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The Divine Comedy: Inferno

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












































The Poet, treating of the same punishment as in the last Canto, relates that he turned toward a flame in which was the Count Guido da Montefeltro, whose inquiries respecting the state of Romagna he answers, and Guido is thereby induced to declare who he is, and who condemned to that torment.

Already was the flame erect and quiet, 1
To speak no more, and now departed from us
With the permission of the gentle Poet;

When yet another, which behind it came,
Caused us to turn our eyes upon its top
By a confused sound that issued from it.

As the Sicilian bull (that bellowed first 7
With the lament of him, and that was right,
Who with his file had modulated it)

Bellowed so with the voice of the afflicted,
That, notwithstanding it was made of brass,
Still it appeared with agony transfixed;

Thus, by not having any way or issue
At first from out the fire, to its own language
Converted were the melancholy words.

But afterwards, when they had gathered way
Up through the point, giving it that vibration
The tongue had given them in their passage out,

We heard it said:"O thou, at whom I aim
My voice, and who but now wast speaking Lombard,
Saying,'Now go thy way, no more I urge thee,' 21

Because I come perchance a little late,
To stay and speak with me let it not irk thee;
Thou seest it irks not me, and I am burning.

If thou but lately into this blind world
Hast fallen down from that sweet Latian land,
Wherefrom I bring the whole of my transgression,

Say,if the Romagnuols have peace or war, 28
For I was from the mountains there between 29
Urbino and the yoke whence Tiber bursts."

I still was downward bent and listening,
When my Conductor touched me on the side,
Saying: " Speak thou: this one a Latian is."

And I, who had beforehand my reply
In readiness, forthwith began to speak:
"O soul, that down below there art concealed,

Romagna thine is not and never has been
Without war in the bosom of its tyrants;
But open war I none have left there now.

Ravenna stands as it long years has stood; 40
The Eagle of Polenta there is brooding, 41
So that she covers Cervia with her vans.

The city which once made the long resistance, 43
And of the French a sanguinary heap,
Beneath the Green Paws finds itself again;

Verrucchio's ancient Mastiff and the new, 46
Who made such bad disposal of Montagna,
Where they are wont make wimbles of their teeth.

The cities of Lamone and Santerno 49
Governs the Lioncel of the white lair,
Who changes sides 'twixt summer-time and winter;

And that of which the Savio bathes the flank, 52
Even as it lies between the plain and mountain,
Lives between tyranny and a free state.

Now I entreat thee tell us who thou art;
Be not more stubborn than the rest have been,
So may thy name hold front there in the world."

After the fire a little more had roared
In its own fashion, the sharp point it moved
This way and that, and then gave forth such breath:

"If I believed that my reply were made
To one who to the world would e'er return,
This flame without more flickering would stand still;

But inasmuch as never from this depth
Did any one return, if I hear true,
Without the fear of infamy I answer,

I was a man of arms, then Cordelier, 67
Believing thus begirt to make amends;
And truly my belief had been fulfilled

But for the High Priest, whom may ill betide, 70
Who put me back into my former sins;
And how and wherefore I will have thee hear.

While I was still the form of bone and pulp
My mother gave to me, the deeds I did
Were not those of a lion, but a fox.

The machinations and the covert ways
I knew them all, and practised so their craft,
That to the ends of earth the sound went forth.

When now unto that portion of mine age
I saw myself arrived, when each one ought
To lower the sails, and coil away the ropes, 81

That which before had pleased me then displeased me;
And penitent and confessing I surrendered,
Ah woe is me ! and it would have bestead me;

The Leader of the modern Pharisees
Having a war near unto Lateran, 86
And not with Saracens nor with the Jews,

For each one of his enemies was Christian,
And none of them had been to conquer Acre,
Nor merchandising in the Sultan's land,

Nor the high office, nor the sacred orders,
In him regarded, nor in me that cord
Which used to make those girt with it more meagre;

But even as Constantine sought out Sylvester 94
To cure his leprosy, within Soracte,
So this one sought me out as an adept 96

To cure him of the fever of his pride.
Counsel he asked of me, and I was silent,
Because his words appeared inebriate.

And then he said: 'Be not thy heart afraid;
Henceforth I thee absolve; and thou instruct me
How to raze Palestrina to the ground. 102

Heaven have I power to lock and to unlock,
As thou dost know; therefore the keys are two,
The which my predecessor held not dear.' 105

Then urged me on his weighty arguments
There, where my silence was the worst advice;
And said I:'Father, since thou washest me

Of that sin into which I now must fall,
The promise long with the fulfilment short
Will make thee triumph in thy lofty seat.'

Francis came afterward, when I was dead,
For me; but one of the black Cherubim
Said to him:'Take him not; do me no wrong;

He must come down among my servitors,
Because he gave the fraudulent advice
From which time forth I have been at his hair;

For who repents not cannot be absolved, 118
Nor can one both repent and will at once,
Because of the contradiction which consents not.

O miserable me! how I did shudder
When he seized on me, saying: 'Peradventure
Thou didst not think that I was a logician !'

He bore me unto Minos, who entwined
Eight times his tail about his stubborn back,
And after he had bitten it in great rage,

Said: 'Of the thievish fire a culprit this;'
Wherefore, here where thou seest, am I lost,
And vested thus in going I bemoan me."

When it had thus completed its recital,
The flame departed uttering lamentations,
Writhing and flapping its sharp-pointed horn.

Onward we passed, both I and my Conductor,
Up o'er the crag above another arch,
Which the moat covers, where is paid the fee

By those who, sowing discord, win their burden.

Footnotes 27

Canto 27

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

7. The story of the Brazen Bull of Perillus is thus told in the Gesta Romanorum, Tale 48, Swan's Tr.:--
"Dionysius records, that when Perillus desired to become an artificer of Phalaris, a cruel and tyrannical king who depopulated the kingdom, and was guilty of many dreadful excesses, he presented to him, already too well skilled in cruelty, a brazen bull, which he has just constructed. In one of its sides there was a secret door, by which those who were sentenced should enter and be burnt to death. The idea was, that the sounds produced by the agony of the sufferer confined within should resemble the roaring of a bull; and thus, while nothing human struck the ear, the mind should be unimpressed by a feeling of mercy. The king highly applauded the invention, and said, `Friend, the value of thy industry is yet untried: more cruel even than the people account me, thou thyself shalt be the first victim.'"

Also in Gower, Confes. Amant., VII.:--
"He had of counseil many one,
Among the whiche there was one,
By name which Berillus hight.
And he bethought him how he might
Unto the tirant do liking.
And of his own ymagining
Let forge and make a bulle of bras,
And on the side cast there was
A dore, where a man may inne,
Whan he his peine shall beginne
Through fire, which that men put under.
And all this did he for a wonder,
That when a man for peine cride,
The bull of bras, which gapeth wide,
It shulde seme, as though it were
A bellewing in a mannes ere
And nought the crieng of a man.
But he, which alle sleightes can,
The devil, that lith in helle fast,
Him that it cast hath overcast,
That for a trespas, which he dede,
He was put in the same stede.
And was himself the first of alle,
Which was into that peine falle
That he for other men ordeigneth."

21. Virgil being a Lombard, Dante suggests that, in giving Ulysses and Diomed license to depart, he had used the Lombard dialect, saying, " Issa t' en va." See Canto XXIII. Note 7.

28. The inhabitants of the province of Romagna, of which Ravenna is the capital.

29. It is the spirit of Guido da Montefeltro that speaks. The city of Montefeltro lies between Urbino and that part of the Apennines in which the Tiber rises. Count Guido was a famous warrior, and one of the great Ghibelline leaders. He tells his own story sufficiently in detail in what follows.

40. Lord Byron, Don Juan, III. 105, gives this description of Ravenna, with an allusion to Boccaccio's Tale, versified by Dryden under the title of Theodore and Honoria:--

"Sweet hour of twilight!--in the solitude
Of the pine forest, and the silent shore
Which bounds Ravenna's immemorial wood,
Rooted where once the Adrian wave flow'd o'er,
To where the last Caesarean fortress stood,
Ever-green forest! which Boccaccio's lore
And Dryden's lay made haunted ground to me,
How have I loved the twilight hour and thee!

"The shrill cicalas, people of the pine,
Making their summer lives one ceaseless song
Were the sole echoes, save my steed's and mine,
And vesper-bell's that rose the boughs along;
The spectre huntsman o Onesti's line,
His hell-dogs, and their chase, and the fair throng,
Which learned from this example not to fly
From a true lover, showed my mind's eye,"

Dryden's Theodore and Honoria begins with these words:--

Of all the cities in Romanian lands,
The chief, and most removed, Ravenna stands,
Adorned in ancient times with arms and arts,
And rich inhabitants, with generous hearts."
It was at Ravenna that Dante passed the last years of his life,
and there he died and was buried.

41. The arms of Guido da Polenta, Lord of Ravenna, Dante's friend, and father (or nephew) of Francesca da Rimini, were an eagle half white in a field of azure, and half red in a field of gold. Cervia is a small town some twelve miles from Ravenna.

43. The city of Forli, where Guido da Montefeltro defeated and slaughtered the French in 1282. See Canto XX. Note 118. and Canto XX. Note 45. A Green lion was the coat of arms of the Ordelaffi, then Lords of Forli.

46. Malatesta, father and son, tyrants of Rimini, who murdered Montagna, a Ghibelline leader. Verrucchio was their castle, near the city. Of this family were the husband and lover of Francesca. Dante calls them mastiffs, becaue of their fierceness, making "wimbles of their teeth" in tearing and devouring.

49. The cities of Faenza on the Lamone, and Imola on the Santerno. They were ruled by Mainardo, surnamed "the Devil," whose coat of arms was a lion azure in a white field.

52. The city of Cesena.

67. Milton, Parad. Lost, III. 479:--

"Dying put on the weeds of Dominic,
Or in Franciscan think to pass disguised."

70. Boniface VIII., who in line 85 is called "the Prince of the new Pharisees."

81. Dante, Convito IV. 28, quoting Cicero, says: "Natural death is as it were a haven and rest to us after long navigation. And the noble soul is like a good mariner; for he, when he draws near the port, lowers his sails, and enters it softly with feeble steerage. "

86. This Papal war, which was waged against Christians, and not against pagan Saracens, nor unbelieving Jews, nor against the renegades who had helped them at the siege of Acre, or given them aid and comfort by traffic, is thus described by Mr. Norton, Travel and Study in Italy, p. 263:--

"This `war near the Lateran' was a war with the great family of Colonna. Two of the house were Cardinals. They had been deceived in the election, and were rebellious under the rule of Boniface. The Cardinals of the great Ghibelline house took no pains to conceal their ill-will toward the Guelf Pope. Boniface, indeed, accused them of plotting with his enemies for his overthrow. The Colonnas, finding Rome unsafe, had withdrawn to their strong town of Palestrina, whence they could issue forth at will for plunder, and where they could give shelter to those who shared in their hostility toward the Pope. On the other hand, Boniface, not trusting himself in Rome, withdrew to the secure height of Orvieto, and thence, on the 14th of December, 1297, issued a terrible bull for a crusade against them, granting plenary indulgence to all, (such was the Christian temper of the times, and so literally were the violent seizing upon the kingdom of Heaven,) granting plenary indulgence to all who would take up arms against these rebellious sons of the Church and march against their chief stronghold, their ` alto seggio' of Palestrina. They and their adherents had already been excommunicated and put under the ban of the Church; they had been stripped of all dignities and privileges; their property had been confiscated; and they were now by this bull placed in the position o enemies, not of the Pope alone, but of the Church Universal. Troops gathered against them from all quarters of Papal Italy. Their lands were ravaged, and they themselves shut up within their stronghold; but for a long time they held out in their ancient high-walled mountaintown. It was to gain Palestrina that Boniface `had war near the Lateran.' The great church and palace of the Lateran, standing on the summit of the Coelian Hill, close to the city wall, overlooks the Campagna, which, in broken levels of brown and green and purple fields, reaches to the base of the encircling mountains. Twenty miles away, crowning the top and clinging to the side of one of the last heights of the Sabine range, are the gray walls and roofs of Palestrina. It was a far more conspicuous place at the close of the thirteenth century than it is now; for the great columns of the famous temple of Fortune still rose above the town, and the ancient citadel kept watch over it from its high rock. At length, in September, 1298, the Colonnas, reduced to the hardest extremities, became ready for peace. Boniface promised largely.

The two Cardinals presented themselves before him at Rieti, in coarse brown dresses, and with ropes around their necks, in token of their repentance and submission. The Pope gave them not only pardon and absolution, but hope of being restored to their titles and possessions. This was the 'lunga promessa con l'attender corto'; for, while the Colonnas were retained near him, and these deceptive hopes held out to them, Boniface sent the Bishop of Orvieto to take possession of Palestrina, and to destroy it utterly, leaving only the church to stand as a monument above its ruins. The work was done thoroughly;--a plough was drawn across the site of the unhappy town, and salt scattered in the furrow, that the land might thenceforth be desolate. The inhabitants were removed from the mountain to the plain, and there forced to build new homes for themselves, which, in their turn, two years afterwards, were thrown down and burned by order of the implacable Pope. This last piece of malignity was accomplished in 1300, the year of the Jubilee, the year in which Dante was in Rome and in which he saw Guy of Montefeltro, the counsellor of Boniface in deceit, burning in Hell."

94. The story of Sylvester and Constantine is one of the legends of the Legenda Aurea. The part of it relating to the Emperor's baptism is thus condensed by Mrs. Jameson in her Sacred and Legendary Art, II. 313:--

"Sylvester was born at Rome of virtuous parents; and at a time when Constantine was still in the darkness of idolatry and persecuted the Christians, Sylvester, who had been elected Bishop of Rome, fled from the persecution, and dwelt for some time in a cavern, near the summit of Monte Calvo. While he lay there concealed, the Emperor was attacked by a horrible leprosy: and having called to him the priests of his false gods, they advised that he should bathe himself in a bath of children's blood, and three thousand children were collected for this purpose. And as he proceeded in his chariot to the place where the bath was to be prepared, the mothers of these children threw themselves in his way with dishevelled hair, weeping, and crying aloud for mercy. Then Constantine was moved to tears, and he ordered his chariot to stop, and he said to his nobles and to his attendants who were around him, "Far better is it that I should die, than cause the death of these innocents!' And then he commanded that the children should be restored to their mothers with great gifts, in recompense of what they had suffered; so they went away full of joy and gratitude, and the Emperor returned to his palace. "On that same night, as he lay asleep, St. Peter and St. Paul appeared at his bedside: and they stretched their hands over him and said, `Because thou hast feared to spill the innocent blood, Jesus Christ has sent us to bring thee good counsel. Send to Sylvester, who lies hidden amoung the mountains, and he shall show thee the pool in which, having washed three times, thou shalt be clean from thy leprosy; and henceforth thou shalt adore the God of the Christians, and thou shalt cease to persecute and to oppress them. ' Then Constantine, awaking from this vision, sent his soldiers in search of Sylvester. And when they took him, he supposed that it was to lead him to death; nevertheless he went cheerfully: and when he appeared before the Emperor, Constantine arose and saluted him, and said, `I would know of thee who are those two gods who appeared to me in the visions of the night?' And Sylvester replied, `They were not gods, but the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ.' Then Constantine desired that he would show him the effigies of these two apostles; and Sylvester sent for two pictures of St. Peter and St. Paul, which were in the possession of certain pious Christians. Constantine, having behald them, saw that they were the same who had appeared to him in his dream. Then Sylvester baptized him, and he came out of the font cured of his malady. "

Gower also, Confes. Amatis, II., tells the story at length: --

"And in the while it was begunne
A light, as though it were a sunne,
Fro heven into the place come
Where that he toke his christendome,
And ever amonge the holy tales
Lich as they weren fisches scales
They fellen from him now and efte,
Till that there was nothing belefte
OF all this grete maladie."

96. Montefeltro was in the Franciscan monastery at Assisi.

102. See Note 86 of this Canto. Dante calls the town Penestrino from its Latin name Praeneste.

105. Pope Celestine V., who made "the great refusal," or abdication of the papacy. See Canto III. Note 59.

118. Gower, Confes. Amantis, II.:--

"For shrifte stant of no value
To him, that woll him nought vertue,
To leve of vice the folie,
For worde is wind, but the maistrie
Is, that a man himself defende
of thing whiche is nought to commende,
Whereof ben fewe now a day."

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