Two unnamed souls in the Envious group are speaking. They wonder aloud who this person is, who cannot only see, but is alive. One urges the other to ask the man himself because “you’re closer.”
Dante watches the souls argue, amused.
One of them finally turns to Dante and asks who he is and where he’s from, since he’s such an oddity in this place.
Dante answers in a needlessly mysterious way, saying that he’s from the Tuscan land which holds a great river that’s “born in Falterona” and refuses to give his name because “my name has not yet gained much fame.”
The first soul ponders this and correctly identifies Dante’s mysterious river as the Arno.
Then his friend asks why Dante hid the name of the river from them, as if it were a taboo topic.
The other soul answers that he doesn’t know, but they shouldn’t speak of that place because there, “virtue is seen as serpent, and all flee from it.” In fact, it’s so bad that its name has changed.
Then, he starts tracing the geography of the river.
According to the soul, the Arno starts in a place full of “foul hogs,” then descends to a land of dogs that fight amongst themselves. Apparently these dogs are so disgusting that even the Arno turns away from them and makes a sharp right and as it grows wider, while the dogs surrounding it become wolves. As the river descends further, it comes across wily foxes. If you’re sharp, you’ve rightly guessed that these animals aren’t really animals but are symbolic of the horrible people living near the river.
The shade then makes a prophecy out of nowhere. This seems to be a trend. He predicts that his companion’s grandson has become a wolf hunter on the banks of the river. Strangely enough, the wolves are scared of this wolf hunter because he “sells their flesh while they are still alive” and then, like the devil, kills them all. These actions bring dishonor upon him. He triggers such fear in the forest that when he leaves, it’s never the same.
The listener (who’s also the grandfather of this troubled teen) grows increasingly depressed. What a legacy.
Dante’s curiosity finally overwhelms him and he asks the two speakers who they are.
The first soul points out that Dante has asked him for something that he himself refused to give (his name), but reveals his identity anyway. His name is Guido del Duca. He confesses that he was so envious in his lifetime that when he saw his neighbors happy, he grew livid with jealousy.
He introduces his friend as Rinieri da Calboli, a worthy man who—unfortunately—did not pass that quality onto his sons.
Seeing how dejected poor Rinieri is, Guido goes on to say that it’s not only the Calboli family that’s lost the truth and gone bad, but a bunch of other good families’ children (“poisoned stumps”) as well. In fact, it’s so bad that any reform would be too little too late.
Now he’s on a roll. Guido laments on a bunch good Tuscan souls who’ve either died or been corrupted—people like Bernadin di Fosco, Ugolino d’Azzo, Guido da Prata, Ugolino de’ Fantolini, and the houses of Bagnacaval, Castrocuro, Conio, and Pagani.
Guido, overcome by his grief, sends Dante away.
Just as Dante and Virgil leave the Envious behind, a thunderous voice speaks out of nowhere: “whoever captures me will slaughter me.”
Before our heroes have time to react, another voice thunders, “I am Aglauros, who was turned to stone.” At this, Dante inches nearer Virgil for protection.
These are voices calling out examples of punished envy, in order to help the Envious learn their lesson.
Virgil scolds Dante for not recognizing good, but fearing it.