Inferno – Cantos 11 – 20

Canto XI

BUT boldly outward from the wall we went,
Down sloping, till a sudden steep descent
Before us yawned. The sides, extending far,
Of broken rocks, a great pit circular
Enclosed. Beneath our feet a fouler throng
Than that we left, upcast a stench so vile
We might not face, but left our course awhile
To crouch behind a stone-built monument,
Whereon I read, “Pope Anastasius
Is here, who sold his faith for Photinus.”

Then spake my Master. “Till the fetid air
By gradual use we take, we must not dare
Continue downward.”
“Show me, while we stay,
The meanings of this foul and dreadful way.”

“I meant it, surely,” said my guide. “Behold
The space beneath us. There three circlets lie,
Alike to those we left behind, but why
This deeper fate is theirs, I first will show;
And when we pass them in the depths below
Ye need not wait to question what ye see.

“All malice of men’s hearts in injury
Results, and hence to Heaven is odious;
And all the malice that aggrieveth thus
Strikes in two ways, by either force or fraud;
And fraud in man is vice peculiar,
That from Hell’s centre to the utmost star
Is else unknown, and is to God therefore
Most hateful Hence the violent-sinful lie
Outward, and inmost are the fraudulent.
And as the sinful-violent make their war
On God, their neighbours, or themselves, so they
Are portioned in the outer wards.
I say,
To them, or to the things they own, the wrong
May aim. By violence, wounds or death may be,
Extortions, burnings, wastes; and ye shall see
That equal in the outmost round belong
Reivers of life alike, and plunderers.
And in the second round are those whose sin
Is violence to themselves; they weep therein,
Repenting when too late, whose hands destroy
Their earthly bodies; and condemned alike
Are those with profligate wasteful hands who strike
At their own wealth, or having cause for joy
Reject it, weeping with no need. The third
And smallest of the outer circlets holds
All those with violence of blaspheming words,
Or in their hearts, the Lord of Life deny,
The wealth of Nature that the world enfolds
Contemning. Hence by lust or usury,
Sodom or Cahors, the downward path may be
That ends in this destruction.
Fraud, that gnaws
The universal conscience of mankind,
Is also different in its guilt, because
It either at the stranger strikes behind,
Or makes the sacred bond of confidence
The means of its prevailing; and the first
Breaks but the kindly general bond, and hence
More outward in the final depths are cast
Deceivers, flatterers, cheats, and sorcerers,
Thieves, panders, and such filth.
The last and worst
And smallest circle holds such souls as break
Not only in their guilt the natural bond
That all men own, but in some trust, beyond
The usual course, are faithless. In this lake,
The base and centre of Dis, the inmost hell,
All traitors in relentless torments dwell.”

I answered, “Master, clearer words than these
I could not ask, the ranks of guilt to show,
That gather in the dreadful gulfs below;
But tell me, – those that in so great dis-ease
We earlier passed, wind-beaten, choked with slime,
Or chilled and flattened with unending rain,
If God’s wrath reach them, why they yet remain
Outside the hot walls of the Place of Pain?
Or why they suffer through the night of Time
So greatly, if they are not judged to Hell?”

He answered, “Surely ye recall not well
The Ethics that your schools have taught, or wide
Your thoughts have wandered from their wont, to cause
A doubt so simple. Are there not three laws
By which the ways of Hell from Heaven divide –
Beast-treason, malice, and incontinence,
And of these three the third the least offence
To God provoketh, and receives less blame?
Bethink the faults of those where first ye came
Through circles loftier than the heated wall
That now surrounds us, and ye well shall see
Why with less wrath the strokes of justice fall
On those left outward by divine decree.”

“O Light!” I said, “whose cheering rays dispel
The mists that blind me, wilt thou further tell
Why stands the customed toll of usury
Condemned in thy discourse as direst sin,
Abhorrent to the bounty of God?”
He said,
“The teaching of thine own Philosophy
Is pregnant with this truth unborn. Therein
Thou learn’st of God himself, interpreted
In Nature’s ways; and as a child may tread
Unsurely in its Master’s steps, thine art
Interprets Nature in its turn, and is
God’s grandchild therefore. Through these mysteries
Look backward. When the Law of Eden came,
How spake the Eternal Wisdom? Toil; It said,
And in that labour find thy guerdon-bread:
Be fruitful, and increase thy kind. His part
God gave to man, so saying. The usurer
Seeks not his profit in the path designed,
But looks the fruit of others’ toils to find,
And pluck where nought he planted.
More to say
The time permits not; but the downward way
We needs must venture. In the outer skies
The Fishes from the pale horizon rise,
And the Great Wain its shining course descends
Where the night-lair of Caurus dark extends.”

Canto XII

NOW came we to the steep cliff-side. As where
The Adige at the mountain bored until
Fell the huge ruin of half its bulk, and there
Turned the swift stream a further course to fill
Beneath the scarred precipitous side, so here
The shattered ominous cliffs descended sheer;
And sprawled across the verge, Crete’s infamy,
The fruit of that false cow, Pasiphaë,
Was fearsome, that the boldest heart should flee.

To us he turned his red malignant eyes,
Gnawing his own side, the while he strove to rise,
As one made rageful past restraint, but loud
My leader hailed him, “Think’st thou, overproud,
That Theseus cometh, who gave thy death
Not one that Ariadne taught is here,
Nor destined victim for thy rage to gore,
But one who walketh through the place of fear
In safety, to behold the stripes ye bore.”
As some roped bull, whose throat is stretched to feel
The knife’s sharp doom, against the rending steel
So madly wrenches that he breaks away,
Already slaughtered, plunging while he may,
But blindly and vainly, at this word I saw
Heaving the huge bulk of the Minotaur,
And cried my careful guide, “Descend with speed,
The whilst he rages.”
Down with watchful heed,
But swiftly, clomb we by the rocks’ rough side,
The jutting stones that lightly held my guide
Trembling beneath my earthlier weight.
He said,
Who watched my silence, “Likely turns thy thought
To this rent ruin the gross beast guards. Before,
When downward came I, of this fall was nought,
But nearly after came that Lord who bore
Out from the horror of Dis its choicer prey.
Hell, to its loathliest entrails, felt that day
Love’s coming, and trembled, and this mountain fell.
The power of Love, that thus discomfits Hell,
Oft in forgotten times, as sages tell,
Hath changed our world to chaos. – But heed thy way.
Before us is the gulf of blood wherein
Murderers by violence purge their briefer sin.
O blindness of their greed, or bestial rage!
So short the war that on their kind they wage;
So long is their repenting.”
I beheld
A wide moat, curving either hand, as though
Its sweep surrounded all the plain. Below
On the near bank, were Centaurs, each who held
A spear for casting, or a bended bow,
The while they raced along the brink, as when
Their game they hunted in the world of men.

Seeing us, they stayed, and of the nearest, three
Approached us, with the threats of shaft on string.
One cried, “What torments do your guilts decree,
Who cross Hell’s gaps in such strange wandering?
How came ye loosened from your dooming? – Say,
Lest the cord teach ye.”
Unperturbed, my guide
Gave answer. “Not for such vain threats we stay.
To Chiron only will we speak. Thy will
For rashness cost thee once thy life, and still
Inciteth folly.” And then to me, “Behold
Nessus, who once for Deianira died;
Beyond is Chiron, round whose mighty knees
Played once the infant years of Achilles;
The rageful Pholus is the last; they go
With thousand others around the moat, that so
If any spirits the boiling blood would quit
Beyond the licence of their dooms, they know
A different anguish from the shafts that slit
The parts shown naked.”
These swift beasts and we
Approached each other the while he spake, and he,
Great Chiron, with a shaft’s notched end put back
The beard that hindered both his jaws, and said,
To those his comrades, “Not as walk the dead
Doth this one coming, but with the weight they lack
Disturbs the stones he treadeth.”
My guide by now
Stood where the human and the brute combined,
Beneath his breast, and answered for me. “Yea,
He lives indeed, and I, to lead his way,
I race this dark valley. No sportive choice to find,
But driven of need, he threads this night of flame;
And She from singing Alleluias came
Who bade me do it. No spirit condemned am I,
Nor he deserving of thy doom. I pray,
By virtue of the Name I will not say,
l hat of thy comrades one thy care supply
To guide us to the ford, and him to bear
Across, who may not tread the yielding air
As those discarnate.”
Chiron’s bearded head
Bent round to Nessus at his right, and said,
“Turn, as they ask, and guide, and bear him through,
And warn thy comrades that no wrong they do
To these in passing.”
In this trusty ward
We held the margin of the purple flood
That seethed beneath us. In the boiling blood
Were spirits to the brows immersed.
“Ye see,”
Said Nessus, “tyrants who by weight of sword
Spread death and rapine in their lands. Is here
Fierce Dionysius, who the doleful year
Made long to those he ruled in Sicily;
And Alexander here repents; and he
Whose brows o’erhung with night-black hair ye see
Is Azzolino; and the head beyond
Where on the stream the trailing mane is blonde,
Obizzo, whom his stepson choked.”
We came
Where other spirits in the boiling pond
Showed from the neck, and in this place beheld
That Guy who to avenge his father’s name
The English Henry at Viterbo felled,
Even in the presence of God. The victim’s heart
Yet raised in reverence on the bank of Thame,
Recalls it, and the assassin boils apart
Placed separate for the deed’s high blasphemy.

And further passed we those whose guilt allowed
Of freedom to the waist. Among the crowd,
More numerous now, were more in clearer view,
That by themselves or by their deeds I knew,
As shallower yet the seething purple grew,
Till all except the miscreants’ feet was free.

“Here must we cross the fosse,” the Centaur said,
And I, sole living in this world of dead,
Climbed upward, and my earthly weight he bore,
And while he waded to the further shore
Continued, “As the boiling stream ye see
Diminish, so its bottom sinks anew
Rounding the circle, till it comes once more
To those whose ruling choked their world in gore,
In which they suffer. High Justice here torments
The pirate Sextus, and fierce Pyrrhus here;
Attila with eternal tears laments;
And Rinier Pazzo, once a word of fear,
With Rinier of Corneto boils, to pay
For bandit-murders on the State’s highway.”

Canto XIII

WHILE Nessus yet recrossed the purple stream
A wood we entered where no path appeared,
No cool wind stirred, nor any sun came through,
But all the foliage, as by winter seared,
Was brittle and brown, and gnarled and twisted grew
The branches, and if any fruit did seem
They were but poisonous pods to closer view.
No denser holts the lurking beasts have found
Beneath Corneto, where the marshy ground,
Uncoultered, to Cecina’s stream declines.

Foul harpies nest amidst the loathly vines,
Who chased the Trojans from the Strophades,
With their drear wail of some awaiting woe.
Their wings are wide: and like gross birds below
Their bellies feathered, and their feet are clawed.
Strange cries come from them through the sickly trees.

My Master told me, “Through this dismal land,
The second circlet pass we, till we reach
The place of that intolerable sand
Which forms the third, and in its place completes
The outer round. Recall my earlier speech
That taught the order of these woes. Look well
For confirmation of the things I tell “

I looked, but saw not. Every side there rose
A wailing burdened with unnumbered woes,
While all the woods were vacant. From ground
It came not – rather from the boughs around
It beat upon us, as voiced by those who hid
Before our coming, the tangled growth amid.

My Master taught me. “If thou break away
The nearest twig that meets thine hand, wilt see
How far thy dreaming from the truth astray.”

Thereat I reached, and from a twisted thorn
That rose before us, withered, gaunt, forlorn,
Broke short a twig, and from the trunk a cry
Came sharply, “Tear not!” and a blood-gout
Dark on the wound, the while the trunk anew
Entreated, “Rend not; does no mercy lie
In those that still their human forms retain?
Men were we, till we left on earth self-slain
The bodies given of God. But had we been
The souls of serpents, in this hopeless dole
We had not thought that any mortal soul
Would wound us, helpless to their hands.”
Hast seen
Cast on the coals a living branch and green?
One end already burns, and one projects
Clear of the heat, but from the fire’s effects
Moisture exudes and hissing wind. So here
Blood welled and words from out the wound. The fear
Of this strange voice, and pity, so in me wrought
I dropt the broken shoot, and fixed in thought
Stood silent.
On my side my leader spake,
“O wounded spirit, had his heart believed
The truth that earlier in my verse he read,
He had not with unthinking violence grieved
The most unhappy of the hapless dead.
But mine the word that caused his hand to break,
Who knew that truth’s incredibility
Would else confound him. It was grief to me
To prompt him to it. But if thou speak and tell
Of whom thou wast, he may requite thee well,
Thy fame renewing in the world, for there
He soon returneth.”
And the voice replied,
“The sound of thy seducing words and fair
Constrains me to forgive thee, and confide
The bitter grief that in my trunk I hide,
Which else were silent always. With me bear
In patience somewhat, if I talk too long,
Caught in this bait of words, when all my wrong
Returneth to me. In this toil is he,
The second Frederick’s confident, who held
His heart’s two keys, and turned them. Here ye see
The ruin of too great fidelity,
That sleep and life gave forfeit. Yea, for she,
That harlot who in Cæsar’s court rebelled
Against all virtue round his throne, the bane
And vice of all high concourse, Envy, stirred
And slandered, till my Master half believed.
And I, who all things at his hands received,
And all myself had rendered, in disdain
Gave silence only to the accusing word,
And in contempt of life I broke the chain
That held me to it. Just to others, I wrought
Injustice to myself. But here I swear,
By these sad roots that hold me, word nor thought,
Nor deed nor negligence was mine in aught
Against him faithless. Ye that upward bear
The news and burden of our griefs below,
Rebuild my memory in the world, I pray,
That my rash hand prostrated.”
Here his woe
Found silence, and the things I sought to say
I lacked the heart. Until, at last, my guide
Enquired me, “Wouldst thou more?” and I replied,
“Ask for me.”
To the prisoned grief he said,
“That this man gladly when he leave the dead
Uplift thy record, as thy words entreat,
Inform us further how this fate ye meet,
How the bent soul these twisted knots allows;
Or ever any from these tortured boughs
Erect himself to manhood.”
Then the tree
Blew strongly, and the wind was words that said,
“In brief thou shalt be answered. When the dead,
Self-slaughtered, from the unready corse is torn,
Then Minos, in the seventh gulf to mourn,
Consigns it. Here on no set space it falls,
But cast at random, and its roots it strikes
In marsh or rock, and boughs and thorny spikes
Grow upward. On its leaves the harpies feed,
Tearing, and where the broken twiglets bleed
Pain finds its outlet.
When the trumpet calls,
We all, with those who earthly flesh regain,
Shall upward troop, but that our hand hath slain
We may not enter, as is just. The Vale
Of Judgment when we leave we each shall hale
Our bodies slain behind us, till we reach
The dismal thorns we left, and each on each
Shall hang them. Every trunk of every shade
Bent with the weight of that itself betrayed.”

We still were listening, lest more words should come
From this sad spirit, when rose such noise anear
That all the wailings of the woods were dumb
Before it, and we paused, as those who hear
The boar-hunt plunging through the brake, and nigh,
Crashed boughs, and rush of beasts that chase and fly,
Approaching where they stand; and forth there burst
Two spirits torn and bare, and cried the first,
“Befriend me, Death!” and cried the one behind,
“Ah, Lano, swifter legs than mine ye show,
But Toppo’s tourney found thy limbs more slow.”

Thereat he made no further pace, but low
Crawled ‘neath the densest bush the woods contained,
And the next instant, as the shade he gained,
A rush of hell-hounds on his chase there came.
Wild on the bush they leapt to trace and claim
Their hiding victim, sinking fang and claw
In him who squatted in its midst. They rent
The writhing limbs, and diverse ways they went,
Carrying the fragments that they tore.
My guide
Now led my steps the damaged bush beside,
That loud lamented. Severed boughs we saw,
And torn twigs bleeding. In its pain it made
Protest, “Jacopo da Sant’ Andrea!
What gain was here to make my leaves thy shade?
What condemnation for thy sins is mine?”

My Master questioned it, “Who art thou, say,
So bruised and injured in a strife not thine?”

It answered, “Ye that some strange fate hath led
To see me mangled and discomfited,
I pray ye closely round my foot to lay
The boughs and leaves their violence strawed away.
In that fair city of the plain I dwelt
Which once to Mars, its earliest patron, knelt,
And then the Baptist in his place preferred,
And earned thereby the war-god’s enmity.
So that, except on Arno’s bridge there stands
His statue yet, those men with useless hands
Had toiled, from ashes of the Huns, again
To build it in the years of Charlemagne.

“I have no name: I have no tale to say.
I made a gibbet of my house. Ye see
The end in this, the doleful price I pay.”

Canto XIV

LOVE in my heart for that dear home of mine
Compelled me. To the nameless Florentine
I did the service that he asked. I laid
The gathered twigs against his trunk.
We left
That grove of men, of human form bereft
By their own violence, and before us lay
A space so hateful that I shrank afraid,
For surely none might cross it.
Here, I say,
The third sad circlet wide before us spread,
A desert, by the dark wood garlanded,
As that is belted by the boiling fosse.
A desert which the hardiest might not cross
Was here. The Libyan waste where Cato led
The remnant of the host of Pompey, shows
Dry sand alike, but oh, what heavier woes,
Vengeance of God! what woes were here! Who boast
They fear not Heaven, before that dreadful coast
Have come not, or they would not doubt their dread!
Strewn on the sands the naked souls I saw
Lamenting loudly. Some by diverse law
Lay flat: some crouched: some madly raced, and these,
More numerous far, by milder cries conveyed
A lesser torment than the souls that stayed
Fixed on one spot.
Upon that concourse dire
Slow flakes were falling of dilated fire,
Straight downward, as the Alpine snows descend,
When no wind stirs the stillness.
As there came
From burning skies the separate flakes of flame
Upon the host that Alexander led
Across the torrid Indian plains – and they
Stamped the red ashes lest they join and spread,
And all be conflagration – so the heat
Flaked downward in a slow unceasing sheet,
On sand re-kindled with recruited fire,
Like tinder that the flint and steel ignite.
Here was the dance of woven hands I in vain
That brushed aside the settling points of pain.

I said, “O thou, whom all these different hells
Obey – save those gate-demons obdurate –
Who yonder lies, whose fierce disdain repels
The eternal doom, and with a heart as great
As all his ruin, beneath the torturing rain
Contorted, moves not, nor laments?”
My guide
I questioned, but the rebel shade replied,
“Dead am I, but yet my living heart unslain
Outequals Heaven. Though this relentless rain
Fall ever; though Jove the toiling knave should tire
From whom he snatched the bolt of previous fire
That first transfixed me; though he tire alike
All Etna’s smiths, there is no power to strike
Shall make me quail. Let all His force employ,
He shall not taste the fierce exultant joy
To break me, suppliant.”
I had yet to learn
My guide’s hard voice, that in slow words and stern
Made answer. “Think’st thou then, O Capaneus,
Thy wrath makes answer to the wrath of Zeus?
Or God regards it? But thy rageful pride,
Against thee with the outer fires allied,
Makes heavier torment for thy bane, and so
Is penal only to thyself – Behold,”
– With gentler voice again assumed, my guide
Turned to me, as the sinner’s tale he told –
“That lord, who once with six like kings was foe
To Thebes, and sieged it. Then his boast, as now,
That God he equalled. But his words avow
The justice of his doom, and impotent
Against regardless Heaven, they ornament
His breast most fitly – Follow where I tread –
– Avoid the sand.”
With careful steps he led
Along the margin of the mournful wood,
And spake no more, until at length we stood
Where-a thin river of most doleful red
(I shudder, thinking), from the sighing trees
Flowed outward. As the stream the harlots share
Flows outward from beneath Bulicame,
So this ran forward through the sand. Stone-bare
Its bottom, stone its shelving sides, and grey
The stony margins of its course. By these
I judged that here we crossed the fiery plain
Which else repelled us – But my guide again
Was speaking.
“Since the doleful gate ye passed,
Which still for all creation, first and last,
Stands wide, no sights of wonder seen compare
With this slight stream, whose margins cold and bare
No fires can vanquish, whose red waters quench
Hell’s heat, and burn not.”
“Master,” I desired,
“For hunger wakened, grant the food required.”

“Far out in ocean lies an island waste
Whose King, when once the early world was chaste,
Ruled all men. In the midst a mountain lies,
Ida, that once was fair to stormless skies,
Peace of still nights and languorous noons it had,
With murmuring leaves and falling waters glad
(Cybele there the Heavenly Child concealed);
Now lies it barer than a salted field,
Than some outdated use more desolate,
Abandoned, naked, in the change of fate.

“A giant of Eld within this mountain stands;
From Damietta with rejecting hands
He turns, and Romeward holds his eyes, as she
Who in her mirror gazes fixedly.
His head is all of purest gold: his breast
And arms are silver of the finest test:
Then all is brazen to the forking cleft:
Iron is the right leg only, but the left
Hath the foot also of the like: of clay
The dexter foot, on which he leans alway.
This giant throughout, except the golden head,
Is cracked, and from the fissure tears are shed,
And these sink downward through the rocks, until
They reach Hell’s levels, and form the springs that fill
The sunless gulf we passed of Acheron,
And, draining thence, the Styx, and Phlegethon,
Till downward by this straitened conduit passed
Where all descent is ended, form at last
The lake I tell not, for thine eyes shall see.”
I asked him, “If this stream from hell to hell
Descend continuous, I discern not well
Why in the loftier circles nought I saw?”

He said, “As downward, tier by tier, we draw
Toward the narrowing centre, still the bound
We circle leftward, yet the slanting round
Is incompleted; hence new sights to meet
Ye must not marvel ”
“Master,” I replied,
“One question more. Of Lethe nought ye say,
Nor speak of Phlegethon. Across our way
Comes either?”
“Surely, in this scarlet tide
The one flows past ye. But at Lethe’s side
Thy feet shall stand in other air than this,
For Lethe flows not through the lost abyss,
But those repentant, from their guilt made free,
Shall find it. – Follow boldly where I tread
The stone. Not here the burning sand can spread;
Nor the red rain molest from overhead.”

Canto XV

WE held the margin of the scarlet stream,
The cold grey stones beneath our feet. A steam
Arising from the water, overhead
A canopy that roofed the causeway spread,
Which quenched the fire descending.
As the dyke
From Bruges to Cadsand, where the burghers dread
The arising tide, or as the bank alike
The Paduans build in winter, to forbear
The Brenta’s floods, when Chiarentana knows
The feet of summer on the mountain snows,
Such were the bulwarks of the stream, though less
In height and thickness.
Far that wilderness
Of wailing boughs we left, till backward glance
Had failed to find it. Once a troop we met
That racing past us in their mournful dance
Reversed, and sharply were their glances set
To read us, as a tailor frowns to thread
The needle, when long years of toil have
The needed sight, or as men meeting peer
At twilight, when the rising moon is thin.

Of these, one caught me by the skirt, and said,
“O marvel!” and the face that heat had skimmed,
I yet recalled, and answered, “Art thou here,
My master?”
He replied, “Brief words to win,
I pray thee, O my son, consent that I
Go backward somewhat with thee, while my kin
Continue on the path we held.”
I said,
“I do not grant it, but beseech: and more,
For those old days, when all thy learning’s store
Was mine to pillage, if my guide permit,
Sit will I with thee here some space.”
But he
Made answer, “Nay, for if we pause or sit,
There must we for a hundred years remain,
Powerless to writhe beneath the falling rain.
But I will walk beside thy skirts as now,
No farther than these penal laws allow,
And then my station in our band resume,
Who race, and wail our everlasting doom.”

I dared not from my higher stand descend,
Nor might he to the causeway climb, and so
I walked as those in humble prayer who bend,
The while he paced the burning sand below.

He first enquired, “What chance or fate hath led
Thy feet, before thy mortal loss, to tread
A path so vacant?”
“In mid-life,” I said,
“I wandered in a pathless waste, and there,
Refused of exit, in my last despair,
I was returning to its midst, when he
Who guides me came, and by this dreadful way
Will bring me home at last.”
And he to me,
“I doubt it nought, for if thy destined star
Perceived I rightly, when fair life and clear
I with thee breathed, a different haven lay
Before thee than this heat to which we steer,
Who tempt High Heaven in all we speak and are.
And but for death’s too soon determining,
Mine aid had cheered thee in thy later spring.

“But those, the thankless and malign, who came
To Florence from the rocks of Fiesole,
Who mixed not with a nobler race than they,
Still in their children hate thee, deed and name.
Where the sour sorb-trees fruit, shall figs abound?
Like are they even as our fathers found.
Greed envy, hauteur, are the signs they show.
Look that thou walk not in their ways. For though
The path be stony for thy feet today,
The time is near when in thy larger fame
Both parties for thy potent aid shall pray.
Then from the he-goat’s teeth the grass be far!
But those thy kind, if any yet there be
Surviving of the sacred Roman seed,
Amidst the dense growth of the ranker weed,
Let the Fiesolan beasts, the where they lie,
Make their own litter for their natural sty.”

I answered, “Master, had it lain with me
To choose my boon from Heaven, not where we are,
But in the clear air of the world above,
Thy words had guided. All my heart in love
Returns toward thee, as my thoughts recall
Thine image, patient, kind, beneficent,
That taught me, tireless, hour by hour, in all,
How by the growth of that which Heaven hath lent,
Man wins to life immortal. While I live,
In nought but words – and grateful words I give-
Is still my power to thank thee. All you tell,
Mind-treasured, with a text remembered well,
I keep for One on whom I hope, that she
May comment further, as shall surely be
If her I reach hereafter. This I say
Meantime, let Fortune at her worst of will,
So conscience chide not, wreck my days: and still
The boor his mattock’s baser laws obey.”

My leader heard me, and a backward glance
Across his shoulder, to the right, he cast,
To where we talked, and answered, “What ye say,
Forget not in the days undawned.”
But yet
I questioned Ser Brunetto, “Tell me they
Most famed on earth, who pay the godless debt
In torment of this fiery rain at last?”

He answered, “Some there be ye well may know,
But more that better should the world forget,
And time for speech is shortened. Briefly, here
Are clerks and scholars, all betrayed so low
By one defiling. Priscian here must run.
And of our city here Accorso’s son,
Francesco. If such scurf thy mind admits,
That base one of the Arno howling sits,
Who, to Bacchiglione’s bank transferred,
There left his sin-wrecked nerves. – But further word
I may not. – Yonder in the distance see
New smoke arising from the sandy waste.
Fresh folk race on with whom I must not be. –
Those writings mine by which on earth I live
Remember. – More I ask not.”
Here in haste
He loosed my skirts, and turned, and seemed as they
Who at Verona’s summer sports compete,
Naked, across the fields with flying feet,
To win the vesture green their speed to pay.

Canto XVI

THE sandy plain was almost past. There rose
Such noise as murmurs through the hive. For near
We came to where the tainted water sheer
Falls to the level of the fraudulent,
The next sad circle. Ever past us went
The flying bands beneath the fiery rain,
Scattering the sharp tormenting flakes. Of those,
Three runners from a troop dividing came,
Who called me with one impulse, “Stranger, stay,
Who by the garb hast found this dreadful way
From our perverted city.”
The searing flame
Had baked their limbs, and in the hardened flesh
New wounds were formed with every flake. Ah me
Again in thought the piteous sight I see,
And make their anguish mine. My guide the while
Turned as they ran. “Wait here. For courtesy
Deserve they from thyself, than theirs to thee
More urgent. Only that the falling heat
Forbids, thyself with greater haste should meet
Their coming, than their own.”
At that we paused,
And when they saw it their arresting cry
They ceased, and recommenced the general wail.

I might not reach them through the burning hail,
Nor might they to the causeway climb, nor run
Beside me, for the end was now so nigh,
Nor might they, lest more grief the torture caused,
Remain unmotioned in one place, and so
They circled, as the nude, oiled champions go,
Rotating, for the chance of grasp or blow
Watchful, but these their eyes so held on me,
That feet and neck perforce moved contrary,
As round they wheeled.
One hailed me first, “O thou,
Whose living feet, as some strange powers allow,
Resound among the shadows, if aught so base
As we who bake in this unfertile place
Thy mind regard, recall our earthly fame,
And heed our plea to learn thy later name.
He in whose footsteps I rotate, though now
So peeled and bare, when in clear light, was he,
Gualdrada’s grandson, who so nobly wrought
In field and counsel both; the one ye see
Who treads the sand behind, in all men’s thought
Should still be fragrant, Aldobrandi he;
And I, Jacopo Rusticucci. She,
That savage wife an ill fate gave, has brought
This misery on me.”
Had some shelter shown
To guard me from the slow unceasing rain,
I had not shrunk to cross the heated plain,
To greet them in their grief, whose names are known
So highly, nor I think my Master’s voice
Had chid me; but their aspects, baked and dried,
Repelled and warned me.
“Not contempt,” I cried,
“But sorrow in my heart since first my guide
Prepared me to expect such names, has grown,
And will not leave me soon. Alike we own
The same fair city, where your deeds today
Are told not seldom, and true men rejoice
Who hear them. From the bitter gall I go
The fruit to find, and yet descend more low
To Hell’s deep centre ere I climb.”
He said,
“Thy spirit long within thy members dwell,
And fame behind thee shine! But speak I pray
If valour quite and noble grace have fled
From our loved city. For one, whose place in Hell
Was filled but late, – with yonder troop he burns,
Torments us largelier than the pain he learns,
With tales of its befalling. Is there now
Such dearth of honour, lifted once so high?”
And my heart failed me for direct reply,
But with uplifted face I cried, “O thou,
My Florence! Not thy fallen tears are dry
For plebeian strangers in thy halls, and pride
And riot extolled, and honour crucified.”

And these that heard, their glances from me drew,
And at each other gazed, as men that knew
My confirmation, and divined it true.

At length they answered in one voice, “If there,
As here, the truth unharmed thy lips may dare,
Blest art thou! If from this unlighted air
Again ye climb to where the stars are bare,
When with rejoicing heart I once was there
Thy thought looks backward, let thy words to men
Exalt our names for that which late we were.”

At this they broke their giddy wheel, and then
More swiftly than the heart could breathe Amen
With legs like wings, across the sand they fled,
And we went forward once again.
So near
The sound of waters now, I scarce could hear
My leader’s voice. As that first stream to head
From Monte Viso’s height a separate way
Seaward, its quieter name and loftier bed
Forgets at Forli, and in sheer descent
Above San Benedetto’s towers resounds
(There where a thousand in its wealthy bounds
Might refuge, hindered by the sheltered few),
So here the red stream to the nether pit
Fell headlong, echoing through the void.
I wore
A cord girt round me (once I thought to snare
That painted pard of which I spoke before,
So noosed), and this my guide commanded me
To loose, and reached it from me coiled, and there
Far outward flung it in the blank abyss.

The blackness gulped it, while I thought, “From this,
An act so strange, must spring new mystery, –
How fixed he gazes where it sank, – and he,
As though he heard me, answered. Ah, what care,
What caution should we yield to Those who see
Not the deed only, but the thought!
He said,
“I signalled That which rises while I speak,
And makes thy question clear.”
A man may dread
Truth more than falsehood to his friends to speak,
When truth than falsehood shows more wild, and weak
Of proof is that he inly knows, but I
Am barred from silence. Reader, truth I swear,
By all my hope of fame this work shall bear,
That slowly through the gross and fetid air
A Shape swam upward. As the mariners see
Their comrade rising from the depths, who dived
An anchor tangled in the rocks to free,
Against the brink the wingless bulk arrived.

Canto XVII

BEHOLD the reptile with the stinging tail,
That mountains hold not, nor strong walls avail
To bar, nor any weapons wound. Behold
Him who diseases all the world with guile.”

So spake my guide, and to the monster signed
To join us where the causeway ceased, and he,
That shape of loathsome fraud, swam warily
Landward, and rested there his bust, the while
The undulations of his tail unrolled
Trailed outward in the hollow dark behind.

His face was human, with a glance benign,
Kindly, and just, and mild, but all beside
Was reptile to the venomed fork. Two paws
Were hairy to the armpits. Bright design
And various colour patterned all his hide
On breast and flank, in knots and circles drawn;
Splendid as broidered cloths that mock the dawn,
From Smyrna, or the looms of Tartary,
Or those Arachne wove.
As oft we see
The wherries half afloat and half ashore,
Or as the German beaver waits his prey,
So on the brink the unclean monster lay,
Which brims the desert with containing stone;
The bust reposing, and the tail alone
Still twisting, restless in the void: it bore
A forked end, venomed as the scorpions are.

Then spake my guide, “Along the dreadful beach
Now must we for a little space, to reach
This shape malignant where it rests.” We went
Down from the causeway on the right, and then
Ten steps across the stony marge, that so
Clear of the sand and fire our path should go
Along the skirting of the void, and when
We reached the monster, near at hand I knew
Along the edge of sand and stone, a row
Of sinners crouching.
Here my Master said,
“All kinds who suffer in this round to view,
Before we leave it, mark their mien who sit
Around the margin of the deeper pit.
Go forward to them, but be brief. The while
Converse I shortly with this beast of guile,
That his broad shoulders bear us down.”
Approached I to the doleful folk who sat
Thus on the torture’s utmost bound. Their woe
Was streaming from their eyes Above, below,
With restless movements, like the dog that lies
In summer, sleepless from the teasing flies,
And turns, now here, now there, with snout and paw
Smiting, so they with ceaseless hands and vain
Brushed the hot sand, or flicked the burning rain.

From face to face I looked, but nought I saw
Familiar, only that a purse there hung
From every neck, of various prints, and each,
The while they baked along the dismal beach,
Gazed down, as though his sure salvation lay
The emblazoned pouch within.
The shades among,
One gilded pouch an azure lion bore,
And one of gules a white goose showed, but more,
I paused at one who on a silver ground
A pregnant sow gave azure, and thereon
He looked, and growled, “What dost thou? Get thee gone.
Thou art not of us. But since thy live return
My word may carry, let the Paduans learn
The place at my left side, that’s vacant now,
Awaits Vitaliano.” Like a cow
He writhed his mouth, and licked his nose, and said,
“Of Padua I; but these are Florentines
Around me. Oft they din my ears and cry,
We wait the sovereign cavalier, who shines
In silver. He shall bear the he goats red
Upon the pouch that decks his throat.”
But I
Would wait no longer, lest my guide were wroth,
And left these dolorous souls, pain-wearied now,
Beneath their burden of eternity,
While backward to the beast I went.
His haunch
My guide had climbed, and now to venture forth
He called me likewise. “Here I mount, that thou
Shalt ride before me; so the swinging tail,
More distant from thy fears, when out we launch,
Shall steer us downward. Here no steadier stair
Avails, but through the empty dark we sail.
Be bold, and fear not. For the fetid air
Shall bear us safely.”
As the man that fears
The nearing ague, pale and shivering stands,
Already gazing on a bloodless nail,
Not strengthful even to leave the harmful shade,
Was I that heard. But yet with trembling hands
(As some poor knave his craven heart conceals,
Emboldened by his master’s calm), I made
My passage to the shoulders broad. I tried
For words in which to beg my gentle guide
To lend his arm, but no sound came, and he,
Who knew my thoughts, and aided all, thereon
Reached round me while he ordered, – “Geryon,
Now start, and widely be thy circles spread,
And slow thy sinking.” As the wherries slide
Downward and backward to the waiting tide,
So slid the monster from the bank, until,
Launched in free space, he outward turned his head
To face the void, and like an eel his tail
Was twisting, and his paws outreached to fill
With gathered air.
Did greater fears assail
When Phaëthon let the loose reins fall, that they
Were trailed through heaven, and burnt the Milky Way?
Or when Icarus felt the wax divide
From feathered loins, the while his father cried,
Far under, Evil road is thine? No sight
Was left me, save the beast I rode. The night
Was hollow where he swam. I might not know
That sank we, saving that the wind below
Beat upward, and against my face it blew
As round we wheeled in gradual loops. I knew,
Right-hand, the thunder of the whirlpool rise,
And outward stretched my head, with downward eyes,
And then shrank backward in more fear, for high
Through the gross darkness pierced a wailing cry,
And flickering lights were far beneath, whereby
I learnt our height, and by these sights aware
Of how we wheeled, and in what space of air,
And how descending, colder fear I knew.

But as the falcon, soaring long in vain,
Wing-wearied, stoops to reach the empty plain,
Though neither bird nor lure attract, the while
The falconer cries Alas I and winging slow
Disdainful, sullen, not for bait or guile
Is lured, but from his master sulks, – below
The ragged rocks at last, this Geryon,
By us defeated of his customed freight,
Alit, but lightened of my earthly weight
Like arrow from the loosened string was gone.


Now stood we in the utter depth of Hell,
For here ten trenches, with a central well,
Contain all traitors in their kinds. The wall
Is iron-grey stone that rings it round, and all
Its floors and bastions are alike. Its name
Is Malebolge. In this central shame
There lie ten moats that like a tenfold chain
Circle the wide and deep and dreadful well
That midmost sinks, – but in its place I tell
That horror.
As succeeding moats begird
A fortress, so, between the outer wall
And central shaft, the ten great chasms extend
In which the sin-divided traitors herd,
And as such moats are bridged, so cliffs remain
Connecting bank to bank, converging all
Where, at the margin of the pit, they end.

By the first fosse we stood, when Geryon shook
His back in anger from my weight, and shot
Upward again for his familiar prey.
My guide, left-hand, beneath the rampart took
narrow path the ditch that edged, to find
The nearest crossing. In his steps behind
I walked, nor spared upon my right to look
Down on the crowd that filled the trench. Their lot
Revealed new torments, and new griefs, for they
Had live tormentors for their bane, unlike
The circles past.
Beneath the demons’ ban
All-naked here in two great crowds they ran,
In opposite ways. For close beneath the dyke
The advancing concourse faced us all, but those
Lined in the further rank beside us moved,
Though livelier-motioned.
As at Rome were seen
The pilgrims in the year of Jubilee
Divided on the bridge, – one crowd was sent
Toward St. Peter’s, one reversed that went
Toward Giordano, – so these shades I see
Herded. Behind them demons, horned and hooved,
With swinging scourges move. Their backs are grooved
And whealed with beating where the thongs have been.
Ah, how the first cut lifts their legs! Not one
That waits a second stroke to make him run.

As on we passed, a sinner stayed mine eye
Whose face familiar seemed. With bended head
He shunned my gaze, but to my guide I said,
“One was there in the troop that passed us by
Already that my sight had known.” Thereat
He paused not only, but in courtesy
Some steps allowed me to return, that I
Might question whom I sought; and when we found
That hiding shade I cried aloud, “O thou!
In vain that wouldst, with careful glance on ground,
Avoid, except that features feigned ye wear,
I know ye, Venedico. What curst prank
Hath cast thee pickling in so foul a tank?”

He answered, sullen, “Nought I seek to tell,
But thy clear speech, that through the murk of Hell,
With recollection of the former air,
Resounds so strangely, all compels. I run
For no gained greed or spoil my lust had won.
Persuasions only brought my bane. I weep
That fair Ghisola shared the Marquis’ sleep
By my contriving. That the truth, whate’er
The aspect that a viler tale may wear
In lips of gossip. Tell the Bolognese
It is not only I that run with these
From our false city. They crowd more numerous
Than all the infant tongues on earth today
That Sipa in their speech are taught to say,
Between the Reno and the Savena.
Alone and pregnant. For that guilt to pay
He runs, and Medea weights his doom. All they
Whose hidden lives the like deceit confess
In this direction race. But longer stay
Deserves not. Pass we to the further trench.”

The narrow path ran on, and somewhat sank,
But arching where it bridged the chasms.
A stench
Assailed us as we neared the next, beyond
The vapour cast from any stagnant pond
Of earth’s excretions, scent and sight alike
Assailing. Moaning from the depth arose,
And gasping, and the noise of beating hands.
The banks were caked with filth the vapour left
In rolling upward from the dismal cleft,
Which sinks so deep that he alone who stands
On the mid archway of the bridge can see
Its hidden baseness. There, with useless blows,
I saw the wallowing crowd of culprits strike
The flowing filth from off their mouths. A head
Was there so soiled, I looked in doubt if he
Were priest or layman, till in wrath he bawled,
“Why dost thou scan me in my filthiness?
I am not soaking in a different mess
From those around me.”
In return I called,
“Because I knew thee when thy hair was dry.
If rightly through thy present dirt I guess
Thou art Alessio.”
Striving still to clear
His head, that like a rotten pumpkin showed,
He answered, “Yea, my flatteries brought me here.
Fair words alone have filled this dismal road.”

Then spake my guide, “Look further out, for she,
That fouled sprawled harlot, whom in vain you see
Scrape off the filth with filthy nails, and try,
Now crouching at the side, now straining high,
To avoid the deluge of the dung, on earth
Was Thais, whose sweet tongue her lovers’ worth
Exalted past her own. But longer stay
This trench deserves not, nor a look’s delay.”

Canto XIX

O SIMON MAGUS! O ye pestilent!
Followers and thieves of him; who prostitute
For gold and silver things divine I Lament,
For here is your abiding. Here for you
The trumpet sounds damnation. Here I stand
On the third arch, by which your trench is spanned,
And what behold I? Heaven and earth unite
With these dark horrors, O Wisdom infinite!
To show the balance of thy scales is true.

Smooth on each wall the livid stone was dressed,
And pierced with holes, as where the martins nest,
But larger, and the stony floor contained
Round holes alike, in size and shape the same
As in my beauteous San Giovanni
The stands for the baptizers. Lately one
I broke to save a drowning life: let none
Revile me with an altered tale. There came
From out each hole two legs: the rest remained
Housed in the rock. The soles unceasingly
Burned, and the legs, that to the calf were bare,
So strained and kicked that any rope had burst
That held them. On the soles of these accurst
Bright flames that licked the outer surface were;
As on things oiled, they moved from heel to toe,
Flickering and dancing.
“Master, show the name
Of him whose legs from out the flood I see,
That twist and writhe and strain more furiously
Than all beside, and licked by livelier flame?”

He answered, “Somewhat if we leave the bridge,
And sideways follow the dividing ridge,
This fosse that severs from the next below,
There is a passage in the wall, too steep
For any human feet or hands to go,
But I will bear thee, if thou wilt, and so
Himself shall tell thee why so strongly leap
His fire-licked members.”
I replied, “Thy will
Is mine, thou knowest. For if my voice were still,
My mind were naked to thy thought.”
We turned along the lower boundary,
And here my Master bore me down, until
Upon the perforated flood to stand
He set me safely. Where he placed me down
I saw the lamentable legs of him
Who writhed so hardly.
“Whosoe’er thou be,
Who hast thy body thus reversed,” I cried,
“Save by thy doom the power of speech has died,
Unhappy, answer!” As the friar must bend,
Confessing him who in his grave is penned,
For some perfidious murder judged to die
Head downwards; who, to more his fate extend,
Prolongs confession, while the spades delay,
So to the entrance of the hole did I
Stoop down, and upward rose a voice, “Art here
Already, Boniface? Before the year
The writ foretold me? Hast thou tired so soon
Of that dear wealth which was the tempting boon
For which thou didst the Bride of Christ betray?
– Won by deceit, and cast in spoils away.”

And I stood wildered, till my Master said,
“Delay not thy reply, I am not he
Whom thou believest.”
This I called, whereon
The spirit madly wrenched his feet, and cried
With weeping voice, “Then what concern with me
Thy steps to this unholy place has led?
By that Great Mantle from my shoulders gone,
The She-bear whelped me, and her cubs I tried
To feed and foster, and exalt their pride.
Much gold I pursed, and straitly pursed am I;
And here I wait until the next shall die
And take my place, and in that joyful hour
I join the earlier of our kind, acower
Beneath the fissures of the stones that lie.

“But more already have I baked,” he said,
“And longer stood on my inverted head,
Than he that follows in my place shall know.
There comes a shepherd from the West. Bordeaux
Shall give the Church a viler lord than he
And I together in our deeds should be.
For like that Jason of the Maccabees
Who bought God’s church, and bent his heathen knees
To alien altars, shall he prove, and so,
As to his guilt his king complaisant showed,
The king of France shall take that impious road.”

I know not if I spoke too foolish-bold
But in this strain I answered, “Say what gold
Our Lord from Peter for His keys required?
Or by Matthias next was Peter hired
To yield that office that the guilty lost?
But justly dost thou pay the penal cost
Of thy betrayal. Keep that golden fee
That made thee false to Charles of Sicily
As best thou mayst. And but those Keys revered,
Which in glad life thy hands have turned, repress
Mine heart s indignant wrath, the nakedness
Of all thou wast, my harder words should say.
For avarice in thy Seat its guilt hath scared
Upon the conscience of mankind. It treads
The just man downward, and exalts the base.
A wrath foreshown by that Evangelist
Who saw the harlot with the seven heads
And the ten horns, who kept her virtuous place,
Pleasing her spouse, until the kings she kissed
In acts of fornication. Gods to you
Are gold and silver. In your eyes they shine
Deities a hundred, while the idolater,
That in your pride you excommunicate,
To one false god bends only. Constantine!
What countless evils through the years accrue,
Not that thou lovedst God’s spouse, but gave to her
A wealth unseemly for her lowly state.”

As thus mine indignation spake, below
If conscience waked or rage I may not know,
But wild and furious sprawled his feet. My guide
I glanced at, fearful lest his looks should chide,
And faced assent. Again he lifted me,
And by that path the boldest goat had shunned,
He bore me to the crossway back. Beneath,
The fifth great cleft gave other woes to see.

Canto XX

ANOTHER valley in its turn I tell.
Another guilt, another depth of hell,
Extends beneath. The great trench circular
We gazed on from the crossing arch, and far
I saw that silent weeping crowd and slow
That moves around it, as the chanters go
In earthly process of the Litanies.
But other cause for shortened steps have these,
For when my distant glance I dropped more low
On those beneath, an unfamiliar woe
They showed, neck-twisted where the body joins,
Till each his own and not his neighbour’s loins
Could gaze on while he walked, and for this cause
They needs went backwards. Some by Nature’s laws
Distorting palsies so may wrench, but I
Have seen nought like it, nor believe the sky
Looks down on such contortion.
Ye who read
– God give ye vintage of the words ye heed –
Reflect how I, who watched our human seed
So altered and debased, with visage dry
Could watch them. They of heavenly form bereft
So far, that where the hinder parts are cleft
The tears rolled down them as they wept, and I,
Whose eyes thereat with kindred tears were wet,
Bowed down upon the cold stone parapet,
And wept beyond controlling.
But my guide
Spake sharply. “Art thou of those fools,” he said,
“Whose pity liveth where it best were dead?
For what more impious than the thought that dares
Beyond man’s province, and in fancy shares
The mind of the Creator? Raise thine head.
Look up! For near us is Amyhiaraüs
For whom Hell gaped. The wondering Thebans cried,
‘Why dost thou leave the war? Why hasten thus
Thy chariot horses down the steep?’ But he
Nor paused, nor turned, till Minos’ seat before
He stayed and trembled. Not this guise he wore
In that proud kinghood of his fame. Dost see
How loth his shoulders form his breast? He thought
To see far forward. Now his limbs are taught
To bear him backward. Next Tiresias,
Who smote too boldly with his sorcerous rod
The entangled snakes, and found his limbs transform
To woman’s comelier contours, soft and warm;
Which aspect lasted till he smote again
The twisted dealers of the earlier bane.
The next is Aruns who, in Luni’s hills,
Whereunder toil the Carrarese for bread,
Cave-couched amidst the marble; all the ills
That lay fore-fated in the thought of God,
He sought to read from unobstructed seas,
Or where the night her starry legions led.
Now walks he backward for his wage. With these
Observe that body with the wry-necked head
That onward shuffles, while her hair is spread
Upon the breasts we see not. Bear with me
A little while I tell. For here is she,
Manto, who after her long wandering
Found roothold in my native place. Her sire
Died, and the city of the Bacchic rites
Groaned to the scourging of an alien king,
And she went forth. In northern Italy
Where the wild Tyrol bars the German mire,
The hills are hollowed. Like an inland sea
The lake of Garda lies. A thousand streams
Flash foaming downward from the Alpine heights
From Garda to the Val Camonica
To feed it, till the basin brims, and then
Flows over at a point where all the sees,
Trentine and Brescian and Veronese,
Unite, that all their passing priests it seems
Might bless the men that dwell there. Builded strong,
To tame the Brescian and the Bergamese,
That truth I hear. But wilt thou bear with me
That backward turns my mind to these that move
In that sad process underneath?”
He said:
“Regard thou him whose dusky shoulders spread
His weight of beard. A Grecian augur he
When Greece so empty of its males became
That scarce the cradles held them. Aulis heard
Eurypilus and Calchas speak the word
That loosed the cables of their ships. The tale
I told before in my great tragedy,
As well thou knowest. And here Eurypilus
Beneath thee moves. The next is Michael Scot,
Lean-flanked, who could by magic artistry
Against the demons’ subtlest wiles prevail.
Guido Bonatti comes behind, and next
Asdente weeps that his vain mind forgot
His bench and leather. Mark those crones unsexed
That follow. Witchcraft with their waxen dolls
And mystic herbs they wrought, and left therefor
The seemly ordered life which Heaven extols,
The loom and needle. But the time permits
No more to tarry. Come! The western wave
At Seville yields the moon her watery grave.
Full was she two days since, that late ye saw
So thinly crescent in the pathless wood.”
We left them, twisted in their sorcerous pits,
Conversing as we onward walked, until
We reached the shadow of a darker ill,
When gazing down the fifth black chasm we stood.