The same tongue which had first so stung me
That it made the blood rush to both my cheeks
Then delivered the antidote to me.
So I have heard the lance that Achilles
5 Had from his father used to be the cause
First of a hurtful, then of a healing, stroke.
We turned our backs upon the woeful pit,
Climbing up the bank that rings it round
And crossing it without a word between us.
10 Here it was less than night and less than day,
So that my sight could scarcely press ahead —
But then I heard so loud a bugle blast
It would have made a thunderclap sound faint.
At this, my eyes, following their way backward,
15 Drew their full focus straight to a single spot.
After the heartbreaking debacle, when
Charlemagne had lost his sacred rearguard,
The horn of Roland sounded less foreboding.
To that spot I had briefly turned my head
20 When I seemed to see high serried towers.
"Tell me, master," I asked, "what city is this?"
And he replied, "Because you penetrate
Into the darkness from too far away,
Your imagination strays into confusion.
25 "When you reach there, then you shall clearly see
How much the distance has deceived your senses:
For that reason, spur yourself on faster,"
Then lovingly he took me by the hand
And said, "Before we move any farther forward,
30 That the reality may seem less strange,
"Know this: they are not towers, they are giants!
And all of them around the steep embankment
Are plunged up to their navels in the well."
Just as, when foggy mist is blowing off,
35 The staring eyes bit by bit figure out
What it is the airy vapors hide,
So, while I pierced the thick dark atmosphere
And came up closer and closer to the brink,
Error fled from me and fear grew stronger.
40 For, as upon its rounded rampart wall
Montereggion is crowned with towers,
So here these huge horrendous giants, whom Jove
Still threatens from heaven when he thunders,
With half their bodies towered high above
45 The bank that winds around the sunken hole.
And by now I’d made out the face of one,
His shoulders and chest, much of his stomach,
And, down along his sides, both of his arms.
Nature surely, when she quit the art
50 Of shaping brutes like these, did the right thing
To rob Mars of such executioners.
And even though she has not yet repented
Of elephants and whales, he who looks wisely
Will hold that here she is more just and prudent,
55 Since where the reasoning faculty of the mind
Is joined to evil will and naked power,
Then people can find no defense against it.
His face appeared to me as long and broad
As is the pine cone at Saint Peter’s in Rome,
60 And all his other bones were in proportion,
So that the bank, which acted as an apron
From the middle downward, revealed in full
So much of him above that three Frieslanders
Would boast in vain of reaching to his hair,
65 For I viewed thirty spans of him down from
The place a person buckles up his cloak.
"Raphel mai amecche zabi almi!"
He began babbling with his beastly mouth
For which no sweeter psalm was better suited.
70 And my guide turned toward him, "You stupid soul,
Stick to your horn and vent yourself with that
Whenever rage or other passions grip you!
"Grope at your neck and you will find the strap
That holds your horn on tight, you scatterbrain,
75 And look at where it rests on your large chest!"
Then he told me, "He stands there self-accused:
This is Nimrod, by whose bad idea
The world no longer uses just one language.
"Leave him there and we won’t lose time in talk,
80 For every language is the same to him
As is his to others: all are unknown tongues."
After that we took up our long journey,
Turning leftward, and at a bowshot’s distance,
We found one more far fiercer, larger giant.
85 Who might the master be who tied him up
I cannot say, but someone there had pinned
His left arm to his back, his right in front,
Both shackled by a chain which held him bound
From the neck down, and on the part exposed
90 It looped five times down around his torso.
"This proud giant wished to test his prowess
Against the power of the most high Jove,"
My guide told me; "this is the prize he won!
"His name is Ephialtes. He proved his huge
95 Strength when the giants struck fear in the gods.
The arms he used, he shall not move again."
And I told him, "If possible, I’d like
My own eyes to have the experience
Of that prodigious hulk Briareus."
100 To this he answered, "Near here you shall see
Antaeus, who can talk and goes unfettered:
He’ll place us on the bottom pit of sin.
"The one you want to see lies farther off,
And he is chained and shaped like this one here
105 Except his looks are even more ferocious."
No shock of earthquake ever shook a tower
With greater violence than did Ephialtes
All of a sudden shake himself with rage.
Then more than ever did I fear to die,
110 And the fear might have been enough to do it
If I had not already spied his shackles.
We left him to continue on our way,
And came to Antaeus, who rose five ells,
Not reckoning his head, above the rockbed.
115 "O you — who, in that fortunate valley
Where Scipio became the heir of glory
When Hannibal withdrew with all his men,
"Took once a thousand lions as your prey
And, if you had been with your brothers there
120 In their high war, as seems some still believe,
"The sons of earth would have won victory —
Set us down below, where cold locks in
Cocytus, and do not disdain to do it!
"Force us not to go to Tityus or Typhon:
125 This man can grant you what they long for here;
And so bend down and do not curl your lip.
"He still can make you famous in the world,
For he lives, and looks forward to long life,
Unless grace calls him back before his time."
130 So spoke my master, and in haste the giant
Stretched out his hands, whose tremendous grip
Hercules once felt, and clasped my guide.
Virgil, when he felt hands grasping him,
Called to me, "Come here, so I can hold you!"
135 And then he made himself and me one bundle.
As the Garisenda tower appears to look
From under its leaning side when clouds pass over
On the opposite direction it hangs in,
So Antaeus looked to me while I watched
140 Him bending over, and at such a moment
I wished that I had gone some other way.
But gently at that bottom which swallows
Lucifer with Judas, he put us down
And did not stay bent over us for long,
145 But rose up like the mainmast of a ship.
At the time when Juno waxed so wrathful
Over Semele, against the Theban bloodline,
That again and again she showed her fury,
She drove Athamas to such a fit of madness
5 That, on seeing his wife with their two sons
Whom she carried one on each arm, he cried,
"Let’s spread the nets out so that we can catch
The lioness and cubs as they pass by!"
And then he stretched out his clawed ruthless hands
10 And, snatching up the son named Learchus,
Swung him around and dashed him on a rock.
She, with her other child, drowned herself.
And after Fortune wheeled down to the ground
15 The all-daring pride of Troy, so that the king,
Along with his kingdom, was devastated,
Hecuba, depressed, bereft, and captive,
After she had seen Polyxena slain
And, to her grief, her Polydorus cast up
20 On the shore of the sea, out of her senses,
Barked like a dog, so profoundly had
Her sorrow twisted this poor mother’s mind.
But neither the Theban nor the Trojan wrath
In ripping animals and human limbs
Was ever seen so cruel against another
25 As the two shadows I saw, stripped and pallid,
Biting and running in the selfsame way
A hog behaves when let out of the sty.
One came straight at Capocchio and sank
His tusks into his scruff and, dragging him,
30 Scraped his stomach against the stony floor.
And the one left behind, the Aretine,
Shivering said, "That ghoul is Gianni Schicchi,
And he goes rabid, like that, mauling others."
"Oh," I said to him, "so may the other shade
35 Never sink teeth in you, kindly tell me
Who that one is before it rushes off."
And he told me, "That is the ancient spirit
Of Myrrha, the debased soul, who became,
Outside of rightful love, her father’s friend.
40 "In this fashion she came to sin with him,
Pretending that her body was someone else’s,
Just as the other ghoul who runs off there,
"That he might win the lady of the herd,
Disguised himself as Buoso Donati,
45 Writing a will to make the whole sham legal."
And when that raging pair had scurried off —
I’d kept my eyes glued on them long enough —
I turned to watch the rest of the ill-bred crew.
I saw one sinner there shaped like a lute
50 If only he’d been cut off below the belt
At the groin where the body forks in two.
The bloating dropsy which can so mismatch
The limbs with its ill-digested fluids
That face and paunch are all out of proportion
55 Forced him to hold his lips out far apart,
Like the feverish man who in his thirst
Curls one lip down and curls the other up.
"O you who are free of all punishment
In this harsh wretched world — I don’t know why—"
60 He called out to us, "look and pay attention
"To the miserableness of Master Adam.
I had in life all that I ever wanted
And now, poor wretch, I long for a drop of water.
"The streamlets flowing from the greening hills
65 Of Casentino down into the Arno,
Creating cool and moistening currents,
"Forever rise before me — I have no rest —
The image of the streams makes me thirst more
Than the malady that thins out my face.
70 "The stern Justice which torments me here
Uses the landscape in which my sins occurred
To hasten the swift flight of my deep sighs.
"There is Romena, where I counterfeited
The currency stamped with the Baptist’s head.
75 For this I left my body up there, burned.
"But if I here could see the stricken souls
Of Guido, Alexander, or their brother,
I would not change the view for Branda’s fountain.
"One’s here inside already, if what the raging
80 Shades who race around report is true.
But what good does that do me: my limbs are tied.
"If only I were lighter, so I could
Advance one inch in every hundred years,
I should by now have set out on the road
85 "To search for him among these deformed people,
Although the road runs some eleven miles
Around and more than half a mile across.
"It’s thanks to them that I am in this family:
The three persuaded me to coin the florins
90 With gold which had three carats of alloy."
And I inquired, "Who are those two drudges,
Steaming like wet hands in wintertime?
They lie close to you on your right-hand side."
"I found them here when I rained into this gorge,"
95 He answered, "and they have not stirred since,
And I believe that they will never budge.
"She is the wife who falsely accused Joseph,
The other is false Sinon, the Greek from Troy.
Their burning fever makes their bodies reek."
100 And one of them, appearing to take offense,
Perhaps at being named so negatively,
Punched his fist at Adam’s stretched-out paunch.
The paunch reverberated like a drum,
And Master Adam smashed him in the face
105 With a hook just as hard, telling him,
"I may be kept from moving by the weight
Of these swollen limbs, but I have an arm
Free and cocked to serve for such occasions!"
To this the other answered, "When you marched
110 To the fire, it wasn’t so ready then:
But it was plenty ready when you coined!"
And the one with dropsy: "That’s telling the truth!
But you were no such witness to the truth
There, when asked to tell the truth at Troy!"
115 "If I spoke false, you falsified the coins,"
Said Sinon, "And I am here for one crime,
But you for more than any other devil."
"Just recall the horse, you perjurer,"
The one with the bloated belly replied,
120 "And suffer, since the whole world knows of it!"
"And thirst that cracks your tongue torture you,"
Cried back the Greek, "and the foul bilge swell up
Your guts to hedge-size right before your eyes!"
Then the coiner: "So your mouth pops wide,
125 Feverish with filth as usual;
But if I’m thirsty and fluids bulge me out,
"You’ve gotten burning heat and an aching head!
For you to lap up the mirror of Narcissus
You wouldn’t need a lot of words of coaxing!"
130 I was all involved in listening to them
When my master said, "Now keep on looking
A little longer and I’ll quarrel with you!"
When I heard him speak to me in anger,
I turned toward him with such a rush of shame
135 That still it churns round in my memory.
Like someone dreaming that he is in danger
And in his dream he wishes he were dreaming,
Desiring what really is as though it were not,
140 So I acted, unable to say a word:
I wanted to ask pardon and did ask
Pardon meanwhile, not thinking that I did.
"Less shame would wash away a graver fault
Than yours has been," my master said to me;
145 "Therefore, rid yourself of all regret.
"If ever again fortune should find you
Where people loiter for such wrangling,
Then realize that always I am with you:
"To choose to hear such barbs is a base choice."
Who could ever, even in straight prose
And after much retelling, tell in full
The bloodletting and wounds that I now saw?
Each tongue that tried would certainly trip up
5 Because our speaking and remembering
Cannot comprehend the scope of pain.
Were all those men gathered again together
Who once in the fateful land of Apulia
Mourned the lifeblood spilled by the Trojans,
10 And those who shed their blood in the long war
In which the spoils were a mound of golden rings,
As Livy has unerringly informed us,
And those also who felt the painful gashes
In the onslaught against Robert Guiscard,
15 And those others whose bones are still stacked up
At Ceperano where all the Apulians
Turned traitors, and those too from Tagliacozzo
Where old Alardo conquered without weapons,
And those who show their limbs run through and those
20 With limbs hacked off — they all could not have matched
The ninth pocket’s degraded state of grief.
Even a cask with bottom or sides knocked out
Never cracked so wide as one soul I saw
Burst open from the chin to where one farts.
25 His guts were hanging out between his legs;
His pluck gaped forth and that disgusting sack
Which turns to shit what throats have gobbled down.
While I was all agog with gazing at him,
He stared at me and, as his two hands pulled
30 His chest apart, cried, "Look how I rip myself!
"Look at how mangled is Mohammed here!
In front of me, Ali treks onward, weeping,
His face cleft from his chin to his forelock.
"And all the others whom you see down here
35 Were sowers of scandal and schism while
They lived, and for this they are rent in two.
"A devil goes in back here who dresses us
So cruelly by trimming each one of the pack
With the fine cutting edge of his sharp sword
40 "Whenever we come round this forlorn road:
Because by then our old wounds have closed up
Before we pass once more for the next blow.
"But who are you, moping upon that ridge
Perhaps to put off facing the penalty
45 Pronounced on you by your own accusations?"
"Death has not yet reached him, nor guilt led him
To the torture here," — my master answered,
"But, to offer him the full experience,
"I who am dead am destined to guide him
50 From circle to circle down here into hell,
And, as surely as I speak to you, it’s true."
More than a hundred, when they heard him, halted
Inside the ditch to peer at me in wonder,
Forgetting their torments for the moment.
55 "Tell Brother Dolcino then, you who perhaps
Shortly shall see the sun, to arm himself
With food — unless he wants to follow me
"Here promptly — so that the weight of snow
Does not bring victory to the Novarese
60 Who otherwise would not find winning easy."
With one foot lifted in the air to go,
Mohammed addressed these words to me,
Then set the foot back on the ground and left.
Another sinner with his throat lanced through
65 And with his nose carved off up to the eyebrows
And with only a single ear remaining
Stopped with the rest to stare in amazement,
And, before they could, he opened wide his windpipe,
Which on the outside looked bright red, and said,
70 "O you whom guilt does not condemn and whom
I have seen in the land of Italy,
Unless a strong resemblance now deceives me,
"Remember Pier da Medicina should you
Ever return to view the gentle plain
75 Which slopes from Vercelli to Marcabò,
"And make known to the two best men of Fano,
To Messers Guido and Angiolello,
That, unless our foresight here be worthless,
"They shall be thrown overboard from their ship
80 And sunk with stones near La Cattolica
Through the treachery of a felon tyrant.
"Between the islands of Cyprus and Majorca
Neptune never saw a crime more heinous
By raiding pirates or the ancient Argives.
85 "That one-eyed traitor — who rules over the city
On which someone here with me would prefer
That he had never fed his single sight —
"Shall first arrange for them a parley with him,
Then act to make sure that they will not need
90 Vows or prayers against Focara’s headwinds."
And I told him, "If you want me to carry
News of you above, point out and tell me
Who is the one who rues sighting the city?"
At that he gripped a hand upon the jaw
95 Of his companion and forced his mouth agape,
Shouting, "Here’s the one, but he doesn’t talk!
"This chap in exile submerged all the doubts
Of Caesar, boasting that one well prepared
Can only suffer loss by hesitation."
100 Oh how flabbergasted he appeared to me,
With his tongue slashed in his throat — Curio,
Who once had been so resolute in speaking!
And one who had both of his hands chopped off,
Raising up his stumps in the smut-filled air
105 So that the blood besmeared and soiled his face,
Cried out, "You will also remember Mosca
Who said, alas, ‘What’s done is dead and gone!’
That sowed the seed of trouble for the Tuscans!"
And I added, "— and for your kinsfolk, death!"
110 With that the sinner, sorrow heaped on sorrow,
Scurried away like one gone mad with grief.
But I stayed there to inspect that muster
And spied something that I should be afraid
To tell of on my own without more proof,
115 Had I not the assurance of my conscience,
The good companion heartening a man
Beneath the breastplate of its pure intention.
I saw for sure — and still I seem to see it —
A body without a head that walked along
120 Just as the others in that sad herd were walking,
But it held the severed head by the hair,
Swinging it like a lantern in its hand,
And the head stared at us and said, "Ah me!"
Itself had made a lamp of its own self,
125 And they were two in one and one in two:
How can that be? He knows who so ordains it.
When it was right at the base of the bridge,
It raised up full length the arm with the head
To carry closer to us words, which were:
130 "Now you see the galling punishment,
You there, breathing, come visiting the dead:
See if you find pain heavier than this!
"And so that you may bring back news of me,
Know that I am Bertran de Born, the one
135 Who offered the young king corrupt advice.
"I made the son and father rebel foes.
Achitophel with his pernicious promptings
Did no worse harm to Absalom and David.
"Because I severed persons bound so closely,
140 I carry my brain separate (what grief!)
From its life-source which is within this trunk.
"So see in me the counterstroke of justice."
By this time the flame stood straight and still
With no more words and by now took its leave
With the permission of the gentle poet
When another, coming right behind it,
5 Forced us to turn our eyes toward its tip
Because of the scrambled sound it sputtered out.
As the Sicilian bull — that bellowed first
With cries of the man (it served him right!)
Who with his file had tuned the beast for torture —
10 Would bellow so loudly with its victim’s voice
Within it that, though the whole was brass
The thing seemed penetrated by the pain:
So, without a way out or through the soul
Burning inside the flame, the words of woe
15 Then became the language of the fire.
But after the voices found their own way up
Through the tip, giving it the tremble which
The tongue had given to the fiery passage,
We heard the flame: "O you to whom I turn
20 My voice and who, speaking in Lombard, said,
‘Now you may leave, I ask no more of you,’
"Although, perhaps, I come a little late,
Take the trouble to stop and speak to me:
See, it shan't trouble me, and I am burning.
25 "If you just now fell down to this blind world
Out of that sweet country of Italy
From which I carry all my guilt, tell me,
"Do the Romagnoles have peace or war?
For I came from the mountains between Urbino
30 And the range where the Tiber fountains forth."
I still leaned out, bent and listening,
When my guide nudged me on my side and said,
"You talk to him: this one is Italian."
And I, already eager to respond,
35 Began to speak up without hesitation:
"O soul, hidden below there in that fire,
"Your Romagna is not now and never was
Free of war in the hearts of her tyrants,
But no war was waging when I left her.
40 "Ravenna, now many years, remains the same:
The eagle of Polenta broods over her
And also covers Cervia with his wings.
"Forlì, the city which once withstood the siege
And reduced the French to a bloody rubble,
45 Finds herself again beneath green talons.
"Both mastiffs, old and young, from Verrucchio,
Who kept such a poor watchout for Montagna,
Sink their teeth where they usually do.
"The cities on Lamone and Santerno
50 Are ruled by the lion-cub on the white lair
Who summer to winter shifts from side to side.
"Cesena, whose shore the Savio bathes,
Just as it lies between the plain and mountain,
Lives in-between tyranny and freedom.
55 "Now I beg you to tell us who you are:
Don’t be more stubborn than I’ve been with you
If in the world you’d like your name to last."
After the flame had roared on for some time
In its unique way, the pointed tip swayed
60 Back and forth and then released this breath:
"If I thought that my answer was to someone
Who might one day return up to the world,
This flame would never cease its flickering.
"However, since no one ever turned back, alive,
65 From this abyss — should what I hear be true —
Undaunted by infamy, I answer you.
"I was a man of arms and then a friar,
Thinking to atone, girt with the cincture,
And surely my thought would have proven right
70 "Had not that high priest (evil overtake him!)
Caused me to backslide into earlier crimes:
And how and why, I would you heard from me.
"While I was still bound by the bones and flesh
My mother gave me, the things I accomplished
75 Were not those of the lion but the fox.
"Its wiles and covert ways, I knew them all,
And I conducted their art so cunningly
My repute resounded to the ends of earth.
"But when I saw that I had reached the point
80 In my life when each man takes on the duty
To lower the sails and pull in the tackle,
"Things that once brought pleasure now gave pain.
Repentant and confessed, I joined the friars:
What a pity! And it would have worked!
85 "The crowned prince of the new Pharisees —
Going to war close to the Lateran
And not against the Saracens or Jews
"(Since every enemy of his was Christian
And not one of them had gone to conquer Acre
90 Or been a trader in the Sultan’s country) —
"Ignored the high office and holy orders
Belonging to him and ignored the cincture
Which once made men — like me — who wore it leaner:
"But just as Constantine sought out Sylvester
95 On Mount Soracte to heal his leprosy,
So he sought me to act as his physician
"To help heal him of the fever of his pride.
He asked me for my counsel — I kept quiet
Because his words seemed from a drunken stupor.
100 "Then he said, ‘Your heart need not mistrust:
I absolve you in advance and you instruct me
How to knock Penestrino to the ground.
" ‘I have the power to lock and unlock heaven,
You know that, because I keep the two keys
105 For which my predecessor took no care.’
"His weighty arguments so pressured me then
That silence seemed the worse course, and I said,
‘Father, since you cleanse me of that sin
" ‘Into which I now must fall — remember:
110 An ample promise with a small repayment
Shall bring you triumph on the lofty throne.’
"Francis — the moment that I died — came then
For me, but one of the black cherubim
Called to him, ‘Don’t take him! don’t cheat me!
115 " ‘He must come down to join my hirelings
Because he offered counsel full of fraud,
And ever since I’ve been after his scalp!
" ‘For you can’t pardon one who won’t repent,
And one cannot repent what one wills also:
120 The contradiction cannot be allowed.’
"O miserable me! how shaken I was
When he grabbed hold of me and cried, ‘Perhaps
You didn’t realize I was a logician!’
"He carried me off to Minos who twisted
125 His tail eight times around his hardened back,
Then bit it in gigantic rage and blared,
" ‘This is a sinner for the fire of thieves!’
So I am lost here where you see me go
Walking in this robe and in my rancor."
130 When he had finished speaking in this fashion,
The lamenting flame went away in sorrow,
Turning and tossing its sharp-pointed horn.
We traveled on ahead, my guide and I,
Along the ridge as far as the next bridgeway
135 Arching the ditch where they must pay the price
Who earned such loads by sowing constant discord
Be glad, Florence, for you are so great
That over sea and land you flap your wings
And throughout all of hell they spread your name.
Among the thieves I found five citizens
5 Of yours — I am ashamed of who they were —
And you are not raised to any heights of honor.
But if near dawn the dreams we have are true,
Then you shall feel, a little while from now,
What Prato and the others crave for you.
10 If it already happened it should not be
Too soon; I would it had, since it must be so!
The longer my wait, the heavier my burden.
We left there, and up by the jutting rocks
That served as stairs for our descent
15 My guide climbed once more and pulled me after.
And we followed along our solitary way
Among the crags and rockpiles of the ridge;
Without our hands our footing would have failed.
It grieved me then and now again it grieves me
20 When I direct my mind to what I saw
And more than usually I curb my talent
Lest it rush in where virtue fails to guide;
So, if a friendly star or something better
Has given me the gift, I don’t gainsay it.
25 As many fireflies as the peasant — who
Rests on a hillside in the season when
The one that lights the world hides his face least
And when the flies make way for the mosquitos —
Sees glittering below him in the valley
30 Where perhaps he harvests grapes and plows,
So many flames everywhere enkindled
The eighth pocket, as I myself perceived
As soon as I was there where one sees bottom.
And just as he who avenged himself with bears
35 Beheld Elijah’s chariot departing
With the rearing horses rising up to heaven,
But never could have followed it with his eyes
Except for the one flame that he kept watching
Just like a little cloud sailing skyward:
40 In this way each flame moved through the throat
Of that deep ditch, none showing what it stole,
Though every flame secreted its own sinner.
I stood straight, then leaned out on the bridge
To look — had I not grabbed a jutting rock
45 I would have toppled off without a push!
And my guide, seeing me so attentive,
Said, "Within those fires there are souls,
Each one swathed in its self-scorching torment."
"My master," I replied, "by hearing you
50 I’m even surer, but already I’d concluded
It was so, and wanted to ask you this:
"Who’s inside that approaching flame so split
On top that it seems to rise out of the pyre
Where Eteocles lay beside his brother?"
55 "Within that flame Ulysses and Diomede
Suffer tortures," he told me; "they go together
In punishment as once they went in wrath;
"And there inside their flame they grieve the ruse
By which the horse became the gate through which
60 The Roman’s noble seed has issued forth.
"There they mourn the trick that makes the slain
Deidamia still weep for Achilles,
And there they pay for the Palladium."
"If it is possible for them to talk
65 From within these flames," I said, "master, I pray
And pray again (may my prayer count a thousand!)
"That you will not deny my waiting here
Until the flame with two horns comes this way:
You see how I bend toward it with a passion!"
70 And he said to me, "Your request deserves
High praise, and for that reason, it is granted.
But you be certain to restrain your tongue.
"Allow me to talk to them: I comprehended
What is your wish, but they may show disdain,
75 Since they were Greeks, for your speaking to them."
After the flame had come to us, my guide,
Judging the time and place now to be ripe,
Spoke, and these are the words I heard him say:
"O you who here are two within one fire,
80 If I merited from you while I was living,
If I merited from you much praise or little
"When in the world I wrote my lofty lines,
Do not leave, but let one of you tell where,
By his own doing, he lost his way and died."
85 The greater of the horns of ancient flame
Started so to tremble, murmuring,
That it seemed like a flame breasting the wind.
And then, shaking the tip this way and that,
As if it were a tongue about to talk,
90 It launched outward a voice that uttered, "When
"I set sail from Circe who had ensnared me
For more than a year there near Gaëta —
Before Aeneas had given it that name —
"Not fondness for my son nor sense of duty
95 To my aged father nor the love I owed
Penelope to bring her happiness
"Could overmaster in me the deep longing
Which I had to gain knowledge of the world
And of the vices and virtues of mankind.
100 "I embarked on the vast and open sea
With but one boat and that same scanty crew
Of my men who had not deserted me.
"On one shore and the other I saw as far
As Spain, far as Morocco, Sardinia,
105 And the other islands the sea bathes about.
"I and my shipmates by then were old and slow
When we came at long last to the close narrows
Where Hercules had set up his stone markers
"That men should not put out beyond that point.
110 On the starboard I now had passed Seville
And on the port I already passed Ceuta.
" ‘Brothers,’ I said, ‘who through a hundred thousand
Dangers have reached the channel to the west,
To the short evening watch which your own senses
115 " ‘Still must keep, do not choose to deny
The experience of what lies past the sun
And of the world yet uninhabited.
" ‘Consider the seed of your generation:
You were not born to live like animals
120 But to pursue virtue and possess knowledge.’
"I rallied my shipmates for the voyage
So sharply with this brief exhortation
That then I could have hardly held them back.
"And turning our stern toward the morning,
125 Of oars we made wings for that madcap flight,
Always gaining on the larboard side.
"Night by now gazed out on all the stars
At the other pole, and our stars sank so low
That none rose up above the ocean floor.
130 "Five times the light that spread beneath the moon
Again shone down and five times more it waned
Since we had entered that deep passageway
"When a lone mountain loomed ahead, dark
In the dim distance, and it looked to me
135 The highest peak that I had ever seen.
"We leaped for joy — it quickly turned to grief,
For from the new land a whirlwind surging up
Struck the foredeck of our ship head on.
"Three times it spun us round in swirling waters;
140 The fourth round it raised the stern straight up
And plunged the prow down deep, as Another pleased,
"Until the sea once more closed over us."
At the end of this harangue of his the thief
Raised high his fists forked into figs and cried,
"Take that, God, I screwed them against you!"
From then on the serpents were my friends
5 Because one of them coiled around his neck
As though to say, "I’ll not have you say more!"
And another whipped about his arms and tied him,
Wrapping itself so tightly in front of him
That with the knot he couldn’t jerk a muscle.
10 Pistoia, ah Pistoia! why not decree
To turn yourself to ashes and end it all
Since you outstrip your offspring in evil-doing?
Throughout all the darkened circles of deep hell
I saw no soul so insolent toward God,
15 Not even he who fell from the walls at Thebes.
Without speaking another word, he fled,
And then I saw a centaur, full of fury,
Come shouting, "Where, where is that bitter beast?"
I do not think Maremma has as many
20 Snakes as the centaur carried on his croup
Right up to where our human shape begins.
Upon his shoulders, just behind the scruff,
With its wings outstretched, there sat a dragon
That set on fire all that cross its path.
25 My master stated, "That centaur is Cacus:
In a rock-cave beneath Mount Aventine
Many the time he spilled a lake of blood.
"He does not go the same road with his brothers
Because he fraudulently committed theft
30 Of his neighbor’s mighty herd of cattle.
"The club of Hercules, who must have hit him
A hundred blows, ended his crooked deals:
But after the tenth clout he felt nothing."
While he was saying this, Cacus ran past,
35 And three spirits came along below us,
But neither I nor my guide observed them
Until they shouted up, "Who are you?"
That put an end to our discussion, and
Then we turned our attention fully to them.
40 I did not recognize them, but it happened,
As it so often happens by some chance,
That one had to call out the other's name,
Questioning, "Where has Cianfa gone off to?"
At this, I — to keep my guide listening —
45 Placed my finger between chin and nose.
If you are now, reader, slow to believe
What I shall tell, that would be no wonder,
For I who saw it can scarcely accept it.
While I was staring down at the three sinners
50 I saw a serpent with six feet, from in front
Leap up on one and entirely grip him.
It wrapped his stomach with its middle feet
And with its forefeet pinned him by the arms;
Then sank its teeth in one cheek, then the other.
55 It spread its hind feet down about his thighs
And thrust the tail out between his legs
And at his back pulled it up straight again.
Never did ivy cling to any tree
So tightly as that horrendous beast
60 Twined its limbs around and through the sinner’s.
Then the two stuck together as if made
Of hot wax and mixed their colors so
Neither one nor other seemed what once they were:
Just as, in front of the flame, a brown color
65 Advances on the burning paper, so that
It is not yet black but the white dies away.
The other two glared at one another, each
Crying out, "O Agnello, how you change!
Look! already you are neither two nor one."
70 The two heads by now had become one
When we saw the two features fuse together
Into one face in which they both were lost.
Two arms took shape out of the four remnants;
The thighs with the legs, belly, and chest,
75 Changed into members never before seen.
Then every former likeness was blotted out:
That perverse image seemed both two and neither,
And, such, at a slow pace, it moved away.
Just as the lizard, that under the giant lash
80 Of the dog days darts from hedge to hedge,
Looks like a lightning flash as it crosses the path,
So seemed, heading straight out toward the gut
Of the other two, a small blazing serpent,
Black and livid like a peppercorn.
85 And in one sinner it bit right through that part
From which we first take suck and nourishment;
And down it fell full length in front of him.
The bitten sinner stared but uttered nothing.
Instead, he just stood rooted there and yawned
90 Exactly as though sleep or fever struck him.
The serpent looked at him, he looked at it:
One through the mouth, the other through his wound
Billowed dense smoke and so the two smokes mingled.
95 Let Lucan now be silent, where he tells
Of hapless Sabellus and Nasidius,
And let him listen to what I now project.
Let Ovid too be silent about Cadmus
And Arethusa, where in verse he makes one
A snake and one a fount: I do not envy him,
100 Since he never so transmuted two natures
Face to face that their spiritual forms
Were ready to exchange their bodily substance.
Together they responded to such laws
That the snake slit its tail into a fork
105 While the wounded sinner drew his feet together.
The legs with the thighs locked so firmly,
One to the other, that shortly one could find
No sign whatever where the seam had joined.
The slit tail then assumed the very shape
110 That had been lost there; and the hide of one
Softened as the skin of the other hardened.
I saw his arms returning to the armpits
And the two feet of the reptile — they were short —
Lengthen out while the two arms shortened.
115 Afterward, the hind feet, twisted up
Together, became the member that men hide,
While from his member the wretch grew two paws.
While smoke veiled both the one and the other
With new color and made the hair grow matted
120 On the one skin, and the other it made bald,
The one rose upright and the other fell,
Neither averting the lamps of evil eyes
As, staring, they exchanged a nose and snout.
The one standing drew back the face toward
125 The temples, and from the surplus stuff massed there
Ears emerged above the once-smooth cheeks;
The surplus not pulled back but still remaining
In front, then formed a nose for the face
And filled the lips out to their proper size.
130 The one lying down sprouted forth a muzzle
And withdrew the ears back into the head
In the same way a snail pulls in its horns.
And the tongue, once single, whole, and suited
For speech, split, while the other’s forked tongue
135 Sealed back up, and the smoke also stopped.
The soul that had been turned into a beast,
Hissing, filed off along the gully, fast,
And the other, speaking, spat after its tracks.
He turned his new-made shoulders then and told
140 The third soul left there, "I want Buoso to run,
The way I did, on all fours down the road!"
And so I saw the cargo shift and reshift
In the seventh hold — and let me be forgiven
Strangeness that may have led my pen astray.
145 And although my eyes were somewhat out of focus
And my mind out of joint, the three sinners
Could not have fled so furtively that I
Did not observe Puccio Sciancato,
The only one, of the three comrades that
150 Came at first, who then had not been changed;
The other was he who made you, Gaville, grieve.
When in that season of the youthful year
The sun warms his rays beneath Aquarius,
And soon the nights shall meet the days halfway,
When the hoarfrost paints upon the ground
5 The perfect picture of his pure white sister
(But pigment from his brush soon vanishes),
The peasant, short on fodder for his sheep,
Wakes up and looks out and sees the fields
All blanketed in white: he smacks his thigh,
10 Turns back indoors and walking up and down,
Frets like a wretch not knowing what to do;
Out he comes once more, and hope revives
When he sees the world has changed its face
In so brief a time, and he takes up his staff
15 To drive his sheep outside to the green pasture:
Just so I felt such deep dismay to see
My master’s brow grown pale with some new trouble
And as quickly came the gauze to heal the hurt.
For as soon as we approached the shattered bridge
20 My escort turned to me that same sweet look
Which I’d first seen at the foot of the mountain.
He opened wide his arms — once he had closely
Studied the wreckage and come to some resolve
Within himself — then he took hold of me.
25 And just like one who works and thinks things out,
Who is always ready for what lies ahead,
So he, lifting me toward the dome of one
Huge boulder, spied another crag above
And said, "Now clamber onto that: but first
30 Try it out to see if it will hold you."
It was no path for those clothed in their cloaks!
For we could hardly — he, light, and I, with help —
Handhold by handhold, scale the jutting rocks.
And had it not been that, down from that rampart,
35 The slope of one bank was lower than the other,
I cannot speak for him, but I’d be beaten.
But because Malebolge all falls away
Toward the open mouth of the lowest well,
The layout of each valley predetermined
40 That as one bank rises, the next tapers off.
And so we reached, at last, the point on top
Where the last stone of the bridge fell broken.
The breath was so pumped out of my lungs
When I climbed aloft, I could not go onward,
45 And as soon as I’d come up there I sat down.
"Now you must shake off all your laziness,"
My master said, "for loungers and slugabeds
Will never reach the heights of lasting fame:
"Without fame a man wears away his life,
50 Leaving such traces of himself on earth
As smoke on air or foam upon the water.
"Straighten up! Conquer your fatigue
With the spirit that wins every battle
Unless it sink under the body’s weight.
55 "Longer stairs than these wait to be climbed!
It is not enough to leave these souls behind:
If you have understood my words, act on them!"
I stood up then, showing that I was better
Supplied with wind than I had been before,
60 And said, "Go on, for I am strong and ready."
We picked our way along the curving ridge
Which was more jagged, narrower and harder,
And so much steeper than the ridge before.
Not to seem weak, I talked as I pushed on;
65 Then, from the next ditch there arose a voice
That seemed incapable of forming words.
I don’t know what he said, though now I stood
On the crown of the arch that crosses there,
But whoever spoke appeared to be running.
70 I had bent over, yet my living eyes
Could not pierce through the darkness to the bottom;
So I said, "Master, kindly manage to reach
"The next ring, and let us climb down the wall:
From here I cannot grasp what I am hearing,
75 And I see down but I can make out nothing."
"No other answer," he said, "shall I give you
Than doing it, because a fit request
Should in silence be followed by the deed."
We climbed down where the bridgehead ended
80 And where it merged with the eighth embankment,
And then its pocket opened up to me:
And there within I saw a repulsive mass
Of serpents in such a horrifying state
That still my blood runs cold when I recall them.
85 No more need Libya boast about the sands
Where chelydri, jaculi, phareae,
And cenchres with amphisbaena breed:
She could not show — with all Ethiopia
Nor the lands that lie surrounding the Red Sea —
90 So rampant and pestiferous a plague.
Among this cruel and miserable swarm
Were people running stripped and terrified,
With no hope of hiding-hole or heliotrope.
They had hands tied behind their backs by snakes
95 That thrust out head and tail through their loins
And that coiled then in knots around the front.
And look! A serpent sprang up at one sinner
Upon our strand and it transfixed him there
Where neck and shoulders knotted at the nape.
100 No o or i was ever written faster
Than that sinner flared up and burst in flames
And, falling down, completely turned to ashes.
And then, as he lay scattered on the ground,
The ashy dust collected by itself
105 And suddenly returned to its first shape.
Just so, men of high learning have avowed
That the phoenix dies and is then reborn
When it approaches its five-hundredth year;
In life it does not feed on grass or grain,
110 But only on the tears of balm and incense,
And its last winding-sheet is nard and myrrh.
As one who falls in a fit, not knowing how —
By devilish force that drags him to the ground
Or by some other blockage that binds a man —
115 When he lifts himself up, and looks around,
All out of focus with the heavy anguish
He has suffered, sighing as he stares:
Such was this sinner after he arose.
O power of God, what great severity
120 To have poured down such blows in its vengeance!
My guide then asked the sinner who he was,
And he replied to this, "Not long ago
I rained from Tuscany down to this hellmouth.
"Bestial life and not the human pleased me,
125 Like the mule I was; I am Vanni Fucci,
Beast, and Pistoia was a fit den for me."
I said to my guide, "Tell him not to slink
Away, and ask him what crime cast him here,
For I knew him as a man of blood and tantrums."
130 The sinner, who understood, made no evasions
But turned his mind and face straight toward me
And reddened with distressful shame, then said,
"It grieves me more that you have found me out
Amid the wretchedness in which you see me
135 Than when I was taken from the other life.
"I am not able to refuse your asking.
I am set down so far because I robbed
The sacristy of its splendid treasure,
"And later someone else was falsely blamed.
140 But, that you may not revel in this sight,
If ever you escape from these dark regions,
"Open your ears and listen to my tidings:
Pistoia first divests herself of Blacks;
Then Florence changes over men and laws.
145 "From Valdimagra Mars draws a fiery vapor
Which is enwrapped in dark and smoky clouds,
And with a raging and relentless storm
"There shall be battling on Campo Piceno
Until it will abruptly smash the scud
150 And every White will be struck by the lightning.
"And I have told you this to make you suffer."
Silent, solitary, without escort,
We walked along, one behind the other,
Like minor friars traveling the road.
Because of the scuffle we had just seen,
5 My thoughts turned to one of Aesop’s fables
In which he tells about the frog and mouse.
For "soon" and "shortly" are not more similar
Than fiction is like fact, if carefully
You compare the beginning and end of both.
10 And just as one thought rises from another,
So this gave birth to still another thought
That doubled the first fear that I had felt.
I thought like this: These devils have been mocked
By us with so much damage and derision
15 That I believe they feel deeply offended.
If anger should be added to bad-will,
They will chase us even more viciously
Than the hound that snatches up the hare.
Already I felt my hair start to stand up
20 With fear that gripped me as I stared behind.
"Master," I said, "if you don’t find a spot
"To hide us — quick — I dread the Malebranche —
They’re after us right now — I imagine that
They’re there — so close that I can hear them now!"
25 And he replied, "Were I a leaded mirror
I couldn’t catch your outward look more quickly
Than your inner thoughts occur to me.
"Just now, in fact, they mingled with my own,
So similar in act and coloration
30 That I will put them both to one resolve:
"Should the right bank slope in such a way
That we may descend to the next pocket,
We could escape the chase we both have pictured."
He’d hardly finished setting forth his plan
35 When I saw them approaching with spread wings
Not too far off, intent on taking us.
All of a sudden my guide snatched me up,
Just as a mother waking to a roar
And seeing flames bursting next to her
40 Snatches her son and runs and will not stop —
She cares much more for him than for herself —
She does not even pause to put a robe on!
And so down from the height of the hard bank
Upon his back he slid on the sloping rock
45 Which blocks off one side of the next pocket.
Never water ran along a sluice
So fast to turn the wheel of a land-mill
When it courses closest to the paddles,
As my master hastened down that bank,
50 Carrying me held fast upon his breast
As if I were his son, not a companion.
Hardly had his feet hit down on bedrock
On the ground below when the fiends were high
On the ridge right over us — no need to panic:
55 For the divine Providence that willed them
To be placed as servants of the fifth ditch
Deprived them of all power for leaving it.
Below that point we found a painted people
Who walked in circles with the slowest steps,
60 Weeping and worn in looks and overwhelmed.
The cloaks they wore had cowls drawn down low
Over their eyes, made in a similar style
As those that are made for monks in Cluny.
These are so gilded outside that they dazzle,
65 But inside, solid lead, and so heavy that,
Compared to them, Frederick’s capes were straw.
O mantle of unending weariness!
Once again we turned to the left hand,
Along with those souls rapt in their sad tears.
70 But with their weights the tired people trod
So slowly that we had fresh company
With every step we took along the way.
At this sight I asked my guide, "Please find
Someone I should know by deed or name:
75 Let your eyes roam around while we walk on."
And one who had picked up my Tuscan accent
Shouted out behind us, "Halt your steps,
You, racing so fast through this murky air!
"Perhaps you’ll get from me what you ask for!"
80 So my guide turned to me, proposing, "Wait,
Then move ahead according to this pace."
I stopped, and saw two showing in their faces
Their minds’ restless haste to be with me,
But their loads and the narrow road delayed them.
85 When they caught up, they viewed me with their eyes
Askance, staring and not uttering a word;
Then they turned to one another and observed,
"This one seems alive, since his throat moves,
But if they both are dead, what privilege
90 Lets them go unclad by the heavy mantles?"
Then they said to me, "O Tuscan, you come
To this chapter of the sorry hypocrites:
Do not scorn to tell us who you are."
And I told them, "I was born and grew up
95 In the great city by the Arno’s lovely stream,
And I am in the flesh I’ve always had.
"But who are you whose grief distills such tears
As I perceive now coursing down your cheeks?
What is this penance glittering upon you?"
100 And one of them replied, "The yellow cloaks
Are thick with lead of so much weight it makes us
Who are the scales in the balance creak.
"We both were Jovial Friars, and Bolognese:
My name was Catalano, his Loderingo;
105 Together we were chosen by your city
"To do what one man usually is assigned,
Keep the peace, and how much we succeeded
Still can be seen around the Gardingo."
I began, "O friars, your wicked ..." — but said
110 No more: my eyes caught the sight of one
Crucified with three stakes on the ground.
When he saw me, he twisted all around,
Breathing hard into his beard with sighs,
And brother Catalano, who observed this,
115 Said to me, "That one you see nailed down
Advised the Pharisees it was expedient
To sacrifice one man for the people.
"Stretched out naked he lies, across the way,
As you yourself see, and is made to feel
120 The full weight of every passer-by.
"In the same way is his father-in-law racked
In this same ditch, and the rest of that council
Which has sowed so much evil for the Jews."
Then I saw Virgil struck with wonder over
125 The one who lay stretched there on the cross
So ignominiously in unending exile.
He afterwards spoke these words to the friar,
"Would you please, if it’s allowed, tell us
If on the right side there lies any passage
130 "By which we two can go away from here
Without compelling some of those black angels
To come down to this depth to get us out."
He answered then, "Closer than you hope
There is a rocky ridge that reaches out from
135 The huge round wall and spans all the wild valleys
"Except this broken bridge which does not cross.
You can climb back up by way of the ruins
That lie along the slope, heaped at the bottom."
My guide stood awhile, head bowed, then said,
140 "That one who grapples sinners over there
Gave us a false account about this business."
And the friar: "Once in Bologna I heard
Described the devil’s many vices, among them
That he’s a liar and the father of lies."
145 With giant strides my guide then hurried off,
Somewhat perturbed, by the anger in his look.
At this I left those heavy-burdened souls,
Following the prints of his dear feet.
I have seen horsemen in the past break camp,
Muster their army and open assault,
And at times even beat a quick retreat;
I have seen outriders roam your countryside,
5 O Aretines, and seen raiding-parties charge,
Tournaments clash and jousters galloping,
Some called by trumpets and some by bells,
By drumrolls and by flares from castle-walls,
By homemade and imported instruments;
10 But never before have I seen horsemen,
Footsoldiers, or ships that sail by sighting
Of land or stars move to a stranger bugle.
We walked together along with the ten demons —
Ah, what fierce company, and yet: with saints
15 In church, with rioters in the tavern!
My whole attention was fixed on the pitch
To study every aspect of this pocket
And of the people who, within it, burned.
Just as dolphins do, when with arching backs
20 They signal a storm-warning to the sailors
To make all hands ready to save the ship,
So here at times to soothe the suffering
Some sinner showed his back above the top
And hid again as fast as lightning flashes.
25 And just as on the water’s edge of ditches
Frogs squat with only their muzzles showing,
To hide their legs and the rest of their fat flesh,
So here on all sides these sinners squatted,
But the instant Barbariccia stepped forward,
30 They dived back underneath the boiling pitch.
I saw, and still my heart shudders with it,
One lag behind — just as sometimes one frog
Will stay back while another leaps below —
And Graffiacane, the closest to him,
35 Hooked him up by his pitch-knotted hair
And hauled him out — he looked just like an otter!
I knew all of the devils now by name,
For I had watched them when they were selected,
And when they called each other, I had listened.
40 "Oh Rubicante, see that you get your claws
Into his back so you can skin and flay him!"
The whole damned squad shouted all together.
And I: "My master, if you can, please do
Find out the name of the unfortunate soul
45 Who’s fallen in the clutches of his foes."
My guide, drawing closer to his side,
Asked him where he came from; he replied,
"I was born in the kingdom of Navarre.
"My mother placed me in service to a lord,
50 For she had had me by some fly-by-night,
A destroyer of his goods and suicide.
"Then I served in kind King Thibault’s household
Where I set myself up by accepting graft:
And in this heat I render my account."
55 And Ciriatto, with two tusks stuck out
From both sides of his mouth, just like a boar’s,
Let him feel how one tusk could rip him open.
The mouse had fallen prey to wicked cats.
But Barbariccia grabbed him with his arms,
60 Yelling, "Stay back there while I’ve got a grip!"
Then he turned his face to my guide and said,
"Ask once again, if you want to learn more
From him, before the rest tear him apart."
So my guide: "Tell me then, among the other
65 Sinners, do you know of any Italians sunk
Under the pitch?" And he: "I just now left
"One soul from near there — would that I were still
With him beneath the shelter of that pitch!
These claws and hooks would not then frighten me!"
70 And Libicocco snarled, "We’ve stood enough!"
And with his grapple caught him by the arm
And, tearing at it, hacked out the skin and muscle.
But Draghignazzo also hoped to lay
Hooks to his legs; at that the captain whipped
75 About and rounded them with ill-boding looks.
When they’d become a little more subdued,
Without waiting, my guide questioned the sinner
Who stood there still, studying his wound,
"Who was the soul you said you had to leave
80 Behind you there when you came to the shore?"
He answered, "That was Friar Gomita
"From Gallura, a purse for every fraud!
He had his master’s enemies in his hands
And treated them so that they sang his praises.
85 "He took their cash and let them off scot free,
As he admits, and in his other dealings
He was no petty thief but a royal one.
"With him is his cohort Michel Zanche
Of Logodoro, and their tongues never tire
90 With constant chatter about Sardinia.
"Oh oh, look! there’s another grinding his teeth!
I’d tell you more but I feel terrified
That that fiend is all set to scratch my scabs!"
Then their field marshal, facing Farfarello,
95 His eyes rolling with readiness to strike,
Shouted, "Get back from there, you filthy bird!"
"If it remains your wish to see or hear
Tuscans or Lombards," the frightened soul resumed,
"I will call up still more to come to you.
100 "But let the Malebranche there stand aside
So that the souls may not fear their vengeance,
And I, staying seated in this same spot,
"All by myself, shall make seven surface
By whistling, a practice that we follow
105 Whenever one of us escapes the pitch."
At this news Cagnazzo raised his muzzle;
Shaking his head, he sneered, "Listen to that —
A trick he has thought up to jump back down!"
With that, he who had a store of stratagems
110 Answered, "I am a tricky soul indeed
When I gain deeper pain for my own partners!"
Alichino could not restrain himself
And, counter to the rest, said, "If you jump,
I wouldn’t come galloping after you;
115 "Instead, I’ll flap my wings above the pitch-pot!
We’ll leave this ridge and make the bank a shield
To see if all alone you can outsmart us!"
O reader, listen to the latest sport!
Each turned his eyes toward the other shore —
120 The first one was the fiend who most resisted!
The Navarrese picked his time perfectly,
Fixed both feet on the ground and in a flash
Leaped out and broke free of the fiend-in-charge!
Each one felt guilt-stricken at being gulled,
125 But chief the one who brought about the blunder,
So he took straight off and cried, "You’re caught!"
But it did little good, for wings cannot
Fly faster than can fear: the one dives under
While the other thrusts up his chest in flight.
130 No different is the duck that plunges downward
With a rush when the falcon closes in
And then, beaten and bitter, soars back again.
Calcabrina, fuming at the ruse,
Flew after Alichino; he was hoping
135 The sinner would escape so he could tussle.
And as soon as the grafter disappeared,
He turned his claws on his air-borne comrade
And grappled with him high above the ditch.
But the other was a fullfledged sparrowhawk
140 And clawed at him until they both tumbled
Right in the middle of the boiling pond.
Instantly the heat blew them asunder,
But then they had no way of lifting off
Since they had clogged their wings with gluey pitch.
145 Barbariccia, fretting with the rest,
Sent four fiends to fly to the other side
With all their pitchforks, and swiftly enough,
From here and there they then took up their posts
And stretched their hooks out to the bird-limed pair
150 Who were already cooked inside the crust.
And so we left them embroiled in that mess.
So from bridge to bridge, talking of matters
That my Comedy here has no care to sing,
We traveled on, and we had reached the summit
When we stopped to look at yet another gap
5 Of Malebolge and another empty sorrow:
And I saw how awesomely dark it was!
Just as at the arsenal of the Venetians
In wintertime the sticky pitch for caulking
The seams of the leaky vessels boils —
10 Since they cannot then set sail — and instead,
Some rebuild the keels, some plug up the ribs
Of hulls that rode on many voyagings,
Some hammer at the prow and some the stern,
Others cut oars, still others twist new rope,
15 Another sews patches on the jib and mainsail:
So, not by the fire but by the art of God,
Boiled, there below, a thick and sticky pitch
Which glue-coated the banks on every side.
I saw the pitch, but in it I saw nothing
20 Except the rising of the boiling bubbles,
The whole swelling up and sinking down.
While I stared down intently into it,
My guide, calling to me, "Watch out! Watch out!"
Drew me to his side from where I stood.
25 At that I turned around like someone anxious
To see whatever he is supposed to shun
While he remains so dashed by sudden panic
That he won’t stop his flight but will look back:
And I saw behind us a blackened devil
30 Come running up along the ridge’s length.
Ah, what a ferocious look he had!
And how fierce his actions seemed to me,
With his wings wide-open and his light feet!
Upon his shoulders, which were high and pointed,
35 He had loaded a sinner by both legs,
Gripping him in front by the ankles.
From our bridge he called, "Oh, Malebranche,
Here is one of Saint Zita’s elders!
Toss him below while I go back for more
40 "To that city which is so well supplied:
All men there, except Bonturo, are grafters!
In Lucca they will change no to yes for cash!"
He plunged the sinner down and turned about
Upon the rocky ridge: no hound freed from
45 Its leash ever chased a thief so swiftly!
The sinner sank and surfaced rear end-up,
But the demons under cover of the bridge
Shouted, "The Holy Face has no place here!
"Swimming here is not like in the Serchio!
50 If you don’t want to feel our grappling-hooks,
Don’t raise yourself up above that pitch!"
They chewed him with a hundred prongs or more,
Screaming, "Here you frolic under cover!
See if you can snitch the chance to surface!"
55 In just this way might cooks make their helpers
Plunge the meat down deep into the pot
With their forks, to keep it from floating up.
My gracious master said, "We don’t want them
To know that you are here, so crouch down low
60 Behind a crag to give yourself some cover.
"No matter what affronts they offer me,
Don’t be afraid: I know how things run here,
And I had a skirmish like this once before."
With this he passed beyond the top of the bridge
65 And, arriving upon the sixth embankment,
Had need to prove his show of self-reliance.
With just the same rage and roaring of dogs
When they rush out on some poor passing beggar
Who stops dead in his tracks and starts to beg,
70 So these devils, from beneath the bridge
Shot out with all their prongs aimed at my guide,
But he shouted, "Stop being savages!
"Before you would impale me with your forks,
One of you step forward to hear me out
75 And then resolve to grapple me or not."
They all shouted, "Malacoda should go!"
Then one of them moved up — the rest stood still —
And, approaching, asked, "How will that help him?"
"Do you think, Malacoda, I have come
80 So far, as you can see," my master said,
"Safe from all these counterblows of yours,
"Without the grace of God and a friendly fate?
Let us pass, since it is willed in heaven
That I show another along this savage path."
85 At this his pride became so crestfallen
That he let his hook drop right at his feet
And told the others, "Now, don’t any strike him!"
And my guide said to me, "You, crouching there
Among the shattered rockpiles of the bridge,
90 Now you can feel safe returning to me."
At that I moved and quickly came to him,
And the devils pressed forward all together;
I panicked that they might not keep their pact.
Just so, I once saw soldiers fill with panic,
95 As they filed from Caprona with safe conduct,
Seeing themselves surrounded by their foes.
With my whole body I pressed against my guide
And not for a moment would I take my eyes
From their looks that boded me no good.
100 They put out pitchforks, and "Shall I prick him,"
One said to the other, "on his bottom?"
And he answered, "Sure, let him have a nick!"
But Malacoda, who all the while was talking
To my master, whirled around suddenly
105 And yelled, "Stop, Scarmiglione, stop!"
Then he told us, "It’s impossible to go
Farther along this ridge since the sixth arch
Lies smashed into pieces at the bottom.
"But if you still are pleased to stroll ahead,
110 Then follow along the bluff until you come
To another ridge, nearby, that offers crossing.
"Yesterday, five hours from now, marked
One thousand two hundred and sixty-six years
Since this bridgeway crashed in ruins here.
115 "I am dispatching some of my troop there
To watch if anyone pops up for air —
Go along with them; they won’t hurt you.
"Front and center, Alichino and Calcabrina,"
He started off, "and you too, Cagnazzo!
120 And Barbariccia, lead the squad of ten.
"Take Libicocco and Draghignazzo,
And tusked Ciriatto and Graffiacane,
And Farfarello and mad Rubicante.
"Reconnoiter around the bubbling gluepot,
125 And see them safe as far as the next ridge
That spans all unbroken from den to den."
"O master," I said, "what am I looking at?
Ah, let us walk alone without an escort:
You know the way? I want no part of them!
130 "If you remain alert as usual,
Do you not notice how they grind their teeth
And how they threaten harm with their fierce looks?"
And he: "I have no wish to see you panic.
Let them grind away all that they want to:
135 They do it to impress the boiling wretches."
They turned around upon the left-face bank,
But first each pressed a tongue between his teeth
To sound a signal to their commandant,
And with his ass he blew a bugle-blast.