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Canto 18

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Canto 18 of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Inferno.

Inferno | Canto 18 | Summary

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Summary

Dante and Virgil arrive in the eighth circle, called Malebolge, or "evil pouches." There, in ten ditches with a deep central pit in the center, the fraudulent receive their punishment. Dante walks with Virgil at his left side and the miserable sinners on the right. In the first ring, horned demons lash naked sinners with whips to keep them moving. Some move one way and some move the opposite way. Dante recognizes one man, Venetico Caccianemico, who is in Hell for pimping (pandering) his own sister. Caccianemico also says there are many people from Bologna in Hell before he is whipped and must move on.

Reaching a bridge, Virgil tells Dante to stand and look at the faces of the people who had been moving in their same direction, so that their faces were not visible. They stand on the bridge and Virgil points out Jason, who first seduced and then abandoned Hypsipyle, pregnant with his child.

As Dante and Virgil continue on the narrow path, they can hear the whining and snorting of those in the second valley. Looking down into this next pouch, they see people standing in excrement. Recognizing one, Alessio Interminei of Lucca, Dante stares. The shade tells him that he suffers in this ring because of flatteries. Virgil points another figure out to Dante: a woman who crouches, scratching herself with her nails. This woman, Virgil says, is a harlot who answered "Yes, enormously" to her lover's question "Are you very grateful to me?"

Analysis

The eighth circle is more complex than any of the other circles of Hell, and Virgil and Dante spend more of Inferno there than they do in any of the other circles, from this point until Canto 30. Fraud, the perpetrators of which occupy the eighth and ninth circles, is a particularly complex kind of sin. Incontinence and violence both involve a person's ignoring their higher reasoning and giving way to baser impulses, but fraud is a deliberate misuse of the higher reasoning that God gave humans in order to help them overcome sins.

In the first ditch, those who pandered and those who seduced are punished together, showing that their sins are related. Their opposite motion shows that Dante considers their sins to be two sides of the same coin. Seducers are here because they implied a commitment they did not complete.

In the second ditch, flatterers—those who told attractive lies—are punished by standing in excrement. The contrapasso here is that because excrement came out of their mouths while they were alive, now they must stand in it for eternity.

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