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Free Study Guide-The Divine Comedy-The Inferno by Dante Alighieri-Notes
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CANTO SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

CANTO XXIII

Summary

Having stolen quietly away from the devils the two poets continue their journey. The Pilgrimís thoughts turn to one of Aesopís fables while contemplating the fate of the two devils who fall in the pitch. The fable that comes to his mind concerns the story of a frog and a mouse (described in the Notes). Knowing that the devils had been duped due to them (Virgilís wish to talk to Italian led to it) he fears they are now in greater danger from the now angry Malebranche. He reveals his fears to Virgil who agrees with him. Virgil suggests that they escape down to the bank.

Even as they are talking they see the angry Malebranche getting closer to them. Without wasting anytime Virgil grabs hold of Dante, even as a another would her son when she perceives danger, and slides down the side of the rocky bank into the next Bolgia. Virgilís only concern is with Danteís safety not his own. While they are hurriedly sliding down Virgil clasps the Pilgrim towards him as a mother clasps her child. No sooner are they in the next bolgia then the devils reach the side of the bank. But the two poets are safe now because it is forbidden (by the High Providence) for the devils to enter the sixth Bolgia. They can remain only in their own assigned Bolgia and are powerless to enter the next one.

The sinners in this Bolgia are the Hypocrites. They are walking along slowly, shedding tears and looking very exhausted. They are wearing cloaks, with a hood covering their eyes. Dante compares this hood by the one worn by Benedictine monks at Cluny. The cloaks of the sinners are golden in color on the outside. But they are coated with lead on the inside, making them very heavy. It is this heavy cloak that causes their fatigue.


The two poets turn to the left and walk next to the sinners. The pilgrim asks his guide to look at the sinners and point out one that is familiar to the Pilgrim. One soul, who hears Dante speak Tuscan, addresses him. At Virgilís advice Dante slows down and two shades approach him, walking as quick as they can with their heavy cloaks. After observing Dante they address each other. They notice that he is alive and wonder why he isnít punished, as they are (why he isnít dressed in a heavy cloak). He tells them he is from Florence and is indeed still alive. He asks them their identity and about their painful garments. The two hypocrites reveal that the cloaks are laden with lead crushing them under their weight. They are two Jovial Friars from Bologna: Catalano and Loderingo. They reveal they were both joint mayors of Florence. Evidence for this truth could be found in Gardingo (explained in the Notes).

The Pilgrim begins to address them but breaks off suddenly when he sees a shade impaled to the ground by the stakes. On seeing Dante the impaled shade twitches on the ground in pain. Friar Catalano tells Dante that the figure on the ground is the man who talked the Pharisees into sacrificing a human being for the benefit of others. All the shades in this Bolgia step on him as they walk. This shades father - in - law and other council members are also punished similarly in this Bolgia. Virgil too stares in amazement at the crucified man. Then he asks one of the Friars a way out of the Bolgia. He says he doesnít want to take the devilís help to go to the next Bolgia. The Friar revels that the bridge across this Bolgia is broken. But they can climb over the ruins of the bridge to go across. Hearing this Virgil is shamed into realizing that Malacoda lied to them about the bridge. The Friar agrees that the devil, in anger, walks quickly away from there, followed by his respectful ward.

Notes

Dante opens the canto by describing the progress of their journey (in a single file) as similar to the way minor friars walk. The "minor friars" or Franciscans journey in a single file. This image anticipates the presentation of the Hypocrites who are dressed like monks.

Dante mulling our recent happenings compares them to one of Aesopís fables. In actual fact he is incorrect in this attribution of the fable as one of Aesopís. But his mistake is understandable in light of the fact that during the Middle Ages all such stories were attributed to Aesop. The fable he refers to is one about a mouse who wishes to cross a stream. He asks a frog to help him across and the frog agrees. The frog ties the mouse to his leg and jumps in the water. But once in the water he tries to stay afloat and soon both are captured by a hawk that swoops down and carries them away. In most versions of the story the hawk eats the frog and sets the mouse free. Dante limits the comparison to the "start and finish of both incidents." The mouse can be equated with the two poets and the frog with the Malebranche who wishes them harm (by lying to them about a way across the 6 th Bolgia). But divine justice rescues the two poets from their fiendish enemies.

Virgil agrees with Danteís fears about the Malebranche and the two poets just manage to escape them by sliding down the bank to the next bolgia. The devils are powerless to leave their own Bolgia. Punished in this Bolgia are the Hypocrites. Their punishment consists of wearing cloaks that are gilded on the outside and lined with lead on the inside. Hypocrisy is defined as concealment or lying by pretending to be better than one is. Or by presenting a picture that is not in keeping with reality. Thus the Contrapasso meted out to the Hypocrites is poetically just. They lied during their lifetime. And drew a rosy picture to conceal the unpalatable truth. Thus the cloaks that crush them and form their punishment are gilded and dazzling on the outside. But inside are lined with heavy lead that makes each step they take a misery. Just as their hypocritical words brought others misery on earth, similarly does the golden colored cloaks bring them misery here in hell where they are damned for eternity.

The Hypocrites also have a hood attached to their cloaks. This hoot covers their eyes and it reminds the Pilgrim of the hoods worn by the Benedictine monks at Cluny. The vestments of the monks at Cluny were known to be very elegant. Saint Bernard criticized this extravagance of dress. Dante uses this reference to point out the hypocrisy of the Benedictine monks in choosing such pretentious garments.

There is a reference to the capes used by King Frederick. He used leaden capes to punish traitors. The traitors were made to wear leaden capes, which were then melted on their bodies. The veracity of the story isnít confirmed. The "King Frederick" mentioned here is Frederick II, grandson of Frederick Barbarossa.

Eventually Dante gets into a conversation with two sinners, both "Jovial Friars from Bologna." They are from the order of the Cavalieri di Beata Santa Maria that was founded in Bologna in 1261. Its tasks was to bring peace between political factions and to help the poor. Since this organization had liberal rules it was commonly called by the name of "Jovial Friars." The two mentioned in this canto are Catalano de Malavolti (1210 - 85) and Loderingo degli Andalo (1210-93). The former was a Guelf and the latter a Ghibelline. Because of this both were jointly elected to the office of the mayor in Florence. It was believed that two men from the different factions working together would lead to peace in the city. It did not happen this way and in 1266 Ghibellines were expelled from Florence. Gardingo, which the friar Catalano refers to, was a section of Florence around the Lalazzo Veccchio. Here the heads of the Florentine Ghibellines, the Uberti family had their palace. The palace was destroyed during the strife of 1266. This is the handiwork of the actions of the two friars and the "evidence" that Catalano speaks of. The two men were puppets in the hands of pope Clement IV who got them elected to destroy the Ghibellines and install Cruelfs in power. Thus the two hypocritical friars, whose ostensible task was to bring peace in Florence, now find themselves in Hell. Because it was due to their actions that the uprising of 1266 occurred.

The "impaled figure" that causes Dante to break off mid- sentence is of Caiaphas. He was the High priest of the Jews. He convinced the other Jews that Jews must be sacrificed to ensure the safety of the Hebrew nation. Caiaphasí father-in-law Annas brought Jesus to him for the trail. At this trial Caiaphas and other council members condemned Christ. These men brought misery to all Jews. (or were "seed of evil for all Jews"). Because to avenge Christís death God caused Jerusalem to be destroyed and the Hebrew people dispersed to all parts of the globe. Now these men find themselves trodden on by all Hypocrites and lied impaled or crucified on the ground just as they caused Christ to be crucified. These men were evil, counselors and their advice brought much misery to others. Virgil too is amazed to behold the crucified figure. Mark Musa explains this amazement at Virgilís surprise at seeing the bizarre form, which the Contrapasso takes on the crucifixion.

Virgil asks the friar for a way to the neat Bolgia. The friars words bring home to Virgil the fact that Malacoda had lied to him (Canto XXI) about there being a bridge across the sixth Bolgia. The friar reveals that there is no such way across the bridge is broken. Once again the theme of deceit that formed such an important part of Canto XXII becomes significant. The deceit was actually begun in Canto XXI with Malacodaís lie about the bridge. He had no intention to actually help the poets. He sends them off with the Malebranche, promising them all until be well. It was his intention from the start to get the two poets into trouble. Virgil was easily deceived by his lies and now he hangs his head in shame. This shows Reasonís inability in perceiving Fraud at once. Since Fraud is always covered up in reasonable words or mixed with truth. The friarsí words, that the devil is the "father of all lies" seem to anger Virgil. Perhaps because implicit in these words is a mild rebuke at Virgilís gullibility. Stung by these words he marches away in anger. And the Pilgrim follows "those cherished footprints." These words make it clear that Virgilís fallibility hasnít lessened Danteís respect for him.

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