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The Divine Comedy: Inferno

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












































Journeying along the pier, which crosses the sand, they are now so near the end of it as to hear the noise of the stream falling to the eighth circle, when they meet the spirits of three military men; who judging Dante, from his dress, to be a countryman of theirs, entreat him to stop. He complies, and speaks with them. The two Poets then reach the place where the water descends, being the termination of this third compartment in the seventh circle; and here Virgil having thrown down into the hollow a cord, wherewith Dante was girt, they behold at that signal a monstrous and horrible figure come swimming up to them.

Now was I where was heard the reverberation 1
Of water falling into the next round,
Like to that humming which the beehives make,

When shadows three together started forth, 4
Running, from out a company that passed
Beneath the rain of the sharp martyrdom.

Towards us came they, and each one cried out:
"Stop, thou; for by thy garb to us thou seemest
To be some one of our depraved city."

Ah me ! what wounds I saw upon their limbs,
Recent and ancient by the flames burnt in!
It pains me still but to remember it.

Unto their cries my teacher paused attentive;
He turned his face towards me, and " Now wait,
He said; " to these we should be courteous.

And if it were not for the fire that darts
The nature of this region, I should say
That haste were more becoming thee than them."

As soon as we stood still, they recommenced
The old refrain, and when they overtook us,
Formed of themselves a wheel, all three of them.

As champions stripped and oiled are wont to do,
Watching for their advantage and their hold,
Before they come to blows and thrusts between them,

Thus, wheeling round, did every one his visage
Direct to me, so that in opposite wise
His neck and feet continual journey made.

And,"If the misery of this soft place
Bring in disdain ourselves and our entreaties,"
Began one, "and our aspect black and blistered.

Let the renown of us thy mind incline
To tell us who thou art, who thus securely
Thy living feet dost move along through Hell.

He in whose footprints thou dost see me treading,
Naked and skinless though he now may go,
Was of a greater rank than thou dost think;

He was the grandson of the good Gualdrada; 37
His name was Guidoguerra, and in life
Much did he with his wisdom and his sword.

The other, who close by me treads the sand,
Tegghiaio Aldobrandi is, whose fame 41
Above there in the world should welcome be.

And I, who with them on the cross am placed,
Jacopo Rusticucci was; and truly 44
My savage wife, more than aught else, doth harm me." 45

Could I have been protected from the fire,
Below I should have thrown myself among them,
And think the Teacher would have suffered it;

But as I should have burned and baked myself,
My terror overmastered my good will,
Which made me greedy of embracing them.

Then I began:"Sorrow and not disdain
Did your condition fix within me so,
That tardily it wholly is stripped off,

As soon as this my Lord said unto me
Words, on account of which I thought within me
That people such as you are were approaching.

I of your city am; and evermore
Your labours and your honourable names
I with affection have retraced and heard.

I leave the gall, and go for the sweet fruits
Promised to me by the veracious Leader;
But to the centre first I needs must plunge."

"So may the soul for a long while conduct
Those limbs of thine," did he make answer
"And so may thy renown shine after thee,

Valour and courtesy, say if they dwell
Within our city, as they used to do,
Or if they wholly have gone out of it;

For Guglielmo Borsier, who is in torment 70
With us of late, and goes there with his comrades,
Doth greatly mortify us with his words."

"The new inhabitants and the sudden gains,
Pride and extravagance have in thee engendered,
Florence, so that thou weep'st thereat already!"

In this wise I exclaimed with face uplifted;
And the three, taking that for my reply,
Looked at each other, as one looks at truth

"If other times so little it doth cost thee,"
Replied they all, " to satisfy another,
Happy art thou, thus speaking at thy will !

Therefore, if thou escape from these dark places,
And come to rebehold the beauteous stars,
When it shall pleasure thee to say, 'I was,'

See that thou speak of us unto the people."
Then they broke up the wheel, and in their flight
It seemed as if their agile legs were wings.

Not an Amen could possibly be said
So rapidly as they had disappeared;
Wherefore the Master deemed best to depart.

I followed him, and little had we gone,
Before the sound of water was so near us,
That speaking we should hardly have been heard.

Even as that stream which holdeth its own course
The first from Monte Veso tow'rds the East, 95
Upon the left-hand slope of Apennine,

Which is above called Acquacheta, ere
It down descendeth into its low bed,
And at Forli is vacant of that name,

Reverberates there above San Benedetto
From Alps, by falling at a single leap,
Where for a thousand there were room enough; 102

Thus downward from a bank precipitate,
We found resounding that dark-tinted water,
So that it soon the ear would have offended.

I had a cord around about me girt, 106
And therewithal I whilom had designed
To take the panther with the painted skin.

After I this had all from me unloosed,
As my Conductor had commanded me,
I reached it to him, gathered up and coiled

Whereat he turned himself to the right side, 112
And at a little distance from the verge,
He cast it down into that deep abyss.

"It must needs be some novelty respond,"
I said within myself, " to the new signal
The Master with his eye is following so."

Ah me I how very cautious men should be
With those who not alone behold the act,
But with their wisdom look into the thoughts!

He said to me:"Soon there will upward come
What I await; and what thy thought is dreaming
Must soon reveal itself unto thy sight."

Aye to that truth which has the face of falsehood,
A man should close his lips as far as may be,
Because without his fault it causes shame;

But here I cannot; and, Reader, by the notes
Of this my Comedy to thee I swear,
So may they not be void of lasting favour,

Athwart that dense and darksome atmosphere
I saw a figure swimming upward come, 131
Marvellous unto every steadfast heart, 132

Even as he returns who goeth down
Sometimes to clear an anchor, which has grappled
Reef,or aught else that in the sea is hidden,

Who upward stretches, and draws in his feet.

Footnotes 16

Canto 16

1. In this Canto the subject of the preceding is continued.

4. Guidoguerra, Tegghiajo Aldobrandi, and Jacopo Rusticucci.

37. The good Gualdrada was a daughter of Bellincion Berti, the simple citizen of Florence in the olden time, who used to walk the streets "begirt with bone and leather," as mentioned in the Paradiso, XV. 112. Villani, I. 37, reports a story of her with all the brevity of a chronicler. Boccaccio tells the same story, as if he were writing a page of the Decameron. In his version it runs as follows.

"The Emperor Otho IV., being by chance in Florence and having gone to the festival of St. John, to make it more gay with his presence, it happened that to the church with the other city dames, as our custom is, came the wife of Messer Berto, and brought with her a daughter of hers called Gualdrada, who was still unmarried. And as they sat there with the others, the maiden being beautiful in face and figure, nearly all present turned round to look at her, and among the rest the Emperor. And having much commended her beauty and manners, he asked Messer Berto, who was near him, who she was. To which Messer Berto smiling answered: `She is the daughter of one who, I dare say, would let you kiss her if you wished.' These words the young lady heard, being near the speaker; and somewhat troubled by the opinion her father seemed to have of her, that, if he wished it, she would suffer herself to be kissed by any one in this free way, rising, and looking a moment at her father, and blushing with shame, said: `Father, do not make such courteous promises at the expense of my modesty, for certainly, unless by violence, no one shall ever kiss me, except him whom you shall give me as my husband.' The Emperor, on hearing this, much commended the words and the young lady..... And calling forward a noble youth named Guido Beisangue, who was afterwards called Guido the Elder, who as yet had no wife, he insisted upon his marrying her; and gave him as her dowry a large territory in Cassentino and the Alps, and made him Count thereof." Amp@ere says in his Voyage Dantesque, page 242: "Near the battle-field of Campaldino stands the little town of Poppi, whose castle was built in 1230 by the father of the Arnolfo who built some years later the Palazzo Vecchio of Florence. In this castle is still shown the bedroom of the beautiful and modest Gualdrada." Francesco Sansovino, an Italian novelist of the sixteenth century, has made Gualdrada the heroine of one of his tales, but has strangely perverted the old tradition. His story may be found in Roscoe's Italian Novelists, III. p. 107.

41. Tegghiajo Aldobrandi was a distinguished citizen of Florence, and opposed what Malespini calls "the ill counsel of the people, " that war should be declared against the Sienese, which war resulted in the battle of Monte Aperto and the defeat of the Florentines.

44. Jacopo Rusticucci was a rich Florentine gentleman, whose chief misfortune seems to have been an ill-assorted marriage. Whereupon the amiable Boccaccio in his usual Decameron style remarks: "Men ought not then to be over-hasty in getting married; on the contrary, they should come to it with much precaution." And then he indulges in five octavo pages against matrimony and woman in general.

45. See Macchiavelli's story of Belfagor, wherein Minos and Rhadamanthus, and the rest of the infernal judges, are greatly surprised to hear an infinite number of condemned souls "lament nothing so bitterly as their folly in having taken wives, attributing to them the whole of their misfortune."

70. Boccaccio, in his Comento, speaks of Guglielmo Borsiere as "a courteous gentleman of good breeding and excellent manners"; and in the Decameron, Gior. I. Nov.8, tells of a sharp rebuke administered by him to Messer Ermino de' Grimaldi, a miser of Genoa.

"It came to pass, that whilst by spending nothing he went on accumulating wealth, there came to Genoa a well-bred and witty gentleman called Gulielmo Borsiere, one nothing like the courtiers of the present day; who, to the great reproach of the debauched dispositions of such as would now be reputed fine gentlemen, should more properly style themselves asses, brought up amidst the filthiness and sink of mankind, rather than in courts.....

"This Gulielmo, whom I before mentioned, was much visited and respected by the better sort of people at Genoa; when having made some stay here, and hearing much talk of Ermino's sordidness, he became desirous of seeing him. Now Ermino had been informed of Gulielmo's worthy character, and having, however covetous he was, some small sparks of gentility, he received him in a courteous manner, and, entering into discourse together, he took him, and some Genoese who came along with him, to see a fine house which he had lately built: and when he had showed every part of it, he said: `Pray, sir, can you, who have heard and seen so much, tell me of something that was never yet seen, to have painted in my hall?' To whom Gulielmo, hearing him speak so simply, replied: `Sir, I can tell you of nothing which has never yet been seen, that I know of; unless it be sneezing, or some thing of that sort; but if you please, I can tell you of a thing which, I believe, you never saw.' Said Ermino (little expecting such an answer as he received), `I beg you would let me know what that is.' Gulielmo immediately replied, `Paint Liberality.' When Ermino heard this, such a sudden shame seized him, as quite changed his temper from what it had hitherto been; and he said: `Sir, I will have her painted in such a manner that neither you, nor any one else, shall be able to say, hereafter, that I am unacquainted with her.' And from that time such effect had Gulielmo's words upon him, he became the most liberal and courteous gentleman, and was the most respected, both by strangers and his own citizens, of any in Genoa."

95. Monte Veso is among the Alps, between Piedmont and Savoy, where the Po takes its rise. From this point eastward to the Adriatic, all the rivers on the left or northern slope of the Apennines are tributaries to the Po, until we come to the Montone, which above Forli is called Acquacheta. This is the first which flows directly into the Adriatic, and not into the Po. At least it was so in Dante's time. Now, by some change in its course, the Lamone, farther north, has opened itself a new outlet, and is the first to make its own way to the Adriatic. See Barlow, Contributions to the Study of the Divine Comedy, p. 131. This Comparison shows the delight which Dante took in the study of physical geography. To reach the waterfall of Acquacheta he traverses in thought the entire valley to the Po, stretching across the whole of Northern Italy.

102. Boccaccio's interpretation of this line, which has been adopted by most of the commentators since his time, is as follows: "I was for a long time in doubt concerning the author's meaning in this line; but being by chance at this monastery of San Benedetto, in company with the abbot, he told me that there had once been a discussion among the Counts who owned the mountain, about building a village near the waterfall, as a convenient place for a settlement, and bringing into it their vassals scattered on neighboring farms; but the leader of the project dying, it was not carried into effect; and that is what the author says, Ove dovea per mille, that is, for many, esser ricetto, that is home and habitation."

Doubtless grammatically the words will bear this meaning. But evidently the idea in the author's mind, and which he wished to impress upon the reader's, was that of a waterfall plunging at a single leap down a high precipice. To this idea, the suggestion of buildings and inhabitants is wholly foreign, and adds neither force nor clearness. Whereas, to say that the river plunged at once bound over a precipice high enough for a thousand cascades, presents at one a vivid picture to the imagination, and I have interpreted the line accordingly, making the contrast between una scesa and mille. It should not be forgotten that, while some editions read dovea, others read dovria, and even potria.

106. This cord has puzzled the commentators exceedingly. Boccaccio, Volpi, and Venturi, do not explain it. The anonymous author of the Ottimo, Benvenuto da Imola, Buti, Landino, Vellutello, and Daniello, all think it means fraud, which Dante had used in the pursuit of pleasure,--

"the panther with the painted skin." Lombardi is of opinion that, "by girding himself with the Franciscan cord, he had endeavored to restrain his sensual appetites, indicated by the panther; and still wearing the cord as a Tertiary of the Order, he makes it serve here to deceive Geryon, and bring him up." Biagioli understands by it "the humility with which a man should approach Science, because it is she that humbles the proud." Fraticelli thinks it means vigilance; Tommaseo, "the good faith with which he hoped to win the Florentines, and now wishes to deal with their fraud, so that it may not harm him"; and Gabrielli Rossetti says, "Dante flattered himself, acting as a sincere Ghibelline, that he should meet with good faith from his Guelf countrymen, and met instead with horrible fraud."

Dante elsewhere speaks of the cord in a good sense. In Purgatorio, VII.114, Peter of Aragon is "girt with the cord of every virtue. " In Inferno, XXVII. 92, it is mortification, "the cord that used to make those girt with it more meagre"; and in Paradiso, XI. 87, it is humility, "that family which had already girt the humble cord."

It will be remembered that St. Francis, the founder of the Cordeliers (the wearers of the cord), used to call his body asino, or ass, and to subdue it with the capestro, or halter. Thus the cord is made to symbolize the subjugation of the animal nature. This renders Lombardi's interpretation the most intelligible and satisfactory, though Virgil seems to have thrown the cord into the abyss simply because he had nothing else to throw, and not with the design of deceiving.

112. As a man does naturally in the act of throwing.

131. That Geryon, seeing the cord, ascends, expecting to find some moine defroque, and carry him down, as Lombardi suggests, is hardly admissible; for that was not his office. The spirits were hurled down to their appointed places, as soon as Minos doomed them. Inferno, V.15.

132. Even to a steadfast heart.

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