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The Divine Comedy: Inferno

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












































The sacrilegious Fucci vents his fury in blasphemy, is seized by serpents, and flying is pursued by Cacus in the form of a Centaur, who is described with a swarm of serpents on his haunch, and a dragon on his shoulders breathing forth fire. Our Poet then meets with the spirits of three of his countrymen, two of who undergo a marvelous transformation in his presence.

At the conclusion of his words, the thief 1
Lifted his hands aloft with both the figs, 2
Crying : " Take that, God, for at thee I aim them."

From that time forth the serpents were my friends;
For one entwined itself about his neck
As if it said: " I will not thou speak more; "

And round his arms another, and rebound him,
Clinching itself together so in front,
That with them he could not a motion make,

Pistoia, ah, Pistoia ! why resolve not 10
To burn thyself to ashes and so perish,
Since in ill-doing thou thy seed excellest?

Through all the sombre circles of this Hell,
Spirit I saw not against God so proud,
Not he who fell at Thebes down from the walls! 15

He fled away, and spake no further word;
And I beheld a Centaur full of rage
Come crying out: " Where is, where is the scoffer?"

I do not think Maremma has so many 19
Serpents as he had all along his back,
As far as where our countenance begins.

Upon the shoulders, just behind the nape,
With wings wide open was a dragon lying,
And he sets fire to all that he encounters.

My Master said:"That one is Cacus, who 25
Beneath the rock upon Mount Aventine
Created oftentimes a lake of blood.

He goes not on the same road with his brothers, 28
By reason of the fraudulent theft he made
Of the great herd, which he had near to him;

Whereat his tortuous actions ceased beneath
The mace of Hercules, who peradventure
Gave him a hundred, and he felt not ten."

While he was speaking thus, he had passed by,
And spirits three hail underneath us come, 35
Of which nor I aware was, nor my Leader

Until what time they shouted: "Who are you?"
On which account our story made a halt 38
And then we were intent on them alone.

I did not know them; but it came to pass,
As it is wont to happen by some chance,
That one to name the other was compelled,

Exclaiming:"Where can Cianfa have remained?" 43
Whence I, so that the Leader might attend,
Upward from chin to nose my finger laid.

If thou art,Reader, slow now to believe
What I shall say, it will no marvel be,
For I who saw it hardly can admit it.

As I was holding raised on them my brows,
Behold ! a serpent with six feet darts forth
In front of one, and fastens wholly on him.

With middle feet it bound him round the paunch,
And with the forward ones his arms it seized;
Then thrust its teeth through one cheek and the other;

The hindermost it stretched upon his thighs,
And put its tail through in between the two,
And up behind along the reins outspread it.

Ivy was never fastened by its barbs
Unto a tree so, as this horrible reptile
Upon the other's limbs entwined its own.

Then they stuck close, as if of heated wax
They had been made, and intermixed their colour;
Nor one nor other seemed now what he was;

E'en as proceedeth on before the flame
Upward along the paper a brown colour, 65
Which is not black as yet, and the white dies.

The other two looked on, and each of them
Cried out: " O me, Agnello, how thou changest!
Behold, thou now art neither two nor one."

Already the two heads had one become,
When there appeared to us two figures mingled
Into one face, wherein the two were lost.

Of the four lists were fashioned the two arms,
The thighs and legs, the belly and the chest
Members became that never yet were seen.

Every original aspect there was cancelled; 76
Two and yet none did the perverted image
Appear, and such departed with slow pace.

Even as a lizard, under the great scourge
Of days canicular, exchanging hedge,
Lightning appeareth if the road it cross;

Thus did appear, coming towards the bellies
Of the two others, a small fiery serpent, 83
Livid and black as is a peppercorn.

And in that part whereat is first received
Our aliment, it one of them transfixed;
Then downward fell in front of him extended.

The one transfixed looked at it, but said naught;
Nay, rather with feet motionless he yawned,
Just as if sleep or fever had assailed him.

He at the serpent gazed, and it at him;
One through the wound, the other through the mouth
Smoked violently, and the smoke commingled.

Henceforth be silent Lucan, where he mentions
Wretched Sabellus and Nassidius, 95
And wait to hear what now wil be shot forth.

Be silent Ovid, of Cadmus and Arethusa; 97
For if him to a snake, her to a fountain,
Converts he fabling, that I grudge him not;

Because two natures never front to front
Has he transmuted, so that both the forms
To interchange their matter ready were.

Together they responded in such wise,
That to a fork the serpent cleft his tail,
And eke the wounded drew his feet together.

The legs together with the thighs themselves
Adhered so, that in little time the juncture
No sign whatever made that was apparent.

He with the cloven tail assumed the figure
The other one was losing, and his skin
Became elastic, and the other's hard.

I saw the arms draw inward at the armpits,
And both feet of the reptile, that were short,
Lengthen as much as those contracted were.

Thereafter the hind feet, together twisted,
Became the member that a man conceals,
And of his own the wretch had two created.

While both of them the exhalation veils
With a new colour, and engenders hair
On one of them and depilates the other,

The one uprose and down the other fell,
Though turning not away their impious lamps,
Underneath which each one his muzzle changed.

He who was standing drew it tow'rds the temples,
And from excess of matter, which came thither,
Issued the ears from out the hollow cheeks;

What did not backward run and was retained
Of that excess made to the face a nose,
And the lips thickened far as was befitting.

He who lay prostrate thrusts his muzzle forward,
And backward draws the ears into his head,
In the same manner as the snail its horns

And so the tongue, which was entire and apt
For speech before, is cleft, and the bi-forked
In the other closes up, and the smoke ceases.

The soul,which to a reptile had been changed,
Along the valley hissing takes to flight,
And after him the other speaking sputters.

Then did he turn upon him his new shoulders,
And said to the other: " I'll have Buoso run,
Crawling as I have done, along this road."

In this way I beheld the seventh ballast
Shift and reshift, and here be my excuse
The novelty, if aught my pen transgress. 144

And notwithstanding that mine eyes might be
Somewhat bewildered, and my mind dismayed,
They could not flee away so secretly

But that I plainly saw Puccio Sciancato;
And he it was who sole of three companions,
Which came in the beginning, was not changed;

The other was he whom thou, Gaville, weepest. 151

Footnotes 25

Canto 25

1. The subject of the preceding Canto is continued in this.

2. This vulgar gesture of contempt consists in thursting the thumb between the first and middle fingers. It is the same as the ass-driver made at Dante in the street; Sacchetti, Nov. CXV.: "When he was a little way off, he turned around to Dante, and thrusting out his tongue and making a fig at him with his hand, said, `Take that.'"

Villani, VI. 5, says: "On the Rock of Carmignano there was a tower seventy yards high, and upon it two marble arms, the hands of which were making the figs at Florence." Others say these hands were on a finger-post by the road-side.

In the Merry Wives of Windsor, I. 3, Pistol says:"Convey, the wise it call; Steal! foh; a fico fo the phrase!" And Martino, in Beaumont and Fletcher's Widow, V. 1:--

"The fig of everlasting obloquy
Go with him."

10. Pistoia is supposed to have been founded by the soldiers of Catiline. Brunetto Latini, Tresor, I. i. 37, says: "They found Catiline at the foot of the mountains and he had his army and his people in that place where is now the city of Pestoire. There was Catiline conquered in battle, and he and his were slain; also a great part of the Romans were killed. And on account of the pestilence of that great slaughter the city was called Pestoire." The Italian proverb says, Pistoia la ferrigna, iron Pistoia, or Pistoia the pitiless.

15. Capaneus, Canto XIV. 44.

19. See Canto XIII. Note 9.

25. Cacus was the classic Giant Despair, who had his cave in Mount Aventine, and stole a part of the herd of Geryon, which Hercules had brought to Italy.

Virgil, Aeneid, VIII., Dryden's Tr.:--
"See yon huge cavern, yawning wide around,
Where still the shattered mountain spreads the ground:
That spacious hold grim Cacus once posessed,
Tremendous find! half human, half a beast:
Deep, deep as hell, the dismal dungeon lay,
Dark and impervious to the beams of day.
With copious slaughter smoked the purple floor,
Pale heads hung horrid on the lofty door,
Dreadful to view! and dropped with crimson gore."

28. Dante makes a Centaur of Cacus, and separates him from the others because he was fraudulent as well as violent. Virgil calls him only a monster, a half-man, Semihominis Caci facies.

35. Agnello Brunelleschi, Buoso degli Abati, and Puccio Sciancato.

38. The story of Cacus, which Virgil was telling.

43. Cianfa Donati, a Florentine nobleman. He appears immediately, as a serpent with six feet, and fastens upon Agnello Brunelleschi.

65. Some commentators contended that in this line papiro does not mean paper, but a lamp-wick made of papyrus. This destroys the beauty and aptness of the image, and rather degrades

"The leaf of the reed,
Which has grown through the clefts in the ruins of ages."

73. These four lists, or hands, are the fore feet of the serpent and the arms of Agnello.

76. Shakespeare, in the "Additional Poems to Chester's Love's Martyrs, " Knight's Shakespeare, VII. 193, speaks of "Two distincts, division none"; and continues:--

"Property was thus appalled
That the self was not the same,
Single nature's double name
Neither two nor one was called.

"Reason, in itself confounded,
Saw division grow together;
To themselves yet either neither,
Simple were so well compounded."

83. This black serpent is Guercio Cavalcanti, who changes form with Buoso degli Abati.

95. Lucan, Phars., IX., Rowe's Tr.:--
"But soon a fate more sad with new surprise
From the first object turns their wondering eyes.
Wretched Sabellus by a Seps was stung:
Fixed on his leg with deadly teeth it hung.
Sudden the soldier shook it from the wound,
Transfixed and nailed it to the barren ground.
Of all the dire, destructive serpent race,
None have so much of death, though none are less.
For straight around the part the skin withdrew,
The flesh and shrinking sinews backward flew,
And left the naked bones exposed to view.
The spreading poisons all the parts confound,
And the whole body stinks within the wound.

Small relics of the mouldering mass were left,
At once of substance as of form bereft;
Dissolved, the whole in liquid poison ran,
And to a nauseous puddle shrunk the man.

So snows dissolved by southern breezes run,
So melts the wax before the noonday sun.
Nor ends the wonder here; though flames are known
To waste the flesh, yet still they spare the bone:
Here none were left, no least remains were seen,
No marks to show that once the man had been.

A fate of different kind Nasidius found,--
A burning Prester gave the deadly wound,
And straight a sudden flame began to spread,
And paint his visage with a glowing red.
With swift expansion swells the bloated skin,--
Naught but an undistinguished mass is seen,
While the fair human form lies lost within;
The puffy poison spreads and heaves around,

Till all the man is the monster drowned.
No more the steely plate his breast can stay,
But yields, and gives the bursting poison way.
Not waters so, when fire the rage supplies,
Bubbling on heaps, in boiling caldrons rise;
Nor swells the stretching canvas half so fast,
When the sails gather all the driving blast,
Strain the tough yards, and bow the lofty mast.
The various parts no longer now are known,
One headless, formless heap remains alone."

97. Ovid, Metamorph., IV., Eusden's Tr.:--
"`Come, my Harmonia, come, thy face recline
Down to my face: still touch what still is mine.
O let these hands, while hands, be gently pressed,
While yet the serpent has not all posessed.'
More he had spoke, but strove to speak in vain,--
The forky tongue refused to tell his pain,
And learned in hissings only to complain.
"Then shrieked Harmonia, `Stay, my Cadmus, stay!
Glide not in such a monstrous shape away!
Destruction, like impetous waves, rolls on.
Where are thy feet, thy legs, thy shoulders, gone?
Changed is thy visage, changed is all thy frame,--
Cadmus is only Cadmus now in name.
Ye Gods! my Cadmus to himself restore
Or me like him transform,--I ask no more.'"

And V., Maynwaring's Tr.:--

"The God so near, a chilly sweat posessed
My fainting limbs, at every pore expressed;
My strength distilled in drops, my hair in dew,
My form was changed, and all my substance new:
Each motion was a stream, and my whole frame
Turned to a fount, which still preserves my name."

See also Shelly's Arethusa:--

"Arethusa arose
From her couch of snows
In the Acroceraunian mountains,--
From the cloud and from crag
With many a jag
Shepherding her bright fountains.
She leapt down the rocks,
With her rainbow locks
Streaming among the streams;
Her steps paved with green
The downward ravine
Which slopes to the western gleams;
And gliding and springing,
She went, ever singing,
In murmurs as soft as sleep.
The Earth seemed to love her,
And Heaven smiled above her,
As she lingered towards the deep."

144. Some editions read la penna, the pen, instead of la lingua, the tongue.

151. Gaville was a village in the Valdarno, where Guercio Cavalcanti was murdered. The family took vengeance upon the inhabitants in the old Italian style, thus causing Gaville to lament the murder.

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