Inferno Canto XXXI (the Eighth Circle, Tenth Pouch: the Falsifiers)
Dante decides to talk about Virgil’s tongue.
He compares Virgil’s tongue to Achilles’ lance, which has the power to heal any wound it inflicts simply by touching it again. Similarly, Virgil’s tongue and, by extension, his words, have the power to hurt (as we just saw), but also the power to heal.
Having reconciled their love for each other, they continue up the bank towards the ninth and final circle.
Trouble is, it’s dark and they can’t see where they’re going.
Fortunately they still have a sense of hearing. Of which fact they’re brutally reminded when they’re deafened by a bugle’s blast.
It’s such a scary sound that Dante compares it to Roland’s horn, which sounded at the defeat of the unconquerable Charlemagne.
Apparently, horn riffs can cure blindness because Dante suddenly makes out the shapes of hundreds of high towers in the distance. Here’s his thought process: high towers = city. Let’s ask Virgil exactly what city.
And in his cryptic way, Virgil says, "You’ll see clearly once we’re out of the shadows. So move faster! Now!"
Then, Virgil has a change of mind and fesses up. He admits that those "towers" in the distance aren’t really buildings, but giants trapped in the central pit of Hell. But because they’re so supernaturally tall, their torsos can be seen here, while their legs are embedded in the banks of the final circle.
Having made this discovery, Dante suddenly becomes afraid. The closer he gets to Giant City, the more his fear grows.
As one fearsome giant comes into view, Dante blesses Nature for stopping further procreation of these creatures (because, in Greek mythology, Earth was the giants’ mother) and for depriving Mars (god of war) of the very first WMDs.
From Dante’s perspective, the giant’s face is as large as St. Peter’s pine cone (we kid you not), which really makes no sense unless you actually know what that is. Turns out, it’s a giant ornamental pinecone used to decorate first the Roman Pantheon, then St. Peter’s Basilica, and later the Vatican itself. Point is, the pine cone is big.
Back to the description of the giant. He’s so big that the bank which encases his legs looks like an apron. To give us some perspective on how tall just his torso is, we’re told that not even three Frieslanders stacked on top of each other could reach his head.
Suddenly, he speaks: "Raphel mai amecche zabi almi." (No, it makes no sense in Italian either.)
Virgil responds with an emphatic medieval version of "Shut up!"
Then, since Dante is bewildered at his master’s meanness, Virgil explains to him who the giant is: Nimrod.
Nimrod was a king in Babylon, responsible for the building of the Tower of Babel, a doomed project which ended up with God smiting down the tower, breaking up man’s single language into thousands of unintelligible ones, and then condemning Nimrod to Hell.
Virgil continues. For the division of all men’s languages, leading in turn to the division of all men into different nations and races, Nimrod deserves all the punishment he receives in Hell. This, of course, includes depriving him of his own language so that nobody can understand him.
Our heroes turn left and continue down until they come to another giant, far larger and fiercer than Nimrod.
Dante can’t identify this giant, but sees only that he’s in restraints. As in chained and tied and arms bent behind him.
Our guide Virgil recognizes this giant as Ephialtes, who challenged the gods way back when. And obviously lost. For taking up arms against the gods, Ephialtes’s arms are now immobilized.
By now, Dante is tired of Virgil lecturing to him and decides to show his own knowledge of giants. He asks Virgil when they can see Briareus, another of the giants who challenged the gods.
To which, Virgil answers: "We’ll see Anteaus soon. Oh, and Anteaus will take us to the bottom."
Finally, Virgil addresses Dante’s question, saying that Briareus is still far ahead. And really, really scary.
At his comrade’s name, Ephialtes shakes himself, trying to get out of his chains. This causes an earthquake and now Dante’s really sorry he mentioned the name.
They walk on, unharmed, until they reach Antaeus.
From Virgil’s fancy address, we learn where Antaeus lived (the valley of Bagradas river), what he ate (lions!), and what he’s like (had he been born in the time of Ephialtes, the giants would’ve won the war against the gods).
But despite all this, Virgil puts their lives in his hands and asks him politely to deposit them down below.
And then Virgil offers him something in return: Dante’s words of praise. Like everyone else in Hell, Antaeus wants worldwide fame.
Apparently, that’s all it takes, because Antaeus stretches out his hands eagerly and picks up Virgil.
Panicking just a little in the grip of a murderous giant, Virgil shouts to Dante to come here, so that he doesn’t lose him.
Dante approaches slowly because Antaeus reminds him of the tower of Garisenda, precariously tilted (like the tower of Pisa) and about to fall.
But he resigns himself and the giant proves surprisingly gentle, lowering them safely to the bottom.