The Artworks

34 musi­cal instru­men­ts, 33 vio­lins and 1 cel­lo, on which Leonardo him­self made the emble­ma­tic illu­stra­tions
inspi­red by the fir­st can­ti­ca of the Divine Comedy : Inferno

«Midway upon the jour­ney of our life
I found myself within a fore­st dark,
For the straight­for­ward path­way had been lost.»

INFERNO Canto I, 1–3

When he is about 35 years old, Dante loses his way and finds him­self in a dark and frighte­ning fore­st. In this sini­ster pla­ce, the great poet sees a hill lit by the fir­st light of dawn and tries to climb it. Suddenly three beasts, a moun­tain leo­pard, a lion and a she-wolf block his pas­sa­ge. At this moment, he mee­ts the soul of Virgil, who will show him a new path. The poet explains to Dante that the jour­ney will lead them throu­gh Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.

Dante doub­ts he will be able to under­ta­ke such a dif­fi­cult and myste­rious jour­ney. Virgil reas­su­res him by explai­ning that Beatrice entru­sted him with the task of being his gui­de, at the behe­st of the Virgin Mary and Saint Lucy. Dante, once having liste­ned to Virgil’s words, beco­mes more con­fi­dent and begins the jour­ney towards the entran­ce of hell along with his gui­de. The great poet prays to the seven Inspiring Muses (dei­ties of the Greek mytho­lo­gy), asking them to help him descri­be what he will see on his way.

«O Muses, O high genius, now assi­st me!
O memo­ry, that did­st wri­te down what I saw,
Here thy nobi­li­ty shall be mani­fe­st!»
INFERNO, Canto II 7–9

Dante and Virgil have arri­ved at the gate of hell.

«All hope aban­don, ye who enter in!»


Dante, after rea­ding the inscrip­tion car­ved abo­ve the entran­ce to the under­world, needs to be reas­su­red again by his gui­de who, taking him by the hand, encou­ra­ges him to go throu­gh the entrance.

As soon as they cross the entran­ce, the two poe­ts find them­sel­ves in the vesti­bu­le of hell, a pla­ce cha­rac­te­ri­zed by despe­ra­te screams and lamentations.

In this area the Uncommitted, sin­ners who in life were not able to deci­de, express their own opi­nion or belie­ve in their own ideas, but only accept the will of others, are puni­shed. They are for­ced to pur­sue a whi­te flag, as their life has been in vain.

«Let us not speak of them, but look, and pass.»

INFERNO, Canto III, 51

Dante and Virgil, upon rea­ching the bank of the Acheron river, meet Charon, who urges the poe­ts to pull back. Virgil explains to the infer­nal fer­ry­man that they have under­ta­ken their jour­ney by divi­ne will and asks to be brought to the oppo­si­te sho­re. Dante, over­whel­med by three natu­ral phe­no­me­na, an ear­th­qua­ke, a strong wind and light­ning, pas­ses out.

«And as a man whom sleep hath sei­zed I fell.»

INFERNO, Canto III, 136

Dante, awa­ke­ned by a loud thun­der, finds him­self in Limbo. The fourth can­to descri­bes the fir­st Circle of Hell, reser­ved to unbap­ti­zed chil­dren and to men and women of valour who did not know God in life. Dante makes his way throu­gh the den­se array of souls of the unbap­ti­zed until he rea­ches a lumi­nous area, in which he mee­ts Homer, Horace, Ovid and Lucan.

«So that the sixth was I, ’mid so much wit.»

INFERNO Canto IV, 102

After going throu­gh a moat and seven gates, the poe­ts get insi­de the castle of the « great spi­ri­ts » whe­re Dante, exci­ted, sees the souls of Julius Caesar, Aeneas, Aristotle and other spirits.

At the entran­ce to the 2nd Circle is Minos, the infer­nal jud­ge. The dam­ned souls con­fess their sins to him. Minos then choo­ses their punish­ment, rol­ling up his long tail as many times as the cir­cles that they will have to tra­vel to be punished.

In the second cir­cle the souls of the Lustful are puni­shed. Those who did not know how to con­trol their car­nal impul­ses; live in a dark pla­ce whe­re they are pushed from one side of the Circle to the other by a con­stant storm:

«And as the cra­nes go chan­ting forth their lays,
Making in air a long line of them­sel­ves,
So saw I coming, utte­ring lamen­ta­tions,
Shadows bor­ne onward by the afo­re­said stress.»

INFERNO, Canto V, 46–49

Dante and Virgilio stop to talk with Paolo and Francesca.

In the third cir­cle, under an eter­nal, dam­ned and cold rain, the souls of the Gluttonous are punished.

The hel­lish mon­ster Cerberus, a three-hea­ded dog, cuts and scrat­ches with its cla­ws the spi­ri­ts of the glut­to­nous who are stuck in the mud.

«Red eyes he has, and unc­tuous beard and black,
And bel­ly lar­ge, and armed with cla­ws his hands;
He rends the spi­ri­ts, flays, and quar­ters them.»

INFERNO, Canto VI 16–18

After appea­sing the anger of Cerberus, the two tra­ve­lers mana­ge to approach and talk to the dam­ned Ciacco.

In the fourth cir­cle, the Hoarders and the Wasters are puni­shed. The can­to begins with the threa­ts of Pluto, the infer­nal guar­dian of the cir­cle, who blocks Dante’s passage.

«Pape Satàn, pape Satàn aleppe!»

INFERNO, Canto VII 1–2

Virgil reminds Pluto of the vic­to­ry of the Archangel Michael again­st Lucifer. At this moment, the guar­dian falls to the ground mor­ti­fied and the two poe­ts mana­ge to con­ti­nue their journey.

Dante and Virgil are the­re­fo­re able to descend fur­ther into the circle.

A hel­lish sce­na­rio opens up to their sight: the­re are two cro­wds of dam­ned souls, the Hoarders and the Wasters, con­dem­ned to push huge boul­ders with their chests, in two oppo­si­te direc­tions. When they cross each other, they insult and remind each other of the sins for which they are punished.

«“Why kee­pe­st?” and, “Why squan­de­re­st thou?”»

INFERNO, Canto VII, 30

Talking of greed and waste, the two poe­ts talk about Fortune and enter the 5th Circle. Here the­re is a small sour­ce of boi­ling and dark water, which, down­stream, forms a swamp whe­re the Wrathful and the Sullen are immer­sed. Walking along the Stygian swamp, the poe­ts arri­ve at the foot of a tower.

The two poe­ts find them­sel­ves on the sho­res of the Stygian swamp, whe­re Dante cat­ches sight of stran­ge signals bet­ween the tower and ano­ther for­tress. The second infer­nal fer­ry­man, Phlegyas, arri­ves and takes Dante and Virgil to the oppo­si­te sho­re. While cros­sing the swamp of the Styx River, one of the dam­ned souls clings to the boat with his hands: it is Filippo Argenti, a Florentine con­tem­po­ra­ry of the great poet; Virgil pushes him back into the water whe­re he is imme­dia­te­ly attac­ked by the other damned.

Dante and Virgil arri­ve at the entran­ce to the city of Dis, whe­re the­re are hun­dreds of devils who threa­ten the two poe­ts and block their access by clo­sing the doors. The can­to ends with Virgil’s announ­ce­ment of the arri­val of a Celestial Messenger who is alrea­dy on his way throu­gh the cir­cles of hell.

«O’er it did­st thou behold the dead inscrip­tion;
And now this side of it descends the steep,
Passing across the cir­cles without escort,
One by who­se means the city shall be opened.»

INFERNO, Canto VIII, 127–130

While Dante and Virgil are over­whel­med by fears and doub­ts, they are threa­te­ned by the three Furies that appear abo­ve the door of the city of Dis. The furies, Megaera, Alecto and Tisiphone, try to sum­mon Medusa to petri­fy Dante.

«“Medusa come, so we to sto­ne will chan­ge him!”»

INFERNO, Canto IX 52

With the for­ce of a hur­ri­ca­ne, the Celestial Messenger comes to the rescue of Dante and Virgil by cros­sing the Stygian swamp: with the aid of a sim­ple twig, he opens the gates of the city and dri­ves out all the demons.

The two poe­ts enter Dis, beyond who­se walls the­re is a ceme­te­ry of bur­ning tombs. Inside tho­se, Heretics and their fol­lo­wers are punished.

The two poe­ts find them­sel­ves insi­de the city when a soul, from a tomb on fire, calls out Dante’s name. It is Farinata degli Uberti, who has a poli­ti­cal con­fron­ta­tion with the Tuscan poet.

«“O Tuscan, thou who throu­gh the city of fire
Goest ali­ve, thus spea­king mode­stly,
Be plea­sed to stay thy foo­tsteps in this place.»

INFERNO, Canto X 22–24

Another dam­ned, Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti, inter­ve­nes during the deba­te bet­ween Dante and Farinata. Farinata, after pre­dic­ting Dante’s exi­le, explains that he lies in the bur­ning ceme­te­ry with many other souls, inclu­ding tho­se of Frederick II of Swabia and of Cardinal Ottaviano degli Ubaldini.

The poe­ts lea­ve the bur­ning tombs behind them, hea­ding towards the cen­ter of the cir­cle. Once they reach its edge, they look out to the next one, the seventh.

Dante and Virgil have rea­ched the edge of the 6th Circle whe­re they are for­ced, due to the stench coming from the infer­nal abyss, to stop and find shel­ter behind a tomb. On it, Dante reads the name of Pope Anastasius.

«“Pope Anastasius I hold,
Whom out of the right way Photinus drew.”»

INFERNO, Canto XI 8–9

At the foot of the papal tomb­sto­ne, Virgil explains to Dante the moral topo­gra­phy of Hell and its struc­tu­re: how sin­ners are sor­ted into various cir­cles, from the Limbo to the bot­tom of the abyss cal­led Judecca.

After Virgil’s expla­na­tion, the two poe­ts descend from the 6th to the 7th cir­cle, which is split into three rings, in which the Violent are puni­shed. In a steep and roc­ky pla­ce, the two poe­ts meet the Minotaur, guar­dian of the 7th cir­cle. Virgil cha­ses him away remin­ding him of the defeat inflic­ted on him by Theseus and Ariadne.

«The Minotaur beheld I do the like;
And he, the wary, cried: “Run to the pas­sa­ge;
While he wroth, ’tis well thou should­st descend.”»

INFERNO, Canto XII, 25–27

The vio­lent are immer­sed in a river of boi­ling blood, the Phlegethon. The cen­taurs, armed with bows and arro­ws, moni­tor the banks of the river and stri­ke the dam­ned eve­ry time they try to re-emer­ge. The cen­taur Nessus agrees to accom­pa­ny the poe­ts to the other side of the Phlegethon, whe­re they see the souls of Alexander the Great, Attila, Pyrrus, Ezzelino III da Romano among­st other vio­lent. The cen­taur lea­ves the two poe­ts at the entran­ce of the second ring.

«Then back he tur­ned, and pas­sed again the ford.»

INFERNO, Canto XII 139

The 13th Canto descri­bes the second ring of the 7th cir­cle. Dante and Virgil, having left the river Phlegethon, find them­sel­ves in the « fore­st of sui­ci­des »: this fore­st is den­se and dark, inha­bi­ted by the Harpies and the souls of Suicide Victims. Dante, after brea­king a branch, rea­li­zes that the souls of the dam­ned are impri­so­ned within the trees and bushes.

«Then stret­ched I forth my hand a lit­tle for­ward,
And pluc­ked a bran­chlet off from a great thorn;
And the trunk cried, “Why dost thou man­gle me?”»

INFERNO, Canto XIII 31–33

The voi­ce of Pier del­la Vigna is heard from the bro­ken branch, so he tells the poe­ts of his sad sto­ry and his pain. Minos thro­ws the souls of the dam­ned, in the form of seeds, into the ground, whe­re they grow as trees and bushes. The Harpies feed on their lea­ves, cau­sing excru­cia­ting pain to the dam­ned impri­so­ned in them.

«And two behold! upon our left-hand side,
Naked and scrat­ched, fleeing so furiou­sly,
That of the fore­st, eve­ry fan they broke.»

INFERNO, Canto XIII 115–117

Suddenly, two squan­de­rers appear run­ning, naked and woun­ded, fleeing from two black hounds. The fir­st one, Lano da Siena, mana­ges to save him­self, whi­le the second one, Iacopo da Sant’Andrea, is caught and torn to pie­ces by the hounds at the foot of a shrub.

The poe­ts, after having left the fore­st of sui­ci­des, enter the third ring of the seventh cir­cle. A vast, san­dy and fie­ry bur­ning desert opens up befo­re them. Here the souls of the Blasphemers are puni­shed, sor­ted into three dif­fe­rent groups: the Violent again­st God, the Usurers and the Sodomites.

«Who is that mighty one who seems to heed not
The fire, and lieth lowe­ring and disdain­ful,
So that the rain seems not to ripen him?”»

INFERNO, Canto XIV 46–48

In the san­dy stretch, they wit­ness a lar­ge figu­re that is indif­fe­rent to the fie­ry rain: it is the soul of Capaneus.

Virgilio invi­tes Dante to fol­low him by going around the fore­st of the sui­ci­des, up to the point whe­re a small stream flo­ws: the Phlegethon.

Virgil then explains to Dante the ori­gins of the infer­nal rivers and tells him about the « Veglio di Creta », a gigan­tic sta­tue loca­ted near Mount Rea (Island of Crete).

«A grand old man stands in the mount erect,
Who holds his shoul­ders tur­ned tow’rds Damietta,
And looks at Rome as if it were his mirror.»

INFERNO, Canto XIV 103–105

The sta­tue is made up of dif­fe­rent mate­rials: gold (head), sil­ver (che­st and arms), cop­per (bel­ly), iron (legs and left foot) and ter­ra­cot­ta (right foot) and has cracks all over the body except in the gol­den part. Tears pour from the cracks in the sta­tue, which once uni­ted form the four Infernal rivers: the Acheron, the Styx, the Phlegethon and the Cocytus.

The two poe­ts are still wal­king along the bank of the Phlegethon river when, from a wan­de­ring group of dam­ned souls, one approa­ches them. The dam­ned, with his face bur­ned by the fie­ry rain, grabs a hem of Dante’s dress and pro­fes­ses his ama­ze­ment at seeing the great poet.

«And bowing down my face unto his own,
I made reply, “Are you here, Ser Brunetto?”»

INFERNO, Canto XV 29–30

After the pro­phe­cy of Dante’s exi­le by Brunetto Latini, the dam­ned con­ti­nues his jour­ney with the two poe­ts, recal­ling other sin­ners inclu­ding Prisciano, Francesco d’Accorso and Andrea de “Mozzi. In this can­to, thanks to the descrip­tion made by Brunetto Latini of the other fel­low sin­ners, Dante men­tions the city of Vicenza whi­le allu­ding to the Bacchiglione river:

«That one, who by the Servant of the Servants
From Arno was trans­fer­red to Bacchiglione,
Where he has left his sin-exci­ted nerves.»

INFERNO, Canto XV 111–114

Immediately after­wards, noti­cing the approach of ano­ther group of dam­ned souls, the soul of Brunetto Latini lea­ves the two poe­ts, run­ning along the bur­ning sand.

«Then he tur­ned round, and see­med to be of tho­se
Who at Verona run for the Green Mantle
Across the plain; and see­med to be among them
The one who wins, and not the one who loses.»

INFERNO, Canto XV 121–124

The 16th can­to begins with the descrip­tion of the sound of the water of the Phlegethon, which fal­ling into the cir­cle below cau­ses a dea­fe­ning roar. Three souls appear from the fie­ry sand: Jacopo Rusticucci, Guido Guerra and Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, all of them Florentines. They move in cir­cles and talk about the rea­sons behind Florence’s corruption.

«Not an Amen could pos­si­bly be said
So rapid­ly as they had disap­pea­red;
Wherefore the Master dee­med best to depart.»

INFERNO Canto, XVI 88–90

The two poe­ts arri­ve near the edge of the 7 cir­cle, whe­re the noi­se of the Phlegethon falls is now unbea­ra­ble. Virgil requests from Dante the rope around his wai­st and he thro­ws it into the dark and noi­sy cha­sm,
pre­dic­ting the arri­val of a character.

«But here I can­not; and, Reader, by the notes
Of this my Comedy to thee I swear,
So may they not be void of lasting favour,
Athwart that den­se and dark­so­me atmo­sphe­re
I saw a figu­re swim­ming upward come,
Marvellous unto eve­ry stea­d­fa­st heart,»

INFERNO, Canto XVI, 127–132

«“Behold the mon­ster with the poin­ted tail,
Who clea­ves the hills, and brea­keth walls and wea­pons,
Behold him who infec­teth all the world.”»


The 17th can­to begins with the appea­ran­ce of the myste­rious figu­re men­tio­ned by Virgil at the end of the pre­vious can­to: Geryon, a mytho­lo­gi­cal mon­ster, sym­bol of fraud and kee­per of the Malebolge (evil ditches).

Dante, approa­ching the fiend, glimp­ses in the bur­ning sand some souls cry­ing and waving their hands to pro­tect them­sel­ves from the fla­mes. They are the tor­men­ted souls of the Usurers. Each of them car­ries a bag around their neck, each depic­ting an ani­mal: a lion, a goo­se and a sow, which respec­ti­ve­ly sym­bo­li­ze the fami­lies of the Gianfigliazzi, the Ubriachi and the Scrovegni (Reginaldo degli Scrovegni). When Dante returns from his encoun­ter with the Usurers, he finds Virgil alrea­dy sea­ted on Geryon’s back. The gui­de reas­su­res Dante and invi­tes him to ride on the mon­ster in order to descend toge­ther towards the bot­tom of the chasm.

«And said: “Now, Geryon, bestir thy­self;
The cir­cles lar­ge, and the descent be lit­tle;
Think of the novel bur­den which thou hast.”»

INFERNO, Canto XVII 97–99

«Even thus did Geryon pla­ce us on the bot­tom,
Close to the bases of the rou­gh-hewn rock,
And being disen­cum­be­red of our per­sons,
He sped away as arrow from the string.»

INFERNO, Canto XVII 132–136

«There is a pla­ce in Hell cal­led Malebolge,
Wholly of sto­ne and of an iron colour,
As is the cir­cle that around it turns.»


Dante descri­bes the sce­na­rio that appears to his eyes during the descent on the back of Geryon, explai­ning the struc­tu­re of the 8th cir­cle, cal­led Malebolge. Inside it the­re are ten dit­ches (Bolge), con­cen­tric in sha­pe, con­nec­ted to each other by brid­ges. In the cen­ter of the cir­cle the­re is a huge pit which acts as a pas­sa­ge to the cir­cle below. In the­se dit­ches the Fraudulent are puni­shed, souls who in life decei­ved others.

«Down at the bot­tom were the sin­ners naked;
This side the midd­le came they facing us,
Beyond it, with us, but with grea­ter steps;
Even as the Romans, for the mighty host,
The year of Jubilee, upon the bridge,»

INFERNO, Canto XVIII 25–29

The two poe­ts reach the limi­ts of the fir­st Bolgia, whe­re the souls of Panderers and Seducers can be found. The souls of the sin­ners are split into two ranks that walk in oppo­si­te direc­tions whip­ped by devils. Dante com­pa­res them to the groups of pil­grims who wan­der the stree­ts of Rome during the Jubilee (1300).

«“Thou art Venedico Caccianimico;”»


After mee­ting Venedico Caccianemico and seeing the soul of Jason, the two poe­ts head to the second Bolgia, whe­re the souls of the Flatterers beat them­sel­ves with their own hands and are immer­sed in dung. Among the­se, Dante reco­gni­zes Alessio Interminelli and Taide, tire­less sedu­cer and flatterer.

«Thais the har­lot is it, who replied
Unto her para­mour, when he said, ‘Have I
Great gra­ti­tu­de from thee?’—‘Nay, mar­vel­lous;’
And herewith let our sight be satisfied.”»

INFERNO, Canto XVIII 133–136

Dante descri­bes the bot­tom of the third Bolgia, full of con­cen­tric holes, simi­lar to tho­se pre­sent in the Baptistery of Saint John in Florence, and from whe­re the legs of the dam­ned come out whi­le tor­men­ted by flames.

«I saw upon the sides and on the bot­tom
The livid sto­ne with per­fo­ra­tions fil­led,
All of one size, and eve­ry one was round.
To me less ample see­med they not, nor grea­ter
Than tho­se that in my beau­ti­ful Saint John
Are fashio­ned for the pla­ce of the baptisers»

INFERNO, Canto XIX 13–17

These are the Simoniacs, souls who in life tra­ded in sacred things, espe­cial­ly in the sale of eccle­sia­sti­cal offi­ces. Dante noti­ces a dam­ned who is sha­king more than the others, Pope Nicholas III, who pre­dic­ts the arri­val, in his own hole, of Pope Boniface VIII and Pope Clement V.

«The Evangelist you Pastors had in mind,
When she who sit­teth upon many waters
To for­ni­ca­te with kings by him was seen;
The same who with the seven heads was born,
And power and strength from the ten horns recei­ved,
So long as vir­tue to her spou­se was pleasing.»

INFERNO, Canto XIX 106–111

The great poet, outra­ged by the Simoniac popes, hurls a vio­lent invec­ti­ve again­st cor­rupt popes and again­st the Church, which is com­pa­red to a hor­ri­ble bea­st with seven heads and ten horns.

«Of a new pain beho­ves me to make ver­ses
And give mate­rial to the twen­tieth can­to
Of the fir­st song, which is of the sub­mer­ged.
I was alrea­dy tho­rou­ghly dispo­sed
To peer down into the unco­ve­red depth,
Which bathed itself with tears of agony;»

INFERNO, Canto XX 1–6

The two poe­ts have rea­ched the fourth Bolgia. Dante wit­nes­ses a grue­so­me show. In fact, he obser­ves the defor­med souls of the Fortune Tellers and Diviners with their faces tur­ned backwards.

«As lower down my sight descen­ded on them,
Wondrously each one see­med to be distor­ted
From chin to the begin­ning of the chest;»

INFERNO, Canto, XX 10–12

These souls, who in life loo­ked and pre­dic­ted the futu­re, are now for­ced to walk bac­k­wards with their eyes tur­ned to the past. In the Bolgia the­re are the souls of Amphiaraus, Tiresias, Aruns, Eurypylus, Michele Scotto, Guido Bonatti, Asdente and Manto.

«Was Manto, who made que­st throu­gh many lands,
Afterwards tar­ried the­re whe­re I was born;
Whereof I would thou list to me a little.»

INFERNO, Canto XX 55–57

Virgil explains to Dante the ori­gins of his home­to­wn, Mantua, descri­bing in detail the geo­gra­phy of nor­thern Italy in the 13th cen­tu­ry, citing lakes, rivers, cities and valleys.

«Thus spa­ke he to me, and we wal­ked the while.»

INFERNO, Canto XX 130

«Of a new pain beho­ves me to make ver­ses
And give mate­rial to the twen­tieth can­to
Of the fir­st song, which is of the sub­mer­ged.
I was alrea­dy tho­rou­ghly dispo­sed
To peer down into the unco­ve­red depth,
Which bathed itself with tears of agony;»

INFERNO, Canto XX 1–6

The two poe­ts have rea­ched the fourth Bolgia. Dante wit­nes­ses a grue­so­me show. In fact, he obser­ves the defor­med souls of the Fortune Tellers and Diviners with their faces tur­ned backwards.

«As lower down my sight descen­ded on them,
Wondrously each one see­med to be distor­ted
From chin to the begin­ning of the chest;»

INFERNO, Canto, XX 10–12

These souls, who in life loo­ked and pre­dic­ted the futu­re, are now for­ced to walk bac­k­wards with their eyes tur­ned to the past. In the Bolgia the­re are the souls of Amphiaraus, Tiresias, Aruns, Eurypylus, Michele Scotto, Guido Bonatti, Asdente and Manto.

«Was Manto, who made que­st throu­gh many lands,
Afterwards tar­ried the­re whe­re I was born;
Whereof I would thou list to me a little.»

INFERNO, Canto XX 55–57

Virgil explains to Dante the ori­gins of his home­to­wn, Mantua, descri­bing in detail the geo­gra­phy of nor­thern Italy in the 13th cen­tu­ry, citing lakes, rivers, cities and valleys.

«Thus spa­ke he to me, and we wal­ked the while.»

INFERNO, Canto XX 130

Dante com­men­ts on Barbariccia’s rude gestu­re and descri­bes other sounds nor­mal­ly used by knights to start mar­ching, such as trum­pe­ts, drums, bells, and fires, thus making the 22nd Canto the most « musi­cal » of the enti­re Divine Comedy.

«Sometimes with trum­pe­ts and some­ti­mes with bells,
With ket­tle-drums, and signals of the castles,
And with our own, and with outlan­dish things,»


The sce­na­rio of the 22nd Canto is clo­se­ly lin­ked to the pre­vious one. Dante and Virgil are still wal­king on the banks of the 5th Blogia and they obser­ve the souls of the dam­ned dip­ped in the tar. They see the bar­ter Ciampolo from Navarre who, emer­ging from the boi­ling liquid, is tor­tu­red by demons. At this moment, the dam­ned men­tions and offers two other Italian bar­te­rers, Brother Gomita and Michele Zanche, in exchan­ge for his free­dom. Ciampolo him­self decei­ves the devils, mana­ging to plun­ge again into the boi­ling tar: becau­se of the decep­tion, a scuf­fle ari­ses bet­ween the demons, lea­ding Calcabrina and Alichino to fall into the river of boi­ling tar. Dante and Virgil take advan­ta­ge of the situa­tion to get away.

«And in this man­ner busied did we lea­ve them.»


The two poe­ts esca­pe from the demons” hunt by descen­ding into the next Bolgia, the 6th one. Here the souls of the Hypocrites are puni­shed, tho­se who in life volun­ta­ri­ly pre­ten­ded to have ideals, fee­lings and emo­tions that in actua­li­ty they did not pos­sess. In this Bolgia the souls are for­ced to wear hea­vy cloaks made of lead and cove­red with gold, making their jour­ney slow and painful.

«A pain­ted peo­ple the­re below we found,
Who went about with foo­tsteps very slow,
Weeping and in their sem­blan­ce tired and vanquished.»

INFERNO, Canto XXIII 58–60

Two dam­ned souls, Catalano of Malavolti and Loderingo of Andalò, explain to the tra­ve­lers the natu­re of their punish­ment, but they stop at the sight of ano­ther dam­ned, Caiaphas. The prie­st is cru­ci­fied on the ground and is con­dem­ned to be stam­ped on by the slow pro­ces­sion of the hypo­cri­tes. In equal fashion, his father-in-law Annas and other Pharisees are also condemned.

«“O Friars,” began I, “your ini­qui­tous…”
But said no more; for to mine eyes the­re rushed
One cru­ci­fied with three sta­kes on the ground.»

INFERNO, Canto XXIII 109–111

The great poet, with the help of Virgil, mana­ges to climb the land­sli­de of the 6th Bolgia and looks out to the next one. The 7th hell hole is inva­ded by coun­tless sna­kes and other rep­ti­les. Here the Thieves are puni­shed. The dam­ned run into the Bolgia naked and with their hands tied by sna­kes. Dante and Virgil, once descen­ded into the Bolgia, see a dam­ned soul is bit­ten in the neck by a sna­ke, con­se­quen­tly cat­ches fire, and then turns into ashes.

«As he took fire, and bur­ned; and ashes whol­ly
Behoved it that in fal­ling he beca­me.
And when he on the ground was thus destroyed,
The ashes drew toge­ther, and of them­sel­ves
Into him­self they instan­tly returned.»

INFERNO, Canto XXIV 01–105

The ashes turn back into the sha­pe of the dam­ned soul after a few momen­ts and Dante reco­gni­zes him as the Pistoian thief Vanni Fucci. Dante, in order to descri­be this meta­mor­pho­sis, com­pa­res it to the phoe­nix that is reborn from its own ashes. With this punish­ment, the souls of thie­ves are not only attac­ked by sna­kes, but also rob­bed of their bodi­ly form.

The 25th Canto begins with Vanni Fucci making a bla­sphe­mous gestu­re towards God, but the sna­kes imme­dia­te­ly attack him. While the dam­ned ven­tu­res into the “Bolgia”, Dante sees that he is being cha­sed by the cen­taur Cacus, angry, cove­red with sna­kes and with a dra­gon on his shoul­ders. Virgil explains that Hercules kil­led the Centaur Cacus becau­se he sto­le four oxen and four hei­fers belon­ging to his herd.

«While he was spea­king thus, he had pas­sed by,
And spi­ri­ts three had under­neath us come,
Of which nor I aware was, nor my Leader,»

INFERNO, Canto XXV 34–36

The gui­de’s speech is inter­rup­ted by the arri­val of three Florentine thie­ves. One of the dam­ned is tran­sfor­med into a crea­tu­re who is nei­ther man nor bea­st. The second Florentine, Buso Donati, is bit­ten by a sna­ke (which is actual­ly Francesco dei Cavalcanti, kno­wn as Guercio) in the navel. The bite gene­ra­tes a dou­ble meta­mor­pho­sis: that of the man into a rep­ti­le and that of the rep­ti­le into a man. The third Florentine thief does not go throu­gh any meta­mor­pho­sis and Dante reco­gni­zes him as Puccio Sciancato.

«Rejoice, O Florence, sin­ce thou art so great,
That over sea and land thou bea­te­st thy wings,
And throu­ghout Hell thy name is spread abroad!»


The 26th Canto begins with Dante’s invec­ti­ve again­st the city of Florence: after mee­ting no less than five Florentine thie­ves, the great poet explains that the name of the city is well kno­wn, even in Hell.

Once arri­ved at the 8th Bolgia, cove­red by hun­dreds of fla­mes, Virgil tells Dante that eve­ry ton­gue of fire con­tains a sin­ner and that the Evil Counselors are puni­shed here. Dante is intri­gued by a dou­ble poin­ted fla­me. Virgil explains that two dam­ned souls are puni­shed in the same fire: Ulysses and Diomedes. The highe­st fla­me is the one in which Ulysses is loca­ted, which tells the sto­ry of his last jour­ney, giving us a uni­que ima­ge of the kno­w­led­ge of the world and geo­gra­phy at the time of Dante.

Driven by the desi­re for kno­w­led­ge, the dam­ned Ulysses descri­bes the depar­tu­re from the island of Ithaca, the tra­vel throu­gh the Mediterranean Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar, to sail into the unknown.

«Both of the sho­res I saw as far as Spain,
Far as Morocco, and the isle of Sardes,
And the others which that sea bathes round about.
I and my com­pa­ny were old and slow
When at that nar­row pas­sa­ge we arri­ved
Where Hercules his land­marks set as signals»

INFERNO, Canto, XXVI 103–108

Ulysses” navi­ga­tion ends in the sou­thern hemi­sphe­re, at the sight of the Purgatory moun­tain, whe­re a sud­den storm over­turns and sinks his ship.

«Until the sea abo­ve us clo­sed again.»

INFERNO, Canto XXVI, 142

The two poe­ts are still lea­ning on the bank of the 8th Bolgia. When the dou­ble-hea­ded fla­me of Ulysses and Diomedes moves away, ano­ther one imme­dia­te­ly approa­ches. It con­tains the soul of Guido da Montefeltro, a mili­ta­ry man and later in life a friar, inte­re­sted in lear­ning about the fate of his home­land, Romagna. In the fol­lo­wing ver­ses Dante descri­bes to the sin­ner the poli­ti­cal situa­tions of Ravenna, Forlì, Rimini, Faenza, Imola and Cesena.

The spi­rit from Romagna descri­bes to Dante that, in the last years of his life, Pope Boniface VIII indu­ced him to sin and that, upon his death, St. Francis and a devil bat­tled for his soul. The for­ces of evil that car­ried the soul down into the infer­nal abyss won.

The two poe­ts con­ti­nue their jour­ney to the next brid­ge of the circle.

«Onward we pas­sed, both I and my Conductor,
Up o’er the crag abo­ve ano­ther arch,»

INFERNO, Canto XXVII, 132–133

Dante descri­bes the infer­nal sce­na­rio that pre­sen­ts itself to his eyes from the top of the brid­ge of the 9th Bolgia. In this ditch the souls of the Sowers of Discord are puni­shed. Because they crea­ted, whi­le in life, inter­nal con­flic­ts and schi­sms in the poli­ti­cal, reli­gious and social fields, they are now doo­med to be torn apart by a devil armed with a sword.

«A devil is behind here, who doth clea­ve us
Thus cruel­ly, unto the falchion’s edge
Putting again each one of all this ream,»

INFERNO, Canto XXVIII, 37–39

Dante reco­gni­zes Mohammed, Ali, Pier da Medicina, Curione and Mosca dei Lamberti among the tor­tu­red. The can­to ends with the mee­ting of Bertran de Born, who approa­ches them hol­ding his head in his hand like a lantern.

«And by the hair it held the head dis­se­ve­red,
Hung from the hand in fashion of a lantern,»

INFERNO, Canto XXVIII, 121–122

Before lea­ving the 9th Bolgia, Virgilio explains that, whi­le Dante was tal­king with Bertran de Born, other dam­ned were poin­ting to the soul of Geri del Bello, a rela­ti­ve of the great poet.

The two poe­ts, cros­sing the brid­ge, hear loud moans and a foul stench of rot­ten flesh coming from the pit below, the 10th and last Bolgia. Metal fal­si­fiers (Alchemists) are puni­shed in the ditch.
The bodies of the dam­ned sit next to each other and are cove­red with scabs and sca­bies, con­dem­ned to an eter­nal itch.

Among the dam­ned the­re are two alche­mists, Griffolino d’Arezzo and Capocchio, both bur­ned at the sta­ke by the Sienese.

«I saw two sit­ting lea­ned again­st each other,
As leans in hea­ting plat­ter again­st plat­ter,
From head to foot bespot­ted o’er with scabs.»

INFERNO, Canto XXIX, 73–75

The mee­ting with Griffolino d’Arezzo and Capocchio is inter­rup­ted by two other fal­si­fiers who run naked throu­gh the Bolgia, biting the other dam­ned. Capocchio is bit­ten in the neck, whi­le Griffolino explains to Dante that the two dam­ned are Gianni Schicchi and Myrrha, daughter of the king of Cyprus, both con­vic­ted for fal­si­fy­ing their identity.

Dante, in the same Bolgia, noti­ces Master Adam, com­pa­red to a lute due to his phy­si­cal defor­ma­tion, con­dem­ned for having for­ged coins.

«And I to him: “Who are the two poor wret­ches
That smo­ke like unto a wet hand in win­ter,
Lying the­re clo­se upon thy right-hand confines?”»

INFERNO, Canto XXX, 91–93

Master Adam intro­du­ces by his side two other tor­men­ted bodies: Potiphar’s wife and Sinon, con­dem­ned to suf­fer from high fevers. In par­ti­cu­lar, the­se dam­ned souls are accu­sed of for­ge­ry of speech.

Dante and Virgil lea­ve the last Bolgia behind them and approach the cen­ter of the 8th Circle, whe­re the­re is a lar­ge well that divi­des the Malebolge from the fro­zen lake Cocytus. The poe­ts, approa­ching the well, noti­ce that the great sha­do­ws sur­roun­ding the cir­cle are not tall towers, but Giants.

«“Raphael mai amech iza­bi almi,”»


The giant Nimrod speaks incom­pre­hen­si­ble words. Virgil invi­tes him to vent his anger using the horn he wears around his neck. To the left of Nimrod the giant Ephialtes is seen, chai­ned and even tal­ler than the one next to him.

Having rea­ched Antaeus, Virgil asks the third giant, with a flat­te­ring speech, to help him descend into the 9th Circle.
The giant agrees and pla­ces the two poe­ts on the Cocytus icy stretch

«But lightly in the abyss, which swal­lo­ws up
Judas with Lucifer, he put us down;»

INFERNO, Canto XXXI, 142–143

Placed by the Giant Antaeus at the base of the well, the two poe­ts see an immen­se icy stretch that hou­ses the souls of trai­tors insi­de of it. The 9th Circle is divi­ded into four areas: Caina, Antenora, Ptolomaea and Judecca. In the­se areas, respec­ti­ve­ly, the souls of tho­se who betrayed their paren­ts, their home­land, their guests and their bene­fac­tors are punished.

«When we were down within the dark­so­me well,
Beneath the giant’s feet, but lower far,
And I was scan­ning still the lof­ty wall,
I heard it said to me: “Look how thou step­pe­st!
Take heed thou do not tram­ple with thy feet
The heads of the tired, mise­ra­ble brothers!”»

INFERNO, Canto XXXII 16–21

Walking throu­gh the Caina, the poe­ts noti­ce the bowed heads of the dam­ned, immer­sed in the ice up to their necks.

A dam­ned soul, Camicion de Pazzi, tells Dante that two dam­ned souls, fro­zen toge­ther and so clo­se that their hair gets tan­gled, are the Mangona coun­ts, puni­shed for kil­ling each other.
Then Camicion de Pazzi men­tions other fel­low pri­so­ners inclu­ding: Mordrec, Vanni de “Cancellieri and Sassolo Mascheroni.

After pas­sing the fir­st area, the two poe­ts con­ti­nue their jour­ney in the Antenora. Dante acci­den­tal­ly hits the dam­ned Bocca degli Abati in the face, which is puni­shed for having deter­mi­ned the defeat of Florence in the bat­tle of Montaperti.

«Weeping he gro­w­led: “Why dost thou tram­ple me?
Unless thou come­st to increa­se the ven­gean­ce
of Montaperti, why dost thou mole­st me?”»

INFERNO, Canto XXXII 79–81

The soul of Buoso da Duera reveals the names of other dam­ned souls to Dante, inclu­ding: Tesauro dei Beccheria, Gianni dei Soldanieri, Tebaldello Zambrasi and Gano di Maganza.

«“O thou, who sho­we­st by such bestial sign
Thy hatred again­st him whom thou art eating.»

INFERNO, Canto XXXII 133–134

The can­to ends at the ter­ri­fy­ing sight of a dam­ned who bites with his teeth a fel­low damned.

The dam­ned, que­stio­ned by Dante, explains that he is the soul of Count Ugolino and that the sin­ner he is tor­men­ting is the Archbishop of Pisa Ruggeri. Ugolino’s hun­gry soul adds that the Archbishop orde­red him and his chil­dren to be impri­so­ned in a tower in Pisa, for­cing them to starve.

«That, by effect of his mali­cious thoughts,
Trusting in him I was made pri­so­ner,
And after put to death, I need not say;»


The two poe­ts approach Ptolomea, the third area of the Cocytus. Here a dam­ned soul begs Dante to help him. It is the soul of Friar Alberigo who, toge­ther with Branca Doria, ser­ves his sen­ten­ce for having betrayed his guests.

Dante and Virgil have rea­ched the lowe­st area of the Infernal cha­sm. Crossing the Ptolomea they reach Cocytus’ last area, the Judecca. The poe­ts noti­ce that the souls of the dam­ned are enti­re­ly cove­red in ice. These souls are puni­shed for betray­ing their bene­fac­tors. The Infernal Emperor, Lucifer, is at the cen­ter of the lake and by moving his lar­ge wings gene­ra­tes the cold winds that free­ze Cocytus’ waters. The rebel­lious angel is impri­so­ned by the ice up to his hips, has three pairs of wings, a head with three faces and with his three mou­ths he chews and tor­tu­res three souls.

«O, what a mar­vel it appea­red to me,
When I beheld three faces on his head!»

INFERNO, Canto XXXIV 37–38

Virgil explains to Dante that the three trai­tors are: Judas, Brutus and Cassius; the fir­st one is bit­ten in the head, whi­le the other two are hung by the legs.

The Hell can­ti­ca ends with the two poe­ts” ascent towards the moun­tain of Purgatory. The two must descend throu­gh a crack by clin­ging to Lucifer’s body, then, once arri­ved at the cen­ter of the earth, they need to climb in the oppo­si­te direc­tion, towards the exit of the underworld.

«We moun­ted up, he fir­st and I the second,
Till I beheld throu­gh a round aper­tu­re
Some of the beau­teous things that Heaven doth bear;
Thence we came forth to rebe­hold the stars.»

CANTO, XXXIII, 136–139