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Thread: Dante Alighieri (Durante degli Alighieri)

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    Default Dante Alighieri (Durante degli Alighieri)

    I was thinking maybe Fi-INFj. Then I checked a thread here and noticed someone else thought the same.

    From The Divine Comedy: Inferno by Dante Alighieri (translated by J.G. Nichols); pages 5-13 (CANTO I):

    [Synopsis:]

    This canto, the prologue to Dante’s journey through the Inferno, acts also as an introduction to The Divine Comedy as a whole.

    At the age of thirty-five Dante realises he is lost in a dark, terrifying wood. He takes heart when he sees in front of him a hilltop shining in sunlight. But, as he starts to climb the hill, he is frightened by a leopard which obstructs him in a threatening manner, and then by an angry lion, and finally by a she-wolf – the most alarming animal of the three. So Dante is driven back into the darkness which – as we soon come to realise about everything in this poem – is both real and allegorical. (There are, throughout this poem, many kinds of allegory. For instance, the leopard, the lion, and the she-wolf – emblems rather than symbols, and therefore in need of interpretation – are of a different order from the dark wood, whose import is obvious.)

    A human figure approaches, and Dante, uncertain whether it is a living being or a ghost, implores its help. The figure explains that he is the shade of Virgil. This is the poet whom Dante, as he is quick to declare, admires more than any other. Virgil encourages Dante, and explains that he must travel by a different road if he is to find a way out of his difficulties.

    After making an obscure prophecy about the coming of a hound which will kill the she-wolf and also be the saviour of Italy, Virgil says that he will guide Dante through the realms of the Inferno, inhabited by the souls of the damned, who are beyond all hope; and also through Purgatory, where the souls of those now doing penance for their sins are residing, glad to suffer because they have the certain hope of going ultimately to Paradise. Virgil, because he was a pagan who lived and died before Christ and so could not believe in Him, cannot accompany Dante into Paradise. But he says there is another guide who will take Dante there.

    Dante accepts Virgil’s guidance, and they set off.


    Halfway along our journey to life’s end
    I found myself astray in a dark wood,
    Since the right way was nowhere to be found.
    How hard a thing it is to express the horror
    Of that wild wood, so difficult, so dense!
    Even to think of it renews my terror.
    It is so bitter death is scarcely more.
    But to convey what goodness I discovered,
    I shall tell everything that I saw there.
    How I got into it I cannot say:
    I’d fallen into such a heavy sleep
    The very instant that I went astray.
    But when I came beneath a steep hillside –
    Which rose at the far end of that long valley
    That struck my stricken heart with so much dread –
    I lifted up my eyes, and saw the height
    Covered already in that planet’s rays*
    Which always guides all men and guides them right.
    And then the fear I felt was somewhat less,
    Though it had filled my heart to overflowing
    The whole night I had spent in such distress.
    And as somebody, trying to get his breath,
    Emerging from the sea, now safe on shore,
    Turns round to look at where he cheated death,
    Just so inside my mind, which was still fleeing,
    I turned to look again upon that pass
    Which never left alive one human being.
    When I’d rested my body for a time,
    I made my way across deserted foothills,
    Keeping my low foot always the more firm.**


    *According to the Ptolemaic system, accepted in Dante’s time, the sun was one of several planets revolving round the earth. The dark wood and the comforting sunlight mark the beginning of that symbolism of light and darkness which runs through the whole Comedy.

    **He was climbing.


    And then, just where the hill began to rise,
    I saw a leopard, light upon its paws,
    Covered all over in a spotted hide!*
    It would not move, but stood in front of me,
    And so obstructed me upon my journey
    I kept on turning round to turn and flee.
    By then it was the first hour of the morning,
    With the sun rising in the constellation
    That came with him when stars we still see burning
    Were set in motion by divine love first.**


    *This leopard is an embodiment of the sin of lust, or sensuality in general, commonly associated with youth.

    **It was a common medieval belief that, when the world was created, the season was early spring, with the sun in the constellation of Aries.


    And so I had good cause to feel encouraged –
    About the lithe and gaily coloured beast –
    By that glad time of day and time of year.
    But not so much encouraged that a lion
    Failed to inspire alarm as it drew near.
    It seemed to me the beast was drawing near,
    With head held high, and so irate with hunger
    The air itself seemed shivering in fear.*
    And then a she-wolf! Though she was so lean,
    She looked about to burst, being crammed with cravings,
    She who’d made many draw their breath in pain.**
    The pain she caused me was so terrible,
    And such the terror coming from her sight,
    I lost all hope of climbing up that hill.
    And like that miser, happy while he’s gaining,
    Who when luck changes and he starts to lose,
    Gives himself up to misery and moaning –
    That’s how I was, faced by that restless brute,
    Which always coming nearer, step by step
    Drove me back down to where the sun is mute.
    Then suddenly, as I went slipping down,
    Someone appeared before my very eyes,
    Seemingly through long silence hoarse and wan.
    When I caught sight of him in that wide waste,
    ‘Take pity on me,’ I shouted out to him,
    ‘Whatever you are, a real man or a ghost!’


    *The lion embodies the sins of wrath and pride, commonly associated with middle age.

    **The she-wolf embodies the sins of avarice, commonly associated with old age.


    He answered: ‘Not a man, though I was once.
    Both of my parents came from Lombardy,
    And both of them were native Mantuans.
    I came to birth sub Julio, rather late,*
    And lived in Rome under the good Augustus
    When false, deceptive gods still held their state.
    I was a poet, and I sang the good
    Son of Anchises who came out of Troy
    When Ilium was burnt down in all its pride.**
    But you, why d’you go back to misery?
    Why don’t you climb up the delightful mountain,
    The origin and cause of perfect joy?’
    ‘Then are you Virgil, you, that spring, that stream
    Of eloquence, that ever-widening river?’
    I answered, red with reverence and shame.
    ‘Oh every poet’s glory and guiding light!
    May I be aided by the love and zeal
    That made me study your works by day and night.
    You are my only master and my author,
    You only are the one from whom I took
    That style which has bestowed on me such honour.
    You see the beast that made me turn in flight.
    Save me from her, O famous fount of wisdom!
    She makes the blood run from my veins in fright.’
    ‘Now you must travel by a different road,’
    He answered when he saw that I was weeping,
    ‘If you wish to escape from this wild wood.
    This beast, the reason that you cry out loud,
    Will not let people pass along this way,
    But hinders them, and even has their blood.
    She is by nature such an evildoer
    Her avid appetite is never slaked,
    And after food she’s hungrier than before.


    *When Julius Caesar was dominant in Rome, but too late to be acquainted with Caesar.

    **This is Virgil, and the poem he refers to is his Aeneid, whose hero, Aeneas, a refugee from Troy (or Ilium), is the son of Anchises. The theme of the Aeneid, the events leading up to the foundation of Rome, was particularly dear to Catholic Europe because Rome eventually became the seat of the Papacy.


    And many are the beasts she’s mating with,*
    And there’ll be many more, until the hound**
    Arrives, to bring her to a painful death.


    *Many people will indulge in the sin of avarice.

    **Variously interpreted as a political or religious saviour (there are many candidates) or – most satisfactorily – as a prophecy left deliberately vague.


    This hound will not be fed with land or pelf,
    But rather feed on wisdom, love, and valour.
    He will originate in folds of felt.*
    He’ll be the saviour of low-lying lands
    Of Italy for which Camilla died,
    Turnus, Nisus, Euryalus, of their wounds.**


    *Again obscure, but as translated here it suggests a humble origin.

    **All characters in the Aeneid.


    This hound will hunt that creature high and low
    Until he thrusts her back in the Inferno
    Whence envy freed her first and let her go.
    I therefore think and judge it would be best
    For you to follow me. And I shall lead
    You to a region that will always last,
    Where you will hear shrieks of despair and grief,
    And see the ancient spirits in their pain,
    As each of them begs for their second death.
    And you’ll see spirits happy in the fire,
    Because they live in hope that they will come,
    Sooner or later, where the blessèd are.
    And if you wish to join that company,
    One worthier than I will take you up.*
    I’ll leave you with her when I go away.

    *Beatrice, the woman loved by Dante in his youth and a lasting means of grace leading him to God. Dante’s own account of his love, Vita nuova (New Life), a work in prose with lyrics interspersed, is by far the best introduction to the Comedy.


    That emperor who has his kingdom there*
    Lets no one come through me into his city,
    Because I was a rebel to his law.**

    *God. In the Inferno God tends to be alluded to rather than named, while Christ is never named.

    **Virgil was a pagan.


    He governs all creation, ruling where
    He has his capital and his high throne.
    Happy are those he chooses to have there!’
    I answered: ‘What I beg of you is this —
    By that God whom you never knew – so that
    I may escape this evil and much worse,
    Take me to both those places as you said,
    To see the gate kept by St Peter,* and
    Those souls you say are desperately sad.’**
    Then he set off. I followed on behind.


    *Either the gate of Purgatory, guarded by an angel obedient to St Peter, or to the gate of Paradise.

    **Those in the Inferno.




    From Dante’s Inferno (text adapted by Sandow Birk and Marcus Sanders); pages 1-6 (CANTO I):

    ARGUMENT:
    Dante the Pilgrim wakes from a stupor to discover that he’s lost in a dark forest and can’t remember anything from the night before. It is early morning of Good Friday in the year A.D. 1300. He gets worried and tries to find a way out by following a glimmer of sunlight up a hill in the distance, but as he walks, he comes across three beasts that block his path. First a leopard, then a lion, and finally a wolf all force him back down into the forest. Next he sees a man walking along blindly and calls to him for assistance. It turns out that it is the ghost of Virgil, the great Roman poet from ancient times, who tells Dante that he’s come specifically to guide him. But the way out is down, not up, says Virgil, and he proposes to lead him through Hell and out the other side, then through Purgatory until they meet a second guide who will lead Dante into Heaven itself. Dante’s a bit suspect, but he’s glad to be at least saved from the beasts and begins following Virgil.


    About halfway through the course of my pathetic life,
    I woke up and found myself in a stupor in some dark place.
    I’m not sure how I ended up there; I guess I had taken a few wrong turns.

    I can’t really describe what that place was like.
    It was dark and strange, and just thinking
    about it now gives me the chills. It was so bleak
    and depressing. I remember thinking I’d rather be
    dead than stuck there. But before I get too far off track,
    I should tell you about the other stuff that happened,
    because, in the end, everything came out alright.

    First off, I don’t have a clue how I ended up there. I can’t
    remember anything about it because I had been pretty
    tipsy when I wandered off the night before, and I was tired
    and must’ve fallen asleep. After I got up, I wandered around
    in the dark for a long time looking for a way out. Just when
    I was feeling completely lost and was ready to give up,
    I looked up and saw a faint light in the distance.
    I figured that meant there must be a way out up ahead
    somewhere. When I saw that light, I felt better, and the
    fear I’d been holding inside of me that whole time started
    to lift a little bit, because I figured I’d be outta there soon.
    It felt like I’d almost been pulled over for something in a
    car, but then the cop had turned away. I was sweating with
    relief after making it through such a close call. As I started
    up the hill, I looked back into the darkness behind me and
    it seemed like no one could ever find their way out of there.

    I was so exhausted; I sat down for a short rest,
    then dragged myself uphill toward the glimmer
    of light, leading with my left foot at every step.
    I hadn’t gone too far before I suddenly saw
    a thin, graceful, spotted leopard coming out of
    the darkness in front of me. It stopped and stood
    there watching me quietly, blocking my way
    up from that depressing gloom until I finally just
    gave up and headed back down into the darkness.

    Eventually it seemed like dawn was near.
    The sky started to lighten, and I could make out the
    stars in the constellation of Aries near the horizon.
    I thought that might be a good sign and started to
    feel better and tried not to think about the leopard.

    But I guess I was being a bit optimistic, because
    just then a lion came out of the darkness in front of
    me like the leopard had. He seemed angry and hungry,
    and he came toward me slowly, staring at me and
    growling. It didn’t seem like there was any way to
    get past him. To make things even worse, an emaciated
    wolf came out of the darkness next, looking all hungry
    and wild, like something out of a second-rate horror movie.
    The wolf was the thing that really scared me,
    and I gave up on trying to go up that way.
    I felt like I’d fallen overboard and my ship
    was sailing away without me as I lost hope.
    At first I stood there, motionless in the dark, facing
    the wolf, but she advanced toward me steadily
    and I backed up slowly and retreated
    down into the murky blackness below.

    As I wandered around, even more depressed than before,
    I was freaked out to see a man with a cane walking along
    blindly in the gloom, but it looked like he knew where he was
    going. I watched him moving through the emptiness, and,
    when he was about to go past me, I called to him,
    “Excuse me, sir! I’m sorry, but can you help me,
    whoever you are? You could be a ghost for all I know.”

    “I am not a man now, but I once was,” he answered hoarsely,
    as if he hadn’t spoken for a long time. “My family is from
    Lombard, and both my parents were born in Mantua.
    Julius Caesar ruled Rome when I was born, and I
    grew up under the reign of Augustus. Back in those
    days we used to worship many gods instead of just one.
    Maybe you know the book I wrote, the Aeneid, about
    Anchises’s son Aeneas who fled from the city of Troy when
    it was burned by the Greeks? But tell me,” he asked,
    turning his head to see me better in the gloom,
    “why are you coming down into the darkness, instead
    of going up toward the light like everyone else?”

    “From the way you talk and the book you wrote,” I said,
    straining to remember, “is it possible you’re Virgil, the
    famous poet from ancient times? I remember all of
    the classes I took on you. (Maybe now they’ll finally
    be useful!) I remember how good all your writing was,
    and, I’ll tell you, I’ve tried to put some of your style into
    my own writing since then. I’ve done OK with it, too.
    But, hey, listen: You seem to know where you’re going.
    Do you think you can tell me how to get out of here?”

    I was almost crying by then; I was so desperate and exhausted.
    “To find your way out of this deep darkness,” he said,
    “it would be better to go a different way than you’ve
    been. That wolf you avoided back there
    will kill anyone who tries to sneak past her.
    She’s wild and unpredictable and dangerous.
    The more she eats, the hungrier she gets,
    and the hungrier she gets, the more
    aggressive and dangerous she becomes.
    She’s mated with other beasts down below here,
    and legend has it that she’ll keep on breeding until the
    ‘Greyhound’ comes to hunt her down and kill her. He
    will do it for Wisdom, Love, and Truth,” he continued.
    “Not for money or power or land or any other gain.
    The ‘Greyhound’ will come from Feltros
    and will return all of Italy to the glory that so many
    others have sacrificed themselves for! You know, great
    people like Turnus, and Nisus, and Camilla, and Euryalus.
    The ‘Greyhound’ will chase the wolf through the
    darkness all the way into Hell itself and, if he must
    all the way back into the fires that raised her!”

    I had no idea what he was talking about, but I didn’t stop him.
    “Listen to me,” he said earnestly, “if you trust me, then
    let me guide you, and I’ll take you on a long journey
    through deep places of horror and pain where even
    the dead cry to die again. Beyond that, we’ll come
    to another place, where spirits and souls who
    aren’t so tortured by fires and pain and suffering
    hold on to a hope of being allowed into Heaven one
    day. I’ve never been farther than that myself, not past
    St. Peter’s Gate that leads into the City of God Himself.
    But I will leave you there, where you’ll meet someone
    more worthy than me, who will lead you the rest of the
    way to Paradise. I am not allowed that far myself.
    But you! You will see Heaven itself! His very throne!
    You will see the wonders of perfection in the infinite
    and all those who are blessed enough to live there!”

    “Whatever,” I laughed nervously. “Virgil, old man, you don’t
    look well. But if that’s the only way out of here, then let’s go.
    For God’s sake, just lead me the fuck out of this depressing darkness,
    away from these monsters and wolves and whatever else that is down
    here. Show me the way to the gates of St. Peter, or whoever you say,
    and let’s have a look at all this other stuff you’re going on about.”

    He waved his cane and turned, and I started off after him.


    From The Divine Comedy: Inferno by Dante Alighieri (translated by J.G. Nichols); pages 341-9 (CANTO XXXIII):

    He raised his mouth from his barbaric feed,
    That sinner,* and he wiped it on what hair
    There still remained on the half-eaten head.
    And then began: ‘You ask me to revive
    Death and despair, a weight upon my heart
    Even to think of, never mind describe.
    But since my words may bear this bitter fruit –
    Infamy for the traitor I am chewing –
    Then, though I weep, yet will I speak of it.
    I don’t know you, nor by what ways and means
    You’ve come down here – but certainly I think
    Your way of speaking is a Florentine’s.
    You must know Ugolino is my name,
    And this man is Ruggieri, the archbishop;
    I’ll tell you why I am so close to him.
    That he had all my trust, and that I fell
    Into the snare he laid, and was imprisoned
    Until I died, there is no need to tell;
    But what you can’t have heard of, you’ll now hear –
    That is, the agonising death I died –
    And know the rightness of the grudge I bear.
    A tiny aperture inside the Mew**,
    Called now, on my account, the Tower of Hunger,
    Where others after me will be locked too,
    Had let me have a glimpse already through
    Its slit of several moons [months], before my dream
    In which the future’s veil was torn in two.
    This man [Ruggieri] appeared, the master of the hunt
    Of wolf and wolf-cubs on that Mount which means
    That Pisans looking to see Lucca can’t.***


    *See [lines] 124-39 of the previous canto. This is Ugolino della Gherardesca, born in Pisa c. 1230. Although a member of a Guelph family, he conspired to bring the Ghibellines to power in Pisa. This may be the betrayal for which he is damned in Antenora. He was later himself betrayed by the Ghibellines, and imprisoned with two sons and two grandsons in a tower, where all were starved to death in 1289.

    **Tower belonging to the Gualandi family, which stood in what is now the Piazza dei Cavalieri in Pisa.

    ***This is Monte di San Giuliano. The periphrastic mention of it here suggests subtly an unfulfilled longing for Lucca, a Guelph stronghold.


    With lean and hungry hounds this man had sent
    Gualandi and Sismondi and Lanfranchi*
    Up there before him and way out in front.
    And then it seemed to me that all too soon
    Father and sons started to tire; sharp fangs
    Invaded them – I saw their bodies torn.
    When I awoke, before the dawn, I heard
    My sons,** who were imprisoned with me, weeping
    While still asleep, and crying out for bread.
    You must be hard of heart, if you can keep
    Your tears back, as you guess what I foresaw.
    Oh, if you don’t weep now, when would you weep?
    They were awake; and it was near the time
    When it was customary to bring us food,
    Who’d all been frightened by the selfsame dream,
    When down below I heard the key being turned
    To lock that tower – and it was then I looked
    My children in the face, without a word.
    I could not weep, being turned to stone inside:
    They wept; and my poor little Anselm asked:
    “Father, why look like that? Are you afraid?”
    I did not weep and I did not reply
    All of that day and all the following night,
    Until another sun rose in the sky.
    The moment that some light managed to make
    Its way into our jail, and I could see
    Four faces looking as my own must look,
    I chewed my two hands in my agony;
    And they, thinking I did this out of hunger
    Struggled onto their feet immediately,
    And said: “Father, we’d be in much less pain
    If you were eating us: you clothed us with
    This wretched flesh, so strip it off again.”
    I calmed myself, not to make them feel worse;
    That day, the next day, no one spoke. Why did
    You, earth, not open up and swallow us?


    *All members of powerful Ghibellines families in Pisa.

    **Ugolino refers to all those with him, sons and grandsons, simply as his sons or children.


    When our starvation came to its fourth day,
    Gaddo threw himself at my feet, and cried:
    “Father, why can’t you do something for me?”
    With that he died – and clear as you see me,
    I saw the other three fall one by one
    Between the fifth and the sixth day; I
    Was blind* by now, and called and fumbled over
    Their bodies two days after they were dead –
    Then what grief could not do, was done by hunger.’
    He said this, rolled his eyes, and once again
    He got the wretched skull between his teeth,
    As savage as a dog is with a bone.


    *Through starvation.


    Pisa! Dishonoured city, dreadful blot
    On that dear country where the word is *,
    Whom your neighbors seem slow to castigate,
    Could but Capraia move – Gorgona too** —
    And make a dam across the Arno’s mouth,
    Until it drowned all living souls in you!


    *Italy is distinguished from some other countries with Romance languages by its use of for yes.

    **Two islands just off the mouth of the river, the Arno, which runs through Pisa.


    Even with Ugolino said to be
    Betrayer of your castles, was it right
    To put his children to such agony?
    New Thebes!* They were too young to share his blame,
    Brigata and Uguccione, and those others,
    The two already mentioned in my rhyme.
    We went on further,** where the frozen zone
    Has other people wrapped up cruelly,
    Not looking down now: all of them supine.


    *Ancient Thebes had a reputation for cruelty.

    **Into Ptolomea, the third zone of Cocytus, reserved for those who betrayed guests or other associates. The name is derived either from Ptolemy, King of Egypt (51-47 BC), or from Ptolemy, governor of Jericho (I Macc. 16: 11-17): they both murdered guests.


    Their very weeping will not let them weep:
    Their pain, finding obstruction in their eyes,
    Turns back inside them to augment their grief;
    Their first tears form a cluster as they freeze,
    Which like a sort of visor made of crystal,
    Fills up the cavities below their brows.
    And even though, being in a land of ice
    Where everything is harder than a callus,
    I had no feeling in my frozen face,
    I felt that I could feel some wind blow there,
    And asked my master: ‘What’s the cause of this?
    Isn’t it true there are no vapours here?’*
    And he replied: ‘You’ll find yourself quite soon
    Where your own eyes will come up with the answer,
    And see the reason why this wind blows down.’
    One of the sinners of the frozen crust**
    Cried out to us: ‘O souls who are so cruel
    The zone that you’re assigned to is the last,***
    Remove these heavy veils from off my face,
    That I may briefly vent heart-swelling grief,
    Before my tears, as always, turn to ice.’


    *The belief was that winds were caused by vapours drawn out of the earth by the sun.

    **Those whose eyes are blocked with ice.

    ***Judecca, the fourth and last zone of Cocytus.


    ‘Tell me your name,’ I said: ‘that is my price;
    And if I do not liberate you after,
    May I go to the bottom of the ice.’
    ‘Friar Alberigo,’ he said straight away,
    ‘The man whose fruits grew in an evil orchard.*
    Here dates for figs are given back to me.’**


    *Friar Alberigo in 1285 invited his brother and a nephew to a banquet. When Alberigo called for the fruit course, hidden assassins killed the guests.

    **Figs were more expensive than dates, and the expression means to pay dearly for a misdeed.


    ‘Oh then!’ I burst out. ‘You’re already dead?’*
    ‘What’s happened to my body in the world
    Is something I’ve no news of,’ he replied.
    ‘We have one privilege in Ptolomea:
    Many a soul falls down into this place
    Well before Atropos has sent it here.**


    *Alberigo was still alive at the time of Dante’s vision (1300).

    **Before death. The mythical Atropos was one of the three Fates: she cut the thread of life which had been spun and measured out by her sisters.


    And so that you may scrape with better will
    These glazing tears have made from off my face,
    I shall explain: as soon as any soul
    Betrays as foully as I did, a fiend
    Captures the body and controls its actions
    Until its time on earth comes to an end,
    While into this cold well the soul drops down.
    Perhaps the world above still sees the body
    Of the shade that winters here behind my own?
    You must know him, if you have only just
    Come here: he’s Branca Doria*, and some years
    Have now gone by since he was so embraced.’**
    ‘I think,’ I said, ‘you’re trying to abuse
    My trust, for Branca Doria has not died:
    He eats and drinks and sleeps and puts on clothes.’
    ‘Before Michele Zanche reached the hole
    Above, where Clawboys play their games,’ he said,
    ‘Where sticky pitch is always on the boil,***
    This soul here left a demon in his stead
    Inside the body – as a relative,
    Who helped in the betrayal, also did.


    *A Genoese who murdered his father-in-law, Michele Zanche, at a banquet to which he had invited him.

    **So closed in ice.

    ***In the fifth ditch of the eighth circle, that of the barrators.


    But now stretch out your hand – this is the time
    To clear my eyes.’ But that I did not do:
    Courtesy here meant being rough with him.*
    You, Genoese, so utterly devoid
    Of all good customs, full of every vice,
    Why have you not been driven from the world?
    For, with Romagna’s foulest shade of all,**
    I found a Genoese*** with sins so grave
    That he bathes in Cocytus in his soul,
    And seems in body still alive above.


    *It would have been discourteous (to God) to try to interfere with His justice.

    **Friar Alberigo.

    ***Branca Doria.


    https://kalliope.org/en/text/dante2005050133

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwmZUezy8Tg

    La bocca sollevò dal fiero pasto
    quel peccator, forbendola a’capelli
    del capo ch’elli avea di retro guasto.
    Poi cominciò: «Tu vuo’ ch’io rinovelli
    disperato dolor che ’l cor mi preme
    già pur pensando, pria ch’io ne favelli.
    Ma se le mie parole esser dien seme
    che frutti infamia al traditor ch’i’ rodo,
    parlar e lagrimar vedrai insieme.
    Io non so chi tu se’ né per che modo
    venuto se’ qua giù -- ma fiorentino
    mi sembri veramente quand’io t’odo.
    Tu dei saper ch’i’ fui conte Ugolino,
    e questi è l’arcivescovo Ruggieri:
    or ti dirò perché i son tal vicino.
    Che per l’effetto de’ suo’ mai pensieri,
    fidandomi di lui, io fossi preso
    e poscia morto, dir non è mestieri;
    però quel che non puoi avere inteso –
    ciò è come la morte mia fu cruda –
    udirai, e saprai s’e’ m’ha offeso.
    Breve pertugio dentro da la Muda
    la qual per me ha il titol della fame –
    e che conviene ancor ch’altrui si chiuda –
    m’avea mostrato per lo suo forame
    più lune già, quand’io feci ’l mal sonno
    che del futuro mi squarciò ’l velame.
    Questi pareva a me maestro e donno,
    cacciando il lupo e’ lupicini al monte
    per che i Pisan veder Lucca non ponno.
    Con cagne magre, studiose e conte
    Gualandi con Sismondi e con Lanfranchi
    s’avea messi dinanzi da la fronte.
    In picciol corso mi parieno stanchi
    lo padre e ’ figli, e con l’agute scane
    mi parea lor veder fender li fianchi.
    Quando fui desto innanzi la dimane,
    pianger senti’ fra ’l sonno i miei figliuoli
    ch’eran con meco, e dimandar del pane.
    Ben se’ crudel, se tu già non ti duoli
    pensando ciò che ’l mio cor s’annunziava –
    e se non piangi, di che pianger suoli?
    Già eran desti, e l’ora s’appressava
    che ’l cibo ne solea essere addotto,
    e per suo sogno ciascun dubitava;
    e io senti’ chiavar l’uscio di sotto
    a l’orribile torre; ond’io guardai
    nel viso a’ mie’ figliuoi sanza far motto.
    Io non piangea, sì dentro impetrai:
    piangevan elli; e Anselmuccio mio
    disse: "Tu guardi sì, padre! che hai?"
    Perciò non lacrimai né rispuos’io
    tutto quel giorno né la notte appresso,
    infin che l’altro sol nel mondo uscìo.
    Come un poco di raggio si fu messo
    nel doloroso carcere, e io scorsi
    per quattro visi il mio aspetto stesso,
    ambo le man per lo dolor mi morsi;
    ed ei, pensando ch’io ’l fessi per voglia
    di manicar, di subito levorsi
    e disser: "Padre, assai ci fia men doglia
    se tu mangi di noi: tu ne vestisti
    queste misere carni, e tu le spoglia".
    Queta’mi allor per non farli più tristi;
    lo dì e l’altro stemmo tutti muti;
    ahi dura terra, perché non t’apristi?
    Poscia che fummo al quarto dì venuti,
    Gaddo mi si gittò disteso a’ piedi,
    dicendo: "Padre mio, ché non m’aiuti?".
    Quivi morì; e come tu mi vedi,
    vid’io cascar li tre ad uno ad uno
    tra ’l quinto dì e ’l sesto; ond’io mi diedi,
    già cieco, a brancolar sovra ciascuno,
    e due dì li chiamai, poi che fur morti:
    poscia, più che ’l dolor, poté ’l digiuno*».
    Quand’ebbe detto ciò, con li occhi torti
    riprese ’l teschio misero co’denti,
    che furo a l’osso, come d’un can, forti.
    Ahi Pisa, vituperio de le genti
    del bel paese là dove ’l sì sona,
    poi che i vicini a te punir son lenti,
    muovasi la Capraia e la Gorgona,
    e faccian siepe ad Arno in su la foce,
    sì ch’elli annieghi in te ogne persona!
    Ché se ’l conte Ugolino aveva voce
    d’aver tradita te de le castella,
    non dovei tu i figliuoi porre a tal croce.
    Innocenti facea l’età novella,
    novella Tebe, Uguiccione e ’l Brigata
    e li altri due che ’l canto suso appella.
    Noi passammo oltre, là ’ve la gelata
    ruvidamente un’altra gente fascia,
    non volta in giù, ma tutta riversata.
    Lo pianto stesso lì pianger non lascia,
    e ’l duol che truova in su li occhi rintoppo,
    si volge in entro a far crescer l’ambascia;
    ché le lagrime prime fanno groppo,
    e sì come visiere di cristallo,
    riempion sotto ’l ciglio tutto il coppo.
    E avvegna che, sì come d’un callo,
    per la freddura ciascun sentimento
    cessato avesse del mio viso stallo,
    già mi parea sentire alquanto vento:
    per ch’io: «Maestro mio, questo chi move?
    non è qua giù ogne vapore spento?».
    Ond’elli a me: «Avaccio sarai dove
    di ciò ti farà l’occhio la risposta,
    veggendo la cagion che ’l fiato piove».


    *The suggestion, which has been made, that this means that Ugolino began to eat his children’s flesh seems unwarranted. The significance is that, however great Ugolino’s grief, it did not kill him, but starvation did. The realism here can be compared with that in l. 73 above where Ugolino is blind, not hyperbolically with tears, but literally, as a result of starvation.


    E un de’ tristi de la fredda crosta
    gridò a noi: «O anime crudeli,
    tanto che data v’è l’ultima posta,
    levatemi dal viso i duri veli,
    sì ch’io sfoghi ’l duol che ’l cor m’impregna,
    un poco, pria che ’l pianto si raggeli».
    Per ch’io a lui: «Se vuo’ ch’i’ ti sovvegna,
    dimmi chi se’, e s’io non ti disbrigo,
    al fondo de la ghiaccia ir mi convegna».
    Rispuose adunque: «I’ son frate Alberigo;
    io son quel da le frutta del mal orto,
    che qui riprendo dattero per figo».
    «Oh!», diss’io lui, «or se’ tu ancor morto?».
    Ed elli a me: «Come ’l mio corpo stea
    nel mondo sù, nulla scienza porto.
    Cotal vantaggio ha questa Tolomea,
    che spesse volte l’anima ci cade
    innanzi ch’Atropòs mossa le dea.
    E perché tu più volentier mi rade
    le ’nvetriate lagrime dal volto,
    sappie che, tosto che l’anima trade
    come fec’io, il corpo suo l’è tolto
    da un demonio, che poscia il governa
    mentre che ’l tempo suo tutto sia vòlto.
    Ella ruina in sì fatta cisterna;
    e forse pare ancor lo corpo suso
    de l’ombra che di qua dietro mi verna.
    Tu ’l dei saper, se tu vien pur mo giuso:
    elli è ser Branca Doria, e son più anni
    poscia passati ch’el fu sì racchiuso».
    «Io credo», diss’io lui, «che tu m’inganni;
    ché Branca Doria non morì unquanche,
    e mangia e bee e dorme e veste panni».
    «Nel fosso sù», diss’el, «de’ Malebranche,
    là dove bolle la tenace pece,
    non era ancor giunto Michel Zanche,
    che questi lasciò il diavolo in sua vece
    nel corpo suo, ed un suo prossimano
    che ’l tradimento insieme con lui fece.
    Ma distendi oggimai in qua la mano;
    aprimi li occhi». E io non gliel’apersi;
    e cortesia fu lui esser villano.
    Ahi Genovesi, uomini diversi
    d’ogne costume e pien d’ogne magagna,
    perché non siete voi del mondo spersi?
    Ché col peggiore spirto di Romagna
    trovai di voi un tal, che per sua opra
    in anima in Cocito già si bagna,
    e in corpo par vivo ancor di sopra.





    Dante’s Inferno (adapted by Sandow Birk and Marcus Sanders); pages 202-8 (CANTO XXXIII):

    The sinner stopped chewing on the neck of the other
    guy, wiped his bloody mouth on the guy’s hair,
    and looked at me. “Did you come all the way
    down here just to remind me of all of my sufferings?
    I can’t even think about them without my heart breaking
    and without getting all choked up as it is. But if my
    talking about it will somehow bring more disgrace on
    this bastard who I’m condemned to chew on forever,
    then I’ll do my best to tell you about it. That is, if you
    can forgive me if I cry a little when I tell you.

    “I don’t know how you got down here or who you are, but
    I can tell by your accent that you’re from Florence. I was
    Count Ugolino, and this guy here, who now has to suffer
    From my gnawing on him all the time, was once the
    Archbishop Ruggieri. It’s a long, tragic story about why
    we’re here, tormented together forever like this. I don’t
    even have to tell you about how I once trusted this man,
    and of the shit he did to me in return, and of how he ended
    up having me locked up in jail and executed. What you
    probably haven’t heard is how mean and cruel
    my execution was. But I’ll tell you how it happened,
    and you can decide for yourself what you think.
    See, I had been shut up in that tower prison
    for a few months. (Everyone calls it Hunger Tower
    now, because of me, and I’m sure that a lot more
    people will suffer there, too.) I knew how long it had
    been because I could see the moon through the slit
    windows in the stone walls of the cell. Well, one night,
    I had this dream about what was going to happen to me,
    and when I woke up, I knew it was going to come true.

    Ruggieri here, the owner of this stinking head that I’m
    munching on, appeared in my dream dressed like a
    nobleman and led a group on a wolf hunt in the hills of
    San Giuliano, where the town of Lucca sits hidden away
    from Pisan troops. He had these fast hunting dogs,
    vicious suckers, and he set them on the other hunters,
    who were all from Pisa—Gualandi and his sons, Sismondi
    and Lanfranchi. They took off running, but couldn’t keep
    it up, and before long, they fell down exhausted. And in my
    dream, I saw the dogs tear into them with their teeth.

    “When I woke up, it was still dark out and the first
    thing I heard was the hungry cries of my sleeping sons
    and grandsons who were locked up with me. I’m telling you,
    you’ve got to be a hard-hearted son of a bitch if you
    didn’t think what I was thinking at that moment.
    I mean, if the sounds of your own kids crying from hunger
    doesn’t break your heart, then what on Earth does?

    “The children woke up hungry and afraid from their own bad
    dreams, and by then, it was breakfast time. But instead of our captors
    bringing us breakfast like they usually did, we heard the sounds of
    hammering outside our cell door as they nailed it shut for good.

    “When they heard that, my own kids looked at me with
    their hungry eyes, and I didn’t know what to tell them.
    I couldn’t even cry. I just sat there, frozen, in a trance,
    until my little Anselm asked me, ‘Dad, what’s wrong?
    You look like you’re sick or something.’

    “It was like I was in a coma or something. I just sat there in a
    daze. I didn’t cry; I didn’t move. I couldn’t say anything all
    that day and all that night. But as soon as the sun came up
    again and it got light enough to see the four faces of the
    hungry boys suffering with me, I covered my face with
    my hands and gnawed on my fist in despair. And then,
    seeing me like that and thinking it meant that I was hungry,
    my very own little boys said to me, ‘Don’t be like that, Dad.
    You’re the one who gave us our lives and we’d rather that
    you take them from us, if you have to. We’d rather die than
    see you go hungry and suffer like this. Take us and kill us,
    and then you can eat us. It’s better that way. And then you
    can decide what’s best to be done.’

    “I tried to stay calm from then on so I wouldn’t make them
    more afraid than they already were. None of us spoke again
    for the rest of the day and not even the next. God, how I
    wished that the ground would have opened up and
    swallowed us all at once and been done with it right then.
    By the fourth day, my little Gaddo was so weak that he
    collapsed at my feet. ‘Why don’t you help me, Dad?’ were
    his very last words. As clear as you see me here in front of
    you, I had to live to watch my other son and two grandsons
    die, one by one, on the fifth night. Finally, blind with
    hunger myself, I crawled around the floor of the cell
    feeling the cold bodies and faces of those little boys.
    I held each one and spoke to them and called their names,
    but every one of them was dead. On the eighth day,
    the sufferings of my hunger finally overcame my grief.”

    Fuckin’ Pisa! I thought as I listened to this horrible
    story; your town is a shithole full of wicked people,
    and the sooner you’re ruined, the better. I’d be
    happy if the islands of Gorgona and Caprara drifted
    and blocked up the Arno’s whole river mouth and
    flooded that evil town and drowned everyone in it.
    Even if Ugolino had betrayed you, it’s despicable to
    take your revenge on his little kids. His kid
    Uguiccione and his grandson Brigata were so young
    that they couldn’t have had anything to do with it.
    They were just innocent kids! None of the other little
    brothers were at fault, either, and you left them to starve
    in the tower for no reason, except sheer wickedness.

    As I thought about all of the reasons why I hated the
    Pisans, Virgil and I walked along farther, and soon we
    came across more sinners frozen into the ice of the
    lake. Their faces were turned up to watch us, and
    frozen tears lined their cheeks. The first drops from
    their eyes must have frozen solid and backed up
    the flow of the tears, because they had these big icicles
    under their eyes, all thick and clear. It was so damned
    cold down there that my face was numb, but even so, I
    thought I felt a breeze on my cheeks and asked Virgil,
    “If it’s always dark down here and the sun can’t warm
    the air, where is this breeze coming from?”

    “Just wait a little while longer,” he answered, “and
    you will see for yourself what it is that makes the
    winds you’re feeling in this land of ice. You’ll see.”

    Just then, we heard a tragic voice from the ice at our feet.
    “Oh, you evil sinners who come to live here in the lowest pits
    of Hell, do me a favor and chip away these icicles from my
    face so I can cry again—even if it’s just for [a] minute or two.
    I need to free some of the pain and grief trapped
    inside my soul. At least until my tears freeze again.”
    “If you tell me who you are, I promise I’ll chip some
    away for you,” I answered, looking down. “And if I’m
    lying, they can drag me down to the very bottom of Hell.”

    “I’m Brother Alberigo,” he said. “You might have heard of me because
    of my special cooking abilities. Down here, I’m getting my just desserts.”

    “You? You’re dead already? What happened?”

    “Maybe you’ve seen my body up on Earth, but I don’t know
    what it’s doing up there. This place here is called Ptolomea
    and a lot of times the souls of sinners get sent down here even
    before their life has actually ended. And even worse than that,
    I’m sure you’ll agree, is when the soul of somebody who
    has committed the sins of Treachery is sent down here, then a
    demon takes over his body up there and can do whatever he
    wants with it until it dies. I know it sounds pathetic, and maybe
    you’ll feel a little sorry for me now and snap off these icicles,
    because these are the depths I’ve sunk to. You can ask
    that guy over there if you don’t believe me. I think
    he’s had his body possessed up above while he
    freezes his ass off down here. You’ve probably heard of
    him—if you haven’t been dead too long. His name is
    Branca d’Oria, and he’s been frozen stiff for years.”
    “Now I know you’re bullshitting me,” I said. “Branca’s
    not dead. I saw him not too long ago, cruising around,
    wearing new clothes, eating, drinking, partying, even
    passing out, just like anybody else alive up there.”

    “Up in Malebolge, that level where the tar is bubbling and it’s
    nice and warm, there’s this guy Michel Zanche. He wasn’t even dead
    and some demon took over his body. A devil possessed the body of a
    relative of his, too, who had helped him kill his father-in-law. It’s true.
    Now, could you do me the favor of pulling off some of these icicles?”

    But I ignored the guy and just walked away, leaving him
    like that. I felt pretty good about it, too, I have to admit.

    All this time, I had thought that Pisa was a shitty town,
    but now I know Genoa sucks even worse. It’s a whole
    city of wicked people, and there’s nothing good going
    on there at all. Here I am down at the very bottom of
    Hell, and besides this guy, I find the soul of Branca
    d’Oria, a guy so evil and fucked up that while his
    soul sits freezing in Lake Cocytus in the very pit of
    wickedness, his body is still strutting around back in
    Genoa like everything’s fine!


    pages 183-8 [CANTO XXX (lines 49-148)]:

    There was one guy who looked like a broken
    hourglass, as though his legs were cut off right
    below the stomach and lying in the mud.
    He was completely bloated, with all his internal
    organs bulging out from his swollen chest and stomach.
    His belly was so big that it made his head look tiny.
    The pressure forced his mouth to hang open like
    an alcoholic in a fit of DTs, gasping for breath. One
    of his lips was snarled up, and the other drooped down.

    “Hey, you lucky fucker,” he spat out when he saw me.
    “You, who can just walk around down here without
    suffering like the rest of us, hold on for a minute and
    have a look at the sufferings of Master Adamo! You
    wouldn’t believe by looking at me, but when I was alive
    on Earth, I had it all, man—anything I wanted. Now, I can’t
    even get a fucking glass of water. I’m so thirsty that all I can
    think about are those little creeks that wind through the
    green fields of Casentino down to the Arno River,
    with their damp and cool riverbanks. Thinking about
    them just makes me thirstier and tortures me more than
    this fucking disease that has inflated my body like a balloon.
    Now the memory of the place itself where I sinned has
    become the source of my suffering. Justice is strict and
    causes me more agony than I could ever have imagined.
    I was a counterfeiter back in Romena. My specialty was the
    gold coins with John the Baptist’s face on them. And it was there
    that I was caught by the Florentines and burned to death for
    it, too. But if I could find one of those fucking brothers in
    Hell, Guido or Alessandro—I’d rather find them down here
    than have a whole fountain to drink! I heard one was
    down here already, if you can believe what the wandering idiots
    around this place say. But I can’t do anything with
    these useless fucking legs of mine. If I was just a little lighter,
    even if I could just move one inch in every hundred years,
    I would’ve already started out looking for them in this
    fucked-up hellhole. Even if this ditch is eleven miles
    wide and at least a half-mile across, I’d look for those
    bastards until I found them. After all, it’s their fucking
    fault I’m down here in the first place; they’re the ones
    who made me make gold coins out of cheap metal!
    It was their idea, and I’m the one paying for it!”

    When he finished I asked him, “Who are those
    two lying next to you on the ground, steaming
    like fresh dim sum at a Chinese restaurant?”

    “Hell, they were here when I got here,” he said, “and they’ve
    just been lying there the whole time, I’d bet they’re gonna
    stay like that forever. One of them is the bitch who lied and
    said Joseph tried to rape her. The other one is Sinon, the guy
    who convinced the Trojans to take the wooden horse as a
    gift. That disgusting smell is from their blistering fever.”

    As soon as he said that, Sinon rose up and laid a
    solid right hook into Adamo’s bloated stomach and you
    could hear it boom like a bass drum. The corpse must have
    heard what Adamo said about him—and didn’t like it.
    But before he could think, Adamo recovered and planted
    a solid uppercut into the guy’s head. “Watch it, tough guy!”
    Adamo yelled at him. “Maybe I can’t move around
    as fast as you ‘cause my legs are so fucked,
    but there ain’t nothing wrong with my arms.”

    “There wasn’t anything wrong with your arms back when
    you were burning at the stake, eh?” Sinon retorted. “And I bet
    When you were counterfeiting, they were even stronger!”

    “Oh, I see, now you can tell the truth!” Adamo shot back. “Not
    like the time you spread your bullshit to the Trojans about the
    nice horsey. You couldn’t tell the truth then, could you?”
    “So I told a little fib,” he answered. “But your coins were
    thousands of lies. I’m down here for making one mistake, but
    you fucked up more than anyone in this whole stinking pit.

    “Just remember that wooden pony, you lying sack of shit!” Adamo
    answered back. “I hope it burns your stinking insides out, knowing
    that everyone in the world remembers you by your lies.”

    “And I hope your bloated stomach swells with your eternal
    thirst!” the Greek shot back. “I’d love to see your black
    cracking tongue burn in your dry disgusting mouth!”

    “There you go again,” the counterfeiter replied.
    “Talking the same old shit. So what, I’m a little
    thirsty and my guts are a little swollen. But
    you’re the one who’s burning, baby, and your
    headache’s going to get so bad that you’ll never
    be able to think of anything else but your pain!”

    I stood there mesmerized by the ingenuity of their insults
    until Virgil turned to me and said, “If you keep on staring
    at these sinners, I’ll have to start in with insults of my own.”

    I looked over at him, and I could tell he was pissed
    by the tone of his voice. I was so embarrassed that
    I still get bummed thinking about it now. It was like
    when you’re asleep having a bad dream, and at the
    same time, you know you’re dreaming inside the dream.
    I stood there, unsure and ashamed, and knowing that
    I was confused at the same time, if that makes sense.
    I hoped that Virgil wouldn’t think I was just some lowlife,
    even though I wasn’t sure what I did wrong to start him off.

    “Leave it,” Virgil said. “The look on your face is more
    pitiful than need be for such a petty distraction.
    Forget I said anything, don’t worry about it.
    If you think it’s interesting to watch sufferers
    fighting and cursing at each other in their punishments,
    remember this: I’m always right here behind you.
    Listening to swearing like that is crude and shameful.”




    From The Divine Comedy: Inferno by Dante Alighieri (translated by J.G. Nichols); pages 149-57 (CANTO XV):

    [Synopsis:]

    As Dante and Virgil move along the river’s margin, they encounter a group of shades running towards them on the burning sand, one of whom plucks at the hem of Dante’s robe.

    This is Brunetto Latini, once Dante’s mentor and friend, but now damned for the sin of sodomy. The meeting is joyful, but distressing also in that their situations are now so different. It is forbidden for these shades to pause, but Brunetto walks along with Dante for a while.

    Brunetto regrets that he cannot now help Dante in his work. Like Farinata in the circle of the heretics, Brunetto prophesies, in a rather vague way, future trouble for Dante. Dante says that he hopes for some explication of these prophecies when he meets Beatrice. Brunetto says his group is made up entirely of clerics, all famous men of letters, and all guilty of the one sin. (Very many, perhaps most, educated men in Dante’s day were in minor orders at least, and not all of these ‘clerics’ performed religious duties. So far as is known, Brunetto himself did not.)

    As they see another group of sinners approaching, Brunetto, fearful of the punishment he will incur if he does not rejoin his group, races away.

    This canto, a striking rebuttal of any notion that Dante merely ‘put his enemies in hell’, arouses many, apparently contradictory, reactions. The love and respect on both sides is clear, but so is the gulf between the old friends; worldly fame is valued, but it is seen to be nothing compared to one’s eternal fate; Brunetto’s intellectual and artistic qualities are stressed, but so is the foulness of his sin. The final image of Brunetto racing away ‘like the winning, not the losing, runner’, with the sad undertone of the literal reason for his speed – one of the most famous images in the Comedy – summarises implicitly much that has gone before.


    Now the hard margin takes us on from there:
    Steam from the river darkens overhead,
    Shielding the shores and water from the fire.
    As the Flemings, from Wissant up to Bruges,
    Fearing the ocean rushing in on them,
    Have built a dyke along the water’s edge;
    And like the Paduans where the Brenta flows,
    In order to defend their towns and castles,
    Before warm weather melts Carinthia’s snows,
    In the same fashion were these margins made –
    Whoever was the builder who designed them –
    Except not raised so high and not so broad.*
    We had already left the wood behind
    So far that I could not have any longer
    Seen where it was, if I had turned around;
    We met up with a company of shades
    Coming along the riverside, who all
    Stared hard at us as, when the daylight fades,
    Men stare if there is no moon in the sky;
    They knit their brows and squinnied up at us
    Like an old tailor at a needle’s eye.
    Then, as the group of shades stared up like this,
    One recognised me, and caught hold of me
    By my gown’s hem and cried: ‘What a surprise!’
    And I, as he was stretching out his hand
    Towards me, fixed my eyes on his baked features,
    Till the scorched face could not prevent my mind
    Recalling him, and all became quite clear;
    And, as I bent my face towards his face,
    I said: ‘O Ser Brunetto, are you here?’**
    And he replied: ‘Don’t be displeased, my son,
    If Brunetto Latini for a while
    Turns back to you, and lets the rest pass on.’
    I said: ‘With all my heart, I beg of you!
    And should you wish that I should pause, I will,
    If he with whom I’ve come allows me to.’
    ‘O son,’ he said, ‘whoever of this flock
    Pauses at all, must lie one hundred years
    Without defence as flakes of fire attack.
    Therefore walk on; I’ll keep close by your gown
    Down here; and then I must rejoin my troop
    Who go on mourning their eternal pain.’


    *We gather during the course of this canto that the margins are about the height of a man.

    **As the title ‘Ser’ suggests, Brunetto Latini (c.1210-94) was a notary. He was a Florentine Guelph who, as he was returning from an embassy to Castile, learnt of the defeat of his party at Montaperti (1260) and their expulsion from Florence. He remained in France until after the Battle of Benevento (1265), when he returned to Florence and resumed his important part in public affairs. His most famous literary works were Li Livres dou Tresor (‘The Treasury’, an encyclopedia written in French), and Il Tesoretto (‘The Little Treasury’, an unfinished narrative poem written in Italian). He was almost certainly not an official teacher of Dante, but rather a well-loved mentor; he was, of course, much older than Dante.


    I did not dare descend from off my road
    To where we walked; and yet, like somebody
    Who’s full of reverence, I bowed my head.
    Then he began: ‘What chance or destiny
    Brings you down here before your final hour?
    And who is this who’s showing you the way?’
    ‘There, up above, in the world of living men,’
    I said, ‘I strayed off in a gloomy valley,
    Before the midpoint of my life had come.
    At dawn but yesterday I turned my back
    Upon it – then returned – this man appeared
    To put me once again on the right track.’
    And he replied: ‘If you follow your star,
    You cannot fail to reach a glorious haven,
    If my opinion while I lived was fair.
    Had it not happened that I died too soon,
    Seeing that heaven was benign towards you,
    I would have helped in all that you took on.
    But those ungrateful and malicious folk –
    Descending in the past from Fiesole,
    Still with some trace of mountain and of rock –
    Will be, for your good works, your enemy:
    And with good reason: among bitter rowans
    Sweet fig trees were not meant to fructify.*


    *According to old tradition the Romans conquered Fiesole and founded Florence on the plain below it, and the new city was inhabited first by a few Roman settlers and by refugees from Fiesole who brought their uncivilised ways with them. The vices of the Florentines, so often mentioned by Dante, are attributed by Brunetto to their Fiesolan ancestry.


    They are of old reputed to be blind –
    And they are greedy, envious, and presumptuous.
    Avoid the faults to which they are inclined!
    Such honour is reserved for you by fate,
    That both sides* will be eager to devour you;
    But grass will be kept distant from the goat.**


    *Guelphs and Ghibellines.

    **This sounds like a proverb. Dante, a Guelph, incurred the enmity not only of the Ghibellines but of other Guelphs.


    Let beasts of Fiesole forage among
    Themselves, and leave untouched the family tree –
    If any still arises from their dung –
    In which their lives once more the sacred seed
    Of those first Romans who remained there when
    It turned into a nest of such bad blood.’
    ‘If all my prayers were answered utterly,’
    I said in my reply, ‘you would not yet
    Have been excluded from humanity;
    For still I have in mind, to my great pain,
    The dear, the kindly, the paternal image
    Of you who, in the world, time and again
    Taught me how man becomes eternal:* while
    There’s breath in me, my gratitude for that
    Is something that my language must reveal.


    *Lives on after death because of his renown. Dante was not indifferent to worldly fame, and Brunetto is still very anxious for it even in the Inferno (see ll. 119-20 below).


    What you say of my future I shall store
    Beside another text,* to be expounded
    By one** who will know how, if I reach her.


    *Farinata’s prophecy in [CANTO] X: 79-81.

    **Beatrice.


    This much I’d have you understand quite clearly –
    Provided that my conscience does not chide –
    Whatever Fortune brings me, I am ready.
    Such prophecies to me are nothing new:
    And so I say, let Fortune turn her wheel
    As she thinks best, the peasant wield his hoe.’*
    My master turned his head towards the right
    At this, and then right round to look at me,
    And said: ‘He listens well who takes good note.’
    Nevertheless I wished to talk some more
    With Ser Brunetto; so I asked about
    Those in his flock most famed and with most power.
    And he replied: “It’s well to know of some;
    As for the others, we had best be silent:
    There is not time enough to talk of them.
    In short, know they were clerics, one and all,
    Great men of letters, and men of renown,
    Whom in the world above one sin** made foul.


    *Fortune’s wheel is a traditional image of the uncertainty of worldly affairs; the peasant wielding his hoe has the ring of a proverb; together they suggest that nothing will affect Dante’s state of mind.

    **The ‘one sin’ is sodomy. This seems clear from what Virgil has said at [CANTO] XI: 49-51. However, there is no other known independent evidence that Brunetto was guilty of this sin, and Dante strangely does not name it in this present canto. Other suggestions have therefore been made, but unpersuasively.


    You see there Priscian* running with that grim
    Crowd, and Francesco d’Accorso**; and also,
    If you had any wish to see such scum,
    The bishop whom God’s servant*** ordered on,
    Who left the Arno for the Bacchiglione,
    Where he gave up that body strained by sin.****


    *Probably the famous Latin grammarian (fl. c.500).

    **Francesco d’Accorso (1225-93) was a celebrated lawyer from Bologna; he lectured for some time at Oxford.

    ***The Pope. The description servus servorum Dei (servant of the servants of God) is still used.

    ****Andrea de’ Mozzi, Bishop of Florence on the River Arno, was moved to Vicenza, on the River Bacchiglione, on account of his scandalous way of life. He died in 1296.


    I would say more – but not another word
    Am I allowed, another inch: I see
    A fresh cloud* rising from the sand of dread.
    People are here with whom I must not be.
    I recommend to you my Treasury,
    In which I’m still alive: that’s all I’ll say.’
    Then he turned round, and looked like one of those
    Who race, to win the green cloth at Verona,
    Across the fields; and looked, among all these,
    Most like the winning, not the losing, runner.**


    *This probably refers to the cloud of sand raised by the shades running towards them.

    **In this race the winner received a piece of green cloth, and the last runner a booby prize which exposed him to derision. The episode finishes on an apparently triumphant note: we may momentarily forget why he is racing back.



    Pages 87-92 (CANTO XV):

    ARGUMENT:
    On their way to the second zone of the Third Ring of the Seventh Circle, Dante and Virgil follow along the creek of Phlegethon, and the steam rising from its boiling gore protects them from the fire falling from the sky. They come across a group of sinners and one of them stops Dante. It turns out that it’s one of his favorite old teachers, Brunetto Latini, who praises Dante and foresees great things in his future. Then he briefly explains who some of the others are in his group, the Sodomites.


    As we continued on along the rocky banks of the brook,
    the steam from the bubbling pools rose and met the flames
    falling from the sky, extinguishing them and protecting
    us from burning. The banks we strolled on seemed
    similar to the dikes the Flemish built—up between
    Wissant and Brussels—to shelter themselves
    from the ocean’s tides. Or, more like maybe,
    they were like the berms along the Brenta
    River in Padua, which hold the spring
    Floods when the snows melt in Carinthia—
    Except these weren’t quite as big or as tall.

    We walked a good way out of the woods until
    we couldn’t see the trees behind us anymore.
    Before long, we came across a group of souls
    trudging along in the ditch beside the path.
    They were staring at us greedily, like a closet gambler
    with a Scratch ‘n’ Win lottery ticket. And as they
    checked us out, one seemed to recognize
    me and grabbed me by the pant leg.

    “What a miracle it is to see you here,” he cried
    as he reached toward me. When I had the
    chance to get a look at his face, I realized
    who he was, despite his burned flesh
    I bent down and touched his cheek and
    asked, “You’re here as well, Mr Brunetto?”

    “My son,” he sighed, “would you mind
    much if Brunetto Latini lingered with
    you and let the others go on ahead?”

    “I hope you would,” I answered.
    “I’d be happy to sit with you a bit—
    that is, if my guide doesn’t mind.”

    “Never mind, I can’t do that,” Mr. Brunetto replied.
    “If any one of us stops for even a second, he’s forced
    to lie on the ground for a hundred years, with
    no protection from the falling flames. Keep
    moving, for my sake, and I’ll walk beside you
    for a while before I have to catch up with that
    wailing group of eternally damned souls.”

    I didn’t dare jump down in the ditch with him,
    but I kept along beside him, respectfully. He asked,
    “What have you done, or what bad luck has brought you
    down here before you’re dead? And who is your guide?”

    “Things haven’t been going so well for me lately
    back on Earth,” I admitted. “And I ended up getting
    lost in this valley before my time was really up.
    Yesterday morning I had almost totally given up on
    myself, when this guy, my guide Virgil, appeared.
    Now he’s showing me the path back home.”

    “Don’t ever give up,” he said to me earnestly.
    “Keep on the right path. If what I saw of you
    and your work on Earth is any indication of
    things to come, you will accomplish much
    and be famous someday. If I hadn’t died so
    soon, I’d still be up there supporting you in all
    your work, because I can see talent in you.
    But whatever you do, be careful with those
    Florentines who are descended from
    the Fiesole. Knowing how stubborn
    and hardheaded they are, they’ll rally
    against you and your work, believe me.
    Remember, son, no good fruit can grow
    in between the cracks in the sidewalk.
    The Fiesolans are prideful, greedy,
    and jealous. Make sure you avoid
    them, because I can see you have great
    things in store for the future. All Florentines
    will want a piece of you some day,
    but grass never grows where hungry goats live,”
    he said with a wink, tugging on my pant leg.
    “Let those Fiesolan beasts devour each other and
    not ruin our family tree—the tree of noble Romans
    who stayed in Florence even after its decline.
    That is, if any of them can even breed!”

    “If it were up to me,” I said, “you’d still be alive on
    Earth. Whenever I think of you, I only remember
    you as a good, honest, and fatherly friend.
    I’m bummed to find you down here.
    You taught me a lot on Earth—about
    writing, quality, honesty, friendship, and
    stuff I’ll never forget. As long as I live,
    I’ll always try to work and write with
    the values you taught me. And I’ll
    remember what you’re saying to me now
    about my work and my future and all that.
    I’ll share it with Beatrice, the one person who
    will appreciate your thoughts, if I’m ever able to
    find her again. Let me tell you something,
    and I hope I don’t regret saying this,
    whatever good fortune might be waiting
    in my future, I’m ready for it. Bring it on.
    I’ve heard so many predictions about
    what’s supposed to come for me that I say:
    Let it come. Let Fate roll, let the world turn.”

    Virgil bent his head to the right and whispered to me,
    “Listen well and remember what he tells you.”

    I continued to walk beside Mr. Brunetto, and
    asked him if anyone in his group might
    be famous. “A few of them are,” he said,
    “but not all of them. I don’t have time to
    tell you their stories right now. I can tell you
    that a few of them were well-known religious
    leaders and scholars. Priscian was one, Siegried and Roy,
    Francesco d’Accorso, and the priests from Boston.
    If you really want to know about these, ahem,
    ‘men,’ I’ll tell you that there’s a
    bishop in the group who was transferred
    from Florence on the Arno River
    to Vicenza on the Bacchiglione
    by His Holiest of Holies, the Pope, and
    I hear them say that his, well, underside
    was sore from all the use it got there.

    “Look, I really wish I could chat
    with you more, but I can already see
    the dust rising from the sands up ahead.
    I’m not really allowed to talk to newcomers.
    But before I go, let me recommend my book,
    The Treasure. It’s my best work. Have a look at it.
    Remember me by it, that’s all I can ask.”

    He turned and sprinted off like a runner in the Palio
    races at Verona, and it seemed as he went that he’d be
    more likely to win than lose if he had half a chance.


    From The Divine Comedy: Inferno by Dante Alighieri (translated by J.G. Nichols); pages 99-105 (CANTO X):

    We passed along a narrow, hidden track
    Between the tortured people and the wall,
    My master first, and I behind his back.
    ‘O you, most virtuous man, bringing me through
    These sacrilegious gyres, as you think best,
    Please speak, and tell me what I long to know.
    Are any visible, of all those laid
    Within these sepulchres? I see the lids
    Are lifted, and there’s nobody on guard.’
    He said: ‘The sepulchres will all be sealed
    When these return here from Jehoshaphat
    Bringing their bodies from the upper world.*
    This region is the burial ground of those –
    Epicurus** and all his followers –
    Who say the soul dies when the body does.


    *On the Day of Judgement all the souls of the dead will be reunited with their bodies. See Joel 3: 2: ‘I will also gather all nations, and bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat…’

    **A Greek philosopher (341-270 BC). His philosophy was essentialy materialist.


    And now the question you have asked of me
    Will quickly find its answer in this circle,
    As will the longing which you hide away.’*
    I answered: ‘My kind guide, this reticence
    Comes simply from a wish to guard my tongue,
    As you’ve admonished me – and more than once.’
    ‘O Tuscan walking through this land of fire,
    While still alive, and with such courteous speech,
    May it please you, pause and linger here.
    To me your way of speaking makes it clear
    That you’re a native of that noble city
    Where I perhaps was too unpopular.’
    This sound came all of a sudden from inside
    One of the sepulchres, and in my fear
    I crept a little closer to my guide.
    He said to me: ‘Turn round! Why be distressed?
    Look there: it’s Farinata who has risen;
    You will see all of him above the waist.’**


    *Dante’s wish to see Farinata.

    **Farinata degli Uberti (who died about a year before Dante’s birth) was a leader of the Ghibelline faction in Florence.


    I had already caught his eye, meanwhile
    He held his chest and held his head up high,
    As though he had a huge contempt for Hell.
    And my leader, whose hands were prompt and quick,
    Pushed me to Farinata through the tombs,
    And said: ‘Think carefully before you speak.’
    When I was at his sepulchre then he
    Looked at me for a while. Then, with some pride,
    He wished to know: ‘What is your ancestry?’
    I, who was all too keen to answer that,
    Hid nothing from him, but made all quite clear.
    Which when he heard, he raised his brows somewhat,
    And said, ‘They were so savagely adverse
    To me and to my forebears and my party,
    I had to scatter them – and do it twice!’*
    ‘Yes, they were scattered, but they all returned
    From all around,’ I said, ‘and did that twice –
    A skill your party never really learned!’**


    *The Guelphs were driven from Florence in 1248 and 1260.

    **The Ghibellines were ultimately defeated.


    And then nearby another shade arose*
    Till it was visible down to the chin:
    I think he must have got up on his knees.
    He looked all round, as if he really wanted
    To find somebody in my company;
    And when he was completely disappointed,
    He said in tears: ‘If you can tread this blind
    Prison by virtue of your intellect,
    Where is my son? Why is he not at hand?’
    I answered him: ‘My strength is not my own:
    He who is waiting there, perhaps will guide me
    To one** for whom your Guido felt disdain.’
    What he said, and the way he was tormented,
    Immediately informed me who this was;
    And that was why my answer was so pointed.
    He started up, and cried: ‘What? Did you say
    He “felt disdain”? Is he not still alive?
    Does he no longer see the light of day?’
    When he perceived there was a pause before
    I found the words in answer to his question,
    He fell back; and he failed to reappear.


    *That of Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti, a Florentine Guelph, father of Dante’s great friend, the poet Guido Cavalcanti. Both father and son had the reputation of being heretics.

    **Probably Beatrice, as a representative of the Christian faith, but this could equally refer to Virgil or to God.


    But that other great soul, at whose demand
    I’d stopped to speak, did not change his expression,
    Or turn his face, or any way unbend,
    Adding to what he had already said:
    ‘If they have failed to learn that skill correctly,
    That is a greater torment than his bed.
    And yet, before the fiftieth time the queen
    Who rules down here has found her face rekindled,*
    You’ll know how hard a skill that is to learn.**


    *Proserpine, the wife of Pluto, is identified with the moon. Farinata is saying his prophecy will come true before there have been fifty more full moons (i.e. months).

    **A hint of Dante’s exile from Florence, which is often referred to later in the Comedy.


    And – may you get back to the world – tell me:
    Why are that city’s citizens so savage
    In all their laws against my family?’*


    *The Uberti were excluded from all amnesties.


    I answered him: ‘The slaughter at the rout
    Which left the River Arbia running red*
    Is what brought all such orisons** about.’
    He sighed and shook his head: ‘You know I was
    Hardly alone in that. Nor certainly
    Would I have joined the others without cause.


    *The Battle of Montaperti (1260) at which the Guelphs were utterly defeated by the Ghibellines.

    **The measures against the Uberti family are spoken of as prayers, such as would be offered in times of crisis.


    Yet there at Empoli* I was the one –
    When all agreed on Florence’s destruction –
    Who set his face against it, I alone.’
    ‘So may your seed eventually have rest,’
    I begged him, ‘please undo a tangled knot,
    This doubt which keeps my mind in such a twist.
    You see beforehand, if I hear aright,
    Those things which time brings with it in its course,
    But with things present it is not like that.’
    ‘We see, as people do who have long sight,
    Things,’ he replied, ‘that are remote from us:
    The supreme lord still gives us that much light.
    When things are near, or here, our minds are quite
    Empty; and, if there’s none to bring us word,
    Then we know nothing of your human state.
    Therefore we shall be utterly without
    Knowledge or understanding from the moment
    The gate into the future has been shut.’**


    *A town some twenty miles from Florence where, afer their victory at Montaperti, the Tuscan Ghibellines met to decide the fate of Florence.

    **At the Day of Judgement, when time will give way to eternity.


    I then said, feeling guilty for not giving
    This answer earlier, ‘Tell the stricken shade
    That son of his is still among the living.
    And if I was, before, slow to reply,
    Tell him that I was busy thinking over
    That problem which you have resolved for me.’
    My master was now wanting me to come;
    And therefore I was quick to beg that spirit
    To name, and quickly, those entombed with him.
    He said: ‘I’m lying here with thousands more.
    In my tomb is the second Frederick*, and
    The Cardinal**: the other names I forbear.’


    *The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (1194-1250), who was reputed to be a heretic. He engaged in a long political struggle with the Papacy.

    **Cardinal Ottaviano degli Ubaldini (died 1272), generally credited with the remark: ‘I can say that, if there is a soul, I have lost mine for the Ghibellines.’


    With that he hid himself – I turned to walk
    Back to the ancient poet, thinking over
    Words that had seemed to prophesy ill-luck.*
    He started off and, as he walked, he said:
    ‘I want to know why you are so confused.’
    And I made quite sure that he understood.
    ‘Remember everything that you have heard
    To your distress,’ that wise man recommended.
    ‘Now mark my words!’ He raised his finger, said:
    ‘When you are standing in the radiance
    Of her** whose lovely eyes see everything,
    You’ll know from her the course of your life hence.’
    With that he turned his feet to the left hand,
    Towards the circle’s centre, from the wall,
    Along a path with a valley at the end.
    Even up there, that valley’s stench was foul.


    *See ll. [lines] 79-81 above.

    **Beatrice.


    Dante’s Inferno (text adapted by Sandow Birk and Marcus Sanders); pages 58-62 [CANTO X]:

    I followed Virgil down through a narrow
    pathway that ran between the huge walls
    and all the misery of the burning tombs.
    “Listen, Virg,” I said. “So far you’ve been leading me
    thorugh this mess however you want. I want to
    figure out—I mean, I need to know—what’s up with
    all the buried people down here at this level? Can I
    see them? It looks like all of the lids are off the graves,
    and there aren’t any security guards around or anything.”

    “They will be locked up forever,” he explained,
    “as soon as their bodies return
    here from the Last Judgment.
    This private graveyard is for
    Epicurus and his lot, who deny
    that the soul lives forever. And
    the question you just asked will be
    answered in a moment; as well as the
    one you’re thinking but didn’t ask.”

    And I said, “Teacher, you’ve been the best guide a guy could hope for,
    and I can’t seem to keep secrets from you. I’m trying my best to listen
    and not talk so much, like you told me to a few times already.”

    “Oi! Tuscan, strolling about our flaming city, talking
    with such . . . refinement,” a voice called out nearby.
    “Stop here for a second if you can spare the time.
    I can tell where you’re from by the way you talk,
    and Florence is such a noble city—with which
    I may have been a little harsh in the past.”

    These words came clearly from one of the burning
    graves, and, of course, I was startled and must have
    moved closer to Virgil without thinking.
    “What are you doing?” he asked, looking at me.
    “Have a look over there at Farinata. You can only
    see him from the waist up because of the flames.”

    I turned to stare at the guy, who puffed
    out his chest and held his nose up
    as if in disdain of Hell itself.
    Virgil nudged me toward him a little
    and told me to go over to him.
    “Just be careful what you say,” he warned.

    When I came near the edge of his grave, Farinata
    looked me up and down, and with serious attitude,
    he asked, “And who might your family be?”

    I was happy to answer such a simple
    question and told him my whole story.
    When I was finished, he cocked an eyebrow
    and scoffed, “Your folks were vicious enemies
    of my own family and my party. I had
    to chase them out of Florence. Twice.”

    “We were expelled, sure, but we always came back from
    wherever we were,” I said, “Twice, even. And returning is
    something your kin never figured out how to do!”

    But right then, in the same open grave, another ghost
    rose up—but only enough that his head was sticking out.
    He must’ve been on his knees or something.
    He looked all around, obviously hoping
    there was someone else with me, but when
    he figured it was just me, he started crying.
    “If you’re here by some divine force that
    carries you through this oblivion, where is my son?
    Why isn’t he with you?” he asked through his tears.

    “I didn’t want to come down here,” I explained to him.
    “And I’m not alone. That guy over there is Virgil,
    the one Guido avoided back in the day. He’s
    been showing me around.” (I had taken a
    guess at who the ghost was by his question
    and by where he was down here.)
    As soon as I said that, the guy sprang up and shouted,
    “What? Avoided? Past tense? You mean he’s dead?
    Does the sweet breath of life no longer pass his lips?”

    It took me a minute to think of what to say to him. I figured these
    guys knew everything and I was surprised by his question—
    it didn’t make sense. But before I could say anything, he
    dropped back into the fire. Farinata just stood there looking
    at me like nothing had happened with the other sinner,
    as though the guy hadn’t even been there at all.
    He kept ranting, exactly where we left off:
    “If my family hasn’t figured out how to regain power,”
    he said, “that’s more painful news to me than this fire.
    The moon face of Hecate who watches over this place
    won’t pass more than fifty months before your party
    figures out how hard it is to come back from defeat.
    And because you may get back to Earth, tell me:
    Why do your people create laws that are
    so unjust toward my party and my family?”

    “Those laws were written as a result of the long
    war and the terrible bloodshed that turned
    the stream Arbia red with blood,” I answered.

    He shook his head and furrowed his brow.
    “It wasn’t just me,” he said. “And I wouldn’t have
    fought if I didn’t think the cause was worthy.
    But I was the only one who stood tall
    when the rest wanted Florence razed.
    I was ready to defend her.”

    “And now, because I can’t help but hope all the
    best for you,” I said. “There’s something I don’t
    understand that keeps bothering me:
    If I get this right, all you guys down
    here can see the future, right? But why
    can’t you see things happening right now?”

    “Ah,” he started, “down here, we’re farsighted
    like those who only see clearly what’s off in
    the distance. But at least we’re not totally blind.
    When things happen closer in the moment, our
    minds are empty. If it wasn’t for new arrivals,
    we wouldn’t know anything about the world and
    what’s going on now. So you can understand how
    we don’t know anything at all once Judgment Day
    comes and we’re unable to see the future.”

    I started to feel bad about how I’d been acting
    and said, “Will you tell your roommate that
    his son’s still around, that he hasn’t died yet.
    And if he wonders why I didn’t say anything
    when he asked me, tell him that it was because
    I was confused—I figured he already knew.”

    My guide started calling me back, but before I
    went, I asked the guy who else was in the tombs
    around this neighborhood in Dis.

    “There are over a thousand here,” he said
    “Like Emperor Frederick II, Cardinal Ubaldini,
    Anton LaVey. There are too many to name.”

    He sank down again in the flames, and as I walked over
    to Virgil I thought about all the nasty stuff that the guy
    had said about me and my party and the future.

    We started walking and Virgil asked, “What’s wrong?
    You seem very worried about something.”
    After I relayed the conversation, he warned,
    “Be sure to remember the things he said
    against you. And listen closely.”
    He raised one finger for emphasis.
    “When you finally get to your beloved Beatrice—
    and remember, she sees everything—
    you’ll learn from her the rest of your life’s trip.”
    He turned, and we left the walls and
    headed toward the middle of town down this little
    path along a valley. Even though we were high up,
    the putrid smell from below still made us gag.


    The Divine Comedy: Inferno by Dante Alighieri (translated by J.G. Nichols); pages 119-25 (CANTO XII):

    The place we came to, for our journey down,
    Was strewn with rocks; and there was something else,
    And such as anybody’s eyes would shun.
    Like that landslip, this side of Trent, which struck
    The River Adige on its left bank –
    Whether through faulty shoring or earthquake –
    Where from the mountain-top down to the plain
    The rocks are shattered and all heaped up so
    They give some footing to one climbing down –
    Such was the way to get into that pit.
    And, on the broken chasm’s very brink,
    Spreadeagled, lay the infamy of Crete,
    Who was conceived inside a cow-like cage;*
    And catching sight of us, he bit himself,
    Like somebody consumed with inward rage.
    My sage called out to him: ‘Could it be said
    That you believe this is the Duke of Athens [Theseus]
    At whose hands, in the world above, you died?
    But no! Be off! This man has not come here
    Under your sister’s artful tutelage,**
    But to observe the torments you endure.’


    *The Minotaur, half man and half bull, the offspring of Pasiphae (wife of King Minos of Crete) and a bull. Pasiphae ordered the construction of a wooden cow, into which she placed herself to receive the bull.

    **Theseus was provided by Ariadne, the Minotaur’s half-sister, with a sword to kill the monster, and a ball of thread by which to retrace his steps out of the labyrinth where the monster was kept.


    Now like a bull that breaks its bondage at
    The instant it receives the fatal blow,
    And cannot walk, but goes plunging about –
    That’s how I saw the Minotaur behave.
    Quickly my guide cried out: ‘Make for the pass –
    You’d best descend while he is in this rage.’
    And so we made our way: under my feet
    Rocks and stones were frequently dislodged,
    Because of all the unaccustomed weight.
    I went on, lost in thought. He said: ‘You will
    Be thinking of that fall of rocks watched over
    By the brute wrath I managed to control.
    Now I would have you know, the first time when
    I came down here and into nether hell
    This mass of rocks had not yet fallen down.
    But, if I’m not mistaken, a short while
    Before He came, who took away from Dis,
    And from the highest circle, glorious spoil,*
    This deep and dirty hollow all around
    Shuddered so much I think the universe
    Felt love, by which it has been often turned,
    As some believe, to chaos once again.
    And at that point this ancient mass of rocks,
    Both here, and elsewhere like this, tumbled down.**
    But look down there, and look intently: we’ll
    Soon be beside the stream of blood, where those
    Who in their violence injure others boil.’
    O blind cupidity and senseless anger,
    Which goad us on throughout our little life,
    Then soak us in such anguish, and for ever!
    I saw a ditch bent in a curve and broad,
    Encircling as it went the entire level,
    Just as my guide, some time before, had said.
    Between it and the scarp I saw some running:
    A file of centaurs, armed with bows and arrows,
    As, in the world above, they went out hunting.
    As we came down, they stopped and stood there steady,
    And three of them broke ranks and stared at us,
    Holding their bows and arrows at the ready.
    One shouted from far off: ‘Tell me to what
    Punishment you are coming down the slope.
    Tell me from where you are. If not, I’ll shoot.’
    My master said: ‘Our answer will be made
    To Chiron, when we get to where he is:
    You always were too quick for your own good.’
    Then he nudged me, ‘That was Nessus,’ he said,
    ‘Who died for the lovely Deianira, and
    Took vengeance for himself when he was dead.***
    That big one in the middle, with bowed head,
    Is the great Chiron, guardian of Achilles.
    The other’s Pholus, known for his bad blood.****


    *A reference to Christ’s Harrowing of Hell after the Crucifixion, His rescue of the souls of patriarchs and prophets from Limbo (‘the highest circle’).

    **A reference to the earthquake which accompanied the Crucifixion. Virgil, a pagan, tries to understand this in the light of the Empedoclean idea that the supervention of harmony, or love, in creation results in disorder. Virgil speaks more truly than he realises, in that the Crucifixion is love in action.

    ***He tried to rape Deianira, and was killed by her husband, Heracles. Before he died Nessus told Deianira to take his shirt covered with his blood to use as a love charm. She gave it to Heracles, and when he put it on, it turned out to be poisonous and he was killed.

    ****He provoked the famous fight, at a wedding feast, between the centaurs and Lapiths.


    They run in thousands by the stream, and shoot
    At any guilty soul who lifts himself
    Out of the blood beyond what is his lot.’*
    And now, as we were getting near to those
    Quick creatures, Chiron, with an arrow’s nock,
    Brushed back his beard on both sides from his jaws.
    And when his big mouth was disclosed for speech,
    He said to his companions: ‘Have you noticed
    The one behind moving what his feet touch?
    Feet of the dead don’t usually do that.’
    And my good guide, already at that breast
    Where the two natures of the creatures meet,
    Answered: ‘He’s certainly alive, and he
    Comes here that I may show him this dark valley.
    Not pleasure brings him, but necessity.
    She [Beatrice] came from singing songs of praise who laid
    This charge upon me, novel as it was:
    He is no robber, I’m no thieving shade.
    But by that power through which I am allowed
    To go on such a rugged journey, give us
    One of your band whom we may stay beside,
    And, following the stream, let him show where
    To ford it, bearing this man on his crupper:
    He is no spirit to fly through the air.’
    Then Chiron turned and yelled to the right hand,
    Commanding Nessus: ‘Come, and be their guide,
    And clear the way of any other band.’**


    *The depth to which the violent are immersed in the boiling blood varies according to the gravity of their sin.

    **These centaurs are frequently referred to in military terms. They are reminiscent of the roving bands of mercenaries and brigands who troubled Italy in Dante’s day.


    And so, together with our faithful guide,
    We went beside the boiling, crimson river;
    I heard the high-pitched shrieks of those being boiled.
    I saw some there up to their eyebrows under;
    And the huge centaur told us: ‘They are tyrants
    Who liked to soak their hands in blood and plunder.
    They pay for pitiless brutality –
    Alexander*, and fierce Dionysius**
    Who gave such years of grief to Sicily.
    That brow on which the hair is very black
    Is Ezzelino***; and the other, fair,
    Obizzo da Este****, who indeed was struck
    Down by the hand of his unnatural son.’*****


    *Presumably, since the name lacks any qualification, Alexander the Great.

    **Dionysius the Elder, who died in 367 BC, after a tyrannous reign of thirty-eight years.

    ***Ezzelino III da Romana, 1194-1259.

    ****Obizzo da Este, 1264-93.

    *****The centaur confirms the rumour that Obizzo was killed by his son.


    I then turned to the poet, and he said:
    ‘Listen to him now, and me later on.’
    A little further and the centaur stood
    Beside a group that even to their necks
    Appeared to rise above the boiling blood.
    He pointed to one separated shade,
    Saying: ‘That man, within God’s bosom, pierced
    The heart that by the Thames still drips with blood.’*
    Then I saw people keeping their heads raised,
    And even their whole chests, above the river;
    And quite a few of these I recognised.
    So bit by bit I saw the boiling blood
    Go shallower, until it scalded feet
    And nothing else; and here we crossed the ford.
    ‘Just as on this side, as you must have seen,
    The stream goes shallower and shallower,’
    The centaur said, ‘so now I must explain
    That on the other side its bed sinks down
    Deeper and deeper, till we come once more
    To there where tyranny is made to groan.


    *Guy de Montfort, son of the famous Simon de Montfort, in 1271 murdered his first cousin in a church. The heart of his victim was kept in a reliquary in London: it is said to be still bleeding because the death went unavenged. He is set apart from the other shades because of the peculiar horror of his sin.


    And so God’s justice on the far side stings
    That Atilla* who was a scourge on earth,
    Pyrrhus**, and Sextus***; and forever wrings
    Tears out from those being boiled – Rinier de’ Pazzi
    And Rinier da Corneto,**** two who made
    Our roads the scene of action in their wars.’
    Then he turned round, and back across the ford.


    *King of the Huns (406-53), known as ‘the scourge of God’.

    **Probably the son of Achilles, whose cruelty after the fall of Troy is described by Virgil in his Aeneid.

    ***Probably the son of Pompey the Great, a pirate who was put to death in 35 BC.

    ****Rinieri de’Pazzi, a notorious highway robber, died before 1280; Rinieri da Corneto, a contemporary of Dante, was a bandit chief who operated on the roads leading into Rome.



    Dante’s Inferno (adapted by Sandow Birk and Marcus Sanders); pages 69-74 (CANTO XII):

    ARGUMENT
    Climbing down a rock-strewn path into the Seventh Circle, they come across the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull monster that barks at them. Virgil heckles the beast into such a rage that they’re able to slip past it. They come to a river of boiling blood where those who have committed the sins of Violence against others are immersed. A herd of Centaurs watches the river, firing arrows at anyone who tries to stay above the bubbling surface too long. Virgil asks the Centaur leader Chiron if one of the creatures can give them a ride across the river, and Chiron commands Nessus to guide them. As they walk along, Nessus tells the two about some of the sinners in the river, pointing out Attila the Hun, Hitler, Alexander the Great, Pol Pot, and several people from Dante’s hometown of Florence. They cross at a shallow spot, and Nessus heads back and leaves them there.

    Where we started to go down into the Seventh Circle
    was stony, sure, but there was something else
    that made the whole scene totally bizarre.
    It reminded me of the crumbled freeways
    in Oakland after the Loma Prieta earthquake—
    rubble and cement, burning fires and fallen girders.
    The trail that led down the mountain was
    littered with smashed-up bits of rock all
    the way down to the bottom of the valley,
    making it really hard going, almost climbing.
    As we scrambled down the rocky path, we came
    across the Minotaur, the legendary monster of Crete
    who was conceived from a bull and a woman inside a
    wooden cow. When he saw us, he freaked out by biting
    himself, growling at us, and going psycho.

    Virgil yelled out at him, “Get down, you beast!
    Maybe you think this is your murderer, the Duke
    of Athens, coming back to kill you again? Get out of
    here, you ogre, because this pilgrim didn’t follow your
    sister’s thread down here. He’s just here to observe
    your Hell and hopefully learn something from it.”

    It was as if Virgil’s words were actual punches that stunned
    the monster. The thing started twisting and squirming and
    jumping around—confused because it was so mad. It reminded
    me of when Moe hits Curly in the eyes and Curly starts barking.
    Virgil expected that and yelled to me, “Quick, start running!
    Get down the trail while he’s consumed with rage!”

    We slipped past the beast and kept on down the trail.
    The rocks were loose and kept shifting around under
    my feet, as if they had recently fallen and hadn’t settled
    yet. I was thinking about it when Virgil turned to me
    and asked, “Are you thinking about that pile of rubble
    that the Minotaur was trying to guard before I
    irritated the beast? I should tell you about
    the last time I was down in this part of Hell.
    These rocks hadn’t fallen yet, but if I remember
    correctly, it was right before Jesus came down
    to take some of the worthy souls back up to
    Heaven with Him. This whole stench-filled pit
    started rocking with a huge earthquake,
    as if all Hell was being shaken by the conflict
    with the love of Heaven. Even now, many think
    the universe was born from anarchy. That was when
    these rocks came down. Not just around here, but
    everywhere down here. And if you take a look down into
    the valley, you’ll soon be able to see the river of blood that
    boils and cooks the sinners as punishment for the ones
    who used Violence and hurt others in their lives above.”

    Blind greed and useless anger can drive
    our whole lives on Earth, only to lead us
    to a bitter forever in the City of Dis, I thought.

    Before long, I could see a wide river, curved like an
    offramp, that stretched throughout the whole valley—
    just like Virgil had described it. Between the river
    and the mountain walls, a herd of Centaurs
    came riding toward us in single file, carrying
    bows and arrows like they were hunting.
    When they caught sight of us, they stopped
    together and three of them came toward
    us slowly with their bows and arrows at the ready.
    As they drew near, one of them called out,
    “Stop where you are and tell us what punishment
    you have been sent for, or I’ll shoot you on the spot!”

    But again, Virgil stood his ground and called back,
    “We’ll explain it only to Chiron, because you’re upset
    and out of line, which is not unexpected.” He motioned
    to the speakers and said to me, “That’s Nessus, who tried to
    rape Hercules’s wife, Deïaneira. Hercules killed him for it,
    but Nessus ended up getting his revenge on both of them in the end.
    The one in the middle who seems lost in thought
    is the great Chiron. It’s rumored that he taught Achilles.
    And the last Centaur is Pholus; he tried to rape a bride once.
    There’s a whole horde of them—it’s their job to gallop
    around this bloody pit and shoot at anyone who tries to
    rise above their prescribed depth of punishment.”

    As we got nearer to the Centaurs, the one
    called Chiron slotted an arrow and drew
    his bow back so far that it parted the beard
    on his chin. He took aim at us and held it.
    “Check out how that guy seems to move the
    very rocks he walks on,” he said to the others,
    “That’s not what dead men do!”

    Virgil stopped in front of him, his head coming
    up to where Chiron’s body met his horse legs.
    “Of course he’s alive,” Virgil said. “I’m guiding
    him through this wretched valley. This is not
    some vacation; he’s here to learn a lesson.
    Beatrice was the one who came down and
    Ordered me to guide him. He’s not a
    drifter, and I’m no criminal. She has helped
    us get this far, and the path has been
    difficult. Assist us by lending us one of
    your companions as a guide through here.
    If he could take us to the creek and carry this
    pilgrim over it on his back, we’d be grateful.
    As you can see, he’s just a mortal and can’t fly.”

    Chiron motioned to Nessus and said, “You’re up.
    Take these poor guys wherever they want to go,
    and make sure no one messes with them.”

    Nessus led us along the bank of that bloody
    and stinking river, and all you could hear
    was the wails of the boiling souls. There
    were people in the blood up to their eyelids, and
    as we went, Nessus explained, “These fuckers are
    the tyrants who loved war and taking advantage
    of others in life, but look who’s crying now, eh?
    There’s Alexander, and the tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse,
    who made Sicily feel the pain. There’s Sesi Seko, Mussolini,
    Kissinger, and Saddam Hussein, and just over there is
    Christopher Columbus, and Azzolino the Massacrer, with the
    black hair on his forehead. The blond guy is Opizzo d’Este,
    who, I kid you not, was killed by his very own bastard kid.”

    I looked over to Virgil for an explanation, but he said,
    “Listen to what he’s saying; don’t look at me.”

    Farther along, Nessus stopped in front of some people
    in the river who were in the blood up to their necks.
    He pointed out a soul who was off to one side
    by himself and said, “That’s Guy de Montfort.
    He killed Prince Henry in church. Later, Henry’s
    heart was displayed on London Bridge in honor.”

    I could see other souls in the river who seemed able
    to keep their whole head and chest above the bloody
    surface, and I recognized heaps of them. As we walked
    on, the river of blood seemed to be getting shallower
    until it just came up only to the sinners’ feet.
    It was there that we finally crossed to the other bank.

    “See how it gets shallower here?” Nessus asked as we
    crossed. “How it gets shallower gradually the
    farther we go? Well, check this out: At the other
    end of the river, it does just the opposite. It gets
    deeper and deeper until it reaches its deepest point.
    That’s where the serious tyrants are condemned,
    and that’s where the punishment is gnarly. Atilla the Hun
    is down there, so is Pyrrhus who killed the king of Troy,
    Charlie Manson, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Pinochet, and Hitler.
    Don’t think all that boiling blood doesn’t smart a little.
    Corneto and Pazzo, the highway robbers, are down at that end,
    too, and Reagan and Bush (both of them) with a bunch of others.”

    With that, Nessus started back and left us.
    Last edited by HERO; 06-14-2018 at 08:24 PM.

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    From The Divine Comedy: Inferno by Dante Alighieri (translated by J.G. Nichols); pages 5-13 (CANTO I):

    [Synopsis:]

    This canto, the prologue to Dante’s journey through the Inferno, acts also as an introduction to The Divine Comedy as a whole.

    At the age of thirty-five Dante realises he is lost in a dark, terrifying wood. He takes heart when he sees in front of him a hilltop shining in sunlight. But, as he starts to climb the hill, he is frightened by a leopard which obstructs him in a threatening manner, and then by an angry lion, and finally by a she-wolf – the most alarming animal of the three. So Dante is driven back into the darkness which – as we soon come to realise about everything in this poem – is both real and allegorical. (There are, throughout this poem, many kinds of allegory. For instance, the leopard, the lion, and the she-wolf – emblems rather than symbols, and therefore in need of interpretation – are of a different order from the dark wood, whose import is obvious.)

    A human figure approaches, and Dante, uncertain whether it is a living being or a ghost, implores its help. The figure explains that he is the shade of Virgil. This is the poet whom Dante, as he is quick to declare, admires more than any other. Virgil encourages Dante, and explains that he must travel by a different road if he is to find a way out of his difficulties.

    After making an obscure prophecy about the coming of a hound which will kill the she-wolf and also be the saviour of Italy, Virgil says that he will guide Dante through the realms of the Inferno, inhabited by the souls of the damned, who are beyond all hope; and also through Purgatory, where the souls of those now doing penance for their sins are residing, glad to suffer because they have the certain hope of going ultimately to Paradise. Virgil, because he was a pagan who lived and died before Christ and so could not believe in Him, cannot accompany Dante into Paradise. But he says there is another guide who will take Dante there.

    Dante accepts Virgil’s guidance, and they set off.


    Halfway along our journey to life’s end
    I found myself astray in a dark wood,
    Since the right way was nowhere to be found.
    How hard a thing it is to express the horror
    Of that wild wood, so difficult, so dense!
    Even to think of it renews my terror.
    It is so bitter death is scarcely more.
    But to convey what goodness I discovered,
    I shall tell everything that I saw there.
    How I got into it I cannot say:
    I’d fallen into such a heavy sleep
    The very instant that I went astray.
    But when I came beneath a steep hillside –
    Which rose at the far end of that long valley
    That struck my stricken heart with so much dread –
    I lifted up my eyes, and saw the height
    Covered already in that planet’s rays*
    Which always guides all men and guides them right.
    And then the fear I felt was somewhat less,
    Though it had filled my heart to overflowing
    The whole night I had spent in such distress.
    And as somebody, trying to get his breath,
    Emerging from the sea, now safe on shore,
    Turns round to look at where he cheated death,
    Just so inside my mind, which was still fleeing,
    I turned to look again upon that pass
    Which never left alive one human being.
    When I’d rested my body for a time,
    I made my way across deserted foothills,
    Keeping my low foot always the more firm.**


    *According to the Ptolemaic system, accepted in Dante’s time, the sun was one of several planets revolving round the earth. The dark wood and the comforting sunlight mark the beginning of that symbolism of light and darkness which runs through the whole Comedy.

    **He was climbing.


    And then, just where the hill began to rise,
    I saw a leopard, light upon its paws,
    Covered all over in a spotted hide!*
    It would not move, but stood in front of me,
    And so obstructed me upon my journey
    I kept on turning round to turn and flee.
    By then it was the first hour of the morning,
    With the sun rising in the constellation
    That came with him when stars we still see burning
    Were set in motion by divine love first.**


    *This leopard is an embodiment of the sin of lust, or sensuality in general, commonly associated with youth.

    **It was a common medieval belief that, when the world was created, the season was early spring, with the sun in the constellation of Aries.


    And so I had good cause to feel encouraged –
    About the lithe and gaily coloured beast –
    By that glad time of day and time of year.
    But not so much encouraged that a lion
    Failed to inspire alarm as it drew near.
    It seemed to me the beast was drawing near,
    With head held high, and so irate with hunger
    The air itself seemed shivering in fear.*
    And then a she-wolf! Though she was so lean,
    She looked about to burst, being crammed with cravings,
    She who’d made many draw their breath in pain.**
    The pain she caused me was so terrible,
    And such the terror coming from her sight,
    I lost all hope of climbing up that hill.
    And like that miser, happy while he’s gaining,
    Who when luck changes and he starts to lose,
    Gives himself up to misery and moaning –
    That’s how I was, faced by that restless brute,
    Which always coming nearer, step by step
    Drove me back down to where the sun is mute.
    Then suddenly, as I went slipping down,
    Someone appeared before my very eyes,
    Seemingly through long silence hoarse and wan.
    When I caught sight of him in that wide waste,
    ‘Take pity on me,’ I shouted out to him,
    ‘Whatever you are, a real man or a ghost!’


    *The lion embodies the sins of wrath and pride, commonly associated with middle age.

    **The she-wolf embodies the sins of avarice, commonly associated with old age.


    He answered: ‘Not a man, though I was once.
    Both of my parents came from Lombardy,
    And both of them were native Mantuans.
    I came to birth sub Julio, rather late,*
    And lived in Rome under the good Augustus
    When false, deceptive gods still held their state.
    I was a poet, and I sang the good
    Son of Anchises who came out of Troy
    When Ilium was burnt down in all its pride.**
    But you, why d’you go back to misery?
    Why don’t you climb up the delightful mountain,
    The origin and cause of perfect joy?’
    ‘Then are you Virgil, you, that spring, that stream
    Of eloquence, that ever-widening river?’
    I answered, red with reverence and shame.
    ‘Oh every poet’s glory and guiding light!
    May I be aided by the love and zeal
    That made me study your works by day and night.
    You are my only master and my author,
    You only are the one from whom I took
    That style which has bestowed on me such honour.
    You see the beast that made me turn in flight.
    Save me from her, O famous fount of wisdom!
    She makes the blood run from my veins in fright.’
    ‘Now you must travel by a different road,’
    He answered when he saw that I was weeping,
    ‘If you wish to escape from this wild wood.
    This beast, the reason that you cry out loud,
    Will not let people pass along this way,
    But hinders them, and even has their blood.
    She is by nature such an evildoer
    Her avid appetite is never slaked,
    And after food she’s hungrier than before.


    *When Julius Caesar was dominant in Rome, but too late to be acquainted with Caesar.

    **This is Virgil, and the poem he refers to is his Aeneid, whose hero, Aeneas, a refugee from Troy (or Ilium), is the son of Anchises. The theme of the Aeneid, the events leading up to the foundation of Rome, was particularly dear to Catholic Europe because Rome eventually became the seat of the Papacy.


    And many are the beasts she’s mating with,*
    And there’ll be many more, until the hound**
    Arrives, to bring her to a painful death.


    *Many people will indulge in the sin of avarice.

    **Variously interpreted as a political or religious saviour (there are many candidates) or – most satisfactorily – as a prophecy left deliberately vague.


    This hound will not be fed with land or pelf,
    But rather feed on wisdom, love, and valour.
    He will originate in folds of felt.*
    He’ll be the saviour of low-lying lands
    Of Italy for which Camilla died,
    Turnus, Nisus, Euryalus, of their wounds.**


    *Again obscure, but as translated here it suggests a humble origin.

    **All characters in the Aeneid.


    This hound will hunt that creature high and low
    Until he thrusts her back in the Inferno
    Whence envy freed her first and let her go.
    I therefore think and judge it would be best
    For you to follow me. And I shall lead
    You to a region that will always last,
    Where you will hear shrieks of despair and grief,
    And see the ancient spirits in their pain,
    As each of them begs for their second death.
    And you’ll see spirits happy in the fire,
    Because they live in hope that they will come,
    Sooner or later, where the blessèd are.
    And if you wish to join that company,
    One worthier than I will take you up.*
    I’ll leave you with her when I go away.

    *Beatrice, the woman loved by Dante in his youth and a lasting means of grace leading him to God. Dante’s own account of his love, Vita nuova (New Life), a work in prose with lyrics interspersed, is by far the best introduction to the Comedy.


    That emperor who has his kingdom there*
    Lets no one come through me into his city,
    Because I was a rebel to his law.**

    *God. In the Inferno God tends to be alluded to rather than named, while Christ is never named.

    **Virgil was a pagan.


    He governs all creation, ruling where
    He has his capital and his high throne.
    Happy are those he chooses to have there!’
    I answered: ‘What I beg of you is this —
    By that God whom you never knew – so that
    I may escape this evil and much worse,
    Take me to both those places as you said,
    To see the gate kept by St Peter,* and
    Those souls you say are desperately sad.’**
    Then he set off. I followed on behind.


    *Either the gate of Purgatory, guarded by an angel obedient to St Peter, or to the gate of Paradise.

    **Those in the Inferno.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7E0fVfectDo


    From Dante’s Inferno (text adapted by Sandow Birk and Marcus Sanders); pages 1-6 (CANTO I):

    ARGUMENT:
    Dante the Pilgrim wakes from a stupor to discover that he’s lost in a dark forest and can’t remember anything from the night before. It is early morning of Good Friday in the year A.D. 1300. He gets worried and tries to find a way out by following a glimmer of sunlight up a hill in the distance, but as he walks, he comes across three beasts that block his path. First a leopard, then a lion, and finally a wolf all force him back down into the forest. Next he sees a man walking along blindly and calls to him for assistance. It turns out that it is the ghost of Virgil, the great Roman poet from ancient times, who tells Dante that he’s come specifically to guide him. But the way out is down, not up, says Virgil, and he proposes to lead him through Hell and out the other side, then through Purgatory until they meet a second guide who will lead Dante into Heaven itself. Dante’s a bit suspect, but he’s glad to be at least saved from the beasts and begins following Virgil.


    About halfway through the course of my pathetic life,
    I woke up and found myself in a stupor in some dark place.
    I’m not sure how I ended up there; I guess I had taken a few wrong turns.

    I can’t really describe what that place was like.
    It was dark and strange, and just thinking
    about it now gives me the chills. It was so bleak
    and depressing. I remember thinking I’d rather be
    dead than stuck there. But before I get too far off track,
    I should tell you about the other stuff that happened,
    because, in the end, everything came out alright.

    First off, I don’t have a clue how I ended up there. I can’t
    remember anything about it because I had been pretty
    tipsy when I wandered off the night before, and I was tired
    and must’ve fallen asleep. After I got up, I wandered around
    in the dark for a long time looking for a way out. Just when
    I was feeling completely lost and was ready to give up,
    I looked up and saw a faint light in the distance.
    I figured that meant there must be a way out up ahead
    somewhere. When I saw that light, I felt better, and the
    fear I’d been holding inside of me that whole time started
    to lift a little bit, because I figured I’d be outta there soon.
    It felt like I’d almost been pulled over for something in a
    car, but then the cop had turned away. I was sweating with
    relief after making it through such a close call. As I started
    up the hill, I looked back into the darkness behind me and
    it seemed like no one could ever find their way out of there.

    I was so exhausted; I sat down for a short rest,
    then dragged myself uphill toward the glimmer
    of light, leading with my left foot at every step.
    I hadn’t gone too far before I suddenly saw
    a thin, graceful, spotted leopard coming out of
    the darkness in front of me. It stopped and stood
    there watching me quietly, blocking my way
    up from that depressing gloom until I finally just
    gave up and headed back down into the darkness.

    Eventually it seemed like dawn was near.
    The sky started to lighten, and I could make out the
    stars in the constellation of Aries near the horizon.
    I thought that might be a good sign and started to
    feel better and tried not to think about the leopard.

    But I guess I was being a bit optimistic, because
    just then a lion came out of the darkness in front of
    me like the leopard had. He seemed angry and hungry,
    and he came toward me slowly, staring at me and
    growling. It didn’t seem like there was any way to
    get past him. To make things even worse, an emaciated
    wolf came out of the darkness next, looking all hungry
    and wild, like something out of a second-rate horror movie.
    The wolf was the thing that really scared me,
    and I gave up on trying to go up that way.
    I felt like I’d fallen overboard and my ship
    was sailing away without me as I lost hope.
    At first I stood there, motionless in the dark, facing
    the wolf, but she advanced toward me steadily
    and I backed up slowly and retreated
    down into the murky blackness below.

    As I wandered around, even more depressed than before,
    I was freaked out to see a man with a cane walking along
    blindly in the gloom, but it looked like he knew where he was
    going. I watched him moving through the emptiness, and,
    when he was about to go past me, I called to him,
    “Excuse me, sir! I’m sorry, but can you help me,
    whoever you are? You could be a ghost for all I know.”

    “I am not a man now, but I once was,” he answered hoarsely,
    as if he hadn’t spoken for a long time. “My family is from
    Lombard, and both my parents were born in Mantua.
    Julius Caesar ruled Rome when I was born, and I
    grew up under the reign of Augustus. Back in those
    days we used to worship many gods instead of just one.
    Maybe you know the book I wrote, the Aeneid, about
    Anchises’s son Aeneas who fled from the city of Troy when
    it was burned by the Greeks? But tell me,” he asked,
    turning his head to see me better in the gloom,
    “why are you coming down into the darkness, instead
    of going up toward the light like everyone else?”

    “From the way you talk and the book you wrote,” I said,
    straining to remember, “is it possible you’re Virgil, the
    famous poet from ancient times? I remember all of
    the classes I took on you. (Maybe now they’ll finally
    be useful!) I remember how good all your writing was,
    and, I’ll tell you, I’ve tried to put some of your style into
    my own writing since then. I’ve done OK with it, too.
    But, hey, listen: You seem to know where you’re going.
    Do you think you can tell me how to get out of here?”

    I was almost crying by then; I was so desperate and exhausted.
    “To find your way out of this deep darkness,” he said,
    “it would be better to go a different way than you’ve
    been. That wolf you avoided back there
    will kill anyone who tries to sneak past her.
    She’s wild and unpredictable and dangerous.
    The more she eats, the hungrier she gets,
    and the hungrier she gets, the more
    aggressive and dangerous she becomes.
    She’s mated with other beasts down below here,
    and legend has it that she’ll keep on breeding until the
    ‘Greyhound’ comes to hunt her down and kill her. He
    will do it for Wisdom, Love, and Truth,” he continued.
    “Not for money or power or land or any other gain.
    The ‘Greyhound’ will come from Feltros
    and will return all of Italy to the glory that so many
    others have sacrificed themselves for! You know, great
    people like Turnus, and Nisus, and Camilla, and Euryalus.
    The ‘Greyhound’ will chase the wolf through the
    darkness all the way into Hell itself and, if he must
    all the way back into the fires that raised her!”

    I had no idea what he was talking about, but I didn’t stop him.
    “Listen to me,” he said earnestly, “if you trust me, then
    let me guide you, and I’ll take you on a long journey
    through deep places of horror and pain where even
    the dead cry to die again. Beyond that, we’ll come
    to another place, where spirits and souls who
    aren’t so tortured by fires and pain and suffering
    hold on to a hope of being allowed into Heaven one
    day. I’ve never been farther than that myself, not past
    St. Peter’s Gate that leads into the City of God Himself.
    But I will leave you there, where you’ll meet someone
    more worthy than me, who will lead you the rest of the
    way to Paradise. I am not allowed that far myself.
    But you! You will see Heaven itself! His very throne!
    You will see the wonders of perfection in the infinite
    and all those who are blessed enough to live there!”

    “Whatever,” I laughed nervously. “Virgil, old man, you don’t
    look well. But if that’s the only way out of here, then let’s go.
    For God’s sake, just lead me the fuck out of this depressing darkness,
    away from these monsters and wolves and whatever else that is down
    here. Show me the way to the gates of St. Peter, or whoever you say,
    and let’s have a look at all this other stuff you’re going on about.”

    He waved his cane and turned, and I started off after him.


    From The Divine Comedy: Inferno by Dante Alighieri (translated by J.G. Nichols); pages 341-9 (CANTO XXXIII):

    He raised his mouth from his barbaric feed,
    That sinner,* and he wiped it on what hair
    There still remained on the half-eaten head.
    And then began: ‘You ask me to revive
    Death and despair, a weight upon my heart
    Even to think of, never mind describe.
    But since my words may bear this bitter fruit –
    Infamy for the traitor I am chewing –
    Then, though I weep, yet will I speak of it.
    I don’t know you, nor by what ways and means
    You’ve come down here – but certainly I think
    Your way of speaking is a Florentine’s.
    You must know Ugolino is my name,
    And this man is Ruggieri, the archbishop;
    I’ll tell you why I am so close to him.
    That he had all my trust, and that I fell
    Into the snare he laid, and was imprisoned
    Until I died, there is no need to tell;
    But what you can’t have heard of, you’ll now hear –
    That is, the agonising death I died –
    And know the rightness of the grudge I bear.
    A tiny aperture inside the Mew**,
    Called now, on my account, the Tower of Hunger,
    Where others after me will be locked too,
    Had let me have a glimpse already through
    Its slit of several moons [months], before my dream
    In which the future’s veil was torn in two.
    This man [Ruggieri] appeared, the master of the hunt
    Of wolf and wolf-cubs on that Mount which means
    That Pisans looking to see Lucca can’t.***


    *See [lines] 124-39 of the previous canto. This is Ugolino della Gherardesca, born in Pisa c. 1230. Although a member of a Guelph family, he conspired to bring the Ghibellines to power in Pisa. This may be the betrayal for which he is damned in Antenora. He was later himself betrayed by the Ghibellines, and imprisoned with two sons and two grandsons in a tower, where all were starved to death in 1289.

    **Tower belonging to the Gualandi family, which stood in what is now the Piazza dei Cavalieri in Pisa.

    ***This is Monte di San Giuliano. The periphrastic mention of it here suggests subtly an unfulfilled longing for Lucca, a Guelph stronghold.


    With lean and hungry hounds this man had sent
    Gualandi and Sismondi and Lanfranchi*
    Up there before him and way out in front.
    And then it seemed to me that all too soon
    Father and sons started to tire; sharp fangs
    Invaded them – I saw their bodies torn.
    When I awoke, before the dawn, I heard
    My sons,** who were imprisoned with me, weeping
    While still asleep, and crying out for bread.
    You must be hard of heart, if you can keep
    Your tears back, as you guess what I foresaw.
    Oh, if you don’t weep now, when would you weep?
    They were awake; and it was near the time
    When it was customary to bring us food,
    Who’d all been frightened by the selfsame dream,
    When down below I heard the key being turned
    To lock that tower – and it was then I looked
    My children in the face, without a word.
    I could not weep, being turned to stone inside:
    They wept; and my poor little Anselm asked:
    “Father, why look like that? Are you afraid?”
    I did not weep and I did not reply
    All of that day and all the following night,
    Until another sun rose in the sky.
    The moment that some light managed to make
    Its way into our jail, and I could see
    Four faces looking as my own must look,
    I chewed my two hands in my agony;
    And they, thinking I did this out of hunger
    Struggled onto their feet immediately,
    And said: “Father, we’d be in much less pain
    If you were eating us: you clothed us with
    This wretched flesh, so strip it off again.”
    I calmed myself, not to make them feel worse;
    That day, the next day, no one spoke. Why did
    You, earth, not open up and swallow us?


    *All members of powerful Ghibellines families in Pisa.

    **Ugolino refers to all those with him, sons and grandsons, simply as his sons or children.


    When our starvation came to its fourth day,
    Gaddo threw himself at my feet, and cried:
    “Father, why can’t you do something for me?”
    With that he died – and clear as you see me,
    I saw the other three fall one by one
    Between the fifth and the sixth day; I
    Was blind* by now, and called and fumbled over
    Their bodies two days after they were dead –
    Then what grief could not do, was done by hunger.’
    He said this, rolled his eyes, and once again
    He got the wretched skull between his teeth,
    As savage as a dog is with a bone.


    *Through starvation.


    Pisa! Dishonoured city, dreadful blot
    On that dear country where the word is *,
    Whom your neighbors seem slow to castigate,
    Could but Capraia move – Gorgona too** —
    And make a dam across the Arno’s mouth,
    Until it drowned all living souls in you!


    *Italy is distinguished from some other countries with Romance languages by its use of for yes.

    **Two islands just off the mouth of the river, the Arno, which runs through Pisa.


    Even with Ugolino said to be
    Betrayer of your castles, was it right
    To put his children to such agony?
    New Thebes!* They were too young to share his blame,
    Brigata and Uguccione, and those others,
    The two already mentioned in my rhyme.
    We went on further,** where the frozen zone
    Has other people wrapped up cruelly,
    Not looking down now: all of them supine.


    *Ancient Thebes had a reputation for cruelty.

    **Into Ptolomea, the third zone of Cocytus, reserved for those who betrayed guests or other associates. The name is derived either from Ptolemy, King of Egypt (51-47 BC), or from Ptolemy, governor of Jericho (I Macc. 16: 11-17): they both murdered guests.


    Their very weeping will not let them weep:
    Their pain, finding obstruction in their eyes,
    Turns back inside them to augment their grief;
    Their first tears form a cluster as they freeze,
    Which like a sort of visor made of crystal,
    Fills up the cavities below their brows.
    And even though, being in a land of ice
    Where everything is harder than a callus,
    I had no feeling in my frozen face,
    I felt that I could feel some wind blow there,
    And asked my master: ‘What’s the cause of this?
    Isn’t it true there are no vapours here?’*
    And he replied: ‘You’ll find yourself quite soon
    Where your own eyes will come up with the answer,
    And see the reason why this wind blows down.’
    One of the sinners of the frozen crust**
    Cried out to us: ‘O souls who are so cruel
    The zone that you’re assigned to is the last,***
    Remove these heavy veils from off my face,
    That I may briefly vent heart-swelling grief,
    Before my tears, as always, turn to ice.’


    *The belief was that winds were caused by vapours drawn out of the earth by the sun.

    **Those whose eyes are blocked with ice.

    ***Judecca, the fourth and last zone of Cocytus.


    ‘Tell me your name,’ I said: ‘that is my price;
    And if I do not liberate you after,
    May I go to the bottom of the ice.’
    ‘Friar Alberigo,’ he said straight away,
    ‘The man whose fruits grew in an evil orchard.*
    Here dates for figs are given back to me.’**


    *Friar Alberigo in 1285 invited his brother and a nephew to a banquet. When Alberigo called for the fruit course, hidden assassins killed the guests.

    **Figs were more expensive than dates, and the expression means to pay dearly for a misdeed.


    ‘Oh then!’ I burst out. ‘You’re already dead?’*
    ‘What’s happened to my body in the world
    Is something I’ve no news of,’ he replied.
    ‘We have one privilege in Ptolomea:
    Many a soul falls down into this place
    Well before Atropos has sent it here.**


    *Alberigo was still alive at the time of Dante’s vision (1300).

    **Before death. The mythical Atropos was one of the three Fates: she cut the thread of life which had been spun and measured out by her sisters.


    And so that you may scrape with better will
    These glazing tears have made from off my face,
    I shall explain: as soon as any soul
    Betrays as foully as I did, a fiend
    Captures the body and controls its actions
    Until its time on earth comes to an end,
    While into this cold well the soul drops down.
    Perhaps the world above still sees the body
    Of the shade that winters here behind my own?
    You must know him, if you have only just
    Come here: he’s Branca Doria*, and some years
    Have now gone by since he was so embraced.’**
    ‘I think,’ I said, ‘you’re trying to abuse
    My trust, for Branca Doria has not died:
    He eats and drinks and sleeps and puts on clothes.’
    ‘Before Michele Zanche reached the hole
    Above, where Clawboys play their games,’ he said,
    ‘Where sticky pitch is always on the boil,***
    This soul here left a demon in his stead
    Inside the body – as a relative,
    Who helped in the betrayal, also did.


    *A Genoese who murdered his father-in-law, Michele Zanche, at a banquet to which he had invited him.

    **So closed in ice.

    ***In the fifth ditch of the eighth circle, that of the barrators.


    But now stretch out your hand – this is the time
    To clear my eyes.’ But that I did not do:
    Courtesy here meant being rough with him.*
    You, Genoese, so utterly devoid
    Of all good customs, full of every vice,
    Why have you not been driven from the world?
    For, with Romagna’s foulest shade of all,**
    I found a Genoese*** with sins so grave
    That he bathes in Cocytus in his soul,
    And seems in body still alive above.


    *It would have been discourteous (to God) to try to interfere with His justice.

    **Friar Alberigo.

    ***Branca Doria.


    https://kalliope.org/en/text/dante2005050133



    La bocca sollevò dal fiero pasto
    quel peccator, forbendola a’capelli
    del capo ch’elli avea di retro guasto.
    Poi cominciò: «Tu vuo’ ch’io rinovelli
    disperato dolor che ’l cor mi preme
    già pur pensando, pria ch’io ne favelli.
    Ma se le mie parole esser dien seme
    che frutti infamia al traditor ch’i’ rodo,
    parlar e lagrimar vedrai insieme.
    Io non so chi tu se’ né per che modo
    venuto se’ qua giù -- ma fiorentino
    mi sembri veramente quand’io t’odo.
    Tu dei saper ch’i’ fui conte Ugolino,
    e questi è l’arcivescovo Ruggieri:
    or ti dirò perché i son tal vicino.
    Che per l’effetto de’ suo’ mai pensieri,
    fidandomi di lui, io fossi preso
    e poscia morto, dir non è mestieri;
    però quel che non puoi avere inteso –
    ciò è come la morte mia fu cruda –
    udirai, e saprai s’e’ m’ha offeso.
    Breve pertugio dentro da la Muda
    la qual per me ha il titol della fame –
    e che conviene ancor ch’altrui si chiuda –
    m’avea mostrato per lo suo forame
    più lune già, quand’io feci ’l mal sonno
    che del futuro mi squarciò ’l velame.
    Questi pareva a me maestro e donno,
    cacciando il lupo e’ lupicini al monte
    per che i Pisan veder Lucca non ponno.
    Con cagne magre, studiose e conte
    Gualandi con Sismondi e con Lanfranchi
    s’avea messi dinanzi da la fronte.
    In picciol corso mi parieno stanchi
    lo padre e ’ figli, e con l’agute scane
    mi parea lor veder fender li fianchi.
    Quando fui desto innanzi la dimane,
    pianger senti’ fra ’l sonno i miei figliuoli
    ch’eran con meco, e dimandar del pane.
    Ben se’ crudel, se tu già non ti duoli
    pensando ciò che ’l mio cor s’annunziava –
    e se non piangi, di che pianger suoli?
    Già eran desti, e l’ora s’appressava
    che ’l cibo ne solea essere addotto,
    e per suo sogno ciascun dubitava;
    e io senti’ chiavar l’uscio di sotto
    a l’orribile torre; ond’io guardai
    nel viso a’ mie’ figliuoi sanza far motto.
    Io non piangea, sì dentro impetrai:
    piangevan elli; e Anselmuccio mio
    disse: "Tu guardi sì, padre! che hai?"
    Perciò non lacrimai né rispuos’io
    tutto quel giorno né la notte appresso,
    infin che l’altro sol nel mondo uscìo.
    Come un poco di raggio si fu messo
    nel doloroso carcere, e io scorsi
    per quattro visi il mio aspetto stesso,
    ambo le man per lo dolor mi morsi;
    ed ei, pensando ch’io ’l fessi per voglia
    di manicar, di subito levorsi
    e disser: "Padre, assai ci fia men doglia
    se tu mangi di noi: tu ne vestisti
    queste misere carni, e tu le spoglia".
    Queta’mi allor per non farli più tristi;
    lo dì e l’altro stemmo tutti muti;
    ahi dura terra, perché non t’apristi?
    Poscia che fummo al quarto dì venuti,
    Gaddo mi si gittò disteso a’ piedi,
    dicendo: "Padre mio, ché non m’aiuti?".
    Quivi morì; e come tu mi vedi,
    vid’io cascar li tre ad uno ad uno
    tra ’l quinto dì e ’l sesto; ond’io mi diedi,
    già cieco, a brancolar sovra ciascuno,
    e due dì li chiamai, poi che fur morti:
    poscia, più che ’l dolor, poté ’l digiuno*».
    Quand’ebbe detto ciò, con li occhi torti
    riprese ’l teschio misero co’denti,
    che furo a l’osso, come d’un can, forti.
    Ahi Pisa, vituperio de le genti
    del bel paese là dove ’l sì sona,
    poi che i vicini a te punir son lenti,
    muovasi la Capraia e la Gorgona,
    e faccian siepe ad Arno in su la foce,
    sì ch’elli annieghi in te ogne persona!
    Ché se ’l conte Ugolino aveva voce
    d’aver tradita te de le castella,
    non dovei tu i figliuoi porre a tal croce.
    Innocenti facea l’età novella,
    novella Tebe, Uguiccione e ’l Brigata
    e li altri due che ’l canto suso appella.
    Noi passammo oltre, là ’ve la gelata
    ruvidamente un’altra gente fascia,
    non volta in giù, ma tutta riversata.
    Lo pianto stesso lì pianger non lascia,
    e ’l duol che truova in su li occhi rintoppo,
    si volge in entro a far crescer l’ambascia;
    ché le lagrime prime fanno groppo,
    e sì come visiere di cristallo,
    riempion sotto ’l ciglio tutto il coppo.
    E avvegna che, sì come d’un callo,
    per la freddura ciascun sentimento
    cessato avesse del mio viso stallo,
    già mi parea sentire alquanto vento:
    per ch’io: «Maestro mio, questo chi move?
    non è qua giù ogne vapore spento?».
    Ond’elli a me: «Avaccio sarai dove
    di ciò ti farà l’occhio la risposta,
    veggendo la cagion che ’l fiato piove».


    *The suggestion, which has been made, that this means that Ugolino began to eat his children’s flesh seems unwarranted. The significance is that, however great Ugolino’s grief, it did not kill him, but starvation did. The realism here can be compared with that in l. 73 above where Ugolino is blind, not hyperbolically with tears, but literally, as a result of starvation.


    E un de’ tristi de la fredda crosta
    gridò a noi: «O anime crudeli,
    tanto che data v’è l’ultima posta,
    levatemi dal viso i duri veli,
    sì ch’io sfoghi ’l duol che ’l cor m’impregna,
    un poco, pria che ’l pianto si raggeli».
    Per ch’io a lui: «Se vuo’ ch’i’ ti sovvegna,
    dimmi chi se’, e s’io non ti disbrigo,
    al fondo de la ghiaccia ir mi convegna».
    Rispuose adunque: «I’ son frate Alberigo;
    io son quel da le frutta del mal orto,
    che qui riprendo dattero per figo».
    «Oh!», diss’io lui, «or se’ tu ancor morto?».
    Ed elli a me: «Come ’l mio corpo stea
    nel mondo sù, nulla scienza porto.
    Cotal vantaggio ha questa Tolomea,
    che spesse volte l’anima ci cade
    innanzi ch’Atropòs mossa le dea.
    E perché tu più volentier mi rade
    le ’nvetriate lagrime dal volto,
    sappie che, tosto che l’anima trade
    come fec’io, il corpo suo l’è tolto
    da un demonio, che poscia il governa
    mentre che ’l tempo suo tutto sia vòlto.
    Ella ruina in sì fatta cisterna;
    e forse pare ancor lo corpo suso
    de l’ombra che di qua dietro mi verna.
    Tu ’l dei saper, se tu vien pur mo giuso:
    elli è ser Branca Doria, e son più anni
    poscia passati ch’el fu sì racchiuso».
    «Io credo», diss’io lui, «che tu m’inganni;
    ché Branca Doria non morì unquanche,
    e mangia e bee e dorme e veste panni».
    «Nel fosso sù», diss’el, «de’ Malebranche,
    là dove bolle la tenace pece,
    non era ancor giunto Michel Zanche,
    che questi lasciò il diavolo in sua vece
    nel corpo suo, ed un suo prossimano
    che ’l tradimento insieme con lui fece.
    Ma distendi oggimai in qua la mano;
    aprimi li occhi». E io non gliel’apersi;
    e cortesia fu lui esser villano.
    Ahi Genovesi, uomini diversi
    d’ogne costume e pien d’ogne magagna,
    perché non siete voi del mondo spersi?
    Ché col peggiore spirto di Romagna
    trovai di voi un tal, che per sua opra
    in anima in Cocito già si bagna,
    e in corpo par vivo ancor di sopra.


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bKfCVzSWMI


    Dante’s Inferno (adapted by Sandow Birk and Marcus Sanders); pages 202-8 (CANTO XXXIII):

    The sinner stopped chewing on the neck of the other
    guy, wiped his bloody mouth on the guy’s hair,
    and looked at me. “Did you come all the way
    down here just to remind me of all of my sufferings?
    I can’t even think about them without my heart breaking
    and without getting all choked up as it is. But if my
    talking about it will somehow bring more disgrace on
    this bastard who I’m condemned to chew on forever,
    then I’ll do my best to tell you about it. That is, if you
    can forgive me if I cry a little when I tell you.

    “I don’t know how you got down here or who you are, but
    I can tell by your accent that you’re from Florence. I was
    Count Ugolino, and this guy here, who now has to suffer
    From my gnawing on him all the time, was once the
    Archbishop Ruggieri. It’s a long, tragic story about why
    we’re here, tormented together forever like this. I don’t
    even have to tell you about how I once trusted this man,
    and of the shit he did to me in return, and of how he ended
    up having me locked up in jail and executed. What you
    probably haven’t heard is how mean and cruel
    my execution was. But I’ll tell you how it happened,
    and you can decide for yourself what you think.
    See, I had been shut up in that tower prison
    for a few months. (Everyone calls it Hunger Tower
    now, because of me, and I’m sure that a lot more
    people will suffer there, too.) I knew how long it had
    been because I could see the moon through the slit
    windows in the stone walls of the cell. Well, one night,
    I had this dream about what was going to happen to me,
    and when I woke up, I knew it was going to come true.

    Ruggieri here, the owner of this stinking head that I’m
    munching on, appeared in my dream dressed like a
    nobleman and led a group on a wolf hunt in the hills of
    San Giuliano, where the town of Lucca sits hidden away
    from Pisan troops. He had these fast hunting dogs,
    vicious suckers, and he set them on the other hunters,
    who were all from Pisa—Gualandi and his sons, Sismondi
    and Lanfranchi. They took off running, but couldn’t keep
    it up, and before long, they fell down exhausted. And in my
    dream, I saw the dogs tear into them with their teeth.

    “When I woke up, it was still dark out and the first
    thing I heard was the hungry cries of my sleeping sons
    and grandsons who were locked up with me. I’m telling you,
    you’ve got to be a hard-hearted son of a bitch if you
    didn’t think what I was thinking at that moment.
    I mean, if the sounds of your own kids crying from hunger
    doesn’t break your heart, then what on Earth does?

    “The children woke up hungry and afraid from their own bad
    dreams, and by then, it was breakfast time. But instead of our captors
    bringing us breakfast like they usually did, we heard the sounds of
    hammering outside our cell door as they nailed it shut for good.

    “When they heard that, my own kids looked at me with
    their hungry eyes, and I didn’t know what to tell them.
    I couldn’t even cry. I just sat there, frozen, in a trance,
    until my little Anselm asked me, ‘Dad, what’s wrong?
    You look like you’re sick or something.’

    “It was like I was in a coma or something. I just sat there in a
    daze. I didn’t cry; I didn’t move. I couldn’t say anything all
    that day and all that night. But as soon as the sun came up
    again and it got light enough to see the four faces of the
    hungry boys suffering with me, I covered my face with
    my hands and gnawed on my fist in despair. And then,
    seeing me like that and thinking it meant that I was hungry,
    my very own little boys said to me, ‘Don’t be like that, Dad.
    You’re the one who gave us our lives and we’d rather that
    you take them from us, if you have to. We’d rather die than
    see you go hungry and suffer like this. Take us and kill us,
    and then you can eat us. It’s better that way. And then you
    can decide what’s best to be done.’

    “I tried to stay calm from then on so I wouldn’t make them
    more afraid than they already were. None of us spoke again
    for the rest of the day and not even the next. God, how I
    wished that the ground would have opened up and
    swallowed us all at once and been done with it right then.
    By the fourth day, my little Gaddo was so weak that he
    collapsed at my feet. ‘Why don’t you help me, Dad?’ were
    his very last words. As clear as you see me here in front of
    you, I had to live to watch my other son and two grandsons
    die, one by one, on the fifth night. Finally, blind with
    hunger myself, I crawled around the floor of the cell
    feeling the cold bodies and faces of those little boys.
    I held each one and spoke to them and called their names,
    but every one of them was dead. On the eighth day,
    the sufferings of my hunger finally overcame my grief.”

    Fuckin’ Pisa! I thought as I listened to this horrible
    story; your town is a shithole full of wicked people,
    and the sooner you’re ruined, the better. I’d be
    happy if the islands of Gorgona and Caprara drifted
    and blocked up the Arno’s whole river mouth and
    flooded that evil town and drowned everyone in it.
    Even if Ugolino had betrayed you, it’s despicable to
    take your revenge on his little kids. His kid
    Uguiccione and his grandson Brigata were so young
    that they couldn’t have had anything to do with it.
    They were just innocent kids! None of the other little
    brothers were at fault, either, and you left them to starve
    in the tower for no reason, except sheer wickedness.

    As I thought about all of the reasons why I hated the
    Pisans, Virgil and I walked along farther, and soon we
    came across more sinners frozen into the ice of the
    lake. Their faces were turned up to watch us, and
    frozen tears lined their cheeks. The first drops from
    their eyes must have frozen solid and backed up
    the flow of the tears, because they had these big icicles
    under their eyes, all thick and clear. It was so damned
    cold down there that my face was numb, but even so, I
    thought I felt a breeze on my cheeks and asked Virgil,
    “If it’s always dark down here and the sun can’t warm
    the air, where is this breeze coming from?”

    “Just wait a little while longer,” he answered, “and
    you will see for yourself what it is that makes the
    winds you’re feeling in this land of ice. You’ll see.”

    Just then, we heard a tragic voice from the ice at our feet.
    “Oh, you evil sinners who come to live here in the lowest pits
    of Hell, do me a favor and chip away these icicles from my
    face so I can cry again—even if it’s just for [a] minute or two.
    I need to free some of the pain and grief trapped
    inside my soul. At least until my tears freeze again.”
    “If you tell me who you are, I promise I’ll chip some
    away for you,” I answered, looking down. “And if I’m
    lying, they can drag me down to the very bottom of Hell.”

    “I’m Brother Alberigo,” he said. “You might have heard of me because
    of my special cooking abilities. Down here, I’m getting my just desserts.”

    “You? You’re dead already? What happened?”

    “Maybe you’ve seen my body up on Earth, but I don’t know
    what it’s doing up there. This place here is called Ptolomea
    and a lot of times the souls of sinners get sent down here even
    before their life has actually ended. And even worse than that,
    I’m sure you’ll agree, is when the soul of somebody who
    has committed the sins of Treachery is sent down here, then a
    demon takes over his body up there and can do whatever he
    wants with it until it dies. I know it sounds pathetic, and maybe
    you’ll feel a little sorry for me now and snap off these icicles,
    because these are the depths I’ve sunk to. You can ask
    that guy over there if you don’t believe me. I think
    he’s had his body possessed up above while he
    freezes his ass off down here. You’ve probably heard of
    him—if you haven’t been dead too long. His name is
    Branca d’Oria, and he’s been frozen stiff for years.”
    “Now I know you’re bullshitting me,” I said. “Branca’s
    not dead. I saw him not too long ago, cruising around,
    wearing new clothes, eating, drinking, partying, even
    passing out, just like anybody else alive up there.”

    “Up in Malebolge, that level where the tar is bubbling and it’s
    nice and warm, there’s this guy Michel Zanche. He wasn’t even dead
    and some demon took over his body. A devil possessed the body of a
    relative of his, too, who had helped him kill his father-in-law. It’s true.
    Now, could you do me the favor of pulling off some of these icicles?”

    But I ignored the guy and just walked away, leaving him
    like that. I felt pretty good about it, too, I have to admit.

    All this time, I had thought that Pisa was a shitty town,
    but now I know Genoa sucks even worse. It’s a whole
    city of wicked people, and there’s nothing good going
    on there at all. Here I am down at the very bottom of
    Hell, and besides this guy, I find the soul of Branca
    d’Oria, a guy so evil and fucked up that while his
    soul sits freezing in Lake Cocytus in the very pit of
    wickedness, his body is still strutting around back in
    Genoa like everything’s fine!


    pages 183-8 [CANTO XXX (lines 49-148)]:

    There was one guy who looked like a broken
    hourglass, as though his legs were cut off right
    below the stomach and lying in the mud.
    He was completely bloated, with all his internal
    organs bulging out from his swollen chest and stomach.
    His belly was so big that it made his head look tiny.
    The pressure forced his mouth to hang open like
    an alcoholic in a fit of DTs, gasping for breath. One
    of his lips was snarled up, and the other drooped down.

    “Hey, you lucky fucker,” he spat out when he saw me.
    “You, who can just walk around down here without
    suffering like the rest of us, hold on for a minute and
    have a look at the sufferings of Master Adamo! You
    wouldn’t believe by looking at me, but when I was alive
    on Earth, I had it all, man—anything I wanted. Now, I can’t
    even get a fucking glass of water. I’m so thirsty that all I can
    think about are those little creeks that wind through the
    green fields of Casentino down to the Arno River,
    with their damp and cool riverbanks. Thinking about
    them just makes me thirstier and tortures me more than
    this fucking disease that has inflated my body like a balloon.
    Now the memory of the place itself where I sinned has
    become the source of my suffering. Justice is strict and
    causes me more agony than I could ever have imagined.
    I was a counterfeiter back in Romena. My specialty was the
    gold coins with John the Baptist’s face on them. And it was there
    that I was caught by the Florentines and burned to death for
    it, too. But if I could find one of those fucking brothers in
    Hell, Guido or Alessandro—I’d rather find them down here
    than have a whole fountain to drink! I heard one was
    down here already, if you can believe what the wandering idiots
    around this place say. But I can’t do anything with
    these useless fucking legs of mine. If I was just a little lighter,
    even if I could just move one inch in every hundred years,
    I would’ve already started out looking for them in this
    fucked-up hellhole. Even if this ditch is eleven miles
    wide and at least a half-mile across, I’d look for those
    bastards until I found them. After all, it’s their fucking
    fault I’m down here in the first place; they’re the ones
    who made me make gold coins out of cheap metal!
    It was their idea, and I’m the one paying for it!”

    When he finished I asked him, “Who are those
    two lying next to you on the ground, steaming
    like fresh dim sum at a Chinese restaurant?”

    “Hell, they were here when I got here,” he said, “and they’ve
    just been lying there the whole time, I’d bet they’re gonna
    stay like that forever. One of them is the bitch who lied and
    said Joseph tried to rape her. The other one is Sinon, the guy
    who convinced the Trojans to take the wooden horse as a
    gift. That disgusting smell is from their blistering fever.”

    As soon as he said that, Sinon rose up and laid a
    solid right hook into Adamo’s bloated stomach and you
    could hear it boom like a bass drum. The corpse must have
    heard what Adamo said about him—and didn’t like it.
    But before he could think, Adamo recovered and planted
    a solid uppercut into the guy’s head. “Watch it, tough guy!”
    Adamo yelled at him. “Maybe I can’t move around
    as fast as you ‘cause my legs are so fucked,
    but there ain’t nothing wrong with my arms.”

    “There wasn’t anything wrong with your arms back when
    you were burning at the stake, eh?” Sinon retorted. “And I bet
    When you were counterfeiting, they were even stronger!”

    “Oh, I see, now you can tell the truth!” Adamo shot back. “Not
    like the time you spread your bullshit to the Trojans about the
    nice horsey. You couldn’t tell the truth then, could you?”
    “So I told a little fib,” he answered. “But your coins were
    thousands of lies. I’m down here for making one mistake, but
    you fucked up more than anyone in this whole stinking pit.

    “Just remember that wooden pony, you lying sack of shit!” Adamo
    answered back. “I hope it burns your stinking insides out, knowing
    that everyone in the world remembers you by your lies.”

    “And I hope your bloated stomach swells with your eternal
    thirst!” the Greek shot back. “I’d love to see your black
    cracking tongue burn in your dry disgusting mouth!”

    “There you go again,” the counterfeiter replied.
    “Talking the same old shit. So what, I’m a little
    thirsty and my guts are a little swollen. But
    you’re the one who’s burning, baby, and your
    headache’s going to get so bad that you’ll never
    be able to think of anything else but your pain!”

    I stood there mesmerized by the ingenuity of their insults
    until Virgil turned to me and said, “If you keep on staring
    at these sinners, I’ll have to start in with insults of my own.”

    I looked over at him, and I could tell he was pissed
    by the tone of his voice. I was so embarrassed that
    I still get bummed thinking about it now. It was like
    when you’re asleep having a bad dream, and at the
    same time, you know you’re dreaming inside the dream.
    I stood there, unsure and ashamed, and knowing that
    I was confused at the same time, if that makes sense.
    I hoped that Virgil wouldn’t think I was just some lowlife,
    even though I wasn’t sure what I did wrong to start him off.

    “Leave it,” Virgil said. “The look on your face is more
    pitiful than need be for such a petty distraction.
    Forget I said anything, don’t worry about it.
    If you think it’s interesting to watch sufferers
    fighting and cursing at each other in their punishments,
    remember this: I’m always right here behind you.
    Listening to swearing like that is crude and shameful.”




    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LynC4BWs9CI

    From The Divine Comedy: Inferno by Dante Alighieri (translated by J.G. Nichols); pages 149-57 (CANTO XV):

    [Synopsis:]

    As Dante and Virgil move along the river’s margin, they encounter a group of shades running towards them on the burning sand, one of whom plucks at the hem of Dante’s robe.

    This is Brunetto Latini, once Dante’s mentor and friend, but now damned for the sin of sodomy. The meeting is joyful, but distressing also in that their situations are now so different. It is forbidden for these shades to pause, but Brunetto walks along with Dante for a while.

    Brunetto regrets that he cannot now help Dante in his work. Like Farinata in the circle of the heretics, Brunetto prophesies, in a rather vague way, future trouble for Dante. Dante says that he hopes for some explication of these prophecies when he meets Beatrice. Brunetto says his group is made up entirely of clerics, all famous men of letters, and all guilty of the one sin. (Very many, perhaps most, educated men in Dante’s day were in minor orders at least, and not all of these ‘clerics’ performed religious duties. So far as is known, Brunetto himself did not.)

    As they see another group of sinners approaching, Brunetto, fearful of the punishment he will incur if he does not rejoin his group, races away.

    This canto, a striking rebuttal of any notion that Dante merely ‘put his enemies in hell’, arouses many, apparently contradictory, reactions. The love and respect on both sides is clear, but so is the gulf between the old friends; worldly fame is valued, but it is seen to be nothing compared to one’s eternal fate; Brunetto’s intellectual and artistic qualities are stressed, but so is the foulness of his sin. The final image of Brunetto racing away ‘like the winning, not the losing, runner’, with the sad undertone of the literal reason for his speed – one of the most famous images in the Comedy – summarises implicitly much that has gone before.


    Now the hard margin takes us on from there:
    Steam from the river darkens overhead,
    Shielding the shores and water from the fire.
    As the Flemings, from Wissant up to Bruges,
    Fearing the ocean rushing in on them,
    Have built a dyke along the water’s edge;
    And like the Paduans where the Brenta flows,
    In order to defend their towns and castles,
    Before warm weather melts Carinthia’s snows,
    In the same fashion were these margins made –
    Whoever was the builder who designed them –
    Except not raised so high and not so broad.*
    We had already left the wood behind
    So far that I could not have any longer
    Seen where it was, if I had turned around;
    We met up with a company of shades
    Coming along the riverside, who all
    Stared hard at us as, when the daylight fades,
    Men stare if there is no moon in the sky;
    They knit their brows and squinnied up at us
    Like an old tailor at a needle’s eye.
    Then, as the group of shades stared up like this,
    One recognised me, and caught hold of me
    By my gown’s hem and cried: ‘What a surprise!’
    And I, as he was stretching out his hand
    Towards me, fixed my eyes on his baked features,
    Till the scorched face could not prevent my mind
    Recalling him, and all became quite clear;
    And, as I bent my face towards his face,
    I said: ‘O Ser Brunetto, are you here?’**
    And he replied: ‘Don’t be displeased, my son,
    If Brunetto Latini for a while
    Turns back to you, and lets the rest pass on.’
    I said: ‘With all my heart, I beg of you!
    And should you wish that I should pause, I will,
    If he with whom I’ve come allows me to.’
    ‘O son,’ he said, ‘whoever of this flock
    Pauses at all, must lie one hundred years
    Without defence as flakes of fire attack.
    Therefore walk on; I’ll keep close by your gown
    Down here; and then I must rejoin my troop
    Who go on mourning their eternal pain.’


    *We gather during the course of this canto that the margins are about the height of a man.

    **As the title ‘Ser’ suggests, Brunetto Latini (c.1210-94) was a notary. He was a Florentine Guelph who, as he was returning from an embassy to Castile, learnt of the defeat of his party at Montaperti (1260) and their expulsion from Florence. He remained in France until after the Battle of Benevento (1265), when he returned to Florence and resumed his important part in public affairs. His most famous literary works were Li Livres dou Tresor (‘The Treasury’, an encyclopedia written in French), and Il Tesoretto (‘The Little Treasury’, an unfinished narrative poem written in Italian). He was almost certainly not an official teacher of Dante, but rather a well-loved mentor; he was, of course, much older than Dante.


    I did not dare descend from off my road
    To where we walked; and yet, like somebody
    Who’s full of reverence, I bowed my head.
    Then he began: ‘What chance or destiny
    Brings you down here before your final hour?
    And who is this who’s showing you the way?’
    ‘There, up above, in the world of living men,’
    I said, ‘I strayed off in a gloomy valley,
    Before the midpoint of my life had come.
    At dawn but yesterday I turned my back
    Upon it – then returned – this man appeared
    To put me once again on the right track.’
    And he replied: ‘If you follow your star,
    You cannot fail to reach a glorious haven,
    If my opinion while I lived was fair.
    Had it not happened that I died too soon,
    Seeing that heaven was benign towards you,
    I would have helped in all that you took on.
    But those ungrateful and malicious folk –
    Descending in the past from Fiesole,
    Still with some trace of mountain and of rock –
    Will be, for your good works, your enemy:
    And with good reason: among bitter rowans
    Sweet fig trees were not meant to fructify.*


    *According to old tradition the Romans conquered Fiesole and founded Florence on the plain below it, and the new city was inhabited first by a few Roman settlers and by refugees from Fiesole who brought their uncivilised ways with them. The vices of the Florentines, so often mentioned by Dante, are attributed by Brunetto to their Fiesolan ancestry.


    They are of old reputed to be blind –
    And they are greedy, envious, and presumptuous.
    Avoid the faults to which they are inclined!
    Such honour is reserved for you by fate,
    That both sides* will be eager to devour you;
    But grass will be kept distant from the goat.**


    *Guelphs and Ghibellines.

    **This sounds like a proverb. Dante, a Guelph, incurred the enmity not only of the Ghibellines but of other Guelphs.


    Let beasts of Fiesole forage among
    Themselves, and leave untouched the family tree –
    If any still arises from their dung –
    In which their lives once more the sacred seed
    Of those first Romans who remained there when
    It turned into a nest of such bad blood.’
    ‘If all my prayers were answered utterly,’
    I said in my reply, ‘you would not yet
    Have been excluded from humanity;
    For still I have in mind, to my great pain,
    The dear, the kindly, the paternal image
    Of you who, in the world, time and again
    Taught me how man becomes eternal:* while
    There’s breath in me, my gratitude for that
    Is something that my language must reveal.


    *Lives on after death because of his renown. Dante was not indifferent to worldly fame, and Brunetto is still very anxious for it even in the Inferno (see ll. 119-20 below).


    What you say of my future I shall store
    Beside another text,* to be expounded
    By one** who will know how, if I reach her.


    *Farinata’s prophecy in [CANTO] X: 79-81.

    **Beatrice.


    This much I’d have you understand quite clearly –
    Provided that my conscience does not chide –
    Whatever Fortune brings me, I am ready.
    Such prophecies to me are nothing new:
    And so I say, let Fortune turn her wheel
    As she thinks best, the peasant wield his hoe.’*
    My master turned his head towards the right
    At this, and then right round to look at me,
    And said: ‘He listens well who takes good note.’
    Nevertheless I wished to talk some more
    With Ser Brunetto; so I asked about
    Those in his flock most famed and with most power.
    And he replied: “It’s well to know of some;
    As for the others, we had best be silent:
    There is not time enough to talk of them.
    In short, know they were clerics, one and all,
    Great men of letters, and men of renown,
    Whom in the world above one sin** made foul.


    *Fortune’s wheel is a traditional image of the uncertainty of worldly affairs; the peasant wielding his hoe has the ring of a proverb; together they suggest that nothing will affect Dante’s state of mind.

    **The ‘one sin’ is sodomy. This seems clear from what Virgil has said at [CANTO] XI: 49-51. However, there is no other known independent evidence that Brunetto was guilty of this sin, and Dante strangely does not name it in this present canto. Other suggestions have therefore been made, but unpersuasively.


    You see there Priscian* running with that grim
    Crowd, and Francesco d’Accorso**; and also,
    If you had any wish to see such scum,
    The bishop whom God’s servant*** ordered on,
    Who left the Arno for the Bacchiglione,
    Where he gave up that body strained by sin.****


    *Probably the famous Latin grammarian (fl. c.500).

    **Francesco d’Accorso (1225-93) was a celebrated lawyer from Bologna; he lectured for some time at Oxford.

    ***The Pope. The description servus servorum Dei (servant of the servants of God) is still used.

    ****Andrea de’ Mozzi, Bishop of Florence on the River Arno, was moved to Vicenza, on the River Bacchiglione, on account of his scandalous way of life. He died in 1296.


    I would say more – but not another word
    Am I allowed, another inch: I see
    A fresh cloud* rising from the sand of dread.
    People are here with whom I must not be.
    I recommend to you my Treasury,
    In which I’m still alive: that’s all I’ll say.’
    Then he turned round, and looked like one of those
    Who race, to win the green cloth at Verona,
    Across the fields; and looked, among all these,
    Most like the winning, not the losing, runner.**


    *This probably refers to the cloud of sand raised by the shades running towards them.

    **In this race the winner received a piece of green cloth, and the last runner a booby prize which exposed him to derision. The episode finishes on an apparently triumphant note: we may momentarily forget why he is racing back.



    Pages 87-92 (CANTO XV):

    ARGUMENT:
    On their way to the second zone of the Third Ring of the Seventh Circle, Dante and Virgil follow along the creek of Phlegethon, and the steam rising from its boiling gore protects them from the fire falling from the sky. They come across a group of sinners and one of them stops Dante. It turns out that it’s one of his favorite old teachers, Brunetto Latini, who praises Dante and foresees great things in his future. Then he briefly explains who some of the others are in his group, the Sodomites.


    As we continued on along the rocky banks of the brook,
    the steam from the bubbling pools rose and met the flames
    falling from the sky, extinguishing them and protecting
    us from burning. The banks we strolled on seemed
    similar to the dikes the Flemish built—up between
    Wissant and Brussels—to shelter themselves
    from the ocean’s tides. Or, more like maybe,
    they were like the berms along the Brenta
    River in Padua, which hold the spring
    Floods when the snows melt in Carinthia—
    Except these weren’t quite as big or as tall.

    We walked a good way out of the woods until
    we couldn’t see the trees behind us anymore.
    Before long, we came across a group of souls
    trudging along in the ditch beside the path.
    They were staring at us greedily, like a closet gambler
    with a Scratch ‘n’ Win lottery ticket. And as they
    checked us out, one seemed to recognize
    me and grabbed me by the pant leg.

    “What a miracle it is to see you here,” he cried
    as he reached toward me. When I had the
    chance to get a look at his face, I realized
    who he was, despite his burned flesh
    I bent down and touched his cheek and
    asked, “You’re here as well, Mr Brunetto?”

    “My son,” he sighed, “would you mind
    much if Brunetto Latini lingered with
    you and let the others go on ahead?”

    “I hope you would,” I answered.
    “I’d be happy to sit with you a bit—
    that is, if my guide doesn’t mind.”

    “Never mind, I can’t do that,” Mr. Brunetto replied.
    “If any one of us stops for even a second, he’s forced
    to lie on the ground for a hundred years, with
    no protection from the falling flames. Keep
    moving, for my sake, and I’ll walk beside you
    for a while before I have to catch up with that
    wailing group of eternally damned souls.”

    I didn’t dare jump down in the ditch with him,
    but I kept along beside him, respectfully. He asked,
    “What have you done, or what bad luck has brought you
    down here before you’re dead? And who is your guide?”

    “Things haven’t been going so well for me lately
    back on Earth,” I admitted. “And I ended up getting
    lost in this valley before my time was really up.
    Yesterday morning I had almost totally given up on
    myself, when this guy, my guide Virgil, appeared.
    Now he’s showing me the path back home.”

    “Don’t ever give up,” he said to me earnestly.
    “Keep on the right path. If what I saw of you
    and your work on Earth is any indication of
    things to come, you will accomplish much
    and be famous someday. If I hadn’t died so
    soon, I’d still be up there supporting you in all
    your work, because I can see talent in you.
    But whatever you do, be careful with those
    Florentines who are descended from
    the Fiesole. Knowing how stubborn
    and hardheaded they are, they’ll rally
    against you and your work, believe me.
    Remember, son, no good fruit can grow
    in between the cracks in the sidewalk.
    The Fiesolans are prideful, greedy,
    and jealous. Make sure you avoid
    them, because I can see you have great
    things in store for the future. All Florentines
    will want a piece of you some day,
    but grass never grows where hungry goats live,”
    he said with a wink, tugging on my pant leg.
    “Let those Fiesolan beasts devour each other and
    not ruin our family tree—the tree of noble Romans
    who stayed in Florence even after its decline.
    That is, if any of them can even breed!”

    “If it were up to me,” I said, “you’d still be alive on
    Earth. Whenever I think of you, I only remember
    you as a good, honest, and fatherly friend.
    I’m bummed to find you down here.
    You taught me a lot on Earth—about
    writing, quality, honesty, friendship, and
    stuff I’ll never forget. As long as I live,
    I’ll always try to work and write with
    the values you taught me. And I’ll
    remember what you’re saying to me now
    about my work and my future and all that.
    I’ll share it with Beatrice, the one person who
    will appreciate your thoughts, if I’m ever able to
    find her again. Let me tell you something,
    and I hope I don’t regret saying this,
    whatever good fortune might be waiting
    in my future, I’m ready for it. Bring it on.
    I’ve heard so many predictions about
    what’s supposed to come for me that I say:
    Let it come. Let Fate roll, let the world turn.”

    Virgil bent his head to the right and whispered to me,
    “Listen well and remember what he tells you.”

    I continued to walk beside Mr. Brunetto, and
    asked him if anyone in his group might
    be famous. “A few of them are,” he said,
    “but not all of them. I don’t have time to
    tell you their stories right now. I can tell you
    that a few of them were well-known religious
    leaders and scholars. Priscian was one, Siegried and Roy,
    Francesco d’Accorso, and the priests from Boston.
    If you really want to know about these, ahem,
    ‘men,’ I’ll tell you that there’s a
    bishop in the group who was transferred
    from Florence on the Arno River
    to Vicenza on the Bacchiglione
    by His Holiest of Holies, the Pope, and
    I hear them say that his, well, underside
    was sore from all the use it got there.

    “Look, I really wish I could chat
    with you more, but I can already see
    the dust rising from the sands up ahead.
    I’m not really allowed to talk to newcomers.
    But before I go, let me recommend my book,
    The Treasure. It’s my best work. Have a look at it.
    Remember me by it, that’s all I can ask.”

    He turned and sprinted off like a runner in the Palio
    races at Verona, and it seemed as he went that he’d be
    more likely to win than lose if he had half a chance.



    From The Divine Comedy: Inferno by Dante Alighieri (translated by J.G. Nichols); pages 99-105 (CANTO X):

    We passed along a narrow, hidden track
    Between the tortured people and the wall,
    My master first, and I behind his back.
    ‘O you, most virtuous man, bringing me through
    These sacrilegious gyres, as you think best,
    Please speak, and tell me what I long to know.
    Are any visible, of all those laid
    Within these sepulchres? I see the lids
    Are lifted, and there’s nobody on guard.’
    He said: ‘The sepulchres will all be sealed
    When these return here from Jehoshaphat
    Bringing their bodies from the upper world.*
    This region is the burial ground of those –
    Epicurus** and all his followers –
    Who say the soul dies when the body does.


    *On the Day of Judgement all the souls of the dead will be reunited with their bodies. See Joel 3: 2: ‘I will also gather all nations, and bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat…’

    **A Greek philosopher (341-270 BC). His philosophy was essentialy materialist.


    And now the question you have asked of me
    Will quickly find its answer in this circle,
    As will the longing which you hide away.’*
    I answered: ‘My kind guide, this reticence
    Comes simply from a wish to guard my tongue,
    As you’ve admonished me – and more than once.’
    ‘O Tuscan walking through this land of fire,
    While still alive, and with such courteous speech,
    May it please you, pause and linger here.
    To me your way of speaking makes it clear
    That you’re a native of that noble city
    Where I perhaps was too unpopular.’
    This sound came all of a sudden from inside
    One of the sepulchres, and in my fear
    I crept a little closer to my guide.
    He said to me: ‘Turn round! Why be distressed?
    Look there: it’s Farinata who has risen;
    You will see all of him above the waist.’**


    *Dante’s wish to see Farinata.

    **Farinata degli Uberti (who died about a year before Dante’s birth) was a leader of the Ghibelline faction in Florence.


    I had already caught his eye, meanwhile
    He held his chest and held his head up high,
    As though he had a huge contempt for Hell.
    And my leader, whose hands were prompt and quick,
    Pushed me to Farinata through the tombs,
    And said: ‘Think carefully before you speak.’
    When I was at his sepulchre then he
    Looked at me for a while. Then, with some pride,
    He wished to know: ‘What is your ancestry?’
    I, who was all too keen to answer that,
    Hid nothing from him, but made all quite clear.
    Which when he heard, he raised his brows somewhat,
    And said, ‘They were so savagely adverse
    To me and to my forebears and my party,
    I had to scatter them – and do it twice!’*
    ‘Yes, they were scattered, but they all returned
    From all around,’ I said, ‘and did that twice –
    A skill your party never really learned!’**


    *The Guelphs were driven from Florence in 1248 and 1260.

    **The Ghibellines were ultimately defeated.


    And then nearby another shade arose*
    Till it was visible down to the chin:
    I think he must have got up on his knees.
    He looked all round, as if he really wanted
    To find somebody in my company;
    And when he was completely disappointed,
    He said in tears: ‘If you can tread this blind
    Prison by virtue of your intellect,
    Where is my son? Why is he not at hand?’
    I answered him: ‘My strength is not my own:
    He who is waiting there, perhaps will guide me
    To one** for whom your Guido felt disdain.’
    What he said, and the way he was tormented,
    Immediately informed me who this was;
    And that was why my answer was so pointed.
    He started up, and cried: ‘What? Did you say
    He “felt disdain”? Is he not still alive?
    Does he no longer see the light of day?’
    When he perceived there was a pause before
    I found the words in answer to his question,
    He fell back; and he failed to reappear.


    *That of Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti, a Florentine Guelph, father of Dante’s great friend, the poet Guido Cavalcanti. Both father and son had the reputation of being heretics.

    **Probably Beatrice, as a representative of the Christian faith, but this could equally refer to Virgil or to God.


    But that other great soul, at whose demand
    I’d stopped to speak, did not change his expression,
    Or turn his face, or any way unbend,
    Adding to what he had already said:
    ‘If they have failed to learn that skill correctly,
    That is a greater torment than his bed.
    And yet, before the fiftieth time the queen
    Who rules down here has found her face rekindled,*
    You’ll know how hard a skill that is to learn.**


    *Proserpine, the wife of Pluto, is identified with the moon. Farinata is saying his prophecy will come true before there have been fifty more full moons (i.e. months).

    **A hint of Dante’s exile from Florence, which is often referred to later in the Comedy.


    And – may you get back to the world – tell me:
    Why are that city’s citizens so savage
    In all their laws against my family?’*


    *The Uberti were excluded from all amnesties.


    I answered him: ‘The slaughter at the rout
    Which left the River Arbia running red*
    Is what brought all such orisons** about.’
    He sighed and shook his head: ‘You know I was
    Hardly alone in that. Nor certainly
    Would I have joined the others without cause.


    *The Battle of Montaperti (1260) at which the Guelphs were utterly defeated by the Ghibellines.

    **The measures against the Uberti family are spoken of as prayers, such as would be offered in times of crisis.


    Yet there at Empoli* I was the one –
    When all agreed on Florence’s destruction –
    Who set his face against it, I alone.’
    ‘So may your seed eventually have rest,’
    I begged him, ‘please undo a tangled knot,
    This doubt which keeps my mind in such a twist.
    You see beforehand, if I hear aright,
    Those things which time brings with it in its course,
    But with things present it is not like that.’
    ‘We see, as people do who have long sight,
    Things,’ he replied, ‘that are remote from us:
    The supreme lord still gives us that much light.
    When things are near, or here, our minds are quite
    Empty; and, if there’s none to bring us word,
    Then we know nothing of your human state.
    Therefore we shall be utterly without
    Knowledge or understanding from the moment
    The gate into the future has been shut.’**


    *A town some twenty miles from Florence where, afer their victory at Montaperti, the Tuscan Ghibellines met to decide the fate of Florence.

    **At the Day of Judgement, when time will give way to eternity.


    I then said, feeling guilty for not giving
    This answer earlier, ‘Tell the stricken shade
    That son of his is still among the living.
    And if I was, before, slow to reply,
    Tell him that I was busy thinking over
    That problem which you have resolved for me.’
    My master was now wanting me to come;
    And therefore I was quick to beg that spirit
    To name, and quickly, those entombed with him.
    He said: ‘I’m lying here with thousands more.
    In my tomb is the second Frederick*, and
    The Cardinal**: the other names I forbear.’


    *The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (1194-1250), who was reputed to be a heretic. He engaged in a long political struggle with the Papacy.

    **Cardinal Ottaviano degli Ubaldini (died 1272), generally credited with the remark: ‘I can say that, if there is a soul, I have lost mine for the Ghibellines.’


    With that he hid himself – I turned to walk
    Back to the ancient poet, thinking over
    Words that had seemed to prophesy ill-luck.*
    He started off and, as he walked, he said:
    ‘I want to know why you are so confused.’
    And I made quite sure that he understood.
    ‘Remember everything that you have heard
    To your distress,’ that wise man recommended.
    ‘Now mark my words!’ He raised his finger, said:
    ‘When you are standing in the radiance
    Of her** whose lovely eyes see everything,
    You’ll know from her the course of your life hence.’
    With that he turned his feet to the left hand,
    Towards the circle’s centre, from the wall,
    Along a path with a valley at the end.
    Even up there, that valley’s stench was foul.


    *See ll. [lines] 79-81 above.

    **Beatrice.


    Dante’s Inferno (text adapted by Sandow Birk and Marcus Sanders); pages 58-62 [CANTO X]:

    I followed Virgil down through a narrow
    pathway that ran between the huge walls
    and all the misery of the burning tombs.
    “Listen, Virg,” I said. “So far you’ve been leading me
    thorugh this mess however you want. I want to
    figure out—I mean, I need to know—what’s up with
    all the buried people down here at this level? Can I
    see them? It looks like all of the lids are off the graves,
    and there aren’t any security guards around or anything.”

    “They will be locked up forever,” he explained,
    “as soon as their bodies return
    here from the Last Judgment.
    This private graveyard is for
    Epicurus and his lot, who deny
    that the soul lives forever. And
    the question you just asked will be
    answered in a moment; as well as the
    one you’re thinking but didn’t ask.”

    And I said, “Teacher, you’ve been the best guide a guy could hope for,
    and I can’t seem to keep secrets from you. I’m trying my best to listen
    and not talk so much, like you told me to a few times already.”

    “Oi! Tuscan, strolling about our flaming city, talking
    with such . . . refinement,” a voice called out nearby.
    “Stop here for a second if you can spare the time.
    I can tell where you’re from by the way you talk,
    and Florence is such a noble city—with which
    I may have been a little harsh in the past.”

    These words came clearly from one of the burning
    graves, and, of course, I was startled and must have
    moved closer to Virgil without thinking.
    “What are you doing?” he asked, looking at me.
    “Have a look over there at Farinata. You can only
    see him from the waist up because of the flames.”

    I turned to stare at the guy, who puffed
    out his chest and held his nose up
    as if in disdain of Hell itself.
    Virgil nudged me toward him a little
    and told me to go over to him.
    “Just be careful what you say,” he warned.

    When I came near the edge of his grave, Farinata
    looked me up and down, and with serious attitude,
    he asked, “And who might your family be?”

    I was happy to answer such a simple
    question and told him my whole story.
    When I was finished, he cocked an eyebrow
    and scoffed, “Your folks were vicious enemies
    of my own family and my party. I had
    to chase them out of Florence. Twice.”

    “We were expelled, sure, but we always came back from
    wherever we were,” I said, “Twice, even. And returning is
    something your kin never figured out how to do!”

    But right then, in the same open grave, another ghost
    rose up—but only enough that his head was sticking out.
    He must’ve been on his knees or something.
    He looked all around, obviously hoping
    there was someone else with me, but when
    he figured it was just me, he started crying.
    “If you’re here by some divine force that
    carries you through this oblivion, where is my son?
    Why isn’t he with you?” he asked through his tears.

    “I didn’t want to come down here,” I explained to him.
    “And I’m not alone. That guy over there is Virgil,
    the one Guido avoided back in the day. He’s
    been showing me around.” (I had taken a
    guess at who the ghost was by his question
    and by where he was down here.)
    As soon as I said that, the guy sprang up and shouted,
    “What? Avoided? Past tense? You mean he’s dead?
    Does the sweet breath of life no longer pass his lips?”

    It took me a minute to think of what to say to him. I figured these
    guys knew everything and I was surprised by his question—
    it didn’t make sense. But before I could say anything, he
    dropped back into the fire. Farinata just stood there looking
    at me like nothing had happened with the other sinner,
    as though the guy hadn’t even been there at all.
    He kept ranting, exactly where we left off:
    “If my family hasn’t figured out how to regain power,”
    he said, “that’s more painful news to me than this fire.
    The moon face of Hecate who watches over this place
    won’t pass more than fifty months before your party
    figures out how hard it is to come back from defeat.
    And because you may get back to Earth, tell me:
    Why do your people create laws that are
    so unjust toward my party and my family?”

    “Those laws were written as a result of the long
    war and the terrible bloodshed that turned
    the stream Arbia red with blood,” I answered.

    He shook his head and furrowed his brow.
    “It wasn’t just me,” he said. “And I wouldn’t have
    fought if I didn’t think the cause was worthy.
    But I was the only one who stood tall
    when the rest wanted Florence razed.
    I was ready to defend her.”

    “And now, because I can’t help but hope all the
    best for you,” I said. “There’s something I don’t
    understand that keeps bothering me:
    If I get this right, all you guys down
    here can see the future, right? But why
    can’t you see things happening right now?”

    “Ah,” he started, “down here, we’re farsighted
    like those who only see clearly what’s off in
    the distance. But at least we’re not totally blind.
    When things happen closer in the moment, our
    minds are empty. If it wasn’t for new arrivals,
    we wouldn’t know anything about the world and
    what’s going on now. So you can understand how
    we don’t know anything at all once Judgment Day
    comes and we’re unable to see the future.”

    I started to feel bad about how I’d been acting
    and said, “Will you tell your roommate that
    his son’s still around, that he hasn’t died yet.
    And if he wonders why I didn’t say anything
    when he asked me, tell him that it was because
    I was confused—I figured he already knew.”

    My guide started calling me back, but before I
    went, I asked the guy who else was in the tombs
    around this neighborhood in Dis.

    “There are over a thousand here,” he said
    “Like Emperor Frederick II, Cardinal Ubaldini,
    Anton LaVey. There are too many to name.”

    He sank down again in the flames, and as I walked over
    to Virgil I thought about all the nasty stuff that the guy
    had said about me and my party and the future.

    We started walking and Virgil asked, “What’s wrong?
    You seem very worried about something.”
    After I relayed the conversation, he warned,
    “Be sure to remember the things he said
    against you. And listen closely.”
    He raised one finger for emphasis.
    “When you finally get to your beloved Beatrice—
    and remember, she sees everything—
    you’ll learn from her the rest of your life’s trip.”
    He turned, and we left the walls and
    headed toward the middle of town down this little
    path along a valley. Even though we were high up,
    the putrid smell from below still made us gag.


    The Divine Comedy: Inferno by Dante Alighieri (translated by J.G. Nichols); pages 119-25 (CANTO XII):

    The place we came to, for our journey down,
    Was strewn with rocks; and there was something else,
    And such as anybody’s eyes would shun.
    Like that landslip, this side of Trent, which struck
    The River Adige on its left bank –
    Whether through faulty shoring or earthquake –
    Where from the mountain-top down to the plain
    The rocks are shattered and all heaped up so
    They give some footing to one climbing down –
    Such was the way to get into that pit.
    And, on the broken chasm’s very brink,
    Spreadeagled, lay the infamy of Crete,
    Who was conceived inside a cow-like cage;*
    And catching sight of us, he bit himself,
    Like somebody consumed with inward rage.
    My sage called out to him: ‘Could it be said
    That you believe this is the Duke of Athens [Theseus]
    At whose hands, in the world above, you died?
    But no! Be off! This man has not come here
    Under your sister’s artful tutelage,**
    But to observe the torments you endure.’


    *The Minotaur, half man and half bull, the offspring of Pasiphae (wife of King Minos of Crete) and a bull. Pasiphae ordered the construction of a wooden cow, into which she placed herself to receive the bull.

    **Theseus was provided by Ariadne, the Minotaur’s half-sister, with a sword to kill the monster, and a ball of thread by which to retrace his steps out of the labyrinth where the monster was kept.


    Now like a bull that breaks its bondage at
    The instant it receives the fatal blow,
    And cannot walk, but goes plunging about –
    That’s how I saw the Minotaur behave.
    Quickly my guide cried out: ‘Make for the pass –
    You’d best descend while he is in this rage.’
    And so we made our way: under my feet
    Rocks and stones were frequently dislodged,
    Because of all the unaccustomed weight.
    I went on, lost in thought. He said: ‘You will
    Be thinking of that fall of rocks watched over
    By the brute wrath I managed to control.
    Now I would have you know, the first time when
    I came down here and into nether hell
    This mass of rocks had not yet fallen down.
    But, if I’m not mistaken, a short while
    Before He came, who took away from Dis,
    And from the highest circle, glorious spoil,*
    This deep and dirty hollow all around
    Shuddered so much I think the universe
    Felt love, by which it has been often turned,
    As some believe, to chaos once again.
    And at that point this ancient mass of rocks,
    Both here, and elsewhere like this, tumbled down.**
    But look down there, and look intently: we’ll
    Soon be beside the stream of blood, where those
    Who in their violence injure others boil.’
    O blind cupidity and senseless anger,
    Which goad us on throughout our little life,
    Then soak us in such anguish, and for ever!
    I saw a ditch bent in a curve and broad,
    Encircling as it went the entire level,
    Just as my guide, some time before, had said.
    Between it and the scarp I saw some running:
    A file of centaurs, armed with bows and arrows,
    As, in the world above, they went out hunting.
    As we came down, they stopped and stood there steady,
    And three of them broke ranks and stared at us,
    Holding their bows and arrows at the ready.
    One shouted from far off: ‘Tell me to what
    Punishment you are coming down the slope.
    Tell me from where you are. If not, I’ll shoot.’
    My master said: ‘Our answer will be made
    To Chiron, when we get to where he is:
    You always were too quick for your own good.’
    Then he nudged me, ‘That was Nessus,’ he said,
    ‘Who died for the lovely Deianira, and
    Took vengeance for himself when he was dead.***
    That big one in the middle, with bowed head,
    Is the great Chiron, guardian of Achilles.
    The other’s Pholus, known for his bad blood.****


    *A reference to Christ’s Harrowing of Hell after the Crucifixion, His rescue of the souls of patriarchs and prophets from Limbo (‘the highest circle’).

    **A reference to the earthquake which accompanied the Crucifixion. Virgil, a pagan, tries to understand this in the light of the Empedoclean idea that the supervention of harmony, or love, in creation results in disorder. Virgil speaks more truly than he realises, in that the Crucifixion is love in action.

    ***He tried to rape Deianira, and was killed by her husband, Heracles. Before he died Nessus told Deianira to take his shirt covered with his blood to use as a love charm. She gave it to Heracles, and when he put it on, it turned out to be poisonous and he was killed.

    ****He provoked the famous fight, at a wedding feast, between the centaurs and Lapiths.


    They run in thousands by the stream, and shoot
    At any guilty soul who lifts himself
    Out of the blood beyond what is his lot.’*
    And now, as we were getting near to those
    Quick creatures, Chiron, with an arrow’s nock,
    Brushed back his beard on both sides from his jaws.
    And when his big mouth was disclosed for speech,
    He said to his companions: ‘Have you noticed
    The one behind moving what his feet touch?
    Feet of the dead don’t usually do that.’
    And my good guide, already at that breast
    Where the two natures of the creatures meet,
    Answered: ‘He’s certainly alive, and he
    Comes here that I may show him this dark valley.
    Not pleasure brings him, but necessity.
    She [Beatrice] came from singing songs of praise who laid
    This charge upon me, novel as it was:
    He is no robber, I’m no thieving shade.
    But by that power through which I am allowed
    To go on such a rugged journey, give us
    One of your band whom we may stay beside,
    And, following the stream, let him show where
    To ford it, bearing this man on his crupper:
    He is no spirit to fly through the air.’
    Then Chiron turned and yelled to the right hand,
    Commanding Nessus: ‘Come, and be their guide,
    And clear the way of any other band.’**


    *The depth to which the violent are immersed in the boiling blood varies according to the gravity of their sin.

    **These centaurs are frequently referred to in military terms. They are reminiscent of the roving bands of mercenaries and brigands who troubled Italy in Dante’s day.


    And so, together with our faithful guide,
    We went beside the boiling, crimson river;
    I heard the high-pitched shrieks of those being boiled.
    I saw some there up to their eyebrows under;
    And the huge centaur told us: ‘They are tyrants
    Who liked to soak their hands in blood and plunder.
    They pay for pitiless brutality –
    Alexander*, and fierce Dionysius**
    Who gave such years of grief to Sicily.
    That brow on which the hair is very black
    Is Ezzelino***; and the other, fair,
    Obizzo da Este****, who indeed was struck
    Down by the hand of his unnatural son.’*****


    *Presumably, since the name lacks any qualification, Alexander the Great.

    **Dionysius the Elder, who died in 367 BC, after a tyrannous reign of thirty-eight years.

    ***Ezzelino III da Romana, 1194-1259.

    ****Obizzo da Este, 1264-93.

    *****The centaur confirms the rumour that Obizzo was killed by his son.


    I then turned to the poet, and he said:
    ‘Listen to him now, and me later on.’
    A little further and the centaur stood
    Beside a group that even to their necks
    Appeared to rise above the boiling blood.
    He pointed to one separated shade,
    Saying: ‘That man, within God’s bosom, pierced
    The heart that by the Thames still drips with blood.’*
    Then I saw people keeping their heads raised,
    And even their whole chests, above the river;
    And quite a few of these I recognised.
    So bit by bit I saw the boiling blood
    Go shallower, until it scalded feet
    And nothing else; and here we crossed the ford.
    ‘Just as on this side, as you must have seen,
    The stream goes shallower and shallower,’
    The centaur said, ‘so now I must explain
    That on the other side its bed sinks down
    Deeper and deeper, till we come once more
    To there where tyranny is made to groan.


    *Guy de Montfort, son of the famous Simon de Montfort, in 1271 murdered his first cousin in a church. The heart of his victim was kept in a reliquary in London: it is said to be still bleeding because the death went unavenged. He is set apart from the other shades because of the peculiar horror of his sin.


    And so God’s justice on the far side stings
    That Atilla* who was a scourge on earth,
    Pyrrhus**, and Sextus***; and forever wrings
    Tears out from those being boiled – Rinier de’ Pazzi
    And Rinier da Corneto,**** two who made
    Our roads the scene of action in their wars.’
    Then he turned round, and back across the ford.


    *King of the Huns (406-53), known as ‘the scourge of God’.

    **Probably the son of Achilles, whose cruelty after the fall of Troy is described by Virgil in his Aeneid.

    ***Probably the son of Pompey the Great, a pirate who was put to death in 35 BC.

    ****Rinieri de’Pazzi, a notorious highway robber, died before 1280; Rinieri da Corneto, a contemporary of Dante, was a bandit chief who operated on the roads leading into Rome.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLHa3x02reA

    Dante’s Inferno (adapted by Sandow Birk and Marcus Sanders); pages 69-74 (CANTO XII):

    ARGUMENT
    Climbing down a rock-strewn path into the Seventh Circle, they come across the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull monster that barks at them. Virgil heckles the beast into such a rage that they’re able to slip past it. They come to a river of boiling blood where those who have committed the sins of Violence against others are immersed. A herd of Centaurs watches the river, firing arrows at anyone who tries to stay above the bubbling surface too long. Virgil asks the Centaur leader Chiron if one of the creatures can give them a ride across the river, and Chiron commands Nessus to guide them. As they walk along, Nessus tells the two about some of the sinners in the river, pointing out Attila the Hun, Hitler, Alexander the Great, Pol Pot, and several people from Dante’s hometown of Florence. They cross at a shallow spot, and Nessus heads back and leaves them there.

    Where we started to go down into the Seventh Circle
    was stony, sure, but there was something else
    that made the whole scene totally bizarre.
    It reminded me of the crumbled freeways
    in Oakland after the Loma Prieta earthquake—
    rubble and cement, burning fires and fallen girders.
    The trail that led down the mountain was
    littered with smashed-up bits of rock all
    the way down to the bottom of the valley,
    making it really hard going, almost climbing.
    As we scrambled down the rocky path, we came
    across the Minotaur, the legendary monster of Crete
    who was conceived from a bull and a woman inside a
    wooden cow. When he saw us, he freaked out by biting
    himself, growling at us, and going psycho.

    Virgil yelled out at him, “Get down, you beast!
    Maybe you think this is your murderer, the Duke
    of Athens, coming back to kill you again? Get out of
    here, you ogre, because this pilgrim didn’t follow your
    sister’s thread down here. He’s just here to observe
    your Hell and hopefully learn something from it.”

    It was as if Virgil’s words were actual punches that stunned
    the monster. The thing started twisting and squirming and
    jumping around—confused because it was so mad. It reminded
    me of when Moe hits Curly in the eyes and Curly starts barking.
    Virgil expected that and yelled to me, “Quick, start running!
    Get down the trail while he’s consumed with rage!”

    We slipped past the beast and kept on down the trail.
    The rocks were loose and kept shifting around under
    my feet, as if they had recently fallen and hadn’t settled
    yet. I was thinking about it when Virgil turned to me
    and asked, “Are you thinking about that pile of rubble
    that the Minotaur was trying to guard before I
    irritated the beast? I should tell you about
    the last time I was down in this part of Hell.
    These rocks hadn’t fallen yet, but if I remember
    correctly, it was right before Jesus came down
    to take some of the worthy souls back up to
    Heaven with Him. This whole stench-filled pit
    started rocking with a huge earthquake,
    as if all Hell was being shaken by the conflict
    with the love of Heaven. Even now, many think
    the universe was born from anarchy. That was when
    these rocks came down. Not just around here, but
    everywhere down here. And if you take a look down into
    the valley, you’ll soon be able to see the river of blood that
    boils and cooks the sinners as punishment for the ones
    who used Violence and hurt others in their lives above.”

    Blind greed and useless anger can drive
    our whole lives on Earth, only to lead us
    to a bitter forever in the City of Dis, I thought.

    Before long, I could see a wide river, curved like an
    offramp, that stretched throughout the whole valley—
    just like Virgil had described it. Between the river
    and the mountain walls, a herd of Centaurs
    came riding toward us in single file, carrying
    bows and arrows like they were hunting.
    When they caught sight of us, they stopped
    together and three of them came toward
    us slowly with their bows and arrows at the ready.
    As they drew near, one of them called out,
    “Stop where you are and tell us what punishment
    you have been sent for, or I’ll shoot you on the spot!”

    But again, Virgil stood his ground and called back,
    “We’ll explain it only to Chiron, because you’re upset
    and out of line, which is not unexpected.” He motioned
    to the speakers and said to me, “That’s Nessus, who tried to
    rape Hercules’s wife, Deïaneira. Hercules killed him for it,
    but Nessus ended up getting his revenge on both of them in the end.
    The one in the middle who seems lost in thought
    is the great Chiron. It’s rumored that he taught Achilles.
    And the last Centaur is Pholus; he tried to rape a bride once.
    There’s a whole horde of them—it’s their job to gallop
    around this bloody pit and shoot at anyone who tries to
    rise above their prescribed depth of punishment.”

    As we got nearer to the Centaurs, the one
    called Chiron slotted an arrow and drew
    his bow back so far that it parted the beard
    on his chin. He took aim at us and held it.
    “Check out how that guy seems to move the
    very rocks he walks on,” he said to the others,
    “That’s not what dead men do!”

    Virgil stopped in front of him, his head coming
    up to where Chiron’s body met his horse legs.
    “Of course he’s alive,” Virgil said. “I’m guiding
    him through this wretched valley. This is not
    some vacation; he’s here to learn a lesson.
    Beatrice was the one who came down and
    Ordered me to guide him. He’s not a
    drifter, and I’m no criminal. She has helped
    us get this far, and the path has been
    difficult. Assist us by lending us one of
    your companions as a guide through here.
    If he could take us to the creek and carry this
    pilgrim over it on his back, we’d be grateful.
    As you can see, he’s just a mortal and can’t fly.”

    Chiron motioned to Nessus and said, “You’re up.
    Take these poor guys wherever they want to go,
    and make sure no one messes with them.”

    Nessus led us along the bank of that bloody
    and stinking river, and all you could hear
    was the wails of the boiling souls. There
    were people in the blood up to their eyelids, and
    as we went, Nessus explained, “These fuckers are
    the tyrants who loved war and taking advantage
    of others in life, but look who’s crying now, eh?
    There’s Alexander, and the tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse,
    who made Sicily feel the pain. There’s Sesi Seko, Mussolini,
    Kissinger, and Saddam Hussein, and just over there is
    Christopher Columbus, and Azzolino the Massacrer, with the
    black hair on his forehead. The blond guy is Opizzo d’Este,
    who, I kid you not, was killed by his very own bastard kid.”

    I looked over to Virgil for an explanation, but he said,
    “Listen to what he’s saying; don’t look at me.”

    Farther along, Nessus stopped in front of some people
    in the river who were in the blood up to their necks.
    He pointed out a soul who was off to one side
    by himself and said, “That’s Guy de Montfort.
    He killed Prince Henry in church. Later, Henry’s
    heart was displayed on London Bridge in honor.”

    I could see other souls in the river who seemed able
    to keep their whole head and chest above the bloody
    surface, and I recognized heaps of them. As we walked
    on, the river of blood seemed to be getting shallower
    until it just came up only to the sinners’ feet.
    It was there that we finally crossed to the other bank.

    “See how it gets shallower here?” Nessus asked as we
    crossed. “How it gets shallower gradually the
    farther we go? Well, check this out: At the other
    end of the river, it does just the opposite. It gets
    deeper and deeper until it reaches its deepest point.
    That’s where the serious tyrants are condemned,
    and that’s where the punishment is gnarly. Atilla the Hun
    is down there, so is Pyrrhus who killed the king of Troy,
    Charlie Manson, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Pinochet, and Hitler.
    Don’t think all that boiling blood doesn’t smart a little.
    Corneto and Pazzo, the highway robbers, are down at that end,
    too, and Reagan and Bush (both of them) with a bunch of others.”

    With that, Nessus started back and left us.



    Last edited by HERO; 06-14-2018 at 08:23 PM.

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