Virgil and Dante narrowly escape from the devils and slide into the bolgia where hypocrites are punished.
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No longer accompanied by that wild escort, we continued walking quietly, single file, like monks on some journey. I was thinking how that mad scene we had just left reminded me of Aesop’s fable about the frog and the mouse, because “there” and “at that place” couldn’t be more alike than the mad scene and the fable itself! Then, you know how one thought leads to another, and right away I started worrying and fretting: “The Malebranche were badly tricked and shamed because of us. Resentful now, their evil instincts will be unleashed against us and they’ll chase us like dogs after rabbits!”Hold the image of monks in mind, as this will come back in full force later in this canto. Here, of course, Dante is thinking of the Franciscans, and their quiet walking restores a sense of calm … Continue reading
I was so frightened at that thought that I felt myself shiver and I kept looking over my shoulder. “O master,” I said to Virgil, “quickly find some hiding place for us. I fear that the Malebranche are chasing us – I can feel them right behind us!”
And he replied: “I’m reading your thoughts exactly, even as your face reflects your fear to me. I agree with you. Now, if the right-hand bank here isn’t too steep we can slide down into the next bolgia, and escape the chase you’re imagining.”By now, Dante and Virgil have probably come up out of the fifth bolgia with its boiling tar pits and are running along the top edge of the next ditch – across which the bridges have all been … Continue reading
No sooner had he finished but there they were, right behind us – the whole bunch of them, wings outstretched, with only one thing in mind! Like a mother who, alarmed by some sound, instinctively rushes to save her child from the approaching flames, not worrying about herself, Virgil grabbed hold of me and off we went down that higher side of the sixth bolgia. Water never ran through a mill sluice faster than we slid down that bank – even right before it hits the paddles! Virgil held me against his chest, not as his companion, but as though I were his own child. Hardly had we reached the bottom than those evil creatures were up there – all ten of them – looking down at us. But there was nothing to fear now: clearly Providence had put them in charge of the fifth bolgia, but it had also decreed that they could never leave it.Technically, this scene brings Cantos 21 and 22 to a close. Just as Dante had sensed, the ten devils are in wild pursuit of he and Virgil. With a double image, the first one being quite affectionate, … Continue reading
Turning our attention away from the devils, we now found ourselves among glittering people. Slowly, ever so slowly, they walked, step by step, around that bolgia, weeping, worn out by fatigue. All of them were dressed in monks’ cloaks with hoods, pulled over their eyes, like the Benedictines at Cluny. But these garments were dazzling, gilded, and shiny – on the outside. Inside, however, they were lined with such heavy lead that Frederick’s torture-capes were like straw compared to these. O cloak of eternal fatigue!In this opening scene with the hypocrites, Dante takes advantage of the very slow pace of the sinners in this sixth bolgia to give us lots of information. For one thing, words and phrases like … Continue reading
We turned to the left, as usual, and moved alongside these eternal penitents, lost in their tears. But, because their cloaks were so heavy, they couldn’t keep up with us, and every step found us among new sinners. I asked Virgil: “My master, look around as we’re walking to see if you recognize anyone whose name or deeds I might recall.”This turning to the left – to go in the same direction as the sinners – puts us back on the usual path followed by Dante and Virgil in Hell. But like the first bolgia with the two opposing … Continue reading
One of the sinners heard me speaking Tuscan as we passed and cried out behind us: “Wait for us, you two rushing through this dismal place. I may be able to tell you what you’d like to know.”Dante recognized for “speaking Tuscan” reminds us of Farinata in Canto 10 who also recognized him the same way. Since the Poet is writing in his Tuscan dialect, these points of recognition allow … Continue reading
Hearing this, Virgil said: “Let’s stop for a moment and wait for him. Then we can match our pace with his.” Soon, I saw two spirits whose faces showed the strain as they tried to catch up with us, but they were slowed down by the weight they carried and the crowds of sinners in that narrow road.
Finally, when they caught up to us they looked sideways at me for a while without saying a word. Then: “He’s got to be alive,” one said to the other. “Look how his throat moves. And if they’re both dead, how is it that they come among us without the gilded cloaks?”The slowing down and waiting (“weighting”) that Dante and Virgil must do in order to converse with these sinners adds to the sense of weight (“wait”) that we’re constantly reminded of with … Continue reading
Then they spoke to me: “O Tuscan, you who come to visit this college of hypocrites, please tell us who you are.”
I answered: “I was born and raised in that great city along the Arno, and I’m still very much alive. But tell me who you are, wailing with such grief? And what’s the meaning of these glittering cloaks you wear?”
One of them spoke: “These gilded robes are so thick with lead that it makes us creak like scales under a heavy weight as we walk. We were both Jovial Friars from Bologna. I’m Catalano and this is Loderingo. Both of us were chosen to keep the peace in your city, though usually only one was needed. You might find out more about us around the Gardingo neighborhood there.”Referring to themselves as members of the “college of hypocrites” is an elegant introduction of these two sinners that glitters like the capes they wear. However, since this hypocrite is from … Continue reading
Realizing who they were, I began: “O Brothers, your wretchedness…” but I stopped.The unusual break in Dante’s exclamation here makes it difficult to know whether he was about to commiserate with the sufferings of Catalano and Loderingo or to condemn them for the suffering they … Continue reading How could I go on when I saw a man crucified with three stakes on the ground right in front of us! Catching sight of me his whole body writhed terribly and his great sighs revealed his pain. Friar Catalano, who saw this, said: “That nailed one there is the man who advised the Pharisees that it was better to sacrifice one man than the whole people. As you can see, he lies there stretched out naked and he feels the terrible weight of each one of us as we step on him to get by. His father-in-law and all that wicked seed of the Jews lie in the same way all along this bolgia.”After hearing from Catalano and Loderingo, and realizing who they were and the suffering they caused, Dante was ready to rebuke them. But they must have been walking along slowly, Dante listening as … Continue reading
The whole time Virgil stood there utterly amazed at the sight of that crucified body laying there forever. Then he asked one of the monks: “If it is permitted, can you tell us how to get out of here? There must be some way we can avoid meeting those black angels again.”Virgil’s amazement here and the fact that he doesn’t comment on what he sees is fascinating. This special group of hypocrites and their particular contrapasso were not here in the sixth bolgia … Continue reading
The friar answered: “It’s actually closer than you think. Every bridge across this bolgia lies smashed to pieces down here. But you can climb up on those ruins over there and get out.”
Virgil stood there for a moment, silent – and I could tell he was greatly annoyed. “That Malacoda lied to us about these bridges!”
The friar replied: “I remember, in Bologna, once hearing a discussion about all the devil’s wiles. One of them is that he lies – he’s the father of lies!”
With big steps Virgil walked away angrily. I turned and left those weighty sinners, following in my beloved master’s footsteps.It’s odd that Virgil would be concerned about meeting the Malebranche again. Except that now he comes face to face with his excessive self-confidence when he ignored Dante’s warnings about the … Continue reading
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Notes & Commentary
|↑1||Hold the image of monks in mind, as this will come back in full force later in this canto. Here, of course, Dante is thinking of the Franciscans, and their quiet walking restores a sense of calm after the “mad scene” of the last two cantos, particularly at the end Canto 22. As his mind works over the previous scene, Dante moves from thought to thought as though he’s stepping on stones across a stream that lead him to his conclusion. The fable of the mouse and the frog was probably not written by Aesop, but it was, nevertheless, popular in the Middle Ages and it offers the reader another way to consider the comedy of the last two cantos. A mouse needs to cross a stream and a frog offers him a ride. But the mouse fears that he’ll fall off and drown. So, the frog ties the mouse to one of his legs and begins to swim away – with the wicked intention of diving down and drowning the mouse! This said, the mouse is desperately trying to stay afloat when a hawk spies it from aloft, swoops down, pulls both the mouse and the frog up out of the water, and devours them both! Dante doesn’t give us the whole fable, but what he notes is enough to make us think about that story and its moral. In a similar way, “there” and “at that place” point in the same direction, but in different ways. Some commentators liken the mouse and the frog to Calcabrina and Alichino. Others see both Dante and Virgil as the “mice” deceived by the devilish “frogs” who, most likely, would have been happy to drown the two travelers in the boiling tar. But, like the frog, their evil came back upon them and their victims escaped unscathed.
We must remember that there are no bridges over the next bolgia, but we do need to get there, and Dante’s fears of demonic retribution are just what is needed now to move things along.
|↑2||By now, Dante and Virgil have probably come up out of the fifth bolgia with its boiling tar pits and are running along the top edge of the next ditch – across which the bridges have all been broken. And Dante’s premonition of being chased by the angry devils is compounded both by Virgil’s agreement and the necessity to get down into the sixth bolgia at all costs. Note once again, however, that for a moment it is Dante who is the more reasonable of the two. It is he who warns Virgil of the approach of the Malebranche just as it was he who correctly warned Virgil of the devils’ evil intent toward them. We can recall earlier where Dante has “read” Virgil’s face. This time Virgil reads the fear in Dante’s face.|
|↑3||Technically, this scene brings Cantos 21 and 22 to a close. Just as Dante had sensed, the ten devils are in wild pursuit of he and Virgil. With a double image, the first one being quite affectionate, Dante describes their escape. As though Dante were his child, and not thinking (Virgil is usually reasoning) about his own safety, Virgil (as a loving mother) grabs him and holds him tightly against his chest as he jumps down off the bank into the next ditch. And like water rushing through a mill, they quickly make their escape from the Malebranche. We also learn something else about Hell: the devils or other creatures who keep watch over the sinners at the various levels cannot leave their assigned places.|
|↑4||In this opening scene with the hypocrites, Dante takes advantage of the very slow pace of the sinners in this sixth bolgia to give us lots of information. For one thing, words and phrases like slowly, step by step, worn out, eternal fatigue offer a strong contrast to the excitement in the previous two cantos. This canto opened with an image of monks walking slowly and quietly, but only now does the image come to fruition, having acted as a kind of bridge over the intervening escape where there was actually no bridge. But these are not Franciscan monks in coarse, ill-fitting robes. These are “glittering people,” and the reference is to what they’re wearing: the classic style of hooded capes worn by monks in great monasteries like Cluny in France, particularly during times of prayer and liturgical ceremonies. The robes here, however, are “dazzling” to look at, but only on the outside. They’re actually made of heavy lead! Once again, this is a wonderfully imaginative contrapasso for the hypocrites, and not unlike the flatterers we met earlier, who were smeared with a different kind of covering that flows exactly from their sin just as this one does. Symbolically, the slow pace of these “leaded” hypocrites points to how impossible progress along the road to holiness is. And the hypocrites, by the way, seem to be the only sinners in Hell who are clothed. All of this is most likely based on Jesus’ harsh criticism of the Pharisees in St. Matthew’s Gospel:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.” (23:27-28)
That Dante mentions the famous monastery of Cluny probably has to do with stories that circulated in Medieval times about pretentious monks or wealthy monasteries. He is not shy about pointing out excesses in the Church. Most commentators agree that Dante’s Clugnì is a reference to Cluny, but there are some who think he may have been referring to another great monastery – at Cologne – about which there is a story appropriate to this canto. It was said that the monks at Cologne, because of the fame and dignity of their monastery, appealed to the pope that they be allowed to wear scarlet robes girded by silver belts. His answer was an order that they wear coarse gray instead. Even St. Bernard criticized excesses in monastic dress. As for Frederick’s torture-capes, Dante is referring to another story (not verified by hard evidence) that Frederick II executed traitors by wrapping them in sheets of lead and placing them in heated cauldrons until the lead melted. One could imagine a different – and far worse – contrapasso of wearing red hot capes instead of lead ones. Finally, the fact that Dante always holds the Church and its leaders (including members of religious orders) to a higher standard is subtly evident in the comparison between the monk-like gowns of the hypocrites and the straw-like “gowns” used by Frederick.
|↑5||This turning to the left – to go in the same direction as the sinners – puts us back on the usual path followed by Dante and Virgil in Hell. But like the first bolgia with the two opposing columns of sinners, they are moving along here with sinners going in the same direction and can’t see their faces to recognize any of them. Thus Dante’s question to Virgil (not unlike to the scene in the previous canto where he put Virgil up to asking Ciampolo if there were any Italians in the boiling tar. This problem of recognition is amplified by the fact that the two travelers constantly outpace the shuffling sinners. At the same time, the heavily cloaked and hooded bodies of these hypocrites enable them to hide behind their seemingly lustrous exteriors.|
|↑6||Dante recognized for “speaking Tuscan” reminds us of Farinata in Canto 10 who also recognized him the same way. Since the Poet is writing in his Tuscan dialect, these points of recognition allow him from time to time to highlight his important “first”: writing an epic poem in the vernacular. One might imagine here that Dante and Virgil have been walking along rather slowly because they’re trying to see if they recognize anyone. But even this slow pace on their part is too fast for the sinners, one of whom calls out for them to slow down even more so they can talk.|
|↑7||The slowing down and waiting (“weighting”) that Dante and Virgil must do in order to converse with these sinners adds to the sense of weight (“wait”) that we’re constantly reminded of with these sinners. The fact that they’re robed in heavy led gowns is a continual visible reminder to each and all of the sin they strove to hide behind a beautiful exterior. Recalling that these are the only clothed sinners in Hell, these hypocrites actually “wear” their sin. But what they wear also gets in the way of their looking at Dante and Virgil straight in the face. That simple, honest gesture is denied the hypocrites whose own faces were false. Before they begin their conversation, the sinners realize that Dante is alive because his throat moves when he talks. While this might seem like a minor detail, for Dante the Poet it’s extremely important because it amplifies once again that he is, in fact, alive and experiencing “right now” everything he’s writing about. Recall earlier how his alive-ness was manifested when he stepped into the boat in Canto 8 and when rocks moved as he stepped on them in Canto 12. In cantos later on in the Poem we will see this happen again. But these two hypocrites aren’t finished wondering. Are Dante and Virgil really alive (and speaking), or are they dead – which raises two other questions: what are they doing here, and what are they doing here without the lead cloak – “naked,” as it were? In the Italian, Dante refers to the lead cloak as la grave stola – often translated as “heavy,” “weighty,” etc. Like the English word, grave also means “serious.” But in Italian it doesn’t also mean “tomb.” However, if one played with the words, it’s appropriate that the hypocrites wear a “grave cloak.” Their sin wrapped them in a heavy cloak they wore to the grave and thereafter in Hell! One might say they buried themselves in their sin.|
|↑8||Referring to themselves as members of the “college of hypocrites” is an elegant introduction of these two sinners that glitters like the capes they wear. However, since this hypocrite is from Bologna, site of the oldest university in Europe, he folds this academic term into his question. Already knowing where Dante is from by his speech, the real question is who he is. Compared to their overblown language, Dante’s answer is quite sparse. He simply tells them that he’s from Florence and, of course, that he’s very much alive. Then he turns the question around on them, and when we explore the context of their answer, we see that they tell him perhaps more than they should have. That their gilded robes are like heavy-laden scales brings to mind the scales of justice which, in their case, are loaded with their weighty hypocrisies until they creak.
The Jovial Friars (Frati Gaudenti) was the popular name for a religious order of laymen known as the Knights of Saint Mary, founded in Bologna in 1261. One might call it a kind of spiritual militia because their papal charter allowed them to bear arms in defense of the Church. But their chief mission in Dante’s time was to negotiate reconciliations between warring factions whose civil strife disrupted the good government of cities. Both Catalano (a Guelf) and Loderingo (a Ghibelline) were among the founders of this “order,” and they were sent to Florence in 1266 by Pope Clement IV ostensibly to settle disputes between the Guelfs and Ghibellines. But his goal was to control Florence by ravaging the Ghibelline party. Unfortunately, these two knights compromised their objectivity – not to mention their virtue – and aroused the ire of the populace. Favoritism of the Guelf faction led to the destruction of the homes of prominent Ghibelline leaders in the Gardingo section of Florence (in the neighborhood of the present Palazzo Vecchio) as Catalano explains. Because members of this order were not bound by strict vows they could live outside the monastery, they could marry and have children, and they accepted and enjoyed many other social privileges. Not all members were disreputable, but those that were gave it a reputation for laxity and involvement in various scandals – thus its nickname, “Jovial,” – and it was suppressed by Pope Sixtus V in 1558. After long careers as roving mayors/governors, both men retired to and eventually died at the order’s monastery in Bologna.
|↑9||The unusual break in Dante’s exclamation here makes it difficult to know whether he was about to commiserate with the sufferings of Catalano and Loderingo or to condemn them for the suffering they brought on others by their misdeeds when they were alive. From the historical context, which Dante knew well, and from the way he has (and will) reacted to hypocrisy among clerics and members of religious orders in the Church, it seems almost certain that he was about to condemn them. Most translators follow the line of condemnation rather than commiseration.|
|↑10||After hearing from Catalano and Loderingo, and realizing who they were and the suffering they caused, Dante was ready to rebuke them. But they must have been walking along slowly, Dante listening as he looked ahead, because just as he started his rebuke he caught sight of a different sinner in front of them who was actually crucified onto the ground! Mid sentence, Dante appears to be so taken aback at the sight that Catalano answers his implied question and almost excitedly tells him all he needs to know. Among the contrapassi that Dante creates, this is one of the most clever and brilliantly executed. In the Christian world, and certainly in Dante’s time, Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest who condemned Jesus, is a shrewd villain worse than poor Judas. Without naming him, Catalano simply refers to the verse in St. John’s Gospel where Caiaphas actually condemns himself. Jesus had just raised his friend, Lazarus, from the dead – a spectacular miracle performed in front of a large crowd of mourners. As St. John records it:
“Many of the Jews who had come with Mary and who had observed what Jesus did believed in him. Some of them, however, went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the high priests and the Pharisees assembled the Council and said, “What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, told them, “You don’t know anything! You don’t realize that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (John 11:45-50)
Catalano isn’t finished, and here is the brilliant contrapasso. As we know, the bottom of this particular bolgia is rather narrow. Caiaphas is nailed across the road, and the heavily-leaded hypocrites do not walk around him and all his colleagues. No, they literally trample over him and the rest, letting them feel the weight of all the hypocrisy in Hell. Cleverly, as the Gospel speaks of Jesus being “lifted up” on his cross, Caiaphas is nailed to the ground in Hell. Furthermore, he and his fellow-hypocrites are set apart from the rest of the sinners in this ditch – a first in Dante’s Hell. Not only are they all crucified to the ground, but they are also naked. Recall that the hypocrites are the only sinners in hell who are clothed. But it would be insufficient that these particular hypocrites simply wear a lead gown like the rest. Instead, they personally feel the weight of every other lead gown in this place.
|↑11||Virgil’s amazement here and the fact that he doesn’t comment on what he sees is fascinating. This special group of hypocrites and their particular contrapasso were not here in the sixth bolgia when he passed this section of Hell the first time, shortly after his death in 19 BC, as he told Dante in Canto 9. For that matter, the bridges over this ditch were still intact. When he does speak, he’s anxious to know the quickest (and safest) way out. But note also the particularly apt way he address Catalano. Earlier, Catalano “welcomed” Virgil and Dante to the “college” of the hypocrites, all of whom are dressed in what appear to be the robes of monks, and all of whom appear to be part of a monastic procession. And so Virgil, perhaps tongue in cheek, asks, “If it is permitted…,” suggesting that where they are is, in fact, a kind of infernal college or monastery that has rules to which these “monks” owe their obedience.|
|↑12||It’s odd that Virgil would be concerned about meeting the Malebranche again. Except that now he comes face to face with his excessive self-confidence when he ignored Dante’s warnings about the devils’ evil intentions. To be told by a hypocrite in Hell that the devil is the father of lies is galling. And in keeping with the “collegiate” theme, did Catalano hear this pithy truth about the devil in a discussion at Bologna’s university on chapter 8, verse 44, of St. John’s Gospel? The way out, of course, has to be downward – that is, by way of the lower slope of this bolgia, opposite the one they slid down to escape the Malebranche. Without further ado, Virgil seems to stomp off in a fit of pique – Dante affectionately follows his embarrassed mentor quietly.|