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Dante Alighieri

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Canto 22

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Canto 22 of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Inferno.

Inferno | Canto 22 | Summary



Dante is surprised by the odd "signal." However, he goes with the ten demons chosen to lead Virgil and Dante on their way. He can see that sinners try to get some relief from the boiling pitch by surfacing briefly. If one is caught, the closest demon will bring him out of the pitch with a great hook, and rip and stab him with its talons. Dante speaks with one of the sinners, although the demons threaten him and seem ready to attack because he is out of the pitch. The sinner offers to whistle, which will bring many of the others out of the pitch. One of the demons shakes his head and says this is just a trick, and then another threatens to beat him if he tries to dive back in. Suddenly the sinner dives back in and the demons attack each other instead, falling into the pitch themselves in the process. The poets make a hasty departure as the demons are distracted by this situation.


The tone of Cantos 21 and 22 is much different from the somber tone of the rest of the poem, with more casual language and undignified behavior. In this canto, for example, a sinner tries to trick the demons, saying that if they let him go, he can get more of his friends to come up. He is offering his friends like a bribe to the demons who enjoy tormenting the sinners. Although the demons are not fully convinced this offer is real, they are distracted enough that the man can escape. This is an appropriate trick to play in the pouch dedicated to punishing grafters, barrators, and the fraudulent!

Dante marvels at the way the demons march at the "strange" flatulent signal, and they rage and squabble amongst themselves in a clumsy, violent way, very similar to slapstick comedy. Yet as Dante points out, "in church with saints, with rotters in the tavern"—his own language and attitude may be influenced by the crudeness of the demons.

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