Dante's Inferno Canto 26: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Jacob Belknap

Jake has taught English in middle and high school, has a degree in Literature, and has a master's degree in teaching.

Dante's 'Inferno' is a long, narrative poem addressing the separate levels of Hell and detailing the punishments accorded to each sin. This lesson will summarize Canto 26, which focuses on the eighth pouch in the eighth circle.

Dante's Inferno Background and Recap

Adventure might not always be best for those wishing to avoid punishment. This is certainly true in Dante Alighieri's Inferno. This narrative poem tells the story of the character Dante as he travels through the nine levels of Hell. The poet Virgil guides Dante through the various layers of this land of severe punishment as he and his readers learn the consequences of sin.

Dante and Virgil have been moving through the circles of Hell, coming to more and more serious sins being punished in more severe ways. At this point in the narrative, they've reached the eighth circle of Hell, which is subdivided further into more specific sections called ''pouches.'' In Canto 26, they will enter the eighth pouch and witness the fraudulent sinners.

The Fraudulent Counselors

Dante and Virgil are still in the eighth circle of Hell. At the beginning of Canto XXVI or 26, Dante writes sarcastically about the Italian city of Florence being wonderful. He begins the Canto stating ''Rejoice, O Florence, since thou art so great, / that thou dost beat thy wings o'er sea and land, / while ev'n through Hell thy name is spread abroad! / Among the thieves five such as these I found, / thy citizens, whence shame accrues to me''. He speaks of Florence being so great that it is known everywhere on sea, land, and even in Hell. However, he then mentions that there were five thieves from that land. Interesting to note, Florence is Dante's hometown.

After saying this, the two men enter the ''eighth pouch'' of this circle, reserved for fraudulent counselors, also known as the fraudulent sinners. They travel through difficult terrain, coming to an area with large flames. There seem to be figures in the flames. Dante figures these flames contain people literally burning for their sins. Virgil explains this to Dante, confirming Dante's guess. The people here burn with every word they try to utter because in life their speech had been to tell lies.

Dante leans out dangerously far over the chasm where the flaming sinners huddle. He tries to catch a better glimpse of the individuals. Virgil points out two particular sinners.

Dante and Virgil look upon the sinners engulfed in flames in the eighth pouch of the eighth circle of Hell.

Ulysses and Diomedes

The two sinners Virgil points out are Ulysses (otherwise known as Odysseus) and Diomedes. Virgil explains their crime, saying ''in that flame of theirs they now bewail / the ambush of the horse, which made the gate, / from which the Roman's noble seed went forth; / there they lament the trick, because of which / Deidamìa, dead, still mourns Achilles; / there the Palladium's penalty is paid.'' They burn for coming up with the idea of Trojan Horse and sacking Athena's temple, known as the Palladium. The Trojan Horse was a fraudulent trick, which explains why they are in this pouch of this circle of Hell.

Dante eagerly asks to talk to the two men Ulysses and Diomedes. Virgil partial agrees when he responds with ''Thy prayer deserves / much praise and therefore I accede to it, / but see thou that thy tongue restrain itself. / Leave speech to me, who have a clear idea / of what thou wouldst; for they, since Greeks they were, / might be, perchance, disdainful of thy words.'' Virgil says he will do the talking because he is a Greek, so they will talk with him. He figures the two suffering men will still hold a grudge against Trojans and thus their descendants, the Italians.

Finally, one of the flames begins to flicker. The flickering flame is the larger part. The larger flame must be Ulysses, because he is a more famous hero than Diomedes.

Ulysses's Last Voyage

Ulysses then tells Virgil and Dante about his journey home to Ithaca. All of his journeys are told by Homer in his epic poem The Odyssey. Here, Ulysses begins with his departure, stating ''When I departed / from Circe, who concealed me near Gaeta / more than a year before Aeneas so / had named the place, nor fondness for my son, / nor pious reverence for my agèd father, / nor ev'n the bounden love which should have cheered / Penelope, could overcome within me / the eagerness I had to gain experience / both of the world, and of the vice and worth / of men...''

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