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The Divine Comedy: Inferno

by Dante Alighieri (Tr. H.W. Longfellow)












































Dante arrives at the verge of a rocky precipice which incloses the seventh circle, where he sees the sepulcher of Anastasius the Heretic; behind the lid of which, pausing a little, to make himself capable by degrees of enduring the fetid smell that steamed upward from the abyss, he is instructed by Virgil concerning the manner in which the three following circles are disposed, and what description of sinners is punished in each. He then inquires the reason why the carnal, the gluttonous, the avaricious and prodigal, the wrathful and gloomy, suffer not their punishments within the city of Dis. He next asks how the crime of usury is an offense against God; and at length the two Poets go toward the place from whence a passage leads down to the seventh circle.

UPON the margin of a lofty bank
Which great rocks broken in a circle made,
We came upon a still more cruel throng;

And there, by reason of the horrible
Excess of stench the deep abyss throws out,
We drew ourselves aside behind the cover

Of a great tomb, whereon I saw a writing,
Which said: " Pope Anastasius I hold, 8
Whom out of the right way Photinus drew." 9

"Slow it behoveth our descent to be,
So that the sense be first a little used
To the sad blast, and then we shall not heed it."

The Master thus; and unto him I said,
"Some compensation find, that the time pass not
Idly;"and he:"Thou seest I think of that.

My son, upon the inside of these rocks,"
Began he then to say, " are three small circles,
From grade to grade, like those which thou art leaving

They all are full of spirits maledict;
But that hereafter sight alone suffice thee,
Hear how and wherefore they are in constraint.

Of every malice that wins hate in Heaven,
Injury is the end; and all such end
Either by force or fraud afflicteth others.

But because fraud is man's peculiar vice,
More it displeases God; and so stand lowest
The fraudulent, and greater dole assails them.

All the first circle of the Violent is;
But since force may be used against three persons,
In three rounds 'tis divided and constructed.

To God, to ourselves, and to our neighbour can we
Use force; I say on them and on their things,
As thou shalt hear with reason manifest.

A death by violence, and painful wounds,
Are to our neighbour given; and in his substance
Ruin, and arson, and injurious levies;

Whence homicides, and he who smites unjustly,
Marauders, and freebooters, the first round
Tormenteth all m companies diverse.

Man may lay violent hands upon himself
And his own goods; and therefore in the second
Round must perforce without avail repent

Whoever of your world deprives himself,
Who games, and dissipates his property,
And weepeth there, where he should jocund be.

Violence can be done the Deity,
In heart denying and blaspheming Him,
And by disdaining Nature and her bounty.

And for this reason doth the smallest round
Seal with its signet Sodom and Cahors, 50
And who, disdaining God, speaks from the heart.

Fraud, wherewithal is every conscience stung,
A man may practise upon him who trusts,
And him who doth no confidence imburse.

This latter mode, it would appear, dissevers
Only the bond of love which Nature makes;
Wherefore within the second circle nestle

Hypocrisy, flattery, and who deals in magic,
Falsification, theft, and simony,
Panders, and barrators, and the like-filth.

By the other mode, forgotten is that love
Which Nature makes, and what is after added,
From which there is a special faith engendered.

Hence in the smallest circle, where the point is
Of the Universe, upon which Dis is seated,
Whoe'er betrays for ever is consumed."

And I:"My Master, clear enough proceeds
Thy reasoning, and full well distinguishes
This cavern and the people who possess it.

But tell me, those within the fat lagoon, 70
Whom the wind drives, and whom the rain doth beat, 71
And who encounter with such bitter tongues, 72

And unto me he said:"Why wanders so
Thine intellect from that which it is wont?
Or, sooth, thy mind where is it elsewhere looking?

Hast thou no recollection of those words
With which thine Ethics thoroughly discusses
The dispositions three, that Heaven abides not,--

Incontinence, and Malice, and insane
Bestiality ? and how Incontinence 80
Less God offendeth, and less blame attracts?

If thou regardest this conclusion well,
And to thy mind recallest who they are
That up outside are undergoing penance,

Clearly wilt thou perceive why from these felons
They separated are, and why less wroth
Justice divine doth smite them with its hammer."

"O Sun, that healest all distempered vision,
Thou dost content me so, when thou resolvest,
That doubting pleases me no less than knowing!

Once more a little backward turn thee," said I,
"There where thou sayest that usury offends
Goodness divine, and disengage the knot."

"Philosophy," he said, "to him who heeds it,
Noteth, not only in one place alone,
After what manner Nature takes her course

From Intellect Divine, and from its art;
And if thy Physics carefully thou notest, 101
After not many pages shalt thou find,

From these two, if thou bringest to thy mind
Genesis at the beginning, it behoves 107
Mankind to gain their life and to advance;

And since the usurer takes another way,
Nature herself and in her follower 109
Disdains he, for elsewhere he puts his hope.

But follow, now, as I would fain go on,
For quivering are the Fishes on the horizon, 110
And the Wain wholly over Caurus lies, 114

And far beyond there we descend the crag."

Footnotes 11

Canto 11

8. Some critics and commentators accuse Dante of confounding Pope Anastasius with the Emperor of that name. It is however highly probable that Dante knew best whom he meant. Both were accused of heresy, though the heresy of the Pope seems to have been of a mild type. A few years previous to his time, namely, in the year 484, Pope Felix III. and Acacius, Bishop of Constantinople, mutually excommunicated each other. When Anastasius II. became Pope in 496, "he dared," says Milman, Hist. Lat. Christ., I. 349, "to doubt the damnation of a bishop excommunicated by the See of Rome: `Felix and Acacius are now both before a higher tribunal; leave them to that unerring judgment.' He would have the name of Acacius passed over in silence, quietly dropped, rather than publicly expunged from the diptychs. This degenerate successor of St. Peter is not admitted to the rank of a saint. The Pontifical book (its authority on this point is indignantly repudiated) accuses Anastasius of having communicated with a deacon of Thessalonica, who had kept up communion with Acacius; and of having entertained secret designs of restoring the name of Acacius in the services of the Church."

9. Photinus is the deacon of Thessalonica alluded to in the preceding note. His heresy was, that the Holy Ghost did not proceed from the Father, and that the Father was greater than the Son. The writers who endeavor to rescue the Pope at the expense of the Emperor say that Photinus died before the days of Pope Anastasius.

50. Cahors is the cathedral town of the Department of the Lot, in the South of France, and the birthplace of the poet Clement Marot and of the romance-writer Calprenede. In the Middle Ages it seems to have been a nest of usurers. Matthew Paris, in his Historia Major, under date of 1235, has a chapter entitled, Of the Usury of the Caursines, which in the translation of Rev. J. A. Giles runs as follows:--

"In these days prevailed the horrible nuisance of the Caursines to such a degree that there was hardly any one in all England, especially among the bishops, who was not caught in their net. Even the king himself was held indebted to them in an uncalculable sum of money. For they circumvented the needy in their necessities, cloaking their usury under the show of trade, and pretending not to know that whatever is added to the principal is usury, under whatever name it may be called. For it is manifest that their loans lie not in the path of charity, inasmuch as they do not hold out a helping hand to the poor to relieve them, but to deceive them; not to aid others in their starvation, but to gratify their own covetousness; seeing that the motive stamps our every deed. "

70. Those within the fat lagoon, the Irascible, Canto VII., VIII.

71. Whom the wind drives, the Wanton, Canto V., and whom the rain doth beat, the Gluttonous, Canto VI.

72. And who encounter with such bitter tongues, the Prodigal and Avaricious, Canto VIII.

80. The Ethics of Aristotle, VII. i. "After these things, making another beginning, it must be observed by us that there are three species of things which are to be avoided in manners, viz. Malice, Incontinence, and Bestiality."

101. The Physics of Aristotle, Book II.

107. Genesis, i. 28: "And God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it."

109. Gabrielle Rossetti, in the Comento Analitico of his edition of the Divina Commedia, quotes here the lines of Florian:--

"Nous ne recevons l'existence
Qu'afin de travailler pour nous, ou pour autrui:
De ce devoir sacre quiconque se dispense
Est puni par la Providence,
Par le besoin, ou par l'ennui."

110. The constellation Pisces precedes Aries, in which the sun now is. This indicates the time to be a little before sunrise. It is Saturday morning.

114. The Wain is the constellation Charle's Wain, or Bootes; and Caurus is the Northwest, indicated by the Latin name of the northwest wind.

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