Inferno Inferno Canto XXIII (the Eighth Circle, Fifth Pouch: the Barrators; Sixth Pouch: the Hypocrites) Summary
Our heroes rush away silently.
Even in his fear, Dante pulls a metaphor out of the bag, comparing the demons to Aesop’s fable about a mouse and a treacherous frog.
After conveying this juicy little literary tidbit, Dante voices his fear to Virgil. He’s scared that the demons will be angry (which they will be) and will come after them (that too).
Dante’s so scared, his hair curls up. Literally.
Dante suggests that they hide since he hears the demons coming.
Virgil agrees in an overdone poetic way. He suggests going down that steep bank over there.
Just then, the shadow of the approaching danger looms on the horizon. The demons are coming! The demons are coming!
Virgil snatches Dante up like a mother rescuing her child from a fire and runs like nobody’s business to the edge of cliff. Taking a seat, he proceeds to slide down with much flailing and screaming and butt burning.
Dante has the presence of mind to make a metaphor. Virgil’s sliding down the slope is like water running on the down cycle of a mill wheel. In other words, it’s really fast.
Just as they touch bottom, the demons appear at the top, roaring their rage to the world because they can’t cross the border to the next pouch.
Dante and Virgil find the next group of sinners, a bunch of men walking around in circles and dressed in really tacky gold cloaks. And the cloaks are really heavy too, because they’re lined with lead on the inside.
Dante asks Virgil to keep his eyes peeled for someone they know.
A gaudily-dressed sinner overhears, recognizes Dante’s Tuscan accent, and shouts at them to stop!
So Dante and Virgil join the circle of sinners to talk to the two who are interested.
The two sinners confer among themselves: why is that guy alive and how come he doesn’t have to wear these fashion atrocities like we do? (Turn to Dante.) So…what’s your name?
Dante answers shortly: Yes, I’m Tuscan and yes, I’m alive. So what else is new? But who are you? And what kind of punishment is this?
They tell Dante that they’re condemned to walk around (very slowly) with these ridiculously heavy cloaks on because they are Jovial Friars (hypocrites) whose selfishness screwed up the region of Gardingo.
Dante is about to berate them, but stops because he just noticed something crucified.
It’s another giant, naked sinner who is crucified to the ground, writhing and sighing.
Fra Catalano (apparently one of the Jovial Friar’s names) tells the gape-mouthed Dante that that’s Caiaphas, the priest who came up with the idea to crucify Jesus alone, instead of all the Jews. The crucifixion idea sort of backfired, and he has to bear the pain of any passing traffic running over him.
That’s not all. Catalano tells our heroes that the same punishment afflicts Caiaphas’s family members and friends.
Virgil is amazed at the sight of Caiaphas.
Then he asks the Friars if there’s a way to get out of here without calling the demons back.
Good news. There is indeed a bridge close by. It’s broken, but that doesn’t matter. There’s enough rubble heaped on the sides and bottom to make passage possible, if not easy.
So, Virgil has one of those mysteriously quiet contemplative moments and shows his displeasure: the demons lied to him about the broken bridge.
At which point one of the Friars fires back with something akin to "You actually trusted them? Don’t you know demons are liars?"
Virgil leaves in a rage, with Dante dogging his steps.