Canto XXVII: Summary:
“As the Sicilian bull―that brazen spit which bellowed first and properly enough with the lament of him whose file had turned it―was made to bellow by its victim’s cries in such a way, that though it was of brass, it seemed itself to howl and agonized: so lacking any way through or around the fire that sealed them in the mournful words were changed into its language. When they found their way up to the tip, imparting to it the same vibration given them in their passage over the tongue of the conceal sad spirit.”
The “Sicilian bull” in the sixth century B.C., was a metal bull to be used as an instrument of torture. The Sicilian bull was constructed by Perillus of Athens for Phalaris. When victims were placed inside the bull and roasted to death, their screams passed through certain tuned pipes and emerged as a burlesque bellowing of the bull. Phalaris accepted delivery of the bull, and showed his gratitude by appointing the inventor the bull’s first victim, Perillus. Later Phalaris was overthrown, and he took his turn inside the bull.
Circle Eight, Bolgia Eight is where the Evil Counselor, Count Guido da Montefeltro is found inside the bull. He heard Virgil speak Italian and the entire flame in which his soul is wrapped quivers with his eagerness to hear recent news of his wartorn country. Dante replies with a stately and tragic summary of how things stand in the cities. When Dante finishes, he asks Guido for his story, and Guido recounts his life, and how Boniface VIII persuaded him to sin.
Dante observes, “Count Guido da Montefeltro story told, the flame began to toss and writhe its horn. And so it left, and Virgil and Dante crossed over to the arch of the next fosse where from the iron treasury of the Lord the fee of wrath is paid the Sowers of Discord.”
Canto XXVII: Analysis:
“When [the Flame] finished speaking, the great flame stood tall and shook no more. Now, as [the Flame] left us with the sweet Poet’s license, another came along that track and out attention turned to the new flame: a strange and muffled roar rose from the single tip to which it burned” (1-6).
The phrase “Sweet Poet’s license” is referring to Virgil as a magician and sorcerer (3). The legend of Virgil was widespread throughout the Middle Ages. This legend was based on Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue which prophesized the birth of Christ and of the Christian Era. However, the idea of Virgil as a magician is less important to Virgil being divinely given this power from Beatrice. The divine power granted to Virgil is in accord with the fundamental medieval theme that reason is the handmaiden of faith. Virgil’s power is God’s will. Only with God’s will can reason exert its power over evil.
The introduction of “Another came along that track” is Count Guido da Montefeltro, from 1223 to 1298 (3-4). Guido da Montefeltro was the head of the Ghibellines of Romagna. Guido da Montefeltro was reputed to be the wisest and cunningest man in Italy.
“As the Sicilian bull―that brazen spit which bellowed first (and properly enough with the lament of him whose file had turned it―was made to bellow by its victim’s cries in such a way, that though it was of brass, it seemed itself to howl and agonized: so lacking any way through or around the fire that sealed them in the mournful words were changed into its language. When they found their way up to the tip, imparting to it the same vibration given them in their passage over the tongue of the conceal sad spirit” (7-18).
The “Sicilian bull” in the sixth century B.C., was a metal bull to be used as an instrument of torture (7). The Sicilian bull was constructed by Perillus of Athens for Phalaris. When victims were placed inside the bull and roasted to death, their screams passed through certain tuned pipes and emerged as a burlesque bellowing of the bull. Phalaris accepted delivery of the bull, and showed his gratitude by appointing the inventor the bull’s first victim, Perillus. Later Phalaris was overthrown, and he took his turn inside the bull.
The Evil Counselor, Count Guido da Montefeltro, inside the bull to Dante asks, “O you at whom I aim my voice, and who was speaking Lombard saying: ‘Go now, I ask no more,’ just as I came―though I may come a bit late to my turn, may it not annoy you to pause and speak a while: you see it does not annoy me―and I burn. If you have fallen only recently to this blind world from that sweet Italy where I acquired my guilt, I pray you, tell me: is there peace or war in Romagna? For on earth I too was of those hills between Urbino and the fold from which the Tiber springs to birth” (19-30).
The phrase “Urbino and the fold from which the Tiber springs to birth” refers to the Romagna district that runs south from the Po along the east side of the Apennines (29-30). Urbino is due east of Florence and roughtly south of Rimini. Between Urbino and Florence are the Coronaro Mountains, which contain the headwaters of the Tiber.
Dante to Count Guido da Montefeltro responds, “O hidden soul, your sad Romagna is not and never was without war in her tyrants’ ragin blood; but none flared openly when I left just now. Ravenna’s fortunes stand as they have stood these many years: Polenta’s eagles brood over her walls, and their pinions cover Cervia. The city that so valiantly withstood the French, and raised a mountain of their dead, feels the Green Claws again. Still in Verrucchio the Aged Mastiff and his Pup, who shed Montagna’s blood, raven in their old ranges. The cities of Lamone and Santerno are led by the white den’s Lion, he who changes his politics with the compass. And as the city the Savio washes lies between plain and mountain, so it lives between freedom and tyranny. Now, I beg you, let us know your name; do not be harder than one has been to you; so, too, you will preserve your earthly fame” (35-54).
In 1300, “Ravenna” was ruled by Guido Vecchio da Polenta (39). Guido Vecchio da Polenta was the father of Francesca da Rimini. Francesca’s arms bore an eagle and his domain included the small city of Cervia, approximately twelve miles south of Ravenna.
“The city” is Forli (42). The “Green Claws” are Sinibaldo degli Ordelaffi, whose arms were a green lion (44). In 1282, Guido da Montefeltro defended Florli from the French. However, in 1300, Forli was under the despotic rule of Sinibaldo degli Ordelaffi.
“Verruchio” was the castle of Malatesta and his son Malatestino (44). Malatesta and Malatestino were Lords of Rimini. Dante refers to Malatesta and Malatestino as “Aged Mastiff and his Pup” due to their cruelty (45). In 1295, “Montagna” de’ Parcitati, the leader of Rimini’s Ghibellines, was captured by Malastesta and murdered in captitivity by Malestestino (46).
“Lamone and Senterno, the white den’s lion,” are two rivers. Maginardo de’Pageni ruled Faenza on the River Lamone, and Imola, near the River Santerno. Maginardo de’ Pagani’s arms were a blue lion on a white field. Hence, “The Lion from the white den” (48). Maginardo de’ Pagani supported the Ghibellines in the north, but the Guelphs in the south near Florence. Maginardo de’ Pagani “Changed his politics with the compass,” or in accordance with the direction in which he was facing (48-49).
The city of “Savio” was ruled by itself for years, but in 1314, it was taken over by Malatestino (50). Savio lies between Forli and Rimini.
Count Guido da Montefeltro to Dante tells his story: “I was a man of arms: then took the rope of the Franciscans, hoping to make amends: and surely I should have won to all my hope but for the Great Priest―may he rot in Hell!―who brought me back to all my earlier sins; and how and why it happened I wish to tell in my own words: while I was still encased in the pulp and bone my mother bore, my deeds were not of the lion but of the fox: I raced through tangled ways; all wiles were mine from birth, and I won to such advantage with my arts that rumor of me reached the ends of the earth. But when I saw before me all the signs of the time of life that cautions every man to lower his sail and gather in his lines, that which had pleased me once, troubled my spirit, and penitent and confessed, I became a monk. Alas! What joy I might have had of it!” (67-81).
Count Guido da Montefeltro to Dante continues his story: “It was then the Prince of the New Pharisees drew his sword and marched upon the Lateran―and not against the Saracen or the Jew, for every man that stood against his hand was a Christian soul: not one had warred on Acre, nor been a trader in the Sultan’s land. It was he abused his sacred vows and mine: his Office and the Cord I wore, which once made those it girded leaner. As Constantine sent for Silvestro to cure his leprosy, seeking him out among Soracte’s cells; so this one from his great throne sent for me to cure the fever of pride that burned his blood. Count Guido da Montefeltro demanded [Dante’s] advice, and [Dante] kept silent for his words seemed drunken to [Dante]” (82-96).
The “Prince of the New Pharisees” is Boniface VIII, the Pope (82). Boniface VIII “Marched upon the Lateran” (83). Boniface VIII, the Pope, had a feud with the Colonna family. In 1297, the Colonna family walled themselves in a castle. The castle was twenty-five miles east of Rome at Penestrina in the Lateran. On Count Guido da Montefeltro advice, Boniface VIII, the Pope, offered a fair sounding amnesty. However, Boniface VIII, the Pope, had no intentions of observing the agreement. When the Colonna family accepted the terms and left, Boniface VIII, the Pope, destroyed their castle. Therefore, the Colonna family was left without a place of refuge.
The sentence “Christian soul: not one had warred on Acre, nor been a trader in the Sultan’s land” refers to the Saracens who opposed the crusaders at Acre, and the Jews who traded in the Sultan’s land (86-87).
“Constantine, Silvestro, and Socrate” are Emperor Constantine, Pope Sylvester, and Mount Soracte, respectively (90-92). During the persecution of the Christians by the Emperor Constantine, Pope Sylvester took refuge in the cave of Mount Soracte, currently Santo Oreste, near Rome. Later, Constantine had leprosy and sent for Pope Sylvester, who cured Emperor Constantine and converted him to Christianity. In return for Pope Sylvester’s service, Emperor Constantine is believed to have made the famous “Donation of Constantine.”
Count Guido da Montefeltro to Dante tells his story: “Your soul need fear no wound; I absolve your guilt beforehand; and no teach me how to smash Penestrino to the ground. The Gates of Heaven, as you know, are mine to open and shut, for I hold the two Great Keys so easily let go by Celestine” (97-102). Please not: The phrase “So easily let go by Celestine” refers to Celestine V under the persuasion of Boniface VIII, the Pope, abdicated the Papacy (102).
Count Guido da Montefeltro to Dante his story continues, “Holy Father, since you clean me here of the guilt into which I fall, let it be done: long promise and short observance is the road that leads to the sure triumph of your throne” (105-108). Please note: The phrase “Long promise and short observance” refers to the advice upon which Boniface VIII, the Pope, acted in trapping the Colonna with his hypocritical amnesty (107).
Count Guido da Montefeltro to Dante his story, “Later, when I was dead, St. Francis came to claim my soul, but one of the Black Angels said: ‘Leave him. Do not wrong me. This one’s name, went into my book the moment he resolved to give false counsel. Since then he has been mine, for who does not repent cannot be absolved; nor can we admit the possibility of repenting a thing at the same time it is willed, for the two acts are contradictory'” (109-117). Please note: “St. Francis came” to gather in the soul of one of his monks (109). The “Black Angel” is the devil (110).
Count Guido da Montefeltro to Dante hit story continues, “Miserable me! with what contrition I shuddered when he lifted me, saying: ‘Perhaps you hadn’t heard that I was a logician.’ He carried me to Minos: eight times round his scabby back the monster coiled his tail, then biting it in rage he pawed the ground and cried: ‘This one is for the thievish fire!’ And, as you see, I am lost accordingly, grieving in heart as I go in this attire” (118-126).
Dante observes, “[Count Guido da Montefeltro] story told, the flame began to toss and writhe its horn. And so it left, and [Virgil and Dante] crossed over to the arch of the next fosse where from the iron treasury of the Lord the fee of wrath is paid the Sowers of Discord” (127-131).
Alighieri, Dante, “The Inferno,” Trans. John Ciardi, Signet Classics, New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York, New York, 2009, Print.