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Free Study Guide-The Divine Comedy-The Inferno by Dante Alighieri-Notes
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CANTO SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

CANTO XVI

Summary

As the two poets move along the third round of the circle of Violence they begin to hear the sound of a waterfall. The stream forms a waterfall at the outer edge of the circle where it then falls into the seventh circle.

There shades recognizing Dante to a Florentine join the two poets. The sight of their burnt body causes Dante to grieve for them. Virgil asks Dante to wait for them. His words make it clear that these are shades meriting the pilgrim's respect. The two poets stop and the three shades circle around like a wheel near them, all the while looking at Dante. One of them asks Dante who he is and how he can, being still alive, walk safely through Hell. He identifies one of the trios as Guido Guerra, grandson of Gualdrada. He was both a wise statesman and a great warrior. The other he reveals to be Tegghiaio Aldobrandi. And he reveals himself to be Jacopo Rusticucci, driven to Sodomy by his uncooperative wife.

Dante would have embraced these great Florentines but the fear of being burnt stops him. Dante express his respect for them and grief at their state. And explains that he is bound on a journey through Hell before he reaches Heaven (as promised by Virgil). Rusticucci asks him about the present condition of Florence. He says that they have heard disquieting news about Florence from Guglielmo Borsiere who has recently joined them in Hell. Dante tells them that Florence's decline is due to a new breed of people. Before leaving they tell Dante to refresh the memories of those on Earth about them. Dante promises to do so and the three souls run away quickly.


As they move on the sound of the waterfall becomes deafening. Dante compares it to Acquacheta river that rises from Monte Veso on the Apennine Mountains. And how later on its course it falls down as a loud waterfall near San Benedetto. In the same way the stream in this round plunges down the rocky precipice. Virgil takes the cord fastened around Dante's waist and flings it down the precipice. Virgil reading the pilgrim's mind affirms that this was a signal and soon it will be answered. And an incredible sight appears before them: a monstrous figure comes swimming towards them from the depths below where the cord was flung.

Notes

In this Canto Dante encounters a trio of noble warriors all punished here for sodomy. As Virgil points out all the three men richly deserve Dante's respect. Guido Guerra (1220 -70) led the Guelfs in many battles and his nickname "Guerra" means "War". He was wise and told Florentine Guelfs not to attack Siena in 1260. They didn't heed his wise counsel and this battle destroyed the power of Gruelfs in Florence. He was the grandson of "good Grualdrada". She was the daughter of Bellincione Berti of Florence and was married to Guido Guerra IV.

The second of the trio, Tegghiaio Aldobrandi was a leader of the Guelfs in Florence. He was also against the Guelf attack of Siena in 1260. He was the spokesman for the Guelf soldiers headed by Guido Guerra. But his words were ignored and the Guelf power in Florence was crushed. This explains why Dante says "the word would have done well to listen to" his words.

Jacopo Rusticucci is the spokesman of this trio of warrior - sodomites. He was a rich merchant and a reputed warrior. His wife was a displeasing, argumentative woman and he sends her to her parent house. He blames his sodomy to his wife's obnoxious nature.

The nature of their great accomplishments arouse Dante's respect and grief for their state. Grief isn't the same as pity and Dante is aware of the greatness of their loyalty to Florence, which merits his respect for them and his grief for their suffering. They ask for them and his grief for their suffering. They ask Dante about the state of their beloved Florence. They are worried because, a newcomer to their group, Guglielmo Borsiere, has told them that Florence is deteriorating. He was a knight of the court, and a peacemaker. He probably died around 1300 A.D. Dante affirms this and attributes the blame to "A new breed of people with their sudden wealth." He is referring to the rural population that joined the old Florentine gentry. Before leaving they ask Dante to refresh the memory of others on Earth about them. This way they may go on living on earth.

As they move on the sound of the waterfall is deafening. Dante compares this to the fall of the Montone River near the San Benedetto dell Alpe monastery. In Dante's time the river was called Acquacheta till Frdi and from then on it was called Montone. Today the entire river is called Montone. One of Conti Guidi, who ruled this region planned to build houses for his vassals near this waterfall. But he died before he could execute this plan. This plan is what Dante is referring to in his line, where at least a thousand vessels could be housed.

When they reach the rocky precipice Virgil takes the cord fastened around Dante's waist and throws it down the precipice. It was using this very and that Dante had planned in Canto I to share one of the beasts, the leopard. The mention of the leopard suggest that the next division of hell is ruled but this least. It is the third and last division of hell dealing with the sin of fraud and symbolized by the leopard.

The cord has symbolic value as well. Mark Musa believes that it shows Dante's foolish self-confidence. Since Dante believed he could catch the leopard by using it. But Virgil in his role as reason helps Dante release this misplaced confidence. Thus reading him to face Fraud by relying totally on Reason. For only reason can render fraud powerless. The cord serves as a signal and Geryon a personification of fraud comes up towards the poet. For it is Geryon, the monster that Dante sees rising to meet them.

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