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The Divine Comedy: Inferno

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












































The poets, following the sound of a loud horn, are led by it to the ninth circle, in which there are four rounds, one incised within the other, and containing as many sorts of Traitors; but the present Canto shows only that the circle is encompassed with Giants, one of whom Antaeus, takes them both in his arms and places them at the bottom of the circle.

ONE and the selfsame tongue first wounded me, 1
So that it tinged the one cheek and the other,
And then held out to me the medicine;

Thus do I hear that once Achilles' spear, 4
His and his father's, used to be the cause
First of a sad and then a gracious boon.

We turned our backs upon the wretched valley,
Upon the bank that girds it round about,
Going across it without any speech.

There it was less than night, and less than day,
So that my sight went little in advance;
But I could hear the blare of a loud horn,

So loud it would have made each thunder faint,
Which, counter to it following its way,
Mine eyes directed wholly to one place.

After the dolorous discomfiture 16
When Charlemagne the holy emprise lost,
So terribly Orlando sounded not. 18

Short while my head turned thitherward I held
When many lofty towers I seemed to see,
Whereat I: " Master, say, what town is this?

And he to me:"Because thou peerest forth
Athwart the darkness at too great a distance,
It happens that thou errest in thy fancy.

Well shalt thou see, if thou arrivest there,
How much the sense deceives itself by distance;
Therefore a little faster spur thee on."

Then tenderly he took me by the hand,
And said: " Before we farther have advanced,
That the reality may seem to thee

Less strange, know that these are not towers, but giants,
And they are in the well, around the bank,
From navel downward, one and all of them."

As, when the fog is vanishing away,
Little by little doth the sight refigure
Whate'er the mist that crowds the air conceals,

So, piercing through the dense and darksome air,
More and more near approaching tow'rd the verge,
My error fled, and fear came over me;

Because as on its circular parapets
Montereggione crowns itself with towers, 41
E'en thus the margin which surrounds the well

With one half of their bodies turreted
The horrible giants, whom Jove menaces
E'en now from out the heavens when he thunders.

And I of one already saw the face,
Shoulders, and breast, and great part of the belly,
And down along his sides both of the arms.

Certainly Nature, when she left the making
Of animals like these, did well indeed,
By taking such executors from Mars;

And if of elephants and whales she doth not
Repent her, whosoever looketh subtly
More just and more discreet will hold her for it;

For where the argument of intellect
Is added unto evil will and power,
No rampart can the people make against it.

His face appeared to me as long and large
As is at Rome the pine-cone of Saint Peter's, 59
And in proportion were the other bones;

So that the margin, which an apron was
Down from the middle, showed so much of him
Above it, that to reach up to his hair

Three Frieslanders in vain had vaunted them;
For I beheld thirty great palms of him
Down from the place where man his mantle buckles.

"Raphael mai amech izabi almi," 67
Began to clamour the ferocious mouth,
To which were not befitting sweeter psalms.

And unto him my Guide:"Soul idiotic,
Keep to thy horn, and vent thyself with that,
When wrath or other passion touches thee.

Search round thy neck, and thou wilt find the belt
Which keeps it fastened,O bewildered soul
And see it, where it bars thy mighty breast."

Then said to me:"He doth himself accuse;
This one is Nimrod, by whose evil thought 77
One language in the world is not still used.

Here let us leave him and not speak in vain;
For even such to him is every language
As his to others, which to none is known."

Therefore a longer journey did we make,
Turned to the left, and a crossbow-shot oft
We found another far more fierce and large.

In binding him, who might the master be
I cannot say; but he had pinioned close
Behind the right arm, and in front the other,

With chains, that held him so begirt about
From the neck down, that on the part uncovered
It wound itself as far as the fifth gyre.

"This proud one wished to make experiment
Of his own power against the Supreme Jove,"
My Leader said, " whence he has such a guerdon.

Ephialtes is his name; he showed great prowess. 94
What time the giants terrified the gods;
The arms he wielded never more he moves."

And I to him:"If possible, I should wish
That of the measureless Briareus 98
These eyes of mine might have experience."

Whence he replied:"Thou shalt behold Antaeus 100
Close by here, who can speak and is unbound,
Who at the bottom of all crime shall place us.

Much farther yon is he whom thou wouldst see,
And he is bound, and fashioned like to this one,
Save that he seems in aspect more ferocious."

There never was an earthquake of such might
That it could shake a tower so violently,
As Ephialtes suddenly shook himself

Then was I more afraid of death than ever,
For nothing more was needful than the fear,
If I had not beheld the manacles.

Then we proceeded farther in advance,
And to Antaeus came, who, full five ells
Without the head, forth issued from the cavern.

"O thou,who in the valley fortunate,
Which Scipio the heir of glory made,
When Hannibal turned back with all his hosts,

Once brought'st a thousand lions for thy prey,
And who, hadst thou been at the mighty war
Among thy brothers, some it seems still think

The sons of Earth the victory would have gained:
Place us below, nor be disdainful of it,
There where the cold doth lock Cocytus up.

Make us not go to Tityus nor Typhoeus; 124
This one can give of that which here is longed for;
Therefore stoop down, and do not curl thy lip.

Still in the world can he restore thy fame;
Because he lives, and still expects long life,
If to itself Grace call him not untimely."

So said the Master; and in haste the other
His hands extended and took up my Guide,--
Hands whose great pressure Hercules once felt. 132

Virgilius, when he felt himself embraced,
Said unto me: " Draw nigh, that I may take thee; "
Then of himself and me one bundle made.

As seems the Carisenda, to behold 136
Beneath the leaning side, when goes a cloud
Above it so that opposite it hangs;

Such did Antaeus seem to me, who stood
Watching to see him stoop, and then it was
I could have wished to go some other way.

But lightly in the abyss, which swallows up
Judas with Lucifer, he put us down;
Nor thus bowed downward made he there delay,

But, as a mast does in a ship, uprose.

Footnotes 31

Canto 31

1. This Canto describes the Plain of the Giants, between Malebolge and the mouth of the Infernal Pit.

4. Iliad, XVI.: "A Pelion ash, which Chiron gave to his (Achilles') father, cut from the top of Mount Pelion, to be the death of heroes."

Chaucer, Squieres Tale:--
"And of Achilles for his queinte spere,
For he coude with it bothe hele and drere."

And Shakespeare, in King Henry the Sixth, V. i.:--
"Whose smile and frown, like to Achilles' spear,
Is able with the change to kill and cure."

16. The battle of Roncesvalles,

"When Charlemain with all his peerage fell By Fontarabia."

18. Archbishop Turpin, Chronicle, XXIII., Rodd's Tr., thus describes the blowing or Orlando's horn:--

"He now blew a loud blast with his horn, to summon any Christian concealed in the adjacent woods to his assistance, or to recall his friends beyond the pass. This horn was endued with such power, that all other horns were split by its sound; and it is said that Orlando at that time blew it with such vehemence, that he burst the veins and nerves of his neck. The sound reached the king's ears, who lay encamped in the valley still called by his name, about eight miles from Ronceval, towards Gascony, being carried so far by supernatural power. Charles would have flown to his succor, but was prevented by Ganalon, who, conscious of Orlando's sufferings, insinuated it was usual with him to sound his horn on light occasions. `He is, perhaps', said he, `pursuing some wild beast, and the sound echoes through the woods; it will be fruitless, therefore, to seek him.' O wicked traitor, deceitful as Judas! What dost thou merit?"

Walter Scott in Marmion, VI. 33, makes allusion to Orlando's horn: --
"O for a blast of that dread horn,
On Fontarabian echoes borne,
That to King Charles did come,
When Rowland brave, and Oliver,
And every paladin and peer,
On Roncesvalles died!"

Orlando's horn is one of the favorite fictions of old romance, and is surpassed in power only by that of Alexander, which took sixty men to blow it and could be heard at a distance of sixty miles!

41. Montereggione is a picturesque old castle on an eminence near Siena. Ampere, Vogage Dantesque, 251, remarks: "This fortress, as the commentators say, was furnished with towers all round about, and had none in the centre. In its present state it is still very faithfully described by the verse, 'Montereggion de torri si corona.'"

59. This pine-cone of bronze, which is now in the gardens of the Vatican, was found in the mausoleum of Hadrian, and is supposed to have crowned its summit. "I have looked daily", says Mrs. Kemble, Year of Consolation, 152, "over the lonely, sunny gardens, open like the palace halls to me, where the widesweeping orange-walks end in some distant view of the sad and noble Campagna, where silver fountains call to each other through the silent, over-arching cloisters of dark and fragrant green, and where the huge bronze pine, by which Dante measured his great giant, yet stands in the midst of graceful vases and bass-reliefs wrought in former ages, and the more graceful blossoms blown within the very hour." And Ampere, Voyage Dantesque, 277, remarks:

"Here Dante takes as a point of comparison an object of determinate size; the pigna is eleven feet high, the giant then must be seventy; it performs, in the description, the office of those figures which are placed near monuments to render it easier for the eye to measure their height."

Mr. Norton, Travel and Study in Italy, 253, thus speaks of the same object:
"This pine-cone, of bronze, was set originally upon the summit of the Mausoleum of Hadrian. After this imperial sepulchre had undergone many evil fates, and as its ornaments were stripped one by one from it, the cone was in the sixth century taken down, and carried off to adorn a fountain, which had been constructed for the use of dusty and thirsty pilgrims, in a pillared enclosure, called the Paradiso, in front of the old basilica of St. Peter. Here it remained for centuries; and when the old church gave way to the new, it was put where it now stands, useless and out of place, in the trim and formal gardens of the Papal palace." And adds in a note:--

"At the present day it serves the bronze-workers of Rome as a model for an inkstand, such as is seen in the shop windows every winter, and is sold to travellers, few of whom know the history and the poetry belonging to its original."

67. "The gaping monotony of this jargon", says Leigh Hunt, "full of the vowel a, is admirably suited to the mouth of the vast half- stupid speaker. It is like a babble of the gigantic infancy of the world."

77. Nimrod, the "mighty hunter before the Lord", who built the tower of Babel, which, according to the Italian popular tradition, was so high that whoever mounted to the top of it could hear the angels sing.

Cory, Ancient Fragments, 51, gives this extract from the Sibylline Oracles:--
"But when the judgments of the Almighty God Were ripe for execution, when the Tower Rose to the skies upon Assyria's plain, And all mankind one language only knew; A dread commission from on high was given To the fell whirlwinds, which with dire alarms Beat on the Tower, and to its lowest base Shook it convulsed. And now all intercourse, By some occult and overruling power, Ceased among men: by utterance they strove Perplexed and anxious to disclose their mind; But their lip failed them, and in lieu of words Produced a painful babbling sound: the place Was thence called Babel; by th' apostate crew Named from the event. Then severed far away They sped uncertain into realms unknown; Thus kingdoms rose, and the glad world was filled."

94. Odyssey, XI., Buckley's Tr.: "God-like Otus and far-famed Ephialtes; whom the faithful earth nourished, the tallest and far the most beautiful, at least after illustrious Orion. For at nine years old they were also nine cubits in width, and in height they were nine fathoms. Who even threatened the immortals that they would set up a strife of impetuous war in Olympus. They attempted to place Ossa upon Olympus, and upon Ossa leafy Pelion, that heaven might be accessible. And they would have accomplished it, if they had reached the measure of youth; but the son of Jove, whom fair-haired Latona bore, destroyed them both, before the down flowered under their temples and thickened upon their cheeks with a flowering beard."

98. The giant with a hundred hands. Aeneid, X.: "Aegaeon, who, they say, had a hundred arms and a hundred hands, and flashed fire from fifty mouths and breasts; when against the thunder-bolts of Jove he on so many equal bucklers clashed; unsheathed so many swords." He is supposed to have been a famous pirate, and the fable of the hundred hands arose from the hundred sailors that manned his ship.

100. The giant Antaeus is here unbound, because he had not been at "the mighty war" against the gods.

115. The valley of the Bagrada, one of whose branches flows by Zama, the scene of Scipo's great victory over Hannibal, by which he gained his greatest renown and his title of Africanus.

Among the neighboring hills, according to Lucan, Pharsalia, IV. , the giant Antaeus had his cave. Speaking of Curio's voyage, he says:--

"To Afric's coast he cuts the foamy way,
Where low the once victorious Carthage lay.
There landing, to the well-known camp he hies,
Where from afar the distant seas he spies;
Where Bagrada's dull waves the sands divide,
And slowly downward roll their sluggish tide.
From thence he seeks the highest renowned by fame,
And hallowed by the great Cornelian name:
The rocks and hills which long, traditions say,
Where held by huge Antaeus' horrid sway.
But greater deeds this rising mountain grace,
And Scipio's name ennobles much the place,
While, fixing here his famous camp, he calls
Fierce Hannibal from Rome's devoted walls.
As yet the mouldering works remain in view,
Where dreadful once the Latin eagles flew."

124. |Aeneid, VI.: "Here too you might have seen Tityus, the foster-child of all-bearing earth, whose body is extended over nine whole acres; and a huge vulture, with her hooked beak, pecking at his immortal liver." Also Odyssey, XI., in similar words.

Typhoeus was a giant wih a hundred heads, like a dragon's who made war upon the gods as soon as he was born. He was the father of Geryon and Cerberus.

132. The battle between Hercules and Antaeus is described by Lucan, Pharsalia, IV.:--

"Bright in Olympic oil Alcides shone,
Antaeus with his mother's dust is strown,
And seeks her friendly force to aid his own."

136. One of the leaning towers of Bologna, which Eustace, Classical Tour, I. 167, thinks are "remarkable only for their unmeaning elevation and dangerous deviation from the perpendicular."

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