The eighth circle, fifth bolgia; the grafters; the boiling pitch; Malacoda; the escort

canto summary and diagram

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1 Thus we walked from bridge to bridge, Talking of things my Comedy does not care To discuss. When we'd reached the top of the ridge inferno xxi 4 We paused to survey the next pocket where Laments, as always, were uttered in vain; I found it curiously dark down there. * 7 Picture the Venetian shipyards, which maintain * A supply of thick, boiling pitch all winter To caulk ships which can't sail again 10 Until they're repaired; some men think it faster And cheaper to build new ones, while others Tar the hulls damaged by long months on the water; inferno xxi 13 One man patches the jib, another hammers The prow, another the stern, a few Carve oars or coil rope—whatever furthers 16 The ship's return to service. A sticky glue, Heated not by fire but by divine art and intent, Boiled steadily and thickly, smearing a viscous residue 19 Up over the banks. This I saw, but my vision went No deeper, for I could see only the rise Of the boiling tar bubbles, their ascent inferno xxi 22 To full swell and their sudden burst and demise. While I was staring down attentively my guide Cried out: "Watch out, watch out!" and to my surprise 25 Yanked me toward him. I turned my head to the side Like someone struck with fear but still Eager to see what made him so petrified. 28 Behind us, racing full speed up the craggy hill Was a black devil whose face Was ferocious enough to instill inferno xxi 31 Instant panic in me; he was light of pace And cruel in every gesture, and high On his pointed shoulders he held in place 34 A frightened sinner strung up by the thigh And gripped by claws at the heel's tendons. "O Malebranche," I heard the creature cry * 37 From our bridge. "This one in my talons Is an elder of Saint Zita. I'll go after * More like him in Lucca while you demons inferno xxi 40 Shove him under. Everyone there is a grafter Except Bonturo; they'll even turn 'no' * Into 'yes' for cash." Never did bat from rafter, 43 Or hound from leash after a thief, flee so Fast as that demon flew once he'd slung The sinner into the boiling pitch below. 46 The shade plunged in, then floated up and hung On the surface with his arms stretched out from him. "Don't mimic the Holy Face here!" the demons flung * inferno xxi 49 Their demand at him from under the bridge. "We swim Another way than in the Serchio! If you hope never * To feel our hooks you'd better not lift a limb 52 Out of the pitch! Here you have to dance under cover," They taunted, jabbing a hundred prongs into the shade. "If you learn to cheat down there, no one will ever 55 Find out." They were like cooks who made Their helpers poke and prod a piece of meat With their forks, so it couldn't float but stayed inferno xxi 58 Deep down in the pot. "It wouldn't be discreet," Said my master, "to let them see you, So crouch down behind a rock. We won't retreat – 61 Don't worry—no matter what they say or do; I know how these things work here, To me squabbles like this are nothing new." 64 He crossed over to the sixth bank and stood near The far end of the bridge with a firm expression, Showing the demons that he was without fear. inferno xxi 67 Then, with all the fury and wild aggression Of a pack of dogs attacking some poor man Who stops in his tracks and begs compassion, 70 The demons rushed from beneath the span And pointed their prongs fiercely at my guide. "Behave yourselves!" he shouted, "if indeed you can! 73 Before you jab your forks into my side Let one of you approach and hear me out; Then, if you still want to, you can decide inferno xxi 76 To skewer me." "Let Malacoda go!" was the shout * All around, and one of the demons moved Forward from the crowd, voicing his doubt: 79 "What's the point of this?" But my master reproved: "Malacoda, do you really think you would Find me here—so far down, having removed 82 Every obstacle before me—if it weren't for the good Will of God and the favor of fate? Let me pass, for heaven wills that I should inferno xxi 85 Guide another's footsteps through Hell's gate And down this wild path." At this the demon's pride Collapsed, the fork dropped to his feet, and in a state 88 Of shock he warned them all: "This one cannot be denied, Do not touch him!" And my master, for me to hear: "It's safe now, you can return to my side, 91 You who crouch among the bridge's rocks in fear." And indeed I was anxious, for the moment I emerged from hiding the demons began to edge near, inferno xxi 94 As if they might break the agreement. (Just so did I once see infantry file From Caprona under truce, in front of their opponent.) * 97 I pressed close to my guide, all the while Keeping my eyes fixed on those demons Whose looks toward us were sinister and vile. 100 They called to each other as they aimed their weapons: "Shall I jab him in the rump?" And all replied: "Sure, let him have it, cut him to ribbons." inferno xxi 103 But the one who was speaking with my guide Turned instantly and said: "Cut it out, Scarmiglione, be quiet!" And to us: "If you tried 106 To go farther on this ridge you would no doubt Soon fail, for the sixth bridge lies shattered below In its ditch. Yet if you're insistent about 109 Proceeding ahead, climb up and continue to go Along this ridge until there appears Another which traverses the ditch. Long ago— * inferno xxi 112 One thousand two hundred and sixty–six years, Plus nineteen hours, to be correct – This pathway collapsed. Now put aside your fears * 115 And go with the crew I'm sending out to inspect The pitch near that crossing; they'll prod the dead Who gasp for air, but to you they'll show respect. 118 Alechino and Calcabrina!" he then said, "Step forward! And you as well Cagnazzo! Barbariccia, I'm putting you at the head inferno xxi 121 Of this crew. You can take Draghignazzo, Libicocco, tusky Ciriatto, and Graffiacane too – Throw in Farfarello and crazy Rubicante also. * 124 Take a good look around the boiling glue; When you reach the bridge linking den to den Make sure you've safely delivered these two." 127 "O Master, I don't like the look of these ten Demons," I said. "Let's get out of here While we still can. Why do we need an escort when inferno xxi 130 You know the way? Their menacing brows strike fear Into me—their grinding teeth as well. Yet you who see everything don't appear 133 Worried at all." And he: "It should quell Your fears to know that it's not for you Their teeth gnash but for the wretches who dwell 136 In the boiling pitch." As each member of the crew Turned left along the bank he saluted With tongue pressed between his teeth. And in review, inferno xxi 139 The captain made a trumpet of his ass and tooted.

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6. All of Malebolge is dark, but this bolgia is "curiously dark" because of the pitch being boiled for the grafters. ^
7.   The shipyards at Venice were one of the most active in Europe. ^
36.   "Malebranche" means "evil–claws," and is the collective name 
for the devils in this bolgia. ^
38. Saint Zita was venerated in Lucca in the thirteenth century and is that city's patron saint. The Elders of Saint Zita were ten citizens who ruled along with the chief magistrate. The one being punished here is guilty of graft, the civil equivalent of simony. Dante himself was charged with graft by the Black Guelphs and banished from Florence. ^
41.   Bonturo Dati was the most corrupt of Luccan officials, but 
is here ironically referred to as innocent. ^
48.   The "sacred face" was a Byzantine crucifix made of dark wood, 
preserved in the Church of San Martino and venerated by Luccans. ^
50. The Serchio is a river near Lucca. ^
76.   " Malacoda" means "evil–tail."  It is fitting that the leader 
of the comic yet ferocious devils in this bolgia should end the canto 
with a fart.  See line 139. ^
95–96.   The castle of Caprona, on the Arno River near Pisa, was 
taken in 1289 by the combined Guelph forces of Florence, Lucca, 
Pisa and Siena.  Dante may be indicating that he took part in the 
capture. ^
111. Malacoda is lying; there will prove to be no such ridge. ^
112–114.   Nineteen hours before this moment was exactly 1266 years 
since Christ's death and the attendant earthquake. ^
118–123.   These are mostly plays on the names of Florentine 
families, with other humorous meanings.  For example, Calcabrina 
means someone who can walk on brine, or is nimble; Ciriatto may come 
from the dialect word for hog; Barbariccia means "curly–bearded," 
Cagnazzo "big dog," and Grafficane "one who scratches dogs." ^

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