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Canto 6

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Canto 6 of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Inferno.

Inferno | Canto 6 | Summary

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Summary

Dante wakes again, this time in the third circle of Hell. He is surrounded by suffering spirits who are punished by an unending, cold, filthy rain. The rain, hail, and snow fall through the air onto the stinking ground. Cerberus, a three-headed dog-like beast, constantly barks and scratches at these poor sufferers as they try to shield themselves from the terrible downpour. Cerberus sees Dante and Virgil and bares his teeth. Virgil throws some dirt into the monster's mouth, and he becomes quiet. The poets walk across the shades who lie on the ground. One spirit sits up and asks Dante if he remembers him. When Dante does not recognize the man, he explains that he is Ciacco of Florence, who was damned for the sin of gluttony, as were all the other shades in this circle. Dante weeps again for the suffering of those around him. Then he asks Ciacco about several Florentine politicians, and Ciacco reveals that these men are in a lower circle of Hell. He asks Dante to remember his name when he goes back to the land of the living. As Dante and Virgil leave the third circle, they talk about the future. Dante asks what will happen to those in Hell when Judgment Day arrives. Virgil tells him that all things will be made perfect, including the punishments endured by those in Hell.

Analysis

As before, when the poets entered the second circle, they are challenged at the entrance to the third circle by another creature. This time it is Cerberus, a three-headed dog who, in Greek mythology, guarded the entrance to Hades. His job was to keep the living from entering and the dead from escaping. Given this job description, it seems appropriate that Cerberus would challenge Dante's entrance, as he is still alive. However, as Virgil has done before, he is able to secure safe passage for Dante.

The theme of sin and punishment continues to be developed as the gluttonous—who pursued the pleasures of food and drink to excess—are punished by an excess of cold, filthy rain. According to contrapasso, this is the opposite of the pleasure found in fine food and an abundance of drink. The fact that the Last Judgment has not taken place suggests that even this suffering is not yet as intense as it will be; when the sinners are united with their bodies and made complete, their punishment will be felt more fully.

In asking Dante to remember him and to tell others about him, Ciacco draws attention once again to the power of literature. It is through Dante's story that Ciacco is remembered, and importantly, he is remembered not just as a caricature of a glutton, but as someone with concern for his city, Florence, which he fears is being split apart by envy and ambition.

Dante's politics makes a significant appearance in this canto as he and Ciacco talk extensively about the events happening in Florence, including the division of the Guelph party into "White" and "Black" factions and the way they drove each other out of Florence. The poem was written after Dante's exile from Florence, so he can confidently allow Ciacco to prophesy about "future" events, because they are the very events that led to Dante's exile. For example, Inferno was written from about 1308 to 1314, but the events discussed occurred around 1300–1302—the very near future of the 1300 setting of the poem.

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