Home > English > Poetry Classic Books > Dante's Inferno > Canto XXIII
Dante's Inferno
Classic Book   

READ STUDY GUIDE: Cantos XXI–XXIII

 

Canto XXIII

Eighth Circle. Escape from the fifth pit.—The sixth pit: hypocrites, in cloaks of gilded lead.—Jovial Friars.—Caiaphas.—Annas.—Frate Catalano.

Silent, alone, and without company, we went on, one before, the other behind, as the Minor friars go along the way. My thought was turned by the present brawl upon the fable of Aesop, in which he tells of the frog and the mole; for NOW and THIS INSTANT are not more alike than the one is to the other, if beginning and end are rightly coupled by the attentive mind.[1] And as one thought bursts out from another, so from that then sprang another which made my first fear double. I reflected in this wise: These through us have been flouted, and with such harm and mock as I believe must vex them greatly; if anger to ill-will be added, they will come after us more merciless than the dog upon the leveret which he snaps.

[1] "Sed dices forsan, lector," says Benvenuto da Imola, "nescio per me videre quomodo istae duae fictiones habeant inter se tantam convenientam. Ad quod respondeo, quod passus vere est fortis." The point seems to be that, the frog having deceitfully brought the mole to trouble and death, the mole declares, "me vindicabit major," and the eagle swoops down and devours the frog as well as the dead mole. The comparison is not very close except in the matter of anticipated vengeance.

Already I was feeling my hair all bristling with fear, and was backwards intent, when I said, "Master, if thou concealest not thyself and me speedily, I am afraid of the Malebranche; we have them already behind us, and I so imagine them that I already feel them." And he, "If I were of leaded glass,[1] I should not draw thine outward image more quickly to me than thine inward I receive. Even now came thy thoughts among mine, with similar action and with similar look, so that of both one sole design I made. If it be that the right bank lieth so that we can descend into the next pit, we shall escape the imagined chase."

[1] A mirror.

Not yet had he finished reporting this design, when I saw them coming with spread wings, not very far off, with will to take us. My Leader on a sudden took me, as a mother who is wakened by the noise, and near her sees the kindled flames, who takes her son and flies, and, having more care of him than of herself, stays not so long as only to put on a shift. And down from the ridge of the hard bank, supine he gave himself to the sloping rock that closes one of the sides of the next pit. Never ran water so swiftly through a duct, to turn the wheel of a land-mill, when it approaches near est to the paddles, as my Master over that border, bearing me along upon his breast, as his own son, and not as his companion. Hardly had his feet reached the bed of the depth below, when they were on the ridge right over us; but here there was no fear, for the high Providence that willed to set them as ministers of the fifth ditch deprived them all of power of departing thence.

There below we found a painted people who were going around with very slow steps, weeping, and in their semblance weary and vanquished. They had cloaks, with hoods lowered before their eyes, made of the same cut as those of the monks in Cluny. Outwardly they are gilded, so that it dazzles, but within all lead, and so heavy that Frederick put them on of straw.[1] Oh mantle wearisome for eternity!

[1] The leaden cloaks which the Emperor Frederick II. caused to be put on criminals, who were then burned to death, were light as straw in comparison with these.

We turned, still ever to the left hand, along with them, intent on their sad plaint. But because of the weight that tired folk came so slowly that we had fresh company at every movement of the haunch. Wherefore I to my Leader, "See that thou find some one who may be known by deed or name, and so in going move thy eyes around." And one who understood the Tuscan speech cried out behind us, "Stay your feet, ye who run thus through the dusky air; perchance thou shalt have from me that which thou askest." Whereon the Leader turned and said, "Await, and then according to his pace proceed." I stopped, and saw two show, by their look, great haste of mind to be with me, but their load delayed them, and the narrow way.

When they had come up, somewhile, with eye askance,[1] they gazed at me without a word; then they turned to each other, and said one to the other, "This one seems alive by the action of his throat; and if they are dead, by what privilege do they go uncovered by the heavy stole?" Then they said to me, "O Tuscan, who to the college of the wretched hypocrites art come, disdain not to tell who thou art." And I to them, "I was born and grew up on the fair river of Arno, at the great town, and I am in the body that I have always had. But ye, who are ye, in whom such woe distills, as I see, down your cheeks? and what punishment is on you that so sparkles?" And one of them replied to me, "The orange hoods are of lead so thick that the weights thus make their scales to creak. Jovial Friars[2] were we, and Bolognese; I Catalano, and he Loderingo named, and together taken by thy city, as one man alone is wont to be taken, in order to preserve its peace; and we were such as still is apparent round about the Gardingo." I began, "O Friars, your evil"—but more I said not, for there struck mine eyes one crucified with three stakes on the ground. When me he saw he writhed all over, blowing into his beard with sighs: and the Friar Catalano, who observed it, said to me, "That transfixed one, whom thou lookest at, counseled the Pharisees that it was expedient to put one man to torture for the people. Crosswise and naked is he on the path, as thou seest, and he first must feel how much whoever passes weighs. And in such fashion his father-in-law is stretched in this ditch, and the others of that Council which for the Jews was seed of ill."[3] Then I saw Virgil marvelling over him that was extended on a cross so vilely in eternal exile. Thereafter he addressed this speech to the Friar, "May it not displease thee, so it be allowed thee, to tell us if on the right hand lies any opening whereby we two can go out without constraining any of the Black Angels to come to deliver us from this deep." He answered then, "Nearer than thou hopest is a rock that from the great encircling wall proceeds and crosses all the savage valleys, save that at this one it is broken, and does not cover it. Ye can mount up over the ruin that slopes on the side, and heaps up at the bottom." The Leader stood a little while with bowed head, then said, "Ill he reported the matter, he who hooks the sinners yonder." [4] And the Friar, "I once heard tell at Bologna vices enough of the devil, among which I heard that he is false, and the father of lies." Then the Leader with great steps went on, disturbed a little with anger in his look; whereon I departed from the heavily burdened ones, following the prints of the beloved feet.

[1] They could not raise their heads for a straight look.

[2] Brothers of the order of Santa Maria, established in 1261, with knightly vows and high intent. From their free life the name of "Jovial Friars" was given to the members of the order. After the battle of Montaperti (1260) the Ghibellines held the upper hand in Florence for more than five years. The defeat and death of Manfred early in 1266, at the battle of Benevento, shook their power and revived the hopes of the Guelphs. As a measure of compromise, the Florentine Commune elected two podestas, one from each party; the Guelph was Catalano de' Malavolti, the Ghibelline, Loderingo degli Andalo, both from Bologna. They were believed to have joined hands for their own gain, and to have favored the reviving power of the Guelphs. In the troubles of the year the houses of the Uberti, a powerful Ghibelline family, were burned. They lay in the region of the city called the Gardingo, close to the Palazzo Vecchio.

[3] Annas "was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year. Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people." John xviii. 13-14; id. xi. 47-50.

[4] Malacoda had told him that he would find a bridge not far off by which to cross this sixth bolgia.

Help | Feedback | Make a request | Report an error
Classic Book Go to top
  
Study Guides
Inferno
SparkCollege
College Admissions
Financial Aid
College Life