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The Divine Comedy: Inferno

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












































Still in the eighth circle, which bears the name of Malebolge, they look down from the bridge that passes over its fifth gulf, upon the barterers or public peculators. These are plunged in a lake of boiling pitch, and guarded by Demons, to whom Virgil, leaving Dante apart, presents himself; and license being obtained to pass onward, both pursue their way.

FROM bridge to bridge thus, speaking other things 1
Of which my Comedy cares not to sing, 2
We came along, and held the summit, when

We halted to behold another fissure
Of Malebolge and other vain laments;
And I beheld it marvellously dark.

As in the Arsenal of the Venetians 7
Boils in the winter the tenacious pitch
To smear their unsound vessels o'er again,

For sail they cannot; and instead thereof
One makes his vessel new, and one recaulks
The ribs of that which many a voyage has made;

One hammers at the prow, one at the stern,
This one makes oars, and that one cordage twists,
Another mends the mainsail and the mizzen;

Thus, not by fire, but by the art divine,
Was boiling down below there a dense pitch
Which upon every side the bank belimed.

I saw it, but I did not see within it
Aught but the bubbles that the boiling raised,
And all swell up and resubside compressed.

The while below there fixedly I gazed,
My Leader, crying out: " Beware, beware!"
Drew me unto himself from where I stood.

Then I turned round, as one who is impatient
To see what it behoves him to escape,
And whom a sudden terror doth unman.

Who, while he looks, delays not his departure;
And I beheld behind us a black devil,
Running along upon the crag, approach.

Ah, how ferocious was he in his aspect!
And how he seemed to me in action ruthless,
With open wings and light upon his feet!

His shoulders, which sharp-pointed were and high,
A sinner did encumber with both haunches,
And he held clutched the sinews of the feet.

From off our bridge, he said: "O Malebranche, 37
Behold one of the elders of Saint Zita; 38
Plunge him beneath, for I return for others

Unto that town, which is well furnished with them.
All there are barrators, except Bonturo; 41
No into Yes for money there is changed."

He hurled him down, and over the hard crag
Turned round, and never was a mastiff loosened
In so much hurry to pursue a thief.

The other sank, and rose again face downward; 46
But the demons, under cover of the bridge,
Cried:"Here the Santo Volto has no place! 48

Here swims one otherwise than in the Serchio; 49
Therefore, if for our gaffs thou wishest not,
Do not uplift thyself above the pitch."

They seized him then with more than a hundred rakes;
They said: " It here behoves thee to dance covered,
That, if thou canst, thou secretly mayest pilfer."

Not otherwise the cooks their scullions make
Immerse into the middle of the caldron
The meat with hooks, so that it may not float.

Said the good Master to me:"That it be not
Apparent thou art here, crouch thyself down
Behind a jag, that thou mayest have some screen;

And for no outrage that is done to me
Be thou afraid, because these things I know,
For once before was I in such a scuffle." 63

Then he passed on beyond the bridge's head,
And as upon the sixth bank he arrived,
Need was for him to have a steadfast front.

With the same fury, and the same uproar,
As dogs leap out upon a mendicant,
Who on a sudden begs, where'er he stops,

They issued from beneath the little bridge,
And turned against him all their grappling-irons;
But he cried out: " Be none of you malignant!

Before those hooks of yours lay hold of me,
Let one of you step forward, who may hear me,
And then take counsel as to grappling me."

They all cried out:"Let Malacoda go;"
Whereat one started, and the rest stood still,
And he came to him, saying: " What avails it?"

"Thinkest thou, Malacoda, to behold me
Advanced into this place,"my Master said,
"Safe hitherto from all your skill of fence,

Without the will divine, and fate auspicious?
Let me go on, for it in Heaven is willed
That I another show this savage road."

Then was his arrogance so humbled in him,
That he let fall his grapnel at his feet,
And to the others said: " Now strike him not."

And unto me my Guide:"O thou, who sittest
Among the splinters of the bridge crouched down,
Securely now return to me again."

Wherefore I started and came swiftly to him;
And all the devils forward thrust themselves,
So that I feared they would not keep their compact.

And thus beheld I once afraid the soldiers
Who issued under safeguard from Caprona, 95
Seeing themselves among so many foes.

Close did I press myself with all my person
Beside my Leader, and turned not mine eyes
From off their countenance, which was not good.

They lowered their rakes, and "Wilt thou have me hit him," They
said to one another, "on the rump?"
And answered:"Yes; see that thou nick him with it."

But the same demon who was holding parley
With my Conductor turned him very quickly,
And said:"Be quiet, be quiet, Scarmiglione;"

Then said to us:"You can no farther go
Forward upon this crag, because is Iying
All shattered, at the bottom, the sixth arch.

And if it still doth please you to go onward,
Pursue your way along upon this rock; 110
Near is another crag that yields a path. 111

Yesterday, five hours later than this hour, 112
One thousand and two hundred sixty-six
Years were complete, that here the way was broken. 114

I send in that direction some of mine
To see if any one doth air himself;
Go ye with them; for they will not be vicious.

Step forward, Alichino and Calcabrina,"
Began he to cry out, " and thou, Cagnazzo;
And Barbariccia, do thou guide the ten.

Come forward, Libicocco and Draghignazzo,
And tusked Ciriatto and Graffiacane,
And Farfarello and mad Rubicante;

Search ye all round about the boiling pitch;
Let these be safe as far as the next crag, 125
That all unbroken passes o'er the dens."

"O me! what is it, Master, that I see?
Pray let us go," I said, " without an escort,
If thou knowest how, since for myself I ask none.

If thou art as observant as thy wont is,
Dost thou not see that they do gnash their teeth,
And with their brows are threatening woe to us?"

And he to me:"I will not have thee fear;
Let them gnash on, according to their fancy,
Because they do it for those boiling wretches."

Along the left-hand dike they wheeled about;
But first had each one thrust his tongue between 137
His teeth towards their leader for a signal;

And he had made a trumpet of his rump.

Footnotes 21

Canto 21

1. The Fifth Bolgia, and the punishment of Barrators, or "Judges who take bribes for giving judgment."

2. Having spoken in the preceding Canto of Virgil's "lofty Tragedy, " Dante here speaks of his own Comedy, as if to prepare the reader for the scenes which are to follow, and for which he apologizes in Canto XXII. 14, by repeating the proverb,

"In the church
With saints, and in the tavern with carousers."

7. Of the Arsenal of Venice Mr. Hillard thus speaks in his Six Months in Italy, I. 63:--

"No reader of Dante will fail to pay a visit to the Arsenal, from which, in order to illustrate the terrors of his `Inferno', the great poet drew one of these striking and picturesque images, characteristic alike of the boldness and the power of his genius, which never hesitated to look for its materials among the homely details and familiar incidents of life. In his hands, the boiling of pitch and the calking of seams ascend to the dignity of poetry. Besides, it is the most impressive and characteristic spot in Venice. The Ducal Palace and the Church of St. Mark's are symbols of pride and power, but the strength of Venice resided here. Her whole history, for six hundred years, was here epitomized, and as she rose and sunk, the hum of labor here swelled and subsided. Here was the index-hand which marked the culmination and decline of her greatness. Built upon several small islands, which are united by a wall of two miles in circuit, its extent and completeness, decayed as it is, show what the naval power of Venice once was, as the disused armor of a giant enables us to measure his stature and strength. Near the entrace are four marble lions, brought by Morosini from the Peloponnesus in 1685, two of which are striking works of art. Of these two, one is by far the oldest thing in Venice, being not much younger than the battle of Marathon; and thus, from the height of twenty-three centuries, entitled to look down upon St. Mark's as the growth of yesterday. The other two are non-descript animals, of the class commonly called heraldic, and can be syled lions only by courtesy. In the armory are some very interesting objects, and none more so than the great standard of the Turkish admiral, made of crimson silk, taken at the battle of Lepanto, and which Cervantes may have grasped with his unwounded hand. A few fragments of some of the very galleys that were engaged in that memorable fight are also preserved here."

37. Malebranche, Evil-claws, a general name for the devils.

38. Santa Zita, the Patron Saint of Lucca, where the magistrates were called Elders, or Aldermen. In Florence they bore the name of Priors.

41. A Barrator, in Dante's use of the word, is to the State what a Simoniac is to the Church; one who sells justice, office, or employment.

Benvenuto says that Dante includes Bontura with the rest, "because he is speaking ironically, as who should say, `Bontura is the greatest barrator of all.' For Bontura was an arch- barrator, who sagaciously led and managed the whole commune, and gave offices to whom he wished. He likewise excluded whom he wished."

46. Bent down in the attitude of one in prayer; therefore the demons mock him with the allusion to the Santo Volto.

48. The Santo Volto, or Holy Face, is a crucifix still preserved in the Cathedral of Lucca, and held in great veneration by the people. The tradition is that it is the work of Nicodemus, who sculptured it from memory. See also Sacchetti, Nov. 73, in which a preacher mocks at the Santo Volto in the church of Santa Croce at Florence.

49. The Serchio flows near Lucca. Shelley, in a poem called The Boat, on the Serchio, describes it as a "torrent fierce,"

"Which fervid from its mountain source,
Shallow, smooth, and strong, doth come;
Swift as fire, tempestuously
It sweeps into the affrighted sea.
In the morning's smile its eddies coil,
Its billows sparkle, toss, and boil,
Torturing all its quiet light
Into columns fierce and bright."

63. Canto IX. 22:--

"True is it once before I here below
Was conjured by that pitiless Erictho,
Who summoned back the shades unto their bodies."

95. A fortified town on the Arno in the Pisan territory. It was besieged by the troops of Florence and Lucca in 1289, and capitulated. As the garrison marched out under safe-guard, they were terrified by the shouts of the crowd, crying: "Hang them! hang them!" In this crowd was Dante, "a youth of twenty-five," says Benvenuto da Imola.

110. Along the circular dike that separates one Bolgia from another.

111. This is a falsehood, as all the bridges over the next Bolgia are broken. See Canto XXIII. 140.

112. At the close of the preceding Canto the time is indicated as being an hour after sunrise. Five hours later would be noon, or the scriptural sixth hour, the hour of the Crucifixion. Dante understands St. Luke to say that Christ died at this hour.

Convito, IV. 23: "Luke says that it was about the sixth hour when he died; that is, the culmination of the day." Add to the "one thousand and two hundred sixty-six years," the thirty-four of Christ's life on earth, and it gives the year 1300, the date of the Infernal Pilgrimage.

114. Broken by the earthquake at the time of the Crucifixion, as the rock leading to the Circle of the Violent, Canto XII. 45:--

"And at that moment this primeval rock
Both here and elsewhere made such over-throw."

As in the next Bolgia Hypocrites are punished, Dante couples them with the Violent, by making the shock of the earthquake more felt near them than elsewhere.

125. The next crag or bridge, traversing the dikes and ditches.

137. See Canto XVIII. 75.

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