HELL XXIII

CANTO XXIII

The eighth circle, fifth bolgia; slide to the sixth bolgia; the hypocrites; the jovial friars; Caiaphas; Virgil's distress

canto summary and diagram

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1 Silent, without escort, we proceeded on our own, One in front, the other behind, Like minor friars walking alone. * inferno xxiii 4 The present skirmish had turned my mind To the mouse and the frog in the incident Related by Aesop; for no less intertwined * 7 Than the words 'yon' and 'there' were that recent * Fracas and the fable; which, if you compare The beginning and end of each, will be apparent. * 10 And just as one thought quickly becomes a pair, So from my first another was born, Doubling my fear. "Those demons back there," inferno xxiii 13 I mused, "were mocked and put to scorn Because of us. If now their natural iniquity Is inflamed by anger, we'll be hunted down and torn 16 To shreds with all the savage ferocity, Of a hound pouncing upon a hare." And as I looked back with the stark intensity 19 Of naked fear I could feel all my hair Standing on end! "Master!" I cried, "If you don't conceal us right now I despair inferno xxiii 22 Of escaping the Malebranche! Let's hide! Quick! They're already on our trail! I think I can hear them!" And he replied: 25 "Even if I were a mirror I would fail To reflect your outward image as fast As your inner thoughts now unveil 28 Themselves to me. Just now they passed Among my own with similar sense and face, So that I've blended our two minds together to cast inferno xxiii 31 One decisive vote: We'll escape the anticipated chase By descending the right–hand incline – If it's not too steep—down to the next wretched place." 34 But he'd hardly finished this outline When I saw them coming with wings open wide, Not far behind, heading for us in a beeline. 37 Instantly I was snatched up by my guide, Who was like a mother who's jolted awake By a noise, sees the flames by her side inferno xxiii 40 And carries off her son before she can even take A shift for herself—so much more Does she act for her child's than her own sake. 43 Over the edge of the bank he bore My full weight on his chest as he slid On his back down the rocky slope to the floor 46 Of the adjacent chasm. Water never did Run through a sluice to turn a mill wheel As fast as he raced downhill in his bid inferno xxiii 49 To escape the demons; and I could feel All the way down that he was holding me Not like a companion, but like a son. Hardly had his heel 52 Struck the bed of the ditch when we could see The demons on the ridge above; but my master Was not afraid, for under the same decree 55 By which high Providence willed them to administer The fifth ditch, they were all compelled to stay Within its border. Below us we found a lackluster, inferno xxiii 58 Painted people who moved about in a sluggish way, Weeping, fatigued, beaten in appearance. Each of them wore a cloak whose deep hood lay 61 Low before the eyes, blocking the countenance, Cut like those the monks at Cluny wear. * Outwardly dazzling in their gilded elegance, 64 They were lined with lead so heavy that to compare Them with Frederick's would make that king's fabric * Seem like straw. O weary mantle of eternal despair! inferno xxiii 67 As always we turned left, joining the dreary traffic Of those immersed in their sad weeping; Exhausted by their burdens, these lethargic, 70 Worn out people were barely creeping Along at all, so that with every stride Which we took we found ourselves keeping 73 Entirely new company. "Please," I said to my guide, "Look around for a shade whose activity or name I might recognize." "Wait! Stay your feet!" one cried inferno xxiii 76 From behind us, having heard from my speech that I came From Tuscany. "You who rush through the murky air, If you pause, perhaps I can help you achieve your aim." 79 At this my guide turned and advised: "Stop where You are, then follow that shade's lead, At his own slow pace." I halted, and perceived a pair 82 Of shades whose anxious faces showed their need To be with me; but they could barely advance, For their burdens and the narrow path slowed their speed. inferno xxiii 85 When they arrived they looked at me askance For some time, both completely silent, Then turned to each other with a questioning glance. 88 "This one seems alive," they said, "by the movement Of his throat; but if they're dead, for real, What privilege relieves them of the heavy garment? " 91 Then turning to me, they made this appeal: "O Tuscan, you who approach this congregation Of pitiful hypocrites, do not disdain to reveal inferno xxiii 94 Who you are." And I responded to this solicitation: "On the beautiful river Arno was the nest Of my birth; I grew up in its great center of population; * 97 And this is the body I've always possessed. But who are you, who distill all the sorrow I spy On your cheeks? And how can you be oppressed 100 By a punishment which glitters?" And the reply: "Our golden cloaks are so thick with lead inside That the scales they hang on—namely, he and I – inferno xxiii 103 Creak underneath. We were Jovial Friars before we died, * Both from Bologna, his name Loderingo, Catalano mine; * The position of mayor your city chose to divide 106 Between us, to keep factional behavior in line And to maintain the peace; and this we did In such a way that around Gardingo some sign * 109 Of our work still remains." And I'd just reached mid– Sentence with: "O Friars, O evil sanctified—" When my eyes glimpsed one with three stakes slid inferno xxiii 112 Through his flesh, pinned to the ground, crucified. His whole body writhed when he saw me, And down into his beard he groaned and sighed 115 In agony. "That impaled shade, whom you now see, Counseled the Pharisees that to torture One man to save a whole nation would be 118 Expedient." Thus Catolano filled in the picture. * "Stretched naked across the road, he bears The weight of all who march across his prone figure. inferno xxiii 121 Elsewhere in this ditch his father–in–law shares * The same torment, as do all members of that council Which seeded such wickedness in the affairs 124 Of the Jews." Then I saw an astounded Virgil Stand and stare at the body nailed on the cross below, Its vile punishment a match for the evil 127 Which earned it eternal exile. "Please say if you know * A gap you're permitted to mention," he addressed The friar, "one which would let the two of us go inferno xxiii 130 Off to the right, without our having to request That a black angel rescue us from this ditch." And the friar replied: "Nearer than you've guessed 133 You'll find that there's a ridge which Juts out from the great round wall And sends an arch across every vicious niche 136 In Malebolge—except that here it doesn't reach all The way across, because it's fallen in disarray. Down near the bottom, though, where the ruins sprawl inferno xxiii 139 Against the bank, you can climb up and get away." My guide stood awhile with lowered eyes: * "He lied to us back there, that one so eager to flay 142 The sinners." "In Bologna I once heard someone advise About the devil's many vices," the friar said. "Among them, he's a liar and the father of lies." 145 With long strides my guide now plunged ahead, Visibly disturbed, with anger in his look. I turned and left those souls weighed down with lead, inferno xxiii 148 To follow the path his beloved footsteps took.

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NOTES

3. "Minor friars" are Franciscans. ^
5–6.   In the Middle Ages all fables were attributed to Aesop.  
In this tale a frog offers to carry a mouse across a pond.  
Halfway across the pond the frog dives, drowning the mouse.  
A hawk then devours both.  Dante may have been thinking of the 
version in which the mouse escapes, but either way the treacherous 
frog is eaten.  The reference may be to the end of the preceding 
canto, where Calcabrina is the frog and Alichino is the mouse.   
Or it may be to Virgil's discovery later in this canto that 
Malacoda lied, Virgil being the mouse and Malacoda the frog. ^
7.   "Mo" and "issa" both signify "now" in Luchese dialect. ^
9.   The "end" may refer to the moral, which was usually appended 
to fables.  In both cases the moral is that the guilty are punished. ^
62. The monks at the Benedictine monastery of Cluny in Burgundy were known for their elegant vestments. ^
65.   Frederick II, grandson of Fredrick Barbarossa, was said 
to have dressed traitors in lead capes and thrown them into 
a boiling cauldron. ^
96.   Florence. ^
103. The Knights of St. Mary was a religious order of clergy and laymen, founded in Bologna in 1261 and dedicated to maintaining peace between political factions and families, and to defending the weak and poor. Its laxity earned it the nickname "Jovial Friars." ^
104–109.   The friars Catalano de' Malavolti and Loderingo 
degli Andalò were elected jointly to the post of mayor 
(podestà) of Florence, because the former was a Guelph, 
the latter a Ghibelline.  Rather than ensuring peace, which was 
the intention of the joint election, this produced years of strife. ^
108. Gardingo is the section of Florence around the Palazzo Vecchio where the Ghibelline family, the Uberti, lived. Their palace was destroyed in 1266, the year in which the Ghibellines were expelled from Florence. ^
115–118   Caiaphas, high priest under Pontius Pilate, who 
maintained that it was better for Jesus to die than for the 
Hebrews to be lost. See John 11: 49–50. ^
 
121. When Jesus was first arrested he was brought before Annas, Caiaphas' father–in–law. See John 18:13. ^
124–127.   Virgil is either amazed at this figure who hadn't 
been in Hell on his last journey, or struck by the aptness or 
strangeness (to him) of the punishment. ^
140–141.   Malacoda lied in Canto XXI, 110–111. ^


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