REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » DANTE: Divine Comedy (The) - 1. Inferno (Unabridged)
‘Abandon all hope you who enter here’ (Lasciate ogne speranza voi ch’intrate). Dante’s Hell is one of the most remarkable visions in Western literature. An allegory for his and future ages, it is, at the same time, an account of terrifying realism. Passing under a lintel emblazoned with these frightening words, the poet is led down into the depths by Virgil and shown those doomed to suffer eternal torment for vices exhibited and sins committed on earth. Inferno is the first part of the long journey which continues through redemption to revelation—through Purgatory and Paradise—and, in this translation prepared especially for Audiobook, his images are as vivid as when the poem was first written in the early years of the fourteenth century.
The Inferno from The Divine Comedy
The Divine Comedy is an epic poem in three
parts, describing the poet’s imagined journey
through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, and
culminating in his vision of God.
To this extent it has much in common with the
epic masterpieces of Homer and Virgil whose roots
are in history and myth; but the Commedia is also
an allegory, dealing with nothing less than man’s
relationship with and place within the universe.
Dante’s universe was, of course, a medieval one in
which the sun and stars revolved around the
Earth, and while the Commedia takes account of
contemporary science in minute detail, his vision
of the way in which the regions of the afterworld
might be contained within this framework is
brilliant in its originality. Hell (the Inferno) is
conceived as a tapering funnel plunging down
into the earth beneath the northern hemisphere.
At its deepest point a passage leads out into the
southern hemisphere, where Mount Purgatory—its shape mirroring that of Hell—tapers upwards
towards Heaven. Paradise itself is conceived as a
series of ten ‘spheres’ encircling the Earth, with
God somewhere beyond the tenth, merely
glimpsed by Dante as consciousness ebbs from
This colossal construction is subdivided to
create a zone for every facet of human nature. In
Hell and Purgatory a place is allotted for every sin
and foible which exists within the world, while in
Paradise the pure and just, the saints and the Holy
Trinity are arranged in a strict hierarchy. Dante
peoples each region with figures from literature,
history and from his own contemporary society.
This allows him to comment on issues of morality not in merely abstract terms, but in relation to
actual people and events, many of them of
titillating contemporary relevance. Because of this
many of the names encountered mean nothing to
modern readers, and this is one of the reasons
why most editions of Dante incorporate many
pages of notes for each page of text (a practice
which began, incidentally, within a few years of
the poem’s first publication). The main purpose,
however, is not to point the finger or poke fun at
friends and enemies (though there is undoubtedly
an element of this, especially in the Inferno), but
to examine the reality of man’s human and
spiritual nature in all its various and complex
One of the principal characters in the Divine
Comedy (though she does not actually appear in
the Inferno) is Beatrice, whose significance in
Dante’s life needs to be understood. Dante first
met and fell in love with Beatrice Portinari when
she was eight and he nine years old. He
worshipped her from afar until her early death at
the age of twenty-four. (The full story of this
strange ‘love affair’ is told by Dante in his La Vita
Nuova.) Beatrice then came to symbolise for
Dante all that is pure and worthy. In the
Commedia it is Beatrice who sends the poet Virgil
to guide Dante through Hell and Purgatory. There
she herself assumes responsibility for his journey
of discovery, and it is she who reveals to him the
splendours of Paradise, leading him eventually to
“that love that moves the Sun and other stars”.
Dante calls the three books of the Divine
Comedy ‘canzoni’. Each contains 33 chapters or
‘cantos’, except Infernowhich has an additional introductory canto—making 100 cantos in all.
Each canto contains roughly 150 lines composed
according to a strict metrical and rhyme scheme.
The language of the poem is, importantly, not
Latin (as was customary for high art in Dante’s
day) but the language used by educated people in
14th century Florence. In addition Dante made
liberal use of archaic language and regional
dialects, all of which makes life very difficult for
the modern translator. But Dante’s purpose was to
make his work readable by the ‘ordinary’ reader—not merely clerics and academics—for despite its
lofty theme and layers of symbolism, the Divine
Comedy is intended to speak to us directly
through the power of Dante’s imagery and
This work has not only endured, but has
exerted a powerful influence on Western thought
for almost seven centuries, especially perhaps the
Inferno, whose characters and images can be
found peppered throughout literature and art
right up to the present day. Tchaikovsky’s
Francesca da Rimini and Puccini’s Gianni Schicci
are borrowed from it. Illustrations for Dante
editions inspired well-known masterpieces by
Botticelli, Blake and Doré, while the pre-Raphaelite
painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti—(his first name an
obvious choice for a father who was a Dante
scholar and reputedly able to recite the entire
Commedia from memory)—returned time and
again to Dante for inspiration, notably in the
enigmatic “Beata Beatrix”. Samuel Beckett’s plays
and novels are full of allusions to both Inferno
and Purgatory—shades walking slowly weighed
down by leaden cloaks (Inf. Canto XXIII), creatures
swimming in mud poking and whistling at one
another (Inf. Canto XXII), and indolent characters
with little inclination to struggle any further (Purg.
Listeners to this reading of the Inferno may be
struck, too, by Dante’s extraordinary vision when,
in Canto XXV, a serpent and sinner combine and
transform one another in a way which, it might be
supposed, was invented by computer ‘morphing’.
And no horror film has yet surpassed the frozen
wastes of the deepest region of Dante’s Hell,
where the tears of the damned make their eyes
freeze over, and where the mortal body of a sinner
can begin its torture even before the point of
actual death. Be warned.
Dante awakens in a gloomy wood. He tries to
leave climbing a sunlit mountain but is driven back
by three beasts (Leopard, Lion and She-wolf,
symbolising worldly pleasure, ambition, and
avarice). He meets Virgil, the poet, who offers to
Son of Anchises: This was Aeneas. In the Aeneid
Virgil retells the story of Aeneas’ flight from Troy
after its defeat by the Greeks and his foundation
of the city which would become Rome.
A soul worthier than I: Beatrice who, in
Purgatory, will take over the role of guide from
Late that evening. Dante doubts his worthiness for
the journey. Virgil comforts him explaining that he
was sent by Beatrice. Dante takes heart and they
Silvius’ father: Aeneas, who also journeyed to
the underworld (in the Aeneid) where he met his
father who prophesied his son’s role in the future
glory of Rome.
in suspense: see Canto IV
a noble Lady: the Virgin Mary, signifying
compassion. Interceding on behalf of the Pilgrim
Dante, she begins the process of his rescue by
Divine Grace, without which he would be lost.
Lucia is Illuminating Grace. Beatrice, whose name
means blessedness or salvation appears to reveal
the will of God to Virgil and Dante.
The Poets arrive at the door of Hell and pass
through to the antechamber. Within are shades who
achieved neither praise nor blame in life, rejected by
Heaven and Hell. Charon, who ferries the souls of
the damned to Hades, refuses to ferry the living soul
across the Acheron. Dante falls unconscious.
good of intellect: souls who lost sight of the
‘Supreme Truth’ or God.
great refusal: either Pontius Pilate or Celestine V
who abdicated in favour of Boniface VIII.
Dante awakens in the First Circle, or Limbo whose
inhabitants were virtuous but lived without
Christianity. He encounters Homer, Horace, Ovid,
Lucan and the great poets, heroes and
philosophers of antiquity.
A Man of Power: Christ.
they are not sinners: The virtuous souls of Limbo
are suspended between the joys of Heaven and
the pains of Hell.
The master of men of knowledge: Aristotle.
They descend to the Second Circle where the
lustful are carried aloft in a violent wind. Minos,
who judges the dead and assigns them their place
in Hell, bars their way. Dante hears Francesca da
Rimini’s tale of love and death and faints with pity.
Semiramis: the Assyrian empress, rumoured
guilty of incest with her son.
That other one: Dido, who broke her oath of
fidelity to her dead husband by falling in love with
the couple who fly together: Francesca di
Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, brother of Francesca’s
husband Gianciotto, lord of Rimini. Paolo became
her lover, until Gianciotto surprised them in
flagrante delicto and murdered them.
Caïna’s depths: one of the four divisions of
Cocytus, the lowest (ninth) circle of Hell.
Galahad: the name of Lancelot and Guinevere’s
go-between in Lancelot du Lac, the medieval
Dante awakens in the Third Circle where the
Gluttonous are tormented by freezing filthy rain
and the three-headed dog Cerberus, the
watchdog of Hell. Ciacco recognises Dante. He
makes a prophecy. Virgil describes The Final
solid human flesh: shades only appear to have
corporeal form, although they feel actual physical
your city: Florence.
Tell me, if you know: a passage referring to
events in Italy, especially Florence, after 1300, the
year of Dante’s descent through Hell. Shades in
Hell see the future and the past but know nothing
of the present. Ciacco is referring to the struggle
between factions of the Guelph party. Pope
Boniface VIII whose sail trims to any breeze
waited for an overall victor before committing his
support. Ciacco’s ‘prophecy’ is accurate, because
the events had already taken place.
Farinata: a Florentine politician. Farinata is in the
circle of Heretics (Canto X); Tegghiaio and Jacopo Rusticucci are among the Sodomites
(Canto XVI);Mosca is with the Sowers of Discord
(Canto XXVIII); Arrigo, does not re-appear.
great adversary: in Hell the enemy is Christ.
The poets meet Plutus at the entrance to the
Fourth Circle. Here the Avaricious and the
Spendthrifts roll weights against each other in
opposing semi-circles. They descend to the Fifth
Circle where the Wrathful tear at each other and
the Slothful bubble beneath the Styx.
Plutus: god of wealth in myth. The words are
Michael took his vengeance: against the
Charybdis: the whirlpool in the straits of Messina.
These tonsured ones: the avaricious are mostly
Styx: second of the five rivers of Hades. The
Acheron emerges from underground as the
Still in the Fifth Circle Dante and Virgil come to a
tall tower. They cross the Styx with Phlegyas,
encountering Filippo Argenti. They draw near the
red-hot walls of the city of Dis. Their progress to
lower Hell is obstructed.
Phlegyas:…guardian and ferryman of the Styx.
Until I was in: Dante, a mortal, has weight. Virgil,
a shade, does not.
Filippo Argenti: an enemy of Dante’s. Little else is
the city of Dis: Dis was the Roman name for
Pluto god of the underworld. Here it is applied to
Lucifer and the city whose walls mark the
boundary between upper Hell and lower Hell.
At the gate of Dis. Virgil tries to calm Dante’s fear.
The Furies appear and Virgil warns Dante not to
look at Medusa. The divine messenger arrives and
orders the demons to let the poets through. They
enter Dis and reach the Sixth Circle where they
encounter the Arch-heretics in their red-hot
three Furies: Tisiphone, Megaera and Alecto,
bringers of retribution and torment. The Queen
of endless misery is Hecate, wife of Pluto.
Let Medusa come: one of the three Gorgon
sisters whose hair was turned into snakes by
Minerva. Theseus, the Athenian hero, descended
to Hell to kidnap Hecate but was kept by Pluto in
the Chair of Forgetfulness. Hercules set him free.
Cerberus: when Hercules rescued Theseus he
dragged Cerberus up from Hell by a chain,
stripping the fur from his throat.
Still in the Sixth Circle the poets come to the
Heretics and the Epicureans. Farinata degli Uberti
explains that souls in Hell know nothing of the
present but are able to remember the past and
foresee the future.
Jehosephat: a valley near Jerusalem where the
Last Judgement will take place and souls will be
reunited with their bodies.
Farinata: di Jacopo degli Uberti, a Ghibelline (proimperial)
leader in Florence, died 1264. The
Ghibellines drove the (pro-papal) Guelph’s from
Florence on two occasions, but by 1300 the
Guelphs had returned to the city.
her whose eyes: Beatrice.
Dante and Virgil pause beside Pope Anastasius’
tomb before descending to the Seventh Circle.
Virgil explains the arrangement of punishment in
Hell. Violence in the three rounds of the Seventh
Circle; ordinary fraud in the Eighth Circle and
complex fraud in the Ninth. Having passed
through the circles punishing the (lesser) Mortal
sins of Incontinence, Lust, Gluttony, Avarice, Sloth,
and Wrath, the sins prompted by Envy and Pride
Anastasius: Pope 494–498. Held as heretic
because of his support for Photinus of
Thessalonica who denied Christ’s divine birth.
Aristotle’s Ethics: a work on politics, the Physics
his work on natural science.
Genesis: Man is to work and earn his bread by
the sweat of his brow. Usurers do not, hence
usury is sin.
The Seventh Circle, First Round: the Violent
Against their Neighbours. The Minotaur and the
Centaurs, half man, half horse, led by Chiron.
Nessus guides them across the boiling blood of
Phlegethon where the Tyrants and Murderers are
infamy of Crete: the Minotaur, part-man, partbull
born of Queen Pasiphaë who satisfied her lust
with a bull. He was killed by Theseus duke of
before he came: Christ, in the harrowing of Hell.
Chiron:…centaur celebrated for his wisdom,
tutor to the Greek heroes.
Nessus: centaur killed by Hercules after
attempting to rape his wife Deianara. As Nessus
died he gave her a robe dipped in his blood which,
he said, would preserve Hercules’ love. She
hanged herself when the robe poisoned Hercules.
God’s sanctum: In 1272, Guy de Montfort
avenged his father, killed by Edward I of England,
by murdering Edward’s cousin Prince Henry.
Henry’s heart was set up on a column on London
Bridge to be venerated.
Pyrrhus: son of Achilles. Sextus, pirate son of
Pompey the Great.
Rinier da Corneto: highwayman of Dante’s time,
as was Rinier Pazzo, who made a habit of
Seventh Circle, Second Round: the Violent against
Themselves. The Wood of Suicides. Harpies and
The Profligates, hunted by hounds.
Cecina and Corneto: the limits of the Maremma,
a Tuscan swamp.
The tree spoke: Pier delle Vigne, advisor to Emperor Frederick II. Disgraced in 1248 he was
imprisoned and committed suicide. That whore is
envy; Caesar’s household is Frederick’s court;
Augustus is the Emperor i.e., Frederick II.
two figures: Profligates who deliberately
destroyed their wordly goods. Pier delle Vigne, is
Arcolano da Squarcia of Padua. Toppo, a famous
defeat of the Sienese in 1288, at which Lano
wilfully refused to retreat, dying rather than living
in poverty. Giacomo da Sant’Andrea is reputed
to have thrown money into the river Brenta to
while away the time.
my home city: Florence, whose first protector
was Mars, changed to John the Baptist when
the citizens became Christian. In revenge Mars
punishes Florence with constant fighting, allowing
it to rebuild itself so long as fragments of his
statue remain at Arno.
Seventh Circle, Third Round: the violent against
God, Nature and Art. Blasphemers, supine on the
burning sand. The Ancient Man of Crete whose
tears form the rivers of Hell.
Capaneus: one of the Seven who besieged
Thebes was struck by Jove’s thunderbolt after
blaspheming that the gods could not defeat him.
ancient man: an allegory for the ages of man and
the decline of human nature from Golden Age to
Age of Iron. The statue in Crete, the centre of the
known world, is midway between the pagan East
(Darmatta, an Egyptian seaport) and the Christian
West, Rome. The fissure which cracks every part
except the head is the sorrow in every Age but the
first. The tears are the source of the rivers
Acheron, Styx and Phlegethon which collect at
Cocytus, the lowest point of Hell.
Lethe: river of forgetfulness.
Seventh Circle, Third Round: Sodomites (scholars
and clerics) eternally moving across the burning
sand beneath a rain of fire.
Brunetto Latini: the Florentine, Guelph
statesman–politician and writer 1212–94 wrote
Livres dou Tresor, an encyclopaedic work and
Tesoretto a didactic poem. He was in some way an
early mentor of Dante.
Fiesole: the hill town where Catiline took refuge
against Caesar. After its destruction the survivors,
with a number of Roman families, were used to
people Florence. This mix was seen as the root of
Florentine civil discord.
Priscian: a sixth-century Latin grammarian.
Francesco d’Accorso: (1225–94) a celebrated
Servant of Servants: Pope Boniface VIII, who
transferred the well-known sodomite Andrea de’
Mozzi, bishop of Florence to Vicenza.
Seventh Circle, Third Round: Sodomites (warriors
and leaders). The decadence of Florence.
Phlegethon plummets over the precipice. Dante’s
cord summons a monstrous figure.
Guido Guerra and Tegghiaio Aldobrandi:
Guelph leaders. Little is known of Jacopo
Rusticucci. My downfall was my wife suggests
he was driven to homosexuality by her.
the centre: to Cocytus, the centre of the earth
and the lowest part of Hell.
Geryon. Seventh Circle Third Round: Violent
Against Nature and Art. Usurers with their purses.
Virgil and Dante descend to the Eighth Circle.
the monster: Geryon was the mythological
Spanish giant king killed by Hercules in the course
of his Labours.
Arachne: the weaver whose work rivalled
Minerva’s. She was turned into a spider.
beaver dips its tail: the beaver was supposed to
catch fish by dangling its tail in the water.
The sovereign cavalier: held to be Gianni
Buiamonte di Becchi, a usurer who held high
office in Florence.
Phaeton: begged Apollo to let him drive the Sunchariot.
He was unable to control it and burnt the
streak of sky known as the Milky Way.
The Eighth Circle, Malebolge, with Ten Ditches
containing those who committed Fraud against
mankind in general. The First Ditch; Panders and
Seducers, scourged by demons. The Second Ditch;
Flatterers immersed in filth.
Malebolge: a word invented by Dante meaning
‘evil pouches’, where sinners are pocketed in a set
of concentric ditches.
Jubilee year: 1300, when Boniface VIII granted
absolution to those who made a pilgrimage to
Rome. Many thousands came and a traffic control
system was instituted.
Venedico Cacciamenico: a Bolognese Guelph
who procured his sister Ghisolabella for the
Marchese of Ferrara.
sipa: the word for ‘yes’ in the Bolognese dialect.
Caccianemico suggests there are more Bolognese
in the ditch than in Bologna.
other misbegotten spirits: seducers, who
defraud the innocent for their gain.
Jason: leader of the Argonauts, who captured the
golden fleece. Sailing home he stopped at Lemnos
where he seduced Hypsipyle, but abandoned her,
pregnant. The men of Lemnos were slaughtered
because they had brought home Thracian
concubines. Hypsipyle gulled the other women
by hiding her father, Thoas, the king, pretending
she had slain him. Later Jason married Medea, the
sorceress, but abandoned her too. Medea took
her revenge by killing Creusa, for whom Jason had
abandoned her and murdered her own children.
The Eighth Circle, Third Ditch: the Simonists set
head down into holes in the rock, flames
tormenting their feet.
Simon Magus: tried to buy the power of the Holy
Spirit from Peter and John. The sin of simony, the
fraudulent use of the Church and sale of its offices
for money or power, derives from his name.
Whoever you may be: Pope Nicholas III.
vile assassin: in the Florence of Dante’s time
murderers were executed by being placed upside
down in a hole which was then filled with earth.
Is that you Boniface:…the soul, able to see the
future knows Boniface VIII will take his place on
his death, in 1303. Since it is 1300 Nicholas thinks
the writings lied; Boniface is early. Boniface tricked
Celestine V into abdicating the See of St Peter and
was infamous for simony.
Fairest of Women: the Church.
great mantle: the papacy.
one of the she-bear’s sons: Nicholas III was a
degli Orsini, which means of the little bears (orsa =
bear), notorious for simony and nepotism—his
desire to advance the bear-cubs.
lawless shepherd: another corrupt pope,
Clement V, puppet of Philip, King of France.
Eighth Circle, Fourth Ditch: Soothsayers,
Astrologers, Magicians, whose heads are twisted
so that they look only backwards. Virgil explains
the origin of Mantua.
amazing deformation: these sinners who
attempted to divine the future, are forced to look
Amphiareus: another of the seven kings who
assaulted Thebes and a seer.
Tiresius: a soothsayer of Thebes.
Michael Scott: a Scottish philosopher (1175–1235). Reputedly a magician.
Cain with his thorns: the medieval Italian
equivalent of ‘the man in the moon’.
Eighth Circle, Fifth Ditch: Barrators, swindlers in
civic and public office, plunged beneath boiling
pitch guarded by demons. A new arrival from
Lucca. Dante and Virgil proceed, escorted by
Malebranche: the generic name for the demons.
Sacred Face: a crucifix at the cathedral in Lucca.
The Serchio is a nearby river—perhaps the sinner
is lying on his back in the pitch with his arms
smashed to bits: broken by the earthquake at
the death of Christ.
Eighth Circle, Fifth Ditch Barrators. The demons
fork out a Navarrese barrator from the pitch. The
Navarrese plays a trick; two demons end up in the
You Aretines: Dante was at the battle of
Campaldino 1289, when Guelphs from Florence
and Lucca defeated Ghibellines from Arezzo.
Gomita: a Sardinian friar hanged when it was
discovered he was selling prisoners freedom.
Don Michele Zanche: governor of another
Sardinian district, Logodoro. Murdered in 1275 by
his son-in-law Branca d’Oria.
Eighth Circle, Fifth Ditch: Barrators. Pursued by
demons, Dante and Virgil escape by scrambling
down the bank into the Sixth Ditch where the
Hypocrites file along beneath cloaks of lead. The
Jovial Friars of Bologna.
King Frederick’s: a punishment instituted by
Emperor Frederick II for traitors. They were given a
leaden cape, which was melted on their bodies.
Jovial Friars: the nickname of a religious Order of
Knights dedicated to the Virgin; disbanded
because of scandalous corruption.
nailed down figure: Caiaphas, High Priest of the
Pharisees urged the death of Jesus. Annas,
Caiaphas’ father-in-law, is one of the counsellors
who seeded so much evil; the destruction of
Jerusalem and the dispersal of the Jews.
A difficult passage to the Eighth Circle, Seventh
Ditch. The Thieves. The sinner bitten by a serpent
turns to ash, then resumes his shape. Vanni Fucci,
and his prophecy.
heliotrope: a stone that protected the wearer
from snake bite.
Vanni Fucci: violent bastard of Fuccio de’ Lazarri,
a leader of the Black Guelph faction in Pistoia. He
is here because of his theft of treasure from the
chapel of Saint James in Pistoia. Vanni’s ‘prophecy’ meant the Florentine White Guelphs would help
the White Pisoians score a victory over the Blacks
in May 1301. That autumn Charles of Valois
arrived in Florence, sided with the Blacks and
turfed out the Whites. Moroelo Malaspina, lord of
Lunigniana (Valdimagra), is the fiery
thunderbolt, who drove the Whites from their
last stronghold in Tuscany.
Eighth Circle, Seventh Ditch: the Thieves. The
centaur Cacus. Three Florentine thieves arrive,
then two more in the form of snakes. Bizarre
Pistoia: was supposedly founded by the remnants
of the army of Catiline, composed of criminals and
fell from Thebes rampart:…Capaneus.
Cacus: the son of Vulcan and Medusa. Dante
makes him a centaur.
deceitful robbery: Cacus stole the oxen of
Geryon belonging to Hercules.
from where unborn we feed: the navel.
Lucan be silent here: in the Pharsalia Lucan tells
of two soldiers bitten by snakes; Sabellus was
reduced to a puddle of liquid, the other Nassidius
swelled up until he died. Ovid describes Cadmus
turning into a snake and Arethusa into a fountain.
Puccio Sciancato: ‘Sciancato’, the nickname of
Puccio dei Galigai, a Florentine thief.
Gaville: a village in the Arno valley. Francesco dei
Cavalcanti was killed by the inhabitants. His family
avenged his death.
They leave the Seventh Ditch for the Eighth Ditch,
Dante, condemns Florence. The poets view the
Eighth Ditch, where those who counselled fraud
burn in the flames that enclose them. Ulysses and
Diomedes share a flame. Ulysses describes his final
avenged by bears: Elisha, mocked by some boys
who were later eaten by bears. He saw Elijah
ascend to heaven in a fiery chariot.
Eteocles and his brother: Polynices, sons of
Oedipus, so hated each other the flames on their
joint funeral pyre refused to mingle.
Ulysses: (Odysseus) the Greek hero who fought at
Troy with Diomedes and devised the stratagem of
the Wooden Horse. Deïdamia was the daughter
of king of Scyros and mother of Achilles’ child.
The Palladium was the sacred symbol of Troy and
guarantee of its safety: its theft meant the city
Leaving Circe: journeying home from Troy,
Ulysses was detained by the sorceress Circe.
Gaëta: a promontory near Naples Aeneas named
after his nurse, Caita.
narrow strait: Gibraltar, where the pillars of
Hercules marked the westernmost end of the
a mountain: the Mount of Purgatory.
Eighth Circle, Eighth Ditch: Fraudulent Counsellors.
The state of Romagna. Guido’s tale of self-deception.
As the torturer’s Sicilian bull: Perillus of Sicily
constructed a brass bull as an instrument of
torture for the tyrant Phalaris. Victims were
roasted inside the bull so fashioned that their cries
sounded as if the bull itself was bellowing. Perillus
was its first victim.
Those hills between Urbino: a region called
Montafeltro. The speaker is Guido da Montefeltro.
If I believed: Guido was known as one of the
wiliest soldiers and politicians of his time. He
fought successfully for the Ghibellines against
Papal and Guelph forces in Romagna between
1274 and 1282. Excommunicated and banished
he returned to Pisa to lead its Ghibellines, but was
reconciled with the church by 1296 and became a
Prince of Pharisees: Boniface VIII, who rather
than crusading against the traditional enemies of
the church, Saracens or Jews, chose to subdue
the Colonna family, who refused to recognise his
“He asked me for my counsel…”: The Colonna
family took refuge in their fortress of Palestrina,
near the Lateran, the papal palace in Rome.
Advised by Guido da Montefeltro, Boniface falsely
promised them a pardon. They surrendered and
The two keys: symbols of papal authority.
Eighth Circle, Ninth Ditch: the sowers of discord
perpetually circling wounded after each turn by a
demon. Mohammed and Ali. Warnings to those
Apulia’s fateful earth: to Dante ‘Apulia’
described southern Italy, scene of the following
Mohammed: founder of Islam, was traditionally
held to be a Christian schismatic. Mohammed’s
son-in-law Ali was responsible for the Sunni-
Shi’ite schism in Islam.
Fra Dolcino: lead a dissenting sect preaching
simplicity and community of property.
Pier de Medecina:…stirred up the feud between
the houses of Polenta and Malatesta. Guido and
Angiolello were drowned off the Adriatic coast,
Mosca: Moscadei Lamberti fomented Guelf-
Ghibelline strife in Florence.
Bertran de Born: twelfth-century troubadour.
Stirred up animosity between Henry II of England
and his son.
Eighth Circle, Ninth Ditch: sowers of discord.
Dante expects to see an ancestor. He and Virgil
cross the bridge into the Tenth Ditch where the
Falsifiers lie with their hideous diseases. The
Geri del Bello: kinsman of Dante and
troublemaker. Altaforte is Bertran de Born.
Maremma to Sardinia:… an area famous for
Capoccio: burned for alchemy in Siena, in 1293.
Eighth Circle, Tenth Ditch: the Falsifiers. Gianni
Schicchi and Myrrha (impersonators); Master
Adamo (counterfeiter) Potiphar’s wife and Sinon
the Greek (perjurers). The quarrel between Adamo
Semele: a Theban princess seduced by Jupiter. In
revenge Juno drove mad Semele’s brother-in-law
Athamas. He took his wife Ino for a lioness and
their children for cubs then killed them.
Hecuba: wife of Priam, taken prisoner after the
fall of the Troy, went mad when her children
Polyxena and Polydorus were killed.
Gianni Schicchi: a Florentine mimic, who cheated
the family of Buoso Donati out of a mare.
Myrrha: tricked her father into incest and gave
birth to Adonis.
Master Adamo: falsifier of money.
false wife: Potiphar’s wife.
Sinon: who pretended to swap sides in the Trojan
war so the Trojans would take in the Wooden Horse.
Dante and Virgil descend to the Ninth Circle, the
well at the bottom of the abyss. Around it the
Giants are visible from the waist up. Dante sees
Nimrod and Ephialtes. Antaeus lowers them to the
frozen Lake of Cocytus, fourth river of Hell.
Achilles: Achilles and his father Peleus possessed
a lance that could heal the wounds it inflicted.
Roland’s horn: From the medieval epic Le
Chanson de Roland, the blast on Roland’s horn
was heard eight miles away.
Raphèl maì: nonsense language spoken by
Nimrod, builder of the Tower of Babel.
Ephialtes: he and his brother Oti attempted to
invade Heaven by placing Mount Pelion on Mount
Briareus: a monster with fifty heads and a
hundred arms who attacked Mount Olympus.
Anteus: another Titan, unchained since he did
not take their part against the gods. He lived in
Libya on a diet of lions, in the valley where Scipio
Ninth Circle, First Ring: Caïna, named after Cain,
who killed his brother Abel. Traitors to their kin
immersed in ice up to the neck. The Second Ring:
Antenora, named after the Trojan traitor. Betrayers
of their country. Dante encounters two traitors,
one gnawing at the other’s head.
those ladies: the muses.
Bizensio: The two are the Alberti brothers who
killed each other over an inheritance in the Bizensio
Arthur: struck his treacherous nephew Mordred a
blow that pierced his body so sunlight shone
through the hole onto his shadow.
Focaccia: a Pistoian who murdered his cousin
Sassol Mascheroni: murdered his nephew to gain
Camiscon de’ Pazzi: murdered a kinsman Carlino,
a relative, betrayed his party, the White Guelphs
surrendering a castle for money; his fate will be
Bocca degli Abati: betrayed his party at Montaperti
by cutting off the Guelph standard-bearer’s hands,
throwing his troops into confusion.
da Duera: a Ghibelline who sold Parma to the
Beccharia: Pope Alexander IV’s legate decapitated
for plotting against the Guelphs.
Gianni de’ Solanieri: betrayed the Ghibellines
during a Guelph uprising.
Ganelon: betrayed Charlemagne and the rearguard
in the Chanson de Roland,
Tebaldello: opened the gates of Faenza to enemy
Tydeus:…one of the Seven against Thebes.
Mortally wounded by Menalippus, who he managed
to kill before dying, Tydeus gnawed on his skull.
Ninth Circle, Second Ring. Ugolino’s tale of his
death. Virgil and Dante proceed to the Third Ring,
named ‘Tolomea’ after Ptolomy, the captain of
Jericho, who killed his guests as they ate with him.
The traitors to hospitality, eyes sealed by frozen
tears. Some alive on earth but already in Hell.
Count Ugolino: a Ghibelline of Pisa, betrayed
Pisan strongholds to Florence and Lucca in 1284.
Later, plotting with Archbishop Ruggieri and the
Gualandi, Sismondi and Lanfranchi families
against his kinsmen the Visconti, he was betrayed by Ruggieri who imprisoned him in the Tower of
Hunger to starve.
Friar Alberigo: a Jovial Friar who murdered his
enemies at a banquet to which he had invited
them, the signal for the act being an order for the
Atropos: one of the three Fates.
Ser Branca: aided by his unnamed kinsman,
murdered his father-in-law Michel Zanche, a
The final division of Hell. Ninth Circle, Fourth Ring;
Judecca, named after Judas Iscariot. Traitors to
their benefactors totally immersed in ice. Lucifer
rending Judas, Brutus and Cassius. Descent of the
poets down Lucifer’s body, to the southern
hemisphere. The stars.
Judas Iscariot: who betrayed Christ; Brutus and
Cassius conspired to kill Caesar.
grasped the shaggy flank: Dante and Virgil
climb feet first down Lucifer’s leg. But since
Lucifer’s navel is the world’s centre of gravity, once
past it they must turn round to clamber up
towards Lucifer’s feet. Gravity is acting now in
the side covered by dry land: the northern
hemisphere. The southern hemisphere contains no
dry land except the Mount of Purgatory.
Notes by Benedict Flynn
The music on this recording is taken from the NAXOS catalogue
Chominciamento di gioia
Gregorian Chant for Good Friday
Nova Schola Gregoriana/Turco
Cantigas de Santa Maria
Music programming by Roger Marsh
Last Albums Viewed
DANTE: Divine Comedy (The) - 1. Inferno (Unabridg...