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Dante Alighieri

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Canto 11

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Canto 11 of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Inferno.

Inferno | Canto 11 | Summary



Dante is still in the sixth circle, walking along the edge of another deep, stinking abyss. Virgil advises that they stop and get used to the smell before continuing, so they stop near the tomb of Pope Anastasius. Virgil explains in greater detail the structure of the remaining circles of Hell. In the seventh circle, which they are about to enter, are those whose sin is violence. The violent are further divided into three smaller rings within the seventh circle. The first of these is for those who were violent against others, the second for those violent against themselves, and the third for those who were violent against God. Because fraud is even more offensive to God than violence, the fraudulent are punished in the final two circles of Hell. The eighth circle is for hypocrites, flatterers, liars, and others who betrayed the trust that comes naturally to people. The ninth circle is where those who betrayed their family, country, guests, and benefactors are punished.

Prompted by Dante's questioning, Virgil explains that worst punishments (lower circles) in Hell are reserved for the sins that offend God. He also explains that usury—making money by charging high interest on loans—is a sin because humans were meant to make their living from art, or from the work of their own hands. Because usurers make money from money, they scorn God's ways. After their discussion, the poets make their way down the cliff into the seventh circle.


Dante and his guide have to take a rest because the smell is so terrible that they have to get used to it before moving on. In this little break Dante asks Virgil to teach him, so as not to waste the time. Their teacher-student relationship is firmly established and Virgil obliges. He lays out a verbal map of Hell so Dante has some sense of what is going to happen. He gives Dante some structural details as well as a general principle that the lower you descend into Hell, the worse it is going to get. In keeping with the symbolism of ascent and descent, the farther they descend, the farther they are from God.

Virgil's explanation describes the lower two levels of Hell as reserved for those who commit one of two types of fraud. Scholars divide these two types of fraud into "simple fraud" (scams and deceptions) and "complex fraud" (betrayal of a special trusting relationship), and believe Dante based these on Aristotle's groupings of sins. Because all fraud is a betrayal of trust, and trust comes from love, and love comes from God, these sins are the worst.

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