Dante's Inferno Canto 23: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

Canto 23 of Dante's ''Inferno'' reads like the script for a horror movie. There are demons, people being tortured and narrow escapes. Check out the lesson below to get the details.

You've Messed With the Wrong Demon

If you've ever insulted someone and then realized that it was a big mistake, you may understand some of what Dante is feeling in Canto 23 of his Inferno. In this portion of the text, Dante realizes that poking fun at a bunch of demons may not be the swiftest idea. Let's follow along to see what happens.

Time to Hide

Canto 23 finds our narrator and his tour guide Virgil continuing their journey through hell. All of a sudden Dante has a terrifying thought and thinks: ''These on our account Are laughed to scorn, with injury and scoff So great, that much I think it must annoy them.'' In other words, Dante realizes that he is making fun of the demons and beasts in hell, and they just might get angry and retaliate. He tells his guide that he feels like the demons are already behind them. Virgil and Dante decide to hide.

Virgil Carries Dante

Just as Virgil and Dante are heading away to hide, a demon approaches. Virgil snatches Dante up and carries him away from danger just like ''a mother who by noise is wakened, And close beside her sees the enkindled flames, Who takes her son, and flies, and does not stop, Having more care of him than of herself.'' In other words, Virgil picks Dante up and rescues him. Virgil does not treat Dante like a companion but more like a child who needs rescuing.


The demons continue to pursue both of them, but Virgil does not show any fear. As they continue to flee, they eventually end up running into a group of people who are weeping and walking slowly. They are also wearing heavy cloaks that seem heavier and more punishing than lead cloaks. As Dante and Virgil continue to walk, the sinners in their cloaks show interest in Dante saying ''Do not disdain to tell us who thou art.'' In other words, they want to know who he is. They also discuss whether Dante is alive and why he is visiting hell. Dante asks them why they are being punished, and it turns out that they are hypocrites.


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