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Canto 30

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Canto 30 of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Inferno.

Inferno | Canto 30 | Summary

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Summary

Dante describes examples of people who went mad because of the terrible violence they suffered. But, he says, these examples are not as terrible as the madness of the next two shades he sees, who rage and run around biting and tearing at others. Dante asks who they are, and Virgil tells him that one is Myrrha, a woman who seduced her own father by transforming into the shape of someone else, and the other committed a similar crime.

Dante turns and sees more sinners. One, whose limbs seem heavy and useless, identifies himself as Master Adam and tells Dante how thirsty he is, and how he was burned at the stake for counterfeiting coins. Adam identifies several others who are in this pouch, including Potiphar's wife, from the Book of Genesis in the Bible, who accused Joseph, a young man appointed by Potiphar as head of his household, of trying to seduce her. Sinon, who allowed the Trojan horse into Troy during the Trojan War of Greek mythology, is also there. One of these hits Master Adam, and he strikes back. A brief discussion follows between Adam, Sinon, and Potiphar's wife about the different types of falsifiers (making false coins versus speaking falsely) and their various punishments. Virgil becomes angry with Dante for listening in on this bickering, and Dante is ashamed. Virgil tells him not to worry about being remorseful, and instead to be aware in future of the desire to listen to vulgar quarreling.

Analysis

There are three other types of falsifiers in this pouch. Dante includes characters found in biblical stories as well as Classical Greek mythology. The first ones Dante runs into in this canto are falsifiers of identity. Those, like Myrrha, who took another physical form in order to deceive, are punished by losing their minds—the only thing that anchored their identity as they changed their outward appearance. Next Dante encounters Master Adam, a counterfeiter. His physical symptoms are similar to the symptoms of a condition believed to be an imbalance of the four humors, or bodily fluids. This reflects the impure mixture of metals in counterfeit coins. The third type of falsifier in this pouch consists of those who falsified speech. These sinners are punished with fevers that cause their mouths to gape and their heads to ache. This is a fitting punishment for those who spoke as many lies as a person raving with fever.

Dante catalogues many more varieties of fraud than he does incontinence or violence, and the punishments for different kinds of fraud frequently reflect a specific kind of contrapasso, one in which the body is transformed into a physical manifestation of, or a metaphor, for the sin committed. Whereas incontinence and violence are straightforward sins in which the reason fails to control the body, fraud, the sin of misused reason, seems to reflect the variety and ingenuity of which the human mind is capable.

When Virgil reprimands him for wanting to listen to the quarreling, Dante notes that he is so ashamed, he is "Even as one who dreams that he is harmed and, dreaming, wishes he were dreaming, thus desiring that which is, as if it were not." This expression of shame revisits the idea of what is false and what is true that has been present throughout the eighth circle. Dante feels his shame so intensely that it "stirs within [his] memory" even as he writes, suggesting that he has actually learned a valuable lesson that he can take back with him into the world of the living.

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