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Canto 24

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Canto 24 of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Inferno.

Inferno | Canto 24 | Summary

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Summary

This canto begins with an extended simile that describes Virgil's changing expression and both Virgil and Dante's emotional state. Virgil is like a farmer who is short on food for his animals and so needs to have them graze and is dismayed by the appearance of frost, thinking the grass will be covered by snow. But as the frost disappears quickly in the morning sun, the grass is revealed, and the farmer is suddenly glad. Virgil's anger, and Dante's dismay at it, just as suddenly disappears, and he helps Dante climb up a rocky bank. After a brief pause, they continue climbing another steep, rocky slope. Dante then hears a voice, though it does not form words. Wanting to see more clearly, he descends until he can see into the next pouch, containing a mass of serpents. Naked sinners run from the serpents that bind and entwine them in terrible ways. One serpent pounces on a sinner, causing him to catch fire and turn to ash, which then quickly forms back into a human figure. Dante notes that the man seems bewildered as he rises up and looks around, and he asks him who he is. The man answers that he is Vanni Fucci, who is punished here because he robbed a church of its sacred ornaments. Then Fucci prophesies that the Whites (Dante's political party) will be defeated.

Analysis

As Virgil regains his composure—his "sweet manner"—he demonstrates a measure of control over his emotions. This contrasts with the way most of those in Hell are prey to their emotions and physical desires—anger, lust, greed, and so on. Although Virgil is in one circle of Hell, he is only there because he was not a Christian. He is still virtuous, and so can use his willpower to master his emotions. Throughout the poem, the ability to master emotions is seen as a high and uniquely human ability.

This idea is echoed just a few lines later as Virgil admonishes Dante to "defeat your breathlessness/with spirit that can win all battles if/the body's heaviness does not deter it." Here, as elsewhere, the body is represented as a hindrance, a physical heaviness that the spirit must carry around and that threatens at times to overcome the spirit.

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