Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English


Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University


Other Florentine sinners, somewhat charred from the flame-flakes, converse with Dante about their native Florence as the roar of a waterfall grows louder. At a rocky precipice, Virgil takes a cord that had been tied around Dante’s waist and throws it down the abyss. It is uncertain what this cord symbolizes. A monstrous creature flies up towards the two.


The approaching monster Geryon has a man’s face but a scorpion’s tail and thus represents fraud, the next big division of hell. As Virgil makes arrangements for a descent, Dante briefly observes another batch of sinners.

Circle Seven.3c — The Violent against Art — Usurers

Crouching on the burning desert and tormented by the shower of fire flakes are usurers, those who charged interest on loans. Such an unnatural increase in prosperity means that this batch has to stare at purses, hung around their necks. The purses have coats-of-arms on them, but the usurers’ faces are indistinguishable.

On Geryon’s back, Dante thinks of doomed flights, such as those of Phaethon and Icarus.


The eighth circle is called the Malebolge — the evil pockets — “cut out of stone the color of iron ore” (XVIII.2). Dante gets a bird’s-eye view of these ravines and the connecting bridges between them. Each bolgia is like a concentric moat.

Circle Eight: Bolgia One — Panderers and Seducers

Two streams of naked sinners are driven in opposite directions by horned demons with whips. Dante recognizes one of the pimps who tries to lower his face so as not to be seen, because sinners in these lower regions seek obscurity instead of renown. Apparently the place is teeming with Bolognese. One demon whips at this guy, saying, “Move on, / you pimp, you can’t cash in on women here!” (XVIII.65-66). (So devils are sanctimonious? And what a dumb comment! Duh!) Jason, of Jason and the Argonauts fame, is among the seducers, for his cheesiness against Hypsipyle and Medea.

Circle Eight: Bolgia Two — Flatterers

These sinners (if flattery can be considered such a vile sin) wallow in a bolgia whose “banks were coated / with a slimy mold that stuck to them like glue” (XVIII.106-107) and the stench is horrendous. Here the souls are “plunged into excrement / that might well have been flushed from our latrines” (113-114). Dante chides one recognized Italian acquaintance.


Circle Eight: Bolgia Three — Simonists

After starting the canto with a dramatic apostrophe against Simon Magus, the magician who tried to buy his way into the company of the Apostles (Acts 8.9-24), Dante mentions that he smashed a baptismal font some years back in order to save someone from drowning. This may have brought a charge of sacrilege, but Dante wants to contrast this with simony, a real sacrilege in that it involves fraud in terms of selling or possessing an ecclesiastical office. These sinners are shoved upside-down into baptismal tubes and their soles are burning, so they tend to kick their feet. The burning feet seems to be a travesty of extreme unction, the last holy sacrament. Pope Nicholas III mistakes Dante for the next Pope, Boniface VIII, who will follow Nicholas into the tube, thus cramming him further down. Then Clement V, who negotiated for the papacy by accepting six conditions from King Philip the Fair of France, will follow, jamming both previous popes further down. Dante is indignant and berates Nicholas, which Virgil afterwards commends. Virgil cheerfully brings Dante to the verge of the next bolgia.


Circle Eight: Bolgia Four — Soothsayers

The fortune-tellers trudge along in a procession with their heads twisted backwards so they never see what is ahead of them. Dante is moved:

just ask yourself
how I could keep my eyes dry when, close by,
I saw the image of our human form
so twisted–the tears their eyes were shedding
streamed down to wet their buttocks at the cleft.

Tiresias is among these sinners, and Virgil points out others. We get a lengthy bit about the founding of Mantua by Manto, another sinner here. Virgil is able to calculate the time, even in hell, and insists it is time to press onwards.

Cantos XXI-XV