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Canto 34

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Canto 34 of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Inferno.

Inferno | Canto 34 | Summary

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Summary

Virgil tells Dante they are getting very close to the king of Hell, and so he should watch carefully. It is evening and a strong wind is blowing, and Dante becomes afraid. Just as he first thought the Giants looked like tall buildings, now he thinks the figure ahead, causing the cold wind, is a windmill. They pass more sinners, and Virgil suddenly stops Dante and tells him they have reached Dis. Dante can see the huge emperor of Hell, Satan, who was once handsome but is now ugly. He towers above the ice. He has three faces—one red, one yellow, and one black—and three pairs of wings that beat, causing the great wind that freezes the river. In each mouth he grinds and chews a sinner—Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, and Brutus and Cassius, who betrayed Julius Caesar. Tears rush out of his six eyes and mix with the bloody froth coming from his mouth (although it is unclear why he is crying), and he displays no other sign of emotion.

Dante hangs on Virgil's neck as Virgil climbs down Satan's body. Satan seems not to notice that they are there, and does not react to them. When Virgil gets down to Satan's hip, he reverses, and seems to climb upward again. Dante is confused that everything seems to be upside-down. Also, instead of night, it is now morning. They stop in a cave, and Dante asks Virgil for an explanation. Virgil says they have passed through Earth into the Southern Hemisphere, and because Satan fell to Earth from Heaven in this hemisphere, there is no land—just ocean. Virgil gives more information about the structure of the world as a transition from this part of the poem to the next, Purgatorio. When Satan fell from Heaven, Virgil says, his impact caused a pit to form on Earth—this became Hell. Lucifer, or Satan, was lodged in the center of the planet.

Finally, Virgil and Dante follow a stream to a gentle slope, and climb upward to emerge on the Earth's surface. Dante can once more see the stars.

Analysis

The choice of the three betrayers chewed by Satan is consistent with Dante's inclination to mix Christian figures with those from Greek and Roman history and mythology. Unlike the other residents of Hell, Satan, as the embodiment of damnation, does not offer any explanation of his circumstances or express any emotion; instead he seems robotic, even in his tears and his violent chewing of the sinners. Perhaps Dante means to show that while many of the other sinners are touched by evil, they remain fundamentally human, but that pure evil contains no traces of humanity.

Because sin weighs people down, Lucifer's presence at Earth's core, to which gravity pulls, is symbolically but not physically correct. The land in the Southern Hemisphere, where Satan collided with Earth, gathered together, pulling into a mountain. This is Mount Purgatory, which Dante will climb in Purgatorio.

When Virgil and Dante emerge from Hell, Dante is no longer in a dark wood: they are headed back toward the "bright world," and the beautiful stars he is able to see again are evidence of God's presence. He has more to go ahead of him, but the end of the poem suggests that he is no longer lost.

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