O Simon Magus, and O you wretched crowd
Of those who follow him and prostitute
In your rapacity the things of God
Which should be brides of righteousness, to get
Silver and gold--it is time the trumpet sounded
For you: the third pouch is where you are put.
Now we were at the next tomb, having ascended
To where the ridge hangs over the fosse's middle.
O Supreme Wisdom, your mighty art is extended
Through Heaven, on earth, and in the world of evil,
And with what justice is your Power assigned!
I saw that the livid stone which lined the channel,
Both walls and floor, was full of holes, all round
And of an equal size. They seemed to me
Not any wider or smaller than those designed
For the baptizings in my fair San Giovanni--
One of which many years ago I broke,
To save one drowning there: and let this be
My seal to clear the matter. From each hole struck
A sinner's feet and legs: the rest of him,
From the calf up, inside. They twitched and shook
Because the soles of both feet were aflame--
So violently, it seemed their joints could burst
Rope or snap withes. As flames on oil will skim
Across the surface, so here the quick fire coursed
From heel to toe. "Master," I asked, "tell me,
Who is that one who seems to squirm the worst
And to be sucked by the reddest flames?" And he:
"If you desire for me to carry you there,
By that bank sloping down more gradually,
Then you can speak with him directly and hear
From him abouit himself and his misdeeds."
And I: "I like what pleases you. You are
My lord, you know I follow where your will leads--
You also know the things I leave unsaid."
Then we came onto the fourth dike; where its sides
Slope down we descended to our left, and stood
Upon its narrow, perforated floor,
My master not releasing me from his side
Until he reached the hole of that sufferer
Whose legs thrashed out such sorrow. I began,
"O miserable soul, whoever you are,
Planted here like a fence post upside down:
Speak, if you can." I stood as does the friar
Who has confessed a vile assassin--head down,
And tied in place--who calls him back to defer
Death for a little while; and then he cried,
"Boniface, are you already standing there--
Already standing there? The writing lied
By several years! Are you so soon replete
With all that getting, for which you weren't afraid
To take the beautiful Lady by deceit,
And then to do her outrage?" I became
Like those who, feeling laughed at, hesitate,
Not comprehending what's been said to them
And helpless to reply. Then Virgil said,
"Answer him quickly: say you are not him,
Not who he thinks." I spoke as I was bid,
At which the shade squirmed hard with both his feet;
Then, sighing and in a mournful voice, replied,
"What do you ask me, then? If you were brought
Down from the bank to discover who I am,
Then know that I was vested with the great
Mantle of power; a son who truly came
Out of the she-bear, I longed so much to advance
The cubs that filling my purse was my great aim--
And here I have pursed myself, to my expense.
Beneath my head are souls who preceded me
In simony, mashed flat and squeezed through dense
Layers of fissured rock. I too shall lie
Pushed down in turn when that other one has come:
My abrupt question assumed that you were he.
But already longer is the span of time
I have been cooking my feet while planted reversed
Than he, feet scarlet, will be planted the same:
For then a lawless shepherd of the west
Will follow him of uglier deeds, well chosen
For covering him and me when both are pressed
Under his skull. He'll be a second Jason,
And as the first, so Maccabees recounts,
Was treated softly by his monarch, this one
Will get soft treatment from the King of France."
In my reply, I don't know if I erred
With too much boldness in my vehemence:
"Pray tell me: how much treasure did our Lord
Ask of Saint Peter before He put the keys
Into his keeping? Surely He required
Nothing but 'Follow me.' Neither did those
With Peter, or Peter himself, take silver or gold
From Matthias, who was chosen for that place
Lost by the guilty soul. Stay where you're held,
For these are your deserved punishments--
Guard well the ill-earned gains that made you bold
In opposing Charles. Except that revernence
For the great keys you held in the happy life
Forbids, my speech would be still more intense:
For avarice like yours distributes grief,
Afflicting the world by trampling on the good
And raising the wicked. Shepherds like yourself
The Evangelist intended, when he said
That she who sits upon the waters was seen
By him in fornication with kings. She had
Seven heads from birth, and from ten horns had drawn
Her strength--so long as virtue pleased her spouse.
You made a god of gold and silver: wherein
Is it you differ from the idolatrous--
Save that you worship a hundred, they but one?
Ah Constantine! What measure of wickedness
Stems from that mother--not your conversion, I mean:
Rather the dowry that the first rich Father
Accepted from you!" And while I sang this strain,
Whether he felt the bite of conscience, or anger,
He kicked out hard with both his feet; indeed,
I think my guide approved, with a look of pleasure
Listening to the sound of true words said.
And then he lifted me in his arms again,
My weight full on his chest; and when he had,
He climbed the same path he had taken down;
Nor did he tire while holding me embraced
But carried me to the summit of the span
From the fourth dike to the fifth, then gently released
His burden--gently because the passage was hard,
So steep and rocky that goats might be hard pressed;
And there before me another valley appeared.
The new pains of Hell that I saw next demand
New lines for this Canto XX of the first Canzon,
Which is of those submerged in the underground.
Readying myself at the cliff's brink, I looked down
Into the canyon my master had revealed
And saw that it was watered by tears of pain:
All through the circular valley I beheld
A host of people coming, weeping but mute.
They walked at a solemn pace that would be called
Liturgical here above. But as my sight
Moved down their bodies, I sensed a strange distortion
That made the angle of chin and chest not right--
The head was twisted backwards: some cruel torsion
Forced face toward kidneys, and the people strode
Backwards, because deprived of forward vision.
Perhaps some time a palsy has wrung the head
Of a man straight back like these, or a terrible stroke--
But I've never seen one do so, and doubt it could.
Reader (God grant you benefit of this book)
Try to imagine, yourself, how I could have kept
Tears of my own from falling for the sake
Of our human image so grotesquely reshaped,
Contorted so the eyes' tears fell to wet
The buttocks at the cleft. Truly I wept,
Leaning on an outcrop of that rocky site,
And my master spoke to me: "Do you suppose
You are above with the other fools even yet?
Here, pity lives when it is dead to these.
Who could be more impious than one who'd dare
To sorrow at the judgment God decrees?
Raise your head--raise it and see one walking near
For whom the earth split open before the eyes
Of all the Thebans. 'Why are you leaving the war,
Amphiaraus,' the others shouted, 'what place
Are you rushing to?' as he plunged down the crevice
To Minos, who seizes all. See Amphiaraus
Making his shoulders his breast; because his purpose
Was seeing too far ahead, he looks behind
And stumbles backwards. And here is Tiresias--
The seer who changed from male to female, unmanned
Through all his body until the day he struck
A second time with his staff at serpents entwined
And resumed his manly plumage. He with his back
Shoved nose to the other's front is called Aruns.
Living on the slopes the Carrarese work
From villages below, he had clear vistas:
From his cave among white marble he could scan
The stars, or gaze at waves below in the distance.
And she, whose loose hair covers her breasts unseen
On the side away from you, where other hair grows,
Was Manto--who searched through many lands, and then
Settled in the place where I was born. Of this,
Hear me awhile: her father dead, and Bacchus's
City enslaved, she for a long time chose
To roam the world. Where a wall of mountains rises
To form fair Italy's border above Tirolo
Lies Lake Benaco, fed by a thousand sources:
Garda and Val Camonica and Pennino
Are watered by streams that settle in that lake.
The island amid it the pastors of Trentino,
Brescia, of Verona might bless, if they should take
A way that leads there. At the shore's low place,
Peschiera's splendid fortress towers make
Their challenge to the Brescians and Bergamese.
There, all the cascades Benaco cannot contain
Within its bosom join in one river that flows
Through rich green pasture. As soon as it starts to run,
The water, Benaco no more, is Mincio instead,
And joining the Po at Govèrnolo, it soon
Spreads to a marsh--in summer, sometimes fetid.
There Manto the savage virgin saw in mid-fen
A stretch of dry land, untilled uninhabited:
And there she stayed and lived, where she could shun
All humans to ply her arts in a place she shared
Only with servants. And when her life was gone
And her soul descended, there its shell was interred.
Afterward, families scattered about that country
Gathered where marsh on all sides made a ward
Against attackers. And when they built their city
Over her bones, with no lots or divination
They named it Mantua. Before fool Casalodi
Was deceived by Pinamonte, its population
Was larger. So let no other history,
I charge you, belie my city's true inception."
I: "Master, your speech inspires such certainty
And confidence that any contradiction
Of what you say would be dead coals to me.
But speak again of these souls in sad procession:
Are any passing below us worthy of note?
For my mind keeps turning back in that direction."
Then he: "That one, whose beard has spread in a mat
That covers his brown shoulders, was augur when Greece
Was short of males. He divined the time to cut
The first ship's cable at Aulis along with Calchas.
His name, as my tragedy sings--you who know it
Entirely know the passage--is Eurypylus.
That other with skinny flanks is Michael Scot,
Who truly knew the game of magic fraud.
See Guido Bonatti; and Asdente--too late,
He wishes he'd stuck to leather and cobbler's thread,
Repenting here his celebrated predictions.
And this wretched crowd of women all chose to trade
Loom, spindle, and thimble for the telling of fortunes,
Potions, wax images, incantation and charm.
But come: already, Cain-in-the-moon positions
Both hemispheres with his pale blue thorns, his term
Closes in the waves below Seville--the round moon
That, deep in the wood last night, brought you no harm."
Even while he spoke the words, we were moving on.
And so we went from bridge to bridge, and spoke
Of things which my Commedia does not mean
To sing. We reached the summit, stopping to look
At the next fissure of Malebolge, the vain
Lamenting that was next--and what I beheld
Was an astounding darkness. As is done
In winter, when the sticky pitch is boiled
In the Venetian Arsenal to caulk
Their unsound vessels while no ship can be sailed,
And so instead one uses the time to make
His ship anew, another one repairs
Much-voyaged ribs, and some with hammers strike
The prow, and some the stern; and this one makes oars
While that one might twist rope, another patch
The jib and mainsail--so, not by any fires
But by some art of Heaven, a heavy pitch
Was boiling there below, which overglued
The banks on every side. I saw that much,
But could see nothing in it but the flood
Of bubbles the boiling raised, and the whole mass
Swelling and settling. While I stared down, my guide,
Crying, "Watch out!--watch out!" pulled me across
Toward him from where I stood. I turned my head
Like someone eager to find out what it is
He must avoid, who finding himself dismayed
By sudden fear, while he is turning back
Does not delay his flight: what I beheld
Hurrying from behind us up the rock
Was a black demon. Ah, in his looks a brute,
How fierce he seemed in action--running the track
With his wings held outspread, and light of foot:
Over one high sharp shoulder he had thrown
A sinner, carrying both haunches' weight
On the one side, with one hand holding on
To both the ankles. Reaching our bridge, he spoke:
"O Malebranche, here is another one
Of Santa Zita's elders! While I go back
To bring more from his homeland, thrust him below.
His city gives us an abundant stock:
Every citizen there except Bonturo
Practices barratry; and given cash
They can contrive a yes from any no."
He hurled the sinner down, then turned to rush
Back down the rocky crag; and no mastiff
Was ever more impatient to shake the leash
And run his fastest after a fleeing thief.
The sinner sank below us, only to rise
Rump up--but demons under the bridge's shelf
Cried, "Here's no place to show your Sacred Face!
You're not out in the Serchio for a swim!
If you don't want to feel our hooks--like this!--
Then stay beneath the pitch." They struck at him
With over a hundred hooks, and said, "You'll need
To dance in secret here--so grab what scam
You're able to, in darkness." Then they did
Just as cooks have their scullions do to steep
The meat well into the cauldron--with a prod
From their forks keeping it from floating up.
My good guide said, "So it will not be seen
That you are here, find some jagged outcrop
And crouch behind it to give yourself a screen.
No matter what offenses they offer me,
Do not be frightened: I know how things are done
Here--once before I was in such a fray."
And then he passed beyond the bridge's head,
And coming to the sixth bank suddenly
He needed to keep a steady front. They bayed
And rushed at him with all the rage and uproar
Of dogs that charge some wrethced vagabond
Who suddenly is forced to plead; they tore
From under the bridge and raised their forks at him;
But he cried, "Not so savage!--before you dare
To touch me with your forks, choose one to come
Forward to hear me out, and then decide
Whether to hook me." They all cried out one name:
"Let Malacoda go!" So the others stood
While one strode forward to him, sneering, "What
Good will it do him?" So my master said,
"Do you, O Malacoda, think I could get
Through all of your defenses safely as this
Except by Heaven's will and happy fate?
Now let us pass--for Heaven also decrees
That I should show another this savage road."
The demon's pride fell so much he let loose
His hook, which fell down at his feet, and said:
"Now no one strike him." To me, my leader called,
"Now you may come back safely to my side,
You who crouch squatting behind the splintered shield
Of stone, upon the bridge." At this I stirred
And quickly joined him--and the devils milled
Toward us, pressing forward, so that I feared
They might not keep the pact. So, I once saw
The soldiers frightened when they removed their guard
Out of Caprona by treaty--as they withdrew
Passing among so many enemies.
I kept as close by my guide as I could go,
And all the while I did not take my eyes
Away from their expressions . . . which were not good!
They lowered their hooks, but I heard one give voice:
"Should I just touch him on the rump?" Replied
The others, "Yes--go on and give him a cut."
But the demon who was talking with my guide
Turned around instantly on hearing that,
Saying, "Hold--hold, Scarmiglione!" To us
He said, "You can't go farther by this route,
Because along this ridge the sixth arch lies
All shattered at the bottom. But if you still
Wish to go forward, a ridge not far from this
Does have a place where you can cross at will.
It was yesterday, five hours later than now,
That the twelve hundred and sixty-sixth year fell
Since the road here was ruined. I'm sending a crew
Out of my company in that direction
To see if sinners are taking the air. You go
With them, for they'll not harm you in any fashion.
Come, Alichino and Calcabrina," he cried,
"And you, Cagnazzo; and to be the captain
Of all ten, Barbariccia. And in the squad,
Take Libiocco and Draghighnazzo too,
And Ciriatto with his tusky head,
And also Graffiacane and Farfarello,
And crazy Rubicante. Search all around
The pools of boiling tar. And see these two
Get safely over to where the dens are spanned
By the next ridge, whose arc is undestroyed."
"O me! O master, what do I see," I groaned;
"We need no escort if you know the road--
And as for me, I want none. If you are cautious,
As is your custom, then how can you avoid
Seeing them grind their teeth and with ferocious
Brows threaten to do us harm?" And he returned,
"I tell you, have no fear: it is the wretches
Who boil here that they menace--so let them grind
As fiercely as they like, and scowl their worst."
And then the company of devils turned,
Wheeling along the left-hand bank. But first
Each signaled their leader with the same grimace:
Baring their teeth, through which the tongue was pressed;
And the leader made a trumpet of his ass.
I have seen horsemen moving camp before,
And when they muster, and when an assault begins,
And beating a retreat when they retire;
I have seen coursers, too, O Aretines,
Over your lands, and raiders setting out,
And openings of joust and tourneys--with signs
By bell and trumpet and drum, and signals set
On castles by native and foreign signalry:
But I never saw so strange a flageolet
Send foot or horsement forth, nor ship at sea
Guided by land or star! We journeyed now
With the ten demons. Ah, savage company--
But as the saying has it, one must go
With boozers in the tavern and saints in church.
Intent upon the pitch, I tried to know
All that I could of the nature of this pouch
And those who burn in it. Like dolphins who warn
Sailors to save their vessels, when they arch
Their backs above the water, so we could discern
From time to time a sinner show his back
To alleviate his pain, and then return
To hiding quicker than a lightning stroke.
And as at water's edge or in a ditch
Frogs lie, concealing their feet and all their bulk
With snouts above the surface: at the approach
Of Barbariccia, sinners who lay just so,
Concealing themselves on every side, would twitch
And pull back under the boiling. I saw--and now
My heart still shudders as I tell it--one stay,
Just as it happens that while one jumps below
Another frog might linger where they lay:
And Graffiacane, who was nearest, hooked
Him by his pitch-thick hair, so it looked to me
As if he had caught an otter. (I could connect
Each of them with his name, for I had noted
Carefully who they were when they were picked,
And also what they called each other.) They shouted,
"O Rubicante, grip him between your claws
And flay him." "Master--this wretch who's so ill-fated
And fallen into the hands of enemies:
I pray you, find out who he is," I said.
Going to his side at once, he asked what place
He came from. "I was born," replied the shade,
"In the kingdom of Navarre. My mother sent
Me to become the servant of a lord,
For she had borne me to a rascal bent
On destroying both himself and all he had.
Being admitted to the establishment
Of good King Thibaut's household, I employed
Myself at barratry--which is the path
I pay for in this boiling." So he said;
Then Ciriatto, the demon from whose mouth
Two boar-like tusks protruded, made him feel
How one of them could rip. The mouse in truth
Had come among some vicious cats; and still
Barbariccia locked him in a tight embrace,
Saying, "Stand back, while I enfork him well,"
But to my master: "Ask him what you please--
If there is more you'd like to learn from him
Before he's butchered by another of us."
So my guide asked, "Among the sinners who swim
Under the pitch, are any others you know
Italian?" He said, "I parted with one who came
From there, just now. Would I were still below
Hidden with him, for then I'd need not dread
Their hooks and talons." Then cried Libiocco,
"We have endured too much!" With that he clawed
His grapple into the other's arm, and tearing
Ripped out a muscle. Draghignazzo also made
As if he meant to give his legs a goring,
At which their captain wheeled against them all.
When they were somewhat quiet, without deferring
His questions, my leader asked the sinner, who still
Was staring at his wound: "Who was it you said
You parted from when you did yourself such ill
By coming ashore?" "Fra Gomita," he replied,
"He of Gallura, vessel of every deceit,
Who kept the enemies that his master had
So cunningly in hand, they praised him for it.
He took their cahs and sent them on their way
Smoothly, as he recounts. And he was great
In other enterprises, equally:
No petty barrator but a lordly one.
Don Michel Zanche of Logodoro and he
Keep company together; when they go on
About Sardinia, their tongues don't tire.
But O me--look at how that other demon
Is grinding his teeth! Though I would tell you more
I fear he's getting ready to scratch my itch."
To Farfarello, whose eyes rolled eager for gore,
Their marshal turned and shouted his reproach:
"Get back, vile bird!" The sinner: "If you would hear
Tuscans or Lombards, there are some I can fetch--
But let the Malebranche stand back there
So these who come will not fear their revenge,
And I will make some seven souls appear
For the lone one that I am--and I won't change
My place from where I sit, but summon them
By whistling, as we do when we can emerge."
Cagnazzo raised his muzzle at this claim;
Shaking his head from side to side, he said,
"Just listen to this cunning trick--his aim
Is to jump back below." And he, who had
A great supply of wiles at his command,
Replied, "It's true that I am cunning indeed
At contriving greater sorrows for the band
I dwell with." Then Alichino held himself in
No longer, and opposed the others: "My friend,"
He said, "if you dare plunge back in again,
I'll not come merely galloping after you
But beating my wings above the pitch. The screen
Formed by the bank will hide us when we go
Down from this ridge: we'll see if you, alone,
Are a match for all of us." O reader, hear now
Of a new sport: led by the very one
Who first opposed it, all now turned their eyes
To the other shore. Timing exactly when,
Feet firm against the ground, the Navarrese
Suddenly leaped and instantly broke free
Out of their custody. Each demon, at this,
Felt stung by his misdoing--especially he
Who caused the blunder. So crying out, "You're caught!"
He flew away in pursuit, but futilely:
Wings could not gain on terror; down out of sight
The sinner dove, and the demon swooped back up,
Raising his breast--no different in his flight
Than when the wild duck makes a sudden escape
By diving just as the falcon plummets close,
Then veers back up, vexed at his thwarted grip.
Then Calcabrina, who was furious
The trick had worked, went flying after the pair,
Eager to see the sinner evade the chase
So there could be a fight. When the barrator
Had disappeared, the demon turned his claws
Upon his comrade and grappled him in midair
Above the fosse. But his opponent was
A full-grown hawk equipped with claws to respond
Truly and well; and as they fought, the brace
Fell into the middle of the boiling pond.
The heat unclenched them at once; but though released
They could not rise, because their wings were gummed
And clotted. Barbariccia, like the rest
Lamenting, hastily dispatched a squad
Of four who flew across to the bank we faced,
Each with a fork; hurrying from either side
They descended to their posts with hooks extended
To the mired pair, already baked inside
Their crusts; and we two left them thus confounded
Silent, alone, sans escort, with one behind
And one before, as Friars Minor use,
We journeyed. The present fracas turned my mind
To Aesop's fable of the frog and mouse:
Now and this moment are not more similar
Than did the tale resemble the newer case,
If one is conscientious to compare
Their ends and their beginnings. Then, as one thought
Springs from the one before it, this now bore
Another which redoubled my terror: that--
Having been fooled because of us, with wounds
And mockery to make them the more irate,
With anger added to their malice--the fiends,
More fiercely than a dog attacks a hare,
Would soon come after us. I felt the ends
Of my hair bristling already from the fear.
Intent on what was behind us on the road,
"Master," I said, "unless you can obscure
Both you and me from sight, and soon, I dread
The Malebranche, already after us--
And I imagine them so clearly, indeed
I hear them now." "Were I of lead-backed glass,
I would not take your outward countenance in
Quicker than I do your inward one in this,"
He said; "This moment, your thoughts entered mine--
In aspect and in action so alike
I have made both their counsels into one:
If the right bank is sloped so as to make
A way to reach the next fosse, then we can
Escape the chase we both imagine." He spoke
With barely time to tel me of his plan
Before I saw them coming--wings spread wide,
Eager to seize us, not far and closing in.
My leader took me up at once, and did
As would a mother awakened by a noise
Who sees the flames around her, and takes her child,
Concerned for him more than herself, and flies
Not staying even to put on a shift:
Supine he gave himself to the rocky place
Where the hard bank slopes downward to the cleft,
Forming one side of the adjacent pouch.
No water coursing a sluice was ever as swift
To turn a landmill's wheel on its approach
Toward the vanes, as my master when he passed
On down that bank that slanted to the ditch,
Hurtling along with me upon his breast
Not like his mere companion, but like his child.
Just as his feet hit bottom, on the crest
Above us they appeared--but now they held
Nothing to fear, for that high Providence
That made them keepers of the fifth ditch willed
That they should have no power to leave its bounds.
Down at the bottom, we discovered a set
Of painted people, who slowly trod their rounds
Weeping, with looks of weariness and defeat.
Their cloaks, cowls covering the eyes and face,
Resemebled those of Cluny's monks in cut.
These cloaks were gilded on the side that shows
So that the eye was dazzled--but all of lead
On the inside: so heavy, compared to these
The capes inflicted by Frederick were made
Of woven straw. O heavy mantle to bear
Through eternity! As ever, we pursued
Our course by turning to the left, and bore
Along with them, intent on how they moaned.
But they came slowly, burdened as they were--
So that with every step we took we found
Our company was new. I asked my guide,
"Pray find some person here, by looking round
As we walk on, whom I know by name or deed."
And one among them caught the Tuscan speech:
"Stay your quick steps through this dark air," he cried
As we came past him. "Perhaps what you beseech
You can obtain from me." At which my guide
Turned back to me, with: "Wait: let him approach
And then proceed at his pace." So I stayed,
And saw two coming who by their faces appeared
In a great haste of mind to reach my side
Although their burden held them in retard,
As did the crowding. When they came up together
They looked at me askance without a word
For some good while. Then, turning toward each other
They said, "This one appears to be alive,
Judging by how his throat moves; but if, rather,
These two are dead, what privilege can they have,
To go unencumbered by the heavy stole?"
And then to me, "O Tuscan, you who arrive
At the sad hypocrites' assembly: pray tell--
Not scorning to so address us--who you are."
"At te great town," I said, "on the beautiful
Waters of Arno, I was born, and there
I grew up, and the body I wear now
I have always had--but who are you, who bear
Upon your cheeks these distillates of woe?
What is your punishment that glitters so bright?"
"The orange cloaks are lead," said one of the two,
"So thick, that we their scales creak at the weight.
We both were Jovial Friars, and Bolognese:
As for names, I was Catalano, and that
Was Loderingo, and we were your city's choice--
The way they usually choose one man--
To keep the peace: and what we were still shows
In the Gardingo district." Then I began:
"O Friars, your evil--" but that was all I said,
For as I spoke my eye was caught by one
Upon the ground, where he was crucified
By three stakes. When he saw me there he squirmed
All over, and puffing in his beard, he sighed;
Fra Catalano, observing this, explained:
"The one impaled there you are looking at
Is he who counseled the Pharisees to bend
The expedient way, by letting one man be put
To torture for the people. You see him stretch
Naked across the path to feel the weight
Of everyone who passes; and in this ditch,
Trussed the same way, are racked his father-in-law
And others of that council which was such
A seed of evil for the Jews." I saw
Virgil, who had been marveling over the man
Doomed to be stretched out vilely crosswise so
In the eternal exile. He spoke words then,
Directed to the friar: "Be it allowed,
And if it pleases you, could you explain
What passage there may be on the right-hand side
By which we two can journey away from here,
Without requiring those black angels' aid
To come and take us from this valley floor?"
And he replied, "Nearer than you may hope
Is a rock ridge that starts from the circular
Great wall surrounding us, and spans the top
Of all the savage valleys except for this--
Where it is broken and fallen down the slope
Rather than arching over: and at that place,
You can mount up by climbing the debris
Of rock along the slopes of the crevasse
And piled up at the bottom." Silently
My leader stood a moment bowing his head,
Then, "He who hooks the sinners, back that way,
Supplied a bad account of this," he said.
The friar: "In Bologna the saying goes,
As I have heard, that the Devil is endowed
With many vices--among them, that he lies
And is the father of lies, I have also heard."
And then my guide moved onward, setting the pace
With mighty strides, and with his features stirred
To some disturbance by his anger yet;
And leaving those burdened souls I too went forward,
Following in the tracks of his dear feet.
In that part of the young year when the sun
Goes under Aquarius to rinse his beams,
And the long nights already begin to wane
Toward half the day, and when the hoarfrost mimes
The image of her white sister upon the ground--
But only a while, because her pen, it seems,
Is not sharp long--a peasant who has found
That he is running short of fodder might rise
And go outside and see the fields have turned
To white, and slap his thigh, and back in the house
Pace grumbling here and there like some poor wretch
Who can't see what to do; and then he goes
Back out, and finds hope back within his reach,
Seeing in how little time the world outside
Has changed its face, and takes his crook to fetch
His sheep to pasture. I felt this way, dismayed
By my master's stormy brow; and quickly as this,
The hurt had found its plaster. For when we stood
Before the ruined bridge, my leader's face
Turned to me with a sweet expression, the same
As I had first beheld at the mountain's base.
He opened his arms, after he took some time
To consult himself and study the ruin well,
And taking hold of me began the climb.
As one who works and reckons all the while
Seems always to have provided in advance,
So, lifting me up one great boulder's wall,
He kept his eye on another eminence,
Saying, "Next, grapple that one--but make sure
That it will bear you, first." That path of stones
Would not provide a road for those who wore
Lead mantles, for we--he weightless, I helped up--
Could barely make our way from spur to spur.
Had it not been that on that bank the slope
Was shorter than on the other, I do not know
How he'd have fared, but I'd have had to stop
And would have been defeated; but it was true
In each valley that the contour of the land
Made one side higher and the other low,
Because of the way all Malebolge inclined
Downward toward the mouth of the lowest pit.
At length we reached the place at which we found
The last stone broken off, and there I sat
As soon as I was up--so out of breath
Were my spent lungs I felt that I could get
No farther than I was. "To cast off sloth
Now well behooves you," said my master then:
"For resting upon soft down, or underneath
The blanket's cloth, is not how fame is won--
Without which, one spends life to leave behind
As vestige of himself on earth the sign
Smoke leaves on air, or foam on water. So stand
And overcome your panting--with the soul,
Which wins all battles if it does not depsond
Under its heavy body's weight. And still
A longer ladder remains for us to climb;
To leave these shades behind does not fulfill
All that's required. If you understand me, come:
Act now, to profit yourself." I got to my feet,
Showing more breath that I felt, and said to him,
"Go on, for I am strong and resolute."
And so, ascending the ridge, we took our way:
It was quite rugged, narrow and difficult,
Far steeper than the last. To seem to be
Not too fatigued, I was talking while I trudged,
When a voice arose--one ill equipped to say
Actual words--from the new fosse we had reached.
I don't know what it said, though I was now
At the high point of the bridge which overarched
The ditch there, but whoever spoke from below
Seemed to be moving. I turned quick eyes to peer
Down into the dark, but the bottom didn't show--
Wherefore I said, "Master, pray lead from here
To the next belt, and let us descend the wall:
Just as I cannot decipher the things I hear,
So too I look but make out nothing at all
From where we are." "I'll give no other response,"
He said, "but do it, for fitting petitions call
For deeds, not words." Where the bridge's end adjoins
The eighth bank, we descended, and then that pouch
Showed itself to me: I saw in its confines
Serpents--a frightening swarm, of weird kinds such
As to remember now still chills my blood.
Let Libya boast no more of her sands so rich
In reptiles, for though they spawn the chelydrid,
Cenchres with amphisbaena, the jaculi
And phareae, she never, though one include
All Ethiopia and the lands that lie
On the Red Sea, has shown a pestilence
So numerous or of such malignancy.
Amid this horde, cruel, grim and dense,
People were running, naked and terrified,
Without a hope of hiding or a chance
At heliotrope for safety. Their hands were tied
Behind their backs--with snakes, that thrust between
Where the legs meet, entwining tail and head
Into a know in front. And look!--at one
Near us a serpent darted, and transfixed
Him at the point where neck and shoulders join.
No o or i could be made with strokes as fast
As he took fire and burned and withered away,
Sinking; and when his ashes came to rest
Ruined on the ground, the dust spontaneously
Resumed its former shape. Just so expires
The Phoenix in its flames, great sages agree,
To be born again every five hundred years;
During its life, it feeds on neither grain
Nor herb but amomum and incense's tears,
And at its end the sheet it's shrouded in
Is essence of nard and myrrh. As one who falls
And knows not how--if a demon pulled him down,
Or another blockage human life entails--
And when he rises stares about confused
By the great anguish that he knows he feels,
And looking, sighs; so was that sinner dazed
When he stood up again. Oh, power of God!
How severe its vengeance is, to have imposed
Showers of such blows. My leader asked the shade
To tell us who he was. "The time is brief
Since I rained down from Tuscany," he replied,
"Into this gullet. It was a bestial life,
Not human, that pleased me best, mule that I was.
I am Vanni Fucci, beast--and aptly enough,
Pistoia was my den." And, "Master, please
Bid him not slip away, but ask what sin
It was," I said, "that thrust him to this place,
For in his time I have know him as a man
Of blood and rage." The sinner, who had heard,
Without dissembling turned mind and face--which shone
The color of shame--to me; then he declared,
"That you have caught me here amid this grief
Causes me suffering worse than I endured
When I was taken from the other life.
I cannot refuse your question: I must be
Thrust this far down because I was a thief
Who took adornments from the sacristy--
For which another, falsely, was condemned.
But, lest you delight too much in what you see
If ever you escape from this dark ground:
Open your ears to what I now pronounce,
And listen. First, Pistoia strips her land
Of Blacks, then Florence changes her citizens
And ways. From Val di Magra, Mars draws a great
Vapor, and thick clouds muffle its turbulence
Till stormy, bitter, impetuous war breaks out
On Campo Piceno--where suddenly, it breaks through
And tears the mist and strikes at every White:
And I have told it to bring grief to you."