Dante Alighieri

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Inferno: Canto 18 Summary & Analysis

Virgil and Dante are now in the eighth circle of hell, reserved for those who committed fraud. The region is also known as Malebolge ("evil trenches") because it is made up of ten huge, circular stone trenches surrounding a well at the center, almost like defensive trenches surrounding a military stronghold. Dante follows Virgil onward, as he sees numerous suffering souls filling the first, outermost trench.
The eighth circle is the most specifically organized of any Dante has seen so far, with ten separate trenches where different kinds of sinners receive intricately appropriate punishments. The eighth and ninth circles of hell are reserved for the worst sinners—those guilty of various forms of malice, or fraud.
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At the bottom of the trench, naked souls run from one end of the ditch to the other. At each end, devils are posted at the top of the wall, looking down into the trench. They whip the souls, driving them back and forth. Dante recognizes one of these suffering souls and wonders who he is. Virgil allows him to stop and look more closely at the person. The soul tries to hide his face but Dante recognizes him as Venedico Caccianemico and asks how he has ended up here.
Venedico tries to hide his face because, unlike other souls who ask for Dante to remember them, he does not want his particular sin to be remembered. These sinners were basically human traffickers, selling women and moving them from place to place. Now they themselves are driven from place to place by the demons.
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Venedico says that he would rather not answer, but that Dante's clear words compel him to. He admits that he sold his sister to a lustful nobleman. He says that he is far from the only man from Bologna in this part of hell, which is full of them. A devil whips Venedico, forcing him to continue his running back and forth, so Dante returns to Virgil. The two poets climb up a ridge that bridges across the trench. As they walk, Virgil points out among the deceivers the soul of Jason, a famous hero of Greek mythology. Virgil explains that Jason is being punished for deceiving two women who loved him: Hypsipyle and Medea.
Dante's speech has a persuasive power similar to Virgil's, as he compels Venedico to tell his story. Dante also used Venedico to take a broad swipe at Bologna.Dante includes the Greek hero of Jason in his version of hell, rewriting the mythological hero into a deceiver of women.
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Dante and Virgil now come to the edge of the second trench. Dante can hardly see to the trench's bottom, where souls are plunged in a lake of foul dung. He looks closely at one in particular, who angrily asks Dante why he stares at him out of all the suffering souls here. Dante recognizes him as Alessio Interminei and Alessio admits that he has been relegated to this trench because he was a flatterer. Before moving on, Virgil points out one more sinner: a courtesan named Thais who compared sex with her lovers to a miracle. Now she scratches at herself with her own filthy nails. Virgil says that they have seen enough here, and the two poets resume their journey.
Here, flatterers and deceptive speakers are mired in the very filth their speech consisted of. Their abuse of language is in stark contrast to Virgil and Dante's noble, powerful eloquence. At the same time, Dante's willingness to describe the flatterers in their excrement shows his ability and comfort in moving from the high to the low in his poetry—describing the hero Jason in the scene before and how describing in detail the flatterers covered in shit.
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