Dante's Inferno Canto 29: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Celeste Bright

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

Canto 29 of Dante's 'Inferno' takes place in Pouch 10 of the Malebolge, which is reserved for falsifiers. We'll summarize this canto and look at some quotes that make its plot memorable.

Setting

Have you ever thought about how scammers and certain companies on infomercials should be punished? Well, Dante Alighieri did—in his own way. Canto 29 takes place in the tenth and final pouch of the Malebolge (Evil Pouches) that make up the Eighth Circle of Hell. This circle contains souls who have committed sins of fraud, and Pouch 10 is reserved for falsifiers in particular. The main example of this in Canto 29 are the alchemists or those who falsely claim they can achieve miraculous things through a mysterious process; essentially, they are con artists.

Canto 29: Summary

Dante Is Overwhelmed by the Previous Circle of Hell

As Canto 29 opens, Dante is still badly traumatized by what he saw in Canto 28, which was the punishment of schismatics (people who cause or promote schism, or deep and harmful division, in politics or religion). These people were violently mangled in unspeakable ways, after which they would heal, only to be torn apart again. Dante begins Canto 29 by saying that witnessing this ''had made my eyes so drunk they had a passion to stay and weep.'' He tells Virgil he's particularly upset because his cousin, Geri del Bello, was among the tormented in the last circle.

However, Virgil tells Dante that they don't have time for this and that they need to keep moving since there's more of Hell to see. Further, he calls Dante out on what he perceives as insincere grief, pointing out that while they were there, Dante chose to chat with the poet Bertran de Born and barely spared a glance for his cousin. Perhaps to make Dante feel better, he adds: ''I saw [Geri del Bello] with his finger point you out and fiercely threaten you.''

Dante talking to Bertran de Born in the previous circle of Hell (illustration by Gustave Dore)
Dante sees Bertrand de Born

Dante briefly defends his cousin, saying that he did this only because his death has not yet been avenged by his family.

The Stench of Disease

The two men keep walking along the stony, treacherous ridge until they reach the next ditch. Dante says that the sounds of suffering rising out of it are so bad that ''each [was an] arrow whose shaft was barbed with pity,'' and he covers his ears.

In addition, the ditch emits a stench ''like that which usually is given off by festering limbs,'' and Dante says the only way to imagine its putrid potency is to picture ''all of the sick who endure disease's course in Val di Chiana's hospital from July all through September, and all the sufferers in Maremma and Sardinia'' lying in it together. (Valdichiana, Maremma, and Sardinia are swampy areas in the Tuscan region of Italy that were once known as major breeding grounds for malaria and other diseases).

Virgil and Dante approach the pit of falsifiers, from which rises a horrendous stench (illustration by Gustave Dore)
Virgil and Dante discover the falsifiers

The Torment of the Falsifiers

The falsifiers in this ditch ''lay languishing in scattered heaps;'' they're crawling around or even lying on top of one another ''spotted with scabs from head to foot.'' In addition to being seriously ill, the sinners are also incredibly itchy, scratching themselves so violently that they're tearing their own skin.

Virgil asks if any of them are from Italy, and two of them answer in the affirmative. He explains that he's there to give Dante a tour through Hell and tells Dante to interview them. Both are alchemists.

Virgil and Dante walk among the diseased and itching falsifiers (illustration by Gustave Dore)
Virgil and Dante among the falsifiers

Dante's Petty Dig at a Rival City

One, whose name is Griffolino D'Arezzo, told a gullible man named Albero de Siena that he knew how to fly as a prank. When Albero tried the method and failed, he reported him to the local bishop, who ordered Griffolino to be burned.

Dante, who just a few minutes ago was utterly distraught and empathetic, now indulges in a joke about cultural stereotypes, since Siena is a rival city to his native Florence. He mocks the Sienese by saying they're more ridiculous than the French. As the author of a Paris Review article about Canto 29 writes, ''Ouch! I hope health insurance in Hell covers burns.''

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