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Canto 28

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Canto 28 of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Inferno.

Inferno | Canto 28 | Summary

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Summary

As Dante looks into the ninth pouch, he is stunned by the amount of blood and wounds he sees. It is as if a terrible, bloody battle had been fought. One man's body is split vertically along his torso, and his intestines and stomach spill out. As Dante looks at him, he pulls his torso apart where it is split, and explains that all those in this pouch sowed dissension. Every time they heal, a demon cuts them again with his sword.

Virgil explains what he and Dante are doing there, and all the sinners in the pouch stop and stare. Then another man approaches—one whose throat is slashed through. This man asks Dante to warn two of his friends that "they will be cast out of their ship and drowned ... because of a foul tyrant's treachery." Dante then talks with a man whose hands have been cut off. The man tells Dante that he caused the deaths of his own kinsmen, and the man goes away grieving. Then Dante talks to a decapitated man who carries his head in his hands. This man identifies himself as Bertran de Born, who gave bad advice that divided father and son (he caused a conflict between the English King Henry II and his son). This, he says, is an example of the "law of counter-penalty."

Analysis

The sinners punished here are those who caused schisms, or sharp divisions, often in a religious group or political party. Because these people caused divisions, their bodies are divided, or split. Since the schisms they cause often result in fighting and bloody battles, they have a bloody punishment that makes the ninth pouch look like a bloody battlefield. Some of those here are people Dante believes caused religious schisms, such as Mohammed (who founded Islam), Ali (who divided Islam into Sunni and Shiite sects), and Fra Dolcino, who began a Christian sect deemed heretical.

Virgil articulates what Dante is supposed to gain from his trip through Hell very concisely in this canto: in response to an anonymous split-open figure who demands to know the nature of Dante's guilt, Virgil explains that Dante is not in Hell to be punished but so that "he may gain full experience." This experience is to benefit him personally, because it was his personal losing of the path that caused Beatrice to act on his behalf. However, it is partly in his role as poet that he is allowed this journey—he knows he is to recall and write the truth of what he has learned and experienced for the benefit of others.

The "law of counter-penalty" named at the end of this canto is the translation of the Italian contrapasso. This is the place the principle's name is derived from. Bertran de Born's body becomes a literal, physical symbol of the division he has caused.

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