The Inferno: Novel Summary: Canto 16-17

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Three Florentines call out to Dante to wait until they can catch up with him, and Virgil says he must be courteous to them. And indeed, once Dante learns their names, he wishes he could come down where they are and embrace them. Only his fear of being burned and baked stops him. They fear he will despise them, but Dante says he feels only grief for them, and that all his life he has admired them for their good deeds in Florence. They want to know if there is any courtesy and valor left in Florence, and Dante cries out that the recent new wealth in Florence has created such arrogance, such excess, that Florence is already weeping. They leave, asking only that he should speak of them when he "returns to see the beautiful stars" (line 83), and Virgil and Dante go on to another precipice, down which a might river pours. Dante is wearing a cord, with which he had once hoped to catch the Leopard (of Canto 1), and Virgil throws it down into the abyss. Dante warns us he's about to tell us something incredible: He sees through the murky air a strange and terrifying figure come swimming up.
Virgil announces him as Fraud, the beast that corrupts the world. His face looks an honest man's, he has the body of a serpent, and at the end of his tail is a poisonous sting. As they go toward the beast, whose name is Geryon, Dante sees a group of people sitting on the sand, and Virgil sends him to look at them while Virgil talks to Geryon, so that he will carry them down into the abyss. The usurers sit there on the burning sand, trying to brush away the falling flakes of flame. Dante does not recognize their faces, but each one has a purse hung round his neck at which he is staring, and on each purse is the coat of arms of a well-known Florentine family. Dante speaks to no one. When he comes back, Virgil is already mounted on Geryon. Dante trembles all over when told to climb on, but for shame he does so, though he is too scared to bring out the words to ask Virgil to hang onto him well. But Virgil does hold onto him, as he has before, and orders Geryon to fly down slowly, with this unusual burden on him. Down circling and circling through the dark air they go, until finally Dante sees such fires and hears such wailing that he shrinks back in fear. Geryon sets them down and quickly flies out of sight.
Dante clearly despises most those who care only for money and who exploit others to get it, especially when, as aristocrats, they should be noble leaders. They are very near the abyss of fraud. Still, theirs is still basically a sin of violence, in this case against the natural order that rewards real work with money. They simply manipulate money to make money, and the teaching of the Church in Dante's day was that that was a sin. Deliberate, willed fraud is far, far lower than any of the sins of violence. That depth is perfectly conveyed in the long, slow, wheeling flight of Geryon down into the abyss.

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