Inferno – Cantos 21 – 30

Canto XXI

NOW looked we downward on a darker ditch
Than those preceding. As the bubbling pitch
Boils in the great Venetian arsenal,
To caulk the wave-beat ships, when winter’s call
In-herds them from repulsing seas; and there
One builds anew, and one with hard repair
Plugs the cracked ribs that heat and cold have strained,
And many friendless winds have buffeted
In many wanderings on the ocean ways.
One mends the injured stern, and one the head,
One fashions oars, one joins the broken stays,
One sews the jib, one lends his aid to spread
New mainsail for the rotten sheet and stained
That drew them inward. So they toil beside
The pitchy cauldron – so the boiling here
Filled, like a cauldron, all the trench entire,
That art Divine, and never earthly fire,
So heated. Breaking on the surface wide
Were bubbles only. Nought beside I saw,
Save that the blackness heaved, and then compressed,
Sight of that retentive maw
Drew my fixed gaze, until my leader’s cry
Alarmed me sharply, “Guard thee! Guard!” and I
Stayed not to look, but toward him leapt, nor guessed
Why called he, till within that safety pressed
Of his sure arm I turned me round, and there,
Across the bridge, a coal-black demon ran.
How closer shrank I from that fierce aspect I
How near the menace of the wings outspread
And lightfoot speed! His shoulders sharp and high
Sustained the haunches of a hanging man,
Whose ankles in his claws were fast.
He said:
“Ho, Taloned of the Fifth Damnation! Here
Is Santa Zita’s Elder! Thrust him down!
While I for others of the sinful town
Go backward. Plenty there this goal shall win,
For all men there contrive the barterer’s sin,
– Except, of course, Bonturo!”
From the bridge
He cast him, twirling. From that weight’s relief
Straightening, he mounted up the stony ridge
So swift I thought that never hound on thief
Was loosed so gladly.
Plunging headlong in
The sinner sank, and rose convulsed, and writhed,
Arching his back as one who prays. There came
A cackling laughter from beneath the bridge,
And flying demons rose. “This Holy Place,”
They mocked, “befits a sanctimonious face,
But nought it saves thee from thy bathing. Ho!
Ye swim not here as in the Serchio.
It is not willed a naked part to show,
Except the knives shall slice it.”
As the cooks
Around the boiler group with waiting prongs,
To thrust the carcase if it rise too far
Above the broth that stews it, so did they
The twisting sinner with a score of hooks,
Clamoring derisive. “Find thy place below,
Where mayst thou pilfer in thy private way
If aught attract thee there.”
My Master said,
“Wait here, and fear not. Where the buttress swells
Crouch down, and hide, and whatsoe’er to me
Of outrage or repulse you hear or see
You need not tremble. Through the deeper
An earlier time I came, and proved their dread.”

I crouched – and trembled. Down the central bridge
He went and left me. Ere he gained the ridge
That barred it from the next succeeding woe
The demons marked him. As the dogs outfly,
White-fanged and deafening, if a varlet show
A mood to linger at the gate, they came,
A rush of wings and drags outreached. Stout heart
He needed surely. But his voice outrang
Steadfast. “No victim for your rage am I.
Stand back! Ye know the heavy stripes that tame
Revolt. What! Would ye drag me? Stand apart.
Let one come forward. When he learns my name
Then choose ye freely.”
Croaked the grisly crew,
“Let Foultail test him,” and the fiend advanced
Malignly confident. “What power,” he said,
“Delays we bathe thee? Leap, or fork and fang
Shall teach it!” Backward at the troop he glanced,
That stirred impatient. But my leader knew
The Power that cloaked him.
“Thinkest thou thus, misled,
I blundered downward for thy sport? I come
Divinely messaged, where propitious fate
Hath willed another through these depths to show.
The greater demons at the outer gate
Have learnt it. Scatheless past thy ward we go.
To me the outrage of thy cries is dumb.
Thy hooks are pointless.”
At these words the fiend,
Sore daunted, drooped his ghastly tool, and cried,
“We must not strike him,” to the rest, and I,
Who till this time the friending buttress screened,
My guide called forward. At the word I ran
Across the fearful space to reach his side,
The demons crowding as I came. (I saw
The footmen at Caprona once, who shrank
As I did, when they looked, and rank on rank
Their weaponed foes were round them, and they stood
Protected only by the rules of war
Against the crowd that yelled their deaths.) They would
The thing they dared not, but their lust began
To conquer prudence. Each the next would egg
To nick me. “Score him on the rump.” – “Do thou.” –
“Do thou then.” – “Hook him, Hellbat, by the leg.”

But Foultail railed against them, “Cease thee now,
Scarmiglione, lest the price we pay.”
And then to us, – “Ye seek a broken way.
A thousand and two hundred years ago
And sixty-six, it was but yesterday,
And five hours later, Hell’s foundations so
Were wrenched and shaken, that the bridge beyond
Was flung in fragments to the chasm below.
Along the margin of the boiling pond
Ye needs must go some distance. There I send
A swift patrol, lest any crawling wretch
Beyond the pitch his blackened limbs extend.
Ye may go safely in their guard. They know
Too well to trick ye. Alichino here,
And Calcabrina, and Cagnazzo thou,
With Ciriatto of the tusks, and those
Who form the ten that Barbariccia leads,
Fanged Draghignazzo, Graffiacane,
Hellbat, and Libicocco next, and he
That deepest-hued in peculation glows,
Fierce Rubicante. Oft the boiling breeds
Such boldness that the sinners seek relief
Along the margin, to their greater grief.
Search well. But guide these twain in safety through,
Along the crags that edge the boiling glue,
Until ye reach the nearest cliff that stands
Unbroken, and bisects the trench.”
I said,
“O Master, let us seek the path unled
Than in such escort I Mark them glance and grin.
They nudge, expectant that their sport begin
When once from Foultail’s sight we pass. For me,
I would not further, on a path I see
More dreadful hourly.”
“Fear thou nought for that,”
My Master answered; “thee they grin not at,
But in the malice of their hope to fetch
Clear of the pond and flay some crawling wretch
That leaves the boiling.”
By the leftward bank
We then went forward in that grisly rank.

Canto XXII

MUCH have I seen of camps and moving men,
But not that escort of the demons ten
My mind compares. Not Campaldino saw
Such sight uncouth; nor any rout of war,
Pageant or masque, grotesque or carnival,
Mummery or tilt, can aught their like recall.
Nought in Italian lands, or lands afar,
Nor barque by landfall steered, or leading star,
Nought moves, on earth or wave or heavens of air,
Like those swart fiends, our chosen escort, were.
“Who wills to church must there with saints consort:
Who seeks the tavern must with guzzlers sport.”
So runs the proverb. With these demons we
Paced the black verge that ringed the dreadful sea.
Yet little heed my mind allowed to know
Their various aspects vile. For seethed below
That lake of pitch the where in burning heat
The unclean of hand received their payment meet.
Most was I bent to learn the dole they knew
Whose sins their souls within that cauldron threw.
As dolphins, restless of the storm to be,
Arch their swift backs above the heaving sea,
Whereby the seamen, peril-warned, prepare
To meet fierce winds with decks and spars stripped bare,
So seemed, one instant’s snatched release to gain,
Some sinner twisting in that boiling pain,
A shorter moment than the lightnings take,
Would arch his back from out the burning lake.
As wary frogs that round the stagnant ditch
Show noses only, so the bubbling pitch
Showed eyes of sinners, wide in watchful fright,
That instant as the taloned imps they sight
Sank in the slime. And as one frog may stay,
While all beside have dived and slipped away,
I saw (and shudder still in thought to see),
How one delayed, and Graffiacani
Bared his great claws, and clutched the diving head
By pitchy locks, and from that burning bed
Forth hauled him. So perchance yourselves have seen
A fresh-speared otter from the water green
Dragged, writhing.
Closing round their piteous prey,
“O rend him, Rubicante, rend and flay!”
Cried the obscene crew. But I to Virgil then,
“O Master, couldst thou of the souls of men
Learn whom they seize, ere yet, their work complete,
They backward fling him to the liquid heat?”

Close stepped my guide, at which the fiends controlled
Parted and stilled, and half reluctant hold
They loosed, the while he asked what sinful name
Men spake on earth that there to torture came.
And while the fiends their horrid trade delayed,
The wretch, ere yet his quivering pelt was flayed,
Gave answer. “Fathered by a waster wild,
Born in Navarre, my mother sold her child,
Constrained by hunger, to a lord’s employ;
Then to King Thibault (yet himself a boy),
My fawning service passed. By bribe and cheat
I bought the lease of this unending heat.”

As thus constrained his trembling lips allowed
The sin that cast him to that grisly crowd,
Side-thrust beneath his belly’s rounded cup
The tusk of Ciriatto ripped him up.

As some caught mouse by wicked cats at play
Is tossed and toyed, he fared; but “Stand away!”
Snarled Barbariccia, while his limbs he twined
The victim round, and held, before, behind,
Joined in one piece. “If more thou wouldst,” he said,
“Ask, ere we cast him to the deathless dead!”
And while the fiends forewent their labour sweet
To fling his entrails to the bubbling heat,
My Master asked him, “In the boiling flood
What others meet ye of your country’s blood?”
He answered, “One not distant far from those,
A wretch Sardinian born, beside me rose
Last ere they snatched me from the lake away.
I would with him in scalding heat I lay
From slitting tusk secure, and plunging prong!”

But Libicocco cried “We wait too long!”
And ere his hook the chiefer fiend could stay,
Mangling and tearing from the bone away
The greater forepart of the arm, it fell.
While Draghignazzo next, a thought more slow,
Snatched downward, reaching for the legs below,
And clamouring rose again those birds of Hell.
But their Decurion wheeled, and loose thereat
His tortured captive wrenched, and railed and spat,
Cursing discordant till they stilled.
Once more
My Master asked him, “When they dragged ashore
Your form reluctant from the burning slime
Whom left ye happier?”
He, some passing time,
Gazed at his wound, with vacant eyes; but when
Were restless motions from the demons ten,
Made hurrying answer. “Friar Gomita he,
That Pisa’s lord, across Sardinia’s sea,
Sent, trustful, for Gallura’s rule. He made
His profit ever from his trust betrayed.
His lord’s worst foes the smoothing bribe could pay,
And work his loss their quiet unhindered way:
A pot was he where every fraud would stew;
No theft was whispered but the worse he knew:
No knave was he, but very king, of wrong.
Michel, who sang on earth an equal song,
And held the neighbouring rule, beside him lies” –
But here he caught the Hell-bird’s glittering eyes
Fixed on him, lustful for the hindered prey,
And all his cunning mind extreme of fear
Made active – “surely, would ye seek to hear
Tuscan or Lombard that on earth ye knew,
I need but call to bring the tortured crew.
For ever, if the demon chase be slack,
And one from out the scald a scourgeless back
Heaves from the clinging pitch, and crawls impune
Out on the marsh, with cautious signal soon
He whistles to his boiling mates to try
The like relief; and in such note will I
So call them. Only bid the demon band
Some little backward in the shades to stand,
To give them heart.”
His snout Cagnazzo raised,
Contemptuous of the fraud, and sniffed, and gazed
Derisive round. “The sinner thinks,” he said,
“To plunge once more in that infernal bed,
When backward in the shades we hide.”
But he
Whined with new guile. “I might not hope to flee
Thy swifter wings. I only thought to know
Those others rendered to a kindred woe,
As malice moved me.”
Swift Alichino
Gave answer. “If the steep descent ye try
We shall not trace your steps, but stooping fly
Straight for the pitch, and wait you there to rend.
Call whom ye will, but if ye fraud intend
Dear price ye pay. – We will the slope ascend
Some space, and o’er the bank’s reverse conceal
Our waiting wings, the while the larger meal
His malice brings us.” Thus, their mood reversed,
The cheat prevailed. Cagnazzo first, who first
Derided, now the offered sport would try,
To draw more victims from their steaming sty.

The demons turned their eyes, the ridge to climb,
A moment upward. Swift his chosen time
The desperate sinner seized, and leapt.
Instant, while yet he cleft the yielding air,
The broad-winged demon that had snapped the snare,
Grouped his close vans, and like a falling kite
Shot headlong lakeward, as a stone should smite.
Yet deftly, as the sinner sank from sight,
With wings outreached, and lifted breast aright
Retrieved, and screaming in his rage of prey
Skimmed the black gulf.
But close behind his way
Came Calcabrina, great of wing as he,
And all his rage the baffled chase to see
Against Alichino turned. New sport we saw.
Demon on demon leapt, with tooth and claw
Tearing. For while the prey they plunged to pluck
Sank in the seething like a diving duck,
The frustrate falcons flapped and clutched, and tore,
Smote with wide wings, and closed and overbore
Each other, turning in mid-air, and fell.

Were laughter here, if any depth of Hell
Could hold it. Happed they on that surface hot,
Their victims’ torments theirs, and all forgot
Their mutual rage in screaming pain. They drew
Separate: they strove with desperate strength anew
Their wings to lift from out the holding glue,
But vainly.
Fast their fellow demons flew
With shrill laments above the vaporous ditch,
And while they sank within the boiling pitch,
From either side at Barbariccia’s call
Lined banks, their mates with hooks and drags to haul
To land. Still sinking as we turned away,
Sprawled on the marsh, the nightmare demons lay.


WE did not wait that escort more, but trod
A silent path in thoughtful guise, as go
The Minor Friars through the streets arow,
One after one, and those renounced of God,
Demon and barterer, we left.
I thought
Of Æsop’s fable of the frog that drew
The mouse behind it to the drowning flood,
And how that sinner in the boiling glue,
Beyond design, the chasing demons brought
To find a like disaster. Thought to thought
As Yea to Ay were kindred. Then my blood
Chilled through me as my mind advanced to see
How rage might wake against us, as the cause
Not only that the sinner missed their claws,
But that their comrades in such snare were caught,
And backward gazed I, and my guide besought,
“O Master, save thou hide thyself and me
Most swiftly, terror shakes my heart to see
Those demons tear us, for their broken sport.
Their malice, restive at our heels that ran,
If rage recruit it, not their leader’s ban
Nor thought of later stripes shall hold. My fear
So urges that meseems the empty rear
Is dark with wings that chase us.”
He replied,
“No leaded mirror moving at thy side
More instant would return thy shape than I
Receive thy thoughts unspoken. Rising nigh,
The rampart is not too precipitous
For careful scaling; if it falleth thus
Upon the further side, we soon shall stand
Beyond their peril.”
Ere the ruse he planned
Was action, with a whirl of wings they came
Outrageous, imminent, but my guide (as she
Who wakens to the roar of nearing flame,
And reaches for the babe with hasty hand
That life outvalues, and no more delays,
Even for the covering of her shift, but forth
She flies incontinent), against their wrath
Upcaught me in his arms, and raced to gain
The rock’s high ridge that was their boundary.
And on the verge he loosed his feet, and slid
The abrupt decline.
As fast as down the spout
The water gushes to the landmill’s wheel,
So shot he down the shelving bank. The rout
Of chasing demons, e’er his feet could feel
The level depth, had reached the wall, hut there
He feared them nothing, while they raged in vain,
For high controlling Providence provides
No serving demon strays beyond the sides
Of that sad hollow where his task is hid.

Now in recovered safety looked we round.
Beside us moved, with weeping eyes to ground,
A people clad in golden cloaks, whereon
To gaze was dazzling. Very tired and sad
Their looks, and slow their steps to pass belief.
And I, in doubt, who could not gauge their grief,
Gazed wondering. Such depth of hoods they had,
In shape as those the monks wear at Cologne;
In golden brilliance like their cloaks they shone.

O shining sepulchre of moldering bone I
For all within was lead: – such weight that those
In which the second Frederick burnt his foes
Were light as straw contrasted. Oh, what weight
In which to barter with eternal fate I

Left-hand we moved along their file, but though
They moved alike, they strained a pace so slow,
Bent with the load they bore, that every stride
A fresh face gave us that we moved beside:
And still from all the gasping sohs arose.
I asked my leader, “Will thy care provide
When next we pass whose name or tale I know,
That there we pause?”
From out a backward hood
There came a voice from one that understood
My Tuscan speech. “If here thou list to stay,
Whose feet so strangely dance the dismal way,
Thy wish may wait thee.”
Then I turned and saw
Two shades that struggled, but the dreadful law
That held them, made their haste as nought. Desire
Was in their looks to reach us, and my guide
Commanded: “Pause, and keep some space beside
With gradual motions like their own.”
We stayed
Some moments patient, though three strides entire
Had reached us. Noughlt they spake at first, but long
With slanting eyes they summed us, and at last,
Communing only to themselves, they said:
“How moves his throat! Can mortal life belong
To wanderers here? Or if their lives be past
How walk they through this trench ungarmented?”

And then to me: “O Tuscan, these sad pits
Form the last college of the hypocrites,
And more we tell thee if thou dost not scorn
To teach us of what race thyself wast born.”
I answered: “I was born and nurtured nigh
Where Arno finds the blue reflected sky
A city’s turrets pierce. By ways forbade,
Clothed with the living flesh that first I had,
A High Power leads me. But yourselves shall show
Why from your eyes distils this dismal woe,
And what the shining pain around you clad.”

The nearer answered: “Jovial Friars were we.
I Catalano, Loderingo he:
Bologna-born, and Florence chose us twain,
From either faction, jointly to maintain
Her peace internal. Still thine eyes may meet,
In those charred ruins of Gardingo Street,
The witness what we were.”
My tongue began,
“O Friars, your evil – ” when I marked a man
Writhe on the ground. To feel their weight he lay
Nailed down with three great stakes across the way.

Friar Catalano caught my glance, and said:
“That wretch, cross-fixed, on whom in turn we tread,
Is he who counselled with the priests, ‘For us
It is expedient that one man should die -‘
Naked and staked to bear our burdens thus
Annas alike, and all that council lie –
A seed of evil for the Jews were they.”
I watched my Master gaze in wonder down
On that prone shade, outpulled and crucified
That from their weight he might not writhe aside,
Who there in everlasting exile lay,
But had not suffered when he passed that way
Beforetime. Nothing of his thought he said;
But later to the Friar he turned: “If nought
Of retribution wait thy word, I pray,
Thou wilt not here deny thine aid, but say
If further to the right in vain were sought
Some exit from this depth, or if we need
A loth return to make, and intercede
With those black angels that we left.”
The Friar
Gave answer: “Nearer than ye think doth lie
The next of those convergent cliffs that span,
From the great barrier to the central pit,
These depths of pain. This only arch of it
Has fallen, but the slope a mortal man
May clamber, for the ruins pile so high
Toward the lower bank ye seek.”
My guide
Pondered awhile: “If this be truth, he lied
Who hooks the peculators.”
And the Friar
Gave nimble answer: “At Bologna well
We knew the devil, and all his works. A liar,
And father of all lies from there to Hell,
They called him.”
Then with longer steps my
And somewhat angered in his looks that so
The imp had dared him, forward went, and I
In his loved footsteps left their laden woe.

Canto XXIV

IN that young month of the returning year
When, in Aquarius placed, the mounting
Shakes loose his hair a bolder course to run,
The hoarfrost takes his sister’s face of fear,
A moment only. Then the husbandman,
As wanes the night before the equal day,
Looks forth, a world of winter-white to scan,
And knows the frugal store of roots and hay
Is ended, and laments, and smites his thigh,
And through the house as one distraught he goes;
But shortly forth again he looks, and knows
The world has changed its face, and cheerily
Takes crook, and chases out his flock to feed.
So I, that did my Master’s anger heed,
Awhile was daunted, till we came to where
That tumbled ruin through the somber air
Rose darkly, when he turned with smile as sweet
As on that mountain when he stayed my feet
At our first meeting.
Careful glance he cast
Along the huge mound of the broken rock,
And then as one who picks his point at last,
And doubts no more, from block to tumbled
He led me upward, with a reaching arm,
And voice that warned my blinder steps. No way
Was this for those of golden cloaks to flee,
That scarcely for his lighter frame, or me
His arm sustained, a trembling hold supplied;
And but that to the lower bank we strained
(For Malebolge to the central pit
Inward and downward slopes from every side),
I know not if my guide the crest had gained,
But sure I had not.
When my feet attained
The last rent fissure, the projecting stone
With failing strength I grasped, and reaching it,
My breath drained from me by that toil, to sit
Some space I thought, but while I sank he said:
“Thou must not rest thee here, but here and now
Make conquest of thy sloth, for while abed,
Forgetful of the hours, warm-blanketed,
Men rest, or sitting loose at ease, they find
No fame, but life consumes, they watch not how;
As foam on water, or as smoke in air,
A moment passes, and it is not there.
Arise! and with thy spirit’s strength contend
Against the flesh that drags thee. Thus shall end
Revolt, except the ignoble soul allow
The body’s weight to sink it. Not enough
Is wrought that thus the deeper trench we quit.
Be thine to comprehend, and with the wit
The will for action.”
Narrow, steep and rough,
Yet rose the path across the ridge that led,
But shamed to hear my leader’s words I feigned
A strength I had not. “In thy steps,” I said,
“I follow, confident,” and further speech
I made, the while the rampart’s crest we gained,
To hide my faintness from myself. Thereat
A voice made answer from the further deep,
Bestial, and formless of clear words to reach
The hearer’s mind, but not this loss forgat
The notes of wrath.
Above the further steep
Now stood we, but my living sight was vain
To pierce the blackness whence that awful cry
Reproached me.
“Master, while we here remain.
I hear, but nought it means, and nought I see
Down-gazing. Wilt thou that the further wall
We gain, and climbing by the shorter fall,
Perchance in safety our descents repeat?”

He said: “For fit request a fit reply
Is action only.” Leading silently,
He crossed the bridge, and on the eighth surround
A vantage of sufficient sight I found
That showed the seventh and more dreadful woe
Than those behind. For serpents here I saw
Hideous and frightful in their throngs, as though
All Libya and the red Egyptian sea
Had swarmed them. While I write my heart at war
With recollection backward holds my blood,
Shuddering. For not the Libyan sands shall be,
Nor all the plagues of the Egyptian flood,
Nor all that Ethiopia spawns, alike
Prolific. Not the crested water-snake,
The cobra, nor the leaping jaculus,
The speckled death, the serpent formed to strike
From either end, such horror holds.
I saw
A people naked, with no hole to take
For refuge, blindly in their fear that ran
Amidst this ruthless and appalling throng.
O for the spotted heliotrope I that thus
They might escape unseen. But not this law
Could charms resist. To snakes their hands belong
Snakes through their loins are pierced. I watched a man
Against whose throat a sudden serpent bit,
More swiftly than the shortest word is writ
Take fire, and burn, and in his place there came
A little heap of ashes. As the flame
In cinders sank, a sight most marvellous
Was mine – the calcined heap reversed the wrong,
Arising to its human form. ‘Tis said
The Phoenix thus, on tears of incense fed,
That eats no herb, or any coarser bread,
With each five hundred years is purified,
And rises thence as though it had not died,
From its own ash again incarnated.

But as some demon-haunted soul may fall
Unconscious, writhing, nor the fit recall,
But weak and pallid to his feet again
He struggles dumbly in bewildered pain,
So looked the sinner. What scale of Heaven was here
To weight a doom so dreadful, so severe?

“Who art thou?” asked my guide, and answered he:
“A short while since I rained from Tuscany
To this ferocious gutter. A life more beast
Than human pleased me there. Pistoia well
My savage carnal ways, till here I fell,
Denned, native, Vanni Fucci, mule, am I.”

I answered: “Though thy bestial crimes to hell
Have flung thee rightly, yet I rede not well
Why to this lower depth thou cam’st?”
And he
Feigned not to hear, but in a dismal shame
Gazed blankly upward, till constrained he said,
“Not for those crimes of loud repute I came
To this relentless doom. Reluctfully
It wrenches all my heart with grief to say
My guilt – more bitter than when first the dead
I joined, and Minos cast me here. My sin
Was this, that having robbed the sacristry
I spake not, while Rampino tortured lay,
And della Nona died, a guilt to pay
Which was not theirs. For that false crime herein
The serpents take me at their lust – but thou
Shalt go not backward with light heart to tell
My townsmen of this hidden infamy,
Nor joy to watch me in this pass – I see
A thing that cometh on earth. Short year from now
Thy part shall from my native place expel
The Neri, and their wealth shall confiscate.
But then shall Florence cleanse her lawless state;
Thy faction, outcast from her palaces,
Shall suffer all they gave, till Mars shall bring
A flaming vapour of such fierce disease
From Val di Magra, that the trembling knees
Of each Bianco on Piceno’s plain
Shall bleeding bow. I would not tell this thing
Could any prescience on thy part restrain
The sorrow for thee which my heart foresees.”

Canto XXV

HIS words he ended, and his bestial mind
Reverted to its impious use. He raised
Both hands in gestures of obscenity
Against the Eternal, till my heart inclined
To bless the serpents. One, that leapt behind
Just as he shouted, “Take it, God! at Thee
I aim it,” twisted round his throat, to bind
His further utterance. One, his arms about,
Its tightening knots o’er wrists and elbows twined
To cease his antics. Ah, Pistoia! why
Dost never, when thy bitter factions burn
Their foemen’s houses, and are sacked in turn,
The whole send upward to the cleansing sky
In one consuming? since thy sons exceed
The first corruptions of the godless seed
That built thee. All the infernal depths I trod
Revealed no shade with such contempt for God.

But while we looked, with sudden haste he fled,
And past us raced a Centaur-shape who said,
“Where hides the snarling thief I seek?”
I know
Maremma, nor believe its fens could show
So numerous snakes as round his haunches hung
And twisted in their wrath, and thereamong,
Even to the human part, behind his head
A fiery dragon broods with wings outspread,
That burn, and render all they reach to flame.

Then said my Master, “Cacus here we see,
Who made of old beneath Mount Aventine
Beneath his brethren, for the theft of shame
A lake of blood. To this great depth he came,
That there he wrought. He ceased his perfidy,
Taught by the raining blows of Hercules, –
A hundred mashed him, though he felt but ten.”

On rushed the Centaur in his haste to seize
The fleeing shade, and while we gazed ahead
We saw not that beneath there came three men
That watched us, till they cried, “Who are ye there?”
Whereat the Centaur left our thoughts, and these
Possessed them. One man to his neighbour said,
“Why tarries Cianfa?” By that word aware
Of those that faced me, to my guide I signed
Desire for silence.
Reader, if this tale
Thy mind reject, I blame thee nought, for I
Look back, and memory here and credence find
Dispute. A monster with a serpent’s tail,
And with six feet along the ground that ran,
Made halt before the three, and picked a man,
And leapt upon him. No clinging ivies twine
So closely. In his face its teeth it set.
Its forward feet behind his shoulders met.
Its belly on his belly pressed. Its feet
Strained to his sides and thighs, to backward meet.
Its tail between his legs, along his spine
Curled upwards. As a lighted paper burns
And blackens, but at first to brown it turns
Before the flames have reached it, so did they
Transform and blend, until you might not say
The serpent-hue was that, or this was man,
And then, as melted wax, their forms began
To merge and mingle. Cried his comrades, “Lo,
Where art – what art – which art thou, Agnello?
Art both or neither?” The two heads by now
Were one. The bodies were a monstrous sight.
A man was snake: a reptile walked upright.
With dragging steps it left us.
Hast thou seen
The lizards changing hedge? From side to side
They cross the sun-glare of the roadway wide
A baffling streak. So fast a reptile shot
Toward these two remaining. Smoking hot,
And black as peppercorn it showed. It leapt
And pierced the navel of the one. It stept
Some paces back, and crouched, and watched. Its eyes
Its victim held, and he with dull surprise
Yawning, as one by sleep or fever dazed,
No motion made to fly, but backward gazed
Tranced. From the reptile’s mouth, the navel’s hole,
There came two smokes that feeling through the air
Were joined. The serpent and the human soul
In this conjunction stayed. Let Lucan prate
No more the horror of Nasidius’ fate,
Nor how Sabellus failed from sight. I bear
No envy to the tales that Ovid made
Of Cadmus to a serpent changed, or how
Sad Arethusa is a fountain now.
They did not dream the thing I saw. The shade
That once was man his dreadful doom obeyed.
He closed his feet. His legs and thighs as one
Were blended. All that to his form was done
The snake reversed. Its tail it cleft. The skin
On the divided parts I saw begin
To shed its scales and soften; while the man
Acquiring that the snake had lost, began
lo alter snakelike his retractile limb.
Lengthened the worm’s short arms: the arms of him
Shortened and scaled. The man’s fifth member then
Lengthened and slit, the worm’s hind legs to match.
The worm’s hind legs their shrinking claws attach,
And blend to form the part concealed of men.

The copulating smoke around them spread.
The man grew bald. The needed hair was bred
Upon the snake’s transforming parts. His head
The foul beast lifted, and arose upright.
The man fell prostrate. But the thievish light
Still kindled in their baleful eyes, the while
Their faces altered, and the shape erect,
– For which was human? – their completed guile
In altered visage showed. Its jaws withdrew.
A nose and lips it formed, and ears outgrew.
The while that other on the ground that lay,
Forked its thin tongue, and turned, and crawled away.
And like a snail that hides its horns, I saw
The ears receding in the serpent head.
Loud hissing down the dismal trench it sped,
And after ran the worm transformed, and tried
A sputtering speech.
But scarce my mind could think
Clear thought, or eyes see clearly, while the law
That ruled the refuse of this hateful sink
Changed and rechanged them. Yet I marked the last
Of those three shades, that slyly shrank aside,
Desirous only from my glance to hide, –
Puccio Sciancato. Him the serpents passed
Without molesting while I stayed. The one
I saw transformed was he for whom Gaville
Yet wails the vengeance that it cowered to feel,
Because his murder in its streets was done.

Canto XXVI

REJOICE, my Florence I that thy lifted wings
Not only in the world’s wide sunlight shine,
Not only o’er the waves of ocean beat;
In Hell’s deep vaults an equal fame is thine.
Five thieves, – and every thief a Florentine!
So thought I grimly, as we turned to meet
The cliff’s ascent. But if the morning brings
The mind God’s counsel, if its dreams be true,
Then that dark end desired of Prato’s hate,
And all thy sullen, greedful foes, for you
Comes quickly. Not that were today the date
It were too soon for those who love thee. Yea,
I would that that which cometh came today.
For grief that on my weaker age shall weigh
Were now less dreadful.
Rough the rising stair
That hard we clomb with foot and hand and knee,
And very silent all, and lonely there,
The ridge we crossed a keener grief to see.
Grief were it to gaze, and still that grief to me
Comes sharply, as my thoughts reluctant draw
Their wells of memory for the thing I saw.
With pain I speak, for if the holier law
Myself I hold, by any kindly star,
Or Power supernal, guided safely through
The world’s stretched snares, I would not boast nor tell
As one who triumphs, that these depths of Hell
Contain such fruitage of our kind.
The view
Beneath us was an empty depth, wherethrough
Lights moved, abundant as the fireflies are
At even, when the gnats succeed the flies.
A myriad gleams the labourer sees who lies
Above them, resting, while the vale below
Already darkens to the night, – he toiled
From dawn to store the ripened grapes, or till
The roots around, and on the shadowing hill
Reclines and gazes down the vale. As he,
Whose mockers felt the she-bears’ teeth, beheld
The chariot-horses rise erect to reach
The heavens of air, with searching eyes could see
At last, a little climbing flame afar,
That faded, cloudlike, as the fiery car
Ascended past his mortal sight, so here
Along the gutter of the fosse there came,
And passed, and left us, many a roving flame,
That seemed flame only, yet a human soul
Held each, but hid from sight the thief it stole.

This marvel of the moving flames to see,
I stretched from off the bridge so eagerly
I slipped, and falling grasped a rocky spar,
Alone that saved me from that depth. My guide
The answer to my eager search supplied.
“Within those moving flames the tortured are.
Each in his garment wraps himself from sight.”

“Master, a truth already guessed aright
Thy word makes surer. Much I long to know
What spirit swathed in that wide fire doth go,
That flickers upward in two flames, as though
It rose combined from that reluctant pyre
Where, with his brother, burnt Eteocles,
To form two pillars of divided fire,
Because no death could quench their enmities?”

He answered, “Twain are in that flame; they run
Together now because they sinned as one.
Ulysses tortured there, and Diomed,
Repent the treason of the horse, that led
To Rome’s foundation – through the fated door
The exiles issuing; and the trick lament
Through which still weeps in death Deidamia
For her lost Achilles; and furthermore
They suffer for the thieved Palladium.”

“Master,” I answered, “if they be not dumb
With so much anguish, let them speak, I pray,
– A thousand prayers I pray thee! – Grant we stay
Till that horned flame come hither! You see me bend
Almost to falling with desire.”
He said:
“Thy prayer is praise to him that prays it. Yea;
I grant; but hearken. When they pass below
Keep silent. Thee they might disdain, but I
Will ask thy purpose.”
When they came more nigh,
He hailed them. “Ye who from one fire ascend
A twofold flame, I charge ye, if ye owe
A quittance to me for the lofty lay
Wherein I praised your earthly fames, I pray
That here ye pause, the while that one shall say
Of where at last he wandered forth to die.”
At this was shaking of the greater horn,
And murmurs not at first articulate, –
A flame that by the wind is trailed and torn
To flickers, – till the end made animate
Wagged like a tongue, and answered, –
“When I turned
Aside from Circe’s later lure, and left
The mount that Æneas named, my heart forgot
My aged father, I regarded not
My fondness for my child, my wife bereft
Of her due rights of love, but through my heart
Again the unconquerable ardour burned
To search experience of the world, anew
The vice and valour of mankind to view,
And seek the events of lonely lands apart
From known adventures of my race. I chose
One ship, and with a little band of those
With heart to follow, steered for open sea,
And left behind the morning.
Either shore,
Spain and Morocco saw we, and between
Sardinia and the isles. At length was seen
That narrow passage of the meeting seas,
Whereat the warning stands of Hercules
That no man dare to pass it. Old were we,
Myself and my companions, old and slow,
When Ceuta lay behind us, and Seville
Was fading on the right, and westward still
We pointed.
“Brothers,” to the rest I said,
“O brothers, following where my star hath led,
That not a thousand shapes of pain could dread
From this so great adventure. Hear me now.
Deny not that we add to all our gains,
While the brief vigil hour of life remains,
Experience of the unpeopled world that lies
Behind the lights of sunset. Think ye now,
We are not fashioned as the brute that dies,
But born for virtue and exploit.”
Such ardour waked that had I sought to stay
I scarce had ruled them. Still the moving poop
Looked back, and left the dawn. A southward loop
We sailed, still bending to the left, the while
We laboured weakly at the oars, and mile
To foolish mile extended, till we moved
Beneath strange stars in unacquainted skies.
Five times the bright bowl of the moon had filled,
Five times through heaven its silver light had spilled,
When as we toiled that silent waste of way,
A mountain, drear and vast, in distance lay.
A mountain of such height and magnitude
As all my wandering life I had not viewed:
But short was our rejoicing. From the land
A tempest smote us. Thrice the beaten prow
Whirled round with all its waters: either hand
The rising waves assailed our decks, and now
The bows tossed upwards, now the poop, for He
At last had spoken. Overwhelmed were we;
And closed again the solitary sea.”


THE flame was silent, and erect and still
Moved from us with my leader’s leave.
There came
Behind another and more restless flame
That strove for speech, and found its thwarted will
Gave only noise of whistling sounds, until
The words worked upward through the fire, as erst
The tyrant heard the brass Sicilian bull, –
That justly for its roasting victim first
He filled with its designer, – turn his cries
To bull-like bellowing. So the cunning file
Had tuned its throat.
But now the call he tries,
Vibrating upward to the tongue’s intent,
Sounds clearer. “Thou – O dear and wonderful! –
Who bringest that loved speech of Lombardy,
Thou whose familiar words to him that went,
‘Go now, I urge no further,’ called me on,
Though late, to plead thy patience. Pause, I pray,
Some longer space. Although so wrapt, to me
It irks not if I hear thee. This blind way
We burn, but may not lighted, if ye fell
But lately from the Latian land, from where
The endless burden of my guilt I bear,
If peace is on Romagna, wilt thou tell?
For I was native of the mountains there
Between Urbino and the heights from whence
The Tiber rises.”
Still I downward bent,
And leant far outward in my eagerness,
Whereat my Leader, from my fixed intent
To call me, touched me on the side, and said,
“Speak thou, – is here no Greek’s impertinence
To scorn thee.”
I thereat, who willed no less,
Spake swiftly, “O sad spirit, so garmented
In flame no glance can reach thee, still thy land
Hath tyrants, in their hearts devising war,
But nought of open strife I lately saw,
And still within its ancient walls doth stand
The strength of thy Ravenna. Still doth brood
Polenta’s eagle, and his pinions spread
Above its roofs, and Cervia’s. Forli now,
Its siege and slaughter of its foes forgot,
The Green Claws hold anew. Verrucchio
Hath still its mastiff, and his young, who show
The teeth that tore Montagna. Still doth plot
The little lion in his lair of snow
To friend both factions, and his rule admit
Lamone’s and Santerno’s towns. That one
Constricted in its narrow space that lies
Between the mountains and the Savio,
So between tyrant rule and freedom won
Alternates. As I answer all, for it
Requite me. Tell me, as I half surmise,
Who wast thou? Tell me all thy tale, that so
Thy name on earth shall stablish.”
Then the flame
Roared without speech awhile, but in the end
The flickering point gave utterance. “If ye came
To count our tortures, and to earth ascend
To tell them, nothing would ye hear from me,
For all your pleading. But I know too well
There is no issue from this depth of Hell
For those who enter. With no fear of shame
I tell thee. By the sword I lived. Amend
To Heaven I schemed, and took St. Francis’ cord
Not vainly, and my hope had fruited well,
But evil take the false Pope Boniface!
Who led me to my earlier sins. The sword
I lived by, but my deeds from infancy
The fox’s wiles and shifts and secret shame
Had practised, till my cunning crafts became
A byword through the earth for perfidy.
When to the age I came at which mankind
Should turn the haven of the soul to find
From voyaging on life’s alluring sea,
Drop sails and wind their idle ropes, and so
Pass inward on the tide with steerage slow,
Then was I grieved for all my boast before,
And with repentance wept, – alas, the woe!
It might have saved me.
Through this cord I wore
I served the Chief Priest of the Pharisees,
Who warred, – but not with Jews, and not with those
Who conquered Acre. Nor his Christian foes
Were merchants in the Soldan’s land who dwelt,
But in the precincts of the Lateran
Christ’s priest the Christian who beside him dwelt
Distressed with violence. Not his vows, nor dread
Of his high office as the Church’s Head,
Nor reverence for my cord, that used to make
The wearers leaner, stayed him. Constantine
So called Silvestro from Soracte’s cave
To cure him leprous, as this godless man
Besought my counsel. As a fool may rave
In drunken pride I thought him. Word of mine
He got not to inspire his guilt. At last
He urged me, ‘Doubt not that thy choice be cast
With wisdom, if thou do the thing I bid.
I do absolve and bless thee even now
Before the words have passed thy lips. Do thou
Contrive that I shall gain Penestrino.
Forget not I can open or forbid
The Eternal Gate. The Keys that Celestine
So lightly loosed are twain.
Alike of Heaven and Hell.’
He urged me thus
Till speech than silence seemed less dangerous,
Whereon I answered, ‘Father, since my guilt
Thou cleanest ere I tell thee. If thou wilt,
In one way canst thou triumph – all they will
In solemn treaty seal, – and nought fulfil.’

“I died, and to St. Francis’ care consigned
My parting spirit, but there came behind
A shape that seized me by the hair, and cried
Against my Patron, ‘Make no claim for him.
‘Tis he who gave the counsel fraudulent.
I have not left him since. Can man repent
The while he sins? The contradiction here
Defies thy rescue, and the guilt is clear.’

“I turned, and one of Hell’s Black Cherubim
Leered back. ‘Thou didst not think with all thy craft
I studied logic in the schools?’ he laughed.
He bore me down to Minos’ seat, and he
Eight times his tail around his fearful back
Entwined, and gnawed it in his rage, and said
‘Is here a sinner for the depths,’ and me
He bade them fling to where I should not lack
My like, ‘Down-cast him to the thievish fire
That hides its victims in its fold,’ and so
For ever in this robe of pain I go;
My craft, that to my safe repentance led,
– That craft betrayed me to a fate so dire.”

We left him wailing, and the writhing flame
Tossed its sharp horn for further speech, but we
No longer paused, but upward climbed, and came
To that next arch which spans a baser woe.
For suffering here were those who wrought to sow
Dissension – guilt the fruit, and here the fee.


WHO in free words, without restraint or bar
Of formal beauty in their choice, could say
The things I saw? Repeat a different way
A hundred times, and what those tortures are
It tells not. Words are lacked. The mind of man
Such horror hates. It shrinks to comprehend
Such slaughterous sights as here around us ran.

If all who in Apulia’s fatal land
Bewailed the bloodshed of their violent end
Beneath the merciless Roman sword, – if they
Who died in that long Punic war, which gave
Even of the rings they wore so vast a prey, –
If those who felt the weight of Guiscard’s glaive, –
With those who perished in the fatal band
The false Apulians to their fate betrayed,
Whose bones at Ceperano heap, – with all
Alardo’s craft at Tagliacozzo made
Without resort of weaponed strife to fall, –
Were gathered in one place and each displayed
The shredded limbs, the ghastly wounds of war,
Nought were it to the dreadful mode I saw
In this ninth chasm.
A man beneath us stood
Whose body like a cantless cask was split.
The staves bulge outward. Through the bursting wood
It pours its contents. So the open slit
That cleft him, fore and hind, from neck to thigh,
Poured out; between his legs his entrails hung.
He thrust his hands his heart and lungs among,
And cried against us, “See Mahomet’s pride!
Or see where Ali weeping walks beside,
Cleft down the face in twain from hair to chin.
Scandal or schism has each man sown as I.
For discord are we sliced who walk herein.
A devil waits us in our turn. For while
We stumble in our wounds, with every mile
The torment heals us, till again we reach
The place we were, and with his sword to each
He gives the slitting which we felt before. –
But who are ye who with no falling gore
So calmly view us? Do ye seek delay
To shun the purpose of the guilty way?”
My Master answered, “Death he hath not known,
Nor guilt unpurged the downward path hath shown
To whom I lead, but full experience
To gain, he goeth through evil’s last defence
From cycle down to cycle: this is true
As here I stand and speak, who like to you
Have all my deeds behind me.”
At this word
Such wonder stirred the trench, that those who heard
A moment of their torment lost, and stayed
Oblivious of their gaping wounds. I made
The count of twice a hundred.
“Thou canst tell
Dolcino, if his waiting place in hell
He hath no haste for, that the Novarese
May win by starving whom they may not seize
By any sword-craft. Let him arm him well
With store of victuals ere the snow make blind
The mountain ways.”
So spake Mahomet, the while
He stood with one leg lifted, to beguile
The demon that he moved.
A shade behind,
Noseless, with one ear only, and his throat
Slit open, through the red gash spake, “O thou!
Guiltless, who on the Latian ground ere now
Hast met me, save resemblance lead astray,
Remember Piero, if the backward way,
To reach the sunlight of the world, thy fate
Permit thee, if thy living feet regain
Mine own dear country where the gentle plain
Slopes downward to Vercelli, wilt thou tell
The noblest two in Fano’s walls that dwell,
Cassero and Cagnano, that except
Our foresight fail us here, that lord adept
At violence and unfaith shall both betray,
Cast from their barque in Cattolica bay,
Sack-sewn and weighted? He that hath one eye,
And holds that land that one who here doth lie
Had better never in his life have seen,
Will bring them there to treaty, and thereby
So act that caution of Fecara’s squalls
Will aid them nought. Such deed there hath not been
In Neptune’s sight: he hath more hope who falls
To Argives or to pirates.”
I replied,
“Your speech resists me. Show me first aright
Who with thee here laments that bitter sight,
That I may bear thy tale aloft.”
He gripped
A comrade by the jaw. “This shade dumb-lipped
Was Curio once, with wagging tongue that lied
To cease the doubt in Cæsar. ‘All delay
To men prepared is harmful!’ urged he then.
Now walks he round to reach the place again
Where waits the slaughtering demon.”
Sick dismay
Was on the face that once so glibly spake,
And tongue slit backward to the throat I saw
That once had gibed the dreadful cast of war.
Now moved he on, his endless turn to take
Prepared for that which did not grant delay.
But one whose either hand was sliced away,
Raised in the dusk the bleeding stumps until
The blood fell backward on his face, and cried
“Forget not Mosca! ‘Ere ye counsel, kill;
Death’s logic brief will save long argument.
The wrought deed prospers!’ – So I urged. Ah me!
It bore a bitter seed for Tuscany.”

I answered curtly, “And your race has died.”
Whereat as one distraught with pain he went
Lamenting doubly.
Still I watched beside
The moving troops, and here a thing I saw
Divorced from reason. All our natural law
Denies it. Only mine integrity
To write such proofless words gives confidence.
But this I saw, and still in mind I see, –
A headless trunk that walked. Beside his knee
He swung his own head by the hair, as though
He bore a lantern for his feet to go
Unstumbling in the darkness. No pretence
Of explanation mine. What God ordains
The wise man marvels, and the fool explains.
The sharp eyes marked us, and a startled O!
Broke from the lips, and when the trunk below
Came level where we paused, the arm on high
Lifted the head to bring its words more nigh.

“Thou living, who dost view the grievous dead,
Is any doom so great as mine,” it said,
“In all Hell’s circles? That De Born am I
Who gave my prince the evil counselling
Which caused him, rebel to the elder king,
Against his sire to war. Ahithophel
So worked with David and with Absalom.
Because I parted father and child, in Hell
My root of being finds the brain therefrom
Disparted. So the Eternal Justice wills.”

Canto XXIX

THE numerous people, and the diverse ills
That slit them in a hundred forms, had made
Mine eyes so salted, that awhile I stayed
Content with weeping, till my wiser guide
Reproached me. “Wherefore is thy sight delayed
Amidst the dismal demon-hacked so long?
Thou didst not linger at superior wrong
In higher pits so fainly. Wouldst thou guess
The numbers whom discordant wounds distress,
Consider two and twenty miles complete
The narrowing circuit that we cross. But now
The moon has passed beneath us. Short allow
Remains, before the time conceded ends,
And far beyond this gloom the realm extends
That waits thee.”
“Master,” I replied, “if thou
Hadst heeded that which drew my gaze, thy feet
Had stayed beside me.” But he pressed ahead
The while I answered, that the words I said
Were called behind him as we moved.
That cavern where I gazed so fixed, I saw
A kinsman who bewailed the dreadful law
That prices in such coin his earthly sin.”

My Master answered, “Waste no thought thereon,
Mine eyes observed him whilst thine own were set
Too firmly on De Born to heed. He made
A gesture fierce with hate. They called him here
Geri del Bello.”
“O my Guide! the debt
He left of honour, which his partners yet,
Who shared his shame, have venged not, so betrayed
His heart to indignation. More for that
My pity meets him.”
While we spake, he led
Across the ridgeway to the final tier
Of ordered suffering. Far beneath us spread,
Hid only by the dimness, wide and Hat,
The last sad cloister of the damned.
If sight
Came slowly in the gloom, it did not hide
The sounds of their lamenting. Every cry
Was like a shaft that pierced me, fledged for flight
With pity. Thousand were the woes that cried
In different accents, till my hands I pressed
Against my ears to still them.
If the ills
Of Valdichiana, when the autumn fills
Its lazars, with Maremma’s sick should lie,
And all Sardinia’s in one ditch, so high,
So foul, the putrid stench might reach.
We left
The last span of the bridge’s long descent
To take the intersecting wall. We went
Left-hand, as always. As we climbed more low
The thick malignant air sufficed to show
How the infallible Justice of God contrives
The doom of those who use their earthly lives
To give the face of truth to falsity.

I think not that Ægina’s ancient woe
More bitter evil in its course could show,
Though groaning in an air so pestilent
All creatures, even the fluttering insect, fell,
Till all of human kind, as sages tell,
Had perished, once again to multiply
From seeds of ants.
Along a trench we went
Where spirits in disordered heaps were thrown
And languished. This upon the belly lay,
That on the back, of him beneath. Alone
Another wriggled down the dismal way.

We went in silence, watching men too sick
To lift their bodies as we came, and heard
Their plaints unceasing. Two there were that leant
Against each other, as two pans are propt
For warming, on the hearth; and each so thick
Was scabbed, that horse-boy never yet so quick
Plied comb the while his master called, as they
Scraped with their nails the itching scales away,
That like the scales of bream around them dropt,
When the knife cleans it.
To the first his word
My guide addressed. “O thou whose nails so fast
Now shred thy mail, and now as pincers work,
If any Latians in this trench are cast
I pray thee tell, and may thy fingers last
Sufficient for thy needs eternally!”
The leper answered, “Latians both are we
Who weep this torment. Tell me whom I see
That so can walk untortured?”
He replied,
“One am I that High Heaven hath sent to guide
This other through the trenches ploughed in Hell.

At that they raised themselves apart, and turned
To gaze upon me. Others near, who learned
The meaning of my Master’s words, alike
Their trembling bodies lifted up to see.

My leader’s kindness gave the speech to me, –
“Ask that thou wilt,” and by this leave I said,
“So that thy memory may not steal away
From our first world for many suns to be,
Let not disgust at thy sin’s penalty
Restrain thee from the telling.”
He replied,
“I was Arezzo-born, and burned alive
(Albero da Siena’s false contrive
Condemned me); not for that for which I died
Ye see me here. There is no doubt I said,
Too lightly, man could raise himself in flight
By arts I knew, and in his foolishness
He willed that I should teach him. This I tried,
And failed, whereon the woud-be Dædalus
Invoked his sire to burn me. None the less
This depth I found, by Minos judged aright,
Who errs not ever, and flung me downward thus
To this tenth blackness, for the alchemy
I practised.”
“Surely,” to my guide I said,
“There is no people of such vanity,
Not even the French, as are the Sienese.”
Whereat the second of the leprous dead
Made answer, “Save the Stricca, who contrived
Such modest spending, or the youth who thrived
On his new cookery of the clove; or they
Who aided Caccia’s haste to cast away
Forest and vineyard: – but that thou mayst know
Who thus gibes with thee at the Sienese,
Look closely, that mine altered face may show.
I am the shadow of Capocchio
Who made false metals by mine alchemies.
If whom I think thou art, thyself couldst tell
If false I coined, I coined that falsehood well.”

Canto XXX

WHEN Juno’s hate, enwrathed for Semele,
Repeated evils on the Theban blood,
Athamas to such madness sank that he,
Who saw his wife approach, each burdened arm
Bearing a son, cried out, “The nets we spread.
We take the lioness and her cubs!” and so
With pitiless claws he dashed the elder dead,
Whereat she leapt, still burdened, to the flood,
And drowned that other, and herself. And when
The Trojans’ heavenward pride was cast so low
That king and kingdom ceased, Hecuba then
Saw Polyxena slain, and on the sand
Lay Polydore, and all her misery
Her mournful captive mind refused, and she
Barked like a dog, to such forlorn degree
Had sorrow moved her. But the Theban land
Such furies held not, nor the Trojans met
Such naked hate, as here I saw. There ran
Two shades with rabid working jaws, that bit
As snaps a sow thrust outward from the sty,
The full trough waiting. One bent down, and set
Its teeth behind Capocchio’s neck, and so
It dragged him, while his belly rubbed the grit.
Whereat the trembling Arentine began,
“That goblin is Gianni Schicchi. Thus
He mangles – ”
“May that other’s teeth forego
Thy neck-joint ever! Grudge thou not to show
Who is she, ere she passes hence.”
He said,
“That female imp, the ancient shade is she
Of Myrrha, who with love flagitious
Approached her father in false garb, as he
Who gnaws Capocchio, aped Donati’s dead,
The will by which the priceless mare he won
Dictating in that guise.”
The furious two
Passed onward, mangling as they went, and I
The ill-born shadows more surveyed. Was one
Shaped like a lute, had but his groin begun
A forkless form. The heavy dropsy drew
His lips apart, as those whom fevers burn.

He said, “O ye, no penal fate who earn
Amidst this grimness, turn your eyes to see,
And hearken that which makes my misery
Beyond the eyes’ observing. Justice sets
Before my sight the cool fresh rivulets
That Casentino’s verdant hills provide
For Arno’s fullness. Down the mountain side
They fall for ever in my sight, and so
Contain more torture than this swollen woe
That from my visage wears the flesh. The sight
That gives my frequent sighs a faster flight
Is justly of the place that saw my sin,
Mine own Romena, where the false alloy
I mixed and printed with the Baptist’s head,
For which they burnt me. When on earth, I had
All earth’s delights my fraudful wealth could buy.
A drop of water now would make me glad;
But had I Branda’s fount, to lave therein,
It would not yield me such exceeding joy
As would the sight of Alessandro dead,
Or Guido in such misery here as I.
One, if the ravening shadows do not lie,
Is here already. Had I strength to move
One inch of journey in a hundred years,
I had been started on the road to prove
So fair a rumour, and behold his tears.
Yea, though eleven miles the circle bends,
And half a mile its crowded breadth extends –
For by their tempting in this sink I lie.”

I asked him, “Next thy swollen boundary,
Right-hand, how name ye those unmoving two
That steam like hands in winter bathed?”
He said,
“When first I tumbled in this pot to stew,
So lay they both. They have not raised a head.
I think they will not through eternity.
The nearer is the wife of Potiphar
The other Sinon, that false Greek of Troy.
From burning fever reek they thus.”
Too far
His scorn betrayed him. In a fierce annoy
The Trojan smote him with a lifted arm,
The rigid belly like a beaten drum
“Though my heavy limbs subtract
The power of motion, for so foul an act
My arm yet serves me.” – So the Brescian said,
And brought it down upon the fevered head.
“It served thee little from a larger harm,
Or wherefore in full manhood didst thou come
Amongst us from the stake? It served, no doubt,
The base alloy to mix, and stamp it out.”

The dropsied answered, “That on earth I burnt
Is truth, but say how long thy tongue hath learnt
Such custom? Falsehood was thine earthly skill.”

He answered, “If I lied, thy trade could still
Outpace me. Would’st thou chide a lonely lie?
A thousand times thy hand would falsify.
There is no demon here could match the sum
Of thine iniquities.”
“Such magnitude
Had thy one falsehood, all the world has spewed
Its indignation on thy name: be that
The heaviest burden of thy guilt.”
“Be thine
The thirst that cracks thee, and the putrid filth
By which thou art distended.”
“Like a cat
Thy jaw spits fury, as in life; if mine
Be moisture-swollen thirst, no fairer tilth
Ye garner for your gain,” the Brescian said.
“The burning fever and the aching head.
I think Narcissus’ mirror would not shine
For long unlicked beneath thee.”

While they jarred
I paused to hear them, till my Master said,
“A little longer, and thy fixed regard
Will end our friendship.”

When his anger showed
So sharply, all with sudden shame I glowed,
And might not answer. On I walked as one
Who dreams and wishes that the dream were done,
So evil turns it while he dreams, and so
Desires and knows not his desire is true.
So walked I in my shame and did not know
My shame forgave me in his thought. I knew
His anger, only in my thought alive,
Until he told me, “Weaker shame than thine
A greater fault would cancel; therefore cease
A grief too weighty. When we next arrive
At any kindred scene, thy mind release
More quickly. Discord in such filth is nought.
The thought to hear it is a vulgar thought.”