Inferno

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Inferno Canto 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Virgil and Dante walk on, Dante worries that the devils will get angry and come after the two of them. Virgil agrees and suggests that the two of them descend into the next trench so the demons won't find them. Just then, Dante sees the demons starting after them. Virgil snatches Dante up like a mother holding her child and the pair descend quickly down the ridge into the next trench to escape the devils. Once they set foot there, they are safe, since the demons are confined by God to the fifth trench.
Even Virgil's powerful words cannot hold the hostile demons at bay for long. Still, the malevolent devils are unable to leave their specific trench. They are instruments of God's plan of justice, firmly under his control—they are as much trapped in the fifth trench as the sinners.
Themes
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In this sixth trench, Dante sees souls walking around slowly, covered in cloaks. The cloaks are bright and gilded on the outside, but lined with heavy lead that weighs the souls down. Dante asks Virgil to see if he can find any famous sinner amongst them. Two souls overhear Dante speaking Italian and call out to them. Seeing that Dante is alive, they ask who he is and what he is doing here where the hypocrites are punished. Dante confirms that he is still living and asks who they are.
The hypocrites' punishment is fitting for their false nature. In life, they used lies to ease their way. In hell, their cloaks appear gilded and bright on the outside—just as their lies were pretty—but the cloaks weigh them down instead of allowing them to slip through life.
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The souls say that they were two Jovial Friars named Catalano and Loderingo and as Dante begins asking another question, he is stopped mid-sentence when he notices a man crucified upon the ground. Catalano tells Dante that this is the man who came up with the idea to crucify Jesus: Caiaphas. He says that all souls who pass by must walk over him.
The "Jovial Friars" offer another dig at those in the Church who abuse their position to gain wealth—the friars were supposed to follow vows of poverty. Caiaphas' punishment is directly related to his sin: for causing the crucifixion of Jesus, he is now crucified. And for causing one man to die for the sins of all, he must now bear the weight of all who walk over him.
Themes
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Virgil asks the friars how he and Dante might get out of this trench and Catalano tells him that there is a rock nearby over which they can climb to get up out of the deep trench. From there, the bridge over the trenches is broken, but the rubble is stable enough to cross over. Virgil realizes that the devils earlier lied when they said they couldn't take the bridge. Virgil takes off, looking angry, and Dante follows him.
Virgil now realizes that Malacoda and his devils lied to him about the bridge, which was still usable. Evidently, the devils were not entirely under the spell of Virgil's words.
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