And going our lonely way through that dread land
among the crags and crevices of the cliff
the foot could make no way without the hand
I mourned among those rocks,
and I mourn again
when memory returns to what I saw . . .
An unusual canto, this. Dante begins with his own brief prophecy concerning his beloved Florence, noting that her fall will be due to thievery and evil counselors (the two groups he now stands between). The 8th ditch is full of evil counselors who burn in their own personal flames as they circle around and around forever. These are people who were given great gifts of wisdom, but used them for evil ends. Now their hidden sins are repayed by their own hiddenness. In fact dante cannot tell who any of them are – they all look the same in hell.
One flame is split in two conjoined halves, however, and Dante pleased with Virgil to speak to it. It turns out to be two souls – Ulysses and Diomede. Virgil speaks with Ulysses on Dante’s behalf and learns of the great adventurer’s death. Late in life, unsatisfied by family and fame, Ulysses and his best men set sail past the Pillars of Hercules (the Gibraltar straights) to find new adventure and honor. In Dante’s geography the northern realm of earth is land and the south is water, with one exception: “a peak so tall I doubted any man had seen the like.” This, we will see later, is the mountain of Purgatory – directly opposite Jerusalem on the other side of the world. No sooner is the great mountain spotted than Ulysses’ ship is taken down into the sea by a storm sent by “Another.”
This story was made up by Dante, and it serves as an interesting foreshadowing of the next section of the Comedy – just as Dante was unable to reach the top of the hill by his own reason prior to his descent, so Ulysses was not able to reach Mt. Purgatory by his valor.
Virgil releases Ulysses and as he moves on another shade inquires as to who is speaking. Dante answers, and is informed that this flame houses Guido Da Montefeltro – an adviser to Pope Boniface VIII who was seduced into counseling the Pope (who he hopes will rot in hell) into how to overcome a personal feud. Guido’s advise was to offer a false amnesty and then ruin them upon agreement. This the Pope did.
Prior to this, Guido had joined the Fransciscan order in the hopes that he could repent of his sin (he was world renown for his trickery). The Pope had offered him pre-absolution for his sins in exchange for his evil plotting. In a chilling report, guido explains that when he died St. Francis came for him, but a black devil contested ownership. The devil tells St. Francis that,
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.
The devil then boasts about being a logician, as he carries him off to hell for Minos to hurl him into the 8th ditch.
In an interesting side note – Guido only gives up the details of his life to Dante because he does not believe anyone can escape the Inferno (he does not want his fate recounted outside “the world of the blind”). Apparently he cannot see that Dante is among the living from inside his fiery “clothes.”