Inferno – Cantos 31 – 34

Canto XXXI

So healed he with the tongue that hurt before,
Like that charmed spear which could the wounds restore
That first it made; and neither spake we more
The while we climbed from out the final pit,
To reach a hollow where nor dark nor day
Was round us. Here a horn above me blew
So loud that thunder to the noise of it
Were weakness. Not so loud Orlando’s horn
Called vainly from the rout that cast away
An empire’s purpose. Up I looked, and knew
A range of towers confronted, and thereat
I questioned, “Master, say what town is that
So near us?”
“Through the veil of darkness drawn,
The distance mocks thee. Let us haste, that so
The truth be shown,” he said, and then – “But no,”
And took me kindly by the hand, – “the worst
Will seem less dreadful, if I show thee first.
They are not towers in a circling wall,
But giants planted round the pit, that all
Show upwards from the navel.” As the mist
Thins slowly, by the morning sunlight kissed
Till hidden forms show vaguely, and reshape
Their gradual outlines as the vapour leaves
The obstructed air, the gloom, as near we drew,
Reformed my error with a closer view
More frightful. For the nether pit receives
Their legs and bellies, while the rest doth rise
Like Montereggione’s towers, that crown
The wall’s full circle. Upwards from the thighs
One monster faced me. Nature found escape
From such creation ere our time, and well
She chose her condemnation. Still Jove’s frown
Against them thunders. If the monstrous whale
Its breed continue, or the elephant,
They do not vainly through their bulk rebel
Against the rule of nature. Wits are scant,
And weight is harmless. When they both unite
What is there in mankind that might prevail
To make defence against them?
Like the pine
That stands before St. Peter’s, such the sight
His visage showed me. All the rest alike
Was monstrous. Aproned by the bank, he yet
Such stature showed, that three tall Frisians
One on the other, could not thus combine
To reach his hair. The savage mouth began,
Rafel mai amech zabi almi,
To shout in rage toward us. Speech of man
It might not nearer. In full scorn my guide
The meaning of that barren noise supplied,
“His own his accusation. Nimrod he,
Who brought confusion on the tongues we speak;
In vain for converse here your questions seek.
He comprehends our speech no more than we
The sounds he rumbles. Dullard! take thy horn.
On thine own breast it hangs, and yet thy mind
Confuses, that it may not always find
And vent its passion with such blasts.”
We went
Left-hand, and pacing thence a cross-bow shot,
A fiercer and more monstrous monument
Appalled me. Who the artist, once who got
Those cords around him, daunts my mind, but so
It had been. His right arm behind his back,
Five times were girt the parts exposed.
My Master told, “against high Jove he planned,
What time the giants with the gods at war
Affrighted Heaven. Hence the equal law
That binds the arms he lifted. This ye see
Is Ephialtes.”
“Master, might there be
Among these shapes the bulk of Briareus?”
“Yea, but far off he stands, and bound is he
Alike to this one, though of face more grim.
But Antæus, who did not war with Zeus,
Is near, and as there are no bonds on him,
He shall convey us down the sink of guilt.”

No earthquake sways a massive tower as then
The bulk of Ephialtes, straining, shook
To break that bondage. Dread, that made me look,
So worked that fear alone my life had spilt,
Had not the strong bands cheered me.
On we went
And Antæus reached, five ells of height who showed
Above the edge whereon we walked, although
One half was in the dreadful cave below
To which we journeyed.
“Thou, who once abode,”
My guide addressed him, “in that vale of fate
From which the broken Carthaginians fled,
To Scipio’s glory; thou, whose hands have caught
A thousand lions for thine ancient prey;
Thou, whose strong aid, it seems, had likely brought
The strife Titanic to a different day
From that which closed it, – set us down, I pray,
Upon the frozen floor, and be not shy
To help us. Surely, should we further go
For aid to Typhon or to Tizeo,
The hope of larger fame thy name shall miss,
For this man’s life resumes on earth, and he
Can lift thy boast anew. I know for this
All creatures long in Hell.”
My Master’s plea
So wrought, that hasteful were the monster’s hands
To lift us. In the grasp that Hercules
Once felt to fearing was he raised, and I
Caught to him, in one bundle held. As seems
The Carisenda to a man that stands
Beneath the leaning side, when overhead
A low cloud darkens, till its bulk he deems
To overweight it, so the Titan showed
To me beneath. By some alternate road
My choice had lain, but ere my doubt was said
He placed us gently on the dreadful bed
Where Judas is devoured with Lucifer,
And having loosed us on the icy plain,
Like a ship’s mast he raised himself again.


IF words were mine unlike our mortal tongue
In which the beauty of all heights is sung,
I might attempt with greater confidence
The core of my conception here. But whence
Are words for things undreamed? What words are fit
In harsh discordance for the utmost pit?
I have no words, and fear to speak, but yet
It must be.
Muses, by whose art was set
The Theban cincture of strong walls, lead on!
Grant me thy power, as once to Amphion,
That speech for truth interpret.
Here converge
The rocky causeways. In this pit submerge
The vomits of creation. All its weight
Is pressed upon them. Here the miscreate
Lament their own existing. Oh, what curse
Here in the bottom of the Universe
Had lifted, had they been but goats! To me
It seems for men too dreadful.
Down the slope
We started from the Titan’s feet, and while
I still gazed backward at the wall, I heard
A cry beneath me, “Heed ye where ye tread
Lest fall thy weight on some grief-weary head
That here lamenteth.”
Then I looked, and lo!
No ground I trod, but all the space below
Was glass transparent. Not the underflow
Of Austrian Danube from the weight of snow
Such roof divides. Not Don, alone that lies
Beneath the silence of the frozen skies,
Such mantle wears. Sclavonia’s lonely height
Had fallen here, or Lucca’s mountain white,
And had not cracked it.
As the frogs at night
Sit croaking, with their heads above the stream,
While on the bank the gleaner rests, adream
Of fields she emptied, so the miscreants lay
Frozen in firm ice, so deeply sunk that they
Showed livid through the hard transparency
That bound them, with their heads alone left free,
And chattering jaws that rapped the ice, and made
A noise of storks conversing. More betrayed
Their ceaseless tears the bitter woes they knew, –
Salt tears that froze in falling.
Here were two
So closely brothered in that frozen bed
That face to face the hair of either head
Was mingled, and their hidden features pressed
Each other.
“Tell me, ye that breast to breast
So consort,” asked I, “who on earth ye be?”
Whereat they bent their backward necks to see
Who called, and as their faces rose apart
The tears that ever from their eyes would start
The fierce cold hardened at their source, and held
Their eyelids firm as any smith should weld,
Or wood to wood with iron is clamped. Whereat,
Like he-goats angered, both their heads began
To butt the other in their rage. With that
Another near, who did not lift his face,
Whose ears the frost had taken, gave reply,
“Why seek ye, gazing at our woeful case,
To read us? If for aught ye list to know
Those twain, the vale of the Bisenzio
Was theirs, from Count Alberto. From one womb
They came, and search ye all the dreadful doom
Of this Caina where ye stand, not one
Is here more worthy of the frozen pie
In which they serve us. Not that wretch fordone
By Arthur’s hand, who pierced him, front and back
And shadow at once; nor he that next doth lie
Beyond me, Mascheroni, – if ye come
From Tuscan hills, my words ye will not lack
To place him; – nor Focaccia. Lest ye try
To vex me with more words, de Pazzi I;
I wait Carlino here, to justify
My lighter guilt.”
Of doggish faces, numb
With frozen torture, round our feet there lay
A thousand. Still my shuddering thought recalls,
And shivers ever as the frozen ford
I strive to think not. Was it destiny,
Or chance, or will? My doubt I own, but while
We trod mid-distance of the final mile,
My foot caught sharply one projecting head.
Whereat it raised a weeping voice, and said,
“Why dost thou trample thus the doomed, unless
Thou come designed to deal more bitterness
In hate for Montaperto?”
“Master, stay
One moment here, and any more delay
I will not ask.”
My Master paused, and I
To that reviling spirit gave reply,
For still it cursed me, – “Tell me who thou art,
Who thus reproachest?”
“Nay, but be thy part
To tell me first. Who art thou stumbling thus
Through Antenora, on the cheeks of us
Who suffer? Wert thou yet in life, it were
Too much to pardon.”
“Nay, I live; but say
The name thou hadst, and I will make thy day
A longer on the earth than else thy share
Of fame continue.”
“Nay, ye little know
The words of flattery on this slope of woe.
We lust oblivion only. Get ye gone!
Nor vex me further.”
By the after-scalp
I gripped him roughly. “Speak, or every hair
That grows upon thee, from the root I tear,
Before I leave thee on this icy alp.”

He answered, “Though the final hair ye pick,
And though my face a thousand times ye kick,
I will not tell you.”
In my hand his hair
Was twisted, and an ample tuft was flung
Loose on the ice, he barking out despair
And rage together, when the song he sung
Aroused his neighbour, “Bocca, what thy woe?
Canst thou not chatter with thy jaws as we,
And cease thy barking? What strange fiend supplies
An extra pain?”
I said, “Thy name I know,
And would no more. Accursed, traitorous!
Thy name a byword on the earth shall be;
For I will tell thy treasons.”
“He who lies
So near, and talks so glibly, thou canst tell,
And not me only. Thou canst speak it thus, –
‘Close-pinched with Bocca in the frozen hell
I saw Duera. There his chattering jaws
Bewail the Frenchman’s silver bribe.’ If more
They ask, who shiver in the icy claws,
Boccaria lies beyond, whose neck was slit
At Florence: and Soldanire thou canst say
Is not far distant; and Ganelone;
And Tribaldello fails not to deplore
The gates he opened in the night.”
We stayed
To hear no further. In short space ahead
We saw two frozen in one hole. As bread
Is gnawed in hunger: as Menalippus
Was chewed by Tydeus: so the upmost head
Gripped with its teeth the neck beneath, and tore
Just where the nape and brain unite. I said,
“O thou, so hard whose bestial hatred gnaws
Thy mate in condemnation, if good cause
Thy rage explain, it were thy gain with us
To share it. Upward I return once more,
And surely as my speech remain, I then
Will give thee justice in the mouths of men.”


THE sinner ceased his ghastly meal, and wiped
His jaws upon the victim’s hair, and said,
“Thou willest that reluctant words recall
A grief so dire it wrings my heart, before
An utterance forms, but if my speech shall fall
A seed that fruiting backward from the dead
Shall make him whom I tear infamed the more
Among our people, then I gladly weep
To tell thee. How to this sad depth ye came,
Where no man erst has been, nor what thy name
I know, but that familiar speech of thine
I heard, and hailed thee friend and Florentine,
– For I was Ugolino. Him I keep
In this remembrance of an earthly woe,
The arch-priest Ubaldini. Now I tell
Of that which brought us to this depth of Hell,
And why high Justice thus permits that I
Feed here, and shall not starve, and shall not die,
Nor cease my feeding. All I need not say
Of mutual fraud, nor how he snared away
My life, a tale for other tongues, but this,
The cruel fate I found, they well may miss,
It was so secret. In that hole which now
Is called the Dungeon of the Starved I lay,
And watched the narrow slit by night and day,
Until nine moons across its space of sky
Had ended, when the evil dream I knew
That did the curtain of my fate untie.

“It seemed that on the Pisan hills was I,
A gaunt wolf with his weary whelps that ran,
And after came the hounds; and there a man
That cheered them on; the lord of all was he,
This Ubaldini, and before him rode
Gualandi, and Sismondi, and thereby
Lanfranchi; and the hounds, that closer drew,
Were swift and lean and eager. I could see
The wolf among his whelps, that was but I
And my young sons, grow weary, and the hounds
Were tearing at their flanks. I waked to find
The night yet darkened, but the moaning sounds
My sons were making in their sleep for bread
Had roused me. Cruel were the hearer’s heart
Who would not weep for that their cries forebode.
If not for this, for what should tears have part?
It was the first day that we were not fed.
The hour recurred. With anxious eyes, and
Of any speech we waited. Now they come
– The steps we know – we heard the echoing
That locked and sealed us from the world: we heard
The steps recede. I had not wept nor stirred.
I watched them weeping till the youngest said,
‘Father, what ails thee? Wilt thou speak?’ But I
Gazed and not moved, and could not find reply.
And all that day not any word I said,
And all that night, nor any tears I shed,
Till through the bars the morning light anew
Revealed our grief, and in my sons I knew
The aspect of myself, and anguish wrought
Within me, till I gnawed my hands. Whereat
They answered (impulsed by a single thought
That hunger urged me), ‘Father, do not stay
Thine hand against us. Shouldst thou take away
The lives we owe thee, right it were, and less
To us the pain, that from the flesh we give
Thy life continue.’
Then I strove subdue
The anguish in me, lest I more distress
The sons beyond myself I loved. That day,
And all the next, in silent pain we lay
On earth too hard to take us. After that
Death came. For when the next sad dawn was dim
Fell Gaddo at my feet, and with one cry,
‘O father, wilt thou aid us nought?’ he died.
And two days more I watched, and after him,
One after one, beheld them fall and die.
Then, blind with famine, three days more I groped
Around them, till my grief no more denied
The pangs of fasting” – as these words he said,
With hateful eyes upon his murderer’s head,
Again he seized it in strong teeth that bit
Hard on the bone. Ah, Pisa! since thy state
Thy neighbours leave, and all vituperate
Who know thee, shall not those two isles, that lie
So near, block Arno at its mouth, and throw
Its waters on thee till the depth of it
Hath drowned the last man in thy walls? For though
Had Ugolino all thy towers betrayed,
It were not right for one man traitorous
His children in their youth to torture thus
To innocent death, thou Thebes of Italy!
And therefore shall their frustrate names remain
In minds of all men where my tale is made.
Uguccione and Bragata they,
Anselm and Gaddo.
On we went, to see
A varied torment. Here the frozen pain
That bowed those others, bends its victims back.
They may not weep. The fount of tears they lack.
For all the hollows of their eyes are filled
With hardened ice. The tears that first they spilled
Are crystal visors to their sight.
To me,
Though cold had calloused all my face by now,
It seemed a wind was passing. To my guide
I questioned, “Master, is not vital heat
Extinguished here? Can utter cold allow
This downward air?”
He answered. “Soon we meet
Its cause, and sight shall tell thee.”
Near us cried
A wretch that marked us of the frozen host,
“O souls so cruel that the latest post
Is here assigned ye, will ye break away
The blocks one moment from mine eyes, that stay
The waiting tears?”
We paused, and I replied.
“Then tell us who thou art, and whence thy doom,
And he should well deserve the frozen tomb
Who did not aid thee.”
“Alberigo I,
The Jovial Friar, whom Manfred brought to die!
The evil fruit that in my orchard grew
Returns. The figs I gave: the dates I pick.”

“Ha!” said I, “hast thou also left the quick
So soon?”
He said, “I know not. We that lie
In Ptolomæa, oft this depth descend
Before our bodies reach their natural end.
For those that like myself to death betray
Their friends, a waiting demon drags away,
Casts to this cistern of our kind, and then
His body takes, and in the ways of men
Controls it, till his time be spent. Behind
Is Brancha d’Oria. If his corse have died,
Who here finds winter, better chance have ye
Than I to tell, who earlier came, but he
Long years has suffered in this ice.”
I said,
“I think thou liest. Brancha is not dead.
He lives on earth, and in our mortal way
His body eats and sleeps and warms today.”

“Where boils the pitch, ere Michel Zanche came,
Within the Malebranche’s ditch,” said he,
“This man a demon in his place had left,
And one beside who shared his perfidy
Came likewise ere his time; but reach thy hand
To do the service that my speech can claim.”
I heard, but different course my heart had planned
Since horror learnt his name. The ice uncleft
Still blinds him. Rudeness there was courtesy.

Ah, men corrupt from God! Ye Genoese,
Why do ye haste not on your path to these,
And earth seem cleaner? With Romagna’s worst,
I found Ser Brancha, for his soul’s disease
Ere death who suffers in this place accurst.


THE lifted banners of the King of Hell,”
– My leader roused me from my thought –
“are nigh;
Look therefore.” I beheld, as in such sky
As foul mist hides, or murk of night obscures,
A turning windmill loom; and such the gale
Its motions caused, that I, of strength too frail
To meet it longer, shrank behind my guide.

Beneath our feet – but memory fears to tell –
The sinners here contained in Hell’s last sewers
Were frozen solid in firm ice, and shone
Like straw in glass; and as we walked thereon
We saw some flat, and some with heads below,
And some pulled backward like a bended bow,
And some were upright.
When we got so near
I needs must see, my leader stepped aside.
He said, “Let fortitude reject thy fear,
For Dis confronts thee.”
There I think I died,
Though living. Not the icy blast I met
A living man could face, a dead could feel.
But here speech fails me. Reader, words are nought
To help me further. To thy livelier thought
I leave it.
Breast-deep in the ice was set
The Emperor of the dolorous realm; but yet
So huge he towered that I should seem more fit
With giants to consort, than a giant compare
With one arm only. He, that once so fair
Could walk assured in Heaven, the lordliest there
Beneath his Maker, fills this glacial pit
If by his woe we price his earlier weal,
Or judge his glory by his aspect now,
Well may he fount affliction. For one head
I saw three faces. One was fiery red.
The others slanting from each shoulder rose
To form one crest that shapes creation’s woes.
One pallid yellow, one the sable hue
Of those who wander from the tropic land
Wherefrom the sources of the Nile expand.
There were two wings the three foul heads below
Such bird to suit. I never saw such spread
Of ocean canvas to the wind: but these
Were bat-like, plumeless, and the wind they bred,
– They flapped unceasing – caused the glacier freeze
Down which we traversed. With six eyes he wept,
The while a sinner in each mouth he kept,
And chewed, and loosed not. Tears and foam unite
With dribbling blood, that spurts from every bite
Down his three chins. The midmost was not bit
So much as torn. At times his back was flayed
All bare of skin.
“That soul that most endures,
Whose head Apollyon in his mouth hath got,
Whose legs kick outward, is Iscariot:”
My Master told, “of those whose heads may quit
The teeth that chew them, down the swarthier chin
Is Brutus dangling. Mark how silently
He writhes. The comrade of his doom is he
Who shared that treason, Cassius. – But the night
Is rising in the world without, and we
Must hasten. All is seen that lies herein,
And hence depart we.”
At his word I put
My arm around him. He with lifted foot
His opening watched, and when the wings were wide
Leapt from the glacier to the tangled side,
And midst the shaggy tufts of frozen hair
The scaly hide descended.
When we came
To pass the swelling of the haunch, my guide
With arduous effort turned, till where his head
Had been before, he placed his feet instead,
And gripped the hair as one that mounts. I thought
That backwards into Hell his path he sought.
But he, hard-panting with that toil, replied,
“Hold fast – be silent – by this only stair
We find Hell’s exit.”
Thus he climbed to where
An opening gashed the rock, and reaching there
He placed me on the ledge, and warily
Himself stepped after. Here I looked to see
Again the front of Lucifer, and lo!
His legs stuck upward.
Were a man too dense
To understand the point we passed, he still
Might judge the toil before me, to return
To earth’s far surface. “Gain thy feet, for ill
The pathway climbs,” my guide enjoined, “that hence
Shall take us, as thy weary steps must learn,
And in the outer skies the sun midway
To noon is lifted.”
Round I looked, and saw
No palace, but such cleft in earth’s deep maw
As likest to a natural dungeon showed,
Ill-floored, ill-lighted.
“Ere this evil road,”
I answered, rising, “leave the deep abyss,
I pray thee tell me, lest my thought should err,
Why upward rise the legs of Lucifer,
And where the icy plain we crossed? and how
The morning shines without, which was but now
To night descending?”
“Dost thou spare to think
Its meaning? Downward through the central sink
We passed. We have not backward climbed to where
I leapt, but holding by the frozen hair
We scaled this maggot of the evil core
To which all weights conclude; and when, midway,
We turned with effort, then beneath us lay
That half the world from which we came, and we
Look upward to that other world of sea
Which those who sail beyond thine hemisphere
Have found, and left uncharted. Standing here
Beneath us is the great dry land that lies
Within the cover of the northern skies,
And centres round the Sacred Mount whereon
The Holiest died. Above us reaches far
The region where the pathless oceans are;
For this side fell from Heaven the Worm of Hell
And all the land drew backward where he fell,
And hid beneath the waters. There is morn
When nightfall closes on thy northern land;
And there our issue, for a stream has worn
A tortuous passage from the outer skies
To this foul pit where Beelzebub lies,
And through the darkness of the toilsome way
Its sound must lead us.”
Nothing more we said,
Nor paused for rest, however jagged and rough
And dark the path we climbed, and long enough
For mortal feet to weary. Fast he led:
And I made tireless by that hope ahead
Pursued him upward, till the rocks were rent
With first a sight of Heaven’s clear firmament,
And then the earth’s clean airs with learnt delight
I breathed, and round me was the beauteous night,
And overhead the stars.

Translated by S. Fowler Wright