Study Guide

Inferno Inferno Canto XXIX (the Eighth Circle, Tenth Pouch: the Falsifiers of Metals)

By Dante Alighieri

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Inferno Canto XXIX (the Eighth Circle, Tenth Pouch: the Falsifiers of Metals)

  • After seeing all these lamed, maimed, and decapitated people, Dante’s in a weepy mood. Or, as he puts it, he has "eyes inebriate" which technically means drunk.
  • Virgil doesn’t like tears. He tells Dante to get it together, especially since time is running short and this pouch alone is twenty-two miles across.
  • Dante stands his ground, though. That was unexpected, seeing how Dante’s usually subservient to Virgil.
  • Dante is forced to keep walking when Virgil shows no sign of stopping and explains as they go.
  • What he saw that made him cry so much was a soul from his own family.
  • Virgil is pitiless, telling Dante to forget about him. Then he reveals a little known fact. As Dante was talking to Bertran de Born, Virgil noticed Dante’s kinsmen atop the bridge, a man named Geri del Bello, pointing at Dante and screaming curses at him. After a while, he got tired of being ignored and skulked away.
  • Surprisingly, Dante still defends Geri. We learn that Geri was violently killed in a feud between the Aligheris and the Sachettis. Because his death has not been avenged, he’s angry at Dante. But this only makes Dante feel sorry for him.
  • They walk and talk, crossing the bridge into the last pouch. At the top, they can see all the sinners but Dante’s more worried about the sounds than the sights.
  • He claps his hands over his ears to keep out all the tortured screaming.
  • There’s so much clamor from people in pain that Dante compares the scene to famous hospitals all over medieval Italy, because of the stench as well as the noise. Imagine the stink emanating from thousands of festering bodies.
  • So Dante and Virgil climb down the final bank, keeping to the leftmost path.
  • At the bottom, Dante sees the falsifiers that "unerring Justice" punishes. He compares the site to the myth of Aegina. To put it succinctly, Aegina was a pretty nymph who caught Jupiter’s eye. He raped her. Juno (Jupiter’s wife) got jealous and infested Aegina’s island with a pestilence that wiped out everyone. Later, Jupiter felt bad for what he’d done so he repopulated the island by turning all the ants into people.
  • The point is that there’s more suffering here in the ninth pouch of Hell than there was on Aegina.
  • Basically, everyone here is afflicted with some horrible disease.
  • Dante runs across two sinners propped up against each other. He compares them to two pans stacked on top of each other.
  • The two sinners are attacking each other with their claws. Then, because Dante likes metaphors, he compares their fighting to a disgruntled stable-boy left to work the midnight shift and taking his frustration out on his horse… by attacking its coat with a currycomb.
  • In case you didn’t get that, he throws another metaphor at you: the two sinners attack each other just like a kitchen knife scrapes the scales off a fish.
  • Virgil addresses the two combatants in his majestic way: "O you who use your nails to strip yourself…" (Yes, Virgil has a way of endearing himself to his listeners.) He asks them if there are any Italians here.
  • The answer, of course, is yes. These two are Italian. And they… like everyone else in Hell… want to know who he is.
  • You know the routine by now. I’m-leading-this-live-man-down-through-the-circles-of-Hell-and-no-you-can’t-hurt-him-so-take-that explanation.
  • So this throws the spotlight on Dante; all the sinners peer at him with arched eyebrows and Virgil nudges him forward to make his speech.
  • We’re in familiar territory again. Dante persuades the sinners to identify themselves by promising to make them famous once he gets back to the living world. Except now he’s as tired of the same old rut as we are so he adds an ironic twist: please, don’t let your "vile and filthy torment / make you afraid to let me know your names."
  • So the first sinner tells us he cheesed off the Bishop of Siena by telling his buddy that he could teach him to fly. Since this obviously didn’t happen, the pal got mad. That wasn’t what got him to Hell. That just got him in trouble with the Bishop, who then discovered he practiced alchemy. That’s what got him burned at the stake. Which is why Minos’ tail indicated the eighth circle.
  • We discover this alchemist’s name is Griffolino.
  • Dante sneers down at Griffolino and calls the Sienese the vainest people ever.
  • Before Griffolino can protest, another sinner jumps in, agreeing with Dante and promptly naming off three more pompous Sienese noblemen.
  • Having put himself in Dante’s good graces, the sinner proceeds to identify himself rather proudly as Capocchio, an alchemist renowned for creating credible imitations of precious metals.
  • But the final irony is… Capocchio is Sienese too.

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