David Bruce: Dante’s INFERNO: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 30: The Falsifiers (Impersonators, Counterfeiters, and Liars)”

“Canto 30: The Falsifiers (Impersonators, Counterfeiters, and Liars)”

  • What is the punishment given to the Falsifiers, and why is it fitting?

Various kinds of falsification are punished with various kinds of illness:


The Alchemists have leprosy (the Alchemists tried to change lead into gold, and now their skin turns from healthy to diseased).

Evil Impersonators

The Evil Impersonators are insane (the Evil Impersonators made other people confused about who the Impersonators were; now the Evil Impersonators, who are insane, are confused about who they are).


The Counterfeiters — who made what they had bigger than it should be — have dropsy (which makes part of their body swell up and be bigger than it should be).


The Liars — whose testimony stank — are feverous and stink.

We should note that for the most part the punishment here comes from within.

Of course, the sinners afflicted with insanity do torment the other falsifiers; for example, the insane sinner Gianni Schicchi bites into Capocchio’s neck and drags him away.

The worst sin comes from within; it is caused by an evil will.

We should also note that the association of sins with animals continues. The insane sinners are “rabid” (Musa, Inferno30.33) like a mad dog or like people who have been bitten by an animal with rabies. Dante the Poet also compares the insane sinners to “pigs, directionless, broken from their pen” (Musa, Inferno30.27).

  • The Impersonators are punished with insanity. Explain the first example of insanity we read about at the beginning of Canto 30: King Athamas.

In ancient Greek/Roman mythology, Zeus/Jupiter has many, many affairs with mortal women. His wife, Hera/Juno is jealous, and she wreaks vengeance on these mortal women and on their families. (The ancient Greek and Roman gods were NOT benevolent.) In this case, Jupiter (his Roman name) has sex with Semele, who bears him the god Dionysus/Bacchus. Semele died after insisting that Jupiter reveal himself in his divine form, something that mortals are unable to look upon and live. In another version of the myth, Juno (her Roman name) has Semele killed by a bolt of lightning. Juno also made insane King Athamas, the husband of Ino, Semele’s sister, who incurred Hera’s/Juno anger by raising Dionysus/Bacchus, Ino’s nephew. While insane, King Athamas killed one of his own sons, a horrific act.

After Hera/Juno drove King Athamas insane, he saw Ino, his wife, coming toward him with two sons — each of her arms held a son. He thought that she was a lioness and his two sons were lion cubs, and he wanted to kill them. He grabbed one son, whose name was Learchus, and dashed his brains out against a rock. His wife drowned herself and her other son.

  • The Impersonators are punished with insanity. Explain the second example of insanity we read about at the beginning of Canto 30: Hecuba.

Hecuba was the aged Queen of Troy when it fell to the Greek armies led by King Agamemnon. We read about her in Homer’s Iliad. Many bad things happened to her at the end of her life. In the Iliad, we learn that she saw the great Greek warrior Achilles kill her son Hector, the defender of Troy. In Virgil’s Aeneid, we learn that she saw Achilles’ son, Neoptolemus, kill her husband, Priam, during the fall of Troy. Of course, she saw Troy fall. After Troy fell, Hector’s son, Astyanax, was murdered by being thrown from the high walls of Troy. In addition, Hecuba and the other women and children of Troy were made slaves. Dante mentions two other things that made Hecuba grieve so much that she suffered from insanity:

1) One of her daughters, Polyxena, was sacrificed on the grave of Achilles, and

2) One of her sons, Polydorus, who had been sent away from Troy to Thrace so that the royal bloodline would continue even if Troy were to fall, was murdered for the treasure he had. Hecuba saw the unburied corpse of this son.

That the corpse of her son was unburied is important because the ancient Greeks believed that the soul of the dead person could not enter the Land of the Dead unless the person’s corpse had been buried. To be unable to enter the Land of the Dead is a horrible fate for a soul. According to Virgil’sAeneid, after 100 years had passed, Charon would ferry the soul the soul across the river to the Land of the Dead. Apparently, after 100 years their bones will be buried by natural forces. Here is this important passage, which is spoken by Palinurus:

“And no spirits may be conveyed

across the horrendous banks and hoarse, roaring flood

until their bones are buried, and they rest in peace …

A hundred years they wander, hovering around these shores

till at last they may return and see once more the pools

they long to cross.”    

(Fagles 6.371-376)

  • Who are some Evil Impersonators being punished in this part of the Circle?

Gianni Schicchi

Gianni Schicchi is an evil impersonator. He had acting ability and he could imitate well the voices of other people, so Simone Donati, the son of a wealthy Florentine patriarch named Buoso Donati, hired him after the patriarch died because he was afraid that the patriarch had left much wealth outside of the family and he wanted Gianni Schicchi to dictate a new will that would leave the wealth to the family. Gianni Schicchi did dictate a new will, but he stated (pretending to be the dying patriarch) that he wanted a lot of the wealth, including a very valuable mare, to go to Gianni Schicchi. The name of the wealthy Florentine patriarch was Buoso Donati, and the name of the patriarch’s son was Simone Donati.

Giacomo Puccini wrote the comic opera Gianni Schicchi, which of course is based on this story.


Ovid tells the story of Myrrha in his MetamorphosesX. She fell in love with her own father, pretended to be someone else and slept with him, fled, and was changed into a myrrh tree by the gods. As you may guess from the title, Metamorphosestells stories of transformations.

  • Master Adamo is a Counterfeiter being punished in this part of the Circle. What is his story, and what does he want?

Master Adamo is a Counterfeiter who is being punished here. Counterfeiters make what they have more than it should be, so they have dropsy, which makes part of their body swell up with serous liquid. Master Adamo’s legs are swollen with dropsy (Musa, Inferno30.107).

Master Adamo did not use 24-carat gold in his coins; his coins had 21 carats. By counterfeiting coins on a large scale, he created a currency crisis in Northern Italy (John Ciardi, Divine Comedy, 238).

He would love to see his former employers punished, and he says that he would be willing to drag his diseased body one inch each century until he could see that. We learn that the Circle is 11 miles long, so the journey would take millions of years.

One of Master Adamo’s former employers is here: Guido, who died in 1292. Master Adamo’s former employers were the Conti Guidi; their names were Guido, Alexander, Aghinolfo, and Ildebrando.

Master Adamo, like some sinners in the Inferno such as Francesca da Rimini, does not take responsibility for his sin. He says this about the people who encouraged him to counterfeit florins, thereby placing him in this “family” of sinners:

“For them am I in such a family;

They did induce me into coining florins,

Which had three carats of impurity.”

(Longfellow 30.88-90)

The people he blames are “the Conti Guidi (Guido, Alexander, Aghinolfi, and Ildebrando),” according to Mark Musa’s note on p. 349).

It is interesting to note that Master Adamo voluntarily gives his name to Dante and Virgil. Some of the sinners in this bolgia do that, although other sinners do not. For example, Sinon the Lying Greek hits Master Adamo (who hits him back) because he is angry that Master Adamo tells Dante and Virgil who he is (Inferno30.100-102).

  • Who are some False Witnesses being punished in this part of the Circle?

Potiphar’s Wife

The wife of Potiphar fell in love with Joseph, and wanted to have an affair with him. He declined, and she told her husband that Joseph had been trying to sleep with her. This story is told in Genesis, chapter 39.

Sinon the Lying Greek

Sinon the lying Greek appears in Book 2 of Virgil’s Aeneid. This book tells the story of the fall of Troy. Sinon was a persuasive liar who persuaded the Trojans to take the wooden horse inside the walls of the city. He convinced the Trojans that if the Trojan Horse were taken inside the city, then Troy would never fall. Of course, he lied. The Trojan Horse was filled with Greek warriors who came out of the horse during the night. They went to the gates of the city, killed the guards, and then opened the gates to let in Agamemnon, leader of the Greek army, and his soldiers. Troy fell that night.

  • At the end of the canto, Sinon the Lying Greek and Master Adamo the Counterfeiter have an argument, which Dante the Pilgrim listens to intently. What is Virgil’s reaction?

Virgil becomes angry at Dante because he is listening so intently to the argument. He tells Dante the Pilgrim, “Keep right on looking, / a little more, and I shall lose my patience” (Musa, Inferno30.131-132).

Dante is instantly contrite, and Virgil stops being angry. From this little incident, we can learn that we ought not to listen to petty wrangling between sinners.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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