Rome: Infernal Rome (Inferno 18 & 27)

In Inferno 18, Dante and Virgil enter Malebolge (or Evil Pouches) in the eighth circle of Hell where fraud is punished. In the first pouch, the crowd of panderers and seducers conjures up the image of the pilgrims who go to Rome for the first jubilee promoted by Pope Boniface VIII in 1300, the same year in which Dante’s journey is set. Inferno 27 narrates the encounter with Guido da Montefeltro, a fraudulent counselor to the same Pope Boniface VIII. This infernal portrait of the holy city and its Pope leads up to the encounter with Satan at the bottom of Hell and the lowest point in the Cosmos.

Read the event recap, watch the video, or listen to the podcast below.


  • Fraud is a major problem, according to Dante (15:00)
  • Fraud is “the misuse of man’s highest attribute, his intellect” (Cachey 17:20)
  • Dante offers an alternative pilgrimage to Rome to the readers (24:00)
  • The way Dante parodies Boniface’s pilgrimage is a way of asserting that his own pilgrimage laid out in the poem as an alternative pilgrimage to Rome (Sbordoni 26:10)
  • Irony in Guido da Montefeltro’s speech (34:00)

Event Recap

In the final edition of the Rome Global Gateway’s Book Club, professors Professors Ted Cachey and Chiara Sbordoni discussed the 18th and 27th cantos where Dante conjures up the figure of his great enemy Pope Boniface the VIII: in Inferno 18, through a reference to the Pope’s Jubilee in the year 1300, and in Inferno 27 through the encounter with Boniface’s false counselor Guido da Montefeltro.

 The professors began the session by discussing how the locations in the Inferno express Dante’s feelings towards fraud. Dante places fraud in the lowest circle of hell. Cachey said that this is because, to Dante, fraud is “the misuse of man’s highest attribute, his intellect” (17:20). We also get a clue that Dante regarded fraud as a major problem in his society because the architecture of these circles is made up of references to cities and urban invention, whereas in the other circles of hell the landscape is natural (the river, the forest, etc). Additionally, a large part of textual space (half of the cantos) are dedicated to these kinds of sins. 

Next, Sbordoni and Cachey spoke about the significance of the simile of the Jubilee bridge in Inferno 18, lines 25-33. Sbordoni explains that in Inferno 18, sinners are condemned to walking in circles in two lanes in opposite directions, an allusion to the pilgrims walking to and from St. Peter’s over the bridge in front of the Castel Sant’Angelo during the Jubilee in 1300. This imagery “ compares Boniface’s pilgrims to the fraudulent sinners in hell, casting a fraudulent shadow on Boniface’s Jubilee” (25:00). According to Sbordoni, the simile “also seems to suggest a parallel between Dante’s charcter’s pilgrimage through hell and the pilgrimage to rome. The way Dante parodies Boniface’s pilgrimage is a way of asserting that his own pilgrimage laid out in the poem as an alternative pilgrimage to Rome“ (26:26). 

Lastly, the panel discussed the irony in Guido da Montefeltro’s speech. The contrapasso assigned to Guido da Montefeltro and the other false counselors is that they are contained in tongues of fire. Cachey explained that this is “an obvious parodic allusion to the tongues of fire that appear on the heads of the apostles at Pentecost when they were granted the gift of tongues in order to convert the world to Christ. This is one of the most exquisite examples of Dante’s contrapasso where he connects the biblical, prophetic language and contrasts it with the false counsel[s]” (34:00). Sbordoni added that “the reader already knows that Boniface is awaited in hell. So the irony is that here we have Boniface that pardons Guido, which obviously didn’t work, while he himself is destined to end up in hell” (47:00). 

View the live discussion recorded on Wednesday, February 3, 2021, with Ted Cachey and David Lummus, co-directors of the Notre Dame Center for Italian Studies, and Chiara Sbordoni, Italian faculty at the Notre Dame Rome Global Gateway. Register to receive information about how to join future live events. 

Listen to the discussion wherever, whenever, on The ThinkND Podcast:

Other recaps:

Part 3: Hell’s Vineyard (Inferno 13)
Part 1: From the dark wood to Rome

Learn more about the series and register here.

Art and HistoryReligion and PhilosophyEvent RecapRome Global GatewayDante and Italian StudiesDante AlighieriTheodore J. Cachey Jr.David LummusChiara SbordoniItalyRomeCenter for Italian StudiesCollege of Arts and LettersLiterature