Canto 23 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 547

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Hypocrites: Wear cloaks with hoods, bright colors, and lead linings

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Catalano and Loderingo: Two hooded friars from Bologna

Caiaphas: High priest; condemned Christ; crucified in Hell by triple stake

Dante and Virgil continue their journey single file. Dante recalls a story from Aesop of a frog and a mouse; these thoughts occupy his mind for a while, and he has a feeling of fear of the demons in the back of his mind. When he expresses his concern, Virgil admits similar fears. The two travelers now see the demons swooping low as if trying to snatch up the pair.

Dante and Virgil flee to the next trench and see the hypocrites with their brightly painted hoods which are lined with lead. Two of the hypocrites who had been Jovial Friars ask about Dante and then introduce themselves as Catalano and Loderingo. Catalano explains that the crucified sinner on the ground was one who had given advice to the Pharisees.

Virgil asks directions and the hypocrite tells them the way to go. Virgil says that the one who uses a spear to hook the sinners must have given them bad advice. The two move on and Dante senses anger in Virgil.

Discussion and Analysis
The story from Aesop which Dante recalls is one about a frog who ties a mouse to his leg in order to carry it across the water. The frog dives deep into the pond and the mouse drowns; a hawk swoops down and devours both. This story gives a sense of foreboding to the canto and adds to the reader’s fear for the main characters. In some versions of the story the mouse is able to escape, but the reader is not sure which version will apply in this instance. There is foreshadowing from the beginning of the canto, however, so the reader is not surprised when the two travelers suddenly see the demons swoop low on their wide wings and try to seize them.

To escape the demons, the two travelers must hurry to the next trench. There they see the hooded hypocrites, but the capes, like the sinners wearing them, are not as they seem. The capes are brightly painted but lined with heavy lead. (Some authorities consider the paint as having been applied to the hypocrites themselves and not to the capes or hoods, but the later references to the “orange-gilded dress” and to the fact that “they were gilded dazzling-bright” seem to imply the capes—not the people themselves—were painted.)

The Jovial Friars (to which Catalano and Loderingo once belonged) was a religious group of knights with the official name of Ordo militiae beatae Mariae. The group had sought for about five years to protect the helpless and to bring peace, but its rules were quite lax and it did not survive. Catalano explains to Dante that the sinner that they see crucified is Caiaphas, the high priest who had condemned Christ to death.

Virgil asks directions from the two hypocrites and says that the demons have given him bad advice. The two leave to continue their journey and Dante follows in the prints of the beloved feet—perhaps an allusion to the fact that he and Virgil are following in the steps of Christ.

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