Inferno Inferno Canto XXII (the Eighth Circle, Fifth Pouch: the Barrators) Summary
Dante is so startled by Barbariccia’s strange signal that he calls it the weirdest one he’s ever heard…more so than the Arentines’ trumpets, bells, and drums. We concur.
He and Virgil head out with their demonic guides.
Dante scans the surface of the pitch for glimpses of the sinners underneath. He compares the various limbs sticking out of the pitch to quick flashes of dolphins’ backs seen at sea or frogs’ snouts in a pond.
Whenever the demons approach with their pitchforks cocked, the sinners dive under.
Continuing his frog metaphor, Dante sees one of the demons, Grafficane, finally succeed in snaring a sinner, whom he compares to a sluggish frog. And then he promptly contradicts himself, by comparing the sinner to an otter.
In a quick aside, Dante pats himself on the back for learning all the demons’ names.
Grafficane tells his buddy Rubicante to sink his talons into the sinner.
Dante begs Virgil to stop them by asking stuff about the sinner in question.
So Virgil steps forward and blurts the first the thing that comes to his mind: "O sinner, where were you born?"
Like everyone else in this poem, the sinner offers us a lot of information. Pretty soon, we not only know his birthplace (Navarre – now Northern Spain), but also the occupation of his father (a wastrel or professional loser), his adopted father (King Thibault), and his sin (swindling money). But not his name.
Having gotten what he wanted, Virgil watches as another demon named Ciriatto rips the sinner open with a tusk. And then Barbariccia prepares to stab him. But, interestingly, he seems to have taken Virgil’s side.
Still threatening to disembowel the sinner, Barbarricia turns to Virgil and politely asks him to continue the interrogation. And to hurry up or else his demon pals might kill the guy.
So Virgil scrambles for another question: "So…do you have any Italian friends here?"
Nameless sinner says "yes" and indicates there’s another Italian right there (points) in the pitch. He wishes to sweet Jesus that he were him.
At this point, Libicocco loses patience, flourishes his hook, and tears out a chunk of flesh from the sinner.
Another demon Draghignazzo looks like he’s about to snap too, so Barbariccia tells them to back off.
Cue Virgil, who steps forward to ask the identity of the aforementioned sinner in the pitch. The Navarrese sinner, distracted a moment by his gaping wound, answers that it’s Fra Gomita, a clergyman.
We learn from him that Fra Gomita served a bunch of different masters, but always managed to pawn some gold from them.
Apparently, he has a friend named Don Michele Zanche, a fellow swindler.
The nameless sinner is quiet now because he sees a demon getting ready to maul him. Barbariccia promptly shoos the guilty party, Farfarello, back.
By this time, the sinner is so scared that he offers to summon his barrator friends out of the pitch (by whistling) if they show him mercy. Hmm…on earth, we call that betrayal.
A demon, Cagnazzo, laughs him off, claiming it’s a trick by which the sinner hopes to escape them. Another happy demon, Alinchino, threatens the sinner that if he tries to dive back into the pitch, they’ll take to wing to torment him from the air.
As they’re all cackling evilly, the sinner does just that; he escapes.
The demons go "uh oh" and take to wing, but it’s too late. The sinner has disappeared beneath the boiling pitch.
The demons are furious.
Calcabrina is so mad he attacks his fellow demon Alinchino. In typically incompetent henchmen fashion, they both fall – entangled – into the pitch, and promptly get stuck.
Barbariccia, the head honcho, shakes his head in disgust and sends the rest of the party to fish them out.
Meanwhile, Dante and Virgil take this opportunity to slip away.