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Canto 19

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Canto 19 of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Inferno.

Inferno | Canto 19 | Summary

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Summary

Unlike other cantos, this one opens with Dante's energetic admonition of Simon Magus (a man living in the 1st century A.D. who believed he could simply purchase the gift of the Holy Spirit) and his followers, those guilty of simony, or selling spiritual favors. These souls are punished in the third pouch, with their bodies trapped in holes in the rock, headfirst, and their feet, protruding from the holes, on fire. Those punished this way writhe in pain. Dante asks Virgil about one shade who seems to be punished worse than the others. Virgil leads Dante down a steep bank to talk to him. When the man tells Dante of his sins, Dante agrees that the man deserves his punishment, because Jesus did not ask the disciples to pay for the privilege. Dante seems quite outraged by the way that greed has corrupted the Church. Virgil then picks Dante up and carries him to the next pouch.

Analysis

Dante's address to Simon Magus and his followers is an example of apostrophe, a literary device in which the author addresses a person or thing that is not present. There are several in this canto, and they reappear in later cantos as well.

Simony is a sin of fraud because, as Dante points out, Jesus did not ask his followers to pay to be his disciples. Therefore, telling people that they can pay to receive God's grace or favor is a lie, and people who gain wealth in this way are simply conning others out of their money. This is a more severe sin than seduction or flattery, because it misrepresents God. This is also one reason Dante doesn't react with compassion or pity as he sometimes does—this sin is clearly against God, and therefore Dante feels that the punishment is justified. His opening lines include praise of God's wisdom, art, and justice.

Virgil seems to think Dante has learned the lessons of this ditch well enough to move on, so he scoops him up and carries him to the next one.

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