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The Divine Comedy: Inferno

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












































Dante, at the desire of Virgil, proceeds onward to the bridge that crosses the tenth gulf, from whence he hears the cries of the alchemists and forgers, who are tormented therein; but not being able to discern anything on account of the darkness, they descend the rock, that bounds this the last of the compartments in which the eighth circle is divided, and then behold the spirits who are afflicted by divers plagues and diseases. Two of them, namely, Grifolion of Arezzo and Capocchio of Sienna, are introduced speaking.

THE many people and the divers wounds 1
These eyes of mine had so inebriated,
That they were wishful to stand still and weep;

But said Virgilius:"What dost thou still gaze at?
Why is thy sight still riveted down there
Among the mournful, mutilated shades ?

Thou hast not done so at the other Bolge;
Consider, if to count them thou believest,
That two-and-twenty miles the valley winds,

And now the moon is underneath our feet;
Henceforth the time allotted us is brief,
And more is to be seen than what thou seest."

"If thou hadst," I made answer thereupon
"Attended to the cause for which I looked,
Perhaps a longer stay thou wouldst have pardoned."

Meanwhile my Guide departed, and behind him
I went, already making my reply,
And superadding: " In that cavern where

I held mine eyes with such attention fixed,
I think a spirit of my blood laments
The sin which down below there costs so much"

Then said the Master:"Be no longer broken
Thy thought from this time forward upon him;
Attend elsewhere, and there let him remain;

For him I saw below the little bridge,
Pointing at thee, and threatening with his finger
Fiercely, and heard him called Geri del Bello. 27

So wholly at that time wast thou impeded
By him who formerly held Altaforte, 29
Thou didst not look that way; so he departed."

"O my Conductor, his own violent death,
Which is not yet avenged for him,"I said,
"By any who is sharer in the shame,

Made him disdainful; whence he went away,
As I imagine, without speaking to me, 35
And thereby made me pity him the more." 36

Thus did we speak as far as the first place
Upon the crag, which the next valley shows
Down to the bottom, if there were more light.

When we were now right over the last cloister
Of Malebolge, so that its lay-brothers
Could manifest themselves unto our sight,

Divers lamentings pierced me through and through,
Which with compassion had their arrows barbed,
Whereat mine ears I covered with my hands.

What pain would be, if from the hospitals 46
Of Valdichiana, 'twixt July and September,
And of Maremma and Sardinia

All the diseases in one moat were gathered,
Such was it here, and such a stench came from it
As from putrescent limbs is wont to issue.

We had descended on the furthest bank
From the long crag, upon the left hand still,
And then more vivid was my power of sight

Down tow'rds the bottom, where the ministress
Of the high Lord, Justice infallible,
Punishes forgers, which she here records. 57

I do not think a sadder sight to see
Was in Aegina the whole people sick, 59
(When was the air so full of pestilence,

The animals, down to the little worm,
All fell, and afterwards the ancient people,
According as the poets have affirmed,

Were from the seed of ants restored again,)
Than was it to behold through that dark
The spirits languishing in divers heaps.

This on the belly, that upon the back
One of the other lay, and others crawling
Shifted themselves along the dismal road.

We step by step went onward without speech,
Gazing upon and listening to the sick
Who had not strength enough to lift their bodies.

I saw two sitting leaned against each other,
As leans in heating platter against platter,
From head to foot bespotted o'er with scabs;

And never saw I plied a currycomb
By stable-boy for whom his master waits,
Or him who keeps awake unwillingly,

As every one was plying fast the bite
Of nails upon himself, for the great rage
Of itching which no other succour had.

And the nails downward with them dragged the scab,
In fashion as a knife the scales of bream,
Or any other fish that has them largest.

"O thou, that with thy fingers dost dismail thee,"
Began my Leader unto one of them,
"And makest of them pincers now and then,

Tell me if any Latian is with those 88
Who are herein; so may thy nails suffice thee
To all eternity unto this work."

"Latians are we, whom thou so wasted seest,
Both of us here," one weeping made reply;
"But who art thou, that questionest about us?"

And said the Guide:"One am I who descends
Down with this living man from cliff to cliff,
And I intend to show Hell unto him."

Then broken was their mutual support,
And trembling each one turned himself to me,
With others who had heard him by rebound.

Wholly to me did the good Master gather,
Saying:"Say unto them whate'er thou wishest."
And I began, since he would have it so:

"So may your memory not steal away
In the first world from out the minds of men,
But so may it survive 'neath many suns,

Say to me who ye are, and of what people;
Let not your foul and loathsome punishment
Make you afraid to show yourselves to me."

"I of Arezzo was," one made reply, 109
"And Albert of Siena had me burned;
But what I died for does not bring me here.

'Tis true I said to him, speaking in jest,
That I could rise by flight into the air,
And he who had conceit, but little wit,

Would have me show to him the art; and only
Because no Daedelus I made him, made me 116
Be burned by one who held him as his son.

But unto the last Bolgia of the ten,
For alchemy, which in the world I practised,
Minos, who cannot err, has me condemned."

And to the Poet said I:"Now was ever
So vain a people as the Sienese? 122
Not for a certainty the French by far."

Whereat the other leper, who had heard me,
Replied unto my speech:"Taking out Stricca, 125
Who knew the art of moderate expenses,

And Niccolo, who the luxurious use
Of cloves discovered earliest of all
Within that garden where such seed takes root;

And taking out the band, among whom squandered
Caccia d'Ascian his vineyards and vast woods,
And where his wit the Abbagliato proffered!

But,that thou know who thus doth second thee
Against the Sienese, make sharp thine eye
Tow'rds me, so that my face well answer thee,

And thou shalt see I am Capocchio's shade, 136
Who metals falsified by alchemy;
Thou must remember, if I well descry thee,

How I a skilful ape of nature was."

Footnotes 29

Canto 29

1. The Tenth and last "cloister of Malebolge," where

"Justice infallible
Punishes forgers,"

and falsifiers of all kinds. This Canto is devoted to the alchemists.

27. Geri del Bello was a disreputable member of the Alighieri family, and was murdered by one of the Sacchetti. His death was afterwards avenged by his brother, who in turn slew one of the Sacchetti at the door of his house.

29. Bertrand de Born.

35. Like the ghost of Ajax in the Odyssey, XI. "He answered me not at all, but went to Erebus amongst the other souls of the dead. "

36. Dante seems to share the feeling of the Italian vendetta, which required retaliation from some member of the injured family. "Among the Italians of this age," says Napier, Florentine Hist., I. Ch. VII., "and for centuries after, private offence was never forgotten until revenged, and generally involved a succession of mutual injuries; vengeance was not only considered lawful and just, but a positive duty, dishonorable to omit; and, as may be learned from ancient private journals, it was sometimes allowed to sleep for five-and-thirty years, and then suddently struck a victim who perhaps had not yet seen the light when the original injury was inflicted."

46. The Val di Chiana, near Arezzo, was in Dante's time marshy and pestilential. Now, by the effect of drainage, it is one of the most beautiful and fruitful of the Tuscan valleys. The Maremma was and is notoriously unhealthy; see Canto XIII. Note 9, and Sardinia would seem to have shared its ill repute.

57. Forgers or falsifiers in a general sense. The "false semblaunt" of Gower, Confes. Amant., II.:--

"Of fals semblaunt if I shall telle,
Above all other it is the welle
Out of the which deceipte floweth."
They are registered here on earth to be punished hereafter.

59. The plague of Aegina is described by Ovid, Metamorph. VII., Stonestreet's Tr.:--

"Their black dry tongues are swelled, and scarce can move,
And short thick sighs from panting lungs are drove.
They gape for air, with flatt'ring hopes t'abate
Their raging flames, but that augments their heat.
No bed, no cov'ring can the wretches bear,
But on the ground, exposed to open air,
They lie, and hope to find a pleasing coolness there.
The suff'ring earth, with that oppression curst,
Returns the heat which they imparted first.

Here one, with fainting steps, does slowly creep
O'er heaps of dead, and straight augments the heap;
Another, while his strength and tongue prevailed,
Bewails his friend, and falls himself bewailed;
This with imploring looks surveys the skies,
The last dear office of his closing eyes,
But finds the Heav'ns implacable, and dies."

The birth of the Myrmidons, "who still retain the thrift of ants, though now transformed to men," is thus given in the same book:--

"As many ants the num'rous branches bear,
The same their labor, and their frugal care;
The branches too alike commotion found,
And shook th' industrious creatures on the ground,
Who by degrees (what's scarce to be believed)
A nobler form and larger bulk received,
And on the earth walked an unusual pace,
With manly strides, and an erected face;
Their num'rous legs, and former color lost
The insects could a human figure boast."

88. Latian, or Italian; any one of the Latin race.

109. The speaker is a certain Griffolino, an alchemist of Arezzo, who practised upon the credulity of Albert, a natural son of the Bishop of Siena. For this he was burned; but was "condemned to the last Bolgia of the ten for alchemy."

116. The inventor of the Cretan labyrinth. Ovid, Metamorph. VIII.: --

"Great Daedalus of Athens was the man
Who made the draught, and formed the wondrous plan."
Not being able to find his way out of the labyrinth, he made
wings for himself and his son Icarus, and escaped by flight.

122. Speaking of the people of Siena, Forsyth, Italy, 532, says: "Vain, flighty, fanciful, they want the judgment and penetration of their Florentine neighbors; who, nationally severe, call a nail without a head chiodo Sanese. The accomplished Signora Rinieri told me, that her father, while Governor of Siena, was once stopped in his carriage by a crowd at Florence, where the mob, recognizing him, called out: `Lasciate passare il Governatore de' matti.' A native of Siena is presently know at Florence; for his very walk, being formed to a hilly town, detects him on the plain."

125. The persons here mentioned gain a kind of immortality from Dante's verse. The Stricca, or Baldastricca, was a lawyer of Siena; and Niccolo dei Salimbeni, or Bonsignori, introduced the fashion of stuffing pheasants with cloves, or, as Benvenuto says, of roasting them at a fire of cloves. Though Dante mentions them apart, they seem, like the two others named afterwards, to have been members of the Brigata Spendereccia, or Prodigal Club, of Siena, whose extravagances are recorded by Benvenuto da Imola.

This club consisted of "twelve very rich young gentlemen, who took it into their heads to do things that would make a great part of the world wonder." Accordingly each contributed eighteen thousand golden florins to a common fund, amounting in all to two hundred and sixteen thousand florins. They built a palace, in which each member had a splendid chamber, and they gave sumptuous dinners and suppers; ending their banquets sometimes by throwing all the dishes, table- ornaments, and knives of gold and silver out of the window. "This silly institution," continues Benvenuto, "lasted only ten months, the treasury being exhausted, and the wretched members became the fable and laughing-stock of all the world." In honor of this club, Folgore da San Geminiano, a clever poet of the day (1260) , wrote a series of twelve convivial sonnets, one for each month of the year, with Dedication and Conclusion. A translation of these sonnets may be found in D. G. Rossetti's Early Italian Poets. The Dedication runs as follows:--

"Unto the blithe and lordly Fellowship,
(I know not where, but wheresoe'er, I know,
Lordly and blithe,) be greeting; and thereto,
Dogs, hawks, and a full purse wherein to dip;
Quails struck i' the flight; nags mettled to the whip;
Hart-hounds, hare-hounds, and blood-hounds even so;
And o'er that realm, a crown for Niccolo,
Whose praise in Siena springs from lip to lip.
Tingoccio, Atuin di Togno, and Ancaian,
Bartolo, and Mugaro, and Faenot,
Who well might pass for children of King Ban,
Courteous and valiant more than Lancelot,
To each, God speed! How worthy every man
To hold high tournament in Camelot."

136. "This Capocchio," says the Ottimo, "was a very subtle alchemist; and because he was burned for practising alchemy in Siena, he exhibits his hatred to the Sienese, and gives us to understand that the author knew him."

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