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Canto 9

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Canto 9 of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Inferno.

Inferno | Canto 9 | Summary

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Summary

Dante becomes afraid, seeing that Virgil was not able to command the fallen angels the way he had commanded the other creatures of Hell who tried to block their way. Virgil waits anxiously for the arrival of some unnamed helper. As they wait, Dante asks whether any of the virtuous unbaptized have ever gone this deep into Hell. Virgil replies that he has been to the lowest level of Hell one time before.

Three Furies appear, and call upon the Gorgon Medusa to appear and turn Dante to stone. Virgil quickly instructs Dante to close his eyes, and places his hands over Dante's eyes. Suddenly, the sound of a strong wind comes, and Virgil tells Dante to look at the figure who comes toward them, walking over the river Styx as if on dry land. This Heavenly messenger chastises those who presume to block Dante's way, and the poets are able to enter the city. Here, in the sixth circle of Hell, heretics are held captive in fiery tombs. Virgil explains that some tombs are hotter than others, according to the severity of their sin.

Analysis

Lower Hell, the city of Dis, is guarded by a variety of mythological creatures. In Greek and Roman mythology, the Furies (named Erinyes in Greek mythology) were three winged goddesses whose bodies and hair were twisted around with snakes. They were goddesses of vengeance. Their job was to punish crimes, especially crimes such as murder, perjury, betrayal of trust and family, and crimes against the gods. Like many of the mythological figures in Inferno, Virgil also included them in the Aeneid. Dante's choice to include them as guardians of lower Hell—where violence, fraud, and treachery are punished—makes logical sense. Medusa the Gorgon is also a creature from Greek myth. Her hair was made of snakes, and looking at her face would turn a living being to stone. For this reason, Virgil covers Dante's eyes.

A contrast is drawn between the two kinds of beings who occupy Hell: the damned, who are tormented and afraid, although sometimes antagonistic or angry; and the demons and monsters who torment them. While the damned are portrayed as complex people who have virtues as well as flaws, the demons are simply malicious, with no feelings other than the desire to cause harm. It is disturbing that the divine justice of Hell is carried out not by conscientious punishers but by cruel and evil beings.

This canto shows a low point in the relationship between Virgil and Dante. Dante is afraid, and Virgil is unable to reassure him because he is unable to gain them entrance to the city of Dis. In fact, Virgil seems apprehensive, which makes Dante worry all the more, claiming "his speech made me afraid,/because I drew out from his broken phrase/a meaning worse—perhaps—than he intended." Dante's anxiety is evident as he hesitantly inquires of Virgil if he's ever been to lower Hell before.

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