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The Divine Comedy: Inferno

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












































Still in the seventh circle, Dante enters its second compartment, which contains both those who have done violence on their own persons and those who have violently consumed their goods; the first changed into rough and knotted trees whereon the harpies build their nests, the latter chased and turn by black female mastiffs. Among the former, Piero delle Vigne is one who tells him the cause of his having committed suicide, and moreover in what manner the souls are transformed into those trunks. Of the latter crew, he recognizes Lano, a Siennese and Giacomo, a Paduan: and lastly, a Florentine, who had hung himself from his own roof, speaks to him of the calamities of his countrymen.

NOT yet had Nessus eached the other side, 1
When we had put ourselves within a wood, 2
That was not marked by any path whatever.

Not foliage green, but of a dusky colour,
Not branches smooth, but gnarled and intertangled,
Not apple-trees were there, but thorns with poison.

Such tangled thickets have not, nor so dense,
Those savage wild beasts, that in hatred hold
'Twixt Cecina and Corneto the tilled places. 9

There do the hideous Harpies make their nests,
Who chased the Trojans from the Strophades, 11
With sad announcement of impending doom;

Broad wings have they, and necks and faces human,
And feet with claws, and their great bellies fledged;
They make laments upon the wondrous trees.

And the good Master:"Ere thou enter farther,
Know that thou art within the second round,"
Thus he began to say, " and shalt be, till

Thou comest out upon the horrible sand;
Therefore look well around, and thou shalt see
Things that will credence give unto my speech." 21

I heard on all sides lamentations uttered,
And person none beheld I who might make them,
Whence, utterly bewildered, I stood still.

I think he thought that I perhaps might think
So many voices issued through those trunks
From people who concealed themselves from us;

Therefore the Master said:"If thou break off
Some little spray from any of these trees,
The thoughts thou hast will wholly be made vain."

Then stretched I forth my hand a little forward,
And plucked a branchlet off from a great thorn,
And the trunk cried, " Why dost thou mangle me?"

After it had become embrowned with blood,
It recommenced its cry: " Why dost thou rend me
Hast thou no spirit of pity whatsoever ?

Men once we were, and now are changed to trees;
Indeed, thy hand should be more pitiful,
Even if the souls of serpents we had been."

As out of a green brand, that is on fire 40
At one of the ends, and from the other drips
And hisses with the wind that is escaping;

So from that splinter issued forth together
Both words and blood; whereat I let the tip
Fall, and stood like a man who is afraid.

"Had he been able sooner to believe,"
My Sage made answer, " O thou wounded soul,
What only in my verses he has seen,

Not upon thee had he stretched forth his hand;
Whereas the thing incredible has caused me
To put him to an act which grieveth me.

But tell him who thou wast, so that by way
Of some amends thy fame he may refresh
Up in the world, to which he can return."

And the trunk said:"So thy sweet words allure me,
I cannot silent be; and you be vexed not,
That I a little to discourse am tempted.

I am the one who both keys had in keeping 58
Of Frederick's heart, and turned them to and fro
So softly in unlocking and in locking,

That from his secrets most men I withheld;
Fidelity I bore the glorious office
So great, I lost thereby my sleep and pulses.

The courtesan who never from the dwelling
Of Caesar turned aside her strumpet eyes,
Death universal and the vice of courts,

Inflamed against me all the other minds,
And they, inflamed, did so inflame Augustus,
That my glad honours turned to dismal mournings.

My spirit, in disdainful exultation,
Thinking by dying to escape disdain,
Made me unjust against myself, the just.

I, by the roots unwonted of this wood,
Do swear to you that never broke I faith
Unto my lord, who was so worthy of honour;

And to the world if one of you return,
Let him my memory comfort, which is lying
Still prostrate from the blow that envy dealt it."

Waited awhile, and then: " Since he is silent,"
The Poet said to me, " lose not the time,
But speak, and question him, if more may please thee."

Whence I to him:"Do thou again inquire
Concerning what thou thinks't will satisfy me;
For I cannot, such pity is in my heart."

Therefore he recommenced:"So may the man
Do for thee freely what thy speech implores,
Spirit incarcerate, again be pleased

To tell us in what way the soul is bound
Within these knots; and tell us, if thou canst
If any from such members e'er is freed."

Then blew the trunk amain, and afterward
The wind was into such a voice converted:
"With brevity shall be replied to you.

When the exasperated soul abandons
The body whence it rent itself away,
Minos consigns it to the seventh abyss.

It falls into the forest, and no part
Is chosen for it; but where Fortune hurls it,
There like a grain of spelt it germinates.

It springs a sapling, and a forest tree;
The Harpies, feeding then upon its leaves,
Do pain create, and for the pain an outlet.

Like others for our spoils shall we return;
But not that any one may them revest,
For 'tis not just to have what one casts off.

Here we shall drag them, and along the dismal
Forest our bodies shall suspended be,
Each to the thorn of his molested shade."

We were attentive still unto the trunk,
Thinking that more it yet might wish to tell us,
When by a tumult we were overtaken,

In the same way as he is who perceives 112
The boar and chase approaching to his stand,
Who hears the crashing of the beasts and branches;

And two behold! upon our left-hand side,
Naked and scratched, fleeing so furiously,
That of the forest, every fan they broke.

He who was in advance:"Now help, Death, help !"
And the other one, who seemed to lag too much,
Was shouting:"Lano, were not so alert 120

Those legs of thine at joustings of the Toppo!"
And then, perchance because his breath was failing,
He grouped himself together with a bush.

Behind them was the forest full of black
She-mastiffs, ravenous, and swift of foot 125
As greyhounds, who are issuing from the chain.

On him who had crouched down they set their teeth,
And him they lacerated piece by piece,
Thereafter bore away those aching members.

Thereat my Escort took me by the hand,
And led me to the bush, that all in vain
as weeping from its bloody lacerations.

"O Jacopo," it said, "of Sant' Andrea, 133
What helped it thee of me to make a screen?
What blame have I in thy nefarious life ?"

When near him had the Master stayed his steps,
He said:"Who wast thou, that through wounds so many
Art blowing out with blood thy dolorous speech?"

And he to us:"O souls, that hither come
To look upon the shameful massacre
That has so rent away from me my leaves,

Gather them up beneath the dismal bush;
I of that city was which to the Baptist 143
Changed its first patron, wherefore he for this

Forever with his art will make it sad.
And were it not that on the pass of Arno
Some glimpses of him are remaining still,

Those citizens, who afterwards rebuilt it
Upon the ashes left by Attila, 149
In vain had caused their labour to be done. 150

Of my own house I made myself a gibbet."

Footnotes 13

Canto 13

1. In this Canto is described the punishment of those who had laid violent hands on themselves or their property.

2. Chaucer, Knights Tale, 1977:--

"First on the wall was peinted a forest,
In which ther wonneth neyther man ne best,
With knotty knarry barrein trees old
Of stubbes sharpe and hidous to behold;
In which there ran a romble and a swough
As though a storme shuld bresten every bough."

9. The Cecina is a small river running into the Mediterranean not many miles south of Leghorn; Corneto, a village in the Papal States, north of Civita Vecchia. The country is wild and thinly peopled, and studded with thickets, the haunts of the deer and the wild boar. This region is the fatal Maremma, thus described by Forsyth, Italy, p. 156:--

"Farther south is the Maremma, a region which, though now worse than a desert, is supposed to have been anciently both fertile and healthy. The Maremma certainly formed part of that Etruria which was called from its harvests the annonaria. Old Roman cisterns may still be traced, and the ruins of Populonium are still visible in the worst part of this tract: yet both nature and man seem to have conspired against it.

"Sylla threw this maritime part of Tuscany into enormous latifundia for his disbanded soldiers. Similar distributions continued to lessen its population during the Empire. In the younger Pliny's time the climate was pestilential. The Lombards gave it a new aspect of misery. Wherever they found culture they built castles, and to each castle they allotted a `bandita' or military fief. Hence baronial wars which have left so many picturesque ruins on the hills, and such desolation round them. Whenever a baron was conquered, his vassals escaped to the cities, and the vacant fief was annexed to the victorious. Thus stripped of men, the lands returned into a state of nature: some were flooded by the rivers, others grew into horrible forests, which enclose and concentrate the pestilence of the lakes and marshes.

"In some parts the water is brackish, and lies lower than the sea: in others it oozes full of tartar from beds oftravertine. At the bottom or on the sides of hills are a multitude of hot springs, which form pools, called Lagoni.

A few of these are said to produce borax: some, which are called fumache, exhale sulphur; others, called bulicami, boil with a mephitic gas. The very air above is only a pool of vapors, which sometimes undulate, but seldom flow off. It draws corruption from a rank, unshorn, rotting vegetation, from reptiles and fish both living and dead.

"All nature conspires to drive man away from this fatal region; but man will ever return to his bane, if it be well baited. The Casentine peasants still migrate hither in the winter to feed their cattle: and here they sow corn, make charcoal, saw wood, cut hoops, and peel cork. When summer returns they decamp, but often too late; for many leave their corpses on the road, or bring home the Maremmian disease."

11. Aeneid, III., Davidson's Tr.:--
"The shores of the Strophades first receive me rescued from the waves. The Strophades, so called by a Greek name, are islands situated in the great Ionian Sea; which direful Celaeno and the other Harpies inhabit, from what time Phineus' palace was closed against them, and they were frightened from his table, which they formerly haunted. No monster more fell than they, no plague and scourge of the gods more cruel, ever issued from the Stygian waves. They are fowls with virgin faces, most loathsome is their bodily discharge, hands hooked, and looks ever pale with famine. Hither conveyed, as soon as we entered the port, lo! we observe joyous herds of cattle roving up and down the plains, and flocks of goats along the meadows without a keeper. We rush upon them with our swords, and invoke the gods and Jove himself to share the booty. Then along the winding shore we raise the couches, and feast on the rich repast. But suddenly, with direful swoop, the Harpies are upon us from the mountains, shake their wings with loud din, prey upon our banquet, and defile everything with their touch: at the same time, together with a rank smell, hideous screams arise."

21. His words in the Aeneid, III., Davidson's Tr.:-- "Near at hand there chanced to be a rising ground, on whose top were young cornel-trees, and a myrtle rough with thick, spear- like branches. I came up to it, and attempting to tear from the earth the verdant wood, that I might cover the altars with the leafy boughs, I observe a dreadful prodigy, and wondrous to relate. For from that tree which first is torn from the soil, its rooted fibres being burst asunder, drops of black blood distil, and stain the ground with gore: cold terror shakes my limbs, and my chill blood is congealed with fear. I again essay to tear off a limber bough from another, and thoroughly explore the latent cause: and from the rind of that other the purple blood descends. Raising in my mind many an anxious thought, I with reverence besought the rural nymphs, and father Mars, who presides over the Thracian territories, kindly to prosper the vision and avert evil from the omen. But when I attempted the boughs a third time with a more vigorous effort, and on my knees struggled against the opposing mould, (shall I speak, or shall I forbear?) a piteous groan is heard from the bottom of the rising ground, and a voice sent forth reaches my ears: `Aeneas, why dost thou tear an unhappy wretch? Spare me, now that I am in my grave; forbear to pollute with guilt thy pious hands: Troy brought me forth no stranger to you; nor is it from the trunk this blood distils.'"

40. Chaucer, Knightes Tale, 2339:--

"And as it queinte, it made a whisteling
As don these brondes wet in hir brenning,
And at the brondes ende outran anon
As it were blody dropes many on."

See also Spenser, Faerie Queene, I. ii. 30.

58. Pietro della Vigna, Chancellor of the Emperor Frederick II. Napier's account of him is as follows, Florentine History, I. 197-- "The fate of his friend and minister, Piero delle Vigne of Capua, if truly told, would nevertheless impress us with an unfavorable idea of his mercy and magnanimity: Piero was sent with Taddeo di Sessa as Frederick's advocate and representative to the Council of Lyons, which was assembled by his friend Innocent the Fourth, nominally to reform the Church, but really to impart more force and solemnity to a fresh sentence of excommunication and deposition. There Taddeo spoke with force and boldness for his master; but Piero was silent; and hence he was accused of being, like several others, bribed by the Pope, not only to desert the Emperor, but to attempt his life; and whether he were really culpable, or the victim of court intrigue, is still doubtful. Frederick, on apparently good evidence, condemned him to have his eyes burned out, and the sentence was executed at San Miniato al Tedesco: being afterwards sent on horseback to Pisa, where he was hated, as an object for popular derison, he died, as is conjectured, from the effects of a fall while thus cruelly exposed, and not by his own hand, as Dante believed and sung."

Milman, Latin Christianity, V. 499, gives the story thus:-- "Peter de Vine#a had been raised by the wise choice of Frederick to the highest rank and influence. All the acts of Frederick were attributed to his Chancellor. De Vinea, like his master, was a poet; he was one of the counsellors in his great scheme of legislation. Some rumors spread abroad that at the Council of Lyons, though Frederick had forbidden all his representatives from holding private intercourse with the Pope, De Vinea had many secret conferences with Innocent, and was accused of betraying his master's interests. Yet there was no seeming diminution in the trust placed in De Vinea. Still, to the end the Emperor's letters concerning the disaster at Parma are by the same hand. Over the cause of his disgrace and death, even in his own day, there was deep doubt and obscurity. The popular rumor ran that Frederick was ill; the physician of De Vinea prescribed for him; the Emperor having received some warning, addressed De Vine#a: `My friend, in thee I have full trust; art thou sure that this is medicine, not poison?' De Vinea replied: `How often has my physician ministered healthful medicines!--why are you now afraid?' Frederick took the cup, sternly commanded the physician to drink half of it. The physician threw himself at the King's feet, and, he fell, overthrew the liquor. But what was left was administered to some criminals, who died in agony. The Emperor wrung his hands and wept bitterly: `Whom can I now trust, betrayed by my own familiar friend? Never can I know security, never can I know joy more.' By one account Peter de Vinea was led ignominiously on an ass through Pisa, and thrown into prison, where he dashed his brains out against the wall. Dante's immortal verse has saved the fame of De Vinea: according to the poet he was the victim of wicked and calumnious jealousy."

See also Giuseppe de Blasiis, Vita et Opere di Pietro della Vigna.

112. Iliad, XII. 146: "Like two wild boars, which catch the coming tumult of men and dogs in the mountains, and, advancing obliquely to the attack, break down the wood about them, cutting it off at the roots." Chaucer, Legende of Goode Women:--

Envie ys lavendere of the court alway;
For she ne parteth neither nyght ne day
Out of the house of Cesar, thus saith Daunte."

120. "Lano," says Boccaccio, Comento, "was young gentleman of Siena, who had a large patrimony, and associating himself with a club of other young Sienese, called the Spendthrift Club, they also being all rich, together with them, not spending but squandering, in a short time he consumed all that he had and became very poor. " Joining some Florentine troops sent out against the Aretines, he was in a skirmish at the parish of Toppo, which Dante calls a joust; "and notwithstanding he might have saved himself," continues Boccaccio, "remembering his wretched condition, and it seeming to him a grievous thing to bear poverty, as he had been very rich, he rushed into the thick of the enemy and was slain, as perhaps he desired to be."

125. Some commentators interpret these dogs as poverty and despair, still pursuing their victims. The Ottimo Comento calls them "poor men who, to follow pleasure and the kitchens of other people, abandoned their homes and families, and are therefore transformed into hunting dogs, and pursue and devour their masters."

133. Jacopo da St. Andrea was a Paduan of like character and life as Lano. "Among his other squanderings," says the Ottimo Comento, "it is said that, wishing to see a grand and beautiful fire, he had one of his own villas burned."

143. Florence was first under the protection of the god Mars; afterwards under that of St. John the Baptist. But in Dante's time the statue of Mars was still standing on a column at the head of the Ponte Vecchio. It was over thrown by an inundation of the Arno in 1333. See Canto XV. Note 62.

149. Florence was destroyed by Totila in 450, and never by Attila. In Dante's time the two seem to have been pretty generally confounded. The Ottimo Comento remarks upon this point, "Some say that Totila was one person and Attila another; and some say that he was one and the same man."

150. Dante does not mention the name of this suicide; Boccaccio thinks, for one of two reasons; "either out of regard of his surviving relatives, who peradventure are honorable men, and therefore he did not wish to stain them with the infamy of so dishonest a death, or else (as in those times, as if by a malediction sent by God upon our city, many hanged themselves) that each one might apply it to either he pleased of these many."

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