Dante's Inferno Canto 25: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Celeste Bright

Celeste has taught college English for four years and holds a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature.

Canto 25 of Dante's 'Inferno' picks up where Canto 24 left off, describing Dante's adventures in Pouch 7 of the Eighth Circle of Hell. We'll summarize this canto and look at some quotes that describe its plot.

Setting: The Eighth Circle of Hell

Cantos 18-30 in Dante's Inferno discuss the Eighth Circle of Hell, the Malebolge (Evil Pouches). Each pouch, or ditch, contains souls who have committed sins of fraud of some kind. In Canto 23, we find out that the Malebolge is a 'circular band divided in ten concentric valleys' that is 'constructed wholly of iron-colored stones.' Each valley, or 'pouch,' can be crossed using a bridge. Cantos 24 and 25 describe Pouch Seven, which is dedicated to thieves.

Canto Twenty-Five: Summary

Let's take a look at how Canto 25 continues right from Canto 24.

Vanni Fucci, the Unrepentant Thief

Canto 24 ends with the introduction of Vanni Fucci, a thief who stole valuable holy objects from a cathedral in Pistoia. He's now condemned to wade through a ditch swarming with vipers, dying and being reanimated with each lethal bite. Humiliated that Dante has found him in this condition, he's attempted to get back at him by making a dire prophecy about Dante's political group, the White Guelphs, and how they'll be wiped out of Dante's native city of Florence.

He's apparently not satisfied with this, however, and Canto 25 begins with Fucci literally flipping God off, or 'making the fig' (13th-century Italian style) with both hands. 'Take these: I aim them squarely up at you!' However, he's quickly punished by a serpent, who wraps itself around his arms so he can't do it again. Dante remarks: 'In all the circles of Hell / I saw no spirit so arrogant to God,' adding that '[t]he serpents were my friends from that time forth.'

Cacus, the Angry Centaur

Fucci flees the scene, and a furious centaur charges forward looking for him, asking, 'Where is he? Where is the bitter one?' This centaur has 'more snakes than lodge / In Maremma's swamp' on his back (Maremma is a region in Tuscany, Italy). He also has a dragon riding on his shoulders, and '[i]f any blocked the path, it burned them up.'

Virgil identifies the centaur as Cacus. He explains that the other centaurs in the Inferno watch over the river of blood in the Seventh Circle, which is for violent sinners. However, Cacus belongs in the Eighth Circle (for thieves) because he attempted to steal cattle from Hercules, a hero and demi-god from Greek mythology. Hercules killed him for this.

Centaur Cacus Threatens Vanni Fucci (illustration by William Blake)
Centaur Cacus Threatens Vanni Fucci

Mutant Thieves

Cacus takes off, and Virgil and Dante next stumble upon three new people. Dante signals to Virgil to be on guard. One of them asks where they've left their companion Cianfa, who has gone missing. As Virgil and Dante watch, a large snake with six feet attacks one of the three strangers, using the feet to grip his stomach, arms, and thighs, while its fangs attach to his cheeks. Next, Dante writes that 'as if made / Out of hot wax,' their two forms merge completely and mutate into a new creature with 'members [body parts] that were never seen before.' The other two exclaim: 'Ah me, now look / At how you change, Agnello!'

Agnello Changing into a Serpent (illustration by Gustave Dore)
Agnello merging with snake

Agnello Brunelleschi Attacked By a 6-Footed Serpent (Engraving by William Blake)
Blake drawing of Agnello

Another serpent appears, bites one of the other two men in the navel, and drops down again. Smoke pours out of the man's wound and out of the snake's mouth, and the two sources of smoke meet. Man and snake each mutate to exchange, rather than merge, forms, this time while remaining physically separated. Dante describes this hideous process in detail as their respective body parts grow, shrink, stretch, or disappear entirely.

The man who is now a snake hisses and slithers away. The snake who is now a man tells the third (non-mutated) person: 'I'll have Buoso trot / On all fours down this road, as I have done!'

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