The place where to descend the bank we came
Was alpine, and from what was there, moreover,
Of such a kind that every eye would shun it.
Such as that ruin is which in the flank
Smote, on this side of Trent, the Adige,
Either by earthquake or by failing stay,
For from the mountain’s top, from which it moved,
Unto the plain the cliff is shattered so,
Some path ‘twould give to him who was above;
Even such was the descent of that ravine,
And on the border of the broken chasm
The infamy of Crete was stretched along,
Who was conceived in the fictitious cow;
And when he us beheld, he bit himself,
Even as one whom anger racks within.
My Sage towards him shouted: “Peradventure
Thou think’st that here may be the Duke of Athens,
Who in the world above brought death to thee?
Get thee gone, beast, for this one cometh not
Instructed by thy sister, but he comes
In order to behold your punishments.”
As is that bull who breaks loose at the moment
In which he has received the mortal blow,
Who cannot walk, but staggers here and there,
The Minotaur beheld I do the like;
And he, the wary, cried: “Run to the passage;
While he wroth, ’tis well thou shouldst descend.”
Thus down we took our way o’er that discharge
Of stones, which oftentimes did move themselves
Beneath my feet, from the unwonted burden.
Thoughtful I went; and he said: “Thou art thinking
Perhaps upon this ruin, which is guarded
By that brute anger which just now I quenched.
Now will I have thee know, the other time
I here descended to the nether Hell,
This precipice had not yet fallen down.
But truly, if I well discern, a little
Before His coming who the mighty spoil
Bore off from Dis, in the supernal circle,
Upon all sides the deep and loathsome valley
Trembled so, that I thought the Universe
Was thrilled with love, by which there are who think
The world ofttimes converted into chaos;
And at that moment this primeval crag
Both here and elsewhere made such overthrow.
But fix thine eyes below; for draweth near
The river of blood, within which boiling is
Whoe’er by violence doth injure others.”
O blind cupidity, O wrath insane,
That spurs us onward so in our short life,
And in the eternal then so badly steeps us!
I saw an ample moat bent like a bow,
As one which all the plain encompasses,
Conformable to what my Guide had said.
And between this and the embankment’s foot
Centaurs in file were running, armed with arrows,
As in the world they used the chase to follow.
Beholding us descend, each one stood still,
And from the squadron three detached themselves,
With bows and arrows in advance selected;
And from afar one cried: “Unto what torment
Come ye, who down the hillside are descending?
Tell us from there; if not, I draw the bow.”
My Master said: “Our answer will we make
To Chiron, near you there; in evil hour,
That will of thine was evermore so hasty.”
Then touched he me, and said: “This one is Nessus,
Who perished for the lovely Dejanira,
And for himself, himself did vengeance take.
And he in the midst, who at his breast is gazing,
Is the great Chiron, who brought up Achilles;
That other Pholus is, who was so wrathful.
Thousands and thousands go about the moat
Shooting with shafts whatever soul emerges
Out of the blood, more than his crime allots.”
Near we approached unto those monsters fleet;
Chiron an arrow took, and with the notch
Backward upon his jaws he put his beard.
After he had uncovered his great mouth,
He said to his companions: “Are you ware
That he behind moveth whate’er he touches?
Thus are not wont to do the feet of dead men.”
And my good Guide, who now was at his breast,
Where the two natures are together joined,
Replied: “Indeed he lives, and thus alone
Me it behoves to show him the dark valley;
Necessity, and not delight, impels us.
Some one withdrew from singing Halleluja,
Who unto me committed this new office;
No thief is he, nor I a thievish spirit.
But by that virtue through which I am moving
My steps along this savage thoroughfare,
Give us some one of thine, to be with us,
And who may show us where to pass the ford,
And who may carry this one on his back;
For ’tis no spirit that can walk the air.”
Upon his right breast Chiron wheeled about,
And said to Nessus: “Turn and do thou guide them,
And warn aside, if other band may meet you.”
We with our faithful escort onward moved
Along the brink of the vermilion boiling,
Wherein the boiled were uttering loud laments.
People I saw within up to the eyebrows,
And the great Centaur said: “Tyrants are these,
Who dealt in bloodshed and in pillaging.
Here they lament their pitiless mischiefs; here
Is Alexander, and fierce Dionysius
Who upon Sicily brought dolorous years.
That forehead there which has the hair so black
Is Azzolin; and the other who is blond,
Obizzo is of Esti, who, in truth,
Up in the world was by his stepson slain.”
Then turned I to the Poet; and he said,
“Now he be first to thee, and second I.”
A little farther on the Centaur stopped
Above a folk, who far down as the throat
Seemed from that boiling stream to issue forth.
A shade he showed us on one side alone,
Saying: “He cleft asunder in God’s bosom
The heart that still upon the Thames is honoured.”
Then people saw I, who from out the river
Lifted their heads and also all the chest;
And many among these I recognised.
Thus ever more and more grew shallower
That blood, so that the feet alone it covered;
And there across the moat our passage was.
“Even as thou here upon this side beholdest
The boiling stream, that aye diminishes,”
The Centaur said, “I wish thee to believe
That on this other more and more declines
Its bed, until it reunites itself
Where it behoveth tyranny to groan.
Justice divine, upon this side, is goading
That Attila, who was a scourge on earth,
And Pyrrhus, and Sextus; and for ever milks
The tears which with the boiling it unseals
In Rinier da Corneto and Rinier Pazzo,
Who made upon the highways so much war.”
Then back he turned, and passed again the ford.
Not yet had Nessus reached the other side,
When we had put ourselves within a wood,
That was not marked by any path whatever.
Not foliage green, but of a dusky colour,
Not branches smooth, but gnarled and intertangled,
Not apple-trees were there, but thorns with poison.
Such tangled thickets have not, nor so dense,
Those savage wild beasts, that in hatred hold
‘Twixt Cecina and Corneto the tilled places.
There do the hideous Harpies make their nests,
Who chased the Trojans from the Strophades,
With sad announcement of impending doom;
Broad wings have they, and necks and faces human,
And feet with claws, and their great bellies fledged;
They make laments upon the wondrous trees.
And the good Master: “Ere thou enter farther,
Know that thou art within the second round,”
Thus he began to say, “and shalt be, till
Thou comest out upon the horrible sand;
Therefore look well around, and thou shalt see
Things that will credence give unto my speech.”
I heard on all sides lamentations uttered,
And person none beheld I who might make them,
Whence, utterly bewildered, I stood still.
I think he thought that I perhaps might think
So many voices issued through those trunks
From people who concealed themselves from us;
Therefore the Master said: “If thou break off
Some little spray from any of these trees,
The thoughts thou hast will wholly be made vain.”
Then stretched I forth my hand a little forward,
And plucked a branchlet off from a great thorn;
And the trunk cried, “Why dost thou mangle me?”
After it had become embrowned with blood,
It recommenced its cry: “Why dost thou rend me?
Hast thou no spirit of pity whatsoever?
Men once we were, and now are changed to trees;
Indeed, thy hand should be more pitiful,
Even if the souls of serpents we had been.”
As out of a green brand, that is on fire
At one of the ends, and from the other drips
And hisses with the wind that is escaping;
So from that splinter issued forth together
Both words and blood; whereat I let the tip
Fall, and stood like a man who is afraid.
“Had he been able sooner to believe,”
My Sage made answer, “O thou wounded soul,
What only in my verses he has seen,
Not upon thee had he stretched forth his hand;
Whereas the thing incredible has caused me
To put him to an act which grieveth me.
But tell him who thou wast, so that by way
Of some amends thy fame he may refresh
Up in the world, to which he can return.”
And the trunk said: “So thy sweet words allure me,
I cannot silent be; and you be vexed not,
That I a little to discourse am tempted.
I am the one who both keys had in keeping
Of Frederick’s heart, and turned them to and fro
So softly in unlocking and in locking,
That from his secrets most men I withheld;
Fidelity I bore the glorious office
So great, I lost thereby my sleep and pulses.
The courtesan who never from the dwelling
Of Caesar turned aside her strumpet eyes,
Death universal and the vice of courts,
Inflamed against me all the other minds,
And they, inflamed, did so inflame Augustus,
That my glad honours turned to dismal mournings.
My spirit, in disdainful exultation,
Thinking by dying to escape disdain,
Made me unjust against myself, the just.
I, by the roots unwonted of this wood,
Do swear to you that never broke I faith
Unto my lord, who was so worthy of honour;
And to the world if one of you return,
Let him my memory comfort, which is lying
Still prostrate from the blow that envy dealt it.”
Waited awhile, and then: “Since he is silent,”
The Poet said to me, “lose not the time,
But speak, and question him, if more may please thee.”
Whence I to him: “Do thou again inquire
Concerning what thou thinks’t will satisfy me;
For I cannot, such pity is in my heart.”
Therefore he recommenced: “So may the man
Do for thee freely what thy speech implores,
Spirit incarcerate, again be pleased
To tell us in what way the soul is bound
Within these knots; and tell us, if thou canst,
If any from such members e’er is freed.”
Then blew the trunk amain, and afterward
The wind was into such a voice converted:
“With brevity shall be replied to you.
When the exasperated soul abandons
The body whence it rent itself away,
Minos consigns it to the seventh abyss.
It falls into the forest, and no part
Is chosen for it; but where Fortune hurls it,
There like a grain of spelt it germinates.
It springs a sapling, and a forest tree;
The Harpies, feeding then upon its leaves,
Do pain create, and for the pain an outlet.
Like others for our spoils shall we return;
But not that any one may them revest,
For ’tis not just to have what one casts off.
Here we shall drag them, and along the dismal
Forest our bodies shall suspended be,
Each to the thorn of his molested shade.”
We were attentive still unto the trunk,
Thinking that more it yet might wish to tell us,
When by a tumult we were overtaken,
In the same way as he is who perceives
The boar and chase approaching to his stand,
Who hears the crashing of the beasts and branches;
And two behold! upon our left-hand side,
Naked and scratched, fleeing so furiously,
That of the forest, every fan they broke.
He who was in advance: “Now help, Death, help!”
And the other one, who seemed to lag too much,
Was shouting: “Lano, were not so alert
Those legs of thine at joustings of the Toppo!”
And then, perchance because his breath was failing,
He grouped himself together with a bush.
Behind them was the forest full of black
She-mastiffs, ravenous, and swift of foot
As greyhounds, who are issuing from the chain.
On him who had crouched down they set their teeth,
And him they lacerated piece by piece,
Thereafter bore away those aching members.
Thereat my Escort took me by the hand,
And led me to the bush, that all in vain
Was weeping from its bloody lacerations.
“O Jacopo,” it said, “of Sant’ Andrea,
What helped it thee of me to make a screen?
What blame have I in thy nefarious life?”
When near him had the Master stayed his steps,
He said: “Who wast thou, that through wounds so many
Art blowing out with blood thy dolorous speech?”
And he to us: “O souls, that hither come
To look upon the shameful massacre
That has so rent away from me my leaves,
Gather them up beneath the dismal bush;
I of that city was which to the Baptist
Changed its first patron, wherefore he for this
Forever with his art will make it sad.
And were it not that on the pass of Arno
Some glimpses of him are remaining still,
Those citizens, who afterwards rebuilt it
Upon the ashes left by Attila,
In vain had caused their labour to be done.
Of my own house I made myself a gibbet.”
Because the charity of my native place
Constrained me, gathered I the scattered leaves,
And gave them back to him, who now was hoarse.
Then came we to the confine, where disparted
The second round is from the third, and where
A horrible form of Justice is beheld.
Clearly to manifest these novel things,
I say that we arrived upon a plain,
Which from its bed rejecteth every plant;
The dolorous forest is a garland to it
All round about, as the sad moat to that;
There close upon the edge we stayed our feet.
The soil was of an arid and thick sand,
Not of another fashion made than that
Which by the feet of Cato once was pressed.
Vengeance of God, O how much oughtest thou
By each one to be dreaded, who doth read
That which was manifest unto mine eyes!
Of naked souls beheld I many herds,
Who all were weeping very miserably,
And over them seemed set a law diverse.
Supine upon the ground some folk were lying;
And some were sitting all drawn up together,
And others went about continually.
Those who were going round were far the more,
And those were less who lay down to their torment,
But had their tongues more loosed to lamentation.
O’er all the sand-waste, with a gradual fall,
Were raining down dilated flakes of fire,
As of the snow on Alp without a wind.
As Alexander, in those torrid parts
Of India, beheld upon his host
Flames fall unbroken till they reached the ground.
Whence he provided with his phalanxes
To trample down the soil, because the vapour
Better extinguished was while it was single;
Thus was descending the eternal heat,
Whereby the sand was set on fire, like tinder
Beneath the steel, for doubling of the dole.
Without repose forever was the dance
Of miserable hands, now there, now here,
Shaking away from off them the fresh gleeds.
“Master,” began I, “thou who overcomest
All things except the demons dire, that issued
Against us at the entrance of the gate,
Who is that mighty one who seems to heed not
The fire, and lieth lowering and disdainful,
So that the rain seems not to ripen him?”
And he himself, who had become aware
That I was questioning my Guide about him,
Cried: “Such as I was living, am I, dead.
If Jove should weary out his smith, from whom
He seized in anger the sharp thunderbolt,
Wherewith upon the last day I was smitten,
And if he wearied out by turns the others
In Mongibello at the swarthy forge,
Vociferating, ‘Help, good Vulcan, help!’
Even as he did there at the fight of Phlegra,
And shot his bolts at me with all his might,
He would not have thereby a joyous vengeance.”
Then did my Leader speak with such great force,
That I had never heard him speak so loud:
“O Capaneus, in that is not extinguished
Thine arrogance, thou punished art the more;
Not any torment, saving thine own rage,
Would be unto thy fury pain complete.”
Then he turned round to me with better lip,
Saying: “One of the Seven Kings was he
Who Thebes besieged, and held, and seems to hold
God in disdain, and little seems to prize him;
But, as I said to him, his own despites
Are for his breast the fittest ornaments.
Now follow me, and mind thou do not place
As yet thy feet upon the burning sand,
But always keep them close unto the wood.”
Speaking no word, we came to where there gushes
Forth from the wood a little rivulet,
Whose redness makes my hair still stand on end.
As from the Bulicame springs the brooklet,
The sinful women later share among them,
So downward through the sand it went its way.
The bottom of it, and both sloping banks,
Were made of stone, and the margins at the side;
Whence I perceived that there the passage was.
“In all the rest which I have shown to thee
Since we have entered in within the gate
Whose threshold unto no one is denied,
Nothing has been discovered by thine eyes
So notable as is the present river,
Which all the little flames above it quenches.”
These words were of my Leader; whence I prayed him
That he would give me largess of the food,
For which he had given me largess of desire.
“In the mid-sea there sits a wasted land,”
Said he thereafterward, “whose name is Crete,
Under whose king the world of old was chaste.
There is a mountain there, that once was glad
With waters and with leaves, which was called Ida;
Now ’tis deserted, as a thing worn out.
Rhea once chose it for the faithful cradle
Of her own son; and to conceal him better,
Whene’er he cried, she there had clamours made.
A grand old man stands in the mount erect,
Who holds his shoulders turned tow’rds Damietta,
And looks at Rome as if it were his mirror.
His head is fashioned of refined gold,
And of pure silver are the arms and breast;
Then he is brass as far down as the fork.
From that point downward all is chosen iron,
Save that the right foot is of kiln-baked clay,
And more he stands on that than on the other.
Each part, except the gold, is by a fissure
Asunder cleft, that dripping is with tears,
Which gathered together perforate that cavern.
From rock to rock they fall into this valley;
Acheron, Styx, and Phlegethon they form;
Then downward go along this narrow sluice
Unto that point where is no more descending.
They form Cocytus; what that pool may be
Thou shalt behold, so here ’tis not narrated.”
And I to him: “If so the present runnel
Doth take its rise in this way from our world,
Why only on this verge appears it to us?”
And he to me: “Thou knowest the place is round,
And notwithstanding thou hast journeyed far,
Still to the left descending to the bottom,
Thou hast not yet through all the circle turned.
Therefore if something new appear to us,
It should not bring amazement to thy face.”
And I again: “Master, where shall be found
Lethe and Phlegethon, for of one thou’rt silent,
And sayest the other of this rain is made?”
“In all thy questions truly thou dost please me,”
Replied he; “but the boiling of the red
Water might well solve one of them thou makest.
Thou shalt see Lethe, but outside this moat,
There where the souls repair to lave themselves,
When sin repented of has been removed.”
Then said he: “It is time now to abandon
The wood; take heed that thou come after me;
A way the margins make that are not burning,
And over them all vapours are extinguished.”