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The Divine Comedy: Inferno

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












































The Poet relates the punishment of such as presumed, while living, to predict future events. It is to have their faces reversed and set contrary way on their limbs, so that, being deprived of the power to see before them, they are constrained ever to walk backward. Among these Virgil points out to him Amphiaraus, Tiresias, Aruns, and Manto (from the mention of whom he takes occasion to speak of the origin of Mantua), together with several others, who had practiced the arts of divination and astrology.

OF a new pain behoves me to make verses 1
And give material to the twentieth canto
Of the first song, which is of the submerged.

I was already thoroughly disposed
To peer down into the uncovered depth,
Which bathed itself with tears of agony;

And people saw I through the circular valley,
Silent and weeping, coming at the pace
Which in this world the Litanies assume. 9

As lower down my sight descended on them,
Wondrously each one seemed to be distorted
From chin to the beginning of the chest;

For tow'rds the reins the countenance was turned, 13
And backward it behoved them to advance,
As to look forward had been taken from them.

Perchance indeed by violence of palsy
Some one has been thus wholly turned awry;
But I ne'er saw it. nor believe it can be.

As God may let thee, Reader, gather fruit
From this thy reading,think now for thyself
How I could ever keep my face unmoistened,

When our own image near me I beheld
Distorted so, the weeping of the eyes
Along the fissure bathed the hinder parts.

Truly I wept, leaning upon a peak
Of the hard crag, so that my Escort said
To me:"Art thou, too, of the other fools?

Here pity lives when it is wholly dead;
Who is a greater reprobate than he
Who feels compassion at the doom divine?

Lift up,lift up thy head, and see for whom
opened the earth before the Thebans' eyes;
Wherefore they all cried: ' Whither rushest thou,

Amphiaraus? Why dost leave the war?' 34
And downward ceased he not to fall amain
As far as Minos, who lays hold on all.

See, he has made a bosom of his shoulders!
Because he wished to see too far before him
Behind he looks, and backward goes his way:

Behold Tiresias, who his semblance changed, 40
When from a male a female he became,
His members being all of them transformed;

And afterwards was forced to strike once more
The two entangled serpents with his rod,
Ere he could have again his manly plumes. 45

That Aruns is, who backs the other's belly, 46
Who in the hills of Luni, there where grubs
The Carrarese who houses underneath,

Among the marbles white a cavern had
For his abode; whence to behold the stars
And sea, the view was not cut off from him.

And she there, who is covering up her breasts,
Which thou beholdest not, with loosened tresses,
And on that side has all the hairy skin,

Was Manto, who made quest through many lands, 55
Afterwards tarried there where I was born;
Whereof I would thou list to me a little.

After her father had from life departed,
And the city of Bacchus had become enslaved,
She a long season wandered through the world.

Above in beauteous Italy lies a lake
At the Alp's foot that shuts in Germany
Over Tyrol, and has the name Benaco. 63

By a thousand springs, I think, and more, is bathed,
'Twixt Garda and Val Camonica, Pennino, 65
With water that grows stagnant in that lake.

Midway a place is where the Trentine Pastor,
And he of Brescia, and the Veronese
Might give his blessing, if he passed that way. 69

Sitteth Peschiera, fortress fair and strong, 70
To front the Brescians and the Bergamasks,
Where round about the bank descendeth lowest.

There of necessity must fall whatever
In bosom of Benaco cannot stay,
And grows a river down through verdant pastures.

Soon as the water doth begin to run
No more Benaco is it called, but Mincio, 77
Far as Governo, where it falls in Po.

Not far it runs before it finds a plain
In which it spreads itself, and makes it marshy,
And oft 'tis wont in summer to be sickly.

Passing that way the virgin pitiless 82
Land in the middle of the fen descried,
Untilled and naked of inhabitants;

There to escape all human intercourse,
She with her servants stayed, her arts to practise
And lived, and left her empty body there.

The men, thereafter, who were scattered round,
Collected in that place, which was made strong
By the lagoon it had on every side;

They built their city over those dead bones,
And, after her who first the place selected,
Mantua named it, without other omen. 93

Its people once within more crowded were,
Ere the stupidity of Casalodi 95
From Pinamonte had received deceit.

Therefore I caution thee, if e'er thou hearest
Originate my city otherwise,
No falsehood may the verity defraud."

And I:"My Master, thy discourses are
To me so certain, and so take my faith,
That unto me the rest would be spent coals.

But tell me of the people who are passing,
If any one note-worthy thou beholdest,
For only unto that my mind reverts."

Then said he to me:"He who from the cheek
Thrusts out his beard upon his swarthy shoulders
Was, at the time when Greece was void of males,

So that there scarce remained one in the cradle,
An augur, and with Calchas gave the moment, 110
In Aulis, when to sever the first cable.

Eryphylus his name was, and so sings 112
My lofty Tragedy in some part or other;
That knowest thou well, who knowest the whole of it.

The next, who is so slender in the flanks,
Was Michael Scott, who of a verity 116
Of magical illusions knew the game.

Behold Guido Bonatti, behold Asdente 118
Who now unto his leather and his thread
Would fain have stuck, but he too late repents.

Behold the wretched ones, who left the needle,
The spool and rock, and made them fortune-tellers;
They wrought their magic spells with herb and image.

But come now, for already holds the confines
Of both the hemispheres, and under Seville
Touches the ocean-wave, Cain and the thorns, 126

And yesternight the moon was round already;
Thou shouldst remember well it did not harm thee
From time to time within the forest deep."

Thus spake he to me, and we walked the while.

Footnotes 20

Canto 20

1. In the Fourth Bolgia are punished the Soothsayers:--

"Because they wished to see too far before them,
Backward they look, and backward make their way."

9. Processions chanting prayers and supplications.

13. Ignaro in Spenser's Faerie Queene, I. viii. 31:--

"But very uncouth sight was to behold
How he did fashion his untoward pace;
For as he forward moved his footing old,
So backward still was turned his wrinkled face."

34. Amphiaraus was one of the seven kings against Thebes. Foreseeing his own fate, he concealed himself, to avoid going to the war; but his wife Eriphyle, bribed by a diamond necklace (as famous in ancient story as the Cardinal de Rohan's in modern), revealed his hiding-place, and he went to his doom with the others. Aeschylus, The Seven against Thebes:

"I will tell of the sixth, a man most prudent and in valor the best, the seer, the mighty Amphiaraus.... And through his mouth he gives utterance to this speech.... `I, for my part, in very truth shall fatten this soil, seer as I am, buried beneath a hostile earth.'"

Statius, Thebaid, VIII. 47, Lewis's Tr.:--
"Bought of my treacherous wife for cursed gold,
And in the list of Argive chiefs enrolled,
Resigned to fate I sought the Theban plain;
Whence flock the shades that scarce thy realm contain;
When, how my soul yet dreads! an earthquake came,
Big with destruction, and my trembling frame,
Rapt from the midst of gaping thousands, hurled
To night eternal in thy nether world."

40. The Theban soothsayer. Ovid, Met., III., Addison's Tr.:--

"It happen'd once, within a shady wood,
Two twisted snakes he in conjunction view'd,
When with his staff their slimy folds he broke,
And lost his manhood at the fatal stroke.
But, after seven revolving years, he view'd
The self-same serpents in the self-same wood:
`And if,' says he, `such virtue in you lie,
That he who dares your slimy folds untie
Must change his kind, a second stroke I'll try.'
Again he struck the snakes, and stood again
New-sex'd, and straight recovered into man......

When Juno fired,
More than so trivial an affair required,
Deprived him, in her fury, of his sight,
And left him groping round in sudden night.
But Jove (for so it is in heav'n decreed
That no one god repeal another's deed)
Irradiates all his soul with inward light,
And with the prophet's art relieves the want of sight."

45. His beard. The word "plumes" is used by old English writers in this sense. Ford, Lady's Trial:--

"Now the down of softness is exchanged for plumes of age."

See also Purg. I. 42.

46. An Etrurian soothsayer. Lucan, Pharsalia, I., Rowe's Tr.:--

"Of these the chief, for learning famed and age,
Aruns by name, a venerable sage,
At Luna lived."

Ruskin, Modern Painters, III. p. 246, says:--
"But in no part of the poem do we find allusion to mountains in any other than a stern light; nor the slightest evidence that Dante cared to look at them. From that hill of San Miniato, whose steps he knew so well, the eye commands, at the farther extremity of the Val d'Arno, the whole purple range of the mountains of Carrara, peaked and mighty, seen always against the sunset light in silent outline, the chief forms that rule the scene as twilight fades away. By this vision Dante seems to have been wholly unmoved, and, but for Lucan's mention of Aruns at Luna, would seemingly not have spoken of the Carrara hills in the whole course of his poem: when he does allude to them, he speaks of their white marble, and their command of stars and sea, but has evidently no regard for the hills themselves. There is not a single phrase or syllable throughout the poem which indicates such a regard. Ugolino, in his dream, seemed to himself to be in the mountains, `by cause of which the Pisan cannot see Lucca'; and it is impossible to look up from Pisa to that hoary slope without remembering the awe that there is in the passage; neverthelss it was as a hunting-ground only that he remembered these hills. Adam of Brescia, tormented with eternal thirst, remembers the hills of Romena, but only for the sake of their sweet waters."

55. Manto, daughter of Tiresias, who fled from Thebes, the "City of Bacchus," when it became subject to the tyranny of Cleon.

63. Lake Benacus is now called the Lago di Garda. It is pleasantly alluded to by Claudian in his "Old Man of Verona," who has seen "the grove grow old coeval with himself."

"Verona seems
To him remoter than the swarthy Ind;
He deems the Lake Benacus as the shore
Of the Red Sea."

65. The Pennine Alps, or Alpes Paenae, watered by the brooklets flowing into the Sarca, which is the principal tributary of Benaco.

69. The place where the three dioceses of Trent, Brescia, and Verona meet.

70. At the outlet of the lake.

77. Aeneid, X.:--

"Mincius crowned with sea-green reeds."

Milton, Lycidas:--

"Smooth-sliding Mincius, crowned with vocal reeds."

82. Manto. Benvenuto da Imola says: "Virgin should here be rendered Virago."

93. Aeneid, X.: "Ocnus,....son of the prophetic Manto, and of the Tuscan river, who gave walls and the name of his mother to thee, O Mantua!"

95. Pinamonte dei Buonacossi, a bold, ambitious man, persuaded Alberto, Count of Casalodi and Lord of Mantua, to banish to their estates the chief nobles of the city, and then, stirring up a popular tumult, fell upon the rest, laying waste their houses, and sending them into exile or to prison, and thus greatly depopulating the city.

110. Iliad, I. 69: "And Calchas, the son of Thestor, arose, the best of augurs, a man who knew the present, the future, and the past, and who had guided the ships of the Achaeans to Ilium, by the power of prophecy which Phoebus Apollo gave him."

112. Aeneid, II. 114: "In suspense we send Eurypylus to consult the oracle of Apollo, and he brings back from the shrine these mournful words: `O Greeks, ye appeased the winds with blood and a virgin slain, when first ye came to the Trojan shores; your return is to be sought by blood, and atonement made by a Grecian life.'" Dante calls Virgil's poem a Tragedy, to make its sustained and lofty style, in contrast with that of his own Comedy, of which he has already spoken once, Canto XVI. 138, and speaks again, Canto XXI. 2; as if he wished the reader to bear in mind that he is wearing the sock, and not the buskin.

116. "Michael Scott, the Magician," says Benvuenuto da Imola, "practised divination at the court of Frederick II., and dedicated to him a book on natural history, which I have seen, and in which among other things he treats of Astrology, then deemed infallible... . It is said, moreover, that he foresaw his own death, but could not escape it. He had prognosticated that he should be killed by the falling of a small stone upon his head, and always wore an iron skull-cap under his hood, to prevent this disaster. But entering a church on the festival of Corpus Domini, he lowered his hood in sign of veneration, not of Christ, in whom he did not believe, but to deceive the common people, and a small stone fell from aloft on his bare head."

The reader will recall the midnight scene of the monk of St. Mary's and William of Deloraine in Scott's Law of the Last Minstrel, Canto II.:--

"In these far climes it was my lot
To meet the wondrous Michael Scott;
A wizard of such dreaded fame
That when, in Salamanca's cave,
Him listed his magic wand to wave,
The bells would ring in Notre Dame!
Some of his skill he taught to me;
And, warrior, I could say to thee
The words that cleft Eildon hills in three,
And bridled the Tweed with a curb of stone;
But to speak them were a deadly sin;
and for having but thought them my heart within,
A treble penance must be done."

And the opening of the tomb to recover the Magic Book:--

"Before their eyes the wizard lay,
As if he had not been dead a day.
His hoary beard in silver rolled,
He seemed some seventy winters old;
A palmer's amice wrapped him round,
With a wrought Spanish baldric bound,
Like a pilgrim from beyond the sea;
His left hand held his book of might;
A silver cross was in his right;
The lamp was placed beside his knee:
High and majestic was his look,
At which the fellest fiends had shook,
And all unruffled was his face:--
They trusted his soul had gotten grace."

See also Appendix to the Lay of the Last Minstrel.

118. Guido Bonatti, a tiler and astrologer of Forli, who accompanied Guido di Montefeltro when he marched out of Forli to attack the French "under the great oak." Villani, VII. 81, in a passage in which the he and him get a little entangled, says: "It is said that the Count of Montefeltro was guided by divination and the advice of Guido Bonatti (a tiler who had become an astrologer), or some other strategy, and he gave the orders; and in this enterprise he gave him the gonfalon and said, `So long as a rag of it remains, wherever thou bearest it, thou shalt be victorious'; but I rather think his victories were owing to his own wits and his mastery in war."

Benvenuto da Imola reports the following anecdote of the same personages. "As the Count was standing one day in the large and beautiful square of Forli, there came a rustic mountaineer and gave him a basket of pears. And when the Count said, `Stay and sup with me,' the rustic answered, `My Lord, I wish to go home before it rains; for infallibly there will be much rain today. '

The Count, wondering at him, sent for Guido Bonatti, as a great astrologer, and said to him, `Dost thou hear what this man says?' Guido answered, `He does not know what he is saying; but wait a little.' Guido went to his study, and, having taken his astrolable, observed the aspect of the heavens. And on returning he said that it was impossible it should rain that day. But the rustic obstinately affirmed what he had said, Guido asked him, `Howe dost thou know?' The rustic answered, `Because to-day my ass, in coming out of the stable, shook his head and picked up his ears, and whenever he does this, it is a certain sign that the weather will soon change.' Then Guido replied, `Supposing this to be so, how dost thou know there will be much rain"' `Because,' said he, `my ass, with his eyes pricked up, turned his head aside, and wheeled about more than usual.' Then, with the Count's leave, the rustic departed in haste, much fearing the rain, though the weather was very clear. And an hour afterwards, lo, it began to thunder, and there was a great down-pouring of waters, like a deluge. Then Guido began to cry out, with great indignation and derision, `Who has deluded me? Who has put me to shame?' And for a long time this was a great source of merriment among the people."

Asdente, a cobbler of Parma. "I think he must have had acuteness of mind, although illiterate; some having the gift of prophecy by the inspiration of Heaven." Dante mentions him in the Convito, IV. 16, where he says that, if nobility consisted in being known and talked about, "Asdente the shoemaker of Parma would be more noble than any of his fellow-citizens."

126. The moon setting in the sea west of Seville. In the Italian popular tradition to which Dante again alludes, Par. II. 51, the Man in the Moon is Cain with his Thorns. This belief seems to have been current too in England, Midsummer Night's Dream, III, 1: "Or else one must come in with a bush of thorns and a lantern, and say he comes to disfigure, or to present, the person of moon-shine. " And again, V. 1: "The man should be put into the lantern. How is it else the man i' the moon?.....All that I have to say is to tell you, that the lantern is the moon; I, the man in the moon; this thorn-bush, my thorn-bush; and this dog, my dog."

The time here indicated is an hour after sunrise on Saturday morning.

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