Canto 22 Summary and Analysis
The Soul from Navarre: Probably Gian Polo; Spaniard; former servant
Dante says that the many sights and sounds of his past do not compare with the journey that he is now beginning. Dante sees sinners jumping into the hot-pot to escape the wrath of the demons; one soul, however, does not submerge himself and is hooked by a demon. This soul is from Navarre and tells of events in his life; after his narrative the demons torture the shade.
The soul tells of others who occupy the pit with him: Fra Gomita and Don Michael Zanche. He makes a deal with the demons to fetch up seven to substitute for himself. The demons threaten to come after him if he fails to deliver. When the demons look away, the soul dives into the pit.
This trickery causes the demons to squabble among themselves. While they argue, splutter in rage, and fight among themselves, Dante and Virgil slip away.
Discussion and Analysis
Dante is horrified and amazed at the sights he sees. The soul that does not return promptly to the pit may be Gian Polo, a Spaniard, from Navarre. Fra Gomita, who was hanged, was at one time a judge of the province of Gallura. Don Michael Zanche was a son of Fredrick II; his son-in-law murdered him in 1290. Canto XXXIII refers to Branca d’Oria, the murderer of Zanche.
The trickery employed by Gian Polo illustrates a common literary theme: survival of the unfittest; technically the least fit should not conquer, but the survival and conquest of the “underdog” makes for interesting reading. The two travelers—Dante and Virgil—continue on their journey; their actions depict a second traditional theme: that of the journey, called the picaresque theme.