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The Divine Comedy: Inferno

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












































Descending by a very rugged way into the seventh circle, where the violent are punished, Dante and his leader find it guarded by the minotaur; whose fury being pacified by Virgil, they step downward from crag to crag; till, drawing near the bottom, they descry a river of blood, wherein are tormented such as have committed violence against their neighbor. At these, when they strive to emerge from the brook, a troop of Centaurs, running along the side of the river, aim their arrows; and three of their band opposing our travelers at the foot of their band opposing our travelers at the foot of the steep, Virgil prevails so far, that one consents to carry them both across the stream; and on their passage Dante is informed by him of the course of the river, and of those that are punished therein.

The place where to descend the bank we came 1
Was alpine, and from what was there, moreover, 2
Of such a kind that every eye would shun it.

Such as that ruin is which in the flank
Smote, on this side of Trent, the Adige, 5
Either by earthquake or by failing stay,

For from the mountain's top, from which it moved,
Unto the plain the cliff is shattered so,
Some path 'twould give to him who was above;

Even such was the descent of that ravine,
And on the border of the broken chasm
The infamy of Crete was stretched along, 12

Who was conceived in the fictitious cow;
And when he us beheld, he bit himself,
Even as one whom anger racks within.

My Sage towards him shouted-:"Peradventure
Thou think'st that here may be the Duke of Athens,
Who in the world above brought death to thee? 18

Get thee gone, beast, for this one cometh not
Instructed by thy sister, but he comes 20
In order to behold your punishments."

As is that bull who breaks loose at the moment
In which he has received the mortal blow,
Who cannot walk, but staggers here and there,

Thus down we took our way o'er that discharge
Of stones, which oftentimes did move themselves
Beneath my feet, from the unwonted burden.

Thoughtful I went and he said:"Thou art thinking
Perhaps upon this ruin, which is guarded
By that brute anger which just now I quenched.

Now will I have thee know, the other time
I here descended to the nether Hell,
This precipice had not yet fallen down.

But truly, if I well discern, a little
Before His coming who the mighty spoil
Bore off from Dis, in the supernal circle, 39

Upon all sides the deep and loathsome valley
Trembled so, that I thought the Universe
Was thrilled with love, by which there are who think 42

The world ofttimes converted into chaos;
And at that moment this primeval crag
Both here and elsewhere made such overthrow.

But fix thine eyes below; for draweth near
The river of blood, within which boiling is
Whoe'er by violence doth injure others."

O blind cupidity, O wrath insane,
That spurs us onward so in our short life,
And in the eternal then so badly steeps us!

I saw an ample moat bent like a bow,
As one which a]l the plain encompasses,
Conformable to what my Guide had said.

And between this and the embankment's foot
Centaurs in file were running, armed with arrows, 56
As in the world they used the chase to follow.

Beholding us descend, each one stood still,
And from the squadron three detached themselves,
With bows and arrows in advance selected;

And from afar one cried:"Unto what torment
Come ye, who down the hillside are descending?
Tell us from there; if not, I draw the bow."

My Master said:"Our answer will we make
To Chiron, near you there; in evil hour,
That will of thine was evermore so hasty."

Then touched he me, and said:"This one is Nessus,
Who perished for the lovely Dejanira, 68
And for himself, himself did vengeance take.

And he in the midst, who at his breast is gazing,
Is the great Chiron, who brought up Achilles; 71
That other Pholus is, who was so wrathful.

Thousands and thousands go about the moat
Shooting with shafts whatever soul emerges
Out of the blood, more than his crime allots."

Near we approached unto those monsters fleet;
Chiron an arrow took, and with the notch 77
Backward upon his jaws he put his beard.

After he had uncovered his great mouth,
He said to his companions:"Are you ware
That he behind moveth whate'er he touches?

Thus are not wont to do the feet of dead men."
And my good Guide, who now was at his breast,
Where the two natures are together joined,

Replied:"Indeed he lives, and thus alone
Me it behoves to show him the dark valley;
Necessity, and not delight, impels us.

Some one withdrew from singing Halleluja,
Who unto me committed this new office;
No thief is he, nor I a thievish spirit.

But by that virtue through which I am moving
My steps along this savage thoroughfare,
Give us some one of thine, to be with us,

And who may show us where to pass the ford,
And who may carry this one on his back;
For 'tis no spirit that can walk the air."

Upon his right breast Chiron wheeled about,
And said to Nessus: " Turn and do thou guide them,
And warn aside, if other band may meet you."

We with our faithful escort onward moved
Along the brink of the vermilion boiling,
Wherein the boiled were uttering loud laments.

People I saw within up to the eyebrows,
And the great Centaur said:"Tyrants are these,
Who dealt in bloodshed and in pillaging.

Here they lament their pitiless mischiefs; here
Is Alexander, and fierce Dionysius 107
Who upon Sicily brought dolorous years.

That forehead there which has the hair so black
Is Azzolin; and the other who is blond, 110
Obizzo is of Esti, who, in truth, 111

Up in the world was by his stepson slain."
Then turned I to the Poet; and he said,
"Now he be first to thee, and second I."

A little farther on the Centaur stopped
Above a folk, who far down as the throat
Seemed from that boiling stream to issue forth.

A shade' he showed us on one side alone,
Saying: " He cleft asunder in God's bosom 119
The heart that still upon the Thames is honoured."

Then people saw I, who from out the river
Lifted their heads and also all the chest;
And many among these I recognised. 123

Thus ever more and more grew shallower
That blood, so that the feet alone it covered;
And there across the moat our passage was.

"Even as thou here upon this side beholdest
The boiling stream, that aye diminishes,"
The Centaur said, "I wish thee to believe

That on this other more and more declines
Its bed, until it reunites itself
Where it behoveth tyranny to groan.

Justice divine, upon this side, is goading
That Attila, who was a scourge on earth, 134
And Pyrrhus, and Sextus; and for ever milks 135

The tears which with the boiling it unseals
In Rinier da Corneto and Rinier Pazzo, 137
Who made upon the highways so much war."

Then back he turned, and passed again the ford.

Footnotes 12

Canto 12

1. With this Canto begins the Seventh Circle of the Inferno, in which the Violent are punished. In the first Girone or round are the Violent against their neighbors, plunged more or less deeply in the river of boiling blood.

2. Mr. Ruskin, Modern Painters, III. 242, has the following remarks upon Dante's idea of rocks and mountains.--

"At the top of the abyss of the seventh circle, appointed for the `violent,' or souls who had done evil by force, we are told, first, that the edge of it was composed of `great broken stones in a circle'; then, that the place was `Alpine'; and, becoming hereupon attentive, in order to hear what an Alpine place is like, we find that it was `like the place beyond Trent, where the rock, either by earthquake, or failure of support, has broken down to the plain, so that it gives any one at the top some means of getting down to the bottom.' This is not a very elevated or enthusiastic description of an Alpine scene; and it is far from mended by the following verses, in which we are told that Dante `began to go down by this great unloading of stones,' and that they moved often under his feet by reason of the new weight. The fact is that Dante, by many expressions throughout the poem, shows himself to have been a notably bad climber; and being fond of sitting in the sun, looking at his fair Baptistery, or walking in a dignified manner on flat pavement in a long robe, it puts him seriously out of his way when he has to take to his hands and knees, or look to his feet; so that the first strong impression made upon him by any Alpine scene whatever is, clearly, that it is bad walking. When he is in a fright and hurry, and has a very steep place to go down, Virgil has to carry him altogether."

5. Speaking of the region to which Dante here alludes, Eustace, Classical Tour, I. 71, says:--"The descent becomes more rapid between Roveredo and Ala; the river, which glided gently through the valley of Trent, assumes the roughness of a torrent; the defiles become narrower; and the mountains break into rocks and precipices, which occasionally approach the road, sometimes rise perpendicular from it, and now and then hand over it in terrible majesty."

In a note he adds:--
"Amid these wilds the traveller cannot fail to notice a vast tract called the Slavini di Marco, covered with fragments of rock torn from the sides of the neighboring mountains by an earthquake, or perhaps by their own unsupported weight, and hurled down into the plains below. They spread over the whole valley, and in some places contract the road to a very narrow space. A few firs and cypresses scattered in the intervals, or sometimes rising out of the crevices of the rocks, cast a partial and melancholy shade amid the surrounding nakedness and desolation. This scene of ruin seems to have made a deep impression upon the wild imagination of Dante, as he has introduced it into the twelfth canto of the Inferno, in order to give the reader an adequate idea of one of his infernal ramparts."

12. The Minotaur, half bull, half man. See the infamous story in all the classical dictionaries.

18. The Duke of Athens is Theseus. Chaucer gives him the same title in The Knights Tale:--

"Whilom, as olde stories tellen us,
Ther was a duk that highte Theseus.
Of Athenes he was lord and governour,
That greter was ther non under the sonne.
Ful many a rich contree had he wonne.
What with his wisdom and his chevalrie,
He conquerd all the regne of Feminie,
That whilom was ycleped Scythia;
And wedded the freshe quene Ipolita,
And brought hire home with him to his contree
With mochel glorie and great solempnitee,
And eke hire yonge suster Emelie.
And thus with victorie and with melodie
Let I this worthy duk to Athenes ride,
And all his host, in armes him beside."

Shakespeare also, in the Midsummer Night's Dream, calls him the Duke of Athens.

20. Ariadne, who gave Theseus the silken thread to guide him back through the Cretan labyrinth after slaying the Minotaur. Hawthorne has beatifully told the old story in his Tanglewood Tales."Ah, the bull-headed villain!" he says. "And O my good little people, you will perhaps see, one of these days, as I do now, that every human being who suffers anything evil to get into his nature, or to remain there, is a kind of Minotaur, an enemy of his fellow- creatures, and separated from all good companionship, as this poor monster was."

39. Christ's descent into Limbo, and the earthquake at the Crucifixion.

42. This is the doctrine of Empedocles and other old philosophers.

See Ritter, History of Ancient Philosophy, Book V., Chap. vi. The following passages are from Mr. Morrison's translation: -- "Empedocles proceeded from the Eleatic principle of the oneness of all truth. In its unity it resembles a ball; he calls it the sphere, wherein the ancients recognized the God of Empedoocles..... "Into the unity of the sphere all elementary things are combined by love, without difference or distinction: within it they lead a happy life, replete with holiness, and remote from discord:

They know no god of war nor the spirit of battles, Nor Zeus, the sovereign, nor Cronos, nor yet Poseidon, But Cypris the queen.....

"The actual separation of the elements one from another is produced by discord; for originally they were bound together in the sphere, and therein continued perfectly unmovable. Now in this Empedocles posits different periods and different conditions of the world; for, according to the above position, originally all is united in love, and then subsequently the elements and living essences are separated. ....

"His assertion of certain mundane periods was taken by the ancients literally; for they tell us that, according to his theory, All was originally one by love, but afterwards many and at enmity with itself through discord."

56. The Centaurs are set to guard this Circle, as symbolizing violence, with some form of which the classic poets usually associate them.

68. Chaucer, The Monkes Tale:--

"A lemman had this noble champion,
That highte Deianire, as fresh as May;
And as thise clerkes maken mention,
She hath him sent a sherte fresh and gay:
Alas! this sherte, alas and wala wa!
Envenimed was sotilly withalle,
That or that he had wered it half a day,
It made his flesh all from his bones falle."

Chiron was a son of Saturn; Pholus, of Silenus; and Nessus, of Ixion and the Cloud.

71. Homer, Iliad, XI. 832, "Whom Chiron instructed, the most just of the Centaurs." Hawthorne gives a humorous turn to the fable of Chiron, in the Tanglewod Tales, p. 273:--

"I have sometimes suspected that Master Chiron was not really very different from other people, but that, being a kind-hearted and merry old fellow, he was in the habit of making believe that he was a horse, and scrambling about the school-room on all fours, and letting the little boys ride upon his back. And so, when his scholars had grown up, and grown old, and were trotting their grandchildren on their knees, they told them about the sports of their school days; and these young folks took the idea that their grandfathers had been taught their letters by a Centaur, half man and half horse.....

"Be that as it may, it has always been told for a fact, (and always will be told, as long as the world lasts,) that Chiron, with the head of a schoolmaster, had the body and legs of a horse. Just imagine the grave old gentleman clattering and stamping into the school room on his four hoofs, perhaps treading on some little fellow's toes, flourishing his switch tail instead of a rod, and, now and them, trotting out of doors to eat a mouthful of grass!"

77. Mr. Ruskin refers to this line in confirmation of his theory that "all great art represents something that it sees or believes in; nothing unseen or uncredited." The passage is as follows, Modern Painters, III. 83:--

"And just because it is always something that it sees or believes in, there is the peculiar character above noted, almost unmistakable, in all high and true ideals, of having been as it were studies from the life, and involving pieces of sudden familiarity, and close specific painting which never would have been admitted or even thought of, had not the painter drawn either from the bodily life or from the life of faith. For instance, Dante's Centaur, Chiron, dividing his beard with his arrow before he can speak, is a thing that no mortal would ever have thought of, if he had not actually seen the Centaur do it. They might have composed handsome bodies of men and horses in all possible ways, through a whole life of pseudo-idealism, and yet never dreamed of any such thing. But the real living Centaur actually trotted across Dante's brain, and he saw him do it."

107. Alexander of Thessaly and Dionysius of Syracuse. 51

110. Azzolino, or Ezzolino di Romano, tyrant of Padua, nicknamed the Son of the Devil. Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, III. 33, describes him as

"Fierce Ezelin, that most inhuman lord,
Who shall be deemed by men a child of hell."

His story may be found in Sismondi's Histoire des Republiques Italiennes, Chap. XIX. He so outraged the religious sense of the people by his cruelties, that a crusade was preached against him, and he died a prisoner in 1259, tearing the bandages from his wounds, and fierce and defiant to the last.

"Ezzolino was small of stature," says Sismondi, "but the whole aspect of his person, all his movements, indicated the soldier. His language was bitter, his countenance proud; and by a single look, he made the boldest tremble. His soul, so greedy of all crimes, felt no attraction for sensual pleasures. Never had Ezzolino loved women; and this perhaps is the reason why in his punishments he was as pitiless against them as against men. He was in his sixty- sixth year when he died; and his reign of blood had lasted thirty- four years." Many glimpses of him are given in the Cento Novelle Antiche, as if his memory long haunted the minds of men. Here are two of them, from Novella 83.

"Once upon a time Messer Azzolino da Romano made proclamation, through his own territories and elsewhere, that he wished to do a great charity, and therefore that all the beggars, both men and women, should assemble in his meadow, on a certain day, and to each he would give a new gown, and abundance of food. The news spread among the servants on all hands. When the day of assembling came, his seneschals went among them with the gowns and the food, and made them strip naked one by one, and then clothed them with new clothes, and fed them. They asked for their old rags, but it was all in vain; for he put them into a heap and set fire to them. Afterwards he found there so much gold and silver melted, that it more than paid the expense, and then he dismissed them with his blessing.....

"To tell you how much he was feared, would be a long story, and many people knew it. But I will recall how he, being one day with the Emperor on horseback, with all their people, they laid a wager as to which of them had the most beautiful sword. The Emperor drew from its sheath his own, which was wonderfully garnished with gold and precious stones. Then said Messer Azzolino: `It is very beautiful; but mine, without any great ornament, is far more beautiful'; -- and he drew it forth. Then six hundred knights, who were with him, all drew theirs. When the Emperor beheld this cloud of swords, he said: `Yours is the most beautiful.'"

111. Obizzo da Esti, Marquis of Ferrara. He was murdered by Azzo, "whom he thought to be his son," says Boccaccio, "though he was not. " The Ottimo Comento remarks: "Many call themselves sons, and are step-sons."

119. Guido di Monforte, who murdered Prince Henry of England "in the bosom of God," that is, in the church, at Viterbo. The event is thus narrated by Napier, Florentine History, I. 283:--

"Another instance of this revengeful spirit occurred in the year 1271 at Viterbo, where the cardinals had assembled to elect a successor to Clement the Fourth, about whom they had been long disputing: Charles of Anjou and Philip of France, with Edward and Henry, sons of Richard, Duke of Cornwall, had repaired there, the two first to hasten the election, which they finally accomplished by the elevation of Gregory the Tenth. During these proceedings Prince Henry, while taking the sacrament in the church of San Silvestro at Viterbo, was stabbed to the heart by his own cousin, Guy de Montfort, in revenge for the Earl of Leicester's death, although Henry was then endeavoring to procure his pardon. This sacrilegious act threw Viterbo into confusion, but Montfort had many supporters, one of whom asked him what he had done. `I have taken my revenge,' said he. ` But your father's body was trailed!' At this reproach, De Montfort instantly re-entered the church, walked straight to the altar, and, seizing Henry's body by the hair, dragged it through the aisle, and left it, still bleeding, in the open street: he then retired unmolested to the castle of his father-in-law, Count Rosso of the Maremma, and there remained in security!" "The body of the Prince," says Barlow, Study of Dante, p. 125, "was brought to England, and interred at Hayles, in Gloucestershire, in the Abbey which his father had there built for monks of the Cistercian order; but his heart was put into a golden vase, and placed on the tomb of Edward the Confessor, in Westminster Abbey; most probably, as stated by some writers, in the hands of a statue. "

123. Violence in all its forms was common enough in Florence in the age of Dante.

134. Attila, the Scourge of God. Gibbon, Decline and Fall, Chap. 39, describes him thus:--

"Attila, the son of Mundzuk, deduced his noble, perhaps his regal, descent from the ancient Huns, who had formerly contended with the monarchs of China. His features, according to the observation of a Gothic historian, bore the stamp of his national origin; and the portrait of Attila exhibits the genuine deformity of a modern Calmuk; a large head, a swarthy complexion, small, deep-seated eyes, a flat nose, a few hairs in the place of a beard, broad shoulders, and a short, square body, of nervous strength, though of a disproportioned form. The haughty step and demeanor of the King of the Huns expressed the consciousness of his superiority above the rest of mankind; and he had a custom of fiercely rolling his eyes, as if he wished to enjoy the terror which he inspired. "

135. Which Pyrrhus and which Sextus, the commentators cannot determine; but incline to Pyrrhus of Epirus, and Sextus Pompey, the corsair of the Mediterranean.

137. Nothing more is known of these highwaymen than that the first infested the Roman sea-shore, and that the second was of a noble family of Florence.

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