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The Divine Comedy: Inferno

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












































The monster Geryon is described; to whom while
Virgil is speaking in order that he may carry them both
down to the next circle, Dante, by permission, goes a
little further along the edge of the void, to descry the third
species of sinners contained in this compartment, namely,
those who have done violence to Art; and then returning to
his master they both descend, seated on the back of Geryon.

"BEHOLD the monster with the pointed tail, 1
Who cleaves the hills, and breaketh walls and weapons,
Behold him who infecteth all the world."

Thus unto me my Guide began to say,
And beckoned him that he should come to shore,
Near to the confine of the trodden marble;

And that uncleanly image of deceit
Came up and thrust ashore its head and bust,
But on the border did not drag its tail.

The face was as the face of a just man, 10
Its semblance outwardly was so benign,
And of a serpent all the trunk beside.

Two paws it had, hairy unto the armpits;
The back, and breast, and both the sides it had
Depicted o'er with nooses and with shields.

With colours more, groundwork or broidery
Never in cloth did Tartars make nor Turks, 17
Nor were such tissues by Arachne laid. 18

As sometimes wherries lie upon the shore,
That part are in the water, part on land;
And as among the guzzling Germans there,

The beaver plants himself to wage his war;
So that vile monster lay upon the border,
Which is of stone, and shutteth in the sand.

His tail was wholly quivering in the void,
Contorting upwards the envenomed fork,
That in the guise of scorpion armed its point.

The Guide said:"Now perforce must turn aside
Our way a little, even to that beast
Malevolent, that yonder coucheth him."

We therefore on the right side descended,
And made ten steps upon the outer verge,
Completely to avoid the sand and flame;

And after we are come to him, I see
A little farther off upon the sand
A people sitting near the hollow place.

Then said to me the Master:"So that full
Experience of this round thou bear away,
Now go and see what their condition is.

There let thy conversation be concise;
Till thou returnest I will speak with him,
That he concede to us his stalwart shoulders."

Thus farther still upon the outermost
Head of that seventh circle all alone
I went, where sat the melancholy folk.

Out of their eyes was gushing forth their woe;
This way, that way, they helped them with their hands
Now from the flames and now from the hot soil.

Not otherwise in summer do the dogs,
Now with the foot, now with the muzzle, when so
By fleas, or flies, or gadflies, they are bitten.

When I had turned mine eyes upon the faces
Of some, on whom the dolorous fire is falling,
Not one of them I knew; but I perceived

That from the neck of each there hung a pouch,
Which certain colour had, and certain blazon;
And thereupon it seems their eyes are feeding. 57

And as I gazing round me come among them,
Upon a yellow pouch I azure saw 59
That had the face and posture of a lion.

Proceeding then the current of my sight,
Another of them saw I, red as blood,
Display a goose more white than butter is. 63

And one, who with an azure sow and gravid 64
Emblazoned had his little pouch of white,
Said unto me:"What dost thou in this moat?

Now get thee gone; and since thou'rt still alive,
Know that a neighbour of mine, Vitaliano, 68
Will have his seat here on my left-hand side.

A Paduan am I with these Florentines;
Full many a time they thunder in mine ears,
Exclaiming, ' Come the sovereign cavalier,

He who shall bring the satchel with three goats;" 73
Then twisted he his mouth, and forth he thrust 74
His tongue, like to an ox that licks its nose.

And fearing lest my longer stay might vex
Him who had warned me not to tarry long,
Backward I turned me from those weary souls. 78

I found my Guide, who had already mounted
Upon the back of that wild animal,
And said to me: " Now be both strong and bold.

Now we descend by stairways such as these;
Mount thou in front, for I will be midway,
So that the tail may have no power to harm thee."

Such as he is who has so near the ague
Of quartan that his nails are blue already,
And trembles all, but looking at the shade;

Even such became I at those proffered words;
But shame in me his menaces produced,
Which maketh servant strong before good master.

I seated me upon those monstrous shoulders;
I wished to say, and yet the voice came not
As I believed, " Take heed that thou embrace me."

But he, who other times had rescued me
In other peril, soon as I had mounted,
Within his arms encircled and sustained me,

And said:"Now, Geryon, bestir thyself;
The circles large, and the descent be little;
Think of the novel burden which thou hast."

Even as the little vessel shoves from shore,
Backward, still backward, so he thence withdrew;
And when he wholly felt himself afloat,

There where his breast had been he turned his tail,
And that extended like an eel he moved,
And with his paws drew to himself the air.

A greater fear I do not think there was
What time abandoned Phaeton the reins, 107
Whereby the heavens, as still appears, were scorched; 108

Nor when the wretched Icarus his flanks 109
Felt stripped of feathers by the melting wax,
His father crying,"An ill way thou takest!"

Than was my own, when I perceived myself
On all sides in the air, and saw extinguished
The sight of everything but of the monster.

Onward he goeth, swimming slowly, slowly;
Wheels and descends, but I perceive it only
By wind upon my face and from below.

I heard already on the right the whirlpool
Making a horrible crashing under us;
Whence I thrust out my head with eyes cast downward.

Then was I still more fearful of the abyss;
Because I fires beheld, and heard laments,
Whereat I, trembling, all the closer cling.

I saw then, for before I had not seen it,
The turning and descending, by great horrors
That were approaching upon divers sides.

As falcon who has long been on the wing,
Who, without seeing either lure or bird,
Maketh the falconer say, " Ah me, thou stoopest,"

Descendeth weary, whence he started swiftly,
Thorough a hundred circles, and alights
Far from his master, sullen and disdainful;

Even thus did Geryon place us on the bottom,
Close to the bases of the rough-hewn rock,
And being disencumbered of our persons,

He sped away as arrow from the string. 136

Footnotes 17

Canto 17

1. In this Canto is described the punishment of Usurers, as sinners against Nature and Art. See Inf. XI. 109:--

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

The Monster Geryon, here used as the symbol of Fraud, was born of Chrysaor and Callirrhoe, and is generally represented by the poets as having three bodies and three heads. He was in ancient times King of Hesperia or Spain, living on Erytheia, the Red Island of sunset, and was slain by Hercules, who drove away his beautiful oxen. The nimble fancy of Hawthorne thus depicts him in his Wonder- Book, p. 148:--

"But it was really and truly an old man? Certainly at first sight it looked very like one; but on closer inspection, it rather seemed to be some kind of a creature that lived in the sea. For on his legs and arms there were scales, such as fishes have; he was web-footed and web-fingered, after the fashion of a duck; and his long beard, being of a greenish tinge, had more the appearance of a tuft of sea-weed than of an ordinary beard. Have you never seen a stick of timber, that has been long tossed about by the waves, and has got all overgrown with barnacles, and at last, drifting ashore, seems to have been thrown up from the very deepest bottom of the sea? Well, the old man would have put you in mind of just such a wave-tost spar."

The three bodies and three heads, which old poetic fable has given to the monster Geryon, are interpreted by modern prose as meaning the three Balearic Islands, Majorca, Minorca, and Ivica, over which he reigned.

10. Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, XIV. 87, Rose's Tr., thus depicts Fraud: --

"With pleasing mien, grave walk, and decent vest,
Fraud rolled her eyeballs humbly in her head;
And such benign and modest speech possest,
She might a Gabriel seem who Ave said.
Foul was she and deformed in all the rest;
But with a mantle, long and widely spread,
Concealed her hideous parts; and evermore
Beneath the stole a poisoned dagger wore."

The Gabriel saying Ave is from Dante, Purgatory, X. 40:-- "One would have sworn that he was saying Ave."

17. Tartars nor Turks, "Who are most perfect masters therein," says Boccaccio, "as we can clearly see in Tartarian cloths, which truly are so skilfully woven, that no painter with his brush could equal, much less surpass them. The Tartars are...." And with this unfinished sentence close the Lectures upon Dante, begun by Giovanni Boccaccio on Sunday, August 9, 1373, in the church of San Stefano, in Florence. That there were some critics among his audience is apparent from this sonnet, which he addressed "to one who had censured his public Exposition of Dante." See D. G. Rosetti, Early Italian Poets, p. 447:--

"If Dante mourns, there wheresoe'er he be,
That such high fancies of a soul so proud
Should be laid open to the vulgar crowd,
(As, touching my Discourse, I'm told by thee,)
This were my grevious pain; and certainly
My proper blame shoud not be disavowed;
Though hereof somewhat, I declare aloud,
Where due to others, not alone to me.
False hopes, true poverty, and therewithal
The blinded judgement of a host of friends,
And their enteaties, made that I did thus.
But of all this there is no gain at all
Unto the thankless souls with whose base ends
Nothing agrees that's great or generous."

18. Ovid, Metamorph. VI.:--

"One at the loom so excellently skilled
That to the Goddess she refused to yield."

57. Their love of gold still haunting them in the other world.

59. The arms of the Gianfigliacci of Florence.

63. The arms of the Ubbriachi of Florence.

64. The Scrovigni of Padua.

68. Vitaliano del Dente of Padua.

73. Giovanni Bujamonte, who seems to have had the ill-repute of being the greatest usurer of his day, called here in irony the "soverign cavalier."

74. As the ass-driver did in the streets of Florence, when Dante beat him for singing his verses amiss. See Sachetti, Nov. CXV.

78. Dante makes as short work with these usurers, as if he had been a curious traveller walking through the Ghetto of Rome, or the Judengasse of Frankfort.

107. Ovid, Metamorph. II., Addison's Tr.:--

"Half dead with sudden fear he dropt the reins;
The horses felt `em loose upon their manes,
And, flying out through all the plains above,
Ran uncontrolled where-er their fury drove;
Rushed on the stars, and through a pathless way
Of unknown regions hurried on the day.
And now above, and now below they flew,
And near the earth the burning chariot drew.

At once from life and from the chariot driv'n,
Th' ambitious boy fell thunder-struck from heav'n.
The horses started with a sudden bound,
And flung the reins and chariot to the ground:
The studden harness from their necks they broke,
Here fell a wheel, and here a silver spoke,
Here were the beam and axle torn away;

And, scatter'd o'er the earth, the shining fragments lay. The
breathless Phaeton, with flaming hair,
Shot from the chariot, like a falling star,
That in a summer's ev'ning from the top
Of heav'n drops down, or seems at least to drop;
Till on the Po his blasted corpse was hurled,
Far from his counry, in the Western World."

108. The Milky Way. In Spanish El camino de Santiago; in the Northern Mythology the pathway of the ghosts going to Valhalla.

109. Ovid, Metamorph. VIII., Croxall's Tr.:--

"The soft'ning was, that felt a nearer sun,
Dissolv'd apace, and soon began to run.
The youth in vain his melting pinions shakes,
His feathers gone, no longer air he takes.
O father, father, as he strove to cry,
Down to the sea he tumbled from on high,
And found his fate; yet still subsists by fame,
Among those waters that retain his name.
The father, now no more a father, cries,
Ho, Icarus! where are you? as he flies:
Where shall I seek my boy? he cries again,
And saw his feathers scattered on the main."

136. Lucan, Pharsal. I.:--

"To him the Balearic sling is slow,
And the shaft loiters from the Parthian bow."

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