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The Divine Comedy: Inferno

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












































In the fourth and last round of the ninth circle, those who have betrayed their benefactors are wholly covered with ice. And in the midst is Lucifer, at whose back Dante and Virgil ascend, till by a secret path they reach the surface of the other hemisphere of the earth, and once more obtain sight of the stars.

Vexilla Regis prodeunt Inferni 1
Towards us; therefore look in front of thee,"
My Master said,"if thou discernest him."

As, when there breathes a heavy fog, or when
Our hemisphere is darkening into night,
Appears far off a mill the wind is turning,

Methought that such a building then I saw;
And, for the wind, I drew myself behind
My Guide, because there was no other shelter.

Now was I, and with fear in verse I put it,
There where the shades were wholly covered up,
And glimmered through like unto straws in glass.

Some prone are Iying, others stand erect,
This with the head, and that one with the soles;
Another, bow-like, face to feet inverts.

When in advance so far we had proceeded,
That it my Master pleased to show to me
The creature who once had the beauteous semblance- 18

He from before me moved and made me stop,
Saying:"Behold Dis, and behold the place
Where thou with fortitude must arm thyself"

How frozen I became and powerless then,
Ask it not, Reader, for I write it not,
Because all language would be insufficient.

I did not die, and I alive remained not;
Think for thyself now, hast thou aught of wit,
What I became, being of both deprived.

The Emperor of the kingdom dolorous 28
From his mid-breast forth issued from the ice,
And better with a giant I compare

Than do the giants with those arms of his;
Consider now how great must be that whole,
Which unto such a part conforms itself.

Were he as fair once, as he now is foul,
And lifted up his brow against his Maker,
Well may proceed from him all tribulation.

O, what a marvel it appeared to me,
When I beheld three faces on his head! 38
The one in front, and that vermilion was;

Two were the others, that were joined with this
Above the middle part of either shoulder,
And they were joined together at the crest;

And the right-hand one seemed 'twixt white and yellow
The left was such to look upon as those
Who come from where the Nile falls valley-ward. 45

Underneath each came forth two mighty wings,
Such as befitting were so great a bird;
Sails of the sea I never saw so large. 48

No feathers had they, but as of a bat
Their fashion was; and he was waving them,
So that three winds proceeded forth therefrom.

Thereby Cocytus wholly was congealed.
With six eyes did he weep, and down three chins
Trickled the tear-drops and the bloody drivel.

At every mouth he with his teeth was crunching 55
A sinner, in the manner of a brake,
So that he three of them tormented thus.

To him in front the biting was as naught
Unto the clawing, for sometimes the spine
Utterly stripped of all the skin remained.

"That soul up there which has the greatest pain,"
The Master said, " is Judas Iscariot; 62
With head inside, he plies his legs without.

Of the two others, who head downward are,
The one who hangs from the black jowl is Brutus;
See how he writhes himself, and speaks no word.

And the other, who so stalwart seems, is Cassius.
But night is reascending, and 'tis time 68
That we depart, for we have seen the whole."

As seemed him good, I clasped him round the neck,
And he the vantage seized of time and place,
And when the wings were opened wide apart,

He laid fast hold upon the shaggy sides;
From fell to fell descended downward then
Between the thick hair and the frozen crust.

When we were come to where the thigh revolves
Exactly on the thickness of the haunch, 77
The Guide. with labour and with hard-drawn breath.

Turned round his head where he had had his legs,
And grappled to the hair, as one who mounts,
So that to Hell I thought we were returning.

"Keep fast thy hold, for by such stairs as these,"
The Master said, panting as one fatigued,
"Must we perforce depart from so much evil."

Then through the opening of a rock he issued,
And down upon the margin seated me;
Then tow'rds me he outstretched his wary step.

I lifted up mine eyes and thought to see
Lucifer in the same way I had left him;
And I beheld him upward hold his legs.

And if I then became disquieted,
Let stolid people think who do not see
What the point is beyond which I had passed.

"Rise up,"the Master said,"upon thy feet;
The way is long, and difficult the road,
And now the sun to middle-tierce returns." 95

It was not any palace corridor
l here where we were, but dungeon natural,
With floor uneven and unease of light.

"Ere from the abyss I tear myself away,
My Master," said I when I had arisen?
"To draw me from an error speak a little;

Where is the ice ?"and how is this one fixed
Thus upside down? and how in such short time
From eve to morn has the sun made his transit?"

And he to me:"Thou still imaginest
Thou art beyond the centre, where I grasped
The hair of the fell worm, who mines the world.

That side thou wast, so long as I descended;
When round I turned me, thou didst pass the point
To which things heavy draw from every side,

And now beneath the hemisphere art come
Opposite that which overhangs the vast
Dry-land, and 'neath whose cope was put to death 114

The Man who without sin was born and lived.
Thou hast thy feet upon the little sphere
Which makes the other face of the Judecca

Here it is morn when it is evening there;
And he who with his hair a stairway made us
Still fixed remaineth as he was before.

Upon this side he fell down out of heaven;
And all the land, that whilom here emerged,
For fear of him made of the sea a veil,

And came to our hemisphere; and peradventure
To flee from him, what on this side appears 125
Left the place vacant here, and back recoiled"

A place there is below, from Beelzebub
As far receding as the tomb extends,
Which not by sight is known, but by the sound

Of a small rivulet, that there descendeth 130
Through chasm within the stone, which it has gnawed
With course that winds about and slightly falls.

The Guide and I into that hidden road
Now entered, to return to the bright world;
And without care of having any rest

We mounted up, the first and I the second,
Till I beheld through a round aperture
Some of the beauteous things that Heaven doth bear; 138

Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars.

Footnotes 34

Canto 34

1. The fourth and last division of the Ninth Circle, the Judecca, --

"the smallest circle, at the point Of all the Universe, where Dis is seated."

The first line, "The banners of the king of Hell come forth," is a parody of the first line of a Latin hymn of the sixth century, sung in the churches during Passion week, and written by Fortunatus, an Italian by birth, but who died Bishop of Poitiers in 600. The first stanza of this hymn is,--

"Vexilla regis prodeunt,
Fulget crucis mysterium,
Quo carne carnis conditor,
Suspensus est patibulo."

See Konigsfeld, Latenische Hymnen und Ges,ange aus dem Mittelalter, 64.

18. Milton, Parad. Lost, V. 708:--

"His countenance as the morning star, that guides The starry flock."

28. Compare Milton's descriptions of Satan, Parad. Lost, I. 192, 589, II. 636, IV. 985:--

"Thus Satan, talking to his nearest mate,
With head uplift above the wave, and eyes
That sparkling blazed; his other parts besides
Prone on the flood, extended long and large,
Lay floating many a rood, in bulk as huge
As whom the fables name of monstrous size,
Titanian, or Earth-born, that warred on Jove,
Briareus, or Typhon, whom the den
By ancient Tarsus held, or that sea-beast
Leviathan, which God of all his works
Created hugest that swim the ocean stream:
Him, haply, slumbering on the Norway foam,
The pilot of some small night-foundered skiff,
Deeming some island, oft, as seamen tell,
With fixed anchor in his scaly rind
Moors by his side under the lee, while night
Invests the sea, and wished morn delays.
So stretched out huge in length the Arch-fiend lay
Chained on the burning lake."

"He, above the rest
In shape and gesture proudly eminent,
Stood like a tower: his form had yet not lost
All her original brightness, nor appeared
Less than archangel ruined, and the excess
Of glory obscured: as when the sun new-risen
Looks through the horizontal misty air,
Shorn of his beams; or from behind the moon,
In dim eclipse, disastrous twilight sheds
On half the nations, and with fear of change
Perplexes monarchs: darkened so, yet shone
Above them all the Archangel."

"As when far off at sea a fleet descried
Hangs in the clouds, by equinoctial winds
Close sailing from Bengala or the isles
Of Ternate and Tidore, whence merchants bring
Their spicy drugs: they on the trading flood
Through the wide AEthiopian to the Cape
Ply, stemming nightly toward the pole: so seemed
Far off the flying fiend."

"On the other side, Satan, alarmed,
Collecting all his might, dilated stood,
Like Teneriff or Atlas, unremoved:
His stature reached the sky, and on his crest
Sat horror plumed; nor wanted in his grasp
What seemed both spear and shield."

38. The Ottimo and Benvenuto both interpret the three faces as symbolizing Ignorance, Hatred, and Impotence. Others interpret them as signifying the three quarters of the then known world, Europe, Asia, and Africa.

45. Ethiopia; the region about the Cataracts of the Nile.

48. Milton, Parad. Lost, II. 527:--

"At last his sail-broad vans
He spreads for flight, and in the surging smoke
Uplifted spurns the ground."

55. Landor in his Pentameron, 527, makes Petrarca say: "This is atrocious, not terrific nor grand. Alighieri is grand by his lights, not by his shadows; by his human affections, not by his infernal. As the minutest sands are the labors of some profound sea, or the spoils of some vast mountain, in like manner his horrid wastes and wearying minutenesses are the chafings of a turbulent spirit, grasping the loftiest things, and penetrating the deepest, and moving and moaning on the earth in loneliness and sadness."

62. Gabriele Rossetti, Spirito Antipapale, I. 75, Miss Ward's Tr., says:

"The three spirits, who hang from the mouths of his Satan, are Judas, Brutus, and Cassius. The poet's reason for selecting those names has never yet been satisfactorily accounted for; but we have no hesitation in pronouncing it to have been this,--he considered the Pope not only a betrayer and seller of Christ,--`Where gainful merchandise is made of Christ throughout the livelong day,' (Parad. 17,) and for that reason put Judas into his centre mouth; but a traitor and rebel to Caesar, and therefore placed Brutus and Cassius in the other two mouths; for the Pope, who was originally no more than Caesar's vicar, became his enemy, and usurped the capital of his empire, and the supreme authority. His treason to Christ was not discovered by the world in general; hence the face of Judas is hidden,--`He that hath his head within, and plies the feet without' (Inf. 34); his treason to Caesar was open and manifest, therefore Brutus and Cassius show their faces. "

He adds in a note: "The situation of Judas is the same as that of the Popes who were guilty of simony."

68. The evening of Holy Saturday.

77. Iliad, V. 305: "With this he struck the hip of AEneas, where the thigh turns on the hip."

95. The canonical day, from sunrise to sunset, was divided into four equal parts, called in Italian Terza, Sesta, Nona, and Vespro, and varying in length with the change of season. "These hours, " says Dante, Convito, III. 6, "are short or long.....according as day and night increase or diminish." Terza was the first division after sunrise; and at the equinox would be from six till nine. Consequently mezza terza, or middle tierce, would be half past seven.

114. Jerusalem.

125. The Mountain of Purgatory, rising out of the sea at a point directly opposite Jerusalem, upon the other side of the globe. It is an island in the South Pacific Ocean.

130. This brooklet is Lethe, whose source is on the summit of the Mountain of Purgatory, flowing down to mingle with Acheron, Styx, and Phlegethon, and form Cocytus. See Canto XIV. 136.

138. It will be observed that each of the three divisions of the Divine Comedy ends with the word "Stars," suggesting and symbolizing endless aspiration. At the end of the Inferno Dante "re-beholds the stars"; at the end of the Purgatorio he is "ready to ascend to the stars"; at the end of the Paradiso he feels the power of "that Love which moves the sun and other stars." He is now looking upon the morning stars of Easter Sunday.

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