History of Literature

Dante Alighieri

"Divine Comedy"

Inferno - Purgatorio - Paradiso

Illustrations by G. Dore

Illustrations by W. Blake

Illustrations by S. Dali


Dante Alighieri

Andrea del Castagno
Mural of Dante in the Uffizi Gallery
 c. 1450.


see also:

Dante Alighieri "The Divine Comedy"
Illustrations by G. Dore, W. Blake, S. Dali)

Dante (Illustrations by Botticelli)



Italian poet
in full Dante Alighieri

born c. May 21–June 20, 1265, Florence, Italy
died Sept. 13/14, 1321, Ravenna

Italian poet.

Dante was of noble ancestry, and his life was shaped by the conflict between papal and imperial partisans (the Guelfs and Ghibellines). When an opposing political faction within the Guelfs (Dante’s party) gained ascendancy, he was exiled (1302) from Florence, to which he never returned. His life was given direction by his spiritual love for Beatrice Portinari (d. 1290), to whom he dedicated most of his poetry. His great friendship with Guido Cavalcanti shaped his later career as well. La Vita Nuova (1293?) celebrates Beatrice in verse. In his difficult years of exile, he wrote the verse collection The Banquet (c. 1304–07); De vulgari eloquentia (1304–07; “Concerning Vernacular Eloquence”), the first theoretical discussion of the Italian literary language; and On Monarchy (1313?), a major Latin treatise on medieval political philosophy. He is best known for the monumental epic poem The Divine Comedy (written c. 1308–21; originally titled simply Commedia), a profoundly Christian vision of human temporal and eternal destiny. It is an allegory of universal human destiny in the form of a pilgrim’s journey through hell and purgatory, guided by the Roman poet Virgil, and then to Paradise, guided by Beatrice. By writing it in Italian rather than Latin, Dante almost singlehandedly made Italian a literary language, and he stands as one of the towering figures of European literature.

Italian poet, prose writer, literary theorist, moral philosopher, and political thinker. He is best known for the monumental epic poem La commedia, later named La divina commedia (The Divine Comedy).

Dante’s Divine Comedy, a great work of medieval literature, is a profound Christian vision of man’s temporal and eternal destiny. On its most personal level, it draws on the poet’s own experience of exile from his native city of Florence; on its most comprehensive level, it may be read as an allegory, taking the form of a journey through hell, purgatory, and paradise. The poem amazes by its array of learning, its penetrating and comprehensive analysis of contemporary problems, and its inventiveness of language and imagery. By choosing to write his poem in Italian rather than in Latin, Dante decisively influenced the course of literary development. Not only did he lend a voice to the emerging lay culture of his own country, but Italian became the literary language in western Europe for several centuries.

In addition to poetry Dante wrote important theoretical works ranging from discussions of rhetoric to moral philosophy and political thought. He was fully conversant with the classical tradition, drawing for his own purposes on such writers as Virgil, Cicero, and Boethius. But, most unusual for a layman, he also had an impressive command of the most recent scholastic philosophy and of theology. His learning and his personal involvement in the heated political controversies of his age led him to the composition of De monarchia, one of the major tracts of medieval political philosophy.

Early life and the Vita nuova
Most of what is known about Dante’s life he has told himself. He was born in Florence in 1265 under the sign of Gemini (between May 21 and June 20) and remained devoted to his native city all his life. Dante describes how he fought as a cavalryman against the Ghibellines, a banished Florentine party supporting the imperial cause. He also speaks of his great teacher Brunetto Latini and his gifted friend Guido Cavalcanti, of the poetic culture in which he made his first artistic ventures, his poetic indebtedness to Guido Guinizelli, the origins of his family in his great-great-grandfather, Cacciaguida, whom the reader meets in the central cantos of the Paradiso (and from whose wife the family name, Alighieri, derived), and, going back even further, of the pride that he felt in the fact that his distant ancestors were descendants of the Roman soldiers who settled along the banks of the Arno.

Yet Dante has little to say about his more immediate family. There is no mention of his father or mother, brother or sister in The Divine Comedy. A sister is possibly referred to in the Vita nuova, and his father is the subject of insulting sonnets exchanged in jest between Dante and his friend Forese Donati. Because Dante was born in 1265 and the exiled Guelfs, to whose party Dante’s family adhered, did not return until 1266, Dante’s father apparently was not a figure considerable enough to warrant exile. Dante’s mother died when he was young, certainly before he was 14. Her name was Bella, but of which family is unknown. Dante’s father then married Lapa di Chiarissimo Cialuffi and they produced a son, Francesco, and a daughter, Gaetana. Dante’s father died prior to 1283, since at that time Dante, having come into his majority, was able as an orphan to sell a credit owned by his father. The elder Alighieri left his children a modest yet comfortable patrimony of property in Florence and in the country. About this time Dante married Gemma Donati, to whom he had been betrothed since 1277.

Dante’s life was shaped by the long history of conflict between the imperial and papal partisans called, respectively, Ghibellines and Guelfs. Following the middle of the 13th century the antagonisms were brutal and deadly, with each side alternately gaining the upper hand and inflicting gruesome penalties and exile upon the other. In 1260 the Guelfs, after a period of ascendancy, were defeated in the battle of Montaperti (Inferno X, XXXII), but in 1266 a force of Guelfs, supported by papal and French armies, was able to defeat the Ghibellines at Benevento, expelling them forever from Florence. This meant that Dante grew up in a city brimming with postwar pride and expansionism, eager to extend its political control throughout Tuscany. Florentines compared themselves with Rome and the civilization of the ancient city-states.

Not only did Florence extend its political power, but it was ready to exercise intellectual dominance as well. The leading figure in Florence’s intellectual ascendancy was a returning exile, Brunetto Latini. When in the Inferno Dante describes his encounter with his great teacher, this is not to be regarded as simply a meeting of one pupil with his master but rather as an encounter of an entire generation with its intellectual mentor. Latini had awakened a new public consciousness in the prominent figures of a younger generation, including Guido Cavalcanti, Forese Donati, and Dante himself, encouraging them to put their knowledge and skill as writers to the service of their city or country. Dante readily accepted the Aristotelian assumption that man is a social (political) being. Even in the Paradiso (VIII.117) Dante allows as being beyond any possible dispute the notion that things would be far worse for man were he not a member of a city-state.

A contemporary historian, Giovanni Villani, characterized Latini as the “initiator and master in refining the Florentines and in teaching them how to speak well, and how to guide our republic according to political philosophy [la politica].” Despite the fact that Latini’s most important book, Li Livres dou Trésor (1262–66; The Tresor), was written in French (Latini had passed his years of exile in France), its culture is Dante’s culture; it is a repository of classical citation. The first part of Book II contains one of the early translations in a modern European vernacular of Aristotle’s Ethics. On almost every question or topic of philosophy, ethics, and politics Latini freely quotes from Cicero and Seneca. And, almost as frequently, when treating questions of government, he quotes from the book of Proverbs, as Dante was to do. The Bible, as well as the writings of Aristotle, Cicero, and Seneca, as represented in Latini’s work, were the mainstays of Dante’s early culture.

Of these Rome presents the most inspiring source of identification. The cult of Cicero began to develop alongside that of Aristotle; Cicero was perceived as not only preaching but as fully exemplifying the intellectual as citizen. A second Roman element in Latini’s legacy to become an important part of Dante’s culture was the love of glory, the quest for fame through a wholehearted devotion to excelling. For this reason, in the Inferno (XV) Latini is praised for instructing Dante in the means by which man makes himself immortal, and in his farewell words Latini commits to Dante’s care his Tresor, through which he trusts his memory will survive.

Dante was endowed with remarkable intellectual and aesthetic self-confidence. By the time he was 18, as he himself says in the Vita nuova, he had already taught himself the art of making verse (chapter III). He sent an early sonnet, which was to become the first poem in the Vita nuova, to the most famous poets of his day. He received several responses, but the most important one came from Cavalcanti, and this was the beginning of their great friendship.

As in all meetings of great minds the relationship between Dante and Cavalcanti was a complicated one. In chapter XXX of the Vita nuova Dante states that it was through Cavalcanti’s exhortations that he wrote his first book in Italian rather than in Latin. Later, in the Convivio, written in Italian, and in De vulgari eloquentia, written in Latin, Dante was to make one of the first great Renaissance defenses of the vernacular. His later thinking on these matters grew out of his discussions with Cavalcanti, who prevailed upon him to write only in the vernacular. Because of this intellectual indebtedness, Dante dedicated his Vita nuova to Cavalcanti—to his best friend (primo amico).

Later, however, when Dante became one of the priors of Florence, he was obliged to concur with the decision to exile Cavalcanti, who contracted malaria during the banishment and died in August 1300. In the Inferno (X) Dante composed a monument to his great friend, and it is as heartrending a tribute as his memorial to Latini. In both cases Dante records his indebtedness, his fondness, and his appreciation of their great merits, but in each he is equally obliged to record the facts of separation. In order to save himself, he must find (or has found) other, more powerful aesthetic, intellectual, and spiritual sponsorship than that offered by his old friends and teachers.

One of these spiritual guides, for whom Cavalcanti evidently did not have the same appreciation, was Beatrice, a figure in whom Dante created one of the most celebrated fictionalized women in all of literature. In keeping with the changing directions of Dante’s thought and the vicissitudes of his career, she, too, underwent enormous changes in his hands—sanctified in the Vita nuova, demoted in the canzoni (poems) presented in the Convivio, only to be returned with more profound comprehension in The Divine Comedy as the woman credited with having led Dante away from the “vulgar herd.”

La vita nuova (c. 1293; The New Life) is the first of two collections of verse that Dante made in his lifetime, the other being the Convivio. Each is a prosimetrum, that is, a work composed of verse and prose. In each case the prose is a device for binding together poems composed over about a 10-year period. The Vita nuova brought together Dante’s poetic efforts from before 1283 to roughly 1292–93; the Convivio, a bulkier and more ambitious work, contains Dante’s most important poetic compositions from just prior to 1294 to the time of The Divine Comedy.

The Vita nuova, which Dante called his libello, or small book, is a remarkable work. It contains 42 brief chapters with commentaries on 25 sonnets, one ballata, and four canzoni; a fifth canzone is left dramatically interrupted by Beatrice’s death. The prose commentary provides the frame story, which does not emerge from the poems themselves (it is, of course, conceivable that some were actually written for other occasions than those alleged). The story is simple enough, telling of Dante’s first sight of Beatrice when both are nine years of age, her salutation when they are 18, Dante’s expedients to conceal his love for her, the crisis experienced when Beatrice withholds her greeting, Dante’s anguish that she is making light of him, his determination to rise above anguish and sing only of his lady’s virtues, anticipations of her death (that of a young friend, the death of her father, and Dante’s own premonitory dream), and finally the death of Beatrice, Dante’s mourning, the temptation of the sympathetic donna gentile (a young woman who temporarily replaces Beatrice), Beatrice’s final triumph and apotheosis, and, in the last chapter, Dante’s determination to write at some later time about her “that which has never been written of any woman.”

Yet with all of this apparently autobiographical purpose the Vita nuova is strangely impersonal. The circumstances it sets down are markedly devoid of any historical facts or descriptive detail (thus making it pointless to engage in too much debate as to the exact historical identity of Beatrice). The language of the commentary also adheres to a high level of generality. Names are rarely used—Cavalcanti is referred to three times as Dante’s “best friend”; Dante’s sister is referred to as “she who was joined to me by the closest proximity of blood.” On the one hand Dante suggests the most significant stages of emotional experience, but on the other he seems to distance his descriptions from strong emotional reactions. The larger structure in which Dante arranged poems written over a 10-year period and the generality of his poetic language are indications of his early and abiding ambition to go beyond the practices of local poets.

Dante’s intellectual development and public career
A second contemporary poetic figure behind Dante was Guido Guinizelli, the poet most responsible for altering the prevailing local, or “municipal,” kind of poetry. Guinizelli’s verse provided what Cavalcanti and Dante were looking for—a remarkable sense of joy contained in a refined and lucid aesthetic. What increased the appeal of his poetry was its intellectual, even philosophical, content. His poems were written in praise of the lady and of gentilezza, the virtue that she brought out in her admirer. The conception of love that he extolled was part of a refined and noble sense of life. It was Guinizelli’s influence that was responsible for the poetic and spiritual turning point of the Vita nuova. As reported in chapters XVII to XXI, Dante experienced a change of heart, and rather than write poems of anguish, he determined to write poems in praise of his lady, especially the canzone Donne ch’avete intelletto d’amore (“Ladies Who Have Understanding of Love”). This canzone is followed immediately by the sonnet Amore e ’l cor gentil sono una cosa (“Love and the Noble Heart Are the Same Thing”), the first line of which is clearly an adaptation of Guinizelli’s Al cor gentil ripara sempre amore (“In Every Noble Heart Love Finds Its Home”). This was the beginning of Dante’s association with a new poetic style, the dolce stil nuovo (“the sweet new style”), the significance of which—the simple means by which it transcended the narrow range of the more regional poetry—he dramatically explains in the Purgatorio (XXIV).

This interest in philosophical poetry led Dante into another great change in his life, which he describes in the Convivio. Looking for consolation following the death of Beatrice, Dante reports that he turned to philosophy, particularly to the writings of Boethius and Cicero. But what was intended as a temporary reprieve from sorrow became a lifelong avocation and one of the most crucial intellectual events in Dante’s career. The donna gentile of the Vita nuova was transformed into Lady Philosophy, who soon occupied all of Dante’s thoughts. He began attending the religious schools of Florence in order to hear disputations on philosophy, and within a period of only 30 months “the love of her [philosophy] banished and destroyed every other thought.” In his poem Voi che ’ntendendo il terzo ciel movete (“You Who Through Intelligence Move the Third Sphere”) he dramatizes this conversion from the sweet old style, associated with Beatrice and the Vita nuova, to the rigorous, even severe, new style associated with philosophy. This period of study gave expression to a series of canzoni that were eventually to form the poetic basis for the philosophic commentary of the Convivio.

Another great change was Dante’s more active political involvement in the affairs of the commune. In 1295 he became a member of the guild of physicians and apothecaries (to which philosophers could belong), which opened his way to public office. But he entered the public arena at a most perilous time in the city’s politics. As it had been during the time of the Guelf and Ghibelline civil strife, in the 1290s Florence once again became a divided city. The ruling Guelf class of Florence became divided into a party of “Blacks,” led by Corso Donati, and a party of “Whites,” to which Dante belonged. The Whites gained the upper hand and exiled the Blacks.

There is ample information concerning Dante’s activities following 1295. In May 1300 he was part of an important embassy to San Gimignano, a neighbouring town, whose purpose it was to solidify the Guelf league of Tuscan cities against the mounting ambitions of the new and embattled pope Boniface VIII. When Dante was elected to the priorate in 1300, he presumably was already recognized as a spokesman for those in the commune determined to resist the Pontiff’s policies. Dante thus experienced a complete turnabout in his attitudes concerning the extent of papal power. The hegemony of the Guelfs—the party supporting the Pope—had been restored in Florence in 1266 by an alliance forged between the forces of France and the papacy. By 1300, however, Dante had come to oppose the territorial ambitions of the Pope, and this in turn provided the intellectual motivation for another, even greater change: Dante, the Guelf moderate, would in time, through his firsthand experience of the ill effects of papal involvement in political matters, become in the Convivio, in the later polemical work the Monarchia, and most importantly throughout The Divine Comedy, one of the most fervently outspoken defenders of the position that the empire does not derive its political authority from the pope.

Events, moreover, propelled Dante into further opposition to papal policies. A new alliance was formed between the papacy, the French (the brother of King Philip IV, Charles of Valois, was acting in concert with Boniface), and the exiled Black Guelfs. When Charles of Valois wished permission to enter Florence, the city itself was thrown into political indecision. In order to ascertain the nature of the Pope’s intentions, an embassy was sent to Rome to discuss these matters with him. Dante was one of the emissaries, but his quandary was expressed in the legendary phrase “If I go, who remains; if I remain, who goes?” Dante was outmaneuvered. The Pope dismissed the other two legates and detained Dante. In early November 1301 the forces of Charles of Valois were permitted entry to Florence. That very night the exiled Blacks surreptitiously reentered Florence and for six days terrorized the city. Dante learned of the deception at first in Rome and then more fully in Siena. In January 1302 he was called to appear before the new Florentine government and, failing to do so, was condemned, along with three other former priors, for crimes he had not committed. Again failing to appear, on March 10, 1302, Dante and 14 other Whites were condemned to be burned to death. Thus Dante suffered the most decisive crisis of his life. In The Divine Comedy he frequently and powerfully speaks of this rupture; indeed, he makes it the central dramatic act toward which a long string of prophecies points. But it is also Dante’s purpose to show the means by which he triumphed over his personal disaster, thus making his poem into a true “divine comedy.”

Exile, the Convivio, and the De monarchia
Information about Dante’s early years in exile is scanty; nevertheless, enough is known to provide a broad picture. It seems that Dante at first was active among the exiled White Guelfs in their attempts to seek a military return. These efforts proved fruitless. Evidently Dante grew disillusioned with the other Florentine outcasts, the Ghibellines, and was determined to prove his worthiness by means of his writings and thus secure his return. These are the circumstances that led him to compose Il convivio (c. 1304–07; The Banquet).

Dante projected a work of 15 books, 14 of which would be commentaries on different canzoni. He completed only four of the books. The finished commentaries in many ways go beyond the scope of the poems, becoming a compendium of instruction with much of the random display of an amateur in philosophy. Dante’s intention in the Convivio, as in The Divine Comedy, was to place the challenging moral and political issues of his day into a suitable ethical and metaphysical framework.

Book I of the Convivio is in large part a stirring and systematic defense of the vernacular. (The unfinished De vulgari eloquentia [c. 1304–07; Concerning Vernacular Eloquence], a companion piece, presumably written in coordination with Book I, is primarily a practical treatise in the art of poetry based upon an elevated poetic language.) Dante became the great advocate of its use and in the final sentence of Book I he accurately predicts its glorious future:

This shall be the new light, the new sun, which shall rise when the worn-out one shall set, and shall give light to them who are in shadow and in darkness because of the old sun, which does not enlighten them.

The revolution Dante described was nothing less than the twilight of the predominantly clerical Latin culture and the emergence of a lay, vernacular urban literacy. Dante saw himself as the philosopher-mediator between the two, helping to educate a newly enfranchised public readership. The Italian literature that Dante heralded was soon to become the leading literature and Italian the leading literary language of Europe, and they would continue to be that for more than three centuries.

In the Convivio Dante’s mature political and philosophical system is nearly complete. In this work Dante makes his first stirring defense of the imperial tradition and, more specifically, of the Roman Empire. He introduces the crucial concept of horme, that is, of an innate desire that prompts the soul to return to God. But it requires proper education through examples and doctrine. Otherwise it can become misdirected toward worldly aims and society torn apart by its destructive power. In the Convivio Dante establishes the link between his political thought and his understanding of human appetite: given the pope’s craving for worldly power, at the time there existed no proper spiritual models to direct the appetite toward God; and given the weakness of the empire, there existed no law sufficient to exercise a physical restraint on the will. For Dante this explains the chaos into which Italy had been plunged, and it moved him, in hopes of remedying these conditions, to take up the epic task of The Divine Comedy.

But a political event occurred that at first raised tremendous hope but then plunged Dante into still greater disillusionment. In November 1308 Henry, the count of Luxembourg, was elected king of Germany, and in July 1309 the French pope, Clement V, who had succeeded Boniface, declared Henry to be king of the Romans and invited him to Rome, where in time he would be crowned Holy Roman emperor in St. Peter’s Basilica. The possibility of once again having an emperor electrified Italy; and among the imperial proponents was Dante, who saw approaching the realization of an ideal that he had long held: the coming of an emperor pledged to restore peace while also declaring his spiritual subordination to religious authority. Within a short time after his arrival in Italy in 1310 Henry VII’s great appeal began to fade. He lingered too long in the north, allowing his enemies to gather strength. Foremost among the opposition to this divinely ordained moment, as Dante regarded it, was the commune of Florence.

During these years Dante wrote important political epistles—evidence of the great esteem in which he was held throughout Italy, of his personal authority, as it were—in which he exalted Henry, urging him to be diligent, and condemned Florence. In subsequent action, however, which was to remind Dante of Boniface’s duplicity, Clement himself turned against Henry. This action prompted one of Dante’s greatest polemical treatises, his De monarchia (c. 1313; On Monarchy) in which he expands the political arguments of the Convivio. In the embittered atmosphere caused by Clement’s deceit Dante turned his argumentative powers against papal insistence on its superiority over the political ruler, that is, against the argument that the empire derived its political authority from the pope. In the final passages of the Monarchia Dante writes that the ends designed by Providence for man are twofold: one end is the bliss of this life, which is conveyed in the figure of the earthly paradise; the other is the bliss of eternal life, which is embodied in the image of a heavenly paradise. Yet despite their different ends, these two purposes are not unconnected. Dante concludes his Monarchia by assuring his reader that he does not mean to imply “that the Roman government is in no way subject to the Roman pontificate, for in some ways our mortal happiness is ordered for the sake of immortal happiness.” Dante’s problem was that he had to express in theoretical language a subtle relationship that might be better conveyed by metaphoric language and historical example. Surveying the history of the relationship between papacy and empire, Dante pointed with approval to specific historical examples, such as Constantine’s good will toward the church. Dante’s disappointment in the failed mission of Henry VII derived from the fact that Henry’s original sponsor was apparently Pope Clement and that conditions seemed to be ideal for reestablishing the right relationship between the supreme powers.

The Divine Comedy
Dante’s years of exile were years of difficult peregrinations from one place to another—as he himself repeatedly says, most effectively in Paradiso [XVII], in Cacciaguida’s moving lamentation that “bitter is the taste of another man’s bread and . . . heavy the way up and down another man’s stair.” Throughout his exile Dante nevertheless was sustained by work on his great poem. The Divine Comedy was possibly begun prior to 1308 and completed just before his death in 1321, but the exact dates are uncertain. In addition, in his final years Dante was received honourably in many noble houses in the north of Italy, most notably by Guido Novello da Polenta, the nephew of the remarkable Francesca, in Ravenna. There at his death Dante was given an honourable burial attended by the leading men of letters of the time, and the funeral oration was delivered by Guido himself.

The plot of The Divine Comedy is simple: a man, generally assumed to be Dante himself, is miraculously enabled to undertake an ultramundane journey, which leads him to visit the souls in Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. He has two guides: Virgil, who leads him through the Inferno and Purgatorio, and Beatrice, who introduces him to Paradiso. Through these fictional encounters taking place from Good Friday evening in 1300 through Easter Sunday and slightly beyond, Dante learns of the exile that is awaiting him (which had, of course, already occurred at the time of the writing). This device allowed Dante not only to create a story out of his pending exile but also to explain the means by which he came to cope with his personal calamity and to offer suggestions for the resolution of Italy’s troubles as well. Thus, the exile of an individual becomes a microcosm of the problems of a country, and it also becomes representative of the fall of man. Dante’s story is thus historically specific as well as paradigmatic.

The basic structural component of The Divine Comedy is the canto. The poem consists of 100 cantos, which are grouped together into three sections, or canticles, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Technically there are 33 cantos in each canticle and one additional canto, contained in the Inferno, which serves as an introduction to the entire poem. For the most part the cantos range from about 136 to about 151 lines. The poem’s rhyme scheme is the terza rima (aba, bcb, cdc, etc.) Thus, the divine number of three is present in every part of the work.

Dante’s Inferno differs from its great classical predecessors in both position and purpose. In Homer’s Odyssey (Book XII) and Virgil’s Aeneid (Book VI) the visit to the land of the dead occurs in the middle of the poem because in these centrally placed books the essential values of life are revealed. Dante, while adopting the convention, transforms the practice by beginning his journey with the visit to the land of the dead. He does this because his poem’s spiritual pattern is not classical but Christian: Dante’s journey to Hell represents the spiritual act of dying to the world, and hence it coincides with the season of Christ’s own death. (In this way, Dante’s method is similar to that of Milton in Paradise Lost, where the flamboyant but defective Lucifer and his fallen angels are presented first.) The Inferno represents a false start during which Dante, the character, must be disabused of harmful values that somehow prevent him from rising above his fallen world. Despite the regressive nature of the Inferno, Dante’s meetings with the roster of the damned are among the most memorable moments of the poem: the Neutrals, the virtuous pagans, Francesca da Rimini, Filipo Argenti, Farinata degli Uberti, Piero delle Vigne, Brunetto Latini, the simoniacal popes, Ulysses, and Ugolino impose themselves upon the reader’s imagination with tremendous force.

The visit to Hell is, as Virgil and later Beatrice explain, an extreme measure, a painful but necessary act before real recovery can begin. This explains why the Inferno is both aesthetically and theologically incomplete. For instance, readers frequently express disappointment at the lack of dramatic or emotional power in the final encounter with Satan in canto XXXIV. But because the journey through the Inferno primarily signifies a process of separation and thus is only the initial step in a fuller development, it must end with a distinct anticlimax. In a way this is inevitable because the final revelation of Satan can have nothing new to offer: the sad effects of his presence in human history have already become apparent throughout the Inferno.

In the Purgatorio the protagonist’s painful process of spiritual rehabilitation commences; in fact, this part of the journey may be considered the poem’s true moral starting point. Here the pilgrim Dante subdues his own personality in order that he may ascend. In fact, in contrast to the Inferno, where Dante is confronted with a system of models that needs to be discarded, in the Purgatorio few characters present themselves as models; all of the penitents are pilgrims along the road of life. Dante, rather than being an awed if alienated observer, is an active participant. If the Inferno is a canticle of enforced and involuntary alienation, in which Dante learns how harmful were his former allegiances, in the Purgatorio he comes to accept as most fitting the essential Christian image of life as a pilgrimage. As Beatrice in her magisterial return in the earthly paradise reminds Dante, he must learn to reject the deceptive promises of the temporal world.

Despite its harsh regime, the Purgatorio is the realm of spiritual dawn, where larger visions are entertained. Whereas in only one canto of the Inferno (VII), in which Fortuna is discussed, is there any suggestion of philosophy, in the Purgatorio, historical, political, and moral vistas are opened up. It is, moreover, the great canticle of poetry and the arts. Dante meant it literally when he proclaimed, after the dreary dimensions of Hell: “But here let poetry rise again from the dead.” There is only one poet in Hell proper and not more than two in the Paradiso, but in the Purgatorio the reader encounters the musicians Casella and Belacqua and the poet Sordello and hears of the fortunes of the two Guidos, Guinizelli and Cavalcanti, the painters Cimabue and Giotto, and the miniaturists. In the upper reaches of Purgatory, the reader observes Dante reconstructing his classical tradition and then comes even closer to Dante’s own great native tradition (placed higher than the classical tradition) when he meets Forese Donati, hears explained—in an encounter with Bonagiunta da Lucca—the true resources of the dolce stil nuovo, and meets with Guido Guinizelli and hears how he surpassed in skill and poetic mastery the reigning regional poet, Guittone d’Arezzo. These cantos resume the line of thought presented in the Inferno (IV), where among the virtuous pagans Dante announces his own program for an epic and takes his place, “sixth among that number,” alongside the classical writers. In the Purgatorio he extends that tradition to include Statius (whose Thebaid did in fact provide the matter for the more grisly features of the lower inferno), but he also shows his more modern tradition originating in Guinizelli. Shortly after his encounter with Guinizelli comes the long-awaited reunion with Beatrice in the earthly paradise. Thus, from the classics Dante seems to have derived his moral and political understanding as well as his conception of the epic poem, that is, a framing story large enough to encompass the most important issues of his day, but it was from his native tradition that he acquired the philosophy of love that forms the Christian matter of his poem.

This means of course that Virgil, Dante’s guide, must give way to other leaders, and in a canticle generally devoid of drama the rejection of Virgil becomes the single dramatic event. Dante’s use of Virgil is one of the richest cultural appropriations in literature. To begin, in Dante’s poem he is an exponent of classical reason. He is also a historical figure and is presented as such in the Inferno (I): “. . . once I was a man, and my parents were Lombards, both Mantuan by birth. I was born sub Julio, though late in his time, and I lived in Rome under the good Augustus, in the time of the false and lying gods.” Virgil, moreover, is associated with Dante’s homeland (his references are to contemporary Italian places), and his background is entirely imperial. (Born under Julius Caesar, he extolled Augustus Caesar.) He is presented as a poet, the theme of whose great epic sounds remarkably similar to that of Dante’s poem: “I was a poet and sang of that just son of Anchises who came from Troy after proud Ilium was burned.” So, too, Dante sings of the just son of a city, Florence, who was unjustly expelled, and forced to search, as Aeneas had done, for a better city, in his case the heavenly city.

Virgil is a poet whom Dante had studied carefully and from whom he had acquired his poetic style, the beauty of which has brought him much honour. But Dante had lost touch with Virgil in the intervening years, and when the spirit of Virgil returns it is one that seems weak from long silence. But the Virgil that returns is more than a stylist; he is the poet of the Roman Empire, a subject of great importance to Dante, and he is a poet who has become a saggio, a sage, or moral teacher.

Though an exponent of reason, Virgil has become an emissary of divine grace, and his return is part of the revival of those simpler faiths associated with Dante’s earlier trust in Beatrice. And yet, of course, Virgil by himself is insufficient. It cannot be said that Dante rejects Virgil; rather he sadly found that nowhere in Virgil’s work, that is, in his consciousness, was there any sense of personal liberation from the enthrallment of history and its processes. Virgil had provided Dante with moral instruction in survival as an exile, which is the theme of his own poem as well as Dante’s, but he clung to his faith in the processes of history, which, given their culmination in the Roman Empire, were deeply consoling. Dante, on the other hand, was determined to go beyond history because it had become for him a nightmare.

In the Paradiso true heroic fulfillment is achieved. Dante’s poem gives expression to those figures from the past who seem to defy death. Their historical impact continues and the totality of their commitment inspires in their followers a feeling of exaltation and a desire for identification. In his encounters with such characters as his great-great-grandfather Cacciaguida and SS. Francis, Dominic, and Bernard, Dante is carried beyond himself. The Paradiso is consequently a poem of fulfillment and of completion. It is the fulfillment of what is prefigured in the earlier canticles. Aesthetically it completes the poem’s elaborate system of anticipation and retrospection.

Assessment and influence
The recognition and the honour that were the due of Dante’s Divine Comedy did not have to await the long passage of time: by the year 1400 no fewer than 12 commentaries devoted to detailed expositions of its meaning had appeared. Giovanni Boccaccio wrote a life of the poet and then in 1373–74 delivered the first public lectures on The Divine Comedy (which means that Dante was the first of the moderns whose work found its place with the ancient classics in a university course). Dante became known as the divino poeta, and in a splendid edition of his great poem published in Venice in 1555 the adjective was applied to the poem’s title; thus, the simple Commedia became La divina commedia, or The Divine Comedy.

Even when the epic lost its appeal and was replaced by other art forms (the novel, primarily, and the drama) Dante’s own fame continued. In fact, his great poem enjoys the kind of power peculiar to a classic: successive epochs have been able to find reflected in it their own intellectual concerns. In the post-Napoleonic 19th century, readers identified with the powerful, sympathetic, and doomed personalities of the Inferno. In the early 20th century they found the poem to possess an aesthetic power of verbal realization independent of and at times in contradiction to its structure and argument. Later readers have been eager to show the poem to be a polyphonic masterpiece, as integrated as a mighty work of architecture, whose different sections reflect and, in a way, respond to one another. Dante created a remarkable repertoire of types in a work of vivid mimetic presentations, as well as a poem of great stylistic artistry in its prefigurations and correspondences. Moreover, he incorporated in all of this important political, philosophical, and theological themes and did so in a way that shows moral wisdom and lofty ethical vision.

Dante’s Divine Comedy is a poem that has flourished for more than 650 years: in the simple power of its striking imaginative conceptions it has continued to astonish generations of readers; for more than a hundred years it has been a staple in all higher educational programs in the Western world; and it has continued to provide guidance and nourishment to the major poets of our own times. William Butler Yeats called Dante “the chief imagination of Christendom”; and T.S. Eliot elevated Dante to a preeminence shared by only one other poet in the modern world, William Shakespeare: “[They] divide the modern world between them. There is no third.” In fact, they rival one another in their creation of types that have entered into the world of reference and association of modern thought. Like Shakespeare, Dante created universal types from historical figures, and in so doing he considerably enhanced the treasury of modern myth.

Ricardo J. Quinones



Type of work: Poem
Author: Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)
Type of plot: Christian allegory
Time of plot: The Friday before Easter, 1300
Locale: Hell, Purgatory, Paradise
First transcribed: с 1320


Dante's greatest work, an epic poem in one hundred cantos, is divided equally after an introductory canto into sections, each thirty-three cantos in length, which see Dante and a guide respectively through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. The cosmology, angelology, and theology of the poem are based on St. Thomas Aquinas. Dante's literal journey is also an allegory of the progress of the human soul toward God and the progress of political and social mankind toward peace on earth. Characterization is drawn from ancient Roman history and from Dante's contemporary Italy, making the work a realistic picture and an intensely involved analysis of human affairs and life, even though in structure it appears to be a description of the beyond. It is, in essence, a compassionate, oral evaluation of human nature and a mystic vision of the Absolute toward which mankind strives, and it endures more through the universality of the drama and the lyric quality of the poetry than through specific doctrinal content.


Principal Characters

Dante (dan'ta), the exile Florentine poet, who is halted in his path of error through the grace of the Virgin, St. Lucy, and Beatrice, and is redeemed by his journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. He learns to submerge his instinctive pity for some sinners in his recognition of the justice of God, and he frees himself of the faults of wrath and misdirected love by participating in the penance for these sins in Purgatory. He is then ready to grow in understanding and love as he moves with Beatrice nearer and nearer the presence of God.
Beatrice (Ьё'э-tre'cha), his beloved, who is transformed into an angel, one of Mary's handmaids. Through her intercession, her compassion, and her teaching, Dante's passion is transmuted into divine love, which brings him to a state of indescribable blessedness.
Virgil, Dante's master, the great Roman poet who guides him through Hell and Purgatory. The most favored of the noble pagans who dwells in Limbo without hope of heavenly bliss, he represents the highest achievements of human reason and classical learning.
St. Lucy, Dante's patron saint. She sends him aid and conveys him through a part of Purgatory.
Charon, traditionally the ferryman of damned souls.
Minos, the monstrous judge who dooms sinners to their allotted torments.
Paolo and Francesca, devoted lovers, murdered by Paolo's brother, who was Francesca's husband. Together even in hell, they arouse Dante's pity by their tale of growing affection.
Ciacco, a Florentine damned for gluttony, who prophesies the civil disputes which engulfed his native city after his death.
Plutus, the bloated, clucking creature who guards the entrance of the fourth circle of Hell.
Phlegyas, the boatman of the wrathful.
Filippo Argenti, another Florentine noble, damned to welter in mud for his uncontrollable temper.
Megaera, Alecto, and Tisiphone, the Furies, tower warders of the City of Dis.
Farinata Degli Uberti, leader of the Ghibelline party of Florence, condemned to rest in an indestructible sepulcher for his heresy. He remains concerned primarily for the fate of his city.
Cavalcante, a Guelph leader, the father of Dante's friend Guido. He rises from his tomb to ask about his son.
Nessus, Chiron, and Pholus, the courteous archer centaurs who guard the river of boiling blood which holds the violent against men.
Piero Delle Vigne, the loyal adviser to the Emperor Frederick, imprisoned, with others who committed suicide, in a thornbush.
Capaneus, a proud, blasphemous tyrant, one of the Seven against Thebes.
Brunetto Latini, Dante's old teacher, whom the poet treats with great respect; he laments the sin of sodomy which placed him deep in Hell.
Guido Guerra, Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, Jacopo Rusticucci, and Guglielmo Borsiere, Florentine citizens who gave in to unnatural lust.
Geryon, a beast with human face and scorpion's tail, symbolic of fraud.
Venedico Caccianemico, a Bolognese panderer.
Jason, a classical hero, damned as a seducer.
Alessio Interminei, a flatterer.
Nicholas III, one of the popes, damned to burn in a rocky cave for using the resources of the Church for worldly advancement.
Amphiaraus, Tiresias, Aruns, Manto, Eurypylus, Michael Scot, and Guido Bonatti, astrologers and diviners whose grotesquely twisted shapes reflect their distortion of divine counsel.
Malacoda, chief of the devils who torments corrupt political officials.
Ciampolo, one of his charges, who converses with Dante and Virgil while he plans to outwit the devils.
Catalano and Loderingo, jovial Bolognese friars, who wear the gilded leaden mantles decreed eternally for hypocrites.
Caiphas, the high priest who had Christ condemned. He lies naked in the path of the heavily laden hypocrites.
Vanni Fucci, a bestial, wrathful thief, the damned spirit most arrogant against God.
Agnello, Francisco, Cianfa, Buoso, and Puccio, malicious thieves and oppressors, who are metamorphosed from men to serpents, then from serpents to men, before the eyes of the poet.
Ulysses and Diomed, Greek heroes transformed into tongues of flame as types of the evil counselor. Ulysses retains the splendid passion for knowledge which led him beyond the limits set for men.
Guido de Montefeltro, another of the evil counselors, who became involved in the fraud and sacrilege of Pope Boniface.
Mahomet, Piero da Medicina, and Bertran de Born, sowers of schism and discord, whose bodies are cleft and mutilated.
Capocchio and Griffolino, alchemists afflicted with leprosy.
Gianni Schicchi and Myrrha, sinners who disguised themselves because of lust and greed, fittingly transformed into swine.
Master Adam, a counterfeiter.
Sinon and Potiphar's Wife, damned for malicious lying and treachery.
Nimrod, Antaeus, and Briareus, giants who rebelled against God.
Camincion de' Pazzi, Count Ugolino, Fra Alberigo, Judas Iscariot, Brutus, and Cassius, traitors to family, country, and their masters. They dwell forever in ice, hard and cold as their own hearts.
Cato, the aged Roman sage who was, for the Middle Ages, a symbol of pagan virtue. He meets Dante and Virgil at the base of Mount Purgatory and sends them on their way upward.
Casella, a Florentine composer who charms his hearers with a song as they enter Purgatory.
Manfred, a Ghibelline leader, Belacqua, La Pia, Cassero, and Buonconte da Montefeltro, souls who must wait many years at the foot of Mount Purgatory because they delayed their repentance until the time of their death.
Sordello, the Mantuan poet, who reverently greets Virgil and accompanies him and his companion for part of their journey.
Nino Visconti and Conrad Malaspina, men too preoccupied with their political life to repent early.
Omberto Aldobrandesco, Oderisi, and Provenzan Salvani, sinners who walk twisted and bent over in penance for their pride in ancestry, artistry, and power.
Sapia, one of the envious, a woman who rejoiced at the defeat of her townspeople.
Guido del Duca, another doing penance for envy. He laments the dissensions which tear apart the Italian states.
Marco Lombardo, Dante's companion through the smoky way trodden by the wrathful.
Pope Adrian, one of those being purged of avarice.
Hugh Capet, the founder of the French ruling dynasty, which he castigates for its crimes and brutality. He atones for his own ambition and greed.
Statius, the author of the "Thebaid." One of Virgil's disciples, he has just completed his penance for prodigality. He tells Dante and Virgil of the liberation of the truly repentant soul.
Forese Donati, Dante's friend, and Bonagiunta, Florentines guilty of gluttony.
Guido Guinicelli and Arnaut, love poets who submit to the flames which purify them of lust.
Matilda, a heavenly lady who meets Dante in the earthly paradise at the top of Mount Purgatory and takes him to Beatrice.
Piccarda, a Florentine nun, a fragile, almost transparent spirit who dwells in the moon's sphere, the outermost circle of heaven, since her faith wavered, making her incapable of receiving greater bliss than this.
Justinian, the great Roman Emperor and law-giver, one of the champions of the Christian faith.
Charles Martel, the heir to Charles II, King of Naples, whose early death precipitated strife and injustice.
Cunizza, Sordello's mistress, the sister of an Italian tyrant.
Falco, a troubadour who was, after his conversion, made a bishop.
Rahab, the harlot who aided Joshua to enter Jerusalem, another of the many whose human passions were transformed into love of God.
Thomas Aquinas, the Scholastic philosopher. He tells Dante of St. Francis when he comes to the sphere of the sun, the home of those who have reached heaven through their knowledge of God.
St. Bonaventura, his companion, who praises St. Dominic.
Cacciagiuda, Dante's great-great-grandfather, placed in the sphere of Mars as a warrior for the Church.
Peter Damian, a hermit, an inhabitant of the sphere of Saturn, the place allotted to spirits blessed for their temperance and contemplative life.
St. Peter, St. James, and St. John, representatives, for Dante, of the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. The three great disciples examine the poet to assure his understanding of these three qualities.
Adam, the prototype of fallen man, who is, through Christ, given the greatest redemption; he is the companion of the three apostles and sits enthroned at the left hand of the Virgin.
St. Bernard, Dante's guide during the last stage of his journey, when he comes before the throne of the Queen of Heaven.


The Story

Dante found himself lost in a dark and frightening wood, and as he was trying to regain his path, he came to a mountain which he decided to climb in order to get his bearings. Strange beasts blocked his way. however, and he was forced back to the plain. As he was bemoaning his fate, the poet Virgil approached Dante and offered to conduct him through Hell, Purgatory, and blissful Paradise.
When they arrived at the gates of Hell, Virgil explained that here were confined those who had lived their lives without regard for good or evil. At the River Acheron, where they found Charon, the ferryman. Dante was seized with terror and fell into a trance. Aroused by a loud clap of thunder, he followed his guide through Limbo, the first circle of Hell. The spirits confined there, he learned, were those who, although they had lived a virtuous life, had not been baptized.
At the entrance to the second circle of Hell, Dante met Minos, the Infernal Judge, who warned him to take heed how he entered the lower regions. Dante was overcome by pity as he witnessed the terrible punishment which the spirits were undergoing. They had been guilty of carnal sin, and for punishment they were whirled around without cessation in the air. The third circle housed those who had been guilty of the sin of gluttony. They were forced to lie deep in the mud, under a constant fall of snow and hail and stagnant water. Above them stood Cerberus, a cruel monster, barking at the helpless creatures and tearing at their flesh. In the next circle, Dante witnesses the punishment of the prodigal and the avaricious, and realized the vanity of fortune.
He and Virgil continued on their journey until they reached the Stygian Lake, in which the wrathful and gloomy were suffering. At Virgil's signal, a ferryman transported them across the lake to the city of Dis. They were denied admittance, however, and the gates were closed against them by the fallen angels who guard the city. Dante and Virgil gained admittance into the city only after an angel had interceded for them. There Dante discovered that tombs burning with a blistering heat housed the souls of heretics. Dante spoke to two of these tormented spirits and learned that all the souls in Hell, who knew nothing of the present, can remember the past, and dimly foresee the future.
The entrance to the seventh circle was guarded by the Minotaur, and only after Virgil had pacified him could the two travelers pass down the steep crags to the base of the mountain. There they discerned a river of blood in which those who had committed violence in their lifetimes were confined. On the other side of the river they learned that those who had committed suicide were doomed to inhabit the trunks of trees. Beyond the river they came to a desert in which were confined those who had sinned against God, or Art, or Nature. A stream flowed near the desert and the two poets followed it until the water plunged into an abyss. In order that they might descend to the eighth circle, Virgil summoned Geryon, a frightful monster, who conducted them below. There they saw the tortured souls of seducers, flatters, diviners, and barter-ers. Continuing along their way, they witnessed the punishment accorded hypocrites and robbers. In the ninth gulf were confined scandalmongers and spreaders of false doctrine. Among the writhing figures they saw Mahomet. Still farther along, the two discovered the horrible disease-ridden bodies of forgers, counterfeiters, alchemists, and all those who deceived under false pretenses.
They were summoned to the next circle by the soul of a trumpet. In it were confined all traitors. A ring of giants surrounded the circle, one of whom lifted both Dante and Virgil and deposited them in the bottom of the circle. There Dante conversed with many of the spirits and learned the nature of their particular crimes.
After this visit to the lowest depths of Hell. Dante and Virgil emerged from the foul air to the pure atmosphere which surrounded the island of Purgatory. In a little while, they saw a boat conducted by an angel, in which were souls being brought to Purgatory. Dante recognized a friend among them. The two poets reached the foot of a mountain, where passing spirits showed them the easiest path to climb its slope. On their way up the path they encountered many spirits who explained that they were kept in Ante-Purgatory because they had delayed their repentance too long. They pleaded with Dante to ask their families to pray for their souls when he once again returned to earth. Soon Dante and Virgil came to the gate of Purgatory, which was guarded by an angel. The two poets ascended a winding path and saw men, bent under the weight of heavy stones, who were expiating the sin of pride. They examined the heavily carved cornices, which they passed, and found them covered with inscriptions urging humility and righteousness. At the second cornice were the souls of those who had been guilty of envy.
They wore sackcloth and their eyelids were sewed with iron thread. Around them were the voices of angels singing of great examples of humility and the futility of envy. An angel invited the poets to visit the third cornice, where those who had been guilty of anger underwent repentance. Dante was astonished at the examples of patience which he witnessed there. At the fourth cornice he witnessed the purging of the sin of indifference or gloominess. He discussed with Virgil the nature of love. The Latin poet stated that there were two kinds of love, natural love, which was always right, and love of the soul, which might be misdirected. At the fifth cornice, avarice was purged. On their way to the next cornice, the two were overtaken by Statius, whose spirit had been cleansed and who was on his way to Paradise. He accompanied them to the next place of purging, where the sin of gluttony was repented, while voices sang of the glory of temperance. The last cornice was the place for purging by fire of the sin of incontinence. Here the sinners were heard to recite innumerable examples of praiseworthy chastity.
An angel now directed the two poets and Statius to a path which would lead them to Paradise. Virgil told Dante that he might wander through Paradise at his will until he found his love, Beatrice. As he was strolling through a forest, Dante came to a stream; on the other bank stood a beautiful woman. She explained to him that the stream was called Lethe and helped him to cross it. Then Beatrice descended from heaven and reproached him for his unfaithfulness to her during her life, but the virgins in the heavenly fields interceded with her on his behalf. Convinced of his sincere repentance and remorse, she agreed to accompany him through the heavens.
On the moon Dante found those who had made vows of chastity and determined to follow the religious life, but who were forced to break their vows. Beatrice led him to the planet Mercury, the second heaven, and from there to Venus, the third heaven, where Dante conversed with many spirits and learned of their virtues. On the sun, the fourth heaven, they were surrounded by a group of spirits, among them Thomas Aquinas. He named each of the spirits in turn and discussed their individual virtues. A second circle of blessed spirits surrounded the first, and Dante learned from each how he had achieved blessedness.
Then Beatrice and Dante came to Mars, the fifth heaven, where he saw the cherished souls of those who had been martyred. Dante recognized many renowned warriors and crusaders among them.
On Jupiter, the sixth heaven, Dante saw the souls of those who had administered justice faithfully in the world. The seventh heaven was on Saturn, where Dante found the souls of those who had spent their lives in meditation and religious retirement. From there Beatrice and her lover passed to the eighth heaven, the region of the fixed stars. Dante looked back over all the distance which extended between the earth and this apex of Paradise and was dazzled and awed by what he saw. As they stood there, they saw the triumphal hosts approaching, with Christ leading, followed by Mary.
Dante was questioned by the saints. Saint Peter examined his opinions concerning faith; Saint James, concerning hope, and Saint John, concerning charity. Adam then approached and told the poet of the first man's creation, of his life in Paradise, and of his fall and what had caused it. Saint Peter bitterly lamented the avarice which his apostolic successors displayed, and all the sainted host agreed with him.
Beatrice then conducted Dante to the ninth heaven, where he was permitted to view the divine essence and to listen to the chorus of angels. She then led him to the Empyrean, from the heights of which, and with the aid of her vision, he was able to witness the triumphs of the angels and of the souls of the blessed. So dazzled and overcome was he by this vision that it was some time before he realized Beatrice had left him. At his side stood an old man whom he recognized as Saint Bernard, who told him Beatrice had returned to her throne. He then told Dante that if he wished to discover still more of the heavenly vision, he must join with him in a prayer to Mary. Dante received the grace to contemplate the glory of God, and to glimpse, for a moment, the greatest of mysteries, the Trinity and man's union with the divine.


Critical Evaluation

Dante was born into an aristocratic Florentine family. Unusually well educated even for his time and place, he was knowledgeable in science and philosophy and was an active man of letters as well as an artist. He lived in politically tumultuous times and was active in politics and government. All of his knowledge, his experience, and his skill were brought to bear in his writings. During an absence from Florence in 1302, he was sentenced to exile for opposing the government then in power; he was never allowed to return to his beloved Florence. In exile, Dante wrote The Divine Comedy. He died in Ravenna.
This masterpiece was written in Italian, but Dante also wrote in Latin, the language of scholarship at that time. His Latin treatise De Vulgari Eloquentia (On the Vulgar Tongue)—a compelling defense of the use of the written vernacular, instead of Latin—argued in conventional Latin the superiority of unconventional written Italian as a medium of expression. His other major Latin treatise was De Monarchia (About Monarchy), a political essay. He also used Latin for some very important letters and for
a few poems. But Dante's choice was his native Italian. His earliest major work—La Vita Nuova (The New Life), a mystical-spiritual autobiography, combining prose and poetry—was written in Italian. So, too, was // Convivio (The Banquet), a scholarly and philosophical treatise. And he wrote a number of lyric poems in Italian as well. Standing above all as a tribute to the eloquence of written Italian is The Divine Comedy.
La Commedia—as it was first titled; Divina was added later—is an incredibly complex work. It is divided into three sections, or canticles, the Inferno (Hell), the Pur-gatorio (Purgatory), and the Paradiso (Heaven). The entire work is composed of 100 cantos, apportioned into segments of 34 (Inferno), 33 (Purgatorio), and 33 (Paradiso). The rhyme scheme is called terza rima—aba bab cbc dcd—an interlocking pattern which produces a very closely knit poem. This structure is neither arbitrary nor a mere intellectual exercise.
Number symbolism plays an important part in The Divine Comedy. As an essentially Christian poem, it relies heavily on mystical associations with numbers. Inasmuch as the poem deals with Christian religious concepts, it is not difficult to discern the relationship between one poem in three canticles and one God in Three Persons. So, too, terza rima becomes significant. But then more complex intricacies come into play. The unity or oneness of God is diffused on a metric basis: one is divided into one hundred cantos, for example. And two becomes the duality of nature: corporeal and spiritual, active and contemplative, Church and State, Old Testament and New, and so on. Three signifies Father, Son, Holy Ghost; Power, Wisdom, Love; Faith, Hope, Charity; and other combinations. Four—as in seasons, elements, humors, directions, cardinal virtues—combines with three to make a mystical seven: days of creation, days of the week (length of Dante's journey), seven virtues and seven vices (reflected in the seven levels of Purgatory), planets, and many more. Moreover, multiples of three—three times three equals nine—create further permutations: choirs of angels, circles of Hell, and the like. And adding the mystical unity of one to the product nine makes ten, the metric permutation of one discussed above.
These complex relationships of number symbolism were deliberately contrived by Dante and other medieval writers. Dante himself explained, in// Convivio, his view of the four levels of interpretation of a literary work and by doing so legitimized such explanations of number symbolism. He proposed that a text be read literally, alle-gorically, morally, and anagogically. The literal reading attended to the story itself. The allegorical reading uncovered hidden meanings in the story. The moral reading related to matters of human behavior. And the ana-gogical reading, accessible to only the most sophisticated, pertained to the absolute and universal truths contained in a work. Hence, The Divine Comedy can be appreciated on each of these four levels of interpretation.
As a literal story, it has the fascination of autobiographical elements as well as the features of high adventure. The protagonist Dante, led by Vergil, undertakes a journey to learn about himself, the world, and the relations between the two. In the course of his journey, he explores other worlds in order to place his own world in proper perspective. As his journey progresses, he learns.
As an allegorical story, The Divine Comedy traces the enlightenment of Dante's soul. It also delineates social, political, cultural, and scientific parables. By integrating all of these aspects into an intricately interwoven pattern, the poem becomes an allegory for the real and spiritual world order.
As a moral story, the work has perhaps its greatest impact as a cautionary tale to warn the reader about the consequences of various categories of behavior. In the process, it helps the reader to understand sin (Hell), penance (Purgatory), and salvation (Heaven). Thus. The Divine Comedy becomes a vehicle for teaching moral behavior.
As an anagogical story, the poem offers a mystical vision of God's grand design for the entire universe. The complex interdependency of all things—including the web of interrelationships stemming from number symbolism—is, in this view, all part of the Divine Plan, which humankind can grasp only partially and dimly. For God remains ineffable to the finite capacities of human beings, and His will can never be fully apprehended by humans, whose vision has been impaired by sin. The anagogical aspects of The Divine Comedy are therefore aids for the most spiritually enlightened to approach Eternal Truth.
To be sure, no brief explanation can do justice to the majesty of this monumental achievement in the history of Western poetry. The very encyclopedic nature of its scope makes The Divine Comedy a key to the study of medieval civilization. As such, it cannot be easily or properly fragmented into neat categories for discussion, and the reader must advance on tiptoe, as it were. Background in history and theology are strongly recommended. But, above all, the reader must recognize that no sweeping generalization will adequately account for the complexity of ideas or the intricacy of structure in The Divine Comedy.



The Divine Comedy

Translated by James Finn Cotter


Illustrations by Gustave Dore




Canto I


          Halfway through the journey we are living
          I found myself deep in a darkened forest,
          For I had lost all trace of the straight path.
          Ah how hard it is to tell what it was like,
5         How wild the forest was, how dense and rugged!
          To think of it still fills my mind with panic.
          So bitter it is that death is hardly worse!
          But to describe the good discovered there
          I here will tell the other things I saw.
10       I cannot say clearly how I entered there,
          So drowsy with sleep had I grown at that hour
          When first I wandered off from the true way.
          But when I had reached the base of a hill,
          There at the border where the valley ended
15       That had cut my heart to the quick with panic,
          I looked up at the hill and saw its shoulder
          Mantled already with the planet's light
          That leads all people straight by every road.
          With that my panic quieted a little
20       After lingering on in the lake of my heart
          Through the night I had so grievously passed.
          And like a person who with panting breath
          Struggles ashore out of the wide ocean
          Only to glance back at the treacherous surf,
25       Just so my mind, racing on ahead,
          Turned back to marvel at the pass no one
          Ever before had issued from alive.
          After resting awhile my worn-out body,
          I pressed on up the wasted slope so that
30       I always had one firm foot on the ground.
          But look! right near the upgrade of the climb
          Loomed a fleet and nimble-footed leopard
          With coat completely covered by dark spots!
          He did not flinch or back off from my gaze,
35       But blocking the path that lay before me,
          Time and again he forced me to turn around.
          The hour was the beginning of the morning,
          And the sun was rising with those stars
          That first attended it when divine Love
40       Set these lovely creations round in motion,
          So that the early hour and the pleasant season
          Gave me good reason to keep up my hopes
          Of that fierce beast there with his gaudy pelt.
          But not so when — to add now to my fears —
45       In front of me I caught sight of a lion!
          He appeared to be coming straight at me
          With head held high and furious for hunger,
          So that the air itself seemed to be shaking.
          And then a wolf stalked, ravenously lean,
50       Seemingly laden with such endless cravings
          That she had made many live in misery!
          She caused my spirits to sink down so low,
          From the dread I felt in seeing her there,
          I lost all hope of climbing to the summit.
55       And just as a man, anxious for big winnings,
          But the time comes instead for him to lose,
          Cries and grieves the more he thinks about it,
          So did the restless she-beast make me feel
          When, edging closer toward me, step by step,
60       She drove me back to where the sun is silent.
          While I was falling back to lower ground,
          Before my eyes now came a figure forward
          Of one grown feeble from long being mute.
          When I saw him in that deserted spot,
65       "Pity me!" I shouted out to him,
          "Whoever you are, a shade or living man."
          "Not a man," he answered. "Once a man,
          Of parents who had come from Lombardy;
          Both of them were Mantuans by birth.
70       "I was born late in Julius's reign
          And dwelt at Rome under the good Augustus
          In the period of false and lying gods.
          "A poet I was, and I sang of the just
          Son of Anchises who embarked from Troy
75       After proud Ilium was burned to ashes.
          "But why do you turn back to so much grief?
          Why not bound up the delightful mountain
          Which is the source and font of every joy?"
          "Are you then Virgil and that wellspring
80       That pours forth so lush a stream of speech?"
          Shamefacedly I responded to him.
          "O glory and light of all other poets,
          May the long study and the profound love
          That made me search your work come to my aid!
85       "You are my mentor and my chosen author:
          Alone you are the one from whom I have taken
          The beautiful style that has brought me honor.
          "Look at the beast that drove me to turn back!
          Rescue me from her, celebrated sage,
90       For she causes my veins and pulse to tremble."
          "You are destined to take another route,"
          He answered, seeing me reduced to tears,
          "If you want to be clear of this wilderness,
          "Because this beast that forces you to cry out
95       Will not let anyone pass by her way
          But harries him until she finally kills him.
          "By nature she is so depraved and vicious
          That her greedy appetite is never filled:
          The more she feeds, the hungrier she grows.
100     "Many the animal she has mated with,
          And will with more to come, until the Greyhound
          That shall painfully slaughter her arrives.
          "He shall not feast on property or pelf
          But on wisdom, love, and manliness,
105      And he shall be born between Feltro and Feltro.
          "He shall save low prostrated Italy
          For which Nisus, Turnus, and Euryalus,
          And the virgin Camilla died of wounds.
          "He shall hunt the beast through every town
110      Until he chases her back down to hell
          From which envy first had thrust her forth.
          "I think and judge it best for you, then,
          To follow me, for I will be your guide,
          Directing you to an eternal place
115      "Where you shall listen to the desperate screams
          And see the spirits of the past in torment,
          As at his second death each one cries out;
          "And you shall also see those who are happy
          Even in flames, since they hope to come,
120      Whenever that may be, among the blessed.
          "If you still wish to ascend to the blessed,
          A soul worthier than I shall guide you:
          On my departure I will leave you with her.
          "For the Emperor who rules there above,
125      Since I lived in rebellion to his law,
          Will not permit me to enter his city.
          "Everywhere his kingdom comes: there he reigns,
          There his heavenly city and high throne.
          Oh happy the one elected to go there!"
130      And I said to him, "Poet, I entreat you,
          By the God whom you have never known,
          So may I flee from this and from worse evil,
          "Lead me to the place you just described
          That I may come to see Saint Peter's gate
135      And those you say are deeply sorrowful."
          Then he moved on and I walked straight behind.







Canto II


          Day was now fading, and the dusky air
          Released the creatures dwelling here on earth
          From tiring tasks, while I, the only one,
          Readied myself to endure the battle
5        Both of the journey and the pathos,
          Which flawless memory shall here record.
          O Muses, O high genius, aid me now!
          O memory that noted what I saw,
          Now shall your true nobility be seen!
10       I then began, "Poet, you guide me here:
          Be on your guard lest my power fail me
          Before you make me face that plunging pass.
          "You tell us how the father of Silvius,
          While in the flesh, to the eternal world
15       Journeyed, with all his senses still alert.
          "But if the Enemy of every evil
          Was kind to him, considering the high purpose
          He performed, and who and what he was,
          "This is not hard for us to understand,
20       Since in the highest heaven he was chosen
          Father of honored Rome and of her empire.
          "The two — city and empire — to tell the truth,
          Were destined to become the holy place
          Where the successor of mighty Peter sits.
25       "By this journey which you praise him for
          He came to comprehend what was to bring
          Triumph to him and mantle to the pope.
          "Later the Chosen Vessel journeyed beyond
          To bring back reassurance in the faith
30       Which is the source of the way to salvation.

          "But I, why should I go? Who gives permission?
          I am not Aeneas, nor am I Paul!
          Not I nor anyone else would judge me worthy.
          "So, if I surrender myself to going there,
35       I fear the undertaking shall prove folly.
          You are wise, you see more than I say."

          Just as the man who, unwilling what he wills,
          Thinks back over each thing he proposes
          And ends by giving up all he has started,

40       So I acted in that darkened place
          As I undid, by thinking, the same task
          I had so readily right away accepted.
          "If I have grasped the meaning of your words,"
          That soul of generosity responded,
45       "Your heart has been beset by cowardice
          "Which often places burdens on a man
          To turn him back from honorable deeds
          Like some animal frightened by its shadow.
          "Once and for all to rid you of that fear
50       I will tell you why I came and what I heard
          From the first moment I felt sorry for you.
          "I was among those spirits in suspense:
          A lady called me, so beautiful and blessed
          That I at once implored her to command me.
55       "Her eyes outshone the light of any star.
          Sweetly and softly she began to speak
          With the voice of an angel, in her own words:
          " 'O courteous spirit from Mantua
          Whose fame has lasted in the world till now
60       And shall endure as long as does the world,
         " 'My friend, who is no longer fortune's friend,
          On a wasted slope has been so thwarted
          Along his path that he turns back in panic.
          " 'I fear that he already is so lost
65       I have arisen too late to bring him aid —
          At least from what I hear of him in heaven.
          " 'Hasten now, and with your polished words
          And all that is required for his rescue,
          Help him, so that I can be consoled.
70       " 'I am Beatrice who urges you to journey,
          Come from a place to which I long to return.
          Love moved me to speak my heart to you.
          " ' When I stand once more before my Lord,
          I shall often sing your praises to him.'
75       With that she fell silent, and I ventured:
         "O lady of virtue, through whom alone
         The human race surpasses all contained
          Within the heavens to the smallest sphere,
          "Your command pleases me so thoroughly
80       That already to have done it would seem tardy:
          Only let me know what it is you want.
          "Tell me, however, why you are so bold
          To descend as far as to this center
          Out of the wide sky to which you would return?"

85       " 'Since you wish to know the inmost reason,
          I will tell you directly,' she answered me,
          ' Why I do not dread to come down here.
          " 'The only things we really need to fear
          Are those that have the power to do harm:
90       Nothing else should cause us to be fearful.
          " 'God in his mercy has so fashioned me
          That I am not affected by your pain;
          The fires burning here do me no hurt.
          " 'There is a noble Lady who weeps in heaven
95       For this thwarted man to whom I send you,
          So that heaven's strict decree is broken.
          " 'That Lady called on Lucia with her request
          And said: "Your faithful follower has now
          Such need of you that I commend him to you."
100      " 'Lucia, the foe of every cruelty,
          Started up and came to where I was,
          Sitting at the side of the aged Rachel.
          " 'She said, "Beatrice, true credit to our God,
          Will you not help the man who so loves you
105      That for your sake he left the common crowd?
          " ' "Do you not hear his pathetic grieving?
          Do you not see the death besieging him
          On the river which the ocean cannot sway?"
          " 'No one in this whole world was ever quicker
110      To take advantage or escape from harm
          Than I — when such words as these were spoken —
          " 'To come below here from my blessed seat,
          Putting my trust in your honest speech
          Which honors you and those who listen to it.'
115      "After she had discussed these matters with me,
          She turned her eyes, glittering with tears,
          And so made me more diligent to come.
          "And I did come to you, just as she wished:
          I saved you from the fierce beast barring you
120      From the short route up the lovely mountain.
          "So — what is this? Why? why do you stay?
          Why entertain such cowardice of heart?
          Why not be courageous and straightforward
          "When there are three such blessed ladies
125      Caring for you in the court of heaven
          And my words guarantee you so much good?"
          As little flowers in the chill of night
          Drooping and shriveled, when the sun lights them,
          Straighten up all open on their stalks,
130      So I, with my limp stamina, now bloomed.
          And such good warmth coursed boldly to my heart
          That like a free man I once more began:
          "O tender-hearted lady who came to aid me,
          And you, too, so kind to obey swiftly
135      The words of truth that she proposed to you!
          "You, by your words, have so filled my heart
          With fervor to go with you on this journey
          That I am turned again to my first purpose.
          "Now go — one will within the both of us —
140     You the leader, you the lord and master!"
          These things I said to him. When he moved on,
          I entered on the rank and plunging path.







Canto III


          Through Me Pass into the Painful City,
          Through Me Pass into Eternal Grief,
          Through Me Pass among the Lost People.
          Justice Moved My Master-Builder:
5         Heavenly Power First Fashioned Me
          With Highest Wisdom and with Primal Love.
          Before Me Nothing Was Created That 
          Was Not Eternal, and I Last Eternally.
          All Hope Abandon, You Who Enter Here.
10       These words in dim color I beheld
          Inscribed on the lintel of an archway.
          "Master," I said, "this saying's hard for me."
          And he — as someone who understands — told me:
          "Here you must give up all irresolution;
15       All cowardice must here be put to death.
          "We are come to the place I spoke to you about
          Where you shall see the sorrow-laden people,
          Those who have lost the Good of the intellect."
          And with that, putting his own hand on mine,
20       With smiling face, just to encourage me,
          He led me to things hidden from the world.
          Here heartsick sighs and groanings and shrill cries
          Re-echoed through the air devoid of stars,
          So that, but started, I broke down in tears.
25       Babbling tongues, terrible palaver,
          Words of grief, inflections of deep anger,
          Strident and muffled speech, and clapping hands,
          All made a tumult that whipped round and round
          Forever in that colorless and timeless air,
30       Like clouds of sand caught up in a whirlwind.
          And I, my head enwreathed with wayward doubts,
          Asked, "Master, what is this that I am hearing?
          Who are these people overwhelmed by pain?"
          And he told me: "This way of wretchedness
35       Belongs to the unhappy souls of those
          Who lived without being blamed or applauded.
          "They are now scrambled with that craven crew
          Of angels who elected neither rebellion
          Nor loyalty to God, but kept apart.
40       "Not to mar its beauty, heaven expelled them,
          Nor will the depths of hell take them in there,
          Lest the damned have any glory over them."
          And I: "Master, what is so burdensome
          To them that they should wail so dismally?"
45       He answered, "Very briefly, I will tell you.
          "These people have no hope of again dying,
          And so deformed has their blind life become
          That they must envy every other fate.
50       "The world will not allow a word about them;
          Mercy and justice hold them in disdain.
          Let us not discuss them. Look and pass on."
          And I, looking again, observed a banner
          Which, as it circled, raced on with such speed
          It did not seem ever to want to stop.
55       And there, behind it, marched so long a file
          Of people, I would never have believed
          That death could have undone so many souls.
          After I had recognized some there,
          I saw and then identified the shade
60       Of that coward who made the great refusal.
          Immediately I understood for certain
          That this troop was the sect of evil souls
          Displeasing both to God and to his enemy.
          These wretches, who had never been alive,
65       Went naked and repeatedly were bitten
          By wasps and hornets swarming everywhere.
          The bites made blood streak down upon their faces;
          Blood mixed with tears ran coursing to their feet,
          And there repulsive worms sucked the blood back.
70       Then, looking again a little farther on,
          I saw people at the shore of a vast river.
          At that I said, "Master, permit me now
          "To know who these souls are and what law
          Makes them appear so eager to cross over,
75       As, even in this weak light, I can discern."
          And he: "These things will become clear to you
          After the two of us come to a halt
          Upon the gloomy banks of the Acheron."
          Then, with eyes downcast, deeply abashed,
80       In fear that what I said offended him,
          I spoke no more until we reached the river.
          And look! coming toward us in a boat,
          An old man, his hair hoary with age, rose
          Yelling, "Woe to you, you wicked souls!
85       "Have no hope of ever seeing heaven!
          I come to take you to the other shore,
          To endless darkness, to fire, and to ice.
          "And you over there, the living soul,
          Get away from those who are already dead!"
90       But when he saw that I had not moved off,
          He said, "By other routes, by other harbors,
          Not here -- you shall cross over to this shore.
          A lighter skiff will have to transport you!"
          And my guide: "Charon, do not rack yourself!
95       This deed has so been willed where One can do
          Whatever He wills — and ask no more questions."
          With these words he silenced the wooly cheeks
          Of the old ferryman of the livid marshes
          Who had two rings of flame around his eyes.
100      Those souls, however, who were weak and naked
          Began to lose color and grind their teeth
          When they heard the ferryman's cruel words.
          They called down curses on God and their parents,
          The human race, the place, the time, the seed
105      Of their conception and of their birth.
          At that they massed all the closer together,
          Weeping loudly on the malicious strand
          Which waits for those who have no fear of God.
          The demon Charon, with burning-ember eyes,
110      Gave a signal and gathered all on board,
          Smacking lagging stragglers with his oar.
          As in the autumn the leaves peel away,
          One following another, until the bough
          Sees all its treasures spread upon the ground,
115      In the same manner that evil seed of Adam
          Drifted from that shoreline one by one
          To a signal — like a falcon to its call.
          So they departed over the dark water,
          And even before they landed on that side
120      Already over here a new crowd mustered.
          "My son," my kindly master said to me,
          "Those who have perished by the wrath of God
          Are all assembled here from every land,
          "And they are quick to pass across the river
125      Because divine justice goads them on,
          Turning their timidity to zeal.
          "No good soul ever crossed by this way.
          If Charon, therefore, has complained about you,
          You now know clearly what he meant to say."
130      Just as he finished, the blackened landscape
          Violently shuddered — with the fright of it
          My memory once more bathes me in sweat.
          The harsh tear-laden earth exhaled a wind
          That hurtled forth a bright-red flash of light
135      That knocked me right out of all my senses,
          And I fell as a man drops off to sleep.







Canto IV


         A loud thunderclap shattered the deep
         Sleep in my head, so that I started up
         Like someone shaken forcibly awake.
         Then, looking all around with rested eyes,
5        I stood straight up with a steady stare,
         Attempting to discover where I was.
         The truth is I found myself upon the edge
         Of the chasm of the valley of salt tears
         Which stores the clamor of unending crying.
10       Dark and deep and foggy was the valley:
         So, when I strained my eyes to see the bottom,
         I was not able to discern a thing.
         "Now let us descend to the blind world
         Below," the poet, pale as death, began:
15      "I will be first, and you shall follow me."
         And I, observing the change in his color,
         Asked, "How can I come if you are frightened,
         You who strengthen me when I have doubts?"
         And he told me, "The anguish of the people
20      Who are down here blanches my complexion
         With the pity that you mistake for fear.
         "Let us go on: the long road makes it urgent."
         So he went down, and so he had me enter
         The first circle ringing the abyss.
25      Here, as far as listening could tell,
         The only lamentations were the sighs
         That caused the everlasting air to tremble.
         Suffering without torments drew these sighs
         From crowds, multitudinous and vast,
30      Of babies and of women and of men.
         My gracious teacher said, "Do you not question
         Who these spirits are whom you observe?
         Before you go on, I would have you know
         "They did not sin: yet even their just merits
35       Were not enough, for they lacked baptism,
         The gateway of the faith that you profess.
         "And, if they lived before the Christian era,
         They did not worship God in the right way:
         And I myself am one of those poor souls.
40      "For this failure and for no other fault
         Here we are lost, and our sole punishment
         Is without hope to live on in desire."
         Deep sorrow crushed my heart when I heard him,
         Because both men and women of great worth
45      I knew to be suspended here in limbo.
         "Tell me, my master, tell me, my good lord,"
         I then began, wishing to be assured
         Of that belief which conquers every error,
         "Have any left here, either through their merits
50      Or someone else's, to be blessed later on?"
         And he, grasping my unexpressed appeal,
         Responded, "I was newly in this place
         When I saw come down here a mighty One
         Crowned with the symbol of his victory.
55      "He snatched away the shade of our first parent,
         Of his son Abel, and the shade of Noah,
         Of Moses, the obedient lawgiver,
         "Of Abraham the patriarch, King David,
         Israel with his father, with his children,
60      And with Rachel for whom he worked so hard,
         "And many others, and he made them blessed.
         But I would have you know, before these souls
         No human being ever had been saved."
         We did not keep from walking while he talked,
65      But all along we journeyed through the forest —
         I mean the forest that was dense with spirits.
         Our path had not yet led us far away
         From where I'd slept, when I descried a fire
         That overcame a hemisphere of shadows.
70      We were still a little distance from it
         But close enough for me to dimly see
         That honored people tenanted that place.
          "O you, glory of the arts and sciences,
         Who are these souls who here have the high honor
75      Of being kept distinct from all the rest?"
         And he told me, "Their distinguished names
         Which yet re-echo in your world above
         Win for them heaven's grace which furthers them."
          Meanwhile I could hear a voice that called,
80       "Honor to the most illustrious poet!
          His shade that had departed now returns."
         After the voice had ceased and all was still,
          I saw four lofty shades approaching us,
          In their appearance neither sad nor joyful.
85      My worthy teacher now began by saying,
         "Notice there the one with sword in hand,
         Coming before the three others like a lord:
          "That is Homer, the majestic poet.
          The next who comes is Horace, the satirist;
90       Ovid is third, and Lucan last of all.
         "Since each one shares with me the name of poet,
         The name you heard the single voice call out,
         They honor me, and they do well to do so."
         So I saw that brilliant schola meeting
95      Under the master of sublimest song
         Who above all others soars like an eagle.
         After conversing for some time together,
         They turned to me with a cordial greeting:
         With that, my master broke into a smile.
100     And then they showed me a still greater honor,
          For they included me within their group,
          So that I was the sixth among those minds.
          This way we walked together toward the light,
          Speaking of things as well unmentioned here
105     As there it was as well to speak of them.
          We came up to the base of a royal castle,
          Seven times encircled by high walls,
          Moated all about by a beautiful stream.
          This we crossed as if it were firm ground;
110      Through seven gates I entered with these sages
          Until we reached a meadow of fresh grass.
          People were here with slow and serious eyes,
          Of great authority by their appearance.
          They hardly spoke, with their gentle voices.
115     We moved along then over to one side,
          Into an open clearing, bright and high up,
          In order to view all the persons there.
          Straight before me on the enameled green
          Such eminent spirits were presented to me
120      That I exult in having witnessed them.
         I saw Electra, with many companions,
         Among whom I noted Hector and Aeneas,
         And Caesar, in armor, with his falcon eyes.
         I saw Camilla and Penthesilea,
125    And on the other side I saw King Latinus
         Who sat with his daughter Lavinia.
          I saw that Brutus who banished the Tarquin,
          Lucretia, Julia, Marcia, and Cornelia,
          And by himself, I noticed Saladin.
130    When I lifted up my eyes a little higher,
         I saw Aristotle, the master-knower,
         Seated with the family of philosophers.
         All look up to him, all do him honor;
         There also I saw Socrates and Plato,
         Nearest to him, in front of all the rest;
135     Democritus, who ascribes the world to chance,
         Diogenes, Thales, Anaxagoras,
         Empedocles, Zeno, and Heraclitus.
         I saw the worthy categorizer of herbs,
140     Dioscorides, I mean; and I saw Orpheus,
         Tully, Linus, Seneca the moralist,
         Euclid the geometer, Ptolemy,
         Hippocrates, Galen, Avicenna,
         And Averroes, who wrote the Commentary.
145     I cannot here describe them all in full,
         For my lengthy theme so presses me forward
         That often words fall short of the occasion.
         The company of six drops down to two.
         My knowing guide leads me another way,
150     Out of the quiet, into the quavering air,
         And I come to a scene where nothing shines.







Canto V


          So I descended from the first circle
          Into the second, encompassing less space
          But sharper pain which spurs the wailing on.
          There Minos stands, hideous and growling,
5         Examining the sins of each newcomer:
          With coiling tail he judges and dispatches.
          I mean that, when the ill-begotten spirit
          Comes before him, that soul confesses all
And then this master-mind of sinfulness
10       Sees what place in hell has been assigned:
          The times he winds his tail around himself
          Reveal the level to which the soul is sent.
          Always in front of him a new mob stands.
          Each, taking a turn, proceeds to judgment:
15       Each owns up, listens, and is pitched below.
          "You who approach this dwelling-place of pain,"
          Cried Minos when he laid his eyes on me —
          Forsaking the performance of his office —
          "Watch out how you enter and whom you trust!
20       Do not let the wide-open gateway fool you!"
          My guide said to him, "Why do you cry out?
          "Do not obstruct his own predestined way:
          This deed has so been willed where One can do
          Whatever He wills — and ask no more questions."
25       Now the notes of suffering begin
          To reach my hearing; now I am arrived
          At where the widespread wailing hammers me.
          I come to a place where all light is muted,
          Which rumbles like the sea beneath a storm
30       When waves are buffeted by warring squalls.
          The windblast out of hell, forever restless,
          Thrusts the spirits onward with its force,
          Swirling and mauling and harassing them.
          When they alight upon this scene of wreckage,
35       Screams, reproaches, and bemoanings rise
          As souls call down their curses on God's power.
          I learned that to this unending torment
          Have been condemned the sinners of the flesh,
          Those who surrender reason to self-will.
40       And as the starlings are lifted on their wings
          In icy weather to wide and serried flocks,
          So does the gale lift up the wicked spirits,
          Flinging them here and there and down and up:
          No hope whatever can ever comfort them,
45       Neither of rest nor of less punishment.
          And as the cranes fly over, chanting lays,
          Forming one long line across the sky,
          So I saw come, uttering their cries,
          Shades wafted onward by these winds of strife,
50       To make me ask him, "Master, who are those
          People whom the blackened air so punishes?"
          "The first among those souls whose chronicle
          You want to know," he then replied to me,
          "Was empress over lands of many tongues.
55       "Her appetite for lust became so flagrant
          That she made lewdness licit with her laws
          To free her from the blame her vice incurred.
          "She is Semiramis, whose story reads
          That, as his wife, she succeeded Ninus,
60       Controlling the country now ruled by the sultan.
          "The other, Dido, killed herself for love
          And broke faith with the ashes of Sychaeus;
          Next comes the lust-enamored Cleopatra.
          "See Helen, for whom many years of woe
65       Rolled on, and see the great Achilles
          Who in his final battle came to love.
          "See Paris, Tristan" — and then of a thousand
          Shades, he pointed out and named for me
          All those whom love had cut off from our life.
70       After I had listened to my instructor
          Name the knights and ladies of the past,
          Pity gripped me, and I lost my bearing.
          I began, "Poet, I would most willingly
          Address those two who pass together there
75       And appear to be so light upon the wind,"
          And he told me, "You will see when they draw
          Closer to us that, if you petition them
          By the love that propels them, they will come."
          As soon as the gust curved them near to us,
80       I raised my voice to them, "O wind-worn souls,
          Come speak to us if it is not forbidden."
          Just as the doves when homing instinct calls them
          To their sweet nest, on steadily lifted wings
          Glide through the air, guided by their longing,
85       So those souls left the covey where Dido lies,
          Moving toward us through the malignant air,
          So strong was the loving-kindness in my cry.
          "O mortal man, gracious and tenderhearted,
          Who through the somber air come to visit
90       The two of us who stained the earth with blood,
          "If the King of the universe were our friend,
          We would then pray to him to bring you peace,
          Since you show pity for our wretched plight.
          "Whatever you please to hear and speak about
95       We will hear and speak about with you
          While the wind, as it is now, is silent.
          "The country of my birth lies on that coast
          Where the river Po with its tributaries
          Flows downhill to its place of final rest.
100      "Love which takes quick hold in a gentle heart
          Seized this man for the beauty of the body
          Snatched from me — how it happened galls me!
          "Love which pardons no one loved from loving
          Seized me so strongly with my pleasure in him
105      That, as you see, it still does not leave me.
          "Love led the two of us to a single death:
          Caina awaits him who snuffed out our lives."
          These were the words conveyed from them to us.
          When I had heard those grief-stricken souls,
110      I bowed my head and held it bowed down low
          Until the poet asked, "What are you thinking?"
          When I replied, I ventured, "O misery,
          How many the sweet thoughts, how much yearning
          Has led these two to this heartbroken pass!"
115     Then I turned round again to speak to them,
          And I began, "Francesca, your sufferings
          Move my heart to tears of grief and pity.
          "But tell me, in the season of sweet sighs,
          By what signs did love grant to you the favor
120      Of recognizing your mistrustful longings?"
          And she told me, "Nothing is more painful
          Than to recall the time of happiness
          In wretchedness: this truth your teacher knows.
          "If, however, to learn the initial root
125      Of our own love is now your deep desire,
          I will speak here as one who weeps in speaking.
          "One day for our own pleasure we were reading
          Of Lancelot and how love pinioned him.
          We were alone and innocent of suspicion.
130      "Several times that reading forced our eyes
          To meet and took the color from our faces.
          But one solitary moment conquered us.
          "When we read there of how the longed-for smile
          Was being kissed by that heroic lover,
135      This man, who never shall be severed from me,
          "Trembling all over, kissed me on the mouth.
          That book — and its author — was a pander!
          In it that day we did no further reading."
          While the one spirit spoke these words, the other
140      Wept so sadly that pity swept over me
          And I fainted as if face to face with death,
          And I fell just as a dead body falls.







Canto VI


          Returning to the consciousness I'd lost
          In the pathos of those kindred lovers
          Whose plight completely baffled me with grief,
          I see new sufferings and new suffering souls
5         Surrounding me no matter where I walk,
          No matter where I turn or where I look.
          I am in the third circle, a place of rain
          Accursed, freezing, heavy, and unending:
          Its density and direction never change.
10       Huge hailstones, mucky sleet and snow
          Keep pouring down through the gloom-filled air
          So that the soil that sucks it in is putrid.
          Cerberus, that weird and vicious beast,
15       Howls like a mad-dog out of all three throats,
          Baying above the people wallowing here.
          His eyes are red, his beard is greasy black,
          His belly bloated and talon-sharp his hands:
          He claws the spirits, skins and splits them up.
          The downpour forces them to howl like hounds.
20       Making a shield of one flank, then the other,
          The impious wretches flip and flop about.
          When the fat worm Cerberus had seen us,
          He opened up his mouths and showed his fangs.
          He stood there quivering in every muscle.
25       Then my guide, reaching down his hands,
          Scooped up the earth and hurtled two fistfuls
          Straight into those three rapacious jaws.
          Just as a dog that barks when he is hungry,
          Then quiets down while gnawing on his food,
30       Struggling and straining just to swallow it,
          Such was the change in the filth-spattered faces
          Of the demon Cerberus thundering loudly
          Against the souls who wish that they were deaf.
          We tread upon the shadows beaten down
35       By the heavy rain, and we set our feet
          On emptiness that seems like solid bodies.
          All of them were stretched out on the ground
          Except for one who sat up straight as soon
          As he perceived us passing on before him.
40       "Oh you who are led onward through this hell,"
          He said to me, "see if you can place me:
          For you were made before I was unmade."
          And I told him, "The distress that you endure
          Perhaps has wiped you from my memory
45       So it appears that I have never seen you.
          "But tell me who you are who in so sad
          A place are plunged to suffer such a torture
          That, though worse exists, none's more repulsive."
          And he told me, "Your city, so crammed full
50       Of envy that already the sack spills over,
          Held me in its walls in the tranquil life.
          "You citizens had nicknamed me Ciacco.
          For the damnable sin of gluttony,
          As you can see, I am drubbed by this rain.
55       "And I, unhappy soul, am not alone,
          For all these souls bear the same punishment
          For the same sin." With that he said no more.
          I answered him, "Ciacco, this anguish of yours
          So weighs on me it summons me to tears.
60       But tell me, if you know, what shall become
          "Of the citizens of that divided city?
          Is anyone there just? Tell me too the reason
          Why so much discord has assaulted it?"
          And he replied, "After long contention
65       They shall come to blood, and the rural party
          Shall push the other out with strong offense.
          "Then that party itself is doomed to fall
          Within three years: the other will prevail
          By the might of one now straddling the middle.
70       "This party shall hold its head up high
          While keeping the other under heavy burdens,
          However much it moans and feels ashamed.
          "Two men are just, but no one minds them there:
          Pride, spitefulness, and avarice
75       Are three sparks that have fired up their hearts."
          Here his mournful words came to a close.
          I said to him, "More I would have you tell me
          And make me a present of still further speech.
          "Farinata and Tegghiaio, once so worthy,
80       Jacopo Rusticucci, Arrigo, Mosca,
          And others who put their talents to good use,
          "Tell me where they are and how to know them,
          For keen desire drives me on to learn
          Whether heaven heals or hell poisons them."
85       And he: "They are among the blackest souls:
          Different sins sink them to different pits.
          If you go down that far, there you will see them.
          "But when you have returned to the sweet world,
          I pray you to recall me to men's minds.
90       No more I say here and no more I answer."
          His straight eyes then he twisted to a squint;
          He studied me a moment, bent his head,
          And sank down with the others who are blind.
          And my guide said to me, "He wakens no more
95       Until resounds the trumpet of the angel
          When the hostile power of their Judge shall come.
          "Each one shall see again his woeful tomb,
          Shall once again don his own flesh and frame,
          Shall hear what blasts out to eternity."
100      So we passed on through that polluted mess
          Of shades and rainfall, our steps pacing slow,
          And touched a moment on the future life.
          At that I asked, "Master, these tormentings,
          Will they increase after the final judgment
105      Or lessen or be just as burning hot?"
          And he said to me, "Go back to your learning
          Which holds that when a thing is the more perfect
          The more it feels the grief as well as good.
          "Although these same detestable people
110      Never can arrive at true perfection,
          They can look to get closer then than now."
          The two of us walked on around that road,
          Talking about much more than I repeat.
          We came to the spot where the grade falls off.
115      There we found Plutus, the great enemy.







Canto VII


          "Pape Satan, pape Satan, aleppe!"
          Plutus started up with clacking voice,
          And that kind sage, who comprehended all,
          Spoke for my comfort, "Do not let your fear
5         Harm you: whatever power he possesses,
          He cannot keep us from climbing down this crag."
          Then he turned back to that puffed-up face
          And said, "Plutus, be still, wretched wolf!
          Feed on yourself with your own rabid rage.
10       "Not without cause we journey to the abyss.
          It is so willed on high, there where Michael
          Wreaked vengeance on that arrogant rebellion."
          As sails billowed by the wind collapse
          Into a tangled heap when the mainmast cracks,
15       So the ruthless beast fell to the ground.
          At that we moved on down to the fourth crater,
          Taking in more of that grief-stricken slope
          Which stacks all the evil of the universe.
          Ah, justice of God! Who has heaped up so many
20       Of the fresh trials and tortures that I saw?
          Why does our guilt devour us like this?
          Just like the wave, there over Charybdis,
          Breaking itself against the wave it strikes,
          So must the people here reel out their dance.
25       Here I saw more shades than I saw above,
          On one side and the other, with piercing howls,
          Rolling weights shoved forward with their chests.
          They smashed against each other. On the spot,
          Each whipped around and, rolling the weight back,
30       Yelled, "Why do you hoard?" or "Why do you splurge?"
          With that they wheeled about the dismal circle
          On either arc to the opposing point,
          Screaming over again their scornful verses.
          When they had reached the end of one half-circle,
35       Each turned around to face the following joust.
          And I — my heart all but pierced by the sight —
          Spoke up, "My master, now instruct me here.
          Who are these people? Were they all clergy,
          The tonsured ones there on the left-hand side?"
40       And he replied, "All these were so squint-eyed
          Mentally, in the first life, that they
          Were never even-handed in their spending:
          "Their voices bark this truth out clearly
          When they come to the two points of the circle
45       Where contrary guilts set them against each other.
          "These were the clergy who have no crown of hair
          On their heads, both popes and cardinals,
          Within whom avarice runs to its extreme."
          And I: "Master, among the likes of these
50       Surely I should recognize some souls
          Who were befouled by these same misdeeds."
          And he told me, "You entertain vain thoughts.
          The imperceptive lives that dirtied them
          Now blacken them beyond all perception.
55       "Forever they will come to double butt:
          These men shall rise up from the sepulcher
          With tight fists and those men, with shaven heads.
          "Ill-giving and ill-keeping stole from them
          The lovely world and put them to this strife.
60       I will not lose fair words describing it.
          "Now you can see, my son, the brief foolery
          Of the wealth which Fortune holds in trust —
          For this the race of men rebuff each other.
          "All the gold that lies beneath the moon
65       And all the gold of old can bring no rest
          To a single one of all these wearied spirits."
          "Master," I said to him, "now tell me more.
          This Fortune whom you touch on with me here,
          Who is she with the world’s wealth in her grip?"
70       And he replied, "O foolhardy creatures,
          What immense ignorance trips you up!
          Now I want you to absorb my teaching.
          "The One whose wisdom transcends everything
          Fashioned the heavens and to them gave his guides,
75       So that one pole shines out to the other,
          "Apportioning, in equal measure, light.
          In like manner, for splendors of the world,
          He ordained a general minister and guide
          "To shift around at times the empty wealth,
80       From country to country and from house to house,
          Beyond the watchfulness of human judgment.
          "And so one country rules, one languishes,
          In obedience to the verdict that she gives,
          Which is hidden like a snake in the grass.
85       "Your wisdom is unable to withstand her:
          She ever foresees, judges, and purveys
          Her kingdom as the other gods do theirs.
          "Her changes never settle for a truce.
          Necessity is that which makes her swift,
90       So rapidly men come to take their turns.
          "She is the one so often crucified
          Even by those who ought to sing her praises,
          But with wrong, wicked voices they cast blame.
          "She is blessed, however, and hears nothing.
95       Rejoicing with the other primal creatures,
          She rolls her sphere and revels in her bliss.
          "Now let us pass below to deeper pathos.
          Already all the stars set that ascended
          When I began; we can no longer tarry."
100     We crossed the circle to the further bank
          Above a source that boils up and spills over
          Into a gully cut out from its stream.
          The water was far darker than black dye;
          And we, escorted by the murky waves,
105     Started down on this strange passageway.
          Into the marshland that is called the Styx
          Flows this sad stream after running downward
          To the base of these ruinous gray slopes.
          And I, standing there to stare intently,
110     Saw in that morass people smeared with mud,
          All naked, their faces lined with rage.
          They beat each other not just with their hands
          But even with their heads and chest and feet
          And with their teeth ripped each other to pieces.
115      My own good master said, "Son, now you see
          The souls of those whom anger overpowered.
          I also want you to accept for certain
          "That under the water there are people sighing
          Who make the surface of the water bubble,
120     As your eye tells you whichever way it turns."
          Mired in slime, they moan, "We were morose
          In the sweet air made cheerful by the sun;
          We bore within ourselves the torpid vapors:
          "Now morbid we are made in this black mud."
125     This canticle they gurgle in their gullets
          Since they can’t sound it with full syllables.
          So we walked around the wide curving rim
          Of that foul pool, between dry bank and bog,
          With our eyes turned to those who swallow slime.
130     We arrived at last at the base of a tower.







Canto VIII


          Moving on, I say that long before
          We came to the base of that high tower
          Our eyes were drawn up to its pinnacle
          By two flares which we saw positioned there
5        While still a third responded to the signal
          From so far off the eye could scarcely see it.
          And I turned to that sea of all perception;
          I asked, "What does this mean? What answer
          Does the other make? And who is doing this?"
10       And he told me, "Above the filthy waves
          Already you can sight what waits for us,
          Unless the swamp’s thick vapors hide it from you."
          Bowspring never fired off an arrow
          That streamed through the air with such speed
15       As did the tiny dinghy that I spotted
          Riding that moment toward us on the water,
          A single boatman holding it on course.
          He screamed, "Now you are caught, wicked soul!"
          "Phlegyas, Phlegyas, you shout futilely,"
20       My lord replied; "this time your hold on us
          Will last no longer than crossing on the mire."
          And just as one who learns some huge deception
          Has been played on him, grows to resent it,
          So Phlegyas reacted, restraining his anger.
25       My guide then stepped down into the boat,
          And next he made me enter after him:
          Only when I was in did it seem weighted.
          As soon as my guide and I embarked,
          The ancient prow pushed off, ploughing down
30       Water more deeply than it does with others.
          While we rode over the dead channel
          Before me rose a figure smeared with mud
          Who asked, "Who are you come before your time?"
          And I told him, "I come, but do not stay.
35       But who are you who are made so ugly?"
          He answered, "You see that I am one who weeps."
          And I told him, "In weeping and in mourning,
          Accursed spirit, there may you remain,
          For, filthy as you are, I recognize you."
40       Then he stretched both his hands out to the boat.
          At that my ready master shoved him off,
          Saying, "Get away, with the other dogs!"
          My guide then put his arms around my neck,
          Kissed me, and said, "Soul of indignation,
45       Blessed is the woman who gave you birth!
          "In the world he was a man of arrogance;
          Nothing good bedecks his memory:
          For that, his shade down here is furious.
          "How many up there now think themselves kings
50       Who here shall wallow in the mud like pigs,
          Bequeathing only loathsome disrepute."
          And I said, "Master, eagerly would I like
          To see that spirit soused within this soup
          Before we take our leave of this morass."
55       And he told me, "Before the future shore
          Comes into view, you shall be satisfied,
          For it is right that your wish be fulfilled."
          Shortly afterward I saw such a tearing
          Of that shade by the slimy people there
60       That still I praise and thank God for it.
          All shouted, "Get Filippo Argenti!"
          And then the frenzied Florentine spirit
          Turned on himself his own biting teeth.
          We left him there; I tell no more about him.
65       But wailing, then, so pounded on my ear
          That I intently strained my eyes ahead.
          The kindly master said, "Now, my dear son,
          The city known as Dis approaches near
          With its grave citizens and mighty hosts."
70       And I: "Master, already I see clearly
          There in the valley its mosques glowing
          Bright red as if just lifted from the fire."
          And he said to me, "The eternal flame,
          Burning within, shows them rosy-red,
75       As you discern, here in this lower hell."
          We arrived at last inside the deep ditch
          Which moated round that melancholy city,
          The walls appearing to me like cast iron.
          After we had first made a great circuit,
80       We came to a spot where the boatman loudly
          Cried, "Get out — this is the entry way!"
          I saw above the gates more than a thousand
          Of those poured out from heaven; they wrathfully
          Called, "Who is this one who without dying
85       "Passes through the kingdom of the dead?"
          Then my thoughtful master gave a signal
          Of his wish to speak to them in confidence.
          At that they barely checked their high disdain
          And said, "You come along — let that one go
90       Who so boldly enters through this realm.
          "Let him return alone on his fool’s path —
          Try, if he can! For you are staying here
          Who guided him into so dark a country."
          Reflect, reader, how I lost my courage
95       When I heard them speak the awful curse,
          For I did not think I ever would go back.
          "O my dear guide who more than seven times
          Brought me back to safety and who drew me
          From the deep peril that stood in my way,
100     "Don’t let me be forsaken so!" I cried,
          "And if we are denied to pass on further,
          Quickly let us retrace our steps together."
          And that lord who had led me to this spot
          Said to me, "Have no fear; our passage here
105     No one can take from us: such is the Donor.
          "But wait for me there, your weary spirit
          Comforted and nourished with strong hope,
          Since I won’t leave you in the lower world."
          So he goes off and here abandons me,
110     My tender father; and I am kept in doubt
          While yes and no battle in my brain.
          I couldn’t hear what he proposed to them,
          But he did not remain with them for long
          When they all scrimmaged to get back inside.
115     These enemies of ours slammed the gate
          In my lord’s face; he stood there left outside
          And then turned back to me with slow slack steps.
          Eyes fastened on the ground and brows shorn bare
          Of any boldness, he murmured between sighs,
120     "Who has forbidden me the house of pain?"
          But he informed me, "You — because I’m vexed —
          Should not lose heart — I will win this contest
          No matter what defense they try within.
          "This arrogance of theirs is nothing new,
125      For once they showed it at a less secret gate
          Which still is standing, in full view, unlocked.
          "Above that gate you read the deadly writing,
          And already, from this side and down the slope,
          Passing through the circles without escort,
130     "Comes one by whom the city will be opened."







Canto IX


          That color cowardice painted on my face,
          When I had seen my leader turned around,
          More quickly caused him to repress his pallor.
          Attentive he halted, like a man listening,
5        Because his eyes could not lead him on farther
          Through the blackening air and thickening fog.
          "Yet we must overcome and win this fight —"
          He began, "if not — so much offered us —
          How long it seems before somebody comes!"
10       I saw quite clearly how he covered up
          What he began to say with what then followed:
          His last words were so different from his first.
          Nevertheless, his speech made me afraid
          Because I drew out from his broken phrases
15       A meaning worse perhaps than what they had.
          "Down to the bottom of this sorry pit
          Do any ever climb from the first level
          Where the only punishment is severed hope?"
          This question I put to him; he replied,
20      "Rarely it happens that any one of us
          Makes the journey I am making now.
          "True, once before I was here below,
          Conjured by that heartless Erichtho
          Who summoned shades back to their own bodies.
          "Shortly after I’d been stripped of flesh
25       She made me enter inside that same wall
          To draw a soul back from the zone of Judas.
          "That place is the lowest and the darkest
          And the farthest from all-encircling heaven.
30       I know the pathway well, so rest assured.
          "The marshland that breathes out a monstrous stench
          Girdles all about the tear-racked city
          Where now we cannot enter without wrath."
          And more he said, but it escapes my mind
35       For my eye had completely drawn me upward
          To the high tower with the flame-tipped top
          Where at one spot there straightaway stood up
          Three infernal Furies stained with blood,
          Their bodies and behavior that of women.
40       Their waists were cinctured with green hydras;
          For hair they had horned snakes and poison adders
          With which their savage temples were enwreathed.
          And clearly recognizing the handmaidens
          Of the Queen of unending mournfulness,
45       He said to me, "Look at the fierce Erinyes:
          "That one there on the left is Megaera,
          And on the right is Alecto, wailing;
          Tisiphone is in the middle." He ceased.
          With her nails each one tore at her own breasts,
50       Thrashed with her hands, and shouted out so loud
          That in dread I drew closer to the poet.
          "Bring on Medusa! We’ll turn him to stone!"
          They all screeched out together, staring down;
          "We ill revenged the raid of Theseus!"
55       "Turn your back now and keep your eyes shut tight,
          For should the Gorgon come and you see her
          You would not return to the world above."
          So spoke my master. He himself turned me
          Around and, not relying on my hands,
60       Covered my face as well with his own palms.
          O you possessing sound intelligence,
          Study well the doctrine which lies hidden
          Under the veil of my unusual verse!
          For now there came upon the muddy waves
65       A blasting sound, a fear-inspiring roar,
          Causing both sides of the shore to tremble:
          Not unlike the blast made by the wind,
          Turbulent from changing temperatures,
          Which strikes the forest and without check
70       Breaks and knocks down boughs, blows them away,
          Sweeping on proudly with a cloud of dust
          And chasing off shepherds and wild animals.
          He freed my eyes and told me, "Now direct
          Your eyesight straight into that ancient scum,
75       Right there to where the fog is hanging thickest."
          Just as the frogs before their enemy
          The snake all disappear into the water
          Until each one squats down upon the bottom,
          I saw more than a thousand wasted souls
80       Fleeing from the path of one who strode
          Dry-shod above the waters of the Styx.
          Often he brushed the foul air from his face,
          Rhythmically moving his left hand out in front,
          And only with that bother appeared weary.
85       Easily I knew that he was sent from heaven,
          And I turned to my master, but he signaled
          That I stay still and bow down there to him.
          Ah how full of deep disdain he seemed to me!
          He then approached the gate, and with a wand
90       He opened it without the least resistance.
          "O outcasts from heaven, detested race,"
          He now began upon the horrid threshold,
          "Why is this insolence so settled in you?
          "Why are you opponents to that Will
95       Which cannot be dissevered from its end
          And which has often swelled your sufferings?
          "What good is it to butt against the Fates?
          Your Cerberus, as you should well recall,
          For just that had his chin and gullet peeled!"
100     Then he turned back along the filthy road
          Without a word to us, but with the look
          Of someone pressed and spurred by other cares
          Than those that lie right there in front of him.
105     And we walked on, straight forward to the city,
          Through the safe-conduct of his sacred words.
          Without a fight we went directly in,
          And I, filled with a longing to find out
          The state of those shut up within that fortress,
          Once I was inside, cast my eyes around
110     And saw, on every side, a vast landscape
          Rife with distress and wretched punishment.
          Just as at Arles, where the Rhone is stagnant,
          Just as at Pola, near Quarnero’s gulf
          That closes Italy and bathes her borders,
115     The sarcophagi make all the ground uneven,
          So did they here, lying every whichway,
          Except that their condition was far worse.
          For there among the tombs were scattered flames
          That made them glow all over with more heat
120     Than any craftsman requires for his iron.
          All of their open lids were lifted up,
          And from inside such harsh laments escaped
          As would come from the wretched and the injured.
          And I: "Master, who are these people that,
125     Entombed within these chests of solid stone,
          Make themselves felt by their distressful sighs?"
          And he told me, "Here lie the arch-heretics
          With their disciples, from all sects, and more
          Than you’ll believe are loaded in these tombs.
130     "Like soul lies buried here encased with like;
          Some monuments are hotter and some less."
          And then he made a turn to the right hand:
          We passed between the torments and high walls.







Canto X


          Now, by a hidden passageway that wound
          Between the rack and ramparts of the city,
          My master travels and I after him.
          "O highest virtue who through these arrant rings
5         Lead me around as you please," I began,
          "Speak to me and satisfy my yearnings:
          "The people here who lie within the tombs,
          Can they be seen? Already all the lids
          Are raised off and no one is standing guard,"
10         And he responded, "They shall all be sealed
          When they come back here from Jehosaphat
          With the bodies that they have left up there.
          "In this section is found the cemetery
          Of Epicurus and his followers,
15       All those who claim the soul dies with the body.
          "So the question that you have put to me
          Soon shall be satisfied while we are here,
          As shall the wish that you have kept from me."
          And I: "Good guide, I do not hide my heart:
20       I only want now to have less to say
          As more than once before you prompted me."
          "O Tuscan, passing through the fiery city
          Alive and speaking with such frank decorum,
          Be kind enough to pause now in this place.
25       "Your way of talking makes it clear you come
          Of the stock born of that same noble city
          To which I was perhaps too troublesome."
          So suddenly had this sound issued from
          One of the coffins there that I trembled
30       And drew a little closer to my guide.
          "Turn around," he said. "What are you doing?
          Look here at Farinata straightening up!
          From waist high you will see the whole of him."
          I had already fixed my eyes on his
35       While he emerged with his forehead and chest,
          Looking as though he held hell in contempt.
          The quick, assuring hands of my leader
          Pushed me toward him between the sepulchers —
          He said, "Suit your words to the occasion."
40       When I had come up nearer to his tomb,
          He stared a moment and then, disdainfully,
          Questioned me, "Who were your ancestors?"
          I who was anxious to be dutiful
          Kept nothing back but told him everything.
45       At this he raised his brows ever so slightly,
          Then said, "They were so fiercely inimical
          To me and to my forebears and my party
          That twice I had to send them scampering."
          "Though they were driven out, yet from all sides
50       At both times they came back," I said to him;
          "But your men never really learned that art."
          At that there rose before my sight a shade
          Beside him — visible down to his chin —
          I guess he raised himself up on his knees.
55       He gazed all around me, as though intent
          To see if I were there with someone else,
          But when his hope had been completely dashed,
          Tearfully he said, "If you journey through
          This blind prison by reason of high genius,
60       Where is my son? Why is he not with you?"
          I answered, "I do not journey on my own:
          He who awaits there leads me through this place —
          Perhaps your Guido had felt scorn for him."
          His question and his form of punishment
65       Allowed me already to read his name;
          On that account, my answer was so full.
          Suddenly he stood and cried out, "How?
          You said ‘had felt’? Is he not still alive?
          Does not the lovely light still strike his eyes?"
70       And when he had observed my hesitation
          Before I answered him, he shrank back down
          And would not show his face to me again.
          That noble-hearted shade at whose request
          I’d halted my steps did not change his look
75       Or bow his head or bend his body down,
          But, picking up once more our first exchange,
          He said, "If they have poorly learned that art,
          That fact torments me far more than this bed.
          "Not fifty times, however, shall the face
80       Of the lady reigning here rekindle light
          Before you know how heavy that art weighs.
          "And, so may you return to the sweet world,
          Tell me why those people are so unjust
          In all the laws they pass against my kindred?"
85       Then I replied, "The rout and massacre
          Which stained the stream of the Arbia red
          Inspires such petitions in our temple."
          At that he sighed, shook his head, and said,
          "In that harsh action I was not alone:
90       Surely with cause I joined in with the others;
          "But there I was alone where all concurred
          To topple Florence to the ground, the only
          One to stand up for her openly."
          "Ah, as you wish your seed to find true peace,"
95       I answered, "help me to unravel the knot
          That has so tangled up my thinking here.
          "It seems, if I am right, that you can see
          Beforehand what time bears along with it,
          But what the present holds you cannot grasp."
100     "We see, like someone suffering poor vision,
          Those things," he said, "that are far off from us:
          Such light the Sovereign Lord still proffers us.
          "When things approach or happen, our intellect
          Is useless; unless others inform us here
105     We would know nothing of your human state.
          "So you can comprehend how wholly dead
          Shall be our knowledge at that moment when
          The door of the future has slammed shut."
          Then, as though in sorrow for my failure,
110     I said, "Now will you tell that fallen man
          That his son is still there among the living.
          "And if, before, I remained silent
          To his response, inform him I was thinking
          About the problem you have just cleared up."
115     Already my master was calling me back,
          And so I begged that spirit with fresh haste
          To tell me who were with him in the tombs.
          "Here lie with me more than a thousand,"
          He said; "Here is Frederick the Second,
120     And the Cardinal. . ., but I name no more."
          With that he vanished, and I turned my steps
          Toward the ancient poet while I pondered
          Those words that seemed so threatening to me.
          He moved along, and then as we two walked,
125     He questioned me, "Why are you so perturbed?"
          And I satisfied him with my answer.
          "Store in your mind what you have heard set forth
          Against yourself," that sage commanded me.
          "Now pay attention," and he raised a finger:
130     "When you shall stand before the gentle beams
          Of her whose beautiful eyes see everything,
          From her you’ll learn the journey of your life."
          With that he turned his steps off to the left.
          We quit the wall and headed toward the center
135     Along a path that strikes down to a valley
          Which, even there, sickened us with its stench.







Canto XI


          On the ridgetop of a high embankment
          Shaped in a circle by huge broken rockfalls,
          We came above an even crueler fold:
          And here, because of the overwhelming stench
5        Which that bottomless abyss throws up,
          We recoiled — back behind the covering lid
          Of a large tomb where I saw inscribed
          These words: "I hold Pope Anastasius
          Whom Photinus lured from the straight path."
10       "We must delay our downward journey here
          So that our sense may gradually grow used
          To the foul gas-fumes; then we will not mind it."
          This my master said, and I replied,
          "Offset it somehow, so we may not lose
15       Our time." And he: "That is my thought exactly."
          "My son, within the boundary of these boulders,"
          He then began, — "are three smaller circles,
          From tier to tier, like those you leave behind.
          "All are crammed full of ill-stricken spirits —
20       But, that sheer sight later may suffice you,
          Listen to how and why they are held bound.
          "The aim of all malicious acts that merit
          Hatred in heaven is injustice: all such actions,
          By violence or by fraud, harm someone else.
25       "Since fraud, however, is man’s peculiar vice,
          It gives God more displeasure; the fraudulent, then,
          Lie lower down and more pain harries them.
          "The whole first circle is for the violent;
          But, as force is turned against three persons,
30       This first is fashioned in three separate rings.
          "On God, on self, and on one’s neighbor force
          Can turn: I mean, on them and on their goods,
          As you shall now hear logically set forth.
          "By violence come death and painful wounds
35       To one’s neighbor; and to his possessions
          Come hurtful wrecking, arson, and extortion.
          "So murderers, robbers, plunderers,
          And all who wrongly do bodily injury
          The first ring tortures in assorted ranks.
40       "A man may lay violent hands on himself
          And on his property: so in the second
          Ring each one must fruitlessly repent
          "Who wills to rob himself of your bright world,
          Gambles away or wastes his own belongings,
45       And grieves up there where he should rejoice.
          "Violence may be done against the Godhead
          By denial in the heart and blasphemy
          And by despising nature and her bounty.
          "And so the smallest ring has set its seal
50       On both Sodom and Cahors and all those
          Whose words betray their hearts’ contempt of God.
          "Fraud, that chews away at every conscience,
          A man may practice on one who trusts him
          Or on one who has no confidence in him.
55       "For those who trust not, only the link of love
          Which nature forges appears to be cut;
          Therefore, in the second circle nest
          "Hypocrites, flatterers, and sorcerers,
          Falsifiers, thieves, and simoniacs,
60       Panders, graft-takers, and all that trash.
          "For those who trust, both the love nature
          Forges is forgotten and the love
          Added to it that creates a special bond.
          "So, in the smallest circle, at the center
65       Of the universe and the seat of Dis,
          All traitors are eternally consumed."
          And I: "Master, the logic of your words
          Is crystal clear and well delineates
          The chasm and the people it contains.
70       "But tell me, those mired in the slimy marsh,
          Those the wind blasts and those the rain beats on
          And those that clash with such savage tongues,
          "Why aren’t they punished in the red-hot city
          If God holds them as well in his great wrath?
75       And if he does not, why are they in torment?"
          He said to me, "Why does your mind drift off
          So distantly from its accustomed pathway?
          Or do your thoughts now turn to other things?
80       "Do you not remember those passages
          In which your Ethics treats in full detail
          The three perversities opposed by heaven:
          "Incontinence, maliciousness, and raving
          Bestiality — and how incontinence,
          Offending God the least, incurs least blame?
85       "If you will study this teaching carefully
          And call to mind the people up above
          Who outside the city endure penances,
          "You’ll plainly see why they are set apart
          From these felons and why divine vengeance
90       Hammers at them there with lesser anger."
          "O sun that clears up every troubled vision,
          You so content me when you solve my doubts
          That doubting pleases me no less than knowing.
          "Once more go back a little to the point,"
95       I said, "where you state usury offends
          The divine goodness, and untie the knot."
          "Philosophy, to one who understands,
          Points out — and on more than one occasion —
          How nature gathers her entire course
100     "From divine intellect and divine art.
          And if you pore over your Physics closely,
          You’ll find, not many pages from the start,
          "That, when possible, your art follows nature
          As a pupil does his master; in effect,
105      Your art is like the grandchild of our God.
          "From art and nature, if you will recall
          The opening of Genesis, man is meant
          To earn his way and further humankind.
          "But still the usurer takes another way:
110      He scorns nature and her follower, art,
          Because he puts his hope in something else.
          "But follow me now since I want to go:
          For the Fish shimmer low on the horizon
          And all the Wain stretches over Caurus,
115     "And there, beyond, the road runs off the cliff."







Canto XII


          The place where we had come to clamber down
          The bank was mountainous, and what was there
          So grim all eyes would turn away from it.
          Just like that rockslide on this side of Trent
5        That struck the flank of the Adige River —
          Either by an earthquake or erosion —
          Where, from the mountaintop it started down
          To the plain below, the boulders shattered so,
          For anyone above they formed a path,
10       Such was the downward course of that ravine;
          And at the brink over the broken chasm
          There lay outspread the infamy of Crete
          That was conceived within the bogus cow;
          And when he saw us, he bit into himself,
15       Like someone whom wrath tears up from inside.
          My clever guide cried out to him, "Perhaps
          You believe that this is the Duke of Athens
          Who in the upper world contrived your death?
          "Go off, you beast! this man does not approach
20       Instructed by your sister but comes here
          In order to observe your punishments."
          Just as the bull breaks loose right at that moment
          When he has been dealt the fatal blow
          And cannot run but jumps this way and that,
25       So I saw the Minotaur react —
          And my quick guide called out, "Run for the pass!
          While he's raging is our chance to get down!"
          And so we made our way down through the pile
          Of rocks which often slid beneath my feet
30       Because they were not used to holding weight.
          I pushed on, thinking, and he said, "You wonder,
          Perhaps, about that wreckage which is guarded
          By that bestial rage I just now quelled.
          "Now you should know that the other time
35       I journeyed here below to lower hell,
          These boulders as yet had not tumbled down:
          "But for certain, if I recall correctly,
          It was shortly before He came who took
          From Dis the great spoils of the topmost circle
40       "That this deep loathsome valley on all sides
          Trembled so, I thought the universe
          Felt love, because of which, as some believe,
          "The world has often been turned back to chaos.
          And at that instant this ancient rock split up,
45       Scattering like this, here and elsewhere.
          "But fasten your eyes below — down to the plain
          Where we approach a river of blood boiling
          Those who harm their neighbors by violence."
          O blind cupidity and rabid anger
50       Which so spur us ahead in our short life
          Only to steep us forever in such pain!
          I saw a broad ditch bent into a bow,
          As though holding the whole plain in its embrace,
          Just as my guide had explained it to me.
55       Between the ditch and the foot of the bank
          Centaurs came running single-file, armed
          With arrows as they hunted in the world.
          Seeing us descend, they all pulled up,
          And from their ranks three of them moved forward
60       With bows and with their newly selected shafts.
          And from afar one shouted, "To what tortures
          Do you approach as you climb down the slope?
          Answer from there, or else I draw my bow."
          My master said, "We will make our response
65       To Chiron there who hovers at your side —
          To your own harm, your will was always rash."
          Then he nudged me, and said, "That is Nessus,
          Who died for the lovely Dejanira
          By taking his own revenge upon himself;
70       "And in the middle, staring at his chest,
          Is mighty Chiron, who tutored Achilles;
          The last is Pholus, who was so full of frenzy."
          Thousands on thousands march around the ditch,
          Shooting at any soul that rises up
75       Above the blood more than its guilt allows.
          When we drew near to these fleet-footed beasts,
          Chiron took an arrow and with its notch
          Parted his shaggy beard back from his jaws,
          And when he had uncovered his huge mouth,
80       Said to his companions, "Have you noticed
          How that one there behind stirs what he touches?
          "A dead man's feet would not cause that to happen!"
          And my good guide, now standing at the chest
          Where the two natures fuse together, answered,
85       "He is indeed alive, and so alone
          That I must show him all the somber valley.
          Necessity not pleasure brings him here.
          "A spirit came from singing alleluia
          To commission me with this new office:
90       He is no robber nor I a thieving soul.
          "But by the power by which I move my steps
          Along this roadway through the wilderness,
          Lend us one of your band to keep by us
          "To lead us where we two can ford across
95       And there to carry this man on his back,
          For he is not a spirit who flies through air."
          Chiron pivoted around on his right breast,
          Saying to Nessus, "Go back and guide them — if
          Another troop challenges, drive them away!"
100     So with this trusted escort we moved on
          Along the bank of the bubbling crimson river
          Where boiling souls raised their piercing cries.
          There I saw people buried to their eyebrows,
          And the strong centaur said, "These are tyrants
105     Who wallowed in bloodshed and plundering.
          "Here they bewail their heartless crimes: here lie
          Both Alexander and fierce Dionysius
          Who brought long years of woe to Sicily;
          "And there with his head of jet-black hair
110      Is Azzolino; and that other blond one
          Is Opizzo d'Este, who in the world
          "Actually was slain by his own stepson."
          With that I turned to the poet, who said,
          "Now let him be your first guide, I your second."
115     A little farther on, the centaur halted
          Above some people who appeared to rise
          Out of the boiling stream up to their throats.
          He pointed to one shade off by himself,
          And said, "In God's own bosom, this one stabbed
120     The heart that still drips blood upon the Thames."
          Then I saw others too who held their heads
          And even their whole chests out of the stream,
          And many of them there I recognized.
          So the blood eventually thinned out
125     Until it scalded only their feet in it;
          And here we found a place to ford the ditch.
          "Just as you see, this side, the boiling brook
          Grow gradually shallower," the centaur said,
          "So I would also have you understand
130     "That on the other side the riverbed
          Slopes deeper down from here until it reaches
          Again the spot where tyranny must grieve.
          "Heavenly justice there strikes with its goads
          That Attila who was a scourge on earth
135     And Pyrrhus and Sextus, and forever milks
          "The tears, released by boiling blood from both
          Rinier of Corneto and Rinier Pazzo
          Who waged such open warfare on the highways."
          Then he turned back and once more crossed the ford.







Canto XIII


          Nessus had not yet reached the other bank
          When we on this side moved into a wood
          That was not marked at all by any path:
          No leaves of green but of a blackish color,
5        No branches smooth but gnarled and tangled up,
          No fruits were growing, only thorns of poison.
          No wild beasts, shunning the furrowed farmlands
          Between Cecina and Corneto, burrow
          Underbrush that is so thick and barbed.
10       Inside here nest the repugnant Harpies
          Who chased the Trojans from the Strophades
          With foul prophecies of coming losses.
          They have wide wings, human necks and faces,
          Feet with claws, and big feathered bellies;
15       They shriek laments from up in the strange trees.
          "Before you enter farther," my kind master
          Began saying to me, "know you are here
          Within the second circle and will remain
          "Until you come out to the dreadful sand.
20       Look carefully, then, and you shall witness things
          That would destroy your faith in words of mine."
          I heard deep wailings rising from all sides,
          Without discerning anyone who made them,
          So that, completely baffled, I stopped short.
25       I think he thought that I was thinking that
          All of the voices from among the trunks
          Rose up from people who were hiding from us.
          My master said to me, "If you tear off
          A tiny twig from one of the growths here,
30       Your thoughts will also be nipped in the bud."
          Then reaching out my hand a bit ahead,
          I snapped a shoot off from a massive thornbush,
          And the trunk of it cried, "Why do you break me?"
          And after it had darkened with its blood,
35       It started up again, "Why do you rip me?
          Do you possess no pity in your soul?
          "Men we were and now we are mere stumps.
          Surely your hand ought to have been kinder
          Even if we had been the souls of serpents."
40       Just as a green log blazing at one end
          Oozes sap out of the other, all the while
          Hissing with the air that it blows out,
          So from that broken bough issued together
          Words and blood: at that I let the tip
45       Fall, standing like a man stricken with fear.
          To him my sage responded, "Wounded spirit,
          Had he been able to believe before
          What he had witnessed only in my verses,
          "He would not have raised his hand against you.
50       But so incredible a thing caused me
          To urge him to an act I now regret.
          "But tell him who you were, to make amends
          By refreshing your fame in the world above
          To which he is permitted to return."
55       And the trunk: "Your sweet words so attract me
          I cannot remain still, and be not loath
          If I become caught up in conversation.
          "I am the one who held both of the keys
          To Frederick's heart, and I turned them so,
60       Locking and unlocking, with such smoothness
          "That I kept his secrets almost from all men.
          I stayed so faithful to my glorious office
          That for its sake I lost both sleep and strength.
          "The jealous whore who never turns away
65       Her sluttish eyes from Caesar's palaces,
          The deadly plague and common vice of courts,
          "Inflamed the minds of all the rest against me,
          And those inflamed then so inflamed Augustus,
          That happy honors turned to tristful woes.
70      "My mind, because of its disdainful bent
          Believing it would flee disdain by dying,
          Made me unjust against my own just self.
          "By the fresh roots of this tree here I swear
          To you that never once did I break faith
75       With my lord who was worthy of such honor.
          "And should one of you return to the world,
          Bolster up my memory which still lies
          Flattened by the blow that envy gave it."
          Waiting a while, the poet next said to me,
80       "Since he is silent, do not lose the chance,
          But speak and ask him if you would hear more."
          To this I answered, "Do you ask him further
          Whatever you believe will satisfy me,
          For I cannot, such pity rends my heart."
85       So he began again, "That this man should
          Gladly perform what you request of him,
          Imprisoned spirit, may it yet please you
          "To tell us how the spirit is so bound
          Into these knots; and tell us if you can,
90       Are any ever freed from limbs like these?"
          At that the trunk puffed hard and afterward
          That breath was transformed to this speaking voice:
          "The answer I give you shall be concise.
          "Whenever the violent soul forsakes the flesh
95       From which it tore itself by its own roots,
          Minos assigns it to the seventh pit.
          "It plummets to the wood — no place is picked —
          But wherever fortune happens to have hurled it,
          There it sprouts up like a grain of spelt;
100     "It springs into a sapling and wild tree;
          The harpies, feeding on its foliage,
          Cause pain and then an outlet for the pain.
          "Like others we shall go to our shed bodies,
          But not to dress ourselves in them once more,
105     For it is wrong to own what you tossed off.
          "Here shall we haul them, and throughout the sad
          Wood forevermore shall our bodies hang,
          Each from the thornbush of its tortured shade."
          We both continued listening for the trunk,
110     Thinking it still might want to tell us more,
          When a loud uproar caught us by surprise,
          Just as a hunter is suddenly alarmed
          By the wild boar and chase — right at his post —
          Hearing the dogs bark and the branches crack.
115     And look! there on the left-hand side two wraiths,
          Naked and scratched, fleeing so frantically
          That they smashed all the bushes in the wood.
          The front one: "Now come quick, come quick, death!"
          The other, knowing himself out of the race,
120     Shouted, "Lano, your legs were not so nimble
          "When you jousted at the battle of Toppo!"
          And then, perhaps, from shortness of his breath,
          He crouched into a knot inside a thicket.
          In back of them the wood at once ran wild
125     With black bitches, ravenous and swift,
          Like greyhounds let loose from the leash.
          On the crouching shade they gripped their teeth
          And piece by piece they ripped him open-wide
          And then they carried off his wretched limbs.
130      Immediately my escort took my hand
          And led me forward to the bush that wept
          In vain laments through its bloody cuts:
          "O Jacopo da Sant' Andrea," it said,
          "What have you gained by making me your covert?
135     What blame have I for your own sinful life?"
          After my master had drawn up beside it,
          He asked, "Who were you who through many wounds
          Now breathe in blood your mournful speech to us?"
          And he told us, "O souls that have arrived
140      In time to see the dishonorable mangling
          Which here has torn my leaves away from me,
          "Gather them up at the foot of this sad bush.
          I was of the city that exchanged the Baptist
          For its first patron, Mars, for which reason
145     "He'll always make her regret it, with his art,
          And were it not that at the Arno's crossing
          There still remains some vestige of his statue,
          "Those citizens who later rebuilt the city
          Upon the ashes Attila left behind
150     Would have performed their labors without profit.
          "Of my own house I made myself a gallows."







Canto XIV


          Love of our native city touched my heart:
          I bent and gathered up the scattered sprigs
          And gave them back to him whose voice grew faint.
          From there we reached the border that divided
5        The second from the third ring — and there
          I witnessed the horrendous art of justice.
          To make these unfamiliar sights quite clear,
          I say that we had come out on a plain
          Which banishes all verdure from its bed.
10       The grief-stricken wood enwreathed it all
          Around, as the sad ditch surrounds the wood.
          Here, right at the edge, we checked our steps.
          Dry and dense sand covered the ground’s surface,
          A sand no different in its texture from
15       That the feet of Cato once trampled on.
          O vengeance of God, how much you ought to be
          Held in fear by everyone who reads
          The things that were revealed before my eyes!
          I saw myriad flocks of naked souls,
20       All weeping wretchedly, and it appeared
          That separate sentences were meted to them.
          Flat on their backs, some spread out on the ground;
          Some squatted down, all hunched up in a crouch;
          And others walked about interminably.
25       More numerous were those who roamed around;
          Fewer were those stretched out for the torture,
          But looser were their tongues to tell their hurt.
          Over all the sand, large flakes of flame,
          Falling slowly, came floating down, wafted
30       Like snow without a wind up in the mountains.
          Just like the flames which Alexander saw
          In the torrid regions of India
          Swarming to the ground upon his legions,
          So that he had his troops tramp down the soil,
35       The better to put out the flaming flakes
          And to prevent them spreading other fires,
          So descended the everlasting blaze
          By which the sand enkindled, just like tinder
          Under sparks from flint — doubling the pain.
40       Restlessly the dance of wretched hands
          Went on and on, on this side and on that,
          Beating off the freshly falling flames.
          I began, "Master, you can win out over
          Everything — except the arrogant demons
45       That sortied against us at the entrance gate —
          "Who is that giant who appears to ignore
          The fire, lying so scornful and scowling
          That the rain seems not to make him soften?"
          And that same wraith, when he observed how I
50       Questioned my guide about him, shouted out,
          "What I was alive, I am the same dead!
          "Though Jupiter wear out the smith from whom
          He seized in wrath the sharpened thunderbolt
          Which on my last day was to strike me down,
55       "Though he wear out the others, one by one,
          Serving at Mongibello’s soot-black forge —
          As he bellows, ‘Good Vulcan, help me! help me!’
          "The way he did on the battlefield at Phlegra —
          Though with his whole force he flash out at me,
60       Yet he will never have his fond revenge."
          My guide shot back at him so strongly that
          I had not heard him use such force before,
          "O Capaneus, since your insolent pride
          "Is still unquenched, you are chastised the more:
65       No torture other than your own mad ravings
          Can punish you enough for your grim rage."
          Then with a gentler look he turned to me,
          Saying, "That was one of the seven kings
          Who laid siege to Thebes; he held and seems
70       "To hold God in disdain and prize him little;
          But, as I told you, these affronts of his
          Are the right decorations for his chest.
          "Now follow me and watch you do not ever
          Set your feet upon the scorching sand,
75       But always keep them back close to the trees."
          In silence we next reached a spot where gushed
          Out of the wood a small and narrow brook
          Whose redness makes me still shudder with fear.
          As from the Bulicame flows a stream
80       Which prostitutes then share for their own use,
          So too these waters coursed across the sand.
          Its bed and both its banks were made of stone,
          As were the borders all along its sides,
          So that I saw our passage lay that way.
85       "Of all the things that I have shown to you
          From the time we entered through the gate
          Whose threshold is prohibited to none,
          "Nothing your eyes have looked on up to now
          Is so worthy of note as the stream before you
90       That quenches all the flames above its path."
          These were the words my guide addressed to me.
          At this I begged him to give me the food
          For which he had whetted my appetite.
          "In the middle of the sea there lies a wasteland,"
95       He then declared to me; "it is called Crete,
          Under whose king the world had once been chaste.
          "A mountain rises there that long delighted
          In plants and water: Ida is its name;
          Now it is deserted like a withered thing.
100     "Rhea once chose it for the trusted cradle
          Of her son and, the better to hide him,
          When he would cry she made her servants shout.
          "Within the mountain stands a huge Old Man
          Straight up, his back turned to Damietta;
105      He gazes at Rome as if into a mirror.
          "His head is molded out of refined gold;
          His arms and breast are fashioned in pure silver;
          Then he is made of brass down to his crotch.
          "From there on downward he is all choice iron,
110     Except that his right foot is hard-baked clay,
          And this foot he favors over the other.
          "But for the gold, all the parts are cracked
          By a fissure from which the tears drip out
          That, when collected, penetrate the chasm.
115     "The tears run from the rocks into the valley,
          Forming Acheron, Styx, and Phlegethon,
          Then take their course through the narrow sluice,
          "And, at the point where there is no way down,
          They form Cocytus; and what that pool is like
120     You shall see — I will not describe it here."
          And I responded, "If this rivulet
          Pours down in this way from our upper world,
          Why do we view it only at this fringe?"
          And he replied, "You know this place is round,
125      And, although you have traveled a good distance
          Bearing ever to the left toward the bottom,
          "You have not even yet turned a full circle.
          So then if something new appears to us,
          It should not bring such wonder to your looks."
130     And I again: "Master, where shall we find
          Phlegethon and Lethe? One you omit,
          The other you say is formed by tears of rain."
          "In all your questions truly you please me,"
          He answered; "but the boiling blood-red water
135      Surely should have solved one you have asked.
          "Lethe you will see — but beyond this chasm —
There where the souls alight to cleanse themselves
When their repented sins are wiped away."
          Then he told me, "Now it is time to leave
140      This wood. See that you walk in back of me:
          The margins form a path that does not burn,
          "And all the flames above them are snuffed out."







Canto XV 

          Now one of the stone margins bears us on.
          Above, the river’s smoke throws up a shadow
          Which screens the banks and water from the fire.
          Just as the Flemings, between Wissant and Bruges,
5        In terror of the tide that surges toward them
          Build dikes to make the flooding sea recede,
          And as the Paduans, along the Brenta,
          Before the heat wave comes to Chiarentana,
          Build walls to defend their towns and castles,
10       In the same fashion were these banks constructed,
          Except the builder, whoever he might be,
          Had made them not so high and not so wide.
          Already we were so far from the wood
          That I could not have noticed where it was
15       Even had I turned round to look for it,
          When we came across a troop of spirits
          Walking along the bankside, and each one
          Stared at us as men at dusk will study
          Each other in the light of a new moon,
20       Knitting their eyebrows at us in a squint
          Like an old tailor threading a needle’s eye.
          Eyed in this manner by that brotherhood,
          I there was recognized by one who grasped me
          By the hem — and cried, "How wonderful!"
25       And I, when he stretched out his arm to me,
          So fixed my eyes upon his burnt-out features
          Even his crusted face did not prevent me
          From apprehending him in my mind’s eye,
          And bending down my face to be with his,
30       I asked him, "Ser Brunetto, are you here?"
          And he: "My son, pray do not be displeased
          If Brunetto Latini stays back a while
          With you and lets that line trek on ahead."
          And I: "With all my heart, I beg you to,
35       And should you want me to sit here with you,
          I will, if he who goes with me permits it."
          "My son," he said, "whoever of this flock
          Stops for an instant must stay a hundred years,
          Unable to brush off the burning flames.
40        "Go on then. I will walk here at your hem,
          And later I will join my company
          Who pass in sorrow for their endless woes."
          I did not dare to step down from the path
          To walk by him; instead I held my head
45       Bowed down like a man reverently walking.
          He then began, "What chance or destiny
          Brings you down here before your final day
          And who is this one here who shows the way?"
          "Up there above in the sun-brightened life,"
50       I answered him, "I lost myself in a valley
          Before reaching the fullness of my years.
          "Just yesterday morning I turned my back
          On it: when I was lost, this one appeared
          To lead me home once more along this road."
55       And he said to me, "Follow your own star
          And you cannot miss your harbor of glory
          If I judged you rightly in that lovely life.
          "And if I had not died before the time,
60       Seeing how gracious heaven has been to you,
          I should have warmly championed your work.
          "But that unthankful, evil-minded people
          Who long ago came down from Fiesole,
          And still have the rock and mountain in them,
          "For the good you do shall be your enemy,
65       And the reason is: among the bitter sorb trees
          It is not right the sweet fig should bear fruit.
          "The world’s word of old for them was ‘blind’:
          A greedy, envious, and haughty stock,
          Make sure you rid yourself of their bad ways.
70       "Your future holds out such honor to you
          That one party and the other will hunger
          For you — but grass does not grow near the goat!
          "Let the beasts of Fiesole feed on
          Each other, and let them not touch the plant —
75       Should any still be growing on their dungheap —
          "A plant in which lives on the holy seed
          Of the Romans who remained in Florence
          When that nest of foul wickedness was built."
          "If my appeal then had been fully granted,"
80       I responded to him, "you would not be
          Still banished from the ranks of humankind.
          "For in my memory is etched — it grieves me
          Even now — the dear, kind, fatherly image
          Of you, when in the world, hour by hour,
85      "You taught me how man makes himself immortal,
          And I am so grateful that, while I live,
          I will fittingly express it in my speech.
          "What you tell me of my course I write down
          And keep it with another text to read to
90       A lady who, if I reach her, shall gloss it.
          "One thing at least I purpose to make clear:
          As long as my conscience does not blame me,
          Whatever fate wills I am ready for it.
          "Nothing new I hear in this prediction,
95       So let Fortune, as she pleases, rotate
          Her wheel and let the peasant turn his spade."
          At this my master twisted his head back,
          Around to his right, and peering at me,
          He said, "Whoever notes this down, listens well."
100     But for all that, I did not cease from speaking
          To Ser Brunetto, and I asked who were
          His most noble and renowned companions.
          And he told me, "To know of some is good,
          Of others it is better to be silent,
105     As time would be too short for so much talk.
          "Briefly, you should know that all were clerics,
          Great men of letters, men of wide repute,
          Dirtied by the selfsame sin on earth.
          "Priscian travels with that stricken crowd,
110      And Francesco d’Accorso too, and you may see,
          If you have any appetite for such scurf,
         "The one the Servant of Servants transferred
          From the Arno to the Bacchiglione river
          Where he left his organs stretched by sin.
115     "I would say more, but my walking and my talk
May last no longer, since I see over there
New smoke billowing upward from the sandbar.
          "People are coming — I must not be with them.
          Let me commend my Treasury to you:
120     In it I still live and no more I ask."
          At that he turned and seemed like one of those
          Who at Verona run through the countryside
          For the green cloth, and among them he appeared
          The winner of the race and not the loser.







Canto XVI


          Already I was where I heard the rumbling fall
          Of water running down to the next circle,
          Like the sound that a humming beehive makes,
          When three shades broke away together,
5         Racing, out of the squad that went on past us
          Under the rain of grating punishment.
          They ran toward us, each of them shouting,
          "Stop! You — by the clothes you wear — seem
          To be like someone from our rotten city."
10       Ah me, what old and recent wounds I saw
          Seared into their bodies by those flames!
          Just to remember it still gives me pain.
          Their shouts caught the attention of my guide.
          He turned his face toward me: "Now wait,"
15       He said; "we must be courteous to them.
          "And were it not for the hot darting fire
          Which the nature of this place rains down on them,
          I’d say haste suits you better than it does them."
          While we stood still, they once again began
20       Their ancient dirge, and when they came to us
          The three of them together formed a wheel,
          As stripped and oiled wrestlers often do,
          First studying their grip and their advantage
          Before they come to blows and holds between them,
25       So, wheeling, each one directed his face
           Toward me, so that, in constant motion,
           His neck kept turning opposite his feet.
         "If the debasement of this unsteady sand
          And our bare and burnt-out faces," one began,
30       "Makes you feel contempt for our pleas and us,
          "May fame of ours induce the soul in you
          To tell us who you are who in such safety
          Can drag your feet, still living, throughout hell.
          "He in whose footsteps you see me tread,
35       Although he turns about here, skinned and naked,
          Was of a higher rank than you may think:
          "He was the grandson of the good Gualdrada;
          His name was Guido Guerra — in his life
          Much he achieved by counsel and his sword.
40       "The other who thrashes the sand behind me
          Is Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, whose voice
          In the world above ought to have won favor.
          "And I who am placed with them in this torment
          Was Jacopo Rusticucci, and surely
45       My hell-cat wife — more than anyone — ruined me!"
          If I had found a shelter from the flames,
          I would have hurled myself below with them,
          And I think my teacher would have allowed it.
          But since I would have been baked and toasted,
50       Fear conquered my initially kind impulse
          Which first made me so eager to embrace them.
          Then I began, "Not disdain, but distress
          For your condition seized me — so deeply that
          It will only leave me slowly, and not soon —
55       "At the instant my lord spoke to me the words
          Which led me then to realize that such men,
          Worthy as you are, were coming here.
          "I am of your city, and at all times
          I have spoken and heard others speak
60       Of your achievements and your honored names.
          "I quit the gall and go for the sweet apples
          Promised to me by my truthful leader,
          But first I must pass down into the center."
          "So may your soul long lead on your body,"
65       Once more he answered me, "and may your fame,
          After you have passed on, shed its light,
          "Tell us if courtesy and valor still
          Dwell in our city as they did in our day
          Or have they been entirely driven out?
70       "For Guglielmo Borsiere, who just joined
          Us in our grief and goes with our comrades,
          With his reports has caused us deep distress."
          "The new arrivals and the instant profits
          Have given rise to such pride and unrestraint
75       In you, Florence, that you already weep."
          These words I cried out with my face raised high,
          And the three, who took it for my answer,
          Gazed at each other as though they heard the truth.
          "If at other times you find it so easy
80       To please other people," all three replied,
          "Happy you to speak so fluently!
          "Should you escape, then, from these sunless regions
          And return to view once more the splendid stars,
          When it shall gladden you to say, ‘I was there,’
85        "Be sure to tell the people about us."
          At that they broke out of their wheeling circle,
          And, in fleeing, their legs resembled wings.
          An "Amen" would take less time to pronounce
          Than it took for the three of them to vanish:
90       And so my master thought it well to leave.
          I followed him, and we hadn’t walked on far
          Before the sound of water was so near
          We hardly could have heard each other talk.
          Just as that river, which first takes its course
95       From Mount Visco and flows toward the east
          On the left slope of the Apennines —
          Called the Acquacheta up above
          Before descending to its lower bed
          And at Forlм is known as the Montone —
100      Roars above San Benedetto dell’Alpe,
          Cascading in a single waterfall
          Where a thousand falls could easily have settled:
          Just so, down from one steep and rocky bank
          We found that tainted water so thundering
105      That in no time it would have burst our ears.
          I had a cord tied fast around my waist,
          And with it I had thought on one occasion
          To catch the leopard with the gaudy coat.
          As soon as I unwrapped the cord completely,
110      Exactly as my guide directed me,
          I passed it to him wound in a tight coil.
          At that he swung around toward his right
          And, far out over from the edge, threw it
          Right into the depth of the dark chasm.
115      "Surely there will be a strange response,"
          I said to myself, "to this strange signal:
          My master follows it so closely with his eye."
          Ah what care men need to show with those
          Who can not only see the outward act
120      But have the mind to read our inner thoughts!
          He said to me, "Soon shall come up from below
          What I wait for and your mind dreams about:
          Soon must it be discovered to your sight."
          Always, to the truth that seems a lie,
125      As far as he can, one must close his lips,
          For through no fault of his, it still brings shame.
          But here I cannot remain silent — reader,
          By the lines of this Comedy, I swear
          (So may my verse attain long-lasting favor)
130      That I saw through that thick and darkened air
          A figure come, swimming up toward us —
          A thing to dumbfound any steadfast heart —
          Like someone coming up from depths below
          Where he went down to free an anchor snagged
135      On a reef or something else hid in the sea,
          Stretching upward and drawing up his legs.







Canto XVII


          "Look at the beast with the pointed tail!
          He passes mountains, smashes walls and weapons!
          Look at the one that smells up the whole world!"
          This way my guide began to talk to me
5         As he signaled the beast to land on shore
          Close to the edge of our stone-paved pathway.
          And that repugnant picture of pure fraud
          Came on, landing his head and his chest first,
          But darting his tail out beyond the bank.
10       His face was the face of a saintly person,
          So placid was the surface of the skin,
          But his whole trunk was the shape of a snake.
          He had two paws, with hair up to his armpits;
          His back and breasts and both of his flanks
15      Were painted gaudily with knots and loops.
          Tartars or Turks never wove a cloth
          With more colors in background and design,
          Nor did Arachne ever loom such webs.
          Just as boats sometimes lie on shore
20       Half in the water and half still on land,
          And just as there among the guzzling Germans
          The beaver crouches ready to do battle,
          So did that worst of all wild beasts lay there
          On the rim of stone bordering the sand.
25       Out in the void all his tail stretched quivering,
          Twisting in the air its poisonous fork
          Which had a tip armed like a scorpion’s.
          My leader said, "Now we had better veer
          Our way slightly, until we come as far
30       As that wicked beast squatting over there."
          We stepped down, then, to the right-hand breast,
          And walked ten paces out along the ledge
          To keep wholly clear of the sand and flame.
          And when we had walked up to Geryon,
35       I noticed on the sand, a bit farther on,
          People sitting next to empty space.
          Here my master said to me, "That you may
          Acquire the full experience this ring offers,
          Go now and see the state that they are in.
40       "But let your conversation there be brief.
          Till you come back, I shall talk with this beast
          To have him lend us his strong shoulders."
          So still farther along the utmost brink
          Of that seventh circle I walked alone
45       To where the people deep in mourning sat.
          Misery was bursting from their eyes;
          This way and that, they ward off with their hands
          One time the flames and next the burning sands,
          No differently do dogs in summertime,
50       Now with muzzles, now with paws, when they are
          Bitten by fleas or gnats or by horseflies.
          When I had cast my eyes on certain faces
          Of those on whom the oppressive fire falls,
          I recognized none of them, but I observed
55       That from the neck of each there hung a purse
          Having a special color and coat of arms,
          And on his own each seemed to feast his eyes.
          While I went among them, looking about
          I glimpsed a purse of yellow upon azure
60       Which bore the face and figure of a lion.
          Then, letting my gaze wander over them,
          I saw another purse as red as blood
          Displaying a goose whiter than butter.
          And one who had an azure pregnant sow
65       Represented on his small white pouch
          Asked me, "What are you doing in this ditch?
          "Now get going — and since you’re still alive,
          You should know my neighbor Vitaliano
          Shall have a seat here soon at my left side.
70       "I, a Paduan, am with these Florentines;
          Incessantly they deafen my poor eardrums
          With their shouting, ‘Bring on the royal knight
          " ‘Who bears on him his pouch with the three goats!’ "
          At this he twisted his mouth around and stuck
75       His tongue out, like an ox licking its nose.
          And I, in fear that any longer stay
          Might vex him who had warned me not to tarry,
          Turned my back upon these worn-out sinners.
          I found my guide who had already climbed
80       Up on the rump of that wild animal,
          And he said to me, "Now be strong and stout!
          "Our way down from here is by stairs like these.
          You mount in front: I want the middle section
          So that his sharp tail cannot cause you harm."
85       As one who, feeling the shivers of a fever
          So close his nails already are turned blue,
          Shudders just at the sight of some cool shade,
          So I became when I had heard his words.
          But then I felt the taunt of shame which makes
90       A servant bold before his worthy master.
          I hunched down on those monstrous shoulders
          Wanting to say — but my voice did not come
          As I thought — "Make sure you hold on to me."
          But he who had at other times helped me
95       In other dangers, as soon as I was mounted,
          Folded me in his arms and held me tight.
          He called, "Now, Geryon, get up! Be sure
          To make your circles wide and move down slowly:
          Remember the strange weight that you now carry."
100     Just as a rowboat pulls out from its berth
          Backwards, backwards, so that beast pushed off,
          And when he felt himself all free in space,
          There where his chest had been he turned his tail,
          Stretching it out and waving it like an eel,
105     While with his paws he gathered in the air.
          I do not think the fear was any sharper
          When Phaethon let the sun’s reins drop away
          (The reason why the sky is scorched with stars)
          Nor when unhappy Icarus felt his flanks
110     Unfeathering as the wax started melting,
          His father shouting, "You’re going the wrong way!"
          Than mine was when I saw that on all sides
          I floated in the air and I saw all
          Sights lost to view except the beast himself.
115      He flew on slowly, slowly swimming on,
          Spiraling and gliding: this I knew only
          By the winds in my face and underneath me.
          I heard already on my right the whirlpool
          Roaring with such horror there beneath us
120     That I stretched out my neck and peered below.
          Then I grew more panicky of going down
          For I saw flames and I heard wailing cries;
          So, trembling, I pressed my legs in tighter.
          And then I saw, what I had not seen before:
125      His descent was spiraled, since I saw torments
          On every side were drawing nearer to us.
          Just as a falcon, a long while on the wing,
          Who, without spotting lure or prey,
          Makes the falconer cry, "Ah, you’re coming down,"
130      Descends, tired, with a hundred turnings
          To where he set out so swiftly, and perches,
          Aloof and furious, far off from his master,
          So at the bottom Geryon set us down
          Right next to the base of a jagged rockface
135     And, once rid of the burden of our bodies,
          He vanished like an arrow from a bowstring.









          Lodged in hell is a place called Malebolge,
          All made of stone the color of iron ore,
          As is the cliff wall that encloses it.
          Right in the middle of this cankered field
5        A broad and deep-cut chasm opens up —
          In its place I shall describe its structure.
          The belt, then, that is left between the chasm
          And the steep stony cliff, forms a circle
          And its bottom has been sliced into ten valleys.
10        Just as, where moat on moat encompasses
          A castle to defend its central walls,
          The ground in which they’re dug shapes a design,
          Such a pattern here these ditches formed;
          And as such fortresses have footbridges
15       Out from their gates up to the outer banks
          So from the bottom of the cliff ran ridges
          Which crossed above the embankments and ditches
          Up to the chasm where they end and merge.
          In this spot we found ourselves, dismounted
20       From the back of Geryon; the poet
          Kept to the left and I walked on behind him.
          At my right hand I saw fresh cause for pathos,
          Fresh punishments and fresh torturers
          That fully crammed the first of the ten pockets.
25       Naked sinners filed by on the bottom:
          On the near side they came facing toward us,
          On the other they moved along with us, but faster:
          So the Romans, because of the huge crowds
          During Jubilee year, have people pass
30       Over the bridge so that on the other side all face
          (According to the plan fixed to divide them)
          Toward the Castle and walk to Saint Peter’s,
          While on the other they walk toward the Mount.
          This side and that, along the gloom-filled rock,
35       I saw horned devils with their huge long whips
          Cruelly lashing those sinners from behind.
          Ah how they forced them to lift up their heels
          At the first strokes! There was nobody there
          Who waited for the second or the third!
40       While I moved on, my eye caught someone else’s,
          And immediately I said to myself,
          "Surely I have seen this one before."
          So I held up my steps to stare at him,
          And my kindly guide halted with me
45       And gave me leave to go a short way back.
          That scourged spirit thought that he could hide
          By lowering his head, but little it helped him,
          For I said, "You who gaze upon the ground,
          "Unless the features which you wear are false,
50       You are Venedico Caccianemico:
          But what put you in such a juicy pickle?"
          And he replied, "I tell it unwillingly,
          But your plain speech forces me to do it
          By reminding me of that world of old.
55       "I was the one who led Ghisolabella
          To satisfy the will of the Marquis,
          Whatever way the vile tale is reported.
          "But I am not the only Bolognese
          Weeping here; this place is so full of them
60       That not so many tongues have learned to say
          "Sipa between the Savena and Reno:
          And if you want a proof or witness for this,
          Recall to mind our sense of greediness."
          While he was talking a devil lashed at him
65       With his whip and cried out, "On your way, pimp!
          There are no women here for you to con."
          I turned back to be once more with my escort.
          Then, a few steps forward, we walked up
          To where a ridge out-jutted from the bank.
70       We climbed across it with no difficulty
          And, turning to the right along its crest,
          We left behind those everlasting circlings.
          When we had reached the spot where the ridgeline
          Yawns open to let the scourged pass below,
75       My guide said, "Stop and make sure that the sight
          "Of these other misbegotten souls strikes you:
          Their faces you have not observed before
          As they were moving the same direction we were."
          From the old bridge we gazed down at the troop
80       Coming toward us along the other tract,
          And they were likewise driven by the lash.
          Even without my asking, my good master
          Spoke up, "Look at that mighty one approaching
          Who does not seem to shed a tear for pain.
85       "What a kingly look he still retains!
          That is Jason, who with heart and brains
          Robbed Colchis of the gold fleece of their ram.
          "He voyaged to the island of Lemnos
          After the brash and merciless women
90       Had put all of their menfolk to the sword.
          "There with his love tokens and stylish words
          He beguiled the young Hypsipyle
          Who had first beguiled the other women.
          "There he left her, pregnant and forsaken:
95       Such sin condemns him to such punishment,
          And for Medea, too, is vengeance wreaked.
          ‘With him go all the beguilers of others —
          Let this now be enough for you to know
          Of the first valley and sinners in its jaws."
100      We had already come where the narrow path
          Crosses over to the second bank
          To form a new support for another arch.
          From there we heard people in the next pocket
          Whining and snorting gruffly from their snouts
105     And whacking themselves with flat open palms.
          The banks were coated with a slimy mold
          From exhalations below; it stuck to them,
          Attacking eyes and nose with stinging must.
          The bottom was so deep we could not see it
110     Anywhere, except by climbing up the spine
          Of the arch where the ridge rises highest.
          Here we arrived, and down there in the ditch
          I saw a people plunged in excrement
          As if it had been dumped from men’s latrines.
115      And as I searched below there with my eyes
          I saw one with his head so smeared with shit
          You could not tell if he were lay or cleric.
          He yelled up at me, "Why are you more greedy
          To stare at me than at the other scum?"
120      And I: "Because, if I remember rightly,
          "I have seen you before with your hair dry:
          And so I eye you more than all the rest.
          You are Alessio Interminei of Lucca."
          And he, smacking his squash, replied to me,
125      "Down here I am sunk by the flatteries
          That my tongue never tired of repeating."
          After this my teacher said to me,
          "Stretch your head forward a little farther
          So that your eyes may clearly catch the face
130      "Of that slatternly and smutty slut
          Who scratches herself with shit-blackened nails,
          Now squatting and now staggering to her feet.
          "She is Thais the whore, who when her lover
          Asked, ‘Are you very grateful to me?' answered,
135     ‘Very! Why, extravagantly so!’
          "But now our sight has had enough of this."







Canto XIX


          O Simon Magus! O miserable lot
          Who take the things of God that ought to be
          Wedded to goodness and in your greediness
          Adulterate them into gold and silver!
5         Now the trumpet blast must sound for you
          Since you are stashed here into the third pocket.
          We had arrived at the next graveyard
          By climbing to that section of the ridgetop
          Which juts right over the middle of the ditch.
10       O highest Wisdom, how great is the art
          You show in heaven, earth, and this bad world!
          And how just is the power of your judgment!
          I saw along the sides and on the bottom
          The livid rockface all pocked full of holes,
15       Each one alike in size and rounded shape.
          No smaller or no larger they seemed to me
          Than are those booths for the baptismal fonts
          Built in my beautiful San Giovanni —
          And one of those, not many years ago,
20       I broke up to save someone drowning in it:
          And let my word here disabuse men’s minds —
          Up from the mouth of each hole there stuck out
          A sinner’s feet and legs up to the calf,
          The rest of him remained stuffed down inside.
25       The soles of both feet blazed all on fire;
          The leg-joints wriggled uncontrollably:
          They would have snapped any rope or tether.
          Just as a flame on anything that’s oily
          Spreads only on the object’s outer surface,
30       So did this fire move from heel to toe.
          "Who is that sinner, master, who suffers so,
          Writhing more than any of his comrades,"
          I asked, "the one the redder flame licks dry?"
          And he: "If you want to be lifted down
35       Onto that sloping lower bank, then from him
          You’ll learn about himself and his wrongdoings."
          And I: "My pleasure is what pleases you.
          You are my lord, and you know I won’t swerve
          From your will: You know what is left unspoken."
40       Coming to the fourth causeway, we then turned
          And, bearing to the left, still descended
          Down to the strait and perforated bottom.
          And my kind master did not put me down
          From his side till he’d brought me to the hole
45       Of the sinner who shed tears with his shanks.
          "O whatever you are, sorrowful soul,
          Planted like a stake with your top downward,"
          I started out, "say something, if you can."
          I stood there like a friar hearing confession
50       From a foul assassin who, once fixed in place,
          To delay execution calls him back again.
          And he cried, "Are you already standing there,
          Are you already standing there, Boniface?
          By several years the record lied to me!
55       "Are you so quickly glutted with the wealth
          Which did not make you fear to take by guile
          The lovely lady and then lay her waste?"
          I acted like a person who’s left standing —
          Not comprehending what’s been said to him —
60       Half-mocked and at a loss to make an answer.
          Then Virgil spoke up, "Tell him right away,
          ‘I am not he, I’m not the one you think!’ "
          And I replied as I had been instructed.
          At this the spirit twisted both feet wildly;
65       Then, sighing deeply, with a voice in tears,
          He asked, "What, then, do you demand of me?
          "If to know who I am has so compelled you
          That you continued down this bank, then know
          Once I was vested in the papal mantle,
70       "And truly I was a son of the she-bear,
          So avid to advance my cubs that up there
          I pocketed the money and here, myself.
          "Under my head have been dragged the others
          Who went, by way of simony, before me,
75       Squashed flat in the fissures of the stone.
          "I shall plunge down there, in my turn, when
          The one I took you for — while thrusting at you
          That question so abruptly — will arrive here.
          "But a longer time now have I baked my feet
80       And stood like this upside-down than he
          Will stay planted with his red-hot feet up!
          "For after him will come one fouler in deeds,
          A lawless shepherd from the westward land,
          One fit to cover up both him and me.
85       "He’ll be a new Jason, like him we read of
          In Maccabees; just as Jason’s king was kind,
          So shall the king of France be kind to him."
          I do not know if now I grew too brash,
          But I replied to him in the same measure,
90       "Well, then, tell me: how costly was the treasure
          "That our Lord demanded of Saint Peter
          Before he gave the keys into his keeping?
          Surely he said only ‘Follow me.’
          "Nor did Peter or the rest take gold
95       Or silver from Matthias when they chose him
          By lot to take the place the traitor lost.
          "Stay put, therefore, since you are justly punished,
          And guard with care the ill-acquired money
          That made you so high-handed against Charles.
100     "And were it not that I as yet feel bound
          By my deep reverence for the mighty keys
          Which you once held in the lighthearted life,
          "I would here utter words still far more bitter,
          Because your avarice afflicts the world,
105     Trampling good men and vaulting evildoers.
          "You are the shepherds the evangelist meant
          When he saw ‘she who sits upon the waters’
          Fornicating with the kings of earth.
          "She is the one born with the seven heads
110     Who from her ten horns begot all her strength
          So long as virtue was her bridegroom’s pleasure.
          "A god of gold and silver you have fashioned!
          How do you differ from idolators
          Except they worship one god — you a hundred?
115     "Ah, Constantine, how much foul harm was fostered,
          Not by your conversion but by the dowry
          Which the first wealthy father took from you?"
          And while I chanted him these notes — whether
          Bitten by his anger or his conscience —
120     He gave a vicious kick with his two feet.
          I honestly believe my guide was pleased,
          So contented was his look while he kept listening
          To the sound of these true-spoken words.
          At that he took me within both his arms
125      And, when he held me wholly to his breast,
          Climbed up the path that he had once come down.
          Nor did he weary of clasping me to himself,
          But carried me to the crest of the arch
          That crosses from the fourth to the fifth causeway.
130     Here he gently set down his heavy load,
          Gently because of the steep and craggy ridge
          Which even goats would have found hard to pass.
          From there another valley opened before me.







Canto XX


          Now new punishments I must fit to verse,
          Shaping the subject for my twentieth canto
          Of the first canticle on the buried damned.
          Already I was fully set to look
5         Far down into the depth that opened to me
          To see its bottom bathed with tears of anguish,
          When through the valley’s circling I descried
          People coming hushed and weeping, at the pace
          Followed by processions in this world.
10       As my fixed gaze descended lower to them,
          Each seemed bizarrely twisted at the neck
          Between the chin and top part of the chest,
          Because their faces turned round to their haunches
          So that they were compelled to walk backwards
15       Since they could not possibly see ahead.
          Perhaps a stroke of palsy once has twisted
          Someone so completely, but I doubt it
          For I have never seen a case like this.
          May God so grant you, reader, to find fruit
20       In your reading: now ponder for yourself
          How I could keep the eyes in my head dry
          When I saw close at hand our human image
          Contorted so the tears streaming from their eyes
          Bathed their buttocks and ran between the cleft.
25       I wept, surely, while I leaned back against
          A rock there on that rugged ridge; my escort
          Said, "Still like all the other fools, are you?
          "Here pathos lives when its false meaning dies,
          Since who is more pathetic than the person
30       Who agonizes over God’s just judgments?
          "Lift up your head, lift it, see him for whom
          The earth cracked open before the Thebans’ eyes
          While they all cried, ‘Where are you rushing off,
          " 'Amphiaraus? Why do you flee the battle?’
35       And he didn’t once pause in his headlong flight
          Down to Minos who snatches every soul.
          "Look how he’s made a chest of his own shoulders:
          Because he wished to see too far ahead
          He stares behind and takes a backward path.
40       "See Tiresias, who changed his likeness:
          Being a man he then became a woman,
          Transforming all the members of his body,
          "Until, a second time, he had to strike
          The two lovemaking serpents with his staff
45       Before he donned again his manly down.
          "And backing against his belly is Aruns
          Who, in the hills of Luni where the folk
          Of Carrara cultivate the valley,
          "Dwelt in a cave among white marble cliffs,
50       And from that vantage with an unblocked view
          He gazed out at the stars and at the sea.
          "And she who with her wild disheveled hair
          Covers up her breasts so you can’t see them
          And keeps all of her hairy parts to that side
55      "Was Manto, who had searched through many lands
          Before she settled there where I was born:
          On this I want you to hear me for a while.
          "After her father Tiresias left this life
          And the city of Bacchus lay enslaved,
60       For long years she wandered through the world.
          " High up in lovely Italy, at the foot
          Of those Alps that wall in Germany
          Above Tirol, lies a lake called Benaco;
          "A thousand brooks and more, I believe,
65       Bathe Garda, Val Camonica, and Pennino
          With the waters flowing through that lake,
          "And in its center is a spot the three
          Bishops of Trent, Brescia, and Verona,
          If ever they should pass that way, would bless.
70      "Peschiera, a strong and handsome fortress
          Built against the Bergarnese and Brescians,
          Sits at the low point of the surrounding shore.
          "There all the waters which cannot be contained
          Within the bosom of Benaco tumble
75       To form a river down through greening fields;
          "As soon as this water starts to course,
          It is known as the Mincio — not Benaco —
          To Governolo where it falls into the Po;
          "Not running far, it finds a level ground
80       Where it spreads out and turns into a marsh
          Which is in summer sometimes low and foul.
          "Passing that way, the savage virgin saw
          Land there in the middle of the swamp,
          Untilled and barren of inhabitants.
85       "There, to flee all human fellowship,
          With her slaves she stopped to ply her arts,
          And there she lived and left her empty body.
          "Later the people who were dispersed about
          Gathered to that place, since it was protected
90       By the swamp that ringed it on all sides.
          "Over her dead bones they built a city
          And, after her who first picked out the site,
          Without casting lots, they named it Mantua.
          "Once far more people dwelt within it,
95       Before Casalodi through his foolishness
          Was taken in by Pinamonte’s tricks.
          "I charge you, therefore, if you ever hear
          Another origin claimed for my city,
          Don’t let false stories cheat you of the truth."
100     And I said, "Master, this account of yours
          Makes me so sure and so wins all my trust
          That I think other versions just dead coals.
          "But tell me if among the people passing
          You notice anyone worth mentioning,
105      For that alone keeps coming to my mind."
          To this he said to me, "That one whose beard
          Streams down from his cheeks to his brown shoulders
          Was — when Greece became so drained of males
          "That scarcely were there sons for the cradles —
110     An augur, and he set the time with Calchas
          To cut the first ship-cables at Aulis.
          "His name was Eurypylus, and of him
          My high tragedy sings in one passage
          Which you know well who know the whole of it.
115      "That other one, so thinned-out in the shanks,
          Was Michael Scot, who certainly perceived
          How to play the game of magic fraud.
          "See Guido Bonatti; see Asdente,
          Who wishes now he had kept to his thread
120      And shoe-leather, but he repents too late.
          "See those wretched women who left needle,
          Spool, and spindle for their fortune-telling;
          They cast their spells with herbs and image-dolls.
          "But come now; already Cain with his thornbush
125     Stands at the border of both hemispheres
          And touches the waves below Seville,
          "And last night’s moon was already round and full.
          Remember her well, for through her in times past
          No harm came to you deep in the dark forest."
130     So he spoke to me as we journeyed on.







Canto XXI


          So from bridge to bridge, talking of matters
          That my Comedy here has no care to sing,
          We traveled on, and we had reached the summit
          When we stopped to look at yet another gap
5         Of Malebolge and another empty sorrow:
          And I saw how awesomely dark it was!
          Just as at the arsenal of the Venetians
          In wintertime the sticky pitch for caulking
          The seams of the leaky vessels boils —
10       Since they cannot then set sail — and instead,
          Some rebuild the keels, some plug up the ribs
          Of hulls that rode on many voyagings,
          Some hammer at the prow and some the stern,
          Others cut oars, still others twist new rope,
15      Another sews patches on the jib and mainsail:
          So, not by the fire but by the art of God,
          Boiled, there below, a thick and sticky pitch
          Which glue-coated the banks on every side.
          I saw the pitch, but in it I saw nothing
20       Except the rising of the boiling bubbles,
          The whole swelling up and sinking down.
          While I stared down intently into it,
          My guide, calling to me, "Watch out! Watch out!"
          Drew me to his side from where I stood.
25       At that I turned around like someone anxious
          To see whatever he is supposed to shun
          While he remains so dashed by sudden panic
          That he won’t stop his flight but will look back:
          And I saw behind us a blackened devil
30       Come running up along the ridge’s length.
          Ah, what a ferocious look he had!
          And how fierce his actions seemed to me,
          With his wings wide-open and his light feet!
          Upon his shoulders, which were high and pointed,
35       He had loaded a sinner by both legs,
          Gripping him in front by the ankles.
          From our bridge he called, "Oh, Malebranche,
          Here is one of Saint Zita’s elders!
          Toss him below while I go back for more
40       "To that city which is so well supplied:
          All men there, except Bonturo, are grafters!
          In Lucca they will change no to yes for cash!"
          He plunged the sinner down and turned about
          Upon the rocky ridge: no hound freed from
45       Its leash ever chased a thief so swiftly!
          The sinner sank and surfaced rear end-up,
          But the demons under cover of the bridge
          Shouted, "The Holy Face has no place here!
          "Swimming here is not like in the Serchio!
50       If you don’t want to feel our grappling-hooks,
          Don’t raise yourself up above that pitch!"
          They chewed him with a hundred prongs or more,
          Screaming, "Here you frolic under cover!
          See if you can snitch the chance to surface!"
55       In just this way might cooks make their helpers
          Plunge the meat down deep into the pot
          With their forks, to keep it from floating up.
          My gracious master said, "We don’t want them
          To know that you are here, so crouch down low
60       Behind a crag to give yourself some cover.
          "No matter what affronts they offer me,
          Don’t be afraid: I know how things run here,
          And I had a skirmish like this once before."
          With this he passed beyond the top of the bridge
65       And, arriving upon the sixth embankment,
          Had need to prove his show of self-reliance.
          With just the same rage and roaring of dogs
          When they rush out on some poor passing beggar
          Who stops dead in his tracks and starts to beg,
70       So these devils, from beneath the bridge
          Shot out with all their prongs aimed at my guide,
          But he shouted, "Stop being savages!
          "Before you would impale me with your forks,
          One of you step forward to hear me out
75       And then resolve to grapple me or not."
          They all shouted, "Malacoda should go!"
          Then one of them moved up — the rest stood still —
          And, approaching, asked, "How will that help him?"
          "Do you think, Malacoda, I have come
80       So far, as you can see," my master said,
          "Safe from all these counterblows of yours,
          "Without the grace of God and a friendly fate?
          Let us pass, since it is willed in heaven
          That I show another along this savage path."
85       At this his pride became so crestfallen
          That he let his hook drop right at his feet
          And told the others, "Now, don’t any strike him!"
          And my guide said to me, "You, crouching there
          Among the shattered rockpiles of the bridge,
90       Now you can feel safe returning to me."
          At that I moved and quickly came to him,
          And the devils pressed forward all together;
          I panicked that they might not keep their pact.
          Just so, I once saw soldiers fill with panic,
95       As they filed from Caprona with safe conduct,
          Seeing themselves surrounded by their foes.
          With my whole body I pressed against my guide
          And not for a moment would I take my eyes
          From their looks that boded me no good.
100      They put out pitchforks, and "Shall I prick him,"
          One said to the other, "on his bottom?"
          And he answered, "Sure, let him have a nick!"
          But Malacoda, who all the while was talking
          To my master, whirled around suddenly
105     And yelled, "Stop, Scarmiglione, stop!"
          Then he told us, "It’s impossible to go
          Farther along this ridge since the sixth arch
          Lies smashed into pieces at the bottom.
          "But if you still are pleased to stroll ahead,
110     Then follow along the bluff until you come
          To another ridge, nearby, that offers crossing.
          "Yesterday, five hours from now, marked
          One thousand two hundred and sixty-six years
          Since this bridgeway crashed in ruins here.
115      "I am dispatching some of my troop there
          To watch if anyone pops up for air —
          Go along with them; they won’t hurt you.
          "Front and center, Alichino and Calcabrina,"
          He started off, "and you too, Cagnazzo!
120     And Barbariccia, lead the squad of ten.
         "Take Libicocco and Draghignazzo,
          And tusked Ciriatto and Graffiacane,
          And Farfarello and mad Rubicante.
          "Reconnoiter around the bubbling gluepot,
125     And see them safe as far as the next ridge
          That spans all unbroken from den to den."
          "O master," I said, "what am I looking at?
          Ah, let us walk alone without an escort:
          You know the way? I want no part of them!
130      "If you remain alert as usual,
          Do you not notice how they grind their teeth
          And how they threaten harm with their fierce looks?"
          And he: "I have no wish to see you panic.
          Let them grind away all that they want to:
135     They do it to impress the boiling wretches."
          They turned around upon the left-face bank,
          But first each pressed a tongue between his teeth
          To sound a signal to their commandant,
          And with his ass he blew a bugle-blast.







Canto XXII


          I have seen horsemen in the past break camp,
          Muster their army and open assault,
          And at times even beat a quick retreat;
          I have seen outriders roam your countryside,
5        O Aretines, and seen raiding-parties charge,
          Tournaments clash and jousters galloping,
          Some called by trumpets and some by bells,
          By drumrolls and by flares from castle-walls,
          By homemade and imported instruments;
10       But never before have I seen horsemen,
          Footsoldiers, or ships that sail by sighting
          Of land or stars move to a stranger bugle.
          We walked together along with the ten demons —
          Ah, what fierce company, and yet: with saints
15       In church, with rioters in the tavern!
          My whole attention was fixed on the pitch
          To study every aspect of this pocket
          And of the people who, within it, burned.
          Just as dolphins do, when with arching backs
20       They signal a storm-warning to the sailors
          To make all hands ready to save the ship,
          So here at times to soothe the suffering
          Some sinner showed his back above the top
          And hid again as fast as lightning flashes.
25       And just as on the water’s edge of ditches
          Frogs squat with only their muzzles showing,
          To hide their legs and the rest of their fat flesh,
          So here on all sides these sinners squatted,
          But the instant Barbariccia stepped forward,
30       They dived back underneath the boiling pitch.
          I saw, and still my heart shudders with it,
          One lag behind — just as sometimes one frog
          Will stay back while another leaps below —
          And Graffiacane, the closest to him,
35       Hooked him up by his pitch-knotted hair
          And hauled him out — he looked just like an otter!
          I knew all of the devils now by name,
          For I had watched them when they were selected,
          And when they called each other, I had listened.
40       "Oh Rubicante, see that you get your claws
          Into his back so you can skin and flay him!"
          The whole damned squad shouted all together.
          And I: "My master, if you can, please do
          Find out the name of the unfortunate soul
45      Who’s fallen in the clutches of his foes."
          My guide, drawing closer to his side,
          Asked him where he came from; he replied,
          "I was born in the kingdom of Navarre.
          "My mother placed me in service to a lord,
50       For she had had me by some fly-by-night,
          A destroyer of his goods and suicide.
          "Then I served in kind King Thibault’s household
          Where I set myself up by accepting graft:
          And in this heat I render my account."
55       And Ciriatto, with two tusks stuck out
          From both sides of his mouth, just like a boar’s,
          Let him feel how one tusk could rip him open.
          The mouse had fallen prey to wicked cats.
          But Barbariccia grabbed him with his arms,
60      Yelling, "Stay back there while I’ve got a grip!"
          Then he turned his face to my guide and said,
          "Ask once again, if you want to learn more
          From him, before the rest tear him apart."
          So my guide: "Tell me then, among the other
65       Sinners, do you know of any Italians sunk
          Under the pitch?" And he: "I just now left
          "One soul from near there — would that I were still
          With him beneath the shelter of that pitch!
          These claws and hooks would not then frighten me!"
70        And Libicocco snarled, "We’ve stood enough!"
          And with his grapple caught him by the arm
          And, tearing at it, hacked out the skin and muscle.
          But Draghignazzo also hoped to lay
          Hooks to his legs; at that the captain whipped
75      About and rounded them with ill-boding looks.
          When they’d become a little more subdued,
          Without waiting, my guide questioned the sinner
          Who stood there still, studying his wound,
          "Who was the soul you said you had to leave
80       Behind you there when you came to the shore?"
          He answered, "That was Friar Gomita
          "From Gallura, a purse for every fraud!
          He had his master’s enemies in his hands
          And treated them so that they sang his praises.
85       "He took their cash and let them off scot free,
          As he admits, and in his other dealings
          He was no petty thief but a royal one.
          "With him is his cohort Michel Zanche
          Of Logodoro, and their tongues never tire
90       With constant chatter about Sardinia.
          "Oh oh, look! there’s another grinding his teeth!
          I’d tell you more but I feel terrified
          That that fiend is all set to scratch my scabs!"
          Then their field marshal, facing Farfarello,
95       His eyes rolling with readiness to strike,
          Shouted, "Get back from there, you filthy bird!"
          "If it remains your wish to see or hear
          Tuscans or Lombards," the frightened soul resumed,
          "I will call up still more to come to you.
100      "But let the Malebranche there stand aside
          So that the souls may not fear their vengeance,
          And I, staying seated in this same spot,
          "All by myself, shall make seven surface
          By whistling, a practice that we follow
105     Whenever one of us escapes the pitch."
          At this news Cagnazzo raised his muzzle;
          Shaking his head, he sneered, "Listen to that —
          A trick he has thought up to jump back down!"
          With that, he who had a store of stratagems
110      Answered, "I am a tricky soul indeed
          When I gain deeper pain for my own partners!"
          Alichino could not restrain himself
          And, counter to the rest, said, "If you jump,
          I wouldn’t come galloping after you;
115      "Instead, I’ll flap my wings above the pitch-pot!
          We’ll leave this ridge and make the bank a shield
          To see if all alone you can outsmart us!"
          O reader, listen to the latest sport!
          Each turned his eyes toward the other shore —
120      The first one was the fiend who most resisted!
          The Navarrese picked his time perfectly,
          Fixed both feet on the ground and in a flash
          Leaped out and broke free of the fiend-in-charge!
          Each one felt guilt-stricken at being gulled,
125     But chief the one who brought about the blunder,
          So he took straight off and cried, "You’re caught!"
          But it did little good, for wings cannot
          Fly faster than can fear: the one dives under
          While the other thrusts up his chest in flight.
130      No different is the duck that plunges downward
          With a rush when the falcon closes in
          And then, beaten and bitter, soars back again.
          Calcabrina, fuming at the ruse,
          Flew after Alichino; he was hoping
135     The sinner would escape so he could tussle.
          And as soon as the grafter disappeared,
          He turned his claws on his air-borne comrade
          And grappled with him high above the ditch.
          But the other was a fullfledged sparrowhawk
140     And clawed at him until they both tumbled
          Right in the middle of the boiling pond.
          Instantly the heat blew them asunder,
          But then they had no way of lifting off
          Since they had clogged their wings with gluey pitch.
145      Barbariccia, fretting with the rest,
          Sent four fiends to fly to the other side
          With all their pitchforks, and swiftly enough,
          From here and there they then took up their posts
          And stretched their hooks out to the bird-limed pair
150     Who were already cooked inside the crust.
          And so we left them embroiled in that mess.









          Silent, solitary, without escort,
          We walked along, one behind the other,
          Like minor friars traveling the road.
          Because of the scuffle we had just seen,
5        My thoughts turned to one of Aesop’s fables
          In which he tells about the frog and mouse.
          For "soon" and "shortly" are not more similar
          Than fiction is like fact, if carefully
          You compare the beginning and end of both.
10       And just as one thought rises from another,
          So this gave birth to still another thought
          That doubled the first fear that I had felt.
          I thought like this: These devils have been mocked
          By us with so much damage and derision
15       That I believe they feel deeply offended.
          If anger should be added to bad-will,
          They will chase us even more viciously
          Than the hound that snatches up the hare.
          Already I felt my hair start to stand up
20       With fear that gripped me as I stared behind.
          "Master," I said, "if you don’t find a spot
          "To hide us — quick — I dread the Malebranche —
          They’re after us right now — I imagine that
          They’re there — so close that I can hear them now!"
25       And he replied, "Were I a leaded mirror
          I couldn’t catch your outward look more quickly
          Than your inner thoughts occur to me.
          "Just now, in fact, they mingled with my own,
          So similar in act and coloration
30       That I will put them both to one resolve:
          "Should the right bank slope in such a way
          That we may descend to the next pocket,
          We could escape the chase we both have pictured."
          He’d hardly finished setting forth his plan
35       When I saw them approaching with spread wings
          Not too far off, intent on taking us.
          All of a sudden my guide snatched me up,
          Just as a mother waking to a roar
          And seeing flames bursting next to her
40       Snatches her son and runs and will not stop —
          She cares much more for him than for herself —
          She does not even pause to put a robe on!
          And so down from the height of the hard bank
          Upon his back he slid on the sloping rock
45       Which blocks off one side of the next pocket.
          Never water ran along a sluice
          So fast to turn the wheel of a land-mill
          When it courses closest to the paddles,
          As my master hastened down that bank,
50       Carrying me held fast upon his breast
          As if I were his son, not a companion.
          Hardly had his feet hit down on bedrock
          On the ground below when the fiends were high
          On the ridge right over us — no need to panic:
55       For the divine Providence that willed them
          To be placed as servants of the fifth ditch
          Deprived them of all power for leaving it.
          Below that point we found a painted people
          Who walked in circles with the slowest steps,
60       Weeping and worn in looks and overwhelmed.
          The cloaks they wore had cowls drawn down low
          Over their eyes, made in a similar style
          As those that are made for monks in Cluny.
          These are so gilded outside that they dazzle,
65       But inside, solid lead, and so heavy that,
          Compared to them, Frederick’s capes were straw.
          O mantle of unending weariness!
          Once again we turned to the left hand,
          Along with those souls rapt in their sad tears.
70       But with their weights the tired people trod
          So slowly that we had fresh company
          With every step we took along the way.
          At this sight I asked my guide, "Please find
          Someone I should know by deed or name:
75       Let your eyes roam around while we walk on."
          And one who had picked up my Tuscan accent
          Shouted out behind us, "Halt your steps,
          You, racing so fast through this murky air!
          "Perhaps you’ll get from me what you ask for!"
80       So my guide turned to me, proposing, "Wait,
          Then move ahead according to this pace."
          I stopped, and saw two showing in their faces
          Their minds’ restless haste to be with me,
          But their loads and the narrow road delayed them.
85       When they caught up, they viewed me with their eyes
          Askance, staring and not uttering a word;
          Then they turned to one another and observed,
          "This one seems alive, since his throat moves,
          But if they both are dead, what privilege
90       Lets them go unclad by the heavy mantles?"
          Then they said to me, "O Tuscan, you come
          To this chapter of the sorry hypocrites:
          Do not scorn to tell us who you are."
          And I told them, "I was born and grew up
95       In the great city by the Arno’s lovely stream,
          And I am in the flesh I’ve always had.
          "But who are you whose grief distills such tears
          As I perceive now coursing down your cheeks?
          What is this penance glittering upon you?"
100     And one of them replied, "The yellow cloaks
          Are thick with lead of so much weight it makes us
          Who are the scales in the balance creak.
          "We both were Jovial Friars, and Bolognese:
          My name was Catalano, his Loderingo;
105      Together we were chosen by your city
          "To do what one man usually is assigned,
          Keep the peace, and how much we succeeded
          Still can be seen around the Gardingo."
          I began, "O friars, your wicked ..." — but said
110     No more: my eyes caught the sight of one
          Crucified with three stakes on the ground.
          When he saw me, he twisted all around,
          Breathing hard into his beard with sighs,
          And brother Catalano, who observed this,
115      Said to me, "That one you see nailed down
          Advised the Pharisees it was expedient
          To sacrifice one man for the people.
          "Stretched out naked he lies, across the way,
          As you yourself see, and is made to feel
120      The full weight of every passer-by.
          "In the same way is his father-in-law racked
          In this same ditch, and the rest of that council
          Which has sowed so much evil for the Jews."
          Then I saw Virgil struck with wonder over
125     The one who lay stretched there on the cross
          So ignominiously in unending exile.
          He afterwards spoke these words to the friar,
          "Would you please, if it’s allowed, tell us
          If on the right side there lies any passage
130      "By which we two can go away from here
          Without compelling some of those black angels
          To come down to this depth to get us out."
          He answered then, "Closer than you hope
          There is a rocky ridge that reaches out from
135     The huge round wall and spans all the wild valleys
          "Except this broken bridge which does not cross.
          You can climb back up by way of the ruins
          That lie along the slope, heaped at the bottom."
          My guide stood awhile, head bowed, then said,
140      "That one who grapples sinners over there
          Gave us a false account about this business."
          And the friar: "Once in Bologna I heard
          Described the devil’s many vices, among them
          That he’s a liar and the father of lies."
145     With giant strides my guide then hurried off,
          Somewhat perturbed, by the anger in his look.
          At this I left those heavy-burdened souls,
          Following the prints of his dear feet.







Canto XXIV


          When in that season of the youthful year
          The sun warms his rays beneath Aquarius,
          And soon the nights shall meet the days halfway,
          When the hoarfrost paints upon the ground
5        The perfect picture of his pure white sister
          (But pigment from his brush soon vanishes),
          The peasant, short on fodder for his sheep,
          Wakes up and looks out and sees the fields
          All blanketed in white: he smacks his thigh,
10       Turns back indoors and walking up and down,
          Frets like a wretch not knowing what to do;
          Out he comes once more, and hope revives
          When he sees the world has changed its face
          In so brief a time, and he takes up his staff
15       To drive his sheep outside to the green pasture:
          Just so I felt such deep dismay to see
          My master’s brow grown pale with some new trouble
          And as quickly came the gauze to heal the hurt.
          For as soon as we approached the shattered bridge
20       My escort turned to me that same sweet look
          Which I’d first seen at the foot of the mountain.
          He opened wide his arms — once he had closely
          Studied the wreckage and come to some resolve
          Within himself — then he took hold of me.
25       And just like one who works and thinks things out,
          Who is always ready for what lies ahead,
          So he, lifting me toward the dome of one
          Huge boulder, spied another crag above
          And said, "Now clamber onto that: but first
30       Try it out to see if it will hold you."
          It was no path for those clothed in their cloaks!
          For we could hardly — he, light, and I, with help —
          Handhold by handhold, scale the jutting rocks.
          And had it not been that, down from that rampart,
35       The slope of one bank was lower than the other,
          I cannot speak for him, but I’d be beaten.
          But because Malebolge all falls away
          Toward the open mouth of the lowest well,
          The layout of each valley predetermined
40       That as one bank rises, the next tapers off.
          And so we reached, at last, the point on top
          Where the last stone of the bridge fell broken.
          The breath was so pumped out of my lungs
          When I climbed aloft, I could not go onward,
45       And as soon as I’d come up there I sat down.
          "Now you must shake off all your laziness,"
          My master said, "for loungers and slugabeds
          Will never reach the heights of lasting fame:
          "Without fame a man wears away his life,
50        Leaving such traces of himself on earth
          As smoke on air or foam upon the water.
          "Straighten up! Conquer your fatigue
          With the spirit that wins every battle
          Unless it sink under the body’s weight.
55       "Longer stairs than these wait to be climbed!
          It is not enough to leave these souls behind:
          If you have understood my words, act on them!"
          I stood up then, showing that I was better
          Supplied with wind than I had been before,
60       And said, "Go on, for I am strong and ready."
          We picked our way along the curving ridge
          Which was more jagged, narrower and harder,
          And so much steeper than the ridge before.
          Not to seem weak, I talked as I pushed on;
65       Then, from the next ditch there arose a voice
          That seemed incapable of forming words.
          I don’t know what he said, though now I stood
          On the crown of the arch that crosses there,
          But whoever spoke appeared to be running.
70       I had bent over, yet my living eyes
          Could not pierce through the darkness to the bottom;
          So I said, "Master, kindly manage to reach
          "The next ring, and let us climb down the wall:
          From here I cannot grasp what I am hearing,
75       And I see down but I can make out nothing."
          "No other answer," he said, "shall I give you
          Than doing it, because a fit request
          Should in silence be followed by the deed."
          We climbed down where the bridgehead ended
80       And where it merged with the eighth embankment,
          And then its pocket opened up to me:
          And there within I saw a repulsive mass
          Of serpents in such a horrifying state
          That still my blood runs cold when I recall them.
85       No more need Libya boast about the sands
          Where chelydri, jaculi, phareae,
          And cenchres with amphisbaena breed:
          She could not show — with all Ethiopia
          Nor the lands that lie surrounding the Red Sea —
90      So rampant and pestiferous a plague.
          Among this cruel and miserable swarm
          Were people running stripped and terrified,
          With no hope of hiding-hole or heliotrope.
          They had hands tied behind their backs by snakes
95       That thrust out head and tail through their loins
          And that coiled then in knots around the front.
          And look! A serpent sprang up at one sinner
          Upon our strand and it transfixed him there
          Where neck and shoulders knotted at the nape.
100      No o or i was ever written faster
          Than that sinner flared up and burst in flames
          And, falling down, completely turned to ashes.
          And then, as he lay scattered on the ground,
          The ashy dust collected by itself
105      And suddenly returned to its first shape.
          Just so, men of high learning have avowed
          That the phoenix dies and is then reborn
          When it approaches its five-hundredth year;
          In life it does not feed on grass or grain,
110     But only on the tears of balm and incense,
          And its last winding-sheet is nard and myrrh.
          As one who falls in a fit, not knowing how —
          By devilish force that drags him to the ground
          Or by some other blockage that binds a man —
115      When he lifts himself up, and looks around,
          All out of focus with the heavy anguish
          He has suffered, sighing as he stares:
          Such was this sinner after he arose.
          O power of God, what great severity
120     To have poured down such blows in its vengeance!
          My guide then asked the sinner who he was,
          And he replied to this, "Not long ago
          I rained from Tuscany down to this hellmouth.
          "Bestial life and not the human pleased me,
125      Like the mule I was; I am Vanni Fucci,
          Beast, and Pistoia was a fit den for me."
          I said to my guide, "Tell him not to slink
          Away, and ask him what crime cast him here,
          For I knew him as a man of blood and tantrums."
130     The sinner, who understood, made no evasions
          But turned his mind and face straight toward me
          And reddened with distressful shame, then said,
          "It grieves me more that you have found me out
          Amid the wretchedness in which you see me
135      Than when I was taken from the other life.
          "I am not able to refuse your asking.
          I am set down so far because I robbed
          The sacristy of its splendid treasure,
          "And later someone else was falsely blamed.
140      But, that you may not revel in this sight,
          If ever you escape from these dark regions,
          "Open your ears and listen to my tidings:
          Pistoia first divests herself of Blacks;
          Then Florence changes over men and laws.
145      "From Valdimagra Mars draws a fiery vapor
          Which is enwrapped in dark and smoky clouds,
          And with a raging and relentless storm
          "There shall be battling on Campo Piceno
          Until it will abruptly smash the scud
150     And every White will be struck by the lightning.
          "And I have told you this to make you suffer."







Canto XXV


          At the end of this harangue of his the thief
          Raised high his fists forked into figs and cried,
          "Take that, God, I screwed them against you!"
          From then on the serpents were my friends
5         Because one of them coiled around his neck
          As though to say, "I’ll not have you say more!"
          And another whipped about his arms and tied him,
          Wrapping itself so tightly in front of him
          That with the knot he couldn’t jerk a muscle.
10       Pistoia, ah Pistoia! why not decree
          To turn yourself to ashes and end it all
          Since you outstrip your offspring in evil-doing?
          Throughout all the darkened circles of deep hell
          I saw no soul so insolent toward God,
15       Not even he who fell from the walls at Thebes.
          Without speaking another word, he fled,
          And then I saw a centaur, full of fury,
          Come shouting, "Where, where is that bitter beast?"
          I do not think Maremma has as many
20       Snakes as the centaur carried on his croup
          Right up to where our human shape begins.
          Upon his shoulders, just behind the scruff,
          With its wings outstretched, there sat a dragon
          That set on fire all that cross its path.
25       My master stated, "That centaur is Cacus:
          In a rock-cave beneath Mount Aventine
          Many the time he spilled a lake of blood.
          "He does not go the same road with his brothers
          Because he fraudulently committed theft
30       Of his neighbor’s mighty herd of cattle.
          "The club of Hercules, who must have hit him
          A hundred blows, ended his crooked deals:
          But after the tenth clout he felt nothing."
          While he was saying this, Cacus ran past,
35       And three spirits came along below us,
          But neither I nor my guide observed them
          Until they shouted up, "Who are you?"
          That put an end to our discussion, and
          Then we turned our attention fully to them.
40       I did not recognize them, but it happened,
          As it so often happens by some chance,
          That one had to call out the other's name,
          Questioning, "Where has Cianfa gone off to?"
          At this, I — to keep my guide listening —
45       Placed my finger between chin and nose.
          If you are now, reader, slow to believe
          What I shall tell, that would be no wonder,
          For I who saw it can scarcely accept it.
          While I was staring down at the three sinners
50       I saw a serpent with six feet, from in front
          Leap up on one and entirely grip him.
          It wrapped his stomach with its middle feet
          And with its forefeet pinned him by the arms;
          Then sank its teeth in one cheek, then the other.
55       It spread its hind feet down about his thighs
          And thrust the tail out between his legs
          And at his back pulled it up straight again.
          Never did ivy cling to any tree
          So tightly as that horrendous beast
60       Twined its limbs around and through the sinner’s.
          Then the two stuck together as if made
          Of hot wax and mixed their colors so
          Neither one nor other seemed what once they were:
          Just as, in front of the flame, a brown color
65       Advances on the burning paper, so that
          It is not yet black but the white dies away.
          The other two glared at one another, each
          Crying out, "O Agnello, how you change!
          Look! already you are neither two nor one."
70       The two heads by now had become one
          When we saw the two features fuse together
          Into one face in which they both were lost.
          Two arms took shape out of the four remnants;
          The thighs with the legs, belly, and chest,
75       Changed into members never before seen.
          Then every former likeness was blotted out:
          That perverse image seemed both two and neither,
          And, such, at a slow pace, it moved away.
          Just as the lizard, that under the giant lash
80       Of the dog days darts from hedge to hedge,
          Looks like a lightning flash as it crosses the path,
          So seemed, heading straight out toward the gut
          Of the other two, a small blazing serpent,
          Black and livid like a peppercorn.
85       And in one sinner it bit right through that part
          From which we first take suck and nourishment;
          And down it fell full length in front of him.
          The bitten sinner stared but uttered nothing.
          Instead, he just stood rooted there and yawned
90       Exactly as though sleep or fever struck him.
          The serpent looked at him, he looked at it:
          One through the mouth, the other through his wound
          Billowed dense smoke and so the two smokes mingled.
95       Let Lucan now be silent, where he tells
          Of hapless Sabellus and Nasidius,
          And let him listen to what I now project.
          Let Ovid too be silent about Cadmus
          And Arethusa, where in verse he makes one
          A snake and one a fount: I do not envy him,
100      Since he never so transmuted two natures
          Face to face that their spiritual forms
          Were ready to exchange their bodily substance.
          Together they responded to such laws
          That the snake slit its tail into a fork
105     While the wounded sinner drew his feet together.
          The legs with the thighs locked so firmly,
          One to the other, that shortly one could find
          No sign whatever where the seam had joined.
          The slit tail then assumed the very shape
110      That had been lost there; and the hide of one
          Softened as the skin of the other hardened.
          I saw his arms returning to the armpits
          And the two feet of the reptile — they were short —
          Lengthen out while the two arms shortened.
115      Afterward, the hind feet, twisted up
          Together, became the member that men hide,
          While from his member the wretch grew two paws.
          While smoke veiled both the one and the other
          With new color and made the hair grow matted
120     On the one skin, and the other it made bald,
          The one rose upright and the other fell,
          Neither averting the lamps of evil eyes
          As, staring, they exchanged a nose and snout.
          The one standing drew back the face toward
125      The temples, and from the surplus stuff massed there
          Ears emerged above the once-smooth cheeks;
          The surplus not pulled back but still remaining
          In front, then formed a nose for the face
          And filled the lips out to their proper size.
130     The one lying down sprouted forth a muzzle
          And withdrew the ears back into the head
          In the same way a snail pulls in its horns.
          And the tongue, once single, whole, and suited
          For speech, split, while the other’s forked tongue
135     Sealed back up, and the smoke also stopped.
          The soul that had been turned into a beast,
          Hissing, filed off along the gully, fast,
          And the other, speaking, spat after its tracks.
          He turned his new-made shoulders then and told
140     The third soul left there, "I want Buoso to run,
          The way I did, on all fours down the road!"
          And so I saw the cargo shift and reshift
          In the seventh hold — and let me be forgiven
          Strangeness that may have led my pen astray.
145      And although my eyes were somewhat out of focus
          And my mind out of joint, the three sinners
          Could not have fled so furtively that I
          Did not observe Puccio Sciancato,
          The only one, of the three comrades that
150     Came at first, who then had not been changed;
          The other was he who made you, Gaville, grieve.







Canto XXVI


           Be glad, Florence, for you are so great
           That over sea and land you flap your wings
           And throughout all of hell they spread your name.
           Among the thieves I found five citizens
5          Of yours — I am ashamed of who they were —
           And you are not raised to any heights of honor.
           But if near dawn the dreams we have are true,
           Then you shall feel, a little while from now,
           What Prato and the others crave for you.
10        If it already happened it should not be
           Too soon; I would it had, since it must be so!
           The longer my wait, the heavier my burden.
           We left there, and up by the jutting rocks
           That served as stairs for our descent
15        My guide climbed once more and pulled me after.
           And we followed along our solitary way
           Among the crags and rockpiles of the ridge;
           Without our hands our footing would have failed.
           It grieved me then and now again it grieves me
20        When I direct my mind to what I saw
           And more than usually I curb my talent
           Lest it rush in where virtue fails to guide;
           So, if a friendly star or something better
           Has given me the gift, I don’t gainsay it.
25        As many fireflies as the peasant — who
           Rests on a hillside in the season when
           The one that lights the world hides his face least
           And when the flies make way for the mosquitos —
           Sees glittering below him in the valley
30        Where perhaps he harvests grapes and plows,
           So many flames everywhere enkindled
           The eighth pocket, as I myself perceived
           As soon as I was there where one sees bottom.
           And just as he who avenged himself with bears
35        Beheld Elijah’s chariot departing
           With the rearing horses rising up to heaven,
           But never could have followed it with his eyes
           Except for the one flame that he kept watching
           Just like a little cloud sailing skyward:
40        In this way each flame moved through the throat
           Of that deep ditch, none showing what it stole,
           Though every flame secreted its own sinner.
           I stood straight, then leaned out on the bridge
           To look — had I not grabbed a jutting rock
45        I would have toppled off without a push!
           And my guide, seeing me so attentive,
           Said, "Within those fires there are souls,
           Each one swathed in its self-scorching torment."
           "My master," I replied, "by hearing you
50        I’m even surer, but already I’d concluded
           It was so, and wanted to ask you this:
           "Who’s inside that approaching flame so split
           On top that it seems to rise out of the pyre
           Where Eteocles lay beside his brother?"
55        "Within that flame Ulysses and Diomede
           Suffer tortures," he told me; "they go together
           In punishment as once they went in wrath;
           "And there inside their flame they grieve the ruse
           By which the horse became the gate through which
60        The Roman’s noble seed has issued forth.
           "There they mourn the trick that makes the slain
           Deidamia still weep for Achilles,
           And there they pay for the Palladium."
           "If it is possible for them to talk
65        From within these flames," I said, "master, I pray
           And pray again (may my prayer count a thousand!)
           "That you will not deny my waiting here
           Until the flame with two horns comes this way:
           You see how I bend toward it with a passion!"
70        And he said to me, "Your request deserves
           High praise, and for that reason, it is granted.
           But you be certain to restrain your tongue.
           "Allow me to talk to them: I comprehended
           What is your wish, but they may show disdain,
75        Since they were Greeks, for your speaking to them."
           After the flame had come to us, my guide,
           Judging the time and place now to be ripe,
           Spoke, and these are the words I heard him say:
           "O you who here are two within one fire,
80        If I merited from you while I was living,
           If I merited from you much praise or little
           "When in the world I wrote my lofty lines,
           Do not leave, but let one of you tell where,
           By his own doing, he lost his way and died."
85        The greater of the horns of ancient flame
           Started so to tremble, murmuring,
           That it seemed like a flame breasting the wind.
           And then, shaking the tip this way and that,
           As if it were a tongue about to talk,
90        It launched outward a voice that uttered, "When
           "I set sail from Circe who had ensnared me
           For more than a year there near Gaлta —
           Before Aeneas had given it that name —
           "Not fondness for my son nor sense of duty
95        To my aged father nor the love I owed
           Penelope to bring her happiness
           "Could overmaster in me the deep longing
           Which I had to gain knowledge of the world
           And of the vices and virtues of mankind.
100       "I embarked on the vast and open sea
           With but one boat and that same scanty crew
           Of my men who had not deserted me.
           "On one shore and the other I saw as far
           As Spain, far as Morocco, Sardinia,
105       And the other islands the sea bathes about.
           "I and my shipmates by then were old and slow
           When we came at long last to the close narrows
           Where Hercules had set up his stone markers
           "That men should not put out beyond that point.
110      On the starboard I now had passed Seville
           And on the port I already passed Ceuta.
           " ‘Brothers,’ I said, ‘who through a hundred thousand
           Dangers have reached the channel to the west,
           To the short evening watch which your own senses
115       " ‘Still must keep, do not choose to deny
           The experience of what lies past the sun
           And of the world yet uninhabited.
           " ‘Consider the seed of your generation:
           You were not born to live like animals
120       But to pursue virtue and possess knowledge.’
           "I rallied my shipmates for the voyage
           So sharply with this brief exhortation
           That then I could have hardly held them back.
           "And turning our stern toward the morning,
125      Of oars we made wings for that madcap flight,
           Always gaining on the larboard side.
           "Night by now gazed out on all the stars
           At the other pole, and our stars sank so low
           That none rose up above the ocean floor.
130       "Five times the light that spread beneath the moon
           Again shone down and five times more it waned
           Since we had entered that deep passageway
           "When a lone mountain loomed ahead, dark
           In the dim distance, and it looked to me
135      The highest peak that I had ever seen.
           "We leaped for joy — it quickly turned to grief,
           For from the new land a whirlwind surging up
           Struck the foredeck of our ship head on.
           "Three times it spun us round in swirling waters;
140      The fourth round it raised the stern straight up
           And plunged the prow down deep, as Another pleased,
           "Until the sea once more closed over us."









          By this time the flame stood straight and still
          With no more words and by now took its leave
          With the permission of the gentle poet
          When another, coming right behind it,
        Forced us to turn our eyes toward its tip
          Because of the scrambled sound it sputtered out.
          As the Sicilian bull — that bellowed first
          With cries of the man (it served him right!)
          Who with his file had tuned the beast for torture —
10       Would bellow so loudly with its victim’s voice
          Within it that, though the whole was brass
          The thing seemed penetrated by the pain:
          So, without a way out or through the soul
          Burning inside the flame, the words of woe
15       Then became the language of the fire.
          But after the voices found their own way up
          Through the tip, giving it the tremble which
          The tongue had given to the fiery passage,
          We heard the flame: "O you to whom I turn
20       My voice and who, speaking in Lombard, said,
          ‘Now you may leave, I ask no more of you,’
          "Although, perhaps, I come a little late,
          Take the trouble to stop and speak to me:
          See, it shan't trouble me, and I am burning.
25       "If you just now fell down to this blind world
          Out of that sweet country of Italy
          From which I carry all my guilt, tell me,
          "Do the Romagnoles have peace or war?
          For I came from the mountains between Urbino
30       And the range where the Tiber fountains forth."
          I still leaned out, bent and listening,
          When my guide nudged me on my side and said,
          "You talk to him: this one is Italian."
          And I, already eager to respond,
35       Began to speak up without hesitation:
          "O soul, hidden below there in that fire,
          "Your Romagna is not now and never was
          Free of war in the hearts of her tyrants,
          But no war was waging when I left her.
40       "Ravenna, now many years, remains the same:
          The eagle of Polenta broods over her
          And also covers Cervia with his wings.
          "Forlм, the city which once withstood the siege
          And reduced the French to a bloody rubble,
45       Finds herself again beneath green talons.
          "Both mastiffs, old and young, from Verrucchio,
          Who kept such a poor watchout for Montagna,
          Sink their teeth where they usually do.
          "The cities on Lamone and Santerno
50       Are ruled by the lion-cub on the white lair
          Who summer to winter shifts from side to side.
          "Cesena, whose shore the Savio bathes,
          Just as it lies between the plain and mountain,
          Lives in-between tyranny and freedom.
55       "Now I beg you to tell us who you are:
          Don’t be more stubborn than I’ve been with you
          If in the world you’d like your name to last."
          After the flame had roared on for some time
          In its unique way, the pointed tip swayed
60       Back and forth and then released this breath:
          "If I thought that my answer was to someone
          Who might one day return up to the world,
          This flame would never cease its flickering.
          "However, since no one ever turned back, alive,
65       From this abyss — should what I hear be true —
          Undaunted by infamy, I answer you.
          "I was a man of arms and then a friar,
          Thinking to atone, girt with the cincture,
          And surely my thought would have proven right
70       "Had not that high priest (evil overtake him!)
          Caused me to backslide into earlier crimes:
          And how and why, I would you heard from me.
          "While I was still bound by the bones and flesh
          My mother gave me, the things I accomplished
75       Were not those of the lion but the fox.
          "Its wiles and covert ways, I knew them all,
          And I conducted their art so cunningly
          My repute resounded to the ends of earth.
          "But when I saw that I had reached the point
80       In my life when each man takes on the duty
          To lower the sails and pull in the tackle,
          "Things that once brought pleasure now gave pain.
          Repentant and confessed, I joined the friars:
          What a pity! And it would have worked!
85      "The crowned prince of the new Pharisees —
          Going to war close to the Lateran
          And not against the Saracens or Jews
          "(Since every enemy of his was Christian
          And not one of them had gone to conquer Acre
90       Or been a trader in the Sultan’s country) —
          "Ignored the high office and holy orders
          Belonging to him and ignored the cincture
          Which once made men — like me — who wore it leaner:
          "But just as Constantine sought out Sylvester
95       On Mount Soracte to heal his leprosy,
          So he sought me to act as his physician
          "To help heal him of the fever of his pride.
          He asked me for my counsel — I kept quiet
          Because his words seemed from a drunken stupor.
100      "Then he said, ‘Your heart need not mistrust:
          I absolve you in advance and you instruct me
          How to knock Penestrino to the ground.
          " ‘I have the power to lock and unlock heaven,
          You know that, because I keep the two keys
105      For which my predecessor took no care.’
          "His weighty arguments so pressured me then
          That silence seemed the worse course, and I said,
          ‘Father, since you cleanse me of that sin
          " ‘Into which I now must fall — remember:
110     An ample promise with a small repayment
          Shall bring you triumph on the lofty throne.’
          "Francis — the moment that I died — came then
          For me, but one of the black cherubim
          Called to him, ‘Don’t take him! don’t cheat me!
115     " ‘He must come down to join my hirelings
          Because he offered counsel full of fraud,
          And ever since I’ve been after his scalp!
          " ‘For you can’t pardon one who won’t repent,
          And one cannot repent what one wills also:
120      The contradiction cannot be allowed.’
          "O miserable me! how shaken I was
          When he grabbed hold of me and cried, ‘Perhaps
          You didn’t realize I was a logician!’
          "He carried me off to Minos who twisted
125     His tail eight times around his hardened back,
          Then bit it in gigantic rage and blared,
          " ‘This is a sinner for the fire of thieves!’
          So I am lost here where you see me go
          Walking in this robe and in my rancor."
130      When he had finished speaking in this fashion,
          The lamenting flame went away in sorrow,
          Turning and tossing its sharp-pointed horn.
          We traveled on ahead, my guide and I,
          Along the ridge as far as the next bridgeway
135     Arching the ditch where they must pay the price
          Who earned such loads by sowing constant discord.









          Who could ever, even in straight prose
          And after much retelling, tell in full
          The bloodletting and wounds that I now saw?
          Each tongue that tried would certainly trip up
5         Because our speaking and remembering
          Cannot comprehend the scope of pain.
          Were all those men gathered again together
          Who once in the fateful land of Apulia
          Mourned the lifeblood spilled by the Trojans,
10       And those who shed their blood in the long war
          In which the spoils were a mound of golden rings,
          As Livy has unerringly informed us,
          And those also who felt the painful gashes
          In the onslaught against Robert Guiscard,
15       And those others whose bones are still stacked up
          At Ceperano where all the Apulians
          Turned traitors, and those too from Tagliacozzo
          Where old Alardo conquered without weapons,
          And those who show their limbs run through and those
20       With limbs hacked off — they all could not have matched
          The ninth pocket’s degraded state of grief.
          Even a cask with bottom or sides knocked out
          Never cracked so wide as one soul I saw
          Burst open from the chin to where one farts.
25       His guts were hanging out between his legs;
          His pluck gaped forth and that disgusting sack
          Which turns to shit what throats have gobbled down.
          While I was all agog with gazing at him,
          He stared at me and, as his two hands pulled
30       His chest apart, cried, "Look how I rip myself!
          "Look at how mangled is Mohammed here!
          In front of me, Ali treks onward, weeping,
          His face cleft from his chin to his forelock.
          "And all the others whom you see down here
35       Were sowers of scandal and schism while
          They lived, and for this they are rent in two.
          "A devil goes in back here who dresses us
          So cruelly by trimming each one of the pack
          With the fine cutting edge of his sharp sword
40       "Whenever we come round this forlorn road:
          Because by then our old wounds have closed up
          Before we pass once more for the next blow.
          "But who are you, moping upon that ridge
          Perhaps to put off facing the penalty
45       Pronounced on you by your own accusations?"
          "Death has not yet reached him, nor guilt led him
          To the torture here," — my master answered,
          "But, to offer him the full experience,
          "I who am dead am destined to guide him
50       From circle to circle down here into hell,
          And, as surely as I speak to you, it’s true."
          More than a hundred, when they heard him, halted
          Inside the ditch to peer at me in wonder,
          Forgetting their torments for the moment.
55       "Tell Brother Dolcino then, you who perhaps
          Shortly shall see the sun, to arm himself
          With food — unless he wants to follow me
          "Here promptly — so that the weight of snow
          Does not bring victory to the Novarese
60       Who otherwise would not find winning easy."
          With one foot lifted in the air to go,
          Mohammed addressed these words to me,
          Then set the foot back on the ground and left.
          Another sinner with his throat lanced through
65       And with his nose carved off up to the eyebrows
          And with only a single ear remaining
          Stopped with the rest to stare in amazement,
          And, before they could, he opened wide his windpipe,
          Which on the outside looked bright red, and said,
70       "O you whom guilt does not condemn and whom
          I have seen in the land of Italy,
          Unless a strong resemblance now deceives me,
          "Remember Pier da Medicina should you
          Ever return to view the gentle plain
75       Which slopes from Vercelli to Marcabт,
          "And make known to the two best men of Fano,
          To Messers Guido and Angiolello,
          That, unless our foresight here be worthless,
          "They shall be thrown overboard from their ship
80       And sunk with stones near La Cattolica
          Through the treachery of a felon tyrant.
          "Between the islands of Cyprus and Majorca
          Neptune never saw a crime more heinous
          By raiding pirates or the ancient Argives.
85      "That one-eyed traitor — who rules over the city
          On which someone here with me would prefer
          That he had never fed his single sight —
          "Shall first arrange for them a parley with him,
          Then act to make sure that they will not need
90       Vows or prayers against Focara’s headwinds."
          And I told him, "If you want me to carry
          News of you above, point out and tell me
          Who is the one who rues sighting the city?"
          At that he gripped a hand upon the jaw
95       Of his companion and forced his mouth agape,
          Shouting, "Here’s the one, but he doesn’t talk!
          "This chap in exile submerged all the doubts
          Of Caesar, boasting that one well prepared
          Can only suffer loss by hesitation."
100      Oh how flabbergasted he appeared to me,
          With his tongue slashed in his throat — Curio,
          Who once had been so resolute in speaking!
          And one who had both of his hands chopped off,
          Raising up his stumps in the smut-filled air
105     So that the blood besmeared and soiled his face,
          Cried out, "You will also remember Mosca
          Who said, alas, ‘What’s done is dead and gone!’
          That sowed the seed of trouble for the Tuscans!"
          And I added, "— and for your kinsfolk, death!"
110     With that the sinner, sorrow heaped on sorrow,
          Scurried away like one gone mad with grief.
          But I stayed there to inspect that muster
          And spied something that I should be afraid
          To tell of on my own without more proof,
115      Had I not the assurance of my conscience,
          The good companion heartening a man
          Beneath the breastplate of its pure intention.
          I saw for sure — and still I seem to see it —
          A body without a head that walked along
120     Just as the others in that sad herd were walking,
          But it held the severed head by the hair,
          Swinging it like a lantern in its hand,
          And the head stared at us and said, "Ah me!"
          Itself had made a lamp of its own self,
125     And they were two in one and one in two:
          How can that be? He knows who so ordains it.
          When it was right at the base of the bridge,
          It raised up full length the arm with the head
          To carry closer to us words, which were:
130      "Now you see the galling punishment,
          You there, breathing, come visiting the dead:
          See if you find pain heavier than this!
          "And so that you may bring back news of me,
          Know that I am Bertran de Born, the one
135     Who offered the young king corrupt advice.
          "I made the son and father rebel foes.
          Achitophel with his pernicious promptings
          Did no worse harm to Absalom and David.
          "Because I severed persons bound so closely,
140      I carry my brain separate (what grief!)
          From its life-source which is within this trunk.
          "So see in me the counterstroke of justice."







Canto XXIX


          The swarms of people and the sweep of wounds
          Had left my eyes so blind drunk with their tears
          That still they ached to linger on and weep.
          But Virgil said to me, "Why do you stare?
5         Why does your vision wallow down there yet
          Among those dismal, mutilated shadows?
          "At the other pockets you did not do so:
          Consider, if you could count all of them,
          Twenty-two miles the valley loops around.
10       "The moon already is beneath our feet:
The time that’s now allotted us is short
And you have more to see than you see here."
          "Had you observed," I right away replied,
          "The reason why I have been staring so,
15        Perhaps you would have let me stay here longer."
          Meantime my guide had started off, and I
          Walked on behind him, answering as I went,
          And adding, "Deep within that cavern there
          "On which just now I held my eyes so fixed,
20       I think the spirit of my own blood relation
          Weeps for the guilt that down here costs so dear."
          At this my master said, "Do not distract
          Yourself with thoughts about him in the future;
          Attend to other things and leave him there:
25       "For I saw him at the foot of the small bridge
          Pointing a menacing finger at you, boldly,
          And heard his name called out, Geri del Bello.
          "You at the time were so all taken up
          With the headless one who once held Hautefort,
30       You did not look down there, and he departed."
          "Oh my leader, it was his violent death
          Which has yet to be avenged," I answered,
          "By anyone of us who share his shame
          "That stirred his indignation, for this he left
35       Without a word — such is my own opinion —
          And for this he made me pity him the more."
          So we conversed, up to the first spot on
          The ridge with open view to the next valley
          And, had there been more light, right to the bottom.
40      When we had come above the final cloister
          Of Malebolge so that we could observe
          Before our eyes the congregated brethren,
          I was assaulted by weird volleying cries,
          Their shafts tipped with pathos, and at the noise
45       I covered both my ears with my two hands.
          What the suffering would be if all the sick
          In hospitals at Valdichiana, Maremma,
          And Sardinia, from July to September,
          Were thrown down altogether in one ditch,
50       Such was it there and such a stench surged up
          As usually comes from putrefying limbs.
          We climbed on downward to the final bank
          Of the long ridge by always keeping left,
          And then my eyes descried a clearer vista
55       Toward the bottom, where the emissary
          Of the high Lord, unerring justice, chastens
          The falsifiers registered on earth.
          I do not think the grief could have been greater
          To see the people in Aegina all diseased —
60       When the air was so infested with the plague
          That every animal, down to the smallest worm,
          Sickened and died, and later the ancient peoples
          (Poets record it as a certainty)
          Were born again from the progeny of ants —
65       Than was my grief to see, through that dark valley,
          The spirits languishing in scattered stacks.
          Some lay on their stomachs, some on the shoulders
          Of another sinner, some hauled themselves
          On hands and knees along the careworn roadway.
70       Step by step we tread on without talking,
          Watching and listening to the infirm souls
          Too weak to raise their bodies from the ground.
          I saw two seated, propped against each other,
          As pan on pan is propped to keep them hot,
75       And pocked, each one, from head to foot with scabs.
          And I have never seen a stableboy
          Comb a horse more quickly when his master
          Awaits him or he reluctantly stays up
          Than I saw these two scratch themselves with nails
80       Over and over because of the burning rage
          Of the fierce itching which nothing could relieve.
          The way their nails scraped down upon the scabs
          Was like a knife scraping off scales from carp
          Or some other sort of fish with larger scales.
85       "O you there tearing at your mail of scabs
          And even turning your fingers into pincers,"
          My guide began addressing one of them,
          "Tell us are there Italians among the souls
          Down in this hole and I’ll pray that your nails
90       Will last you in this task eternally."
          "We are both Italians whom you see
          So disfigured here," one replied in tears,
          "But who are you who ask this question of us?"
          And my guide said, "I am one climbing down
95       From ledge to ledge with this living man
          Whom I intend to show the whole of hell."
          At this the support they gave one another
          Broke and, shaking, each turned himself to me,
          And others who had overheard turned also.
100      My kindly master drew all close to me,
          Saying, "Now tell them what you want to know."
          And just as he wished, I began to speak:
          "So that your memory may not fade away
          In the first world from among the minds of men
105     But that it may live on under countless suns,
          "Tell me who you are and who your people are:
          Don’t let your ugly and loathsome torture
          Frighten you from baring your souls to me."
          "I was from Arezzo," one of them answered,
110      "And Albero of Siena had me burned;
          But what I died for does not bring me here.
          "It’s true I told him — I said it as a joke —
          ‘I’m smart enough to fly up through the air,’
          And he, all hankering and little sense,
115      "Begged me to show the art to him and, just
          Because I didn’t make him Daedalus,
          Had his church-father put me to the stake.
          "But here to the tenth and final pocket
          For the alchemy I practiced in the world
120     Minos who can never err condemned me."
          And I said to the poet, "Now were there ever
          People so flighty as the Sienese?
          Certainly the French cannot come close!"
          At this the other leper, who had heard me,
125      Jibed in reply, "There are, of course, exceptions:
          Stricca, who knew so much of frugal spending,
          "And Niccolт, the one who first discovered
          Costly uses for the clove in those gardens
          Wherein such seeds can rapidly take root,
130      "And Caccia d’Asciano’s associates,
          With whom he squandered vineyards and vast lands,
          While Abbagliato flashed his brilliant wit!
          "But should you want to know who seconds you
          Against the Sienese, direct your eyes to me
135      So that my face can give you a clear answer:
          "See, I am the shade of Capocchio
          Who falsified base metals through alchemy
          And, if I read