Inferno Inferno Canto XXI (the Eighth Circle, Fifth Pouch: the Barrators) Summary
Our first impression of this next pouch is that it’s really dark.
So dark, in fact, that Dante takes a good long time comparing it to the color of the tar manufactured by the Venetian arsenal and used to fix their ships.
As Dante is dutifully trying to make out what’s happening in that pitch-black valley, Virgil cries out for him to be careful.
When he turns around to look, Dante almost passes out at the sight of a black demon racing towards them.
Lucky for them, the demon doesn’t see them because he’s busy tormenting a sinner draped over his shoulder.
From his speech Dante learns that this sinner is a barrator (or corrupt politician) from Lucca.
The spiny demon throws the barrator into the river of boiling pitch and calls the rest of his gang (the Malebranche – which translates to "Evil-Claws") to come join him.
They crowd around to poke and push him under with their grappling hooks and pitchforks, just like cooks submerge bits of meat in their soup.
Virgil very wisely tells Dante to keep down so that they’re not spotted by the demons.
Just when we were beginning to completely trust Virgil, he screws it all up by sauntering up to the band of demons and ordering them to put their weapons down.
Like in a bad horror movie, they corner him and laugh off his request. They let their leader, Malacoda ("Evil-Tail"), approach him to ask the one intelligent question they seem capable of: what is a live man doing down here?
Oh boy. Here we go again.
Virgil pulls out his "will of God" card and Malacoda agrees not to harm Dante.
Virgil then calls the cowering Dante out of his hiding place in the rocks. As he scurries to Virgil’s side, he notes the sinister smiles and lip-licking and tail-lashing of the demons.
One proposes stabbing Dante’s butt with a pitchfork. Everyone else gives a great hurrah, but Malacoda stops the party with a sharp order to the offender, Scarmiglione.
Then he tells Virgil that it’s no use continuing the way they’re going because the bridge is broken. He volunteers ten of his demon band to accompany them to the next unbroken bridge, as long as they keep to their task of torturing sinners along the way.
Dante is understandably distraught. He whispers to Virgil that he doesn’t want demon company to the next bridge. He trusts Virgil alone.
What he’s really saying is that he doesn’t want become lunch.
But Virgil reassures him; all their evil gesturing and ill will is for the sinners, not them.
As they start walking, the demons turn into vulgar comedians. Barbariccia, the head demon, sounds the signal to set off: he farts loudly or, in poetic terms, makes "a trumpet of his ass."