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Canto 31

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Canto 31 of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Inferno.

Inferno | Canto 31 | Summary

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Summary

This canto, which is the transition between the eighth and ninth circles of Hell, begins with images of darkness. Dante and Virgil silently climb up the bank to leave the "dismal valley." As they walk in a dim light, they hear the sound of a loud bugle. In the distance, Dante can just make out the tall towers of a city. But when he asks Virgil about the distant city, Virgil tells him he is mistaken—the tall "buildings" are actually Giants, whose lower halves are in the "central pit." As they get closer, Dante sees that Virgil is correct. One Giant bellows loudly in an unintelligible language, and Virgil identifies him as Nimrod, who was associated during the medieval period with the Tower of Babel (a king in the biblical Book of Genesis who ordered the construction of a tower that would reach to Heaven), and who is therefore responsible for the fracturing of one human language into many. Another, named Ephialtes, is bound with chains. Dante says he wants to see a Giant named Briareus, and Virgil explains that another Giant, named Antaeus, can lower them down so that this is possible. Virgil tells Antaeus that Dante, because he is still living, can bring the Giant fame by telling others about him, and Antaeus picks the poets up and lowers them down into the pit.

Analysis

The darkness, symbolic of distance or separation from God's true light, is deeper as Dante moves into the final circle of Hell. When Virgil chastises Dante for trying to see in the dim light, readers understand that this far into Hell, even a person's senses can tell lies.

Like the fallen angels who guard the entrance to the city of Dis, who rebelled against God and so were cast out of Paradise, these Giants also rebelled against the Greek gods. In Greek mythology, the Giants attacked Mount Olympus, the home of the gods. Note that Antaeus, a Giant who did not take part in the rebellion, is not immobilized as the others are.

Nimrod is an interesting case because in the Old Testament, he is the king of Babylon, not a Giant. Dante transforms him into a Giant and places him with the mythological giants in Hell. However, the result of Nimrod's sin—causing the human language to splinter into many different languages—is mirrored in his inability to speak intelligible words. By contrast, Anteus can communicate with the visitors to Hell, and is in turn interested in Dante's ability to communicate with the living: he agrees to lower Virgil and Dante precisely because, in doing so, he will be given a role in Dante's poem.

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