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Dante's Inferno Canto XXVII

Updated on August 13, 2013

Why Does Dante Take this Journey?

The figure of Beatrice was chosen by Dante because to Dante, she represented pure love. Dante, like many in his time, was in an arranged marriage. He fell in love with Beatrice, but of course did nothing about it because of his own marriage. So the premise of adultery through mental thought could be a thesis on its own. But still, he regarded her as a figure representing pure love.

The entire premise behind Dante's journey into the circles of hell is so that Beatrice could show Dante the truth of God's justice and save his soul.

Guido da Montefeltro, Dante and Virgil
Guido da Montefeltro, Dante and Virgil | Source

In Canto XXVII of The Inferno of Dante, Dante encounters Guido da Montefeltro. Guido was an Italian political leader, and later became a Franciscan Friar and advisor to Pope Boniface VIII. During Dante's travel through the rings of hell, he meets Guido in the eighth ring of Hell: the ring for falsifiers. He does not tell Dante his name, but the account of his history tells the reader that he is Guido da Montefeltro. Dante shows his loyalty to his country by showing compassion in this and in many other Cantos, for the political leaders from his home.

Guido agrees to speak with Dante because he believes that no one can return from the circles of Hell to the real world.

Dante's Circle of Hell
Dante's Circle of Hell | Source

The First Meeting with Guido

When Dante and Guido first meet in hell, Guido asks Dante about Italy:

"Sweet land above, from which I carry all

my guilt, then tell me: is it peace or war

that occupies the Romagnoles?" (XXVII 227)

This shows that, although Guido used his talent with words to profit himself in his country, he still cared for it and about what happens there, and this symbolizes the struggle that Guido still has between good and evil.

Dante responds that no current war exists but further explains:

"Along the Santerno and the Lamone lie

Cities the Lionet of the White Lair rules,

Who changes sides and shifts his loyalty

from summer to winter. “(XXVII 229)

This passage represents the struggle in Dante's mind for the loyalty he feels for his country and the unscrupulous politics of shifting sides to serve the moment.

Dante and Guido share the same struggle within themselves. This common struggle is just one of the similarities of Guido and Dante, not always to Dante's advantage and sometimes almost just as ironic as symbolic. Dante's love of his country is obvious, and this is why he places this type of behavior so low in the rings of Hell. This struggle is also obvious, within Guido and Dante. Guido was banished from the church in life, and Dante was banished from his country, another similarity between the two.

Dante was banished for different reasons, more moral reasons. His belief in White Guelph principles are the reason he was exiled.

White Guelph principle states that a 'restored Roman people and the officials they elect are the true authority and then only under God.

Flames of Hell
Flames of Hell | Source

The Symbolic Meaning Behind Guido's Punishment

Guido goes in and out of the flames in the eight circle of Hell. This shows the justice for his sins and the conflict he feels even in Hell for right and wrong. His constant going in and out of the flames are symbolic of the struggle he had with his own conscious between what was right and wrong.

He is placed lower in this circle than the common falsifiers perhaps because of the power his decisions had over so many. It is important to note that Dante did not place Guido in Hell, but Guido placed himself there by defying the laws of God, and the punishment is one of cause and effect.


Dante's Inferno: The Animated Movie - trailer

Committing a sin and repenting grants a person forgiveness and acceptation into heaven, whereas committing a sin without repentance would send a person to Hell. Guido was in the eighth circle because of the fraudulent advice he gave to the Pope. Guido falsely claimed remorse for a sin he had not yet committed when Pope Boniface VIII persuaded him to believe he would be absolved of the sin. Christian belief says that you cannot repent for a sin prior to committing it, and for this reason, Dante condemns Guido to this circle of Hell. The Pope tells Guido:

"Now understand.

your heart should not respond mistrustfully,

for I absolve you in advance, henceforth." (XXVlll 233)

Dante's Inferno Circle 8
Dante's Inferno Circle 8 | Source

The day Guido died Francis came to carry him to heaven, when the devil intervened,

"'Do not carry him off, it said,

'Do not deprive me: he must be carried down

among my servants, because he counseled fraud,

and I have hovered near his hair since then,

until this moment-for no one has absolution

without repenting; nor can one will a sin

and repent at once, because the contradiction

Precludes it." (XXVIII 233)

Pope Boniface was an unscrupulous man who misused his powers in the position he held. Boniface himself betrayed the Church and God.

In the eight ring of hell Guido was encased in flame, and compared to that of an ancient torture device:

"As the Sicilian Bull (which bellowed loud

for the first time when he who gave it shape

with his file’s art was forced to give it his voice,

Justly)... (XXVII 227)

The inference of the Sicilian Bull is interesting, as it was an ancient Greek form of punishment used for criminals. The criminal was placed in a brass bull and set on fire. Dante uses this symbolism for Guido for using fraud in repenting for his sin prior to committing it and for the fraudulent advice given. One has to wonder if this is where the expression now used of “Bull" meaning "lies" came from. The encasement in flames is symbolic for the fraudulent words that came from his mouth in life.

Dante tells Guido that he will bring his name back so that he will be remembered with pride, but Guido believes that no one would ever escape and Guido proceeds to tell him his name and reason for being in Hell. Dante's lack of forgiveness for Guido mirrors his lack of forgiveness for himself.

If love of self is part of the Divine love, this Canto makes you wonder if Dante would place himself in a ring of Hell.

The travels of Dante through the circles of Hell show his transformation as well, into a man that understands the cause and effect of sin and the justice and divine love of God.

© 2013 Rebecca Shepherd Thomas


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