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Canto 23

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Canto 23 of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Inferno.

Inferno | Canto 23 | Summary

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Summary

Virgil and Dante walk single file, and Dante thinks about how the "present fracas" is similar to one of Aesop's fables. He knows that the demons will be angry with them over the mess the poets just left behind, and will come after them. So Dante is afraid—so afraid, he feels his hair curl. Dante speaks his fears to Virgil and suggests they hide. Just then the demons appear in pursuit.

Virgil suddenly picks Dante up, and proceeds to slide, with Dante on his chest "like a son," down the embankment to the next circle. The demons, who cannot leave their designated circle, stop at the edge, and the poets continue on. In this next ring, tired-looking, weeping people walk in a circle. They wear robes that are dazzling gold on the outside and heavy lead on the inside—so heavy that the people move very slowly. When Dante speaks to Virgil, one of the sinners calls out to him, recognizing his speech as Tuscan. Virgil and Dante slow their pace to walk in step with this man and one other. The two souls notice that Dante is alive, and ask him who he is. Dante tells them, and asks what sin has caused the punishment they endure. They explain that they were both "Jovial Friars." Then they come to a man who is staked to the ground—Caiaphas, who advised that the innocent Jesus be punished—while the others walk over him.

Virgil asks one of the friars for a way out of the ring, and the man tells him that the bridge ahead is broken but still usable. Virgil is angry that the demons lied to him about the bridge, which they had said was unusable. The friar tells him that demons are known liars.

Analysis

It is Dante, not Virgil, who suggests a course of action—he's been suspicious of the demons all along, even when Virgil reassured him that all would be well. Dante is becoming surer of himself, now taking the lead in suggesting a course of action, while Virgil has been overconfident. Although the relationship is still one of teacher-student, a dynamic reinforced by Virgil's holding Dante in his arms, the gulf between them is clearly narrowing, as Dante begins to understand God's will and the nature of Hell more completely. When Dante suggests that they hide, Virgil says that he and Dante now think alike and are able to mirror one another's thoughts. Virgil's anger at the lie told by the demons is as much due to his own foolishness for trusting them (as the friar points out, demons are known liars) as it is due to the lie itself. Lying demons are also consistent with the overall sin of fraud for which sinners in the eighth circle are guilty, and with the theme of true language and false language encountered several times in this circle.

The sin of hypocrisy is to say one thing but believe another, or to present a false image of oneself while, in private, leading a very different kind of life. For this reason the hypocrites wear beautiful robes that are heavy lead on the inside. The image of luxury is false, for inside the robes the sinners are miserable. The robes are similar to monks' robes, an image that leads nicely to introducing the two sinners who turn out to be friars. The Jovial Friars were placed in charge of keeping the peace in Bologna, because one was a Guelph and the other a Ghibelline. However, they did not do their duty and there was terrible strife among the political parties under their watch.

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