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The Divine Comedy: Inferno

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












































In the same gulf, other kinds of impostures, as those who have counterfeited the persona of others, or debased the current coin, or deceived by speech under false pretenses, are described as suffering various diseases. Sinon of Troy, and Adamo of Brescia, mutually reproach each other with their various impostures.

'TWAS at the time when Juno was enraged, 1
For Semele, against the Theban blood,
As she already more than once had shown,

So reft of reason Arthamas became, 4
That, seeing his own wife with children twain
Walking encumbered upon either hand,

He cried:"Spread out the nets, that I may take
The lioness and her whelps upon the passage;"
And then extended his unpitying claws,

Seizing the first, who had the name Learchus,
And whirled him round, and dashed him on a rock;
And she, with the other burthen, drowned herself;--

And at the time when fortune downward hurled
The Trojan's arrogance, that all things dared,
So that the king was with his kingdom crushed,

Hecuba sad, disconsolate, and captive, 16
When lifeless she beheld Polyxena,
And of her Polydorus on the shore

Of ocean was the dolorous one aware,
Out of her senses like a dog she barked,
So much the anguish had her mind distorted;

But not of Thebes the furies nor the Trojan
Were ever seen in any one so cruel
In goading beasts, and much more human members,

As I beheld two shadows pale and naked,
Who, biting, in the manner ran along
That a boar does, when from the sty turned loose.

One to Capocchio came, and by the nape
Seized with its teeth his neck, so that in dragging
It made his belly grate the solid bottom.

And the Aretine, who trembling had remained, 31
Said to me: " That mad sprite is Gianni Schicchi,
And raving goes thus harrying other people."

"O," said I to him, " so may not the other
Set teeth on thee, let it not weary thee
To tell us who it is, ere it dart hence."

And he to me:"That is the ancient ghost
Of the nefarious Myrrha, who became
Beyond all rightful love her father's lover.

She came to sir with him after this manner,
By counterfeiting of another's form;
As he who goeth yonder undertook, 42

That he might gain the lady of the herd,
To counterfeit in himself Buoso Donati,
Making a will and giving it due form."

And after the two maniacs had passed
On whom I held mine eye, I turned it back
To look upon the other evil-born.

I saw one made in fashion of a lute,
If he had only had the groin cut off
Just at the point at which a man is forked.

The heavy dropsy, that so disproportions
The limbs with humours, which it ill concocts,
That the face corresponds not to the belly,

Compelled him so to hold his lips apart
As does the hectic, who because of thirst
One tow'rds the chin, the other upward turns.

"O ye, who without any torment are,
And why I know not, in the world of woe,"
He said to us, " behold, and be attentive

Unto the misery of Master Adam; 61
I had while living much of what I wished,
And now, alas ! a drop of water crave.

The rivulets, that from the verdant hills 64
Of Cassentin descend down into Arno, 65
Making their channels to be cold and moist,

Ever before me stand, and not in vain;
For far more doth their image dry me up
Than the disease which strips my face of flesh.

The rigid justice that chastises me
Draweth occasion from the place in which
I sinned, to put the more my sighs in flight.

There is Romena, where I counterfeited 73
The currency imprinted with the Baptist,
For which I left my body burned above.

But if I here could see the tristful soul
Of Guido, or Alessandro, or their brother,
For Branda's fount I would Dot give the sight.

One is within already, if the raving
Shades that are going round about speak truth;
But what avails it me, whose limbs are tied ?

If I were only still so light, that in
A hundred years I could advance one inch,
I had already started on the way,

Seeking him out among this squalid folk,
Although the circuit be eleven miles, 86
And be not less than half a mile across.

For them am I in. such a family;
They did induce me into coining florins,
Which had three carats of impurity."

And I to him:"Who are the two poor wretches
That smoke like unto a wet hand in winter,
Lying there close upon thy right-hand confines?"

"I found them here,"replied he, "when I rained
Into this chasm, and since they have not turned,
Nor do I think they will for evermore.

One the false woman is who accused Joseph, 97
The other the false Sinon, Greek of Troy; 98
From acute fever they send forth such reek."

And one of them, who felt himself annoyed
At being, peradventure, named so darkly,
Smote with the fist upon his hardened paunch.

It gave a sound, as if it were a drum; 103
And Master Adam smote him in the face,
With arm that did not seem to be less hard,

Saying to him:"Although be taken from me
All motion, for my limbs that heavy are,
I have an arm unfettered for such need."

Whereat he answer made:"When thou didst go
Unto the fire, thou hadst it not so ready:
But hadst it so and more when thou wast coining."

The dropsical:"Thou sayest true in that;
But thou wast not so true a witness there,
Where thou wast questioned of the truth at Troy."

"If I spake false, thou falsifiedst the coin,"
Said Sinon; " and for one fault I am here,
And thou for more than any other demon."

"Remember,perjurer,about the horse,"
He made reply who had the swollen belly,
"And rueful be it thee the whole world knows it."

"Rueful to thee the thirst be wherewith cracks
Thy tongue," the Greek said, " and the putrid water
That hedges so thy paunch before thine eyes."

Then the false-coiner:"So is gaping wide
Thy mouth for speaking evil, as 'tis wont;
Because if I have thirst, and humour stuff me

Thou hast the burning and the head that aches,
And to lick up the mirror of Narcissus 128
Thou wouldst not want words many to invite thee."

In listening to them was I wholly fixed,
When said the Master to me: " Now just look,
For little wants it that I quarrel with thee."

When him I heard in anger speak to me,
I turned me round towards him with such shame
That still it eddies through my memory.

And as he is who dreams of his own harm,
Who dreaming wishes it may be a dream,
So that he craves what is, as if it were not;

Such I became, not having power to speak,
For to excuse myself I wished, and still
Excused myself, and did not think I did it.

"Less shame doth wash away a greater fault,"
The Master said, " than this of thine has been;
Therefore thyself disburden of all sadness,

And make account that I am aye beside thee,
If e'er it come to pass that fortune bring thee
Where there are people in a like dispute;

For a base wish it is to wish to hear it."

Footnotes 30

Canto 30

1. In this Canto the same Bolgia is continued, with different kinds of Falsifiers.

4. Athamas, king of Thebes and husband of Ino, daughter of Cadmus. His madness is thus described by Ovid, Metamorph. IV., Eusden's Tr.:--

"Now Athamas cries out, his reason fled,
`Here, fellow-hunters, let the toils be spread.
I saw a lioness, in quest of food,
With her two young, run roaring in this wood.'
Again the fancied savages were seen,
As thro' his palace still he chased his queen;
Then tore Learchus from her breast: the child
Streched little arms, and on its father smiled,--
A father now no more,--who now begun
Around his head to whirl his giddy son,
And, quite insensible to nature's call,
The helpless infant flung against the wall.
The same mad poison in the mother wrought;
Young Melicerta in her arms she caught,
And with disordered tresses, howling, flies,
`O Bacchus, Evoe, Bacchus!' loud she cries.
The name of Bacchus Juno laughed to hear,
And said, `Thy foster-god has cost thee dear.'
A rock there stood, whose side the beating waves
Had long consumed, and hollowed into caves.
The head shot forwards in a bending steep,
And cast a dreadful covert o'er the deep.
The wretched Ino, on destruction bent,
Climbed up the cliff,--such strength her fury lent:
Thence with her guiltless boy, who wept in vain,
At one bold spring she plunged into the main."

16. Hecuba, wife of Priam of Troy, and mother of Polyxena and Polydorus. Ovid, XIII., Stanyan's Tr.:--

"When on the banks her son in ghastly hue
Transfixed with Thracian arrows strikes her view,
The matrons shrieked; her big swoln grief surpassed
The power of utterance; she stood aghast;
She had nor speech, nor tears to give relief:
Excess of woe suppressed the rising grief.
Lifeless as stone, on earth she fix'd her eyes;
And then look'd up to Heav'n with wild surprise,
Now she contemplates o'er with sad delight
Her son's pale visage; then her aking sight
Dwells on his wounds: she varies thus by turns,
Till with collected rage at length she burns,
Wild as the mother-lion, when among
The haunts of prey she seeks her ravished young:
Swift flies the ravisher; she marks his trace,
And by the print directs her anxious chase.
So Hecuba with mingled grief and rage
Pursues the king, regardless of her age.

Fastens her forky fingers in his eyes;
Tears out the rooted balls; her rage pursues,
And in the hollow orbs her hand imbrues.
"The Thracians, fired at this inhuman scene,
With darts and stones assail the frantic queen.
She snarls and growls, nor in an human tone;
Then bites impatient at the bounding stone;
Extends her jaws, as she her voice would raise
To keen invectives in her wonted phrase;
But barks, and thence the yelping brute betrays."

31. Griffolino d'Arezzo, mentioned in Canto XXIX. 109.

42. The same "mad sprite," Gianni Schicchi, mentioned in line 32. "Buoso Donati of Florence," says Benvenuto, "although a nobleman and of an illustrious house, was nevertheless like other noblemen of his time, and by means of thefts had greatly increased his patrimony. When the hour of death drew near, the sting of conscience caused him to make a will in which he gave fat legacies to many people; whereupon his son Simon, (the Ottimo says his nephew,) thinking himself enormously aggrieved, suborned Vanni Schicchi dei Cavalcanti, who got into Buoso's bed, and made a will in opposition to the other. Gianni much resembled Buoso." In this will Gianni Schicchi did not forget himself, while making Simon heir; for, according to the Ottimo, he put this clause into it: "To Gianni Schicchi I bequeath my mare." This was the "lady of the herd," and Benvenuto adds, "none more beautiful was to be found in Tuscany; and it was valued at a thousand florins."

61. Messer Adamo, a false-coiner of Brescia, who at the instigation of the Counts Guido, Alessandro, and Aghinolfo of Romena, counterfeited the golden florin of Florence, which bore on one side a lily, and on the other the figure of John the Baptist.

64. Tasso, Gerusalemme, XIII. 60, Fairfax's Tr.:--

"He that the gliding rivers erst had seen
Adown their verdant channels gently rolled,
Or falling streams, which to the valleys green,
Distilled from tops of Alpine mountains cold,
Those he desired in vain, new torments been
Augumented thus with wish of comforts old;
Those waters cool he drank in vain conceit,
Which more increased his thirst, increased his heat."

65. The upper valley of the Arno is in the province of Cassentino.

Quoting these three lines, Ampere, Voyage Dantesque, 246, says: "In these untranslatable verses, there is a feeling of humid freshness, which almost makes one shudder. I owe it to truth to say, that the Cassentine was a great deal less fresh and less verdant in reality than in the poetry of Dante, and that in the midst of the aridity which surrounded me, this poetry, by its very perfection, made one feel something of the punishment of Master Adam."

73. Forsyth, Italy, 116, says: "The castle of Romena, mentioned in these verses, now stands in ruins on a precipice about a mile from our inn, and not far off is a spring which the peasants call Fonte Branda. Might I presume to differ from his commentators, Dante, in my opinion, does not mean the great fountain of Siena, but rather this obscure spring; which, though less known to the world, was an object more familiar to the poet himself, who took refuge here from proscription, and an image more natural to the coiner who was burnt on the spot. "

Ampere is of the same opinion, Voyage Dantesque, 246: "The Fonte Branda, mentioned by Master Adam, is assuredly the fountain thus named, which still flows not far from the tower of Romena, between the place of the crime and that of its punishment." On the other hand, Mr. Barlow, Contributions, remarks: "This little fount was known only to so few, that Dante, who wrote for the Italian people generally, can scarcely be thought to have meant this, when the famous Fonte Branda at Siena was, at least by name, familiar to them all, and formed an image more in character with the insatiable thirst of Master Adam."

Poetically the question is of slight importance; for, as Fluellen says, "There is a river in Macedon, and there is also moreover a river at Monmount,.....and there is salmons in both."

86. This line and line II of Canto XXIX. are cited by Gabrielle Rossetti in confirmation of his theory of the "Principal Allegory of the Inferno," that the city of Dis is Rome. He says, Spirito Antipapale, I. 62, Miss Ward's Tr.:--

"This well is surrounded by a high wall, and the wall by a vast trench; the circuit of the trench is twenty-two miles, and that of the wall eleven miles. Now the outward trench of the walls of Rome (whether real or imaginary we say not) was reckoned by Dante's contemporaries to be exactly twenty-two miles; and the walls of the city were then, and still are, eleven miles round. Hence it is clear, that the wicked time which looks into Rome, as into a mirror, sees there the corrupt place which is the final goal to its waters or people, that is, the figurative Rome, `dread seat of Dis.'"

The trench here spoken of is the last trench of Malebolge. Dante mentions no wall about the well; only giants standiing round it like towers.

97. Potiphar's wife.

98. Virgil's "perjured Sinon," the Greek who persuaded the Trojans to accept the wooden horse, telling them it was meant to protect the city, in lieu of the statue of Pallas, stolen by Diomed and Ulysses.
Chaucer, Nonnes Preestes Tale:--

"O false dissimilour, O Greek Sinon,
That broughtest Troye at utterly to sorwe."

103. The disease of tympanites is so called "because the abdomen is distended with wind, and sounds like a drum when struck."

128. Ovid, Metamorph. III.:--

"A fountain in a darksome wood,
Nor stained with falling leaves nor rising mud."

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