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Dante's Inferno Canto 6: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Catherine Smith

Catherine has taught History, Literature, and Latin at the university level and holds a PhD in Education.

In Canto 6 of Dante's 'Inferno,' Dante and Virgil find themselves in the third circle of hell, where sinners are punished for gluttony. This lesson summarizes Canto 6 and looks at key quotes.

Overview of Canto 6

At the beginning of Canto 6, Dante wakes from his previous faint to find himself entering the third circle of hell. This circle is for those who are guilty of the sin of gluttony, and it is guarded by the monster Cerberus, the three-headed dog from Greco-Roman mythology. The third circle of hell has a constant stream of foul rain, and the souls that suffer there appear to wallow in this stench. One of the souls is named Ciacco, whom Dante asks about the future of Florence. Eventually, Ciacco collapses back into the foul liquid, and Dante and Virgil move on.

Description of the Third Circle

Immediately after waking, Dante is struck by the stench in his new surroundings:

''In the third circle I arrive, of show'rs

Ceaseless, accursed, heavy, and cold, unchanged

For ever, both in kind and in degree.

Large hail, discolour'd water, sleety flaw

Through the dun midnight air stream'd down amain:

Stank all the land whereon that tempest fell.''

All of this is a very poetic way of saying that everything as far as the eye could see is covered in foul-smelling, discolored filth that falls from the sky. But the setting is not the only unpleasantness there, as we shall soon see.

Cerberus

Virgil calms Cerberus.
Cerberus

Cerberus, the three-headed dog from Greco-Roman mythology, is the monster who guards this circle of hell. Dante's description of him reads:

''His eyes glare crimson, black his unctuous beard,

His belly large, and claw'd the hands with which

He tears the spirits, flays them, and their limbs

Piecemeal disparts.''

Clearly, the foul rain is not the worst problem that these souls have in the third circle. As this quote demonstrates, Cerberus is not only terrifying but tortures the spirits by biting them and tearing their limbs from their bodies.

Virgil Calms Cerberus

Even in the face of this monster, however, Virgil manages to rise to the occasion and calm him down so that he and Dante can enter this circle:

''E'en as a dog, that yelling bays for food

His keeper, when the morsel comes, lets fall

His fury, bent alone with eager haste

To swallow it; so dropp'd the loathsome cheeks

Of demon Cerberus ...''

These lines are written in the style of an epic simile, which is very much like a typical simile; it compares one type of thing to another but is longer and more detailed. We can assume that Dante includes this type of simile in part because Virgil's Aeneid has many of them, and he enjoys making literary nods to his fellow poet and guide. This simile compares Cerberus to a typical dog and Virgil to a dog's master, painting a picture of Virgil handling this monster just as calmly as a typical dog owner might settle down his pet.

On to the Spirits

Once past Cerberus, Virgil and Dante are able to take a closer look at the souls who suffer in the third circle. They appear not to have bodies anymore but to be wraiths who are trapped and suffering in the foul-smelling liquid.

Dante Meets Ciacco

One of these spirits claims to recognize Dante although Dante cannot quite make out who he is because he no longer resembles his living self. The spirit reminds Dante of his human identity:

''Ye citizens

Were wont to name me Ciacco. For the sin

Of glutt'ny, damned vice, beneath this rain,

E'en as thou see'st, I with fatigue am worn ... ''

Ciacco explains that he was damned to spend eternity in this realm because of his sin of gluttony, just like the many other spirits who surround him.

Canto 6, lines 49-52
Third Circle of Hell

Politics in Florence

Once Dante knows who he's talking to, he questions Ciacco about the future of Florence and about the fate of others they both have known. Regarding the future of Florence, Ciacco indicates that there will be a war between two powers and that one will be vicious for a time, but then the other will rise up and seize power back. Regarding the specific people who Dante asks about, Ciacco replies:

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