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The Divine Comedy: Inferno

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












































In the present Canto, Date described his descent into the fourth circle, at the beginning of which he sees Plutus stationed. Here one like doom awaits the prodigal and the avaricious; which is, to meet in direful conflict, rolling great weights against each other with mutual upbraiding. From hence Virgil takes occasion to show how vail the goods that are committed into the charge of Fortune; and this moves our author to inquire what being that Fortune is, of whom he speaks; hich question being resolved, they go down into the fifth circle, where they find the wrathful and gloomy tormented in the Stygian Lake. Having made a compass round a great part of this lake, they come at last to the base of a lofty towner.

"PAPE. Satan, Pape Satan, Aleppe!"
Thus Plutus with his clucking voice began;
And that benignant Sage, who all things knew,

Said, to encourage me:"Let not thy fear
Harm thee; for any power that he may have
Shall not prevent thy going down this crag "

Then he turned round unto that bloated lip,
And said: "Be silent, thou accursed wolf;
Consume within thyself with thine own rage.

Not causeless is this journey to the abyss;
Thus is it willed on high, where Michael wrought 11
Vengeance upon the proud adultery."

Even as the sails inflated by the wind
Involved together fall when snaps the mast,
So fell the cruel monster to the earth.

Thus we descended into the fourth chasm,
Gaining still farther on the dolesome shore
Which all the woe of the universe insacks.

Justice of God, ah ! who heaps up so many
New toils and sufferings as I beheld?
And why doth our transgression waste us so ?

As doth the billow there upon Charybdis,
That breaks itself on that which it encounters,
So here the folk must dance their roundelay. 24

Here saw I people, more than elsewhere, many,
On one side and the other, with great howls,
Rolling weights forward by main force of chest. 27

They clashed together, and then at that point
Each one turned backward, rolling retrograde,
Crying,"Why keepest?" and,"Why squanderest thou?"

Thus they returned along the lurid circle
On either hand unto the opposite point,
Shouting their shameful metre evermore.

Then each, when he arrived there, wheeled about
Through his half-circle to another joust;
And I, who had my heart pierced as it were,

Exclaimed:"My Master, now declare to me
What people these are, and if all were clerks,
These shaven crowns upon the left of us." 39

And he to me:"All of them were asquint
In intellect in the first life, so much
That there with measure they no spending made.

Clearly enough their voices bark it forth,
Whene'er they reach the two points of the circle,
Where sunders them the opposite defect.

Clerks those were who no hairy covering
Have on the head, and Popes and Cardinals,
In whom doth Avarice practise its excess."

And I:"My Master, among such as these
I ought forsooth to recognise some few,
Who were infected with these maladies."

And he to me:"Vain thought thou entertainest;
The undiscerning life which made them sordid
Now mal~es them unto all discernment dim.

Forever shall they come to these two buttings;
These from the sepulchre shall rise again
With the fist closed, and these with tresses shorn.

Ill giving and ill keeping the fair world 58
Have ta'en from them, and placed them in this scuffle;
Whate'er it be, no words adorn I for it.

Now canst thou, Son, behold the transient farce
Of goods that are committed unto Fortune,
For which the human race each other buffet;

For all the gold that is beneath the moon,
Or ever has been, of these weary souls
Could never make a single one repose."

"Master," I said to him, " now tell me also
What is this Fortune which thou speakest of, 68
That has the world's goods so within its clutches?"

And he to me:"O creatures imbecile,
What ignorance is this which doth beset you?
Now will I have thee learn my judgment of her.

He whose omniscience everything transcends
The heavens created, and gave who should guide them, 74
That every part to every part may shine,

Distributing the light in equal measure;
He in like manner to the mundane splendours
Ordained a general ministress and guide,

That she might change at times the empty treasures
From race to race, from one blood to another,
Beyond resistance of all human wisdom.

Therefore one people triumphs, and another
Languishes, in pursuance of her judgment,
Which hidden is, as in the grass a serpent.

Your knowledge has no counterstand against her;
She makes provision, judges, and pursues
Her governance, as theirs the other gods.

Her permutations have not any truce;
Necessity makes her precipitate,
So often cometh who his turn obtains.

And this is she who is so crucified
Even by those who ought to give her praise,
Giving her blame amiss, and bad repute.

But she is blissful, and she hears it not;
Among the other primal creatures gladsome
She turns her sphere, and blissful she rejoices.

Let us descend now unto greater woe;
Already sinks each star that was ascending 98
When I set out, and loitering is forbidden."

We crossed the circle to the other bank,
Near to a fount that boils, and pours itself
Along a gully that runs out of it.

The water was more sombre far than perse; 103
And we, in company with the dusky waves,
Made entrance downward by a path uncouth.

A marsh it makes, which has the name of Styx,
This tristful brooklet, when it has descended
Down to the foot of the malign gray shores.

And I, who stood intent upon beholding,
Saw people mudbesprent in that lagoon,
All of them naked and with angry look.

They smote each other not alone with hands,
But with the head and with the breast and feet,
Tearing each other piecemeal with their teeth.

Said the good Master:"Son, thou now beholdest 115
The souls of those whom anger overcame;
And likewise I would nave thee know for certain

Beneath the water people are who sigh
And make this water bubble at the surface,
As the eye tells thee wheresoe'er it turns.

Fixed in the mire they say,'We sullen were
In the sweet air, which by the sun is gladdened,
Bearing within ourselves the sluggish reek;

Now we are sullen in this sable mire.'
This hymn do they keep gurgling in their throats,
For with unbroken words they cannot say it."

Thus we went circling round the filthy fen
A great arc 'twixt the dry bank and the swamp,
With eyes turned unto those who gorge the mire;

Unto the foot of a tower we came at last.

Footnotes 7

Canto 7

1. In this Canto is described the punishment of the Avaricious and the Prodigal, with Plutus as their jailer. His outcry of alarm is differently interpreted by different commentators, and by none very satisfactorily. The curious student, groping among them for a meaning, is like Gower's young king, of whom he says, in his Confessio Amantis:--

"Of deepe ymaginations
And strange interpretations,
Problems and demaundes eke
His wisdom was to finde and seke,
Whereof he wholde in sondry wise
Opposen hem, that weren wise;
But none of hem it mighte bere
Upon his word to give answere."

But nearly all agree, I believe, in construing the strange words into a cry of alarm or warning of Lucifer, that his realm is invaded by some unusual apparition.

Of all the interpretations given, the most amusing is that of Benvenuto Cellini, in his description of the Court of Justice in Paris, Roscoe's Memoirs of Benvenuto Cellini, Chap, XXII.: -- "I stooped down several times to observe what passed: the words which I heard the judge utter, upon seeing two gentlemen who wanted to hear the trial, and whom the porter was endeavoring to keep out, were these: `Be quite, be quite, Satan, get hence, and leave off disturbing us.' The terms were, Paix, paix, Satan, allez, paix. As I had by this time thoroughly learnt the French language, upon hearing these words, I recollected what Dante said, when he with his master, Virgil, entered the gates of hell; for Dante and Giotto the painter were together in France, and visited Paris with particular attention, where the court of justice may be considered as hell. Hence it is that Dante, who was likewise perfect master of the French, made use of that expression; and I have often been surprised, that it was never understood in that sense; so that I cannot help thinking, that the commentators on this author have often made him say things which he never so much as dreamed of. "

Dante himself hardly seems to have understood the meaning of the words, though he suggests that Virgil did.

11. The overthrow of the Rebel Angels. St. Augustine says,

"Idolatria et quaelibet noxia superstitio fornicatio est. "

24. Must dance the Ridda, a round dance of the olden time. It was a Roundelay, or singing and dancing together. Boccaccio's Monna Belcolore "knew better than any one how to play the tambourine and lead the Ridda."

27. As the word honor resounds in Canto IV., and the word love in Canto V., so here the words rolling and turning are the burden of the song, as if to suggest the motion of Fortune's wheel, so beautifully described a little later.

39. Clerks, clerics, or clergy. Boccaccio, Comento, remarks upon this passage: "Some maintain, that the clergy wear the tonsure in remembrance and reverence of St. Peter, on whom, they say, it was made by certain evil-minded men as a mark of madness; because not comprehending and not wishing to comprehend his holy doctrine, and seeming him feverently preaching before princes and people, who held that doctrine in detestation, they thought he acted as one out of his senses. Others maintain that the tonsure is worn as a mark of dignity, as a sign that those who wear it are more worthy than those who do not; and they call it corona, because, all the rest of the head being shaven, a single circle of hair should be left, which in form of a crown surrounds the whole head."

58. In like manner Chaucer, Persones Tale pp. 227, 337, reproves ill-keeping and ill-giving.

"Avarice, after the description of Seint Augustine, is a likerousnesse in herte to have erthly things. Som other folk sayn, that avarice is for to purchase many earthly things, and nothing to yeve to hem that han nede. And understond wel, that avarice standeth not only in land ne catel, but som time in science and in glorie, and in every maner outrageous thing is avarice.....

"But for as moche as som folk ben unmesurable, men oughten for to avoid and eschue fool-large, the whiche men clepen waste. Certes, he that is fool-large, he yeveth not his catel, but he leseth his catel. Sothly, what thing that he yeveth for vaine-glory, as to minstrals, and to folk that bere his renome in the world, he hath do sinne thereof, and non almesse: certes, he leseth foule his good, that ne seketh with the yefte of his good nothing but sinne. He is like to an hors that seketh rather to drink drovy or troubled water, than for to drink water of the clere well. And for as moche as they yeven ther as they shuld nat yeven, to hem apperteineth thilke malison, that Crist shal yeve at the day of dome to hem that shul be dampned."

68. The Wheel of Fortune was one of the favorite subjects of art and song in the Middle Ages. On a large square of white marble set in the pavement of the nave of the Cathedral at Siena, is the representation of a revolving wheel. Three boys are climbing and clinging at the sides and below; above is a dignified figure with a stern countenance, holding the sceptre and ball. At the four corners are inscriptions from Seneca, Euripides, Aristotle, and Epictetus. The same symbol may be seen also in the wheel-of-fortune windows of many churches; as, for example, that of San Zeno at Verona. See Knight, Ecclesiastical Architecture, II. plates v., vi.

In the following poem Guido Cavalcanti treats this subject in very much the same way that Dante does; and it is curious to observe how at particular times certain ideas seem to float in the air, and to become the property of every one who chooses to make use of them. From the similarity between this poem and the lines of Dante, one might infer that the two friends had discussed the matter in conversation, and afterwards that each had written out their common thought. Cavalcanti's Song of Fortune, as translated by Rossetti, Early Italian Poets, p. 366, runs as follows:--

"Lo! I am she who makes the wheel to turn;
Lo! I am who gives and takes away;
Blamed idly, day by day,
In all mine acts by you, ye humankind.
For whoso smites his visage and doth mourn,
What time he renders back my gifts to me,
Learns then that I decree
No state which mine own arrows may not find.
Who clomb must fall:--this bear ye well in mind,
Nor say, because, he fell, I did him wrong.
Yet mine is a vain song:
For truly ye may find out wisdom when
King Arthur's resting-place is found of men.

"Ye make great marvel and astonishment
What time ye see the sluggard lifted up
And the just man to drop,
And ye complain on God and on my sway.
O humankind, ye sin in your complaint:
For He, that Lord who made the world to live,
Lets me not take or give
By mine own act, but as he wills I may.
Yet is the mind of man so castaway,
That it discerns not the supreme behest.
Alas! ye wretchedest,
And chide ye at God also? Shall not He
Judge between good and evil righteously?

"Ah! had ye knowlege how God evermore,
With agonies of soul and grievous heats,
As on an anvil beats
On them that in this earth hold hight estate,--
Ye would choose little rather than more store,
And solitude than spacious palaces;
Such is the sore disease
Of anguish that on all their days doth wait.
Behold if they be not unfortunate,
When oft the father dares not trust the son!
O wealth, with thee is won
A worm to gnaw forever on his soul
Whose abject life is laid in thy control!

"If also ye take note what piteous death
They oftimes make, whose hoards were manifold,
Who cities had and gold
And multitudes of men beneath their hand;
Then he among you that most angereth
Shall bless me saying, `Lo! I worship thee
That I was not as he
Whose death is thus accurst throughout the land.'
But now your living souls are held in band
Of avarice, shutting you from the true light
Which shows how sad and slight
Are this world's treasured riches and array
That still change hands a hundred times a day.

"For me,--could envy enter in my sphere,
Which of all human taint is clean and quit,--
I well might harbor it
When I behold the peasant at his toil.
Guiding his team, untroubled, free from fear,
He leaves his perfect furrow as he goes,
And gives his field repose
From thorns and tares and weeds that vex the soil:
Thereto he labors, and without turmoil
Entrusts his work to God, content if so
Such guerdon from it grow
That in that year his family shall live:
Nor care nor thought to other things will give.

"But now ye may no more have speech of me,
For this mine office craves continual use:
Ye therefore deeply muse
Upon those things which ye have heard the while:
Yea, and even yet remember heedfully
How this my wheel a motion hath so fleet,
That in an eyelid's beat
Him whom it raised it maketh low and vile.
None was, nor is, nor shall be of such guile,
Who could, or can, or shall, I say, at length
Prevail against my strenght.
But still those men that are my questioners
In bitter torment own their hearts perverse.

"Song, that wast made to carry high intent
Dissembled in the garb of humbleness,--
With fair and open face
To Master Thomas let they course be bent.
Say that a great thing scarcely may be pent
In little room: yet always pray that he
Commend us, thee and me,
To them that are more apt in lofty speech:
For truly one must learn ere he can teach."

74. This old Rabbinical tradition of the "Regents of the Planets" has been painted by Raphael, in the Capella Chigiana of the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. See Mrs. Jameson, Sacred and Legendary Art, I. She says: "As a perfect example of grand and poetical feeling I may cite the angels as `Regents of the Planets' in the Capella Chigiana. The Cupola represents in a circle the creation of the solar system, according to the theological (or rather astrological) notions which then prevailed,--a hundred years before `the starry Gailileo and his woes.' In the centre is the Creator; around, in eight compartments, we have, first, the angel of the celestial sphere, who seems to be listening to the divine mandate, `Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven'; then follow, in their order, the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The name of each planet is expressed by its mythlogical representative; the Sun by Apollo, the Moon by Diana; and over each presides a grand, colossal winged spirit, seated or reclining on a portion of the zodiac as on a throne." The old tradition may be found in Stehelin, Rabbinical Literature, I, 157. See Cabala, end of Vol III.

98. Past midnight.

103. |Perse, purple-black. See Canto V., Note 89.

115. "Is not this a cursed vice?" says Chaucer in The Persones Tale, p. 202, speaking of wrath."Yes, certes. Alas! it benimmeth fro man his witte and his reson, and all his debonaire lif spirituel, that shulde keepe his soule. Certes it benimmeth also Goddes due lordship (and that is mannes soule) and the love of his neighbours; it reveth him the quiet of his herte, and subverteth his soule. "

And farther on he continues: "After the sinne of wrath, now wolle I speke of the sinne of accidie, or slouth; for envie blindeth the herte of a man, and ire troubleth a man, and accidie maketh him hevy, thoughtful, and wrawe. Envie and ire maken bitterness in herte, which bitternesse is mother of accidie, and benimmeth him the love of alle goodnesse, than is accidie the anguish of a trouble herte."

And Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, I. 3. i. 3, speaking of that kind of melancholy which proceeds from "humors adust," says: "For example, if it proceeds from flegm (which is seldom, and not so frequent as the rest) it stirs up dull symptomes, and a kind of stupidity, or impassionate hurt; they are sleepy, saith Savanarola, dull, slow, cold, blockish, ass-like, asininam melancholiam Melancthon calls it they are much given to weeping, and delight in waters, ponds, pools, rivers, fishing, fowling, &c. They are pale of color, slothful, apt to sleep, heavy, much troubled with the head- ache, continual meditation and muttering to themselves, they dream of waters, that they are in danger of drowning, and fear such things." See also Purg. 17. 085.

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