Canto 21 Summary
Last Updated on March 1, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 271
The Fifth Bolgia is a dimly lit area positively brimming with bubbles of scalding tar. Trapped inside these terrible tar pits are a multitude of sinners; they are surrounded by a crew of demons, who are responsible for thrusting the souls down into the boiling muck and preventing them from escaping. Visually, the sight is akin to how a chef stirs a pot of stew to ensure all of the ingredients are fully immersed.
Out of nowhere, Virgil urgently yanks Dante to the side, exclaiming: "Watch out!" A demon with wings swiftly approaches them, carrying an alderman who had gained illicit profits through underhanded deals and surreptitious cash-grabbing.
Virgil advises Dante to conceal himself and wait while he confronts the demons and informs them that he and Dante need to pass through. The first demon summons another one of their kind, Belzecue, who arrives to act as their protector and guide Virgil and Dante as they proceed.
Belzecue tells the terrified pair that they are one day and five hours away from the anniversary of a terrible earthquake that happened 1,266 years ago. The earthquake destroyed a crucial bridge in the region in which it took place and made interregional travel difficult; Belzecue assures the travelers that their journey will be nothing like that, as he plans to send demons to safeguard them along their journey.
Dante is hesitant to have these companions, but Virgil explains that the demons' contorted facial expressions are directed toward the sinners, not them. As the two travelers depart, they observe the demons sticking their tongues out at Belzecue, who signals their departure by blowing a bugle.