Inferno
Inferno
by Dante Alighieri
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Inferno Inferno Canto XXX (the Eighth Circle, Tenth Pouch: the Counterfeiters of Persons, Counterfeiters of Coins, Falsifiers of Words) Summary

  • Because Dante opens this canto with two mythological references, let’s have a mini mythology lesson.
  • There once was a beautiful Theban princess named Semele whom Jupiter impregnated. Finding out, Jupiter’s wife Juno goes berserk with jealousy and drives Semele’s brother-in-law, Athamas, insane. Athamas sees his wife and children, thinks they’re lions, and kills one son. Meanwhile, his wife Ino grabs the other son and commits double suicide.
  • Mythology lesson #2: After Troy falls to the Greeks in the Trojan war, Queen Hecuba of Troy goes wild with despair after seeing her daughter Polyxena sacrificed and her son Polydorus murdered. Her overwhelming grief causes her to howl out like a dog.
  • Point is, Dante references both these myths in a double set of epic similes. Neither Semele’s nor Hecuba’s situation can be matched in cruelty with what the next pair of sinners does to one another.
  • The two aforementioned shades run about raging like wild hogs. One sprints over to Capocchio and sinks his teeth into his neck.
  • Griffolino, still here from the last canto, tells Dante that the guy is Gianni Schicchi, whose crime is impersonation. In his friend’s will, Gianni wrote himself in as someone else just so that he could inherit his late friend’s best horse.
  • Then Dante asks about another sinner and Griffolino identifies her as well.
  • She’s Myrrha, a princess who fell in love with her father and impersonated another woman to sleep with him.
  • After these two falsifiers of persons pass by, Dante turns to survey the rest.
  • He sees a man who’s been twisted into the shape of a lute, has the flesh of the face rotting off, and is bloated by a disease called dropsy. This horribly deformed sinner can still speak and identifies himself as Master Adam.
  • Master Adam's punishment is constantly craving a drink of water. He’s tortured by thoughts of his hometown’s river, the Arno, flowing past nice moist green hills. Turns out, this is the place where he committed his sin, counterfeiting coins in Romena.
  • But Master Adam’s biggest concern is not getting a drink, but finding Guido II so he can take his revenge. He’s heard through Hell’s grapevine that Guido is already amongst them and says he’d gladly cross the eleven-mile diameter of this pouch to find him. It was Guido who first convinced Master Adam to counterfeit his coins.
  • Dante changes the subject. He asks who those two sinners are sitting beside Master Adam and, oh, whose bodies happen to be smoking.
  • Master Adam yawns and introduces them to Potiphar’s wife (who falsely accused Joseph of raping her) and Sinon of the Greeks, who tricked the Trojans into taking the Trojan horse inside their city walls. Both are afflicted by a fever so fierce that it makes their skin smoke. (Note: both of them are falsifiers of words.)
  • Sinon, who hears himself being insulted, reaches out to slap Master Adam on the belly. Which, remember, is bloated.
  • This gives off a sound like a drum. BONG!
  • So Master Adam strikes back, slapping Sinon in the face.
  • Now begins the verbal abuse: Well, you told lies at Troy. Oh yeah? Well, you made coins that were worthless. At least I’m only here for one crime. You jerk! What about the Trojan horse? May you be plagued your whole life. Well, may you never get a drink of water! Well, may your fever burn you up!
  • Everyone, Dante included, is fascinated by this game of one-upmanship when Virgil comes and spoils everything.
  • He conks Dante on the head and warns him to stop watching this utterly shameful and wholly pointless argument.
  • Dante duly hangs his head in shame and wants to apologize so much that Virgil takes Dante under his arm, forgives him, and gently tells him that such "bickering is base."
  • Then they fall asleep.
Next Page: Inferno Canto XXXI (the Eighth Circle, Tenth Pouch: the Falsifiers)
Previous Page: Inferno Canto XXIX (the Eighth Circle, Tenth Pouch: the Falsifiers of Metals)

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