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The Divine Comedy: Inferno

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












































The Poet describes the situation and form of the eighth
circle, divided into ten gulfs, which contain as many different
descriptions of fraudulent sinners; but in the present Canto he
treats only of two sorts; but in the present Canto he treats
only of two sorts: the first is of those who, either for their own
pleasure or for that of another, have seduced any woman from
her duty; and these are scourged of demons in the first gulf;
the other sort is of flatterers, who in the second gulf are condemned
to remain immersed in filth.

THERE is a place in Hell called Malebolge, 1
Wholly of stone and of an iron colour,
As is the circle that around it turns.

Right in the middle of the field malign
There yawns a well exceeding wide and deep,
Of which its place the structure will recount.

Round, then, is that enclosure which remains
Between the well and foot of the high, hard bank,
And has distinct in valleys ten its bottom.

As where for the protection of the walls
Many and many moats surround the castles,
The part in which they are a figure forms,

Just such an image those presented there;
And as about such strongholds from their gates
Unto the outer bank are little bridges,

So from the precipice's base did crags
Project, which intersected dikes and moats,
Unto the well that truncates and collects them.

Within this place, down shaken from the back
Of Geryon, we found us; and the Poet
Held to the left, and I moved on behind.

Upon my right hand I beheld new anguish,
New torments, and new wielders of the lash,
Wherewith the foremost Bolgia was replete.

Down at the bottom were the sinners naked;
This side the middle came they facing us,
Beyond it, with us, but with greater steps;

Even as the Romans, for the mighty host,
The year of Jubilee, upon the bridge, 29
Have chosen a mode to pass the people over;

For all upon one side towards the Castle 31
Their faces have, and go unto St. Peter's;
On the other side they go towards the Mountain.

This side and that, along the livid stone
Beheld I horned demons with great scourges,
Who cruelly were beating them behind.

Ah me!how they did make them lift their legs
At the first blows ! and sooth not any one
The second waited for, nor for the third.

While I was going on, mine eyes by one
Encountered were; and straight I said:"Already
With sight of this one I am not unfed."

Therefore I stayed my feet to make him out,
And with me the sweet Guide came to a stand,
And to my going somewhat back assented;

And he, the scourged one. thought to hide himself,
Lowering his face, but little it availed him;
For said I:"Thou that castest down thine eyes

If false are not the features which thou bearest;
Thou art Venedico Caccianimico; 50
But what doth bring thee to such pungent sauces ? " 51

And he to me:"Unwillingly I tell it;
But forces me thine utterance distinct,
Which makes me recollect the ancient world.

I was the one who the fair Ghisola
Induced to grant the wishes of the Marquis,
Howe'er the shameless story may be told.

Not the sole Bolognese am I who weeps here;
Nay, rather is this place so full of them,
That not so many tongues to-day are taught

'Twixt Reno and Savena to say sipa; 61
And if thereof thou wishest pledge or proof,
Bring to thy mind our avaricious heart."

While speaking in this manner, with his scourge
A demon smote him, and said:"Get thee
Pander, there are no women here for coin."

I joined myself again unto mine Escort;
Thereafterward with footsteps few we came
To where a crag projected from the bank.

This very easily did we ascend,
And turning to the right along its ridge,
From those eternal circles we departe. 72

When we were there, where it is hollowed out
Beneath, to give a passage to the scourged,
The Guide said: " Wait, and see that on thee strike

The vision of those others evil-born,
Of whom thou hast not yet beheld the faces,
Because together with us they have gone."

From the old bridge we looked upon the train
Which tow'rds us came upon the other border,
And which the scourges in like manner smite.

And the good Master, without my inquiring,
Said to me: " See that tall one who is coming,
And for his pain seems not to shed a tear;

Still what a royal aspect he retains!
That Jason is, who by his heart and cunning 86
The Colchians of the Ram made destitute.

He by the isle of Lemnos passed along
After the daring women pitiless
Had unto death devoted all their males.

There with his tokens and with ornate words
Did he deceive Hypsipyle, the maiden 92
Who first, herself, had all the rest deceived.

There did he leave her pregnant and forlorn;
Such sin unto such punishment condemns him,
And also for Medea is vengeance done.

With him go those who in such wise deceive;
And this sufficient be of the first valley
To know, and those that in its jaws it holds."

We were already where the narrow path
Crosses athwart the second dike, and forms
Of that a buttress for another arch.

Thence we heard people, who are making moan
In the next Bolgia, snorting with their muzzles,
And with their palms beating upon themselves

The margins were incrusted with a mould
By exhalation from below, that sticks there,
And with the eyes and nostrils wages war.

The bottom is so deep, no place suffices
To give us sight of it, without ascending
The arch's back, where most the crag impends.

Thither we came, and thence down in the moat
I saw a people smothered in a filth
That out of human privies seemed to flow

And whilst below there with mine eve I search,
I saw one with his head so foul with ordure,
It was not clear if he were clerk or layman.

He screamed to me:"Wherefore art thou so eager
To look at me more than the other foul ones?"
And I to him:"Because, if I remember,

I have already seen thee with dry hair,
And thou'rt Alessio Interminei of Lucca; 122
Therefore I eye thee more than all the others."

And he thereon, belabouring his pumpkin:
"The flatteries have submerged me here below,
Wherewith my tongue was never surfeited."

Then said to me the Guide:"See that thou thrust
Thy visage somewhat farther in advance,
That with thine eyes thou well the face attain

Of that uncleanly and dishevelled drab,
Who there doth scratch herself with filthy nails,
And crouches now, and now on foot is standing.

Thais the harlot is it, who replied 133
Unto her paramour, when he said,'Have I
Great gratitude from thee ?'--' Nay, marvellous ;

And herewith let our sight be satisfied." 136

Footnotes 18

Canto 18

1. Here begins the third division of the Inferno, embracing the Eight and Ninth Circles, in which the Fraudulent are punished.

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

The Eighth Circle is called Malebolge, or Evil-budgets, and consists of ten concentric ditches, or Bolge of stone, with dikes between, and rough bridges running across them to the centre like the spokes of a wheel. In the First Bolgia are punished Seducers, and in the Second, Flatterers.

2. Mr. Ruskin, Modern Painters, III. p. 237, says:-- "Our slates and granites are often of very lovely colors; but the Apennine limestone is so gray and toneless, that I know not any mountain district so utterly melancholy as those which are composed of this rock, when unwooded. Now, as far as I can discover from the internal evidence in his poem, nearly all Dante's mountain wanderings had been upon this ground. He had journeyed once or twice among the Alps, indeed, but seems to have been impressed chiefly by the road from Garda to Trent, and that along the Cornice, both of which are either upon those limestones, or a dark serpentine, which shows hardly any color till it is polished. It is not ascertainable that he had ever seen rock scenery of the finely colored kind, aided by the Alpine mosses: I do not know the fall at Forli (Inferno, XVI. 99), but every other scene to which he alludes is among these Apennine limestones; and when he wishes to give the idea of enormous mountain size, he names Tabernicch and Pietra- pana,--the one clearly chosen only for the sake of the last syllable of its name, in order to make a sound as of crackling ice, with the two sequent rhymes of the stanza,-- and the other is an Apennine near Lucca.

"His idea, therefore, of rock color, founded on these experiences, is that of a dull or ashen gray, more or less stained by the brown of iron ochre, precisely as the Apennine limestones nearly always are; the gray being peculiarly cold and disagreeable. As we go down the very hill which stretches out from Pietra-pana towards Lucca, the stones laid by the road-side to mend it are of this ashen gray, with efflorescences of manganese and iron in the fissures. The whole of Malebolge is made of this rock, `All wrought in stone of iron-colored grain.'"

29. The year of Jubilee 1300. Mr. Norton, in his Notes of Travel and Study in Italy, p. 255, thus describes it:--

"The beginning of the new century brought many pilgrims to the Papal city, and the Pope, seeing to what account the treasury of indulgences possessed by the Church might now be turned, hit upon the plan of promising plenary indulgence to all who, during the year, should visit with fit dispositions the holy places of Rome.

He accordingly, in the most solemn manner, proclaimed a year of Julilee, to date from the Christmas of 1299, and appointed a similar celebration for each hundreth year thereafter. The report of the marvellous promise spread rapidly through Europe; and as the year advanced, pilgrims poured into Italy from remote as well as from neighbouring lands. The roads leading to Rome were dusty with bands of travellers pressing forward to gain the unwonted indulgence. The Crusades had made travel familiar to men, and a journey to Rome seemed easy to those who had dreamed of the Farther East, of Constantinople, and Jerusalem. Giovanni Villani, who was among the pilgrims from Florence, declares that there were never less than two hundred thousand strangers at Rome during the year; and Guglielmo Ventura, the chronicler of Asti, reports the total number of pilgrims at not less than two millions. The picture which he draws of Rome during the Jubilee is a curious one. ` Mirandum est quod passim ibant viri et mulieres, qui anno illo Romae fuerunt quo ego ibi fui et per dies xv. steti. De pane, vino, carnibus, piscibus, et avena, bonum mercatum ibi erat; foenum carissimum ibi fuit; hospitia carissima; taliter quod lectus meus et equi mei super faeno et avena constabat mihi tornesium unum grossum. Exiens de Roma in vigilia Nativitatis Christi, vidi turbam magnam, quam dinumerare nemo poterat; et fama erat inter Romanos, quod ibi fuerant plusquam vigenti centum millia virorum et mulierum. Pluries ego vidi ibi tam viros quam mulieres conculcatos sub pedibus aliorum; et etiam egomet in eodem periculo plures vices evasi. Papa innumerabilem pecuniam ab eisdem recepit, quia die ac nocte duo clerici stabant ad altare Sancti Pauli tenentes in eorum manibus rastellos, rastellantes pecuniam infinitam. ' To accommodate the throng of pilgrims, and to protect them as far as possible from the danger which Ventura feelingly describes, a barrier was erected along the middle of the bridge under the castle of Sant' Angelo, so that those goint to St. Peter's and those coming from the church, passing on opposite sides, might not interfere with each other. It seems not unlikely that Dante himself was one of the crowd who thus crossed the old bridge, over whose arches, during this year, a flood of men was flowing almost as constantly as the river's flood ran through below."

31. The castle is the Castle of St. Angelo, and the mountain Monte Gianicolo. See Barlow, Study of Dante p. 126. Others say Monte Giordano.

50. "This Caccinimico," says Benvenuto da Imola, "was a Bolognese; a liberal, noble, pleasant, and very powerful man." Nevertheless he was so utterly corrupt as to sell his sister, the fair Ghisola, to the Marquis of Este.

51. In the original the word is salse. "In Bologna," says Benvenuto da Imola, "the name of Salse is given to a certain valley outside the city, and near to Santa Maria in Monte, into which the mortal remains of desperadoes, usurers, and other infamous persons are wont to be thrown. Hence I have sometimes heard boys in Bologna say to each other, by way of insult, `Your father was thrown into the Salse.'"

61. The two rivers between which Bologna is situated. In the Bolognese dialect sipa is used for si.

72. They cease going round the circles as heretofore, and now go straight forward to the centre of the abyss.

86. For the story of Jason, Medea, and the Golden Fleece, see Ovid, Metamorph. VII. Also Chaucer, Legende of Goode Women :--

"Thou roote of fals loveres, duke Jason!
Thou slye devourer and confusyon
Of gentil wommen, gentil creatures!"

92. When the women of Lemnos put to death all the male inhabitans of the island, Hypsipyle concealed her father Thaos, and spared his life. Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautics, II., Fawke's Tr.: --

"Hypsipyle alone, illustrious maid,
Spared her sire Thaos, who the sceptre swayed."

122. "Allessio Interminelli," says Benvenuto da Imola, "a soldier, a nobleman, and of gentle manners was of Lucca, and from his descended that tyrant Castruccio who filled all Tuscany with fear, and was lord of Pisa, Lucca, and Pistoja, of whom Dante makes no mention, because he became illustrious after the author's death. Alessio took such delight in flattery, that he could not open his mouth without flattering. He besmeared everybody, even the lowest menials. " The Ottimo says, that in the dialect of Lucca the head "was facetiously called a pumpkin."

133. Thais, the famous courtesan of Athens. Terence, The Eunuch, Act III, Sc. I:--

"Thraso. Did Tha, is really return me many thanks?
"Gnatho. Exceeding thanks.
"Thraso. Was she delighted, say you?
"Gnatho. Not so much, indeed, at the present itself, as because it was given by you; really, in right earnest, she does exult at that."

136. "The filthiness of some passages," exclaims Landor, Pentameron,p. 15, "would disgrace the drunkenest horse-dealer; and the names of such criminals are recorded by the poet, as would be forgotten by the hangman in six months."

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