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Canto 26

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Canto 26 of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Inferno.

Inferno | Canto 26 | Summary

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Summary

Dante is still in the seventh pouch of the eighth circle in this canto. Like Canto 19, it opens with an apostrophe. In this apostrophe, Dante addresses Florence, his home, and at the time of the writing of this poem, the home from which he is exiled. It is sarcastic—the greatness he notes is the fact that "through every part of Hell your name extends." He's found Florentines all over Hell, and he encounters five citizens of Florence here before continuing on with Virgil.

The two poets must use their hands as well as their feet, because the path to the next pouch is made of such jagged rocks. Looking down into the eighth pouch, Dante sees flames that resemble fireflies. Virgil tells him that inside each flame is a soul, imprisoned in scorching fire. Dante asks about a particular flame that seems to be joined to a twin. Virgil tells him that this double flame contains Ulysses and Diomedes, who share a punishment because they "went as one to rage." When this flame comes closer, Virgil asks the souls inside to tell how they died. Ulysses obliges, describing how he longed to gain more experience of the world and so set out to sea with a small company of men. Seeking knowledge, they crossed into the Southern Hemisphere and came after several days to the base of a high, dark mountain. A whirlwind from the mountain battered the ship and forced it below the surface of the water.

Analysis

Of course, this is not the kind of greatness any person wants for their beloved home, so the sentiment is a bitter one, and shows Dante's disgust with the strife and corruption of his city. However, it is important to remember that, while Dante the character has found Florentines all over Hell, Dante the author is the one who placed them there in order to draw the reader's attention to the sins of Florence.

Because the specific sin of those in this pouch is not identified by Dante, some scholars have identified these sinners as "evil counselors" or "fraudulent counselors" (based on a phrase used in the next canto). They have used their intellect to trick and deceive, rather than use this gift honestly. This explains why Ulysses—a man of the kind of lasting fame to which poets such as Dante and Virgil aspire—is here. He used the Trojan horse to deceitfully gain entrance to the city of Troy. Virgil's hero Aeneas is a response to Homer, a hero who embodies Roman values like obedience to duty, piety, and responsible leadership, and this attitude is reflected in Virgil's treatment of Ulysses. Dante would not have read the Odyssey, but Virgil's rejection of Ulysses as a hero is abundantly clear in the Aeneid. The story Ulysses tells about how he died is Dante's invention, not part of the story found in Homer's Iliad or Odyssey. It shows Ulysses to be an arrogant man who lacks affection for his family.

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