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The Inferno: Novel Summary: Canto 23

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Summary
At first Dante and Virgil go on quietly, presumably hoping to get to the bridge over the next bolgia (the sixth) that the chief devil had told them was unbroken. But then Dante starts thinking about how the devils are going to be feeling after being fooled and humiliated, and suggests they hide. Virgil has already seen what he's thinking and totally agrees, but before they can do anything, they see the devils flying after them. Then, as a mother wakes up to see flames threatening and picks up her child and runs, not waiting to put on any clothes, so Virgil picks up Dante and slides down the bank into the next bolgia. There they are safe, since no devil can leave the bolgia to which it has been assigned. In this ditch they find people walking around the circle very slowly, wearing cloaks and hoods of the kinds monks wear. These garments are gilded and bright on the outside, but made of lead and unbearably heavy. "O weary mantle for eternity!" (line 68). The sinners Dante talks to tell him that all these souls were hypocrites; they themselves had been appointed joint rulers of Florence to bring about peace, but had actually been corrupt and caused destruction. Stretched across the path of the hypocrites (so that each must walk on him) and crucified with three stakes is Caiaphas, the high priest who contributed to the crucifixion of Christ by arguing that it was expedient for one man to be executed for the sake of the people.
Virgil asks if there is any place where it's easy to climb out of the ditch, and is told that the next bridge is broken in such a way that they can climb up on its ruins. That is the bridge that the chief of the devils had said they could cross by, and Virgil is so upset at finding out he's been lied to he moves ahead quickly, and Dante follows, in the track of "the print of the dear feet" (line 148).
Analysis
Virgil is usually so dignified, but here he puts all his dignity aside to save Dante. Some see here how completely Dante had to commit himself to his conscience to escape the charge against him; others emphasize that this touch that brings out Virgil's full humanity. The human beings in Dante's work may stand for something more than themselves, but part of what makes the Inferno a great poem is the full human relationship between Dante and Virgil, so different from the "relationships" between the souls they meet.
If you have ever deliberately tried to appear to be something you weren't for a prolonged period of time in order to get what you wanted, you may have some idea how perfectly this punishment reveals not only the essence of the sin, but at least one aspect of the price one pays for it. What a burden!




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