This print illustrates lines from Canto 25 of Dante’s Inferno. It shows a thief named Cavalcanti in the guise of a serpent ‘all on fire’. He is preparing to attack another thief, Buoso de’ Donati. The serpent and Donati eye each other while ‘One from the wound, the other from the mouth Breath’d a thick smoke, whose vap'ry columns join’d’.
In the next scene, which Blake also illustrated, Donati is transformed into a serpent and Cavalcanti into a man. Their punishment is to suffer this transformation from man to snake and back again for eternity.