Dante's Inferno

Cantos 19-23

Cantos 19 and 20

Canto 19- Entering the 3rd Bolgia, the Simoniacs

The canto centers around the conversation between Dante and the Pope. The sinners in the 3rd Bolgia are the simoniacs, and their punishment is to have the soles of their feet set ablaze, while they are placed in a tube upside down. The chief sinner is Pope Nicholas III, who bought and sold holy office. He is to be succeeded by Boniface XIII, and he confuses him for Dante. Dante is bold in his chastisment of the Pope, and Virgil is pleased with how Dante now sees the damned. He is also accused of sacrilege, but he refutes this and explains his actions in this canto. The most powerful line is about the punishment when it says that "From every mouth a sinners legs stuck out as far as the calf. The soles were all ablaze and the joints of the legs quivered and writhed about."

Canto 20- Entering the 4th Bolgia, the Fortune Tellers and the Diviners

This Canto centers around the founding of the city of Mantua in Italy. In this canto, Dante comes upon the fortune tellers and the diviners who tried to look into the future during life using magic and divination. Their punishment is to have their heads turned backwards on their shoulders and to walk backwards through all eternity, their eyes blinded with tears. Upon seeing this punishment, Dante begins to weep, but Virgil scolds him for doing so. He sees one woman named Manto, and Virgil tells how his native city of Mantua was founded on the bones of Manto. Virgil then gives an account of various other sinners in this bolgia, including one named Michael Scott. The most powerful line is spoken by Virgil to Dante when he says that "there is no place for pity here. Who is more arrogant within his soul who is more impious than one who sorrows at Gods judgment?"

Cantos 21 and 22

Canto 21

Circle 8 5th Bolgia of Hell


  • The landscape of this Bolgia is a large pit filled with a boiling, sticky, tar-like substance
  • The people here are Grafters - people who trade the powers and favors of their political office for money
  • "The sticky pitch is symbolic of the sticky fingers of the Grafters" (Ciardi 169)
  • It also serves to conceal them, mirroring how their sinful dealings on earth were hidden from man's eye
  • Here, souls must submerge themselves in the pit. If they come to the surface, demons tear them to pieces with claws and grappling hooks
  • These demons are called the Malabranche - meaning "evil claws."
  • While conversing with the Demons, Virgil learns that the bridge to the sixth bolgia is broken
  • Virgil and Dante have to be escorted to the sixth bolgia by 10 demons
  • Epic Similie, page 170

Canto 22

Circle 8 5th Bolgia of Hell


  • Virgil and Dante are on their way to the sixth Bolgia
  • The fixate on the grafters in the pit who move around in the pouch but cannot be at the surface very long or they get torn apart
  • Imagery: One unfortunate grafter who stays at the surface too long is punished by a Demon who runs "a hook through the sinner's pitchy hair and hauled him in. He looked like an otter dripping from the brook" (Ciardi 179).
  • Virgil and Dante converse with a grafter who claims to have worked for King Thibault
  • The conversation ends when the tusked demon Ciriatto rips into the soul's body. Imagery: "He hooked the sinner's arm and, raking it, ripped off a chunk of meat" (Ciardi 181).
  • One grafter then tries to escape from the pit and starts a riot among the demons and grafters
  • Virgil and Dante escape in the midst of the chaos.


Canto 23

Entering the Sixth Bolgia- The Hypocrites

  • After Dante a Virgil sneak away from the fiends, Dante realizes that they are in peril. Dante sees the fiends chasing them and warns Virgil of the impending doom.
  • Virgil, then without hesitating, clutches Dante and slides down a slope to the sixth bolgia where they encounter the hypocrites.
  • The hypocrites all wore great big coats with a dazzling, brilliant appearance. Dante then learns however, that the coats are actually extremely heavy because they are filled with lead.
  • The hypocrites walk forever in a circle under the enormous weight of the lead.
  • Dante and Virgil come up upon Caiaphas, the chief sinner of the hypocrites. He is crucified to the floor by three great stakes. Caiaphas was the High Priest of the Jews who counseled the Pharisees to crucify Jesus.
  • Caiaphas must suffer upon his own weight and the weight of his sins throughout eternity.

Epic Simile

"Seizing me instantly in his arms, my Guide-

like a mother wakened by a midnight noise

to find a wall of flame at her bedside


(who takes her child and runs, and more concerned

for him than for herself, does not pause even

to throw a wrap about her) raised me, turned,


and down the rugged bank from the high summit..."