has literally been eviscerated, his body slit down the middle so we can see all his gooey insides. And to make it worse, the sinner reaches up with his hands to open his chest wide for Dante to see.
This sinner introduces himself as Mohammed. He points out a fellow sinner, whose face is chopped in half. That’s Ali, the man responsible for splitting the Muslims up into the rival factions of the Sunnis and Shiites.
So, says Mohammed, we’re all sowers of dissension here (read: we make brothers go for each others’ throats) so we’re punished by being cut in half.
So the sinners walk in circles until they reach a point where a big bad demon with a sword slashes them in half, then they keep walking and dripping gore everywhere, eventually heal, then come back to be hacked again.
But then Mohammed asks who Dante is that he’s allowed not to have his guts hanging out his body.
Virgil answers that Dante is still alive, is on an educational field trip sanctioned by God, is getting a tour of Hell.
Apparently it’s a big deal to the sinners because all their ears perk up suddenly and a hundred pairs of eyes scrutinize Dante.
Mohammed goes on, ignoring Dante’s stage fright. Since Dante’s alive, Mohammed wants him to carry a message to his buddy Fra Dolcino, telling him to get some food quickly or else he’ll starve while under siege. (Dante apparently fails to do this because Fra Dolcino indeed dies of starvation.)
Another guy comes up to speak, with his throat slit and using this wound like a mouth.
He recognizes Dante and names himself as Pier da Medicina. Pier wants Dante to spread his fame in the mortal world and also to take a message. This time it’s to tell two men from Fano to be very careful or else they’ll be betrayed by the foul Malatestino and be drowned aboard their very own ship.
Dante’s feeling lucky today so he agrees to carry the message if Pier will point out another famous sinner to him.
Pier does so immediately, patting another guy on the head to indicate "that’s him."
It’s Curio, the man who convinced Caesar betray his friend Pompey and invade the city of Rome, starting a civil war there. So guess what? His conniving tongue is cut in half and, here in Hell, Curio can no longer speak.
The next guy who comes along has had his hands chopped off. Goes by the name of Mosca and contributed to the strife between the Guelphs and Ghibellines.
Dante, having seen the outcome of this, tells Mosca that he brought death to his own family, information which sends Mosca running away screaming.
Now, the most hideous of the hideous. Dante is so freaked out by this next guy that only his good conscience allows him to talk about it.
Along comes a man, carrying something in his hands. Oh, it’s his head. Then headless man carries his head like a lantern, and upon reaching Dante, lifts it up so he can talk.
He challenges Dante to find anyone in Hell who suffers greater pain than he does.
With his (literally) disembodied voice, he identifies himself as Bertran de Born, the notorious man who turned Prince Henry against his father, King Henry II.
Such family strife is so bad that Dante compares it to Bertran of Achitophel who turned Absalom and David against one another.
Because he divided father from son, Bertran is forced to carry his own decapitated head. He calls this "the law of counter-penalty," known to Italian scholars as "contrapasso," (a Hugely Important Concept) but known best as the rule of what goes around, comes around.