Dante Alighieri

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Canto 14

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Canto 14 of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Inferno.

Inferno | Canto 14 | Summary



Dante is overcome with love for his city, Florence, so he does as the spirit asks before leaving this ring. As Dante and Virgil move toward the third ring of the seventh circle, they emerge from the "wood of sorrow" and see a sandy plain, barren of any growing thing. On this plain many souls are gathered, some crouching, some lying down, some moving around. Bits of fire shower down on these spirits like snow, catching the sand on fire when it lands. The spirits try in vain to beat out the fires. Dante notices that one spirit does not seem to be bothered by the fire. This is Capaneus, whom Virgil explains is tortured by nothing other than being captive in his own madness and disdain of God.

Virgil and Dante walk around the edge of the hot sand, coming at last to a red stream. Virgil tells Dante that a huge Old Man, made of metal and clay, stands within a tall mountain on Crete. Tears flow through cracks in the metal, gathering and flowing into this stream as well as the four rivers of Hell.


Dante notes that the sinners in this ring are "ruled by different decrees" corresponding to different types of violence against God. He notes that the least numerous are the ones lying down, but these are the most talkative. They are the blasphemers—those who directly defied God. Capaneus is provided as an example of what it means to blaspheme, and the fact that he is tortured by his own madness and blasphemy remind us that one of the punishments of Hell, shared by all the damned, is their lack of connection to God.

The story of the Old Man of Crete as the source of all four of Hell's rivers—Acheron, Styx, Phlegetheon, and Cocytus—seems to mean that all four rivers are really one river winding down through Hell, changing names as it flows. Sometimes it changes from water to blood as well.

The relationship between Dante and Virgil seems to have become a comfortable teacher-student relationship again. Dante asks quite a few questions in this canto, and Virgil answers them, even complimenting Dante on his curiosity and astute questions. When Dante asks about the Lethe, especially, Virgil seems pleased: "I'm pleased indeed ... with all your questions," he says. Then he replies that Dante will get to see the Lethe River—another river from mythology—on a later leg of his journey, not in Hell. Dante's questions are important steps in his spiritual return to the straight path: he increasingly shows an interest in understanding the nature of God's will and his plan for humankind.

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