Dante Alighieri, Inferno
(completed cir. 1321)
prose paraphrase for Microsoft Internet Explorer
TM by Dr. Goëtes

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Note: the contents headings and footnotes are editorial additions,
in no way originally part of Dante's poem.

Canto 1:  Dante in the dark
Dante meets Virgil
Virgil becomes Dante's guide 

Canto 2: Dante doubts his fitness for the journey 
Virgil's mission from Beatrice
Lucia is sent to Beatrice
Dante is persuaded to go

Canto 3: The gate of hell
The neutral souls
Charon the ferryman  
souls by the shore of Acheron 

Canto 4: First Circle: Limbo: virtuous pagans 
princes of poetry 
lords and ladies on the green   

philosophers and scientists   

Canto 5: Second Circle: Minos: The Lustful  
Virgil names the lovers  
Paolo and Francesca  

Canto 6: Third Circle: Cerberus: The Gluttons;  
Ciacco’s prophecy for Florence
Virgil speaks of Doomsday

Canto 7: Fourth Circle: Plutus: The Materialists
Misers versus prodigal churchmen 
Virgil talks about Fortune 
The River Styx

Canto 8: Fifth Circle: Phlegyas: The Angry 
Dante's anger toward Filippo Argenti
Gates of the City of Dis
Fallen Angels guard the gates

Canto 9: Dante asks about precedents
The Furies and Medusa
The Messenger from Heaven
Sixth Circle: Dis: The Heretics 

Canto 10: Epicurus and his followers
Farinata degli Uberti
Cavalcante Cavalcanti 
Farinata's prophecy
Prophetic power of the dead

Canto 11: Virgil describes circles #7-9
The contrasting circles #1-6 
Virgil explains banking

Canto 12: Seventh Circle: The Minotaur
First Ring: Centaurs: The Violent 
Tyrants, Murderers and Warriors 

Canto 13: Second Ring: Harpies: The Suicides
The Wood of Suicides: Pier delle Vigne
The fate of Suicides 
Lano & Jacomo 
The unknown Florentine 

Canto 14: Third Ring: The Violent against God
The Ancient Giant under Crete  
Rivers Phlegethon and Lethe

Canto 15: Brunetto Latini
Brunetto’s prophecy 
Dante accepts his fate 
Brunetto names some of his companions 

Canto 16: Rusticucci, Guido Guerra, Aldobrandi
 The condition of Florence
Virgil goes fishing

Canto 17: The fraud-beast Geryon
The Money Men
The descent on Geryon’s back

Canto 18: Eighth Circle: Malebolge
First Ditch: The Pimps and Seducers

The Panders: Venedico de’ Caccianemico
The Seducers: Jason
Second Ditch: The Flatterers

Canto 19: Third Ditch: The Sellers of Holy Things
Pope Nicholas III

Dante speaks against Simony

Canto 20: Fourth Ditch: The Prophets
 The Ancient Seers
Manto and the founding of Mantua
 Magicians and Witches

Canto 21: Fifth Ditch: The Corrupt Politicians
The bribe takers
Virgil confronts Bad Ass  
The Demon escort

Canto 22: More Fifth Ditch
Ciampolo names other crooks
 Ciampolo escapes
 The Malebranche quarrel

Canto 23: Sixth Ditch: The Hypocrites
 The Hypocrites
 The Jolly Friars: Caiaphas
 Virgil's Anger

Canto 24 The Poets climb: Virgil preaches fame
 The Seventh Ditch: The Thieves
 Fucci and the serpent
 Fucci’s prophecy

Canto 25: More Seventh Ditch: Cacus
 Transformation of Agnello
 Buoso, Puccio, Francesco

Canto 26: Eighth Ditch: Valley of the Heroes
Ulysses at Mount Purgatory

Canto 27: More Eighth Ditch: Guido Da Montefeltro
 Politics in Romagna
 Guido’s history

Canto 28: Ninth Ditch: The Sowers of Discord
  Pier della Medicina
Curio and Mosca
 Bertrand de Born

Canto 29: More Ninth Ditch: Geri del Bello
Tenth Ditch: The Falsifiers
 Griffolino and Capocchio
 Griffolino’s story
 Spendthrifts of Siena

Canto 30: More Tenth Ditch: Schicci and Myrrha
 Adam of Brescia
Sinon & Potiphar’s wife
Virgil reproves Dante for wasting time

Canto 31: The Giants guarding the central pit 

Canto 32: Ninth Circle: The frozen River Cocytus
Caina: Alessandro and Napoleone
 Antenora: Bocca degli Abbati
Ptolomaea: Ugolino and Ruggieri

Canto 33: Count Ugolino’s story
Friar Alberigo

Canto 34: Judecca: Lucifer
 Judas: Brutus: Cassius
 The return to the surface


Commentary on Dante:

Dante and the medieval invention of the self.

Hell: Dante goes deeper than you think!















The wood




































































































































Hell gate
















Neutral souls 





























































Circle 1.


































The poets




















































Circle 2.
the Lustful















































































Circle 3.


































































Circle 4.
The greedy













































Circle 5.
The enraged and withdrawn





































Filippo Argenti





























City of Dis























































The Furies or Erinyes

















































Circle 6.
The Heretics










Farinata and Cavalcanti










































































































































Circle 7.
The willfully violent


The Minotaur

















Nessus and Centaurs






















Circle 7, ring 1.
the bloodbath




















Circle 7, ring 2.
the suicides,
violent against self











Pier delle Vigne















































Lano and Jacomo










the unknown Florentine












Circle 7, ring 3: the violent against God













































the Ancient Giant of Crete






































Brunetto Latini
































































Jacopo Rusticucci





























































































































































Circle 8: the Frauds






Circle 7, ditch 1, lane 1: pimps






Circle 7, Ditch 1, lane 2: seducers















Circle 7, Ditch 2: flatterers
































Circle 7, Ditch 3:
Simonists (sellers of things of God)



















Pope Nicholas

























































Circle 7, ditch 4.































































Circle 8, ditch 5.
Corrupt politicians

































































































































































































Circle 8, Ditch 6
the Hypocrites























Friars Catalano and Roderingo

































































Circle 8, Ditch 7.
The Thieves

























Fucci Vanni





































































































































































Circle 8, ditch 8. Valley of the Heroes






Ulysses (Odysseus) 







































Guido Da Montefeltro































































Circle 8, Ditch 9. Sowers of Discord































































































Circle 8, ditch 10. Falsifiers

































Griffolino the alchemist










































































Adam of Brescia











































































 The giants





























































9th circle


invocation to the Muses
















Allesandro and Napoleone

























Bocca degli Abbati





























Count Ugolino






































































Friar Alberigo & Branca d'Oria





















































Judas, Brutus, Cassius






























Here begins the Comedy of Dante Alighieri,
a Florentine in birth, not in manners.


Canto I

 Canto I: 1-60 Dante in the dark

In the middle of life's journey, somehow I lost my way and strayed deep into dark woods. It's almost beyond words how wild, how thorny and impassable that valley was. It was bitter as death -- my terror returns as I remember--but I'll tell you what I saw because it led to good.

I was so beat that I never knew where I dropped from the path, but in that cheerless dark at the end of a long ravine, suddenly there I was at the foot of a mountain. When I looked up I could see its shoulders bathed in the light that warms our way, and it began to melt the fears of that miserable night

Broken, like a sailor washed ashore who lies wasted yet still gaping in awe at the deadly deep, I stared back as if drawn to the grim crossing that parts all from life. It was not long, however, before I started up the barren slope, with each step of my right foot planted higher on the downhill side. Day was breaking, the sun beginning to rise in Aries, among those stars that lit the young universe, the hour and sweet spring season lifting my spirits. 

Yet hope was misplaced. Hardly had I left the bottom of the slope when I was startled by a dapple leopard that would not let me pass. No matter how many times I backed down from her and then tried to return uphill again, always she was there blocking my way ahead. Then a starving lion lurched up before my face, and clawed the air so brutally that it seemed enraged. When a third beast showed herself, a lean and hungry she-wolf that looked as if she had ruined many, I quit the climb, my courage gone. She charged at me again and again, and drove me down with tormented thoughts.  

 Canto I: 61-111 Dante meets a shade of Virgil  

As I returned into the depths of the dark valley, a faint figure glided into the emptiness before me. I cried out: "Pity me, whoever you are--man or shadow!"

His voice was hoarse, as if from long silence: "No, no man but once a man. Yes, my people were Lombards, of Mantua. In the days of Julius Caesar was I born. I lived in Rome under the reign of good Augustus, but they were times of false and lying gods, and I made poems: I sang of Anchises' devout son Aeneas, who left the ashes of heroic Troy. But you, why do you haunt this place of sorrow? Why not climb the mountain of joy?"

I was humbled. My voice trembled. "Are you Virgil? That great spring of language? You glory and light to poets, my first teacher, I owe all of my art to you! I learned and copied your charming way of singing--and may it help me now! Look there! That's what drives me down here!" I wept. "Save me from that beast of terror!"

"To escape this wilderness," he said, "go another way. None may pass this mad creature here, but she jumps all, kills all, and after each feeding craves more. She lays all kinds, too, and she will keep it up until at last the Greyhound runs her down--not for money but simply for the sake of truth, love and decency. Though born between Feltro and Feltro, he will save all of lower Italy, for which the maid Camilla, Euryalus, Nissus and Turnus died of wounds. He will hunt the she-wolf from city to city, until she is driven back to hell, where envy first released her into the world.

 Canto I: 112-136 Virgil will guide Dante  

"Follow me," he said. "I will show you the path beyond time. You will see ancient souls in endless pain, hear them cry in despair for final rest. Then you will climb a burning mountain where souls are content in the flames, because they hope to arrive among the blessed some day, whenever it may be. After that, if you want to climb further, another guide will be sent to you, a worthier spirit than I am. The emperor above forbids me to enter his city because I did not obey his law. He is lord of all the land, sea and air, but he holds his court on high and rules from the highest throne. Blessed are they who are chosen to enter there!"

I said to him: "Poet, by that God you did not know, guide me as you have said. Lead me out of this evil place to the Gate of St. Peter."

He started off in silence, and I followed after him . . .  

Canto II

 Canto II: 1-42 Dante’s doubts his fitness for the journey

Daylight was departing. As I anticipated the lonely, piteous journey that true memory now will recall, umber dusk was calling earth's creatures from their labors to rest.

O Muses, high genius, help me! O memory, recorder of what I saw, show your true character and help me!

So I began: "Poet, be my guide. Look at me: tell me if I am fit, before you trust me on this steep passage way. Your Aeneas passed over into the eternal world while he was yet in his corruptible flesh and mortal senses. God well may have favored him since he was to become a father to great Rome, and her empire in the heavens. Through the mysteries that he saw, Aeneas laid a foundation for the holy seat and for the successors of great Peter's throne. Even the chosen vessel Paul followed after him to Rome, bringing confirmation that faith is the only way to eternal life. But me? Why me? Who will believe me? I am not Aeneas; I am not Paul. Nobody is going to believe that I saw eternity. It's crazy for me to go. I'm not choosing my words too well, but you see what I mean." 

Like one unwishing his wishes, full of afterthoughts, I held back on the dark slope. 

 Canto II: 43-93 Virgil's mission from Beatrice

The great shadow replied: "You're afraid--I see it in your eyes. Fear strikes men and horses with phantom dangers that shy them away from honorable acts. Take courage, man! Hear why I have appeared to you, and why I will stay to help you.

"I was in Limbo when a lady called to me, a lady so blessed and beautiful that I begged her to command me. Her eyes shone brightly as the stars of heaven, and she began to speak softly in a musical, angelic voice: ‘Noble Mantuan, whose songs still live on earth, and will last until all motion ceases in the skies, onto a friendless shore my friend and fortune’s foe has strayed. Fears have turned him from the true path. Already he may be lost, as it is rumored in heaven. I'm afraid that I am too late. Fly to him quickly, and with your artful words counsel him for his relief, that I may be comforted. I am Beatrice, who sends you to him. I come from above, where I long to return, but love called me here to speak. When I am among the angels, I will sing your praises before my Lord.'

"Then she was silent, and I answered: 'Lady of grace,  you raise humanity above all kinds that live beneath the circle of the moon. I understand you and obey. Your task so pleases me that I already should have finished it. But how do you dare to descend here into this pit and leave behind the wide heaven of your joy?'

She replied: 'I'll tell you. The only things to be feared are those that have the power to harm. Because of God’s mercy, suffering does not hurt me. The burning flame has no power over me.

 Canto II: 94-120 Lucia is sent to Beatrice

"There is a gentle lady in heaven, who from love toward my friend directed Lucia, who opposes all cruelty, to carry out her request. She said: 'Your faithful one is in need. In his troubles I commend him to you.'

"Lucia rose and came instantly to the place where I sat with Rachel of old. Lucia said: 'Beatrice, God’s true praise, why don't you help him, who loved you so much that he left everybody else for you? Don't you hear how he mourns? Don't you see how he struggles beside the river of death, more fearful than any ocean?'

'When I heard Lucia speak, no soul on earth was ever as quick to search for good, or to run from harm, as I to descend to you from my blessed seat. I put my trust in your true speech, that honors you and all those who hear it.' She turned away to hide a tear that urged me to come instantly to you, and so I saved you from that beast that blocked the quick way up mountain.'    

 Canto II: 121-142 Dante is persuaded to go

"So what's your problem?" the poet asked me. "Why hold back? Fear not: I say that three blessed ladies in the courts of heaven above watch over you. I swear that great good awaits you."

As flowers wilted in the night stand up again with the morning sun and spread their petals wide to receive the warm light, so my drooping spirits rose. Zeal flooded through my veins as if I had been born again. "Blessed is that Lady of pity, and blessed are you who came to my aid so quickly at her command. Your words have revived me. Lead on, my guide, my lord and master, for the two of us now are one." 

He turned as I spoke, and I followed at his back on that hard, dangerous path.

Canto III

 Canto III: 1-21 The gate of hell





I saw these hard words cut in stone above a gate, and I asked the teacher to interpret their meaning. 

He answered wisely: "Put your mistrust behind you--end your fears. This is the place that I told you about. Here you will see the sorrowful people who have lost the good of intellect." He extended a reassuring glance and led me by the hand through the gate toward the mysteries beyond. 

 Canto III: 22-69 The uncommitted souls         

Sighs, groans, and wails now pierced the starless air, so that soon I began to weep. A confusion of tongues and strange accents sounded in pain and anger. Voices deep and hoarse and shrill, with the sounds of blows intermingled, roiled in the dirty air, like sand spiraling in a whirlwind. I said: "Teacher, I'm surrounded by turmoil. Whose griefs are making this relentless stir?"

He answered: "Outsiders who lived without commitment. Their neutral souls mix here with the angels that stood only for themselves, undecided, neither rebellious nor faithful to the deity. To keep her beauty, heaven put them out, but hell could not receive them, since it would have been improved by their presence." 

I asked further: "Teacher, what makes them groan? What's their punishment?" 

He replied: "The less said about them the better. They  have no hope of death, and they envy the fate of all other souls. Their lives were so empty that the world records no mention of them. Mercy and justice give them no name. Speak no more of them, but look and keep moving."

I saw a banner twirling around and around in the mist,  without any rest, and behind it followed endless mournful columns of souls in pain. Who knew that death had undone so many?

I recognized a few among them, including the spirit of that coward who made 'the great refusal.'  I realized at once that this was a parade of outcasts, estranged from God and also from God's enemies. These wretches never truly had lived, and they were not alive now, and yet they fled naked from swarms of wasps and hornets that tortured them more, the more they fled, and that made their faces stream with blood and pus that dribbled down to their feet, mixed with their tears, to be eaten by foul worms and maggots.  

 Canto III: 70-99 Charon, ferryman of the Acheron

As I looked further ahead, I saw a crowd by the bank of a great river, so I asked: "Teacher, I can hardly see in this infected light. What souls are those before us? And what makes them so anxious to cross over?" 

The sage replied: "You'll see soon enough when we stand on the beach of Acheron." I could see that I had asked too many questions. I lowered my eyes in shame and  continued on beside him in silence until we had reached the water's edge. 

A barge drew near to us at the shore. The elderly pilot with hoary white hair shouted: "Joylessness to you, everybody! Never again hope to see the light! All aboard for everlasting darkness, fire and ice!" Then he looked straight at me: "Hey, you there, live one, get away from these stiffs! They're dead."  

He fumed when I didn't move. "You can't cross here! Go away, find another port somewhere! Do you think my boat can float all of that ballast of yours?" 

But my guide said to him: "Charon, calm yourself. He is meant to be here. Ask no more."

The bearded ferryman of the ancient marsh made no reply. There were wheels of flame round his eyes.

 Canto III: 100-136 The souls by the shore of Acheron

When they heard Charon's cruel words, the naked and weary dead grew more pale and gnashed their teeth. Weeping in despair, they blasphemed God, blamed humankind in general, and cursed their parents, their place and time of birth, and the sperm and egg of their conception. They were headed for the further shore that awaits all those who are fearless of God.

With demon eyes like burning coals, Charon gathers them in, one and all, and swats any stragglers with his oar. As autumn leaves fall, one after another, until the branch waves bare above the rustling ground, so fallen Adam's bad seeds drop down from the bank, one by one. Then they all float away over the dark stream like falcons lured by a call. And before they reach the far shore, another eager gang of dead already crowds the bank to catch the next boat. 

"My son," the gentle teacher said, "from every country in the world, all of those who die in enmity with God assemble here to cross the river. They drive themselves to this place through the power of divine justice. What they should fear is what they desire--they yearn to be here. Good spirits do not pass this way. That is why Charon growled at you."

As soon as he stopped talking, the gloomy ground began to rumble and shake. I drench myself in sweat when I recall how the tear-soaked earth vented out a cloud of gas that flamed up into a red sky, and all of my senses were overpowered. I stumbled and crashed into darkness, like a man falling asleep.

Canto IV

 Canto IV: 1-63 The First Circle: Limbo: The Pagans

A crack of thunder shattered my unconsciousness, as if someone had laid violent hands on me in the middle of a deep sleep. My eyes seemed refreshed, however, so I picked myself up to look around and find my bearings. I stood at the edge of a cliff dropping straight down into a desolate chasm! The abysmal pit below thundered continually, as if with a multitude of cries, but it was so deep, dark, and clouded that I could not see into it.

The poet spoke. "It's time to descend further--I'll go first, and you follow." His color was ash, deathly pale. 

I said: "You're scared stiff! How can you expect me to follow you?"

He answered: "Afraid? I'm white with pity for those below, but we must go now. A long road lies ahead." 

So he entered and led me into the first circle that surrounds the abyss. No tormented wailing greeted us here. The timeless air trembled only with sighs. They came from endless crowds of children, women, and men--all mourning but apparently free of torture. 

The teacher said to me: "Why don't you ask what these shadows are? You ought to know, before we go any farther. They were sinless, but not baptized into your faith. They lived before anyone knew the right way to worship. I am one of these who suffer for our ignorance. We continue on and on in everlasting desire, without hope."

Sadness overwhelmed me when I heard his words. I thought how many persons of great worth must be suspended in this limbo. Yet I wondered how faith might make a difference, so I did ask a question: "Tell me, Teacher, were any people ever transferred from here to heaven, either through their own merit or because others of great merit saved them?"

He sensed the secret meaning of my careful question, and he answered: "I was a newcomer here when a great one arrived crowned with the sign of victory. He took away with him the shade of our first father Adam, also his son Abel, and Noah, and the lawgiver Moses, the patriarch Abraham, King David, Jacob with his father and his children, and Rachel, for whom Jacob labored so long, and also many others, and all of these were blessed. But I want you to know that no souls were saved before these.

 Canto IV: 64-105 The Princes of Poetry

We kept moving as he talked, and soon we entered a region thick with souls crowded together like saplings in a woodlot. We had not gone far from where I slept, when I could see a distant flame that revealed a hemisphere of shadows. As we came closer to that glow, I began to realize what noble people these must be: "Master of Arts and Sciences, whose souls are these, that enjoy so much more honor than all the rest here?"

He replied: ‘Their honors on earth are favored in heaven." Suddenly, as he spoke, an announcement rang out: "Honor the Prince of Poets: he returns again to us. He is come."

Then I could see four mighty ghosts, without apparent sadness or happiness, marching solemnly towards us. As they approached, the Teacher whispered to me: "Take note of him, with a sword in hand, who comes in front of the other three, as if he were their lord. That is Homer, the king of poets! Next comes Horace the satirist, then Ovid is third, and last is Lucan. Each of these is worthy, with me, to be called a prince of poets, so that the honor they show to me also honors them."  

Thus I saw gathered together in one place the great masters of the noble school whose songs soar, like eagles, above all others. When they had consulted one another for a moment, they turned to welcome me, at which my teacher smiled. They honored me further by inducting me into their circle, so that I made a sixth among that wise company.

Together, all of us went on toward the light, while we discussed topics that need not be repeated now, though they seemed appropriate then.

 Canto IV: 106-129 The lords and ladies on the green

We came to a great castle, surrounded by seven towering walls and a pleasant brook encircling all. With the sages I crossed over this moat as if it were solid earth, and we entered through seven gates to arrive at a fresh green meadow. The people there were majestic, with calm and solemn looks, speaking seldom and then only softly. We six withdrew to a bright and open height to view souls on the green below. As the great spirits of the past were pointed out to me, I was thrilled to view their glory.

I saw Electra in a great crowd, amongst whom I knew Hektor, Aeneas and falcon-eyed Caesar, fully armed. I saw Camilla and the Amazon queen Penthesilea across the field, and the Latin King Latinus, with his daughter Lavinia seated by his throne. I saw the good Brutus who expelled the Tarquin, then Lucretia, Julia, Marcia and Cornelia. I also saw Saladin, by himself apart from the others.

 Canto IV: 130-151 The philosophers and scientists

When I lifted my eyes a little higher, I saw the master of those who know, amongst the great souls of philosophy. All around him in his circle honored him. There I saw Socrates and Plato, nearer at his side than any of the rest. Democritus I saw, who ascribes the world to chance, Diogenes and with him Anaxagoras, Thales, Empedocles, Heraclitus, and Zeno. I saw the good collector of healing plants--Dioscorides, I mean--and I saw Orpheus, Cicero, Linus, and Seneca the moralist, Euclid the geometer, and Ptolemaeus, Hippocrates, Avicenna, Galen, and Averrhoes, who wrote the vast commentary.

I cannot take time now to tell about all of them. My long story forces me to keep moving along, so that my words sometimes must fall short of the reality. 

The company of six is reduced again to two. My guide leads me by another path out of that serenity into the roaring air of hell. I pass out of the light into a region where nothing shines.  

Canto V

 Canto V: 1-51 The Second Circle:
 Minos: The Lustful

I went down into the second circle, a much tighter space clogged with dead in such a jam of agony that they howl like one undivided herd. In the entranceway is the judgment seat of Minos who snarls at the throngs of stiffs that crowd before him, a bigass worm.

Each of them is processed in an identical way. Each, in turn, steps up and unburdens its inmost secrets to him, but when he has heard its confession, he grins and winds up his serpentine tail with as many writhing coils as he finds   correct. Then he shakes his butt a little and, whack! he uncocks the verdict with a stinging lash. As the victim is whipped headlong into the abyss and freefalls down toward whatever hell hole justice requires, all of the others swarm to take its place in line. They can't wait to tell their stories.

Nothing gets past Minos: he noticed us and stayed his proceedings. "Hey," he bellowed at me, "whats you doin? You could get slammed nosin roun here! It ain't so nice on the inside, man! Gets you home and come back later." 

My guide interrupted him: "No more from you! This man is meant to enter. What is meant to be, shall be. Say no more to him! Say nothing!"

Next I heard bitter sobbing, waves of weeping in darkness that soon roared around and overhead like great seas wracked by raging winds. The storm swept along big flocks of ghosts, whirling and battering them, driving them up and down in crazy ballooning orbits past a whistling gap in the ruins through which we had stepped. As they whipped by us, the shadows wailed, yowled and cursed divine power. 

I learned that it was the endless flight of those whose logic was controlled by lust: their souls are whirled around like starlings borne high aloft by winter's blasts in great wheeling flights.
Forever darting here and there, tossed higher and lower, they have no rest or hope of relief. As they blow over, they squawk like flocks of cranes.

 Canto V: 52-72 Virgil names the lovers

The voices quickly came and went in the black squall, and I had to shout over the uproar: "Teacher, who flies in the gale?"  

He answered: "That first one was an empress over peoples of many languages. She was so lewd that she had to repeal the laws against the sex crimes that she committed. She's Semiramis. As you've read, she was the wife of Ninus, and succeeded him as ruler of the lands that the Sultan of Baghdad holds today.

"Next to her that's Dido who broke faith with Sichaeus' ashes and then killed herself for love. And there's that sex pot Cleopatra. Look: that's Helen, for whom the mills of war revolved for so long. And there's great Achilles who died with love of Polyxena . . . There's Paris and Tristan, too." He pointed out more than a thousand shadows of those who had died for love.

 Canto V: 70-142 Paolo and Francesca

As he named all of these knights and famous ladies of old, I was overcome by heartache. Reeling in melancholy, I said: "Poet, I'd love to speak with those two up there who glide  together so lightly on the wind."

"Watch them," he said. "When they pass by again, call to them in the name of love that brought them here, and they will not ignore you."

When the tumult pushed them around to us again, I called them in a pitying voice: "Weary ones, please take a break  and speak to me, if you can!"

My cry moved them. From on high in Dido's soaring crowd, the pair turned to us and swooped down through the bad air like mating doves that glide on bittersweet desire to their love-nest. Then the lady spoke: "Live one, pilgrim to our purple heaven, it's kind of you to visit us whose blood has stained the earth. If the King of the Universe were still our friend, we would make him send peace to you, because you pity us. We will stay and chat while the wind allows. Ask us anything that you want.

"I was born by the shore near the mouth of the River Po and its murmuring streams. Love quickly seizes a gentle heart, and it seized my lover with a passion for the sweet body that now I have lost. Love permits no loved one not to love, and it seized me with such hot desire for him that it will never leave me, as you see. Love led us to one death. Our murderer is awaited in the place of Caïn, in the ninth circle." 














As I listened to their sad story, it weighed on me. The poet asked me why I hung my head so low, and I told him what I was thinking: "Oh, what sweet desire, what irresistible young longing brought these two lovers such suffering?"

Then I turned to those shadows again: "Francesca, your torment grieves me. I melt in sorrow because of your pain. How did love lure you into his dangerous paradise?"

She replied: "For one in misery there's no greater pain than the memory of happy times, as your guide knows. But if you must hear how our love began, I will weep again and tell you. Purely for pleasure one day, we read the romance of Lancelot and how love conquered him. We were alone and innocent, never suspecting what would happen next. As we read, our eyes began to meet, and soon we started to blush and grow pale, but then in a single moment the story undid us. When we came to the part where that lover kissed his beloved, my soul mate all trembling kissed my lips. That book was a pandering Galeotto. That day we read no further."

As she spoke, her companion moaned so that I was overcome with sympathetic tears. I went limp and drooped to the ground as if I had died.  

Canto VI

 Canto VI: 1-33 Third Circle: Cerberus: The gluttons

Those two kind spirits had stunned me with such total grief that I had swooned, but when my senses returned, I found new torments and new tormented souls all around me, wherever I turned. I was in the third circle, in an eternal, accursed, cold, heavy downpour. Huge hail stones and foul water, mixed with dirty sleet, fall ceaselessly from the murky air.   

The souls wallowing in that putrid-smelling mire are tormented by Cerberus, a cruel monster with three throats that bark like dogs. Its eyes are red, its beard gruesome and black, its belly swollen to enormous size, and its paws clawed to clutch, flay and quarter its prey. Each victim also howls like a dog, when it twists in the rain and miserably tries to protect one naked side of its body with the other.

When Cerberus saw us, it shook its huge serpent body in fury, and opened all of its mouths, showing lots of fangs. My guide reached down to the ground, grasped full fistfuls of filth, and hurled them, again and again, into the ravenous jaws. Like a dog that suddenly grows silent when it begins to gnaw a bone, so Cerberus then was muzzled, and we heard no more of the thunderous growling and barking that made the spirits wish that they were deaf.

 Canto VI: 34-63 Ciacco, the glutton.

We passed over souls that lay still in the rain, each of our steps treading on a soul that felt lumpy like a body. All of them lay flat in the mire, except one that suddenly sat upright as we passed by. He spoke to me: "You that are led through this inferno, you were born before I died. Remember me if you can."

I answered him: "I don't remember anybody in a mess like yours. Others are punished more severely here, but nobody's punishment is more disgusting. Who are you?"

And he said: "My sty in life was your Florence, your city overflowing with envy. You people called me Ciacco, and gluttony brought me here to lie the rain, but I'm not alone. All of the other pigs here are punished like me."

I answered him: "Ciacco, yes! Sure. Well I'm so sorry for you that I could cry, but tell me, if you can, what will happen to those good Florentines--if you will call any of them good! Why can't they live in peace with each other? Why are they tearing the city apart?"

 Canto VI: 64-93 Ciacco's prophecy of Florence

He answered: "It will come to bloodshed. The Whites will drive out the Blacks, but then within three suns the Blacks will return in triumph, by the power of him who plays both sides. They will hold the head high for a long time, hard-hearted, shameless, weighing down their rivals under heavy oppression. Two of their number are just, but nobody listens to them. Pride, envy and avarice are the three burning coals that have set all hearts on fire."

Here he paused in his sad prophecy, and I urged him to continue: "Tell me more. Where are Farinata and Tegghiaio, who were worthy enough, and Jacopo Rusticucci, along with Arrigo and Mosca, and the rest who set their minds on doing good. Are they now in heaven or hell?"

You may see all of them if you sink deep enough," he replied. They're among the vilest here, weighed down to the bottom by their crimes. But when you return to the sweet world again, please remember me to everybody. I will say no more, and more I will not answer."

He looked at me for a moment with an oddly fixed gaze. Then he bent his head and sank back down among his blind companions.


 Canto VI: 94-115 Virgil speaks of Doomsday

My guide said to me: "He will not rise again until the heavenly trumpet sounds, when the power comes to oppose evil. All of these spirits then will revisit their graves, resume their flesh and form, and hear their eternal judgment."

With slow steps we passed through the foul brew of rain and shadows, and we spoke a little of the future life. I asked: "Teacher, will these torments increase after the great judgment, will they lessen, or will they stay the same?" 

He replied: "Remember what science says: the more perfect a body is, the more it feels pleasure and pain. These doomed ones never will reach the joy of true perfection, but their pain will become more perfect hereafter."

We circled along that road, speaking of much more than I repeat, until we came to another place of descent, where we found Plutus, the god of wealth, the great enemy of humankind.


Canto VII

 Canto VII: 1-39 The Fourth Circle: Plutus: The Greedy

Pape Satan, pape Satan, aleppe,’ Plutus croaked in fury, but my gentle guide understood everything and reassured  me, saying: ‘Don't worry about him. He has no power stop you.’ Then he turned to that face swollen with madness and said: ‘Peace, evil wolf! Eat your insides, in your rage. Heaven sends us on this dismal trail into the deep, following the way of the angels beaten down by Michael.’ 

Like a sail, bellying in the wind, when it collapses into a heap after the mast has broken, so the cruel creature sagged to ground and deflated at our feet. 

Into that dismal pit of all depressions, we climbed down into the fourth circle. It seemed as if there were many more souls in this circle than in those above. How can I begin tell all of the pain and suffering I saw there? Holy Justice! How our sins wreck us! 

They were divided into two teams and forced to dance like waves from Charybdis, striking the counter-waves that rise against them. They put their shoulders against big barrels and shoved them around, slamming the great loads against each other and then wheeling around and rolling back the reverse way, one side howling ‘Miser, why do you hoard?’ and the others countering ‘Waster, why do you spend?’

So these maniacs jousted over and over along the gloomy ring, from the right and left to collide in the center, and then to revolve away again, always returning in the same half-circles, always screaming the same insults at each other. I felt a sudden pain in my heart, and I said: ‘Master, tell me who these people are--and whether those tonsured ones over there, to our left, were churchmen.’

 Canto VII: 40-66 The misers vs. the prodigals

He replied: ‘They were bald priests, Popes and Cardinals, most twisted by greed. In life, their minds were deformed by possessions--wild spenders on the one side and scrimping cheapskates on the other. You hear how they bellow at each other, though their needs are complementary.

‘Master,  I said, ‘I should know at least a few in this gang.

‘No, he said. ‘Because they lived in ignorance, they are now incapable of being known. They will butt against each other forever until these misers rise from their graves with grasping fists, and those prodigals come up shorn of even the little hair that they now have left. Useless saving, and useless spending, robbed them of their time, and left them with the business that you now see as well as I do. Men may brawl and swindle their way into Lady Fortune's favors, but she deceives them. Not all of the gold that is, or ever was, could buy any of these exhausted wretches a single moment's rest.’

‘Tell me more about this Lady Fortune,’ I said. ‘Who is she that holds the world's wealth?’ 

 Canto VII: 67-99 Virgil describes Lady Fortune

‘Fools all, blind in ignorance, now listen carefully to me! The king whose wisdom is infinite made the heavens and gave them ruling powers, so that the eternal light would fall on all spheres equally. When he made the earth, he gave it for its ruler this Lady Fortune. She's the reason that all possessions on earth pass from nation to nation, and house to house, always in ceaseless change. No mortal can stop her wheel from spinning. No human thought foresees what she will spin. And so one people rules and others serve, all because of her whose wisdom is hidden from them like a snake in the grass.

‘She controls those on earth, as other immortal powers rule other worlds. She has to work fast because she has so many to make and break in so little time. People blame her spitefully, even when they have prospered and ought to sing her praises, but she does not hear anybody's curses as she sits in bliss and spins joyfully among the other primal spirits of the universe.

‘But now let us go down to greater misery. Already the stars are falling that were rising when we began. Our remaining time is short.’

 Canto VII: 100-130 The Styx: approaching the Fifth Circle

We crossed over to the edge of the chasm and came to a boiling spring that pours down from a great crevice that it has worn in the ledge. Along side the dirty black water, a dark path sinks down among the rocks, and we followed it all the way to the bottom, where the stream ends in a dreary malignant swamp called Styx.  On the surface I saw a swarm of muddy people in the quagmire, naked and raging. They battered each other with punches and kicks, and they head-butted and slammed and bit as if they would tear each other limb from limb.

My good Master said: ‘Son, there you see the aggressive spirits of those that live in anger, but where the water seems to be boiling up in misery, other souls are submerged and stuck in the slime down on the bottom, sighing: “We were terrified by the air that is sweetened in the sun, and as its glory shone, our hearts poured out nothing but somber smoke. Terrorized we were and terrorized now we lie stuck forever in this sludge.” They gargle this noise in their throats, as if they are singing without lyrics or music.’

So we circled on along the bank, and we watched the foul souls, some wallowing in the filth and the others swallowing it, until at last we came to the foot of a great tower.

Canto VIII

 Canto VIII: 1-30 The Fifth Circle: Phlegyas: The Angry

I return to my story. We had seen the great tower long before we reached its base. High on top of it there were two beacon-flames. Another fire, far more distant, answered with faint signals through the mist. ‘I wonder what it's saying,’ I said. ‘And what the other light answers. Who is making those signals?’ 

The font of knowledge knew. ‘You can see there, approaching over the marsh, if the fog does not shroud it from you.’

No deadly arrow ever shot through the air so quickly as the prow of the little skiff that I saw darting toward us through the polluted waves. Its helmsman called angrily: ‘Are you here at last, damned spirit?’

My teacher said: ‘Phlegyas, Phlegyas, you waste your breath on this one. You can't keep us longer than the time it takes to cross the marsh.’

The mad fiend muttered with resentment, as if he had been cheated. My guide climbed down into his boat, and then motioned me to follow him. The hull settled down into the water only as I came aboard. We departed at once, the ancient prow plowing deeper into the water than it ever had before.

 Canto VIII: 31-63 They meet Filippo Argenti

As we were crossing the dead swamp, a lump of slime rose up in front of me, and a voice cried out from within it: ‘Who are you that come here before your time?’ 

I answered: ‘I may be here--but not to stay. Who are you, covered in muck?’ 

‘You see that I am one who weeps.’

‘Dog of hell, weep and wail forever! I know you well enough, filthy as you are.’

He stretched out both hands toward the boat, but my protective Master shoved him off with few words: ‘Away, there, with the other dogs!’ Then he put his arms around my neck, kissed me on the cheek, and said: ‘Blessed be she who bore you, soul of righteous indignation. In life, this was an arrogant knave, so he's not remembered for any redeeming features at all, and his soul wallows in anger. How many living today, believing themselves to be mighty kings, will lie here like pigs in mire, leaving curses as their legacies!’ 

"Master," I said, "I hope to see him gag in this stew before we leave this place."

He replied: ‘You will see it before we go ashore! Your wish will be fulfilled.’ 

Not long after this, I saw a muddy swarm mangling him so that I gave God thanks and praise for it. All of them shouted: ‘Get Filippo Argenti!’ That Florentine dog bit himself in rage.

 Canto VIII: 64-81 They approach the city of Dis

We left him there, so I'll say no more about him. I spun  around, toward the sound of much more wailing ahead of us, and the Master said: ‘Now, my son, we approach the garrisoned city of Dis, with its swarms of sad citizens.’ 

‘Master, in the valley I can see its minarets.  They glow red like embers smoldering after a fire bomb.’ 

‘They're red because huge underground fires burn below them,’ he explained.

We now reached the steep ditch that formed the moat around the joyless city. The walls looked to me as if they were made of iron. We made a wide circuit around and finally came to the entrance where the ferryman shouted at us: ‘This is it: get out!’

 Canto VIII: 82-130 The fallen Angels block the way

I saw them perched above the gate, more than a thousand angels that had fallen like rain from glorious heaven. They roared in rage, as if to say: ‘Who is this that lives but dares to enter the place of the dead?’ 

My teacher signaled to them that he wished to speak privately with them, and they began to quiet down. One of them ordered: ‘Come on, but come alone. Tell your bold companion, who thinks he can get in here whenever he wants, to go back the same fool's way that he came. Only the dead get in here. Once they're in, they don't get out.’

Reader, you can imagine how those terrible words sank into my heart. I thought I might never return to the land of the living.  I begged: ‘Dear Master, you have stood by me before, so don't leave me now! If they don't want us here, let's go back together to the daylight.’ 

But my guide and leader replied: ‘There's nothing to fear. Nothing can stop us: a great power gives us the right to pass. Wait here for me--and don't worry! I won't leave you wandering around alone down here.’

So the gentle old man goes, and leaves me in doubt, with ‘yes’ and ‘no’ splitting my heart between hope and fear. I did not hear his words to them, but suddenly the hoard that packed all around him broke away, howling and jostling, scrambling back into the city. They slammed the towering gate in his face, leaving him alone outside the wall. 

He returned to me slowly. His eyes were downcast, his brows creased, and he muttered: ‘Who are they to forbid me to enter the house of pain? Well, it's distressing, but don't you worry.’ He paused but then continued, ‘We will go on, even if these devils try to stop us. Their arrogance is not new. They showed it before at hell gate, where you read the inscription tonight. Yet that gate was broken open in spite of them. Through that same entrance a great one passes even now. He descends down to us circle by circle. He needs no guide and at his touch every door must open.’


Canto IX

 Canto IX: 1-33 Dante asks about precedents

My face lost its color when I saw my guide turned back at the gate, but oddly the color returned in his appearance. He stood there in an alert silence as if he were listening, unable to see so far through the fog of the dark night air. ‘Surely we were meant to pass this point,’ he began. ‘If not . . . . but help was promised! Oh, how long until our help arrives?’ His words started one way but then halted and reversed meaning, incoherently. The unfinished phrases scared me, but maybe I read too much into them.

‘Tell me, Master, do any of the souls in limbo, the souls who have everything but hope, do they ever descend into this place?’ 

He answered me. ‘It rarely happens that any of us makes this journey. Rarely, well, I do remember that I was down here, once before. Yes, I was conjured here by that cruel witch Erichtho, the one who reanimated corpses with their spirits. My flesh had been removed from me for only a short time when her spell made me enter through this very gate, to bring a spirit all the way back up from the circle of Judas. Of course, that's the deepest circle, the darkest and furthest from Heaven, and I was able to return from there all right. So you see, I know the way well enough. Be assured. The toxic marsh gas inhaled here makes it hard for us to enter this city without a fight. . .’


 Canto IX: 34-63 The Furies and Medusa

If he said more, I do not remember because my attention was pulled away. On the high tower, where the horn-like pair of fire-beacons had been, there appeared in an instant three fiendish Furies, smeared with blood. They rose up with the limbs and heads of women, but tangles of green hydras wound around their waists for belts. They had adders for hair and horned vipers bound their foreheads. 

My teacher knew these handmaids of the queen of eternal sorrow: ‘These are the awful Erinyes. That is Megaera on the left, the one that weeps. On the right is raving Alecto. Tisiphone is in the middle.’ That was all he said.

‘Let Medusa come,’ they called, and they looked down on me. ‘Let him turn to stone. Let him not go free like Theseus.’ As they chanted, each one beat her brows and clawed her bleeding breasts. They shrieked so that terror pressed me close to the poet.

‘Turn your back!’ my teacher shouted--and quickly twisted me away from them. ‘Cover your eyes, and keep them shut, or you'll never see daylight again. If you look at the Gorgon, you're a stone.’ Not trusting my hands to do the job, he wrapped his hands in a tight band over mine, hiding my eyes.

 Canto IX: 64-105 The Messenger from Heaven

You intelligent people, please see the good sense hidden behind the weird mask of this story!

Now, over the dirty waves, came an awful crash, and the shores of hell trembled. It sounded like a tempest, born of the collision of freezing and burning winds, as they blast a forest and rip the limbs, and the exploded debris flies off in all directions, and animals and shepherds scatter in panic, driven by swirling clouds of stinging dust. The Master uncovered my eyes, and said: ‘Now look there, across to the swamp where the smoke is thickest.’

Like frogs churning a pond as they scatter from a snake, and try to hide in the depths by squatting on the bottom, more than a thousand ruined souls fled in front of one who crossed the Styx with dry feet. With his left hand he fanned the noxious air away from his nose in annoyance. I thought that he must be a messenger from Heaven, and I was about to tell the Master, but he gestured at me to shut up and to bow.

Full of scorn, the presence reached the city gate, and tapped it with a wand. Instantly, it burst wide open! He stood on the dread threshold and spoke: ‘Exiles from heaven, how can this hatred still exist in you? Why continue to fight that which cannot be beaten? How can you win by opposing the inevitable? Each try only adds to your frustration. Your Cerberus still shows the scars on his necks from such futile resistance.’

Then he departed over the swamp in the same way that he had come. He said nothing to us, but seemed preoccupied by distant concerns. We approached the city without fear after his sacred speech.

 Canto IX: 106-133 The Sixth Circle: Dis: The Heretics

We entered the open gate unopposed. As soon as we were inside the fortress, I looked around and saw punishments and new torments everywhere on a vast cemetery plain. As at Arles, where the River Rhone stagnates in marshes, or at Pula, beside the Gulf of Quarnaro that confines Italy with its coast, countless sepulchers were spread in all directions, but the tombs here were not places of rest. Cruel flames ringed them and made their walls red-hot, hotter than metal in a smithy's forge. The lids of all of the biers were loose, and pushed aside, so that the groans of the tortured spirits were not muted. 

I asked: ‘Master, who's shut in the crypts calling out in so much pain?’ 

He replied: ‘Heresiarchs of all kinds, along with their followers. There are more of them than you may suspect, a number to each tomb. They are sorted by degrees: each sepulchre is fired to a different temperature.’ We turned to the right and walked between the torture chambers and the ramparts.  


Canto X

 Canto X: 1-21 Epicurus and his followers

As I followed my master on a dark path between the city walls and its tormented denizens, I asked: ‘Highest virtue, you have told me about the other circles that we have seen, but teach me about this one now, because I don't understand: why are these tombs open? Can we see the souls inside? The lids are raised, and no one stands guard.’

He answered: ‘All of these lids will be closed, and the tombs sealed forever when the souls return here from Jehoshaphat with their bodies restored to them. They include Epicurus and all who spread the false belief that the soul cannot live without the body! You will soon have an answer to your question about seeing them--and you will also have an answer to your real question, the private one that you keep to yourself.’ 

I said: ‘Good guide, nothing can be hidden from you. If I say little, it is because I am following your advice.’

 Canto X: 22-51 Farinata degli Uberti

‘You, Tuscan, who dares to breathe in this burning town, wait a minute! Your speech betrays your birthplace as that noble city that I unsettled too much.’ 

These words burst from one of the vaults. I bolted in terror to cling to my guide. ‘What's the matter with you?’ he said. ‘Turn around. Look who has raised himself! It's Farinata, from the middle up.’

I had seen him already. He had partly arisen and was sitting in his box as tall as he could, with chest puffed out as if in contempt of all beneath him. My guide shoved me past the sepulchers toward him, all the while cautioning that I must choose my words with care when speaking to this fellow. When we got as close to his tomb as I would be pushed to go, Farinata looked me over for a time, quite arrogantly, and finally he said: ‘Who could your ancestors have been?’

I did not try to hide the truth; I told him everything.

He arched his brows and boasted: ‘They were enemies to me, and to my family and to my party, and so I routed them out, not once but twice!’ 

‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘My people were forced out, but they returned twice, didn't they? Unlike your people and their party who returned only once upon a time . . . ’

 Canto X: 52-72 Cavalcante Cavalcanti

Just as I was speaking, another shadow popped up behind Farinata in the tomb. This one was visible only down to the chin, so I guessed that maybe he was kneeling. He glanced all around me, as if anxious to see who was there behind me, and then he broke down weeping: ‘If you know in this prison of blindness, tell me: where is my son? Why isn't he here with you?’ 

His words and his punishment revealed to me who he was, and so I was able to answer him without any further questioning. ‘I was led here, though my guide is now behind me here. He's one that your Guido never cared for in his life.’

Suddenly, he shot up on his feet and cried: ‘Never . . . in his life? What did you say? Is my son dead? Can he not see the sweet daylight?’ 

I was a little slow to begin my answer to him, and abruptly he sank out of sight, and never showed himself again.

 Canto X: 73-93 Farinata prophesies Dante’s exile

But the other one, who had called me to him, never turned his head or changed his expression. He continued to speak as though nothing had happened: ‘If my party has not returned, it burns me more than this bed! But soon you too will learn how hard it is to return. You will learn it before the infernal moon goddess, who rules us, fully shows herself fifty times! How can the city remain so hostile toward my family?’ 

I answered him: ‘Indictments against them are read in the churches. Everybody still remembers when the Arbia ran red with blood.’

He shook his head in protest: ‘I did not fight alone! We had good cause for what we did! And when my allies decided to demolish the city and put an end to her forever, I alone stood up against them and saved Florence.’

 Canto X: 94-136 The prophetic power in hell

‘Well,’ I said to him, ‘may your family find peace. But there's still something I don't understand about you. How can you see the future if you don't know what's happening in the present?’

‘Call us farsighted,’ he explained. ‘The lord of light lets us foresee distant things, but as they approach and come into being we lose them in a glare. We know nothing about that which is, unless we are told, and on Doomsday we will lose our foreknowledge, too, when our lids are sealed forever.’

‘In that case,’ I said, feeling guilty, ‘please tell the one who fell down next to you just now that his son still lives. I was slow to answer his question a minute ago because I was so confused about your states of knowledge.’

My Master now was pulling me away, and so in haste I asked Farinata to tell me, as briefly as he could, who was sleeping with him. He said: ‘More than a thousand lie here with me, including Frederick the Second and Cardinal Ubaldini. I will say no more.’ 

With those words, he hid himself, but I was upset about his prediction of my future. ‘What's troubling you now?’ the ancient poet asked as I returned to him. Before I could tell him, he raised his finger at me and lectured: ‘You sorrow because of the dark things that have been forecast here, but listen more attentively to this prediction: you will rise in the radiance of that lady whose bright eyes see everything, and not before then will you completely know your destiny.’

We turned back to the left, away from the wall and toward the middle, and soon came to a trail above a valley of more foul gas, and the rank smell rose up to us.

Canto XI

 Canto XI: 1-66 Virgil describes circles #7-9

Enormous broken boulders were strewn around the circular rim of a high bank. An overpowering stench welled up on breezes from the deep abyss and its fuming souls. We stopped there behind the shelter of a large monument with an inscription that said: ‘I hold Anastasius, that Photinus drew away from the true path.’ 

There the teacher said: ‘Before we go down there, we need to get used to the smell. Let's breathe here until we hardly notice it.’ 

‘That could take a while!’ I said. ‘What will we do to pass the time?’

He had an idea about that, he said, and he began to recite a lecture. ‘My son, below this wall of stone lie three smaller circles, similar to the larger ones that you are leaving. All three are packed with ghosts, but let me explain their problems so that you will know them when you see them.

‘The places below are set aside for malice, which means intent to harm others, by force or fraud. Those who cause harm by force lie immediately below us in the seventh circle, but that circle is subdivided into three rings because violence takes three different forms: there is violence against neighbors, violence against self, and violence against God. Let me define these types clearly for you.

‘Violence against neighbors includes killing or injuring others or destroying, burning or stealing their property. So, the first ring holds killers, muggers, thieves and robbers of all the various types.

‘Violence against self is punished in the second ring. Here are the suicides, gamblers who dissipate their wealth, and all those weep when they should be happy.

Violence against God includes blasphemy, atheism  and contempt for nature and her good gifts. Accordingly, those who are bound in the smallest ring include those marked with the brand of Sodom and Cahors, together with all others who reject God.

‘Below these rings of violence, fraud gnaws the conscience. Fraud is especially hateful toward God, because it is uniquely human, so deceivers find themselves lying lowest and bearing the most pain. In the worst cases the victim trusts the defrauder, but in other cases there is no personal bond of trust. This latter, general kind of fraud is unnatural because it goes against the natural bond of all humanity. It is punished in the eighth circle, which holds all who are guilty of hypocrisy, sorcery, flattery, cheating, simony; pimping, corruption in public office, and similar cons.

‘The personal kind of fraud based on special relationships of trust is punished in the ninth and tightest circle, at the base of the universe, where Dis has his throne and every traitor is tormented forever.’

 Canto XI: 67-93 Contrasting the upper circles, #1-6

I said: ‘Teacher, thank you for explaining the populations below, but what about those that we have seen already: those in the great swamp, those blowing in the wind, those beaten in the rain, those who bump together and howl? Why aren't they punished down here in the flaming city? If they are hateful toward God, then why aren't they cast down lower?’ 

He replied: ‘You haven't understood? Read the Ethics, where Aristotle describes the offending tendencies in the human spirit: incontinence, brutishness, and malice. Remember how he says that incontinence offends least and incurs least blame? If you hold this idea, and remember those who are punished in the circles that we have seen, you will realize why they are found in the higher circles and why their pain is less severe.’  

 Canto XI: 94-115 Virgil explains banking  

I said: ‘O, the fog has lifted! You answer me so well that to have questions is better for me than to have understanding! So please clarify one more point of confusion, if you will. Return to what you mentioned a moment ago about money lending. What's wrong with that?’ 

He answered: ‘Philosophy reasons that divine intelligence directs all of the artistry of nature. Human arts then imitate nature, as well as they can, like students following their teacher, as Aristotle says near the start of the Physics. In this sense, human arts should be like the grandchildren of God. People must use these arts to earn their daily bread, as it says in the beginning of the Book of Genesis, and yet the money lender does no such work. Unearned income is unnatural and therefore ungodly.

‘But now it's time to go. The great bear in Caurus can see the fish quivering low on the horizon. The way down over the cliff lies ahead.’

Canto XII

   Canto XII: 1-27 Guardian of the 7th circle: the Minotaur

Over the edge, an enormous rock slide led down through a desolate mountainous terrain that was appalling to see. It resembled the lifeless slope of stone that tumbles down to the left bank of the River Adige, all of the way to Trent, the result of some massive earthquake. A few of the shattered boulders appeared to form a very rough stairway down, but the top step was guarded by the monster of Crete, the beastly Minotaur conceived on Pasiphaë when she disguised herself in wood as a cow.

When he saw us, he began to chew on himself insanely, as if to eat the rage within himself. My guide taunted him: ‘Are you afraid that the Duke of Athens has returned? Get out of here, you monster! This man has not been seduced by your sister Ariadne to kill you. He comes here only to observe your torture.’

For a moment the Minotaur shuddered, like a bull when it receives the fatal blow and loses control of its motion, plunging here and there. My guide cried: ‘Run quickly now, while he's stunned!’

I started down over the rubble of rocks that often shifted beneath my feet, from the unaccustomed weight. My master could see that I was full of wonder. ‘What about these fallen rocks? The last time I was down here, the cliff still stood; this slide is more recent. I think that this hateful valley must have shook, just before the great ones were rescued from the first circle. The whole earth seemed to tremble at that time, and so maybe that's when these ancient rocks broke free and tumbled.

‘But look now, down in the valley. We are close to the river of boiling blood, where those who bled their fellow human beings now must swim.’  

 Canto XII: 49-99 The First Ring: The Centaurs: The Violent

Blind, mad desires drive us during our brief lives, and utterly sink us for all eternity! As my guide said, I saw a wide, winding canal circling the plain below. Running between its bank and the cliff were centaurs, a whole herd armed with weapons, as once upon a time they used to hunt upon the face of the earth.  

They watched our descent, and as we came within range three of them stepped forward aiming bows and spears at us. One of these shouted from the distance: ‘What pain are you here for? Stop and answer, or I'll shoot!’ 

My teacher said: ‘Your anger still hurts you. We will speak to Chiron, there by your side.’

Then he explained to me: ‘That is Nessus, who was killed by Hercules for trying to rape fair Deianira; he used his own poisoned blood to revenge himself and kill his slayer. Next to him, in the center there, with his head bowed to his chest, is the great Chiron, who taught Achilles. The third one is Pholus, fiercest of all. They and thousands of their companions patrol the channel and shoot any of the ghosts that climb up out of the blood above the level of their guilt.’

The three drew near. With the notched end of an arrow, Chiron pushed his beard away from his lips, uncovering a huge mouth, and he observed to his companions: ‘Have you noticed that the one in the rear moves whatever he touches? The feet of dead men normally don't do that.’

My good guide now stood next to Chiron's chest, where the two parts of him join, and he replied: ‘He's alive, and he's here by necessity, not desire. I have come along only to show him the way. The lady who gave me this job sings Alleluias. He's no thief, and neither am I, so let one of your breed show us where the ford is, and carry this one across the river on his back, since he cannot fly like a spirit through the air.’

Chiron turned to his right, to Nessus, and ordered: ‘Guide them, and if another crew meets you, keep them off.’

 Canto XII: 100-139 The Tyrants, Murderers and Warriors

Myself following our local guide and the poet following me, as he directed, we processed along the shore of that boiling bloody canal, where the ghosts roiled and shrieked. Some of the bathers were immersed up to their eyeballs, and the centaur commented: ‘These are tyrants who lived by killing and plunder, but now they beg for mercy. There's Alexander, and fierce Dionysius, the Tyrant of Syracuse who brought so many years of pain to Sicily. Over there, that head of black hair is Azzolino, and the blonde one is Obizzo da Este, who was murdered by his stepson up in your world.’ 

A little further on, where people boiled in the blood up to their throats, Nessus paused to point out one of the spirits, apart by itself. ‘That one is Guy de Montfort, who in God’s house pierced that heart that is still venerated by the Thames.’

As we continued upstream I began to see souls that could hold their heads and upper bodies out of the bath, and I could name many of them. The flow gradually became shallower and shallower, until it cooked only the feet, and finally we came to the place of our ford across the ditch.

Before he left me and turned back across the stream, the centaur said: ‘You can see how the stream flows less and less on this side, but on the other side it rises more and more, until it comes again to the depths where the tyrants stew. There holy justice scorches Attila, the scourge of the earth; and Pyrrhus, and Sextus Pompeius; and it draws tears from Rinier da Corneto, and Rinier Pazzo, who terrorized the highways.’

Canto XIII

 Canto XIII: 1-30 The Second Ring: The Harpies: The Suicides

Nessus had not yet reached the other bank when we entered a wood where no trail had been blazed. The foliage was much darker than green, almost black. With poisonous thorns poking out in all directions, the branches were twisted, gnarled, and fruitless, more thick and tangled than the lairs of beasts that hide in the rough Tuscan wilds between Cecina and Corneto. Those creatures with human faces and necks, but broad wings, large feathered bellies and clawed feet, Harpies fill that dark wilderness with mournful cries as terrifying as the prophecies of disaster that once drove the Trojans from the Strophades!

The kind teacher spoke. ‘This is the second ring, from this point until you come to the awful sands. I could tell you what's here, but you would not believe me.’

I heard sighs all around me, but I saw no one there. Were there people hiding behind the trees? The teacher said: ‘Break a little twig from any one of these branches, and you will see.’

 Canto XIII: 31-78 The Wood of Suicides: Pier delle Vigne

I reached out to a large thorn bush and snapped off a stick. ‘Ouch! What are you doing!’ It shrieked, and dark blood oozed down the trunk. ‘What was that for? So what if we are bushes, or snakes, or anything else! We were human once, like you. You should be kind to us!’

Like a green branch that spits and hisses at one end while the other end burns, so the injured shrub bubbled out blood and sobs together. I had dropped the bloody piece in horror, and froze spooked, half-turned toward my guide.

He spoke to it. ‘If he had remembered my poem, he might not have torn into you, but you are too well camouflaged! I'm sorry that I let him hurt you, but he can repay you if you tell him a little something about yourself. When he returns to the sweet world up above, he can make you famous, you know.

The bush replied: ‘All right. Yes, I've got a story for you. I'm Pier delle Vigne, or I was, the one who held the keys to Frederick's chest, so many keys that I, almost alone, unlocked all of its secrets. That was no ordinary job. It cost me a lot of sleep and then my life, too.

‘What finally made Augustus turn my honor into grief? That jade in Caesar’s household, that common whore in all great households: envy! My success stirred many inferior minds against me. In the end I could not take their insults. Their torture made me unjust to myself, even though I had never been unjust to anybody. I swear, by these roots of mine, I never betrayed my honorable lord. If you ever rise in the world above, restore the reputation that I lost when envy knocked me down.’

 Canto XIII: 79-108 The fate of the Suicides

The poet listened but nothing more could be heard. ‘He is silent,’ he said to me. ‘But speak to him. Don't lose your chance. Ask him to tell you more.’ 

But I was choked by pity. ‘You ask him,’ I said. ‘Ask him about whatever you want. I can't speak to him.’ 

He continued: ‘Broken soul, this man may need a little more information to care for your memory as you have requested. Tell us how spirits like yours can be bound and twisted into these knots. Do any of you ever manage to get free?’

At that, the thorn exhaled a great sigh which slowly grew into a voice that said: ‘After a violent spirit rips itself from the body, Minos slaps it down here to the seventh depth of sorrow. It falls into these woods, and wherever it happens to land, it sprouts like a grain of German wheat. But as soon as it leafs out like a tree, the Harpies feed on its growth. Crooked, fruitless, always in pain: this is what becomes of those who take the easy way out.

‘We will get our corpses back on Doomsday, but not to put them on again--we can never again wear what we have taken off. We will drag our bodies here to this wood and hang them to dangle forever on our thorns.’

 Canto XIII: 109-129 Lano and Jacomo  

While we were still listening, hoping that the thorn might tell us more, we were startled by a noise on the left, as if wild boars were barreling toward us through the dense undergrowth. We turned and saw two naked, torn souls, running so hard that they broke every thicket in the woods.

‘Come death, come now!’ the leader cried.

Lano, your legs were not so swift at Toppo,’ called the other, Jacomo, running in second place. Jacomo looked beat. He stopped and hid behind a bush.

Suddenly the woods behind them were filled with black bitch hounds, eager and quick as greyhounds that have slipped the leash. They clamped their teeth into Jacomo as he squatted there. They tore him limb from limb, and then they carried off the pieces!

 Canto XIII: 130-151 The unnamed Florentine

My guide now took me by the hand, and led me to the bush where Jacomo had hid. It was grieving through its bleeding splinters: ‘Jacomo da Sant’ Andrea, what have you gained by making your cover of me? Why should I suffer for your sins?’

The teacher stopped next to it and asked: ‘You that mourn and bleed through so many wounds, who were you?’ 

It answered: ‘It's enough that you have seen my mangling by these outrageous hounds. Gather up my shredded leaves and lay them around my barren trunk. I am from the city that changed allegiance from Mars to John the Baptist. For that insult, the god of war will make it bleed forever. Florence was rebuilt from the ashes that Totila left only because a few pieces of the god's statue were rescued from the Arno and set up on the bridge. For me, I have no story. I made a gallows for myself from a support beam.’  

Canto XIV

 Canto XIV: 1-42 The Third Ring: The Violent against God

Nostalgia for my home town stirred within me, and I picked up the scattered leaves, and presented them to him whose voice already was mute.

Passing on, we came out to the edge that divides the second and third ring. There before us was a desert, encircled by the mournful wood just as the bloody ditch surrounds the wood. It was a dead plain, dry and thick with sand like Cato's Sahara. An awful form of justice was to be seen there. God’s vengeance should terrify all of you readers who can visualize what I saw!

There on the vast sands were herds of naked spirits, all weeping bitterly, some lying face upward on the ground, some crouching together, some ranging across the burning sands. The wanderers were the largest number, but those who lay in torment cried louder. Like snowfall in high mountains when there is no wind at all, large flakes of fire slowly drifted down on all alike. Like the flames that fell on Alexander and his army in the hottest regions of India, the flames fell perpetually and doubled the agony by kindling the sand, like tinder under a flint and steel. The little fires had to be trampled underfoot as soon as they hit the ground so that they would not join and spread. The twitching of the tortured hands never stopped, now here, now there, all over, endlessly flicking away the fresh brands.

 Canto XIV: 43-72 Capaneus

I said: ‘Teacher, you have shown the way to pass every obstacle so far, except when we were stopped by those fiends at the city gate. So tell me now, who is that wraith lying there facing the firestorm with so much scorn, the one that looks so indifferent to pain?’ 

The one I asked about heard me and answered directly: ‘The same that I was, when I lived, I am now.  Jupiter will never beat me, though one day in a rage he forced grimy Vulcan to hammer out the lightning bolt that struck me down. Let him burn out all of the Cyclopes at the black forge of Aetna, too, until they are exhausted and plead for Vulcan's help.  Let him aim at me every bolt they can produce. Let him throw has hard as he can, as at Phlegra when he fought the giants. He can't ever defeat me!’

Then my guide spoke up, with more force than I had heard from him before: ‘Capaneus, you torment yourself! No punishment fits your proud fury except your own mad raving.’ 

Then he turned to me and explained with calm voice: ‘He was one of the seven against Thebes. He thinks that he rages at God, but in fact, as I told him, he curses only his own heart.’

 Canto XIV: 73-120 The Ancient Giant under Crete

Now follow me, but keep your feet off the burning sand. Stay close to the trees.’ 

Walking in silence, we came to a place where a little stream seeps out from the woods and runs away across the desert. I shudder to recall its redness, crossing the sand like the sulphur streams that flow from the Bulicame spring that the whores share near Vitterbo. Its bed was petrified, as were the banks beside it, so I realized that our way across the desert must lay there.

‘Among the wonders that I have shown you since we entered though the gate that opens for everybody, your eyes have seen nothing like this stream that quenches all of the flames as it flows over the sands.’ These were my guide’s words, and I asked him to tell me more. I wanted to know all about it.

He obliged. ‘In the middle of the sea there is a desolate island named Crete, under whose king the antique world long ago was pure. In those days, a mountain there, called Ida, was  blessed with waters and vegetation, and under this mountain Rhea chose a cave to be the secret crypt and trusted cradle of her son. She posted her guardians around the infant, and their loud shouts echoed from the cave whenever he cried.

Standing upright inside this mountain there is an Ancient Giant. His shoulders are turned toward Damietta in Egypt, but his head is turned toward Rome, as if it were his mirror. The head is made of pure gold, his arms and chest are refined silver, and the belly to the waist is bronze. From there on down, he is all choice iron, except that the right foot is clay, and more of his weight falls on that foot than on the other one. Every part, except the gold, is cracked with a cleft that sheds tears, which collect and erode the cave. Their course falls from rock to rock into the underworld. They form Acheron, Styx and Phlegethon, and then by this narrow overflow channel here they hurtle down and disappear into Cocytus. You will see that lake later, so I won't describe it to you now.’

 Canto XIV: 121-142 The Rivers Phlegethon and Lethe

‘If this stream flows down like that from the world above,  I asked, then why haven't we seen it before?

He replied: ‘Don't be surprised to see new things. Though you have descended a long way, always circling down to the left, you have not yet turned through a complete round of the underworld.’

I asked more: ‘Master, where are Lethe and Phlegethon?  You have said nothing of Lethe, but you say that the other is formed from the tears that you have described.’

He replied: ‘You please me with your questions, yes you do, but this boiling red water here answers one of them. As for Lethe, you will see it later above this cave, on the Mount where the spirits go to wash away their guilt by penitence.

‘Now it's time to leave the woods. Everything out there is burning except the stream banks that quench the fires. See that you follow me closely. ’


Canto XV

 1-42 The Violent against God: Brunetto Latini

Now one of the stone banks leads us into the vast desert, in the shade of a steam cloud above the brook. Those banks were built just as the Flemish between Bruges and Wissant make dykes to hold back the sea that threatens to flood them; and as the Paduans do, along the Brenta, to defend their town and homes before the warmth of spring thaws the Carnic Alps. But whoever built these banks constructed them not nearly as high or as wide as those.

After the woods receded out of sight, we met a group of ghosts coming from the other direction on the sands beside the bank. They squinted up at us, as people peer at one another at twilight under a new moon, or as elderly tailors do when trying to thread the eyes of needles. One of them recognized me and grabbed the skirt of my robe. ‘How marvelous!’ he said.

I had strained to see him as he reached up toward me. I knew him in spite of all the burn marks. I extended my hand toward his familiar face and replied: ‘Are you here, Ser Brunetto?’

‘My boy, he answered, don't be upset if Brunetto Latini sticks with you for a time, and lets his other friends run along without him.’

I said: ‘With all my heart, yes, please stay with me. I'll sit here with you right now, if my companion doesn't mind.  

He said: ‘O my son, around here anybody who sits anywhere, even for a minute, is stuck there for a hundred years with the firestorm beating him! No, just keep marching, and I'll stumble along at your heels until I have to rejoin my choir with their endless laments.’

  Canto XV: 43-78 Brunetto’s prophecy

I did not dare to step down from the path to his level but as we walked I, like one in reverence, kept my head bowed in his direction. He began: ‘Is it destiny or chance that brings you here before your last day? And who's this fellow that leads you?’

I replied: ‘I lost the bright life up above somehow, and I wandered into the valley before my time had come. I set out only yesterday morning, but I was turning back when this guide appeared. He's taking me home this way.’

And he said to me: ‘Follow your star, and you cannot fail to reach a glorious harbor! I knew it while I lived: I could see Heaven's favor upon you. If I had not died before you, I would have supported you in all of your work. But that ungrateful, hateful people, who came down from Fiesole to Florence in ancient times, they still have mountain and rock in their hearts. They will be your enemies forever because of the good things that you do.

Your destiny is honorable, but they are blind, envious, arrogant, greedy people. The fig tree will not bear sweet fruit in an orchard of sour crab-apples. Avoid their soil: no plant can grow under a goat!  If you sprout from their dunghill of malice, both parties will eat you! Let the herd from Fiesole chew one another, but never bite off the remaining shoot of the sacred seed of the Romans.’

 Canto XV: 79-99 Dante accepts his fate

I answered him: ‘If I had one wish, you would still live in the world above. I remember you always as the dear, kind, fatherly man who, hour by hour, taught me the way that men make themselves immortal. As long as I live, the words I write will show how I treasure your teaching. I will write down your prediction for my future. I'll keep it with other prophecies I've received, and I'll show them to a lady who will know how to interpret them, if I ever find her.

‘Whatever happens, I will take anything Fortune gives me, as long as my conscience does not trouble me about it. I've heard predictions like yours before, so let Fortune spin her wheel, if she must, as the peasant turns his spade.’

At that, my Master looked back, turned around to face me, and said: ‘One who truly listens knows what has been said.’

 Canto XV: 100-124 Brunetto names his companions

I kept talking with Ser Brunetto, and I asked him to name the most famous of his companions. He answered: ‘I will tell you a few, but there's no time to name them all. On earth, they were writers and famous scholars, but they all made the same mistake.

Priscian goes in that dour crowd, and Francesco d’Accorso: and if you want to see scum you can find Andrea di Mozzi there, who was forced by that servant of the servant of God, I mean Pope Boniface, to move his bishopric from the Arno to Vicenza’s Bacchiglione, where he departed from his queer body.

I would tell you more, but another cloud rises in the desert, and I can't face the group that's coming. Remember my Tresoro, in which I still live. That's all I ask.’

He turned back, and seemed to me like one who runs through the open fields for the green cloth at Verona, but  he ran like a winner.


Inferno Canto XVI

 1-45 Jacopo Rusticucci, Guido Guerra, Tegghiaio Aldobrandi

Already we could hear, rumbling with the hum of a beehive, the sound of the place where the water fell down into the next circle, when three spirits broke away from their company on the burning plain and bolted toward us. As they ran, they called to me: ‘Wait, wait a minute! By your dress, you look like a traveler who comes from our corrupted city.’

O, what wounds, both old and fresh, branded their naked bodies! Even now, the memory of their burned flesh is horrifying. My teacher heard their call and stopped. ‘Wait for them, he said. Show respect, for these souls are deserving. In fact, if it were not for the fires out there, I would tell you to run to them.’ 

We waited, but when the three of them reached us, they formed themselves into a circle, wheeling round like champion wrestlers, naked and oiled, gripping one another's arms while looking for a hold or an advantage, before they strike. Each of them directed his gaze at me, so that his head and feet turned in an opposite directions.

One of them began: ‘The horror of this wasteland, and our broiled faces, may make us contemptible in your eyes, but let our fame move you to tell us who you are, and how you can walk with carnal feet through hell. This peeled and naked soul who circles around this wheel ahead of me was greater in worldly honor and degree than you may guess. His name is Guido Guerra, grandson of the good lady Gualdrata, and in his life he won great fame in council and in fighting. This other one, who comes behind me, is Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, whose advice the world ought to have followed. And I, joined with them in this torture, I am Jacopo Rusticucci, and I owe my pain mostly to my shrewish wife.’

 Canto XVI: 46-87 The condition of Florence

I would have thrown myself down into their wheel right then and there, if I had been protected from the fire. I think that my teacher would have let me go, too, but since I would have been burned to a crisp, fear overcame my impulse to embrace them.

I answered: ‘I have only compassion for you. I feel nothing but sadness as I look on your torment. I was speechless with grief when my guide said that such men as you were here. I am from your own city, and I have often heard your names and your deeds remembered with honor and affection. Now I have left that place of gall behind, and I am on the way to sweet happiness, as my honest guide here promises, but we are going by way of this desert. In fact, we're going all the way down to the bottom.’

He replied: ‘Long live your soul within your body, and may your fame shine after you! Tell us if courage and good manners still remain in our city, as they used to, or if they are things of the past? We are pained by the bad news we have heard on this subject from Gugliemo Borsiere, who recently joined us here.

I said: ‘Newcomers, with new wealth, have brought arrogance and excess to you, Florence, so that already you weep for it.’ I shouted these words with an uplifted voice. The three below me took them to be my answer.

They looked at one another, as if they had heard the truth. They replied: ‘Happy are you, if you can answer questions so easily! Happy are you to have such a gift of free speech! If you escape from this black hole, if you ever see the beauty of the stars again, when you are moved to tell people “I was down there,” please remember to mention us.’

Then they broke up their circle and ran away so fast that their legs seemed like wings. An Amen could not have been said in the time it took for them to vanish,

 Canto XVI: 88-136  Virgil goes fishing

My master moved on again, and I followed him. Soon we came to a great waterfall thundering so that, if we had been shouting, we hardly would have heard each other. Like the Acquacheta river (that springs from its source at Monte Veso on the Apennines' slope, then flows east and loses its name, to become the Montone, at Forlì) as that river falls at San Benedetto dell' Alpe, so down a single rocky precipice those tainted waters plunged with the deafening crash of a thousand torrents.

My master asked to borrow the rope that was looped around my waist. (Once I had hoped to catch the spotted leopard with it.) When I gave him the coil, he turned to the right, and threw one end of it far over the ledge into the abyss, his eyes following it so closely that, I thought, he must be looking for something strange from the deep.

Ah, how careful we should be when in the company of those who can read our minds! He said to me: ‘What I expect will soon ascend, and what you imagine will soon appear to you.’

People should not speak, if they can help it, when the truth will sound untrue, but I just can't maintain silence here. Reader, I swear to you, by the words of this Commedia, as I hope that they will find lasting favor, I swear that I saw a shape swimming upwards through the murky air! It looked like a diver who returns to the surface after freeing an anchor caught on shoals or other things hidden in the sea: he kicks and surges up with both arms held out straight overhead.

Canto XVII

 1-30 The fraud-beast Geryon

Look there: the beast with the sharp tail that cuts across the land, pierces through walls and armor, and stinks up everything.’ This was my master's description of the creature that he waved to come ashore at the rock ledge at the end of our path. A repulsive image of fraud floated up to us, kindly grounded its head and chest on the cliff, but left its tail dangling down over the edge out of sight.

It had the face of any honest man, harmless-looking in its features, friendly in expression, but down below was a the body of a beast. Its paws and arms up to the armpits were hairy, but its back, chest, and flanks were reptilian, imprinted with such designs of knots and circles that neither Tartars nor Turks ever wove cloth with more subtle color nor more intricate pattern, nor did Arachne ever spin such a web on her loom. As a boat lies beached, part drawn up on land and part lying in the water, or as the beaver (up in the country of the swilling Germans) readies itself either to fight or to dive by standing near the shore with its tail in the pond, so the front of that predator hung on the lip of stone, but its tail twitched down in the void and thrashed the venomous fork like a scorpion.

My guide said: ‘Our way lies ahead, through this malign creature.’

 Canto XVII: 31-78 The Money Men

The creature lying in the path, we stepped down to the right along side of the beast and carefully took ten paces by the edge of the fire, but I noticed a group sitting a little distance further away in the sand on the brink of the abyss. ‘Go and look: they will complete your knowledge of this circle,my Master instructed, ‘but don't be long. I'll negotiate with this monster for a ride on its back.’ 

So I left him and walked out alone to the circle's outer edge, to the spot where a miserable bunch huddled in obvious pain. Their hands were forever busy flicking away the falling embers and sometimes flaming sands. They jerked around like dogs in summer, now twitching the muzzle, now the paws, when stung by fleas, gnats and horse-flies. I searched their faces, but they were burned beyond recognition.

From the neck of each hung a distinctive moneybag, and all eyes were fixed on these purses. Each pouch was brightly colored with its own coat of arms. One was a blue seal on a golden-yellow bag, and it looked something like the head and body of a lion. Another, on a blood-red bag, displayed a goose whiter than butter. A third was a white purse stamped with a pregnant-looking blue sow, and it's bearer barked at me: ‘What are you doing here? Go away! You're not dead! This empty seat by my side is reserved for my neighbor Vitaliano, who should be arriving shortly. Look, there are too many Florentines to deal with already. I'm Paduan. They drive me nuts with their calls: 'Send down the knight of the three eagles’ beaks!'’

Then he puckered up and stuck out his long tongue. He  looked like an ox licking its nose. I turned and walked away, afraid to stay any longer, for my guide had told me to be brief.

 Canto XVII: 79-136 The descent on Geryon’s back

I found him already mounted on the broad back of the creature. He called me to join him: ‘Be brave! This is the only way down! You go in front, and I will ride behind to guard you from the poisonous tail.’

Like those who shake with malarial fever, nails pallid, shivering with chill at the mere sight of shade, so I trembled at first, but then I felt the shame that makes a servant brave in the presence of a worthy master. I forced myself to  climb on top of those huge hairy shoulders. I wanted to scream ‘Hold me tight!’ but the words would not come out. As soon as I was mounted, he who helped me in other troubles took hold of me around the waist. He steadied me and said: ‘Now move, Geryon! But circle slowly. Take us down gently! Remember you are carrying an unusual load.’

As a small boat backs off from a beachhead or mooring, so the monster slid back from that stony shore, and when it was well clear of the rim, it swung its tail around, stretched it out behind, and began to wave it like an eel, while also paddling with its paws, as if trying to stay afloat. I cannot believe that Phaëthon knew more terror when he dropped the reins and scorched across the sky where it still looks burned today; I cannot think that poor Icarus felt more panic when the wax feathers melted from his arms, and he heard his father Daedalus screaming up at him: ‘You're too high!’ I was surrounded on all sides by nothing but air! Everything vanished except the savage beast!

It swims slowly, descends slowly in a big spiral. I can't see the destination, but I can feel a chill breeze from below on my face. Soon I begin to hear the whirlpool, on the right, and then a terrible roaring underneath us. I stretch my neck out over the side and look down, but now I'm even more afraid. I see fires, and hear moaning, so that I cower back and tighten my legs. And finally there appeared what had been unseen before: our sinking and circling path winding through torments that seemed to be closing in on us from all sides.

As the defiant or sulking falcon, that has been circling long aloft without finding prey, descends wearily when the falconer cries ‘stoop!’ but then darts off to land somewhere far from its master, so Geryon set us down, at the base, close to the foot of the fractured rock, but as soon as it was relieved of our weight, it instantly shot away from us like an arrow from a bow.



 1-21 The Eighth Circle: Malebolge

There's a district of Hell called Malebolge, all made of the same iron-colored stone as the towering cliffs that surround it. Right in the center, there's a grim drain that yawns wide and deep, but I'll describe that later, when I get around to it. Between this drain and the cliffs on the perimeter lies a circular terrain that is divided into ten narrow ditches or sinks, like ten successive moats encircling the ramparts of some huge fortification. And like bridges that cross moats into a castle, or like spokes on a wheel that join rim and hub, narrow ridges of rock cross the ditches from the cliffs down to the drain. There's also a ridge around the base of the cliffs, and that's where Geryon had dumped us.

 Canto XVIII: 22-39 The First Ditch: Pimps and Seducers

The poet turned and went left.  As I hurried after him, I could see over on my right, down in the first ditch, new kinds of behavior, new tortures and tormentors. Down in that bottom naked spirits paraded in two separate lanes. Those nearer to us approached and passed opposite to our direction, and those farther away moved left as we did, but they hustled a lot faster. The Romans used a similar traffic plan at the recent Jubilee, where huge crowds were directed to inbound or outbound lanes across the bridge: on one side all faced towards the castle and went in the direction of St Peter’s, while on the other side, all moved out toward Monte Giordano.

On this side and on that, all along the way, horned demons took perverse delight in whipping the marchers from behind. How the first crack of any of those big switches made them skip! None waited around for a second or third lash!

 Canto XVIII: 40-66 The Pimps: Venedico de’ Caccianemico

As I went on, my eyes met one who briefly glanced up at me, and I thought: where have I seen this guy before? I looked the fellow over carefully, while my guide waited and let me retrace some of my steps. That character now was trying to hide from me by lowering his face, but I did not let him get away. I said: ‘Hey, you with your head hung low, I'm talking to you! If you are anybody at all, you must be Venedico de' Caccianimico! What happened to you?’

He stopped to reply: ‘Hey, why don't you ask me a blunt question? Maybe I don't want to talk about it, you know? But I can't lie to you now. You remember my name all right. I . . . persuaded my sister to lay the Marquis of Este. You think that sounds bad or something? I'm not the only Bolognese doing time here! This place is packed with us, lots more than all the mouths living today between Savena and Reno that say sipa for sì.  You know my town well enough--how we adore cash.’ Just as he spoke, a demon struck him with his whip, and screamed: ‘Move, pimp! You can't cash in on any whores around here!’

 XVIII: 67-99 The Seducers: Jason

I rejoined my guide, and in a few steps we came to one of the stony spokes that ran across the ditches from the cliff toward the center. We made a left onto this ridge and very easily climbed over the top of the first trench. My guide paused in a place with an open view of the action below us, and he said: ‘If you look back to the left now you can see the faces that we couldn't see before.’

We saw them hurrying on, driven by the whips toward us now. As I was about to question him, my master anticipated what I wanted to know. ‘Yes, that one seems majestic. Look how he suffers, but not a tear falls from his eyes. He still acts like a king! He's the treacherous Argonaut Jason, who robbed the Colchians of the Golden Fleece.

‘On that quest, he sailed by the isle of women, Lemnos, where the feminists had overthrown the men and put all but one of them to death. Stopping there, he found Hypsipyle, the loving young girl who had managed to save her father's life by tricking the murderous women. Jason used gifts and sweet words to deceive this poor child, and as soon as he got her pregnant, he sailed away and left her forever. For this deceit, and of course for abandoning Medea, he pays the penalty that you see. All of his companions here used similar seductions. That's the whole story of this first channel.’

 Canto XVIII: 100-136 The Second Ditch: The Flatterers

Continuing along the ridge, as we approached the second ditch, we could hear all kinds of whining, snorting, and slapping. Coming closer, we could see that the banks of that moat were covered with a crust of mold, no doubt formed by the gas that rises from below and condenses there--and assaults both the eyes and nose! We could not observe the bottom of that gorge until we stood on the rock arches directly over the top of it. Looking straight down from there, I could see the inhabitants immersed in flowing excrement that looked as if it had been flushed from sewers. My eyes were drawn to one of them whose head was so covered with shit that you could not have guessed if he was a priest or a parishioner!

‘What the hell are you looking at?’ he shouted up at me. ‘I'm no more full of crap than others here!’

I answered him: ‘I pick you out because, I think, I have seen you before--though much less filthy then. You are Alessio Interminei of Lucca, if I recall.’

He struck his forehead: ‘So this is what you get for a lifetime of flattery! I must have kissed too many butts!’

My guide poked me: ‘I'll show you a foul obscenity. Look over there, at the one that scratches herself with fecal-lined nails as she squats and spreads her legs. That's Thais, the tart. One of her customers once asked her: "How great am I?" She answered him: "You're enormous!" Well, it's time for us to move along.’


Canto XIX

 1-30 The Third Ditch: The Sellers of Holy Things

Simon Magus! and you fellow whores of his, who sell the things of God for pieces of gold or silver! The trumpets sound for all of you, your burning beds await you in the third ditch.

Highest Wisdom, your art appears in the heavens, on the earth, and in the underworld!  Your power is manifested in justice! 

Already we had climbed to the center of the archway that bridges the third ditch. On the sides and floor of this pit, the livid stone was full of large holes, all of the same size. Each one was rounded, as big as those fonts in the Baptistery of St John where the baptizing takes place. I broke one of those fonts not many years ago to rescue a child who was drowning in it: I swear that's the truth! 

A body was stuffed inside each one of these holes, with only the naked feet and legs up to the knee sticking out of the ground. The soles were all on fire, and the legs twitched so violently that no rope or chain could have held them.  As a flame will burn only along the surface of a greasy object, so here the fires slid back and forth between the heels and the toes.

 Canto XIX: 31-87 Pope Nicholas III

‘Master,’ I said, ‘Do you see the one that kicks more than all of the others--the one writhing with the reddest flames? Who is that?’

He answered: ‘If you let me take you down, you can ask him who he is and why he is here.’

I agreed: ‘I'm with you. You are the leader, and I will obey your wishes, as you know already since you understand every thought of mine, even the unspoken ones!’

We went down to the bank and then descended it, always keeping to the left, until we reached the bottom of that holey ditch. When we reached the burrow in question, I addressed the wild twitcher: ‘You unhappy spirit, whoever you are, you with your upper body planted like a stake in the ground, speak to me if you can.’ I stood there like a friar beside a treacherous assassin who is fixed in the ground but delays his burial by making a very full confession.

He cried out: ‘Is that you, Boniface? Are you here already? The prophecies then are wrong by a few years. Have you tired of all the treasure that you plundered from our lady, the church? Are you finished deceiving and abusing her?’

For a moment I could not think how to reply without mocking him, but Virgil understood and advised: ‘Just tell him that you are not the person he believes.’  That's what I did, at which the legs convulsed.

After a moment, he sighed and said, in a tearful voice: ‘Then what do you want of me? If it means so much to you to understand who I am, then know that I wore the great mantle and was son of the she-bear, so eager to protect my cubs that pocketing wealth was my only goal.

Other simonists who came before me lie cowering in cracks in the rock down below my head. I too will be injected somewhere down there, when Boniface is shoved into my hole. (I'm sorry, I thought you were that crook.)  But I have toasted my soles here much longer than he will. He will quickly lose his outstanding place here to one from the west, a lawless shepherd whose fouler deeds will surpass all that Boniface and I have done. He will be a new Jason, the high priest that we read about in the Book of Maccabees. As Jason bought his office from by King Antiochus, so this successor of mine will be an installation of the King of France.’


 Canto XIX:88-133 Dante speaks against Simony

I do not know if I was too bold in replying to him, but I said: ‘Tell me, how much cash did the Lord demand of Peter in exchange for the keys of the church? He demanded none. He said only: Follow me. And how much gold and silver did Peter and the other apostles demand  from Matthias, to fill the place that Judas had lost through his guilt?  None! You belong right here. Your punishment is well deserved.  

‘You extorted pay-off money when you joined the conspiracy against Charles of Anjou. If I did not respect the great keys that you held in your hand while you lived, I would say worse things about you, too, because your greed grieves the whole world, tramples the good, and supports the wicked. John the Evangelist spoke of your kind, when he saw the kings of the earth screwing the great whore who sits on the waters. She was born with seven heads, and her ten big horns shine as long as a consort makes love to her. 

‘Your god is made of gold and silver. You are worse than an idolater that adores one image, for you treasure all of them! Ah, Constantine, how much evil you began, after your conversion, when that donation of yours made Sylvester the first wealthy pope!’

While I sang these notes to him, his feet thrashed violently from rage--or maybe from conscience gnawing him. I think that my speech greatly pleased my guide, for while I lectured he smiled and listened closely to truth of my ringing words. He took hold of me with both of his arms, and when he had gripped me close to him, he carried me back up the trail we had descended. He did not tire under my weight until he had reached the top of the ridge above the fourth bank. There he set down his load, carefully, for the way at this point was so steep and rugged that it would have been hard going for a goat. From that elevation, I could see into the new ditch below.


Canto XX

The Fourth Ditch: The Prophets

Now I must sing of new torments, for the twentieth Canto of my Canticle which tells of those who are confined underground.

I had a clear view down into the depths of the ditch, a desolate dale bathed with tears of anguish. A very slow procession wound silent and sobbing around and around the circling valley. They were all horribly disfigured. Their chins were not in the normal position over their chests; instead, their heads faced backward. They had to walk butt first, since that's the direction they see. At first I thought that they might be suffering from some terrible palsy, but I changed my mind because I had never seen such extreme deformity before.

Reader, as God may give you joy from reading this poem, ask yourself how I could have kept from crying when I saw those poor souls with their tears streaming down into the clefts of their buttocks. Yes, I wailed, and steadied myself by leaning against the stony cliff, but my guide rebuked me: ‘Are you still a fool, then? Will you feel pity instead of piety? Who is more impious than one who feels sorrow at God’s judgments?’

 Canto XX:31-51 The Ancient Seers

 ‘Lift up your eyes! Look at that one, who was swallowed up by the earth right in front of all the Theban troops, at which they cried out: “Where did you go, Amphiaräus? Why do you disappear from the battle?” He did not notice the gaping hole before him but tumbled headlong into it and landed down below at the feet of all-seizing Minos. Note how his front is now his backside! In life he pretended to see far ahead, so now he looks backward and stumbles in reverse.

‘There's another, Teiresias, who turned himself into a woman, each and every part entirely feminized, a trick that was nearly irreversible. He did not recover his manhood until finally he found the pair of entwined snakes again, and he struck them once more with his staff.

‘And there's Aruns, the one backing up into Teiresias' belly. He worked up in the Tuscan hills of Luni, above the flats where the Carrarese farm. He lived in a cave of solid white marble, in which he claimed to have unobstructed vision of the stars and the sea.

 Canto XX:52-99 Manto and the founding of Mantua

Next, she who hides her breasts with her flowing tresses behind is Manto. She wandered in many lands before she settled where I was born. I would like you to hear the full  story.

‘Once her father was dead, and Bacchus' sacred Thebes had been enslaved, she escaped and wandered alone through the earth for many years. Where a wall of mountains rise to form fair Italy's border above Tirolo lies a lake, known in ancient times as Benacus, now known as Garda, Val Camonica, and Penninois. A thousand streams feed that lake, and right in the middle there is an island which the bishops of Trent, Brescia, and Verona all could bless, if they could find it. At the shoreline's lowest point stands strong and beautiful Fort Peschiera which challenges the Brescians and Bergamese.

‘All of the overflow of this lake descends as a river through the green fields below. It's called Mincio down to Governolo where it joins the Po. Then it spreads into a marsh, which becomes stagnant in summertime. There the wild virgin found a stretch of dry land, untilled and uninhabited, and there she lived and practiced her arts alone, tended only by her ministers.

‘When she left her corpse, there was none to bury her, but neighbors soon moved in, since the place was well defended by the marshes on every side, and over her white bones they built a city which (without further divination) they called Mantua, because she was its foundation. Many more people used to live there once--before the foolish Casalodi was deceived by Pinamonte. That's the whole truth. So I charge you, if you ever hear a different story about the founding of my hometown, do not believe it!’

 Canto XX:100-130 The Magicians and Witches

I answered him: ‘Teacher, your story seems so entirely   true, so completely believable, that all other tales would be like burned out ashes. But tell me about the others who are passing by, if you see any that are worthy to mention, since my thoughts dwell on them.’

Then he said to me: ‘That one whose beard stretches down over his brown shoulders was an augur, when Greece was nearly emptied of males, except infants in the cradle, for they all had sailed off to Troy. Together with Kalkhas at Aulis, he divined the proper moment for cutting loose the first cable. Eurypylus is his name, and my tragic poem sings of him, as you understand--for you know the whole thing.

‘The next one, so small about the flanks, is Michael Scot, who knew all of the illusions of magic. There's Guido Bonatti, also Asdente, who wishes now he had attended more to his shoemaker’s leather and cord, but repents too late. The others are poor women who abandoned the needle, shuttle and spindle to work with oracles. They practiced witchcraft, using herbs and images.

‘But come now, for Cain, the Man in the Moon with his bundle of thorns, already sets in the west and touches the waves south of Seville. Last night, the Moon was full: you must remember it since it lit your way in the deep wood.’ So he concluded, and we moved on.


Canto XXI

 1-30 The Fifth Ditch: The Corrupt Politicians

From bridge to bridge we went, talking of things that my comedy does not sing . . .

Up on the summit arch of the fifth bridge of Malebolge, we were staring down and listening for more griefs. It was really pitch dark! As in winter, in the arsenal at Venice, where they boil a sticky tar to caulk the leaking boats that can't be sailed in that stormy season; and some hands build new boats, while others repair the seams of vessels that have made many voyages; one hammers at the prow, another at the stern, some make oars, and some twist rope, one mends a jib, the other a mainsail: even so, down in the ditch far below the arch where we stood, there bubbled a dense black ooze, heated not by any manmade fire, but by divine craft.  I saw it, but nothing in it, except a few bubbles that arose and burst, the occasional heavings of the thick jell and subsequent contractions when relieved of its gas. 

My guide shouted: ‘Look out! Look out!’ and suddenly yanked me to him, from where I had been standing. As he pulled me away, I looked back round, like one who runs in terror and yet turns wanting to view the dread that pursues him. It was swooping down the cliff, a darting terror, a great black gargoyle.

 Canto XXI:31-58 The bribe takers

How fierce he looked! How cruel, with his outspread wings and lightning speed! Over one of his high pointed shoulders, he had slung a senator's haunches, a load he secured with a crushing clasp of claws on both ankles.

He cried to another: ‘Malebranche Evil-Claw! Here's another senior official from the city of Santa Zita for you! Push him under while I grab another one. That town's  infested with them! They're all on the take, all except Boss Bonturo obviously. In Lucca, they vote Yes for No as often as it pays!’

He threw his catch down, then wheeled back up along the stony cliff, swifter than any bloodhound unleashed to take a thief. The grafter plunged into the black oil, then moments later rose to the surface again, face up with his arms straight out to his sides. The devils under the bridge hooted at him: ‘The Jesus float is NOT allowed here! No floats of any kind! Do you think you are swimming in the Serchio, mister? Don't come up for air around here unless you want to feel our hooks!’

Then they perforated him with more than a hundred jabs of their sharp pitchforks. ‘Down you go! Conceal your activities! Steal where nobody can see you!’ Each one thrust his fork like a cook who keep poking a piece of meat down into the boiling broth to stop it from floating.


 Canto XXI:59-96 Virgil confronts Bad Ass

My good teacher said to me: ‘Take cover behind a rock. Keep yourself hidden. Whatever insult they offer to me, don't worry. I know what I'm doing. I've been in these scrapes before.’

He crossed over to the further bank and presented himself with a confident pose, though the demons rushed up from below the bridge, and turned their weapons on him, with the fury of dogs that rush at a poor beggar as he seeks  alms. As they stormed toward him, Virgil shouted: ‘Put up your weapons! I've got news for you, boys! One of you come over here and listen to me, and then decide whether it's a good idea to slice me apart with your forks.’

Surprisingly, they stopped. Then they cried, ‘You go, Bad Ass!’ at which one proud brute stepped forward from the gang and came towards Virgil, muttering. ‘Talk? Talk does him a lot of good!’

My guide said: ‘Bad Ass, do you think I have come all of the way here on this wild road, safe and sound, without having God's help? I must pass, since it is the will of Heaven that I show this savage place to my companion.’

Those words so deflated that demon that his fork fell at his feet. I heard him advise his fellows: ‘We got to let him go!’ 

My guide then called in my direction: ‘You can come out now! Come out from crouching behind the crags. It's safe to come to me now!’

I stepped as quickly as possible to his side. All of the devils pressed forward in my face to make me imagine they would not obey their orders. I saw something similar once, when a yielding army marched out from Fort Caprona, under a treaty of surrender, but those soldiers were terrified to find themselves unarmed and surrounded by so many hostile enemies.



 Canto XXI: 97-139 The demon escort

I pressed my body as close to my guide as I could, and I never took my eyes away from those nasty demons. They had lowered their forks at me and kept squawking to one another  ‘Shall I stick him in the butt?’ and answering, ‘He sure deserves it!’

But Bad Ass silenced them: ‘Shut up, Scarmiglione. Shut up, all of you!’ Then he said to us: ‘You can't go any farther along this trail. It's not possible, you see, because, well, the sixth bridge here is destroyed, broken off at the base just a short way from here. Yes, it happened in the quake twelve hundred and sixty-six years and nineteen hours ago. So if you hope to go farther down in this circle, you will have to go back around our pool to the next ridge, and turn onto the causeway spoke there. 

‘It just so happens that I'm sending a squad to patrol that area now. Why don't you tag along with them? They are completely trustworthy.’ Then he gave them their orders: ‘Report, Alichino and Calcabrina, and you, Cagnazzo! Barbariccia, you lead the ten. Libicocco, you go, and Draghignazzo, tusked Ciratto, Grafficane, Farfarello, and mad Rubicante. Search the pitch and see these two gentlemen safe, as far as the cliff where they can find their own way down.’

I said: ‘Master, I don't like these escorts. Let's go alone, if you know the way. Look at them--I mean, I'm sure you notice how they grind their teeth and knit their brows. They must be plotting something!’

He replied: ‘Be not afraid: they're not interested in you. They can hardly wait to torture the wretches boiling in the oil.’

They turned by the left bank to march away, but first, each of them saluted the commander by sticking his tongue out between his teeth, and he sent them off by trumpeting with his ass!


Canto XXII

1-30 More of the Fifth Ditch

I have seen cavalry break camp, and I have seen them charge into battle, pass in review, and now and then retreat to save themselves. I have seen scouts setting out to explore the territory of the Aretines, and also foraging parties, tournaments, and jousts. I have seen all of these actions orchestrated, sometimes to the sound of trumpets, or to the ringing of bells, or to the beat of drums or to the flashes of flares. I have seen commands accompanied by every sort of sign, but I never saw infantry or cavalry or navy signaled to set off by farts!

We went with the ten Malebranche--a savage company, just as I had feared! You know the old saying: ‘when looking for saints don't go to the bar.’ I couldn't get my mind off of the boiling pitch. I noted each feature of that ditch, and those roiling in the lake. Like dolphins, arching their backs, telling the sailors to brace their ship for a gale, so now and then to ease their torment some showed their backs on the surface, and then sank out of sight again, all as quick as a flash.

And as frogs squat at the edge of a pond, with only their snouts showing, with their feet and the rest of them hidden below, so they in the dark pitch must have watched for our patrol, but as soon as we approached with Barbariccia, only a few ripples on the surface indicated where they had been.

 Canto XXII:31-75 Ciampolo

Only one lingered, just as a single frog sometimes remains after the others have scattered. What happened to him is especially disturbing for me to recall. Graffiacane, who was nearest, hooked him by the sticky hair and hauled him up dripping like an otter. (I already knew the names of every demon from when they were called, and when they shouted to each other.)

‘Rubicante, get your claws in him! Scratch him to shreds!’ they all cried together.

‘Teacher,’ I said, ‘I want to know the story of that poor bastard who's been nabbed by the fiends. Who is he?’

My guide marched right up to the wraith and asked where he came from. He answered: ‘I was born in Navarre. My old man was a bum who wasted himself and all his shit, so my mom gave me up to a nice lord, to be his lackey. I'm doing time here for selling jobs in the recruiting office of King Thibaut.’

Just then Ciriatto, with tusks like a boar's on both sides of his mouth, gouged the boy open. The mouse had come among evil cats, but Barbariccia grabbed him away, and told them off: ‘All of you stand back; he's mine to cut!’ To my teacher, he then added quietly: ‘Ask quickly, if you want to learn anything else from him. Ask before they butcher him.’

So my guide said: ‘Tell me now, who swims with you in the pitch? Do you hear any Latin spoken down there?’

Ciampolo answered: ‘Italians, you better believe it! I'm sorry I just left one. I mean, he's safe from these claws and forks down there!’

That's when Libicocco complained: ‘Too much talk!’ Suddenly with a prong, he grappled Ciampolo’s arm, mangling it and tearing off a piece of flesh. Draghignazzo also wanted a swipe at the legs, but the demon leader rounded on them with a dirty look.

 Canto XXII:76-96 Ciampolo names other crooks

With this short pause in the action, Ciampolo was examining the remains of his arm, but my guide seized the chance to continue the interview: ‘Who was that lucky Latin, you say, you left behind to come ashore?’

He replied: ‘Friar Gomita, from the part of Sardinia called Gallura. He played every con there is. His master's prisoners all sang his praises, for he took their coin and let them run. In every game, the friar was a big time star.

‘Another Sardine swims with him, Don Michel Zanche. He's from Logodoro, the pair of them always yakking about Sardinia. I'd tell you lots more, but look at that demon grinding his teeth. I must have an itch he wants to scratch!’

At that, their great captain turned on Farfarello, whose eyes gleamed in anticipation of a strike, and shouted: ‘Back off, you filthy hawk!’

 Canto XXII: 97-123 Ciampolo escapes

Ciampolo looked scared but resumed: ‘You guys want to see Tuscans or Lombards? I can dredge up lots of them for you right now! Of course, the gargoyles here will need to back away, so that they are out of sight. When they're hiding, I'll give the all clear sign with a whistle, as I always do. That will surface them. I'll show you at least seven of them!’

Cagnazzo raised his snout at these words and, shaking his head, objected: ‘Listen to the wicked lie this boy has invented to escape from us!’

Ciampolo indeed knew the tricks of his trade. He charmed them with his reply: ‘Why should I lie to you? I'll have the joy of getting my friends into more trouble than I'm in now.’

Alichino could contain himself no longer, because he loved a challenge, and so, without consulting the others, he blurted out: ‘Boy, if you try to jump, I've got wings that can beat you to the pitch. We will stand back from the ledge a little to hide ourselves on the bank, but I dare you, all by yourself, to try to outmatch all of us!’

O reader, here's a strange new sport! The Malabranche retreated from the cliff side a short way, led by the one who first had objected to the plan. The Navarrese chose his moment perfectly, planted his feet firmly, and in an instant leaped to freedom.

 Canto XXII: 124-151 The Malebranche quarrel

The whole demon squad was stung with shame, but Alichino most of all, so he was the first to dive in pursuit, screaming: ‘Now I've got you!’ But his wings, swift though they were, could not match the other's terror, and he had to pull out of his dive as the lad hit the pond. It looked like a falcon swooping down on a wild duck, when the duck dives safely beneath the waves, and the falcon comes up with both claws empty.

In the meantime, Calcabrina, in a fury, had pursued Alichino in hopes that the boy would escape, so that he  would have an excuse to brawl. When Ciampolo vanished from view, the two gargoyles soon were grappling with one another in mid-air above the ditch. They clawed each other and plummeted together into the center of the boiling tar.

The heat instantly separated them, but their wings were glued with pitch so that they could not rise. Barbariccia, no less upset than his troops, ordered four of them to fly over with grappling irons. They dropped their lines in pairs from both sides of the ditch and trolled for their trapped brethren, who already were scalded all over.

And there we left them, in that mess.



 1-57 The Sixth Ditch: The Hypocrites

We traveled on in silence without companions, one in front and one following after, like Franciscan friars on a journey. The recent battle turned my thoughts to Aesop's fable of the frog and mouse. ‘Si’ and ‘Yes’ are not more alike than the fable and the Malabranche fight, if you think about the beginning and ending of both.

One thought led to another, however, and soon my mind again was full of terror. I reasoned: ‘Because of us, these fiends were fooled, so now they must be choking with hurt and ridicule, and with this rage of resentment added to their malicious nature, they are sure to hunt us down, like a pack of snapping dogs ready to pounce on a rabbit.’ I felt my hair standing up in fright. I looked carefully around behind us. ‘Teacher, you must hide us immediately.’ I said. ‘The Malebranche must be following us. I think I hear them already.’

He replied: ‘If I were a mirror, I would not see your face more clearly than I now can read your mind.  Your thoughts now are so like mine that both lead me to the same conclusion. If the right bank has the right slope, we can skid down into the next ditch and slip our pursuers.’ He barely had finished announcing this plan, when I saw them, not far off, eager to seize us, quickly closing in with extended wings.

The next thing I knew, I had been seized by my guide, like a mother who is wakened by a noise, sees flames burning in front of her eyes, and grabs her child and runs, forgetting to put on a robe. Down from the ridge of the steep bank, he leaped and slid on the dam of barren rocks, down on his rump all of the way to the bottom. Water never raced through the course of a mill-wheel more nimbly than he slipped down that slope, the whole trip carrying me like a child in his belly.

His feet hardly had touched down on the valley plain  before the demons were on the heights above us, but we had little fear of them now. High Providence that gave them control over the fifth ditch apparently did not grant them power to leave it.

 Canto XXIII:58-81 The Hypocrites

In that depression we found mourners cloaked in gold, circling in slow motion and tears, weary and defeated. Their massive habits, in the French-cut style worn by the monks of Cluny, had deep hoods that hid their eyes and faces. On the outside the robes were gilded to dazzle the beholder, but inside they were lined with lead, so heavy that the shrouds designed by Frederick would seem light as straw. Weighty wear!

We turned left again, to walk beside them to hear their complaints, but they were so slow under their loads in that heavy procession that every step we took brought us along side a different group of them. ‘I wonder if there's anyone here whose name or doings we have heard?’  I asked my guide. ‘Can you take a close look at them as we pass?’

One of them recognized my Tuscan words and called out to us. ‘Wait, you quick one in the dark! Slow down and perhaps I'll tell you what you want to hear.’

My guide turned and advised: ‘Wait for him and creep along at his pace.’

 Canto XXIII:82-126 The Jolly Friars: Caiaphas

So I waited--and waited--and watched two of them, who seemed eager to join me, laboring in my direction, it seemed as if forever, under the crushing weight of their loads. Eventually, they caught up, but then for a long time they eyed me skeptically, without speaking. Finally they turned to one another and broke their silence.

‘That one seems alive, by the movement in his throat.’

Yes, if he was dead, he would be wearing a lead robe.’

Then they spoke to me.

‘Tuscan, welcome to the college of solemn hypocrites.’

‘Don't be afraid to tell us who you are.’

I replied: ‘I still wear the same body with which I was born and raised in the great city by Arno’s lovely streams. What glittering coats you wear! They almost mask the sadness streaming down your cheeks.’

One of them answered: ‘Our gold-painted mantles are in fact full of lead, so dense that weights made of it would break the scales. We are Bolognese brothers of the Military Order of the Blessed Mary: I am Catalano, and he is Loderino, the same Jolly Friars who were elected by your city, as usually only one is chosen, to keep the peace. The evidence of our good rule still appears around your district of Gardingo.’

‘O Friars, your corrupt . . . ’ I began, but stopped, because of what I saw right in front of us. One came in sight, crucified on the ground, transfixed with three stakes. When he saw my approach he writhed all over, puffed into his beard, and moaned deeply.

Friar Catalano explained: ‘That's Caiaphas, the high priest who advised the Pharisees to martyr one man for the sake of the people. Crosswise and naked as he lies here in the road, he suffers all of the weight of all of us who pass over. His father-in-law Annas is punished in our valley, too, along with the other members of the council that caused so much pain for Jews.’

 Canto XXIII:127-148 Virgil's anger

For a moment, Virgil wondered at him, stretched out on the cross so vilely before us, in eternal exile. Then he addressed the friars: ‘If it is allowed, and if you will excuse us, please tell us if there is any way that we can turn around and go back on the right. We must leave your  valley now without provoking the black angels to swoop down and take us.’

One of them replied: ‘One ridge runs from the great round wall toward the center of our circle. Along the way, its path bridges all of the punishing depressions, except this one. The path is above us, up there on the ridge, but our bridge collapsed. Perhaps you can climb up the rubble of its ruins, from the pile of stones there at the bottom, up that slope of blocks to the top. That's the only way out.’

Virgil stood with head bowed in thought for a while, then said: ‘Bad Ass! The demon who hooks grafters with his fork over in the next ditch, Bad Ass misled us!’

The friar answered: ‘I once heard somebody at Bologna talking about the devil. What was it that the guy said? If I remember now, I think he called the devil a liar. Yes, in fact, the father of lies!’

My guide was mad and went striding off. His energized footsteps summoned me to follow, and so I left the heavy ones.


Canto XXIV

 1-60 The Poets climb: Virgil preaches fame

In that season when the young sun slowly starts to warm under Aquarius, and the nights begin to lengthen, when frost mimics her sister snow’s white image on the ground, but her tracery soon melts, then the peasant, whose fodder has run out, rises early, hurries outdoors, and finds the fields still white, at which he slaps his thigh, returns to his hut, and paces back and forth, worried, not knowing what to do. Yet soon he goes outside once again, and his hopes are answered: he sees that the world has become a warmer place. He takes his shepherd's staff, and chases his lambs out to feed. Even so I worried, when I saw my teacher's troubled face, but things soon improved.

When we reached the heap of stones from the broken bridge, he examined the pile and made a plan. Then he turned to me with a kindly look, the same look that I saw when he first greeted me at the base of the mountain. He took hold of me with his arms and, like one who repeatedly deliberates and plans ahead, while he lifted me up to the top of one great stone, he already had singled out the next stone to climb, saying to me: ‘Now crawl up over that one, but first test it to be sure that it can bear you.’

This collapsed bridge was no exit for anybody robed in lead. We of much less weight (or no weight at all, in his case) could hardly make the climb. If that hill had been as high as the bank we slid down, I never would have reached the top. (I'm not sure about him.) All of Malebolge, however, drops from ditch to ditch toward the yawning well in the center, so the inner bank of each ditch is much lower than the outer bank. That's the only reason that I managed to make the peak.

At last at the summit, I was too breathless to go on, so I promptly took a seat on the ground, but my teacher roused me. ‘Get over this laziness!’ he said. ‘We do not win fame by lying under the covers. A life without fame is utterly consumed; its last trace vanishes from the earth as smoke does in the air, or as foam upon the sea. No more sitting around! Get up, overcome that tiredness of spirit that wants to lounge with the gross body. We've got many more stairs to climb later. Escape from these hypocrites has not brought us where we need to be. If you understand me, act now for your own benefit.’

I rose, finding more breath than I imagined, and I said to him: ‘Lead on! I'm ready, willing and able!’

 Canto XXIV: 61-96 The Seventh Ditch: The Thieves

We made our way along the ridge, and onto the seventh bridge, which was rugged, narrow, and much steeper than any before. I was making conversation, so that I might not appear to be exhausted, when a faint voice rose up from the ditch below. I could not hear the words, though I was directly overhead on the top of the arch which bridged that span, but the speaker seemed angry. I looked down, but no eyes living could have pierced through such darkness, so I said: ‘Master, when we reach the other side, let's climb down the bank. I hear something down there, but I can't see what it is.’

‘I'll do what you ask,’ he agreed. ‘A fair request should be followed by action, not words.’

On the far side of the bridge, the pit became all too visible. I saw a fearful mass of serpents, so strange looking that the memory of it even now freezes my blood. The sands of Libya do not breed such terrible reptiles, despite their chelydri, jaculi, pareae, and cenchres with amphisbaena. Neither Libya, nor Ethiopia, nor Arabia, nor any land that lies along the Red Sea breeds such pests. And among this cruel and bitter swarm, people were running, naked and terrified, without hope of protecting themselves by finding holes or heliotropes

Each one had his hands tied behind him with snakes that fixed their heads and tails in his crotch, and their knotted coils were like a loincloth.

 Canto XXIV: 97-129 Fucci and the serpent

Not far from us on the bank, a serpent quick as lightning struck one of these fugitives and transfixed him there. It sank its fangs into him where the neck is joined to the shoulders. The letters ‘o’ and ‘i’ were never written as quickly as he burst into flame and completely incinerated into a pile of ashes. But as soon as he was ash, the cinders began to gather themselves together and reassemble into the same human form as before. Even so, as sages say, the phoenix dies, and then renews herself every 500 years. In her life she eats neither herbs nor grains, but she feeds only on tears of frankincense and balm, and finally she shrouds herself to die in nard and myrrh.

When this soul rose he acted like one in a fit, who has fallen in a spasm but does not know why--perhaps some invisible demon is tripping him up? or some terrible disease is convulsing him? Struggling to his feet, he looks all around himself, confused by his suffering, and he moans out loud. How terrifying the power of God to inflict such vicious blows in vengeance!

My guide asked him who he was, and he answered. ‘I poured down from Tuscany into this ditch only a short time ago. Before that, I was a half-breed: a beast's life pleased me more than life among people. I am the animal Fucci Vanni, and Pistoia was my den.’

I said to my guide: ‘Tell him not to sneak away! Make him say what crime drives him down into this condition? I know for a fact that he's a bloody outlaw!’

 Canto XXIV: 130-151 Fucci’s prophecy

The convict heard me and did not try to hide. He looked me straight in the eyes, his face red with shame. ‘Look, it hurts more than death for you to catch me down here like this, snared in this trap of pain. You force me to tell you about myself. OK, I'll say it: I'm down here because I pinched silver and jewels from the church, and I let some fools take the fall for it.

‘But don't you take any pleasure in my pain! You may break out of these dingy pits and gossip about me in the world above, but then it will be your turn for sorrow. Listen to the bad news I've got for you.

Pistoia will purge herself of Blacks, but a change of government will come to your town, too. Mars will launch a thunderbolt wrapped in a storm cloud from Valdimagra, and savage fighting will tear open the mist at the field of Piceno. There you will find your Whites lying red with running wounds. May this knowledge give you pain.’


Canto XXV

 1-33 Cacus

When he ended his speech, the thief raised his arms and gave the finger with both hands. He shouted: ‘Figs for you, God: these two are for you!’ At that moment the snakes became my friends. One of them coiled itself round his neck, as if hissing: ‘I'll shut you up for good.’ Another tied his arms behind his back again, jammed its head and tail back into his genitals, and tightened the knot until he could not lift a finger.

Pistoia! Pistoia! Why don't you burn to ashes and never rise again? You were sewn with bad seed! In all of the dark circles of the Inferno I saw none more arrogant toward God, not even Capaneus who was struck down from the wall at Thebes

Fucci fled without another word. Pursuing him was a Centaur, full of rage, shouting: ‘Where is that half-baked blasphemer?’ I do not think that Maremma has as many snakes as he had clinging to his butt and all along his back, up to the place where the human part begins. Riding on his shoulders, at the back of his head, was a flame-breathing dragon with wings outstretched wide.

My teacher said: ‘That is Cacus, who made lakes of blood with his slaughters in the plain below rocky Mount Aventine. He was a cunning thief, and that is why he is not with his fellow Centaurs that we met on the road before. He often rustled oxen from the herds of Hercules, who finally caught him and hammered him with a hundred mighty swings of his club, though Cacus could not have felt any more than the first ten.’

 Canto XXV: 34-78  Transformation of Agnello

While Cacus galloped off after Fucci, three other shadows approached on the bank below. We might not have noticed them at all, except that they shrieked at us: ‘Who are you?’ That got our attention.

I did not know who they were, but then one of them happened to mention a familiar name. ‘Where's  Cianfa?’ I placed my finger over my mouth, to signal to my guide to stay quiet and listen.

Reader, if you are slow to believe what I have to tell you now, I will not be surprised, since I who saw it in person scarcely believe it myself. While I was looking at them, a six-legged serpent darted in front of one of them, and fastened itself on him, completely. With its middle feet, it clung to his belly, the front feet seized his arms, and then it fixed its teeth in both his cheeks. The rear feet spread apart his  thighs. Then it curled its tail between his legs and thrust it straight up his behind! Ivy never twined on a tree so fast as the foul reptilian screwed into the other. Then, in that embrace, both figures began to blur, melt and run together. Their colors mixed until neither retained any distinction: both were one brownish shade, like a page that has just begun to burn, no longer white but not yet black.

The other two companions looked on and cried out.

Agnello, what the fuck. . . ?’ 

‘You're not one! You're not two!’

The two heads had now merged to share one face, different from its parent faces. Two limbs were made of the blended four forearms. The thighs, legs, belly and chest all fused into unique-looking body parts. The two were transformed into one new creature, a perverse combination that seemed to be both, and neither. In that strange shape it crept off with slow steps.


 Canto XXV: 79-151 Buoso, Puccio and Francesco

As a lizard, like heat lightning in the Dog days of summer, flashes across a hot walkway while speeding to a shady hedge, so a little reptile flew toward the bellies of the other two. Burning with rage, black and hot as a peppercorn, it pierced that spot, on one of them, where his mother first nourished him. Then it fell down, stretched out in front of him. The thief, motionless, transfixed, gazed at it and said nothing, but yawned, as if sleep or a fever had overcome him. He looked at it; it looked at him. The one belched clouds of smoke from his wound, the other from its mouth, and the clouds met and covered them.

Let Lucan say no more about Sabellus and Nasidius, and wait to hear what I have to tell. Let Ovid keep silent about Cadmus and Arethusa: although his poetry turns one into a snake, and the other into a fountain, I have no reason to envy him. He never exchanged two different natures, symmetrically face to face, with two-way transformation of their substance.

They merged together in such a way, that the reptile split its tail into a fork, while the wounded thief drew his two feet together, then the two legs and thighs, and they fused and soon became one seamless tail. The cleft tail took on the form lost in the thief, and its skin grew soft, the other’s scaly. I saw the arms enter the armpits, and the two front legs of the beast, that were short, grew longer by as much as the thief's arms shrank. The beast's two hind feet twisted together, and took the shape of a penis, while the dick of that thief split into two reptilian legs.

While the smoke covered them, it seemed to pluck the hair from one and grow it on the other. The one on the ground stood up man-like, and the other fell prostrate like a reptile, but both continued their fixed diabolical stares, eye locked to eye as they exchanged faces. The long snout of the erect one receded back toward the temples and forehead, with the excess matter that was left over popping out into ears, smooth cheeks, and lips of human size. The  small amount that did not recede remained in the shape of human nose.

Conversely, the one that lay prone made a very long face that sucked the ears into the head, in the same way that a snail withdraws its horns into its shell. Its tongue, formerly of one piece and capable of making the sounds of speech, split in two, while the forked tongue of the serpent became manlike.

The smoke lifted, and the newly formed beast sped away, hissing along the ground, leaving the neo-human behind, spluttering. It turned its new front toward the shadow that remained, and called to him: ‘ Now Buoso can run the valley on all fours, as I did.’

So I saw this strange cargo of the seventh hold shifting back and forth. Forgive my pen that it fails to describe all of these bizarre sights clearly. I was in shock! I was not so confused, however, that I failed to recognize Puccio Sciancato. He was the third shadow, the one that was not transformed. Another one that I saw there was Francesco, for whom you people of Gaville mourn.


Canto XXVI

 1-42 The Eighth Ditch: Valley of the Heroes

Rejoice, Florence: spreading your wings so grandly by land and by sea, you are famous throughout hell. In the thieves' den alone, I found five of your natives, which shames me as you ought to be ashamed. But if truth appears in our dreams that come toward morning, then soon you will feel what Prato and others wish upon you. And, if it were come already, it would not have come too soon. Let it happen right now, as in fact it must happen sometime, since I grow more troubled the older I am.

We left there, and my guide hauled me back up the stairway of stones on which we had descended. On our lonely way along the crags and splinters of the cliff, the foot needed a helping hand to make any progress at all.

I was depressed then, and I am depressed now to remember what I saw next, but I will control my art more than usual, to keep it from running off where it is not good to go. I must not abuse this skill, if any good star, or some truer power, has given it to me.

The eighth ditch gleamed with a multitude of flames, as many as the fireflies that the peasant sees when he rests on a hillside, after the sun has hidden his face from our world, and the fly gives way to the gnat down in the valley where the long daylight hours have been spent gathering grapes, perhaps, or plowing.

I saw those fires as soon as I came to a spot where the canyon showed itself below. As Elisha, whose mockery by children was avenged by bears, saw Elijah's fiery chariot soar, when the horses flew straight up into heaven, and his eyes could not follow them, except as flames ascending like a little cloud, so each of the fires that I saw moving along the bottom of the ditch concealed what burned within it.

 Canto XXVI: 43-84 Ulysses

I strained my body over the side of the bridge to have a better look, and if I had not grabbed hold of a rock I would have fallen in without any pushing. My guide saw what I was looking for, and he said: ‘There are heroes inside those fires. Each veils himself in the flame that burns him.’

I replied: ‘Teacher, I guessed as much, but I want to know more. Who is in that double fire? I mean, the one that flames up with a dual top, as if it arose from the pyre where Eteocles was cremated with his brother Polynices?’

He answered: ‘In that one, Ulysses and Diomede are burned, together now in spirit as formerly in war. They suffer for the deceit of the Trojan horse, that opened the gate of escape for Aeneas, the noble ancestor of the Romans. They sorrow for the trick by which Deidamia, even now in death, still weeps for Achilles. They pay for stealing the Palladium.’

I said: ‘Teacher, I beg you, I beg you a thousand times, let's wait here for them to come to us, if they can speak from that horn-tipped flame. Please, you see how I stretch myself over the edge toward them to learn all that I can!’

‘Your wish is admirable, and I accept it,’ he responded, ‘but keep back, and let me do the talking. I know what you want to know, and they are Greeks, so they will not listen to your words.’

When the flame drew near enough to us, in my guide's judgment, he spoke to it, and I listened. ‘Hail: you two spirits in one fire! If I was worthy to speak of you when I lived, if I earned from you any favor, great or small, when I wrote my tragic verses, do not pass by me now in silence, but let one of you tell how he lost his way and where he died.’

 Canto XXVI: 85-142 Ulysses at Mount Purgatory

The greater flame began to shudder, as if rippled by wind. At first the tongue only flickered and murmured, but then it began to roll, billowing in a full voice. ‘And after that year near Gaeta, before Aeneas renamed it, I left Circe. Not care for my son Telemachus, not reverence for my father Laertes, not even love pleasures owed to Penelope could hold me from roving the world and learning all of the good and evil in humanity.

‘I sailed out for the furthest deep, with only one small ship and those few crewmen who had not deserted. We passed coast after coast, the isle of Sardinia and many other islands washed by the sea, as far as Spain and Morocco. Yes, we were old and weary, my companions and I, when we came to the straits where Hercules set his pillars to warn adventurers against sailing too far, but then we left Seville on the starboard, and Ceuta on the port, far behind.

‘O my brothers,’ I said, ‘you have reached the western gate by passing through a hundred thousand dangers. Keep the watch only one short stretch longer now. In the little time that remains for us, let's visit the unexplored world beyond the Sun. Consider your creation: you were not born to live as animals, but to strive for knowledge and virtue.’ After my little pep talk, my companions were so game for the trip that I doubt I could have stopped them, if I had changed my mind. We held our stern in the sunrise, and made wings of our oars for that manic flight, always tacking to the port.

‘Nights brought out the southern pole, with all its constellations, and the north star fell so low that it no longer rose from its ocean bed. Five times the new moon was lit and extinguished, since the time that we entered the deep water, when a mountain appeared to us, dim in the distance, and it seemed to me the highest that I had ever seen. We rejoiced, but our joy soon turned to grief. A tempest arose from that new world and beat against our prow. Three times it whirled us round, with all the ocean spinning. At the fourth twirl, the stern lifted out above the waves, and bow sank below, as it pleased some god, and the sea closed over us.’


 1-30 Guido Da Montefeltro

The tongue was now straight and still, no longer speaking, and the gentle poet allowed it to pass, but our attention was drawn to another one behind it that emitted strange sounds from its top. Like the Sicilian bull that first bellowed with the groans of its artist Perillus (as was fitting)--it seemed to be only a bronze image of a bull, but in fact it was a roasting pot to fill with death agonies of real victims--so here the flame confined one whose torture could find no outlet except through language of the fire.

When his words at last found their way out through the tip of the flame, giving it the movement of a tongue, we heard him say: ‘You, I aim my voice at you who spoke Lombard just now, saying: “You may go on your way: I have no further questions!” Please do not be so impatient with me. I'm not impatient, only burning. Stay and speak with me, even if maybe I've arrived a little late. Have you just fallen here from sweet Italia? I come from there, carrying my guilt. I lived in the mountains between Urbino and the Tober's source, Monte Coronaro. Tell me if Romagna is at peace or war. ’

 Canto XXVII: 31-57 Politics in Romagna

I was still eagerly leaning over the side of the bridge, when my teacher poked me in the ribs and said: ‘He's Italian. You can speak to him.’

I was ready, and my speech came instantly: ‘Hidden shadow, your Romagna is always at war, in the hearts of its tyrants, but open fighting is not so usual lately.

‘Ravenna stands as it has stood for years: Guido Vecchio da Polenta’s eagle broods over it, and it now clutches Cervia with its talons, too. Forlì, that withstood so long a siege, and made a bloody pile of Frenchmen, now finds itself again under the paws of Ordelaffi's green lion.

Verruchio's old hound, and the young one who kept Montagna so badly, still gnaw at the same old places. Lamone and Santerno are held by the little lion of white hair who changes sides from winter to summer, and the city whose walls the Savio bathes, just as it lies between the mountain and the plain, so also it lives between freedom and tyranny.

‘Now please tell us who you are. Do not be more critical of yourself than others criticize you, or your name may lose its shine.’

 Canto XXVII: 58-136 Guido’s history

After the flame had roared for a while as usual, its sharp point flickering back and forth, these words began to sputter out: ‘If I thought that you could return to the world above, this tongue would tell you nothing, but since no one ever returns from this blind world, I'll speak with confidence in the good name of Guido da Montefeltro.

‘I was a man of arms, but then I took the vows of a Franciscan. I believed that the cord might make a difference, and perhaps it would have, but the High Priest, damn him! pulled me back down into my old ways. I'll tell you how and why.

‘While I was in the flesh and bones that my mother gave me, I played not the lion but the fox. I knew covert operations, and I practiced those tricks so well that my fame spread to the ends of the earth. But I came to the point in life when men should furl their sails, and gather in the ropes, and what had pleased me before, now gave me pain. So with repentance and confession, I turned monk.

‘What went wrong? The New Prince of Pharisees had drawn his sword and was on the march--not against Saracens or Jews, but against Christians, and not those vile Christians who helped the Saracens at Acre, or who traded with them in the Sultan’s land!  This man had no regard for the highest office, for holy orders, or for Francis' robe, that used to make those who wore it leaner. As Constantine sought out Sylvester on Mount Soracte, to cure his leprosy, so this sick soul summoned me, as if I could doctor his feverish pride!

‘He demanded my advice, but at first I kept silent, since I thought he was drunk. Then he said to me: ‘Have no doubt about it! I absolve you of any sin beforehand! Just show me the way to destroy the Palestrina! As you must believe, I can unlock Heaven, or lock it, with the keys that Celestine threw away.’

‘I reconsidered my silence, because of his sober arguments, and I said: ‘Father, since you absolve me of that sin, into which I must now fall, I'll tell you all that you have asked of me. Promise your enemies everything, and then give nothing. I assure you, that's the way to sit with victory on your high throne.’

‘Afterwards, when I died, Saint Francis came for me, but one of the Black Cherubim opposed him: ‘Do not take him: do not wrong me. He is one of my servants, and I can prove it. He advised deceit, and ever since that time I've got him by the hair. He has never repented, so he cannot have been absolved. And how can anybody be forgiven in advance for a crime that he intends to commit? That's an absurd contradiction.’ Then he seized me by the scalp, saying: ‘I'll bet you never guessed that I am a logician?’

‘He carried me to Minos, who coiled his tail eight times around his horrid self, then bit into it in a rage, saying: ‘This one's for the fire of rogues!’ So this is where I am, as you see, and clothed like this, filled now with real grief.’

When he ended his speech, his sharp horn of flame was writhing as if in sorrow. We passed on, my guide and I, along the cliff, up to the next arch spanning the next ditch, in which they reap the reward of those who sowed discord.



 1-21 The Ninth Ditch: The Sowers of Discord

Who could describe, even in free prose, and even in a thousand tries, the blood and wounds that were shown to me? No tongue can tell such suffering. Our vocabulary lacks words for such pain.

If all of those mutilated in war were collected in one place, their injuries would not match those in the ninth ditch: not all of the Apulians who were butchered at the hands of the sons of Troy in the Samnite War; not all of the Romans who were slaughtered in the Punic Wars, as unerring Livy writes that bushel basketfuls of their rings were collected from Cannae’s battlefield; not all of those pierced and slashed by Robert Guiscard; not all of those whose bones are piled in heaps at Ceperano, where the Pugliese betrayed them; not all those massacred at Tagliacozzo where cunning old Alardo conquered without weapons. If all of these together showed their hot, open gashes and bloody stumps of fresh severed limbs, the horror of it all would not begin to compare with the ninth chasm.

 Canto XXVIII: 22-54 Mohammed

Even a staved-in wine barrel, that has lost its cap on the bottom, does not gape so wide open as one I saw, sliced from the chin down to the farting hole. His entrails hung down between his legs--all of his organs, even the miserable gut that turns bread into shit.

While I stared at him in disbelief, he saw that I watching, and he pulled open his chest with both hands, saying: ‘Look how Mohammed rips apart his body! In front of me walks my son Ali, weeping, his face split from chin to scalp, and all the others you see there also taught heresy and schism in their lifetimes, so they are cleft open like this. A cruel devil waits with a sword back there to carve us fresh each time we have made a circuit around this road. He reopens all the wounds that have healed.

‘But who are you, all aloof up there? Are you trying to put off your reward for the lies you have spoken?’

My Teacher replied: ‘He isn't dead, yet. He's not here for punishment. He's here to learn. I'm dead, so I guide him down through all the circles of hell. That's the truth, as surely as I am speaking to you now.’ When they heard him, more than a hundred shadows in that ditch stopped, and came forward to stare at me.

As he lifted up one foot to leave, Mohammed said to me: ‘Well now, you who will soon see the sun, perhaps, tell Fra Dolcino of the Apostolic Brothers, if he does not wish to follow me down here soon, to store up supplies for the winter, or else the snow-falls will bring an easy victory for the Novarese.’ Then he went on his painful way.

 Canto XXVIII: 60-90 Pier della Medicina

Among the rest of them staring at me in wonder, one had his throat slit, his nose cut off to the eyebrows, and was missing one ear. He opened his bleeding wind-pipe and said: ‘You, that guilt does not yet condemn forever to remain here, I have seen you above on Italian soil, I think. Remember Pier della Medicina, if ever you return to that gentle plain I knew, that slopes down from Vercelli to Marcabò. And take a message to the two best men in Fano, Mr. Guido and Mr. Angiolello. If we know the future here in hell, then by a tyrant's treachery they will be dumped out of their boat and drowned off Cattolica. Neptune never saw a greater crime between Cyprus and Majorca, whether committed by pirates or Argives. Their betrayer is a cyclops, and he rules a land that was bitter to one who is here with me. When he is finished with them, they won't need to pray for safe winds by Focara again.’

 Canto XXVIII: 91-111 Curio and Mosca

I said to him: ‘If you want me to carry your news, then tell me who you mean is there with you. Who found the land bitter?’

Then he placed his hands on the mouth of one of his companions, and opened the jaws, saying: ‘This is he, but he does not speak any more. He advised Caesar to cross the Rubicon, saying that delay always harms men who are ready.’

It was Curio. His famous tongue had been cut off, leaving only a stub in the throat that once had made such bold  speech! And another with both hands cut off, lifted up his bleeding stumps so that blood splattered on his face, and he said: ‘Remember Mosca, too. I also invented a saying that urged bloodshed: “A thing done has an end.” These words sewed evil to the Tuscan people.’

‘And brought extinction to your family, too’ I added, at which he, accumulating pain on pain, went away like one insane with grief.

 Canto XXVIII: 112-142 Bertrand de Born

I stayed there to see more, and indeed I saw a thing so incredible that I would be afraid to describe it, as I would be accused of lying, but my conscience is clean in that regard, and it encourages me to tell about it.

I saw it clearly, and still seem to see it now: a headless trunk shuffling along in the procession with the rest of that miserable crew. It held by the hair its severed head, swinging like a lantern from its hand. It looked at us, and groaned. Ah, me! It was both itself and also a lamp that shone upon itself: two in one, and one in two. How that can be, only he knows who made it so.

When it was right at the base of our bridge, it lifted its arm high, with the head, to bring its words as near to us as it could. ‘You who come here, living and breathing, to view  the dead, see if you can find any punishment as hard as mine. Know me and carry my news! I am Bertrand de Born, who gave bad advice to the young king and made the Henries, father and the son, rebel against each other. Wicked  Ahitophel did no worse for Absalom and David.

‘Because I severed those who once were united, I carry my intellect split off from its former body. That's my just reward [contrapasso].’


Canto XXIX

 1-36 Geri del Bello

The crowds, and their multitude of shocking wounds, confused and overwhelmed me, that my eyes wished only to stay and weep, but Virgil said to me: ‘You did not dawdle like this at the other depressions. What are you staring at? Will your vision drown you down there, among those poor, mutilated shadows? You can't inspect them, one by one, for their pathway in this valley circles twenty-two miles around, and already the moon is underneath our feet. Our allotted time is nearly gone, and there is much more to be seen than you see here.’ 

I complained: ‘If you had known my reason for looking, maybe you would have let me stay.’ Meanwhile, my guide was moving on, and I followed after him as I answered, explaining: ‘I was watching the pit where, I think, a spirit of my own blood pays a heavy price for guilt.’

The Teacher said: ‘Don't allow yourself to be distracted by him. Think of something else, and leave him alone down there. I saw him at the base of the bridge. He pointed his finger at you and threatened you, angrily. I heard him called Geri del Bello, but you were so engrossed then with the former lord of Altaforte that you did not notice, and so he left.’

‘My guide,’ I said, ‘he died by violence, and his murder is not yet avenged by any of us who share his shame. He must be angry, and that's why, I suppose, he would walk away without speaking to me. Now I pity him even more.’

 Canto XXIX: 37-72 The Tenth Ditch: Falsifiers    

So we talked until we reached the first place on the bridge where some of the tenth valley could be seen below. We could have seen down to the bottom only if there had been more light, but there above that last cloister of Malebolge, we could make out some of its brethren lying below, and we heard their many groans, each one a piercing arrow barbed with pity. I had to cover my ears with my hands. Their pain was as if all of the diseased who suffer in the hospitals of Valdichiana, Maremma and Sardinia, between July and September, had been dumped into one pit. A stench of putrid limbs arose from it.

As we descended on the last bank of the long causeway, again on the left, I began to see down to the floor where infallible Justice, the minister of the Lord on high, rains punishment on those who falsify in one way or another, as she has recorded all of them on her scroll. I do not think it would have been a sadder sight to look upon the plague-ridden people of Aegina, when the air was so contagious that every animal, even the smallest worms, succumbed, and afterwards, as poets say is true, the ancient population was restored from the seed of ants: the spirits languished in heaps scattered throughout that dim valley. One lay on its belly, another strewn across the shoulders of its neighbor, and others on all fours trying to crawl along the wretched path.

We went step by step in silence, watching and listening to the sick who could not raise their bodies.

 Canto XXIX:73-99 Griffolino and Capocchio

I saw two sitting, propped up back to back against each other like two pans leaning over a warm grill to dry. They were covered with scabs from head to foot.  I never saw a stable groom whose master waits impatiently, or one who just can't wait to go to bed, use a curry brush so vigorously as those two clawed themselves all over with their nails, to relieve their itching, which found no other relief. Their nails peeled off the scabs, as a knife scrapes the big scales from a carp or larger fish.

My guide spoke to them: ‘You there, stripping your chain-mail with your pincers, tell us if there are any Italians here, and may your nails remain unbroken for eternity.’

One of them whined: ‘We are both Italians, mutilated here, as fate would have it, but who wants to know?’

My leader answered: ‘I am guiding this living man down through the rings to show him the inferno.’

That got their attention. They turned, trembling, toward me, along with others nearby who overheard what had been said. All of them drew near, and my good master directed me to speak to them, however I chose.

 Canto XXIX: 110-120 Griffolino’s story

I began: ‘So that you will not fade from human memory in the former world, but will live on there for many suns, tell me who you are, and of what people. Your punishment here is gross and revolting, but don't be discouraged from identifying yourselves to me.’

One replied: ‘I was Griffolino of Arezzo, and Albero of Siena had me burned, but that's not the whole story why I'm here. The truth is that I once joked with him that I knew how to fly.  His tiny brain was curious, so he ordered me to show him the art. When I failed to make him into Daedalus, he told his dad, the Bishop who promptly flung me on the flames. Then Minos, who never makes any mistakes at all, condemned me to this tenth depression, because he said I was an alchemist.’

   Canto XXIX: 121-139 Fools of Siena

I said to the poet: ‘Was there ever a people as dim as the Sienese? Even the French are far wise!’

The other leper heard me and replied sarcastically. ‘Yes, among the Sienese there was, for example, Stricca, who knew how to spend without limit. And Niccolo who discovered the use of cloves--a fine tradition for gardens where such seed takes root. Then there was Caccia of Aciano who wasted his vineyard and vast forest, and the one called Muddlehead [Abbagliato] who was named for his brain.

‘But permit me to introduce who seconds you like this against the Sienese: it's me. Look closely at my face, and you may see that I am the shadow of Capocchio--the counterfeiter of metals. Now I was an alchemist! You may remember, I think, that they called me the Great Ape of Nature!’  


Canto XXX

 1-48 Schicci and Myrrha

Once when Juno was angry (she was angry more than once), she was peeved with the Thebans over Jupiter's affair with Semele. Juno drove King Athamas so far out of his mind that one day, when he saw his queen Ino passing by with their two sons in her arms, he shouted: ‘Spread the hunting nets, so that I can take the lioness and her cubs.’ Then he snatched one of the boys, named Learchus, whirled him around in the air and dashed out his brains on the rock. Ino leaped into the sea and drowned herself with her other child, Melicertes.

Another time, after fortune had brought down the pride of the Trojans, and King Priam had been murdered, and his city had been destroyed, Queen Hecuba was driven out of her head by misery. A sad, wretched slave, having witnessed her youngest daughter Polyxena sacrificed and her youngest son Polydorus dead without burial, alone beside a strange sea, she barked and growled like a dog,

But neither Theban nor Trojan Furies ever struck at man or beast so cruelly as the two vampires I now saw in mad rage, pallid and naked, that ran snapping their teeth like famished pigs released from their sty. One of them sank its fangs into the neck of Capocchio, and dragged him away over the rocks, tearing his belly. The Aretine Griffolino, who was left trembling there, said to me: ‘That incubus is Gianni Schicci. He runs rabid here, mangling the other dead.’

‘And what is that other one?’  I asked. ‘Tell us before it runs away--and may its teeth not be embedded in your neck!’ 

He answered: ‘That's Myrrha, the lewd one who made love to her father, deceiving him by taking on a false appearance--just as that Schicci who is slinking away from us over there dared to disguise himself as Buoso Donati, so that he could rewrite the dead man's will as he pleased.’

When the furious pair of dogs had gone, I turned to look at the others there, born to evil.

 Canto XXX: 49-90 Adam of Brescia

I saw one who would have been the exact shape of a lute, if he had been cut off at the crotch, where a man is forked. His body was swollen with unabsorbed fluids, so that the bloated belly no longer matched the gaunt face. His parched lips were spread apart, thirsting like one whose torrid fever bends the lower lip down toward the chin, and curls the other upwards.

He addressed us: ‘Why are you exempt from punishment in this unhappy world? Look at me, Master Adam, and think of my misery. In life I had everything that I wished. Now, all I want is one drop of water. Constantly in my mind I see the little streams that fall from the green hills of Casentino down to the Arno, making cool moist channels. This image withers me, far more than the disease that shrivels up the skin on my face.

‘My punishment returns me to the scene of my crime, to multiply my sorrow. It was Romena where I counterfeited florins stamped with the Baptist’s image. For that felony, in life, my body burned. But now, if only I could find Guido here, or Alessandro, or their brother Aghinolfo! I would not ransom them for Branda’s fountain! Guido is down here someplace already, if the raving souls who circle the path speak the truth. But what is the use? I'm  never going to catch him.

‘If only I could move, even an inch every hundred years, I would have started on the road to find him among these  disfigured people. Even if it's eleven miles around the track, and half a mile across. It's because of them that I am stuck here among this crew. They ordered me to mint those florins with three carats of alloy.’

 Canto XXX: 91-129 Sinon: Potiphar’s wife

I asked him: ‘Who are those two, lying on your right side, giving off smoke like wet hands in winter? ’

He replied: ‘They were here when I fell into this pit, and they have not moved since then. They may never turn over in all eternity, I believe.

‘One is the woman who falsely accused Joseph. The other is that lying Greek from Troy, Sinon. They stink with a  burning fever.’

At that, perhaps insulted at being named so impolitely, one of them made a fist and struck Master Adam's rigid belly so that it resounded like a drum. Adam retaliated with his arm, striking his neighbor in the face just as rudely, saying: ‘I may be too heavy to move, but you can be sure that I keep an arm ready for occasions like these.’

The other answered: ‘You were not so ready to go to the fire, but always ready to counterfeit.’

And he retorted: ‘That's the truth, but it sounds false  coming from a liar like you. Your counterfeited at Troy.’

‘I made a false speech, but you minted lies,’ Sinon observed. ‘I'm here only for that one wrong, but you for more than any fiend!’

He of the swollen belly responded again: ‘Your only lie was the wooden horse? Then let it be your torment that all the world knows about it!’

The Greek rejoined: ‘And may your tongue crack with  thirst, and your guts swell up with foul water in front of your eyes!’

The coiner came back: ‘You would not need many words of invitation to lick Narcissus' mirror. Your mouth cracks open wide to show your sickness. If I thirst, and if dropsy swells me, you're on fire, and your head is splitting up.’

 Canto XXX: 130-148 Virgil reproves Dante

My teacher rebuked me for standing there, listening so closely to them. ‘Keep watching them much longer, and I will quarrel with you!’

He spoke with such contempt in his voice that a deep feeling of shame came over me, and it comes over me again now as I remember it. And like someone who dreams of something harmful, and wishes it were only a dream, longing for what is, as if it were not, I wished that I could find words to excuse myself, but my uncomfortable silence made its own excuse.

My teacher said: ‘Less shame than yours would wash away a larger fault than yours, so do not worry about it. Just remember that I am with you always, even when you happen to meet with rude clowns like these, engaged in stupid banter. A wish to hear petty talk like this is itself degrading.’


Canto XXXI

 1-45 The Giants that guard the central pit

The same tongue that wounded me, so that I blushed with shame, also provided the medicine to heal the wound. So I have heard the great spear of Achilles and his father Peleus could both injure and also heal the wounds it had made.

We turned our backs on the wretched valley, climbed the bank that surrounds it, and crossed over without a word. It was less dark than night but less light than day, so that I could see only a short distance. It was the sound of some huge horn, almost as loud as thunder, that drew my eyes to its apparent source in the path far ahead. Roland did not trumpet more ominously, after the disastrous defeat when Charlemagne lost so many holy companions at arms.

I kept staring in the direction of the horn blast, and after a while I seemed to make out several tall  towers. ‘Teacher,’ I said, ‘tell me what city lies in front of us?’ 

He answered: ‘Your eyes are too weak for so much darkness. You will see plainly enough, when you are closer, so let's keep going.’ Thoughtfully he took my hand, gently, and added: ‘So that the reality will not shock you, you should know that they are not towers. They're giants.  They're standing in the pit, ringing it around the perimeter. Their bodies will appear to you to be buried from the navel down.’

When a mist is rising, the eye gradually focuses on what the vapor had hidden. In this same way, the murky atmosphere and its uncertainties slowly lifted as we approached the end of the path. Fearful things were unveiled: as Montereggione crowns its round ramparts with towers, so the walls of the pit were turreted with the upper bodies of terrible giants, whom Jupiter still threatens from the heavens, when he thunders.

 Canto XXXI: 46-81 Nimrod

I now could see the face of one, the shoulders, chest, the greater part of the belly, the arms down both sides. When Nature stopped producing such huge creatures, she did our side a favor by taking them off the battlefield. Even if she continues to make elephants and whales, whoever looks carefully at those monsters will understand her wisdom and rightness. It is only when brute strength and ill will are joined by powerful intellect that men are defenseless.

The giant's face appeared to me to be as long and wide as the massive pine-cone at St Peter’s, and the rest of him was in proportion. The bank covered the lower half of him, but the part above ground arose so high that no three Frisians placed end-to-end could have stretched so high  (except by lying about it). There must have been thirty large spans of him that I could see up to the place where he would have buckled a cloak, if he had followed our  fashion. The cruel mouth, unfit for more civil songs, began to rave: ‘Raphel may amech sabi almi.’

My guide addressed him: ‘Mad soul, when you must vent in a storm, sound off with your horn! Try to think where it is. It's hanging from a belt around your fool's neck. What did you think was knocking on your chest?’

Then he said to me: ‘Nimrod speaks for himself. It's because of his evil intentions that no universal language is spoken throughout the world. It's useless to talk to him. All languages to him are like his language to us, unintelligible! Let us leave him. ’

 Canto XXXI: 82-96 Ephialtes

We continued on around to the left for the distance of a crossbow shot, where we found the next one, even bigger and less civilized. Who or what bound him, I could not imagine, but his right arm was pinned behind him, and the other arm in front, by a huge chain fastened tight. From his neck down, on the part of him that I could see, it wrapped around him five times.

My guide said: ‘This proud spirit tried his strength against high Jupiter, and this is the outcome. Ephialtes is his name. He was among the leaders when the titans assaulted the gods. The arms that he shook that day have never moved again.’

 Canto XXXI: 97-145 Antaeus

I wondered and said: ‘I wish that I could see the giant Briareus.’

He replied: ‘He is far from here. He's in bonds like this one, and he looks the same, except he's a bit more ugly. I'll show you Antaeus. He's nearby, he understands our language, and he's not chained, and so he can put us down on the floor in the deepest abyss.’

No huge earthquake ever shook a tower as violently as Ephialtes then shook himself. I feared for my life, and the fear alone would have killed me, if I had not seen that his chains were holding.

We reached Antaeus further on. His trunk, not counting his head, towered twenty feet over the pit. The teacher spoke: ‘Mighty hunter, of old you took a thousand lions for your prey in the fateful valley of Zama, where Scipio, heir to glory, made Hannibal retreat. The giant sons of earth might have overcome the Olympian gods, had you been present on that day with your brothers.  Antaeus, set us down in the Ninth Circle, where the River Cocytus is imprisoned in ice.

‘Do not deny us. Do not make us ask Tityus or Typhon. This man can give you what you long for. Don't sneer at him. If he likes you, he can renew your fame on earth, since he lives, and expects a long life, if grace does not call him to her prematurely.’

So the teacher spoke. Antaeus promptly stretched out both hands, by which Hercules once felt the squeeze, and he firmly gripped my guide. Virgil next beckoned to me: ‘Come on: I'll carry you.’ Then he made one bundle of himself and me.

Antaeus stooped like the leaning tower of Garisenda, when you look up the underside of its slant as a cloud is passing over it, against the direction of its tilt. I wished I had taken a different route! It was a bad moment, but the giant set us down gently in the deep that swallowed Lucifer and Judas. He did not linger there, bent over us, but quickly straightened up like the mast of a tall ship.



 1-39 The Ninth Circle: The frozen River Cocytus

I wish that I had words, harsh and crude enough to describe the dismal base on which all of rocks of the underworld rest. Then I could squeeze out the juices of my memory to the last bitter drop. How can I begin to tell about that hole at the bottom of the universe, as it really is? It's nothing to joke about. It's not like mama or dada, a subject for baby-talk. May those ladies who helped Amphion with his lyre to lay the massive stones for Thebes' foundation now help me, so that my verses will not be false!

Mob of souls, lower than all the rest, existing in this pit that is beyond words, better that you had been born and died as sheep or goats!

When we were down inside the dark well, walking still lower than the giants’ feet, I was looking back up at the towering cliffs above, when suddenly I heard a sharp voice. ‘Hey! Watch where you're going! Don't step on us poor brothers!’

I looked down and saw a lake, frozen like glass in front of me and underneath my feet. Neither the Danube nor the Don ever formed such thick ice in winter. It would not have cracked if Mount Tambernic or Mount Pietrapana  had fallen on it. Weeping shadows were encased in this glaze up to their necks, with their teeth chattering like storks. They looked like a multitude of squat frogs with their snouts sticking out above the water to croak at peasant women in the time of year when they dream of gleaning. Their faces were bowed down to the cold, but I could see their frosted breath and their tears streaming into the lake.

 Canto XXXII: 40-69 Alessandro and Napoleone

At my feet were two of them, stuck together so that the hair of their heads seemed all one patch. ‘Tell me who you are.’  I said. ‘How have your bodies grown together like that?’

Both twisted their necks and tried to lift their faces toward me. Their eyes continued to drip for a moment, but the bitter cold quickly froze the tears between the eyelids, and iced up the eyes. Wood was never clamped to wood so firmly by any vice as those brothers were locked together like head-butting he-goats.

A neighbor head, that had lost both ears to the cold, did not look up but said: ‘What's your fascination with that pair? If you must know their names, they are Alessandro and Napoleone. They owned the valley where the Bisenzio runs, as their dad Alberto owned it before them, and they both had the same mother, too. You can search all of Caïna, and not find anybody more properly rooted here in the ice: not Mordred, whose body and soul were pierced with sunlight at the blow of King Arthur's lance: not the one they call Focaccia: not even this one here, whose head obstructs my view of everything. His name was Sassol Mascheroni. If you are a Tuscan, you know what he was. And to save you the trouble of asking, I'll tell you that I was Camicion de’ Pazzi, and I can hardly wait for my kinsman Carlino to join me.’


 Canto XXXII: 70-123 Bocca degli Abbati

I noted a thousand other faces, doglike in the cold, that still make me tremble whenever I see ice.

Whether it was will, or fate or chance, I do not know, but as I was walking among the heads, my foot kicked one of the faces hard. It cried out at me: ‘What was that for? Montaperti? What's your problem?’

I said: ‘Teacher, wait here for me now. I have a question for this fellow, and when he has answered it we can finish our walk here as quickly as you please.’

The teacher waited, and I said to that shade, which still scolded me: ‘Who are you, blaming others in this way?’

‘No, who are you,’ he answered, ‘who go through the Antenora kicking heads in such a way that, if you were alive, it would be an insult?’

I replied: ‘I am alive, and if you want me to make you famous, I need your name, to put it down with the others.’

He responded: ‘I want fame? I want just the opposite! Bug off and leave me alone! Do you think that this slope of ice is a place for flattery?’

I grabbed him by the back of the scalp: ‘Name yourself or I'll tear out all of your hair!’

He answered: ‘Go ahead! Pull it out! Pull it out a thousand times, my name is none of your business!’

I had his hair coiled in my hand, and yanked out more than one tuft of it, while he barked and kept his eyes down. Then another shadow cried: ‘What the hell's wrong with you, Bocca? Isn't it bad enough that you chatter with your teeth, but you have to scream, too? What devil is bothering you?’

I said: ‘Now I have your name, accursed traitor, and I'll tell the whole world all of the latest news about you!’

He answered: ‘Go ahead! Sing all you like, if you get out of this place alive! And be sure to acclaim big mouth over there, who wagged his tongue just now. He's here for lifting French silver. You can eulogize him, "I saw Buoso de Duera there, where the sinners are frozen in the ice." And if you want to mention others here, you have Tesauro de’ Beccheria, whose throat was slit by the Florentines. Then there's Gianni de’ Soldanieri, further on, with Ganelon, and Tribaldello, the traitor who unlocked the gate of Faenza while it slept. . .’

 Canto XXXII: 124-139 Ugolino and Ruggieri

As he blabbed, we moved on, and I saw two shadows frozen together in a hole, one head stuck on the back of the other like a kind of cap. The hindmost, as if famished, gnawed into the other where the back of the skull joins the nape of the neck, as Tydeus in his rage once chewed the head of Menalippus.

‘What are you doing?’ I said. ‘What gross fury can make you eat this fellow? If there's some good reason for it, tell me who you are, and what he did to you! I'll  repay you in the world above by reporting your story, if my tongue does not wither.’ 



 1-90 Count Ugolino’s story

The sinner paused and wiped his gory lips on the thinning hair of the cannibalized head. Then he began: ‘You ask me to repeat a desperate grief that wrings my heart at the thought of telling it. But let my words be the seeds that fruit in the disgrace of this villain that I eat! I'll tell you the tale, and weep.

‘Whoever you are, however you got here, you sound Florentine, so you must know that I am Count Ugolino. This head is Ruggieri, the Archbishop, and I'll tell you how I came to be his closest neighbor. The world knows how I trusted him, how he deceived me, and how he threw me in a dungeon where I died, but I'll tell you the part of the story that you cannot have heard. When you learn how evilly he murdered me, you can judge him for yourself.

‘The tower where he imprisoned me, and where others will suffer, is now named in my honor the Torre della Fama. Through a narrow chink in its wall I had counted a number of moons when, one night, I dreamed an evil dream that ripped open the veil of the future. I saw a hunt: this beast here, he seemed the lord and master, chasing a wolf and its whelps on Mount San Guiliano between Lucca and Pisa. The Gualandis, Sismondis and Lanfranchis ran with him as his blood hounds, lean and hungry.

‘After a short chase the wolf and his sons were weary, and I thought I saw their flanks being torn open by sharp teeth. That's when I awoke, before dawn, to hear my sons, who were with me, crying in their sleep and begging for bread.  The dread that then came over my heart must move you now, unless you are inhuman. If you do not weep at the thought of this, what do you weep at?

‘They awoke, and the time came for our food to be brought to us. Sickened by our dreams, I heard the door of the terrible tower below being sealed with nails. I gazed vacantly into the faces of my sons and said nothing. I did not weep but grew stony inside.

‘They wept, and my little Anselm said to me: ‘Father, you stare so: what is wrong?’ I shed no tears and did not answer all that day, or the next night, till another sun rose over the world. A small ray of light penetrated the mournful cell, and I saw in their four faces, reflections of my own. I bit my hands from grief. They thought that I bit them from hunger. They stood up, suddenly, and offered: "Father, it will give us less pain, if you feed on us: you gave us this miserable flesh, so now take it off again."

‘I calmed myself to ease their unhappiness. That day and the next we sat in silence. Hard earth, why did you not open then and swallow us? On the fourth day, Gaddo threw himself down at my feet, saying: ‘Father, father, why have you not helped me?’ There he died, and even as you see me, I watched the three others fall, one by one, on the fifth and sixth days. Already blind, I groped over their bodies, and called out to them for three more days. Then hunger overpowered my grief.’

When he finished speaking, he glared wildly at the wretched skull beneath him and then seized it again in his canines, strong as any dog’s for grinding bones.

Pisa, you are a blot of shame upon all who speak Italian.  Since your neighbors are slow to punish you, let the isles of Capraia and Gorgona come together to dam the Arno at its mouth and drown every Pisan in the flood! Even if Count Ugolino betrayed your castles, as rumored, you had no right to torture his innocent children. You Thebes of today! Uguccione and Brigata, and the other two boys I have named were too young for guilt!


 Canto XXXIII: 91-157  Friar Alberigo

We went further on, where the rugged ice burned another group of shadows, not bowed down but blindly staring up, fastened with frost flat on their backs. Because their tears had pooled and frozen solid in their eye sockets, they could no longer weep, so their grieves had to spread internally and metastasize through their bodies. I now seemed to feel a breeze, too, although my face already was numb as a callus with the cold.

‘Master, what makes this stir in the air?’ I asked. ‘Is there still something able to move around here?’

He replied: ‘Down the road you will see with your own eyes.’ 

One of the sorry shadows stuck in crust then cried out to us: ‘You souls, so cold that the last lot of all is reserved for you, lift this crystal mask from my eyes so that I can shed a few of the sorrows that are choking my heart. My relief will not take long; soon enough my tears will freeze again.’

I said to him: ‘If you want my help, tell me who you are. If I fail to keep my word, may I sink down to the bottom of the ice.’

He replied: ‘I am Friar Alberigo, the fruitman of the garden of evil. I called for figs but received these dates of ice.’

I said to him: ‘I didn't know that you died!’

‘How my body may stand in the world above is a mystery to me,’  he said. ‘Somehow souls often fall down here into Ptolomaea before Atropos has cut the life supports from their bodies up above. I tell you all I know because you have agreed to clear the frozen tears from my face. When a soul like me is treacherous to a dinner guest, its body is taken away by a demon, right then and there, no death required, and that devil controls the body ever after until its time expires.

‘Take for instance that shadow that winters out behind me here. It once controlled a body that is still seen in the world above. You must know it, if you have joined us down here only recently: it is Branca d’Oria, who has been frozen here for years.’

I said to him: ‘I believe you are lying to me: Branca d’Oria is not dead. He eats and drinks, and sleeps, and puts on his clothes.’

He said: ‘Michel Zanche had not yet arrived in the ditch of the Malebranche, to be tossed into the pitch that seethes and boils there, when his murderer's spirit also lost its body to a devil. That's Branca here. At the same moment another devil took over the body of his kinsman, his accomplice in the treachery. So now, as I asked, reach down and clear my eyes.’

I did not clear them. I had the good manners to be rude to him. You Genoese! Ignorant of all virtues, and familiar with all evils! Why have you not been cleared from the face of the earth, as you deserve? I saw one of you with the worst spirit in all of Romagna. For his cursed deeds, his soul already bathes in Cocytus, even while his body still thrives in your company!



 1-54 Lucifer

My teacher said: ‘Vexilla Regis prodeunt inferni, the banners of the King of Inferno advance toward us. Look around to see if you can find him.’ 

In the distance I thought I saw a tall structure--perhaps a windmill in some heavy mist or after night has fallen. The frigid squalls it fanned made me shrink back behind my guide. I had no other shelter. The souls in that fearful place were completely enclosed in ice, like straws in clear glass. Some were lying down, some standing up, one on its head, another on its feet, another bent head over heels like a bow.

When we came within sight of Lucifer, the monster that once had been so beautiful, my guide stopped and stepped aside, revealing him to me. ‘This is Dis,’ he said. ‘Arm yourself with courage.’

Reader, do not ask how cold or terrified I was at that moment. I am not writing it here, since no words could tell it. I did not die, but I felt that I was no longer alive. Think, if you have any imagination, what I became, neither living nor dead.

The emperor of the kingdom of sorrow stood in ice up to his waist. I am nearer to a giant in size than the giants are to one of his arms. All of his parts were enormous in that proportion. If he was once as attractive, as he is now disgusting, still raising his brows against his Creator, his grief indeed may be the first of all woes.

The head towering above me had three faces! The front face was fire red. The others to the sides were joined to the body above the center of the shoulders, but all three converged at the top. The right hand one was whitish-yellow, while the left was dark, the color of those who come from the land beside the Nile. Under each face there were two wings more vast than any ship's sails, fit for such an immense bird's flight. They were not feathered but bat-like in shape and covering. Their constant flapping drove three bitter winds by which all of the Cocytus was frozen. Tears wept from all six eyes, and foaming blood slobbered down the three chins.

 Canto XXXIV: 55-69 Judas: Brutus: Cassius

The teeth of each mouth raked a sinner in torment. To the soul in front, the biting and chewing must have been nothing compared to the flaying, as his back repeatedly was stripped of skin.

The teacher explained: ‘That soul up there that suffers the greatest punishment, the one with his head inside the mouth while the legs flail outside, is Judas Iscariot. The one who hangs down from the black face is Brutus--note how he writhes but never utters one word of complaint. The pale, long-limbed one is Cassius. That's all there is to see. Night is falling, and it's time to go.’

 Canto XXXIV: 70-139 The return to the surface

As he instructed, I rode on his back with my arms around his neck. Just at the right moment, when the wings were wide open, he grabbed a hold on the shaggy flank and began to descend slowly down the hide, from tuft to tuft  between the matted fur and the ice chamber wall.

When we reached the thigh, at the point where the butt bulged most, my guide reversed the direction of his head and feet. He then began to climb up the tufts. Disoriented, I thought we were rising again into hell, but my guide  panted with strain: ‘Hold on tight--these stairs are the only exit.’

Finally, he reached a small opening in the rock. He backed me in, and managed to deposit me seated upon the ledge; then he squeezed in and joined me. I assumed that I now would see Lucifer upright, as he had looked before, but instead I saw him upside down, with his legs sticking up toward me. (If you can't figure out where I was, you can understand my confusion!)

‘Get on your feet,’  my teacher said. ‘The way is long and difficult, and the sun already rises at mid-tierce.’ 

I stood up. We had not come to any palace. We were in a kind of cave with a rough floor of rubble and hardly any light.

‘My sage,’  I said, ‘before we leave this hole, help me out of my muddle. What happened to the ice? Why does this monster now stand on his head? How can the sun have moved backward from evening to morning?’ 

He answered: ‘You imagine that you are still on the other side of the earth’s center, where I first took hold of the hairy hide of this evil world-piercer. You were on that side, as long as we climbed down, but when I reversed the direction of my body and began to pull us up, we passed the center of the earth, where gravity pulls down from all directions. You are now on the opposite side, opposite to that great land mass that is centered on the place where the sinless man was crucified. You now stand at the other pole of Judecca.

‘Here it is morning, when it is evening there. The serpent who was our ladder is still the same as he was before. When he fell head first from heaven, he hit this side of the earth, and the continent that used to be here sank beneath the ocean waves with him. He seems to have made very little splash. All the land that's now left in this hemisphere is only the small bubble where we now stand.’

Down in that bubble of Beelzebub, you can't see very much, but you hear the sound of a little stream trickling over the rocks. To mount back up to the shining world above the dark cave, my guide and I followed the eroded winding bed of that stream--he first, and I second. We never rested until we came to a round opening where the beautiful things of the heavens were visible above. There we climbed out and again saw the stars.  


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Epics traditionally begin in the middle, but here the story unconventionally is the poet's own midlife journey. 

Following the ancient tradition of incubation, the poet meets the dead in sleep.






Cf. Jeremiah 1:6 on the punishments awaiting those who have turned away from the Lord:  "Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them, a leopard shall watch over their cities."








Image left: Dante opposed by the lion  (based on Gustave Doré's illustration to Inferno [1861]).




























Virgil did not know the true emperor and can show only "false and lying gods."



































































  Image left: Virgil explains his commission from heaven (image based on Doré).












































 Image left (based on Doré): on the shore of Acheron.





















The damned view their condition in classical, passive terms as the responsibility of God, parents and other external determinants.





































The path follows  Christ's "Harrowing of Hell."  











Pilgrim Dante sees himself as the fifth prince following in the line of Homer. Virgil and the other three princes are poets of imperial Rome.










  Image left: Homer and company in limbo (image based on Doré).





























  Image left (based on Doré): Judging by his tail, Minos is reptilian
(see Lesson 19).






























































Image left: Francesca acts out the magic of medieval romance (image based on Doré).



























Cerberus parodies the triune brain motif (Lesson 19).





















The dead are prophetic in Virgil and epic tradition.






























Image left: Plutus  (image based on Doré).



































































Image left: Phlegyas the boatman on the Styx (image based on Doré). With its angry and terrified souls, Styx represents the fight or flight emergency response




Tradition says that Dante had written cantos 1-7 before his exile and then returned to finish the poem many years later.































A fortification that is part Islamic, part demonic, Dis is a projection of Dante's anger.



































Virgil lacks the faith to overcome the devils.

















  Image left (after Doré): The Furies

























































































  Image left (after Doré): Farinata, Dante's parallel. Florence is a city of destructive rivalry, where faction drives out faction and in turn is driven out, so enemies eventually have disappointment in common. It's the lesson of Iliad 24 again.










Fellow poet Guido Cavalcanti was exiled by Dante in June 1300, and he then died in August.





  Dante's turn to be exiled is coming in 1302.







































The expedition has reached the crossing point from the animal compulsions to the intentional wrongdoings in the 7th circle and below.









































  Image left (after Doré): The Centaurs. The proto-evolutionary minotaur and centaurs image human nature as half beast.



























































































  Poet and counselor to Roman Emperor Frederick, Pier is an analogy to Virgil and a warning to ambitious young Dante.












    Image left (after Doré): Wood of the Suicides































































Image left (after Doré): the rain of fire.














































































Image left (after Doré): Brunetto the secular humanist was Dante's mentor as scholarly collector of knowledge, fantasy poet, Florentine exile, and Roman imperialist. In Dante's anti-intellectual tirade, the scholars are seen as atheists or abusers of God.














  In the height of his imperialist delusion, Dante sees himself as the living shoot of ancient Rome. 



























































Dante's rage grows as he indicts all of Florence, an emerging modern capitalist city.





























  Image left  (after Doré): Geryon, the unbelievable Fraud Beast who has the face of a man, the arms of a lion and the trunk of a reptile, is a perfect proto-image of the triune brain.  Dore, Dali and other illustrators get the image wrong by adding wings. Geryon is more fish than fowl; he swims, does not fly.




































































The word "Malebolge" neatly combines the concepts of pit (as in grave) and purse (as in money bag). In circle 8, Dante launches a massive attack against society.  
























































Virgil gags.









  Image left (after Doré): Thais.















Personal experience informs what Dante sees in his dream.














Paid assassins were executed in Florence by being placed head down in a pit and then buried alive.

















  Image left (after Doré): Pope Nick and others get their kicks. In his lifetime, Dante witnessed a succession of scandalous popes, culminating in Clement V, who did the bidding of King Philip IV of France, removed the papacy to Avignon, and attempted to subject the church to secular taxation. These events helped to spark intense questioning of medieval institutions.


























Canto = song.
Canticle = cycle of songs.
These words are related to incantation, meaning spirit calling. Those who led the way in summoning spirits are remembered by Dante.









Dante mocks ancient prophetic tradition, even as he participates in it. His fraud is complex.








 Virgil tells the foundation myth of his hometown, Mantua. The story links him to the prophetic tradition of ancient Thebes, from which Manto ("the daughter of Teiresias") was a refugee after Thebes fell to the Achaeans. Manto is an imposter witch who claims to raise spirits through the water; she consults her spiritual father Teiresias in this way. (Compare Homer's Circe.) Virgil obviously thinks more highly of the legend more than Dante does .



























Dante was accused by his enemies in Florence of corruption in office, so ditch 5 holds special danger to the pilgrim.
































Image left (after Doré): no, it's not the Lord of the Rings. It's one of Tolkien's sources, the gargoyle Malabranche. Like many other medieval European artists, Dante plays demons  for low comedy and crude farce.
























Dante may have witnessed or participated in a Tuscan massacre at Caprona, after the Pisan garrison had surrendered.



Left: (after Dore) the Malabranche seem to know that Dante deserves to be tortured with the corrupt politicians.











Story time is now late in the morning, Holy Saturday, 1300 AD. (Devils measure time from the Harrowing.)








Virgil misreads the danger of Dante's situation.

























































































  Image left (after Doré); Ciampolo's narrow escape from Alichino. Is Dante an escapee from punishment for graft like Ciampolo?










Dante looks for cover and hides from punishment in the valley of the hypocrites.


































  Image left (after Doré): hypocrites on parade.














Dante pretends to love Florence.


The friars also practiced political graft and favoritism under the pretext of making peace in Florence.



















Virgil has been tricked.




























Dante looks for ways to rescue his reputation from infamy that it has suffered as a result of his corruption and hypocrisy.




In Dante's exile some of his possessions in Florence were taken by leaders of the Black Guelph faction. They accused him of coming by these goods through graft. Dante now tries to rationalize the situation by seeing these opponents as thieves and incarnations of evil.











  Image left (after Doré): there's no honor among thieves. This circle reflects the transfer of guilt to blame, the dishonest intellect of thieves.
















Fucci like Dante
is a fugitive outlaw.































































































Dante curses Florence.























  Image left (after Doré): Valley of the Heroes.












 Virgil vilifies Ulysses (Odysseus) as the foil to his Trojan hero, Rome's prophet Aeneas. The reality obviously was that Rome had destroyed Greek civilization, but Virgil managed to spin the story as if the opposite were the truth.










Dante answers the Homer exam: Ulysses never went home, and never got to Phaeacia or even the island of the cattle of the sun. Instead he went down in the South Pacific!














Our first glimpse of Purgatory is seen through Ulysses' eyes.
































Guido's ironic words are quoted by T.S. Eliot at the start of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"










Is Guido's summoning to the Vatican meant to be a parallel to Dante's? Dante is wearing the same robe.


































Medieval Christians incorrectly regarded the prophet of Islam as a Christian heretic who led a schism within the church. As a public critic of the pope and church politics, Dante is reflecting on his own divisive activities, deviously projecting his fault onto Mohammed.

















  Image left (after Doré): Sowers of Discord























Hateful words bring regret. Dante has spoken in favor of war and revolution.



























  Image left (after Doré): Bertrand de Born











It's about noon on Holy Saturday.





















































Siena jokes











































  Image left (after Doré): Adam and Sinon.

















































Gothic vs. classic: Dante's vulgarity contrasts with Virgil's high style. He is embarrassed by un-heroic flavor of his dream.


















































































Image left (after Doré): giants under the earth.






















The lake is formed by weeping; their tears only freeze and arrest their bodies.























Left: (after Dore)
the traitors.


















Dante has descended to becoming a collector of crime stories.
























The after dinner story of Count Ugolino.













The werewolf.

The dream and the reality run together.



























Image left
(after Dor
Ugolino and sons.






















Lowest of all, Ptolomaea is the place reserved for those who break xenia by murdering their guests.















































Unholy trinity (triune brain motif continues).


















It's 7:30 am on
Holy Saturday morning again, 12 hours earlier than when the climb on Lucifer began.






















Image left (after Doré):  the dawn of Purgatory. Dante has seen his errors and is ready to atone.