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The Divine Comedy: Inferno

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












































Under the escort of his faithful master, Dante not without difficulty makes his way out of the sixth gulf; and in the seventh, see the robbers tormented by venomous and pestilent serpents. The soul of Vanni Fucci, who had pillaged the sacristy of Saint James in Pistola, predicts some calamities that impended over that city, and over the Florentines.

IN that part of the youthful year wherein 1
The Sun his locks beneath Aquarius tempers, 2
And now the nights draw near to half the day,

What time the hoar-frost copies on the ground
The outward semblance of her sister white,
But little lasts the temper of her pen,

The husbandman, whose forage faileth him,
Rises, and looks, and seeth the champaign
All gleaming white, whereat he beats his flank,

Returns in doors, and up and down laments,
Like a poor wretch, who knows not what to do;
Then he returns and hope revives again,

Seeing the world has changed its countenance
In little time, and takes his shepherd's crook,
And forth the little lambs to pasture drives.

Thus did the Master fill me with alarm
When I beheld his forehead so disturbed,
And to the ailment came as soon the plaster.

For as we came unto the ruined bridge
The Leader turned to me with that sweet look
Which at the mountain's foot I first beheld. 21

His arms he opened, after some advisement
Within himself elected, looking first
Well at the ruin, and laid hold of me.

And even as he who acts and meditates,
For aye it seems that he provides beforehand,
So upward lifting me towards the summit

Of a huge rock, he scanned another crag,
Saying: " To that one grapple afterwards,
But try first if 'tis such that it will hold thee."

This was no way for one clothed with a cloak;
For hardly we, he light, and I pushed upward,
Were able to ascend from jag to jag.

And had it not been, that upon that precinct
Shorter was the ascent than on the other,
He I know not, but I had been dead beat.

But because Malebolge tow'rds the mouth
Of the profoundest well is all inclining,
The structure of each valley doth import

That one bank rises and the other sinks.
Still we arrived at length upon the point
Wherefrom the last stone breaks itself asunder.

The breath was from my lungs so milked away, 43
When I was up, that I could go no farther,
Nay, I sat down upon my first arrival.

"Now it behoves thee thus to put off sloth,"
My Master said; " for sitting upon down,
Or under quilt, one cometh not to fame,

Withouten which whoso his life consumes
Such vestige leaveth of himself on earth.
As smoke in air or in the water foam.

And therefore raise thee up, o'ercome the anguish
With spirit that o'ercometh every battle,
If with its heavy body it sink not.

A longer stairway it behoves thee mount; 55
'Tis not enough from these to have departed;
Let it avail thee, if thou understand me."

Then I uprose,showing myself provided
Better with breath than I did feel myself,
And said: " Go on, for I am strong and bold."

Upward we took our way along the crag,
Which jagged was, and narrow, and difficult,
And more precipitous far than that before.

Speaking I went,not to appear exhausted;
Whereat a voice from the next moat came forth,
Not well adapted to articulate words.

I know not what it said, though o'er the back
I now was of the arch that passes there;
But he seemed moved to anger who was speaking

I was bent downward, but my living eyes
Could not attain the bottom, for the dark;
Wherefore I: " Master, see that thou arrive

At the next round, and let us descend the wall; 73
For as from hence I hear and understand not,
So I look down and nothing I distinguish."

"Other response,"he said,"I make thee not,
Except the doing; for the modest asking
Ought to be followed by the deed in silence."

We from the bridge descended at its head,
Where it connects itself with the eighth bank,
And then was manifest to me the Bolgia;

And I beheld therein a terrible throng
Of serpents, and of such a monstrous kind,
That the remembrance still congeals my blood

Let Libya boast no longer with her sand;
For if Chelydri, Jaculi, and Pharae 86
She breeds, with Cenchri and with Ammhisbaena.

Neither so many plagues nor so malignant
E'er showed she with all Ethiopia,
Nor with whatever on the Red Sea is!

Among this cruel and most dismal throng
People were running naked and affrighted.
Without the hope of hole or heliotrope. 93

They had their hands with serpents bound behind them;
These riveted upon their reins the tail
And head, and were in front of them entwined.

And lo! at one who was upon our side
There darted forth a serpent, which transfixed him
There where the neck is knotted to the shoulders.

Nor O so quickly e'er, nor I was written,
As he took fire, and burned; and ashes wholly
Behoved it that in falling he became.

And when he on the ground was thus destroyed,
The ashes drew together, and of themselves
Into himself they instantly returned.

Even thus by the great sages 'tis confessed
The phoenix dies, and then is born again, 107
When it approaches its five-hundredth year;

On herb or grain it feeds not in its life,
But only on tears of incense and amomum,
And nard and myrrh are its last winding-sheet.

And as he is who falls, and knows not how,
By force of demons who to earth down drag him,
Or other oppilation that binds man, 114

When he arises and around him looks,
Wholly bewildered by the mighty anguish
Which he has suffered, and in looking sighs;

Such was that sinner after he had risen.
Justice of God! O how severe it is,
That blows like these in vengeance poureth down!

The Guide thereafter asked him who he was;
Whence he replied: " I rained from Tuscany
A short time since into this cruel gorge.

A bestial life, and not a human, pleased me,
Even as the mule I was; I'm Vanni Fucci, 125
Beast, and Pistoia was my worthy den."

And I unto the Guide:"Tell him to stir not,
And ask what crime has thrust him here below,
For once a man of blood and wrath I saw him."

And the sinner, who had heard, dissembled not,
But unto me directed mind and face,
And with a melancholy shame was painted.

Then said: " It pains me more that thou hast caught me
Amid this misery where thou seest me,
Than when I from the other life was taken.

What thou demandest r cannot deny;
So low am I put down because I robbed
The sacristy of the fair ornaments,

And falsely once 'twas laid upon another;
But that thou mayst not such a sight enjoy,
If thou shalt e'er be out of the dark places,

Thine ears to my announcement ope and hear:
Pistoia first of Neri groweth meagre; 143
Then Florence doth renew her men and manners;

Mars draws a vapour up from Val di Magra, 145
Which is with turbid clouds enveloped round,
And with impetuous and bitter tempest

Over Campo Picen shall be the battle;
When it shall suddenly rend the mist asunder,
So that each Bianco shall thereby be smitten

And this I've said that it may give thee pain."

Footnotes 24

Canto 24

1. The Seventh Bolgia, in which Thieves are punished.

2. The sun enters Aquarius during the last half of January, when the Equinox is near, and the hoar-frost in the morning looks like snow on the fields, but soon evaporates. If Dante had been a monk of Monte Casino, illuminating a manuscript, he could not have made a more clerkly and scholastic flourish with his pen than this, nor have painted a more beautiful picture than that which follows. The mediaeval poets are full of lovely descriptions of Spring, which seems to blossom and sing through all their verses; but none is more beautiful or suggestive than this, though serving only as an illustration.

21. In Canto I.

43. See what Mr. Ruskin says of Dante as "a notably bad climber," Canto XII. Note 2.

55. The ascent of the Mount of Purgatory.

73. The next circular dike, dividing the fosses.

86. This list of serpents is from Lucan, Phars. IX. 711, Rowe's Tr. :--

"Slimy Chelyders the parched earth distain
And trace a reeking furrow on the plain.
The spotted Cenchris, rich in various dyes,
Shoots in a line, and forth directly flies.

The Swimmer there the crystal stream pollutes,
And swift thro' air the flying Javelin shoots.

The Amphisbaena doubly armed appears
At either end a threatening head she rears;
Raised on his active tail Pareas stands,
And as he passes, furrows up the sands."

Milton, Parad. Lost, X. 521:--

"Dreadful was the din
Of hissing through the hall, thick-swarming now
With complicated monsters head and tail,
Scorpion, and asp, and amphisbaena dire,
Cerastes horned, hydrus, and elops drear,
And dipsas."

Of the Phareas, Peter Comestor, Hist. Scholast., Gloss of Genesis iii. 1, says: "And this he (Lucifer) did by means of the serpent; for then it was erect like man; being afterwards made prostrate by the curse; and it is said the Phareas walks erect even to this day."

Of the Amphisbaena, Brunetto Latini, Tresor I. v. 140, says: "The Amphimenie is a kind of serpent which has two heads; one in its right place, and the other in the tail; and with each she can bite; and she runs swiftly, and her eyes shine like candles."

93. Without a hiding-place, or the heliotrope, a precious stone of great virtue against poisons, and supposed to render the wearer invisible. Upon this latter vulgar error is founded Boccaccio's comical story of Calandrino and his friends Bruno and Buffulmacco, Decam., Gior. VIII., Nov. 3.

107. Brunetto Latini, Tresor I. v. 164, says of the Phoenix: "He goeth to a good tree, savory and of good odor, and maketh a pile thereof, to which he setteth fire, and entereth straightway into it toward the rising of the sun."

And Milton, Samson Agonistes, 1697:
"So Virtue, given for lost,
Depressed and overthrown, as seemed,
Like that self-begotten bird
In the Arabian woods embost,
That no second knows nor third,
And lay erewhile a holocaust,
From out her ashy womb now teemed,
Revives, reflourishes, then vigorous most
When most unactive deemed;
And, though her body die, her fame survives
A secular bird ages of lives."

114. Any obstruction, "such as the epilepsy," says Benvenuto. "Gouts and dropsies, catarrhs and oppilations," says Jeremy Taylor.

125. Vanni Fucci, who calls himself a mule, was a bastard son of Fuccio de' Lazzari. All the commentators paint him in the darkest colors. Dante had known him as "a man of blood and wrath," and seems to wonder he is here, and not in the circle of the Violent, or of the Irascible. But his great crime was the robbery of a sacristy. Benvenuto da Imola relates the story in detail. He speaks of him as a man of depraved life, many of whose misdeeds went unpunished, because he was of noble family. Being banished from Pistoia for his crimes, he returned to the city one night of the Carnival, and was in company with eighteen other revellers, among whom was Vanni della Nona, a notary; when, not content with their insipid diversions, he stole away with two companions to the church of San Giacomo, and, finding its custodians absent, or asleep with feasting and drinking, he entered the sacristy and robbed it of all its precious jewels. These he secreted in the house of the notary, which was close at hand, thinking that on account of his honest repute no suspicion would fall upon him. A certain Rampino was arrested for the theft, and put to the torture; when Vanni Fucci, having escaped to Monte Carelli, beyond the Florentine jurisdiction, sent a messenger to Rampino's father, confessing all the circumstances of the crime. Hereupon the notary was seized "on the first Monday in Lent, as he was going to a sermon in the church of the Minorite Friars," and was hanged for the theft, and Rampino set at liberty. No one has a good word to say for Vanni Fucci, except the Canonico Crescimbeni, who, in the Comentarj to the Istoria della Volg. Poesia, II. ii., p. 99, counts him among the Italian Poets, and speaks of him as a man of great courage and gallantry, and a leader of the Neri party of Pistoia, in 1300. He smooths over Dante's invectives by remarking that Dante "makes not too honorable mention of him in the Comedy"; and quotes a sonnet of his, which is pathetic from its utter despair and self-reproach:--

"For I have lost the good I might have had
Through little wit, and not of mine own will."

It is like the wail of a lost soul, and the same in tone as the words which Dante here puts into his mouth. Dante may have heard him utter similar self-accusations while living, and seen on his face the blush of shame, which covers it here.

143. The Neri were banished from Pistoia in 1301; the Bianchi, from Florence in 1302.

145. This vapor or lightning flash from Val di Magra is the Marquis Malaspini, and the "turbid clouds" are the banished Neri of Pistoia, whom he is to gather about him to defeat the Bianchi at Campo Piceno, the old battle-field of Catiline. As Dante was of the Bianchi party, this prophecy of impending disaster and overthrow could only give him pain. See Canto VI. Note 65.

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