Now bears us onward one of the hard margins,
And so the brooklet’s mist o’ershadows it,
From fire it saves the water and the dikes.
Even as the Flemings, ‘twixt Cadsand and Bruges,
Fearing the flood that tow’rds them hurls itself,
Their bulwarks build to put the sea to flight;
And as the Paduans along the Brenta,
To guard their villas and their villages,
Or ever Chiarentana feel the heat;
In such similitude had those been made,
Albeit not so lofty nor so thick,
Whoever he might be, the master made them.
Now were we from the forest so remote,
I could not have discovered where it was,
Even if backward I had turned myself,
When we a company of souls encountered,
Who came beside the dike, and every one
Gazed at us, as at evening we are wont
To eye each other under a new moon,
And so towards us sharpened they their brows
As an old tailor at the needle’s eye.
Thus scrutinised by such a family,
By some one I was recognised, who seized
My garment’s hem, and cried out, “What a marvel!”
And I, when he stretched forth his arm to me,
On his baked aspect fastened so mine eyes,
That the scorched countenance prevented not
His recognition by my intellect;
And bowing down my face unto his own,
I made reply, “Are you here, Ser Brunetto?”
And he: “May’t not displease thee, O my son,
If a brief space with thee Brunetto Latini
Backward return and let the trail go on.”
I said to him: “With all my power I ask it;
And if you wish me to sit down with you,
I will, if he please, for I go with him.”
“O son,” he said, “whoever of this herd
A moment stops, lies then a hundred years,
Nor fans himself when smiteth him the fire.
Therefore go on; I at thy skirts will come,
And afterward will I rejoin my band,
Which goes lamenting its eternal doom.”
I did not dare to go down from the road
Level to walk with him; but my head bowed
I held as one who goeth reverently.
And he began: “What fortune or what fate
Before the last day leadeth thee down here?
And who is this that showeth thee the way?”
“Up there above us in the life serene,”
I answered him, “I lost me in a valley,
Or ever yet my age had been completed.
But yestermorn I turned my back upon it;
This one appeared to me, returning thither,
And homeward leadeth me along this road.”
And he to me: “If thou thy star do follow,
Thou canst not fail thee of a glorious port,
If well I judged in the life beautiful.
And if I had not died so prematurely,
Seeing Heaven thus benignant unto thee,
I would have given thee comfort in the work.
But that ungrateful and malignant people,
Which of old time from Fesole descended,
And smacks still of the mountain and the granite,
Will make itself, for thy good deeds, thy foe;
And it is right; for among crabbed sorbs
It ill befits the sweet fig to bear fruit.
Old rumour in the world proclaims them blind;
A people avaricious, envious, proud;
Take heed that of their customs thou do cleanse thee.
Thy fortune so much honour doth reserve thee,
One party and the other shall be hungry
For thee; but far from goat shall be the grass.
Their litter let the beasts of Fesole
Make of themselves, nor let them touch the plant,
If any still upon their dunghill rise,
In which may yet revive the consecrated
Seed of those Romans, who remained there when
The nest of such great malice it became.”
“If my entreaty wholly were fulfilled,”
Replied I to him, “not yet would you be
In banishment from human nature placed;
For in my mind is fixed, and touches now
My heart the dear and good paternal image
Of you, when in the world from hour to hour
You taught me how a man becomes eternal;
And how much I am grateful, while I live
Behoves that in my language be discerned.
What you narrate of my career I write,
And keep it to be glossed with other text
By a Lady who can do it, if I reach her.
This much will I have manifest to you;
Provided that my conscience do not chide me,
For whatsoever Fortune I am ready.
Such handsel is not new unto mine ears;
Therefore let Fortune turn her wheel around
As it may please her, and the churl his mattock.”
My Master thereupon on his right cheek
Did backward turn himself, and looked at me;
Then said: “He listeneth well who noteth it.”
Nor speaking less on that account, I go
With Ser Brunetto, and I ask who are
His most known and most eminent companions.
And he to me: “To know of some is well;
Of others it were laudable to be silent,
For short would be the time for so much speech.
Know them in sum, that all of them were clerks,
And men of letters great and of great fame,
In the world tainted with the selfsame sin.
Priscian goes yonder with that wretched crowd,
And Francis of Accorso; and thou hadst seen there
If thou hadst had a hankering for such scurf,
That one, who by the Servant of the Servants
From Arno was transferred to Bacchiglione,
Where he has left his sin-excited nerves.
More would I say, but coming and discoursing
Can be no longer; for that I behold
New smoke uprising yonder from the sand.
A people comes with whom I may not be;
Commended unto thee be my Tesoro,
In which I still live, and no more I ask.”
Then he turned round, and seemed to be of those
Who at Verona run for the Green Mantle
Across the plain; and seemed to be among them
The one who wins, and not the one who loses.
Now was I where was heard the reverberation
Of water falling into the next round,
Like to that humming which the beehives make,
When shadows three together started forth,
Running, from out a company that passed
Beneath the rain of the sharp martyrdom.
Towards us came they, and each one cried out:
“Stop, thou; for by thy garb to us thou seemest
To be some one of our depraved city.”
Ah me! what wounds I saw upon their limbs,
Recent and ancient by the flames burnt in!
It pains me still but to remember it.
Unto their cries my Teacher paused attentive;
He turned his face towards me, and “Now wait,”
He said; “to these we should be courteous.
And if it were not for the fire that darts
The nature of this region, I should say
That haste were more becoming thee than them.”
As soon as we stood still, they recommenced
The old refrain, and when they overtook us,
Formed of themselves a wheel, all three of them.
As champions stripped and oiled are wont to do,
Watching for their advantage and their hold,
Before they come to blows and thrusts between them,
Thus, wheeling round, did every one his visage
Direct to me, so that in opposite wise
His neck and feet continual journey made.
And, “If the misery of this soft place
Bring in disdain ourselves and our entreaties,”
Began one, “and our aspect black and blistered,
Let the renown of us thy mind incline
To tell us who thou art, who thus securely
Thy living feet dost move along through Hell.
He in whose footprints thou dost see me treading,
Naked and skinless though he now may go,
Was of a greater rank than thou dost think;
He was the grandson of the good Gualdrada;
His name was Guidoguerra, and in life
Much did he with his wisdom and his sword.
The other, who close by me treads the sand,
Tegghiaio Aldobrandi is, whose fame
Above there in the world should welcome be.
And I, who with them on the cross am placed,
Jacopo Rusticucci was; and truly
My savage wife, more than aught else, doth harm me.”
Could I have been protected from the fire,
Below I should have thrown myself among them,
And think the Teacher would have suffered it;
But as I should have burned and baked myself,
My terror overmastered my good will,
Which made me greedy of embracing them.
Then I began: “Sorrow and not disdain
Did your condition fix within me so,
That tardily it wholly is stripped off,
As soon as this my Lord said unto me
Words, on account of which I thought within me
That people such as you are were approaching.
I of your city am; and evermore
Your labours and your honourable names
I with affection have retraced and heard.
I leave the gall, and go for the sweet fruits
Promised to me by the veracious Leader;
But to the centre first I needs must plunge.”
“So may the soul for a long while conduct
Those limbs of thine,” did he make answer then,
“And so may thy renown shine after thee,
Valour and courtesy, say if they dwell
Within our city, as they used to do,
Or if they wholly have gone out of it;
For Guglielmo Borsier, who is in torment
With us of late, and goes there with his comrades,
Doth greatly mortify us with his words.”
“The new inhabitants and the sudden gains,
Pride and extravagance have in thee engendered,
Florence, so that thou weep’st thereat already!”
In this wise I exclaimed with face uplifted;
And the three, taking that for my reply,
Looked at each other, as one looks at truth.
“If other times so little it doth cost thee,”
Replied they all, “to satisfy another,
Happy art thou, thus speaking at thy will!
Therefore, if thou escape from these dark places,
And come to rebehold the beauteous stars,
When it shall pleasure thee to say, ‘I was,’
See that thou speak of us unto the people.”
Then they broke up the wheel, and in their flight
It seemed as if their agile legs were wings.
Not an Amen could possibly be said
So rapidly as they had disappeared;
Wherefore the Master deemed best to depart.
I followed him, and little had we gone,
Before the sound of water was so near us,
That speaking we should hardly have been heard.
Even as that stream which holdeth its own course
The first from Monte Veso tow’rds the East,
Upon the left-hand slope of Apennine,
Which is above called Acquacheta, ere
It down descendeth into its low bed,
And at Forli is vacant of that name,
Reverberates there above San Benedetto
From Alps, by falling at a single leap,
Where for a thousand there were room enough;
Thus downward from a bank precipitate,
We found resounding that dark-tinted water,
So that it soon the ear would have offended.
I had a cord around about me girt,
And therewithal I whilom had designed
To take the leopard with the painted skin.
After I this had all from me unloosed,
As my Conductor had commanded me,
I reached it to him, gathered up and coiled,
Whereat he turned himself to the right side,
And at a little distance from the verge,
He cast it down into that deep abyss.
“It must needs be some novelty respond,”
I said within myself, “to the new signal
The Master with his eye is following so.”
Ah me! how very cautious men should be
With those who not alone behold the act,
But with their wisdom look into the thoughts!
He said to me: “Soon there will upward come
What I await; and what thy thought is dreaming
Must soon reveal itself unto thy sight.”
Aye to that truth which has the face of falsehood,
A man should close his lips as far as may be,
Because without his fault it causes shame;
But here I cannot; and, Reader, by the notes
Of this my Comedy to thee I swear,
So may they not be void of lasting favour,
Athwart that dense and darksome atmosphere
I saw a figure swimming upward come,
Marvellous unto every steadfast heart,
Even as he returns who goeth down
Sometimes to clear an anchor, which has grappled
Reef, or aught else that in the sea is hidden,
Who upward stretches, and draws in his feet.
“Behold the monster with the pointed tail,
Who cleaves the hills, and breaketh walls and weapons,
Behold him who infecteth all the world.”
Thus unto me my Guide began to say,
And beckoned him that he should come to shore,
Near to the confine of the trodden marble;
And that uncleanly image of deceit
Came up and thrust ashore its head and bust,
But on the border did not drag its tail.
The face was as the face of a just man,
Its semblance outwardly was so benign,
And of a serpent all the trunk beside.
Two paws it had, hairy unto the armpits;
The back, and breast, and both the sides it had
Depicted o’er with nooses and with shields.
With colours more, groundwork or broidery
Never in cloth did Tartars make nor Turks,
Nor were such tissues by Arachne laid.
As sometimes wherries lie upon the shore,
That part are in the water, part on land;
And as among the guzzling Germans there,
The beaver plants himself to wage his war;
So that vile monster lay upon the border,
Which is of stone, and shutteth in the sand.
His tail was wholly quivering in the void,
Contorting upwards the envenomed fork,
That in the guise of scorpion armed its point.
The Guide said: “Now perforce must turn aside
Our way a little, even to that beast
Malevolent, that yonder coucheth him.”
We therefore on the right side descended,
And made ten steps upon the outer verge,
Completely to avoid the sand and flame;
And after we are come to him, I see
A little farther off upon the sand
A people sitting near the hollow place.
Then said to me the Master: “So that full
Experience of this round thou bear away,
Now go and see what their condition is.
There let thy conversation be concise;
Till thou returnest I will speak with him,
That he concede to us his stalwart shoulders.”
Thus farther still upon the outermost
Head of that seventh circle all alone
I went, where sat the melancholy folk.
Out of their eyes was gushing forth their woe;
This way, that way, they helped them with their hands
Now from the flames and now from the hot soil.
Not otherwise in summer do the dogs,
Now with the foot, now with the muzzle, when
By fleas, or flies, or gadflies, they are bitten.
When I had turned mine eyes upon the faces
Of some, on whom the dolorous fire is falling,
Not one of them I knew; but I perceived
That from the neck of each there hung a pouch,
Which certain colour had, and certain blazon;
And thereupon it seems their eyes are feeding.
And as I gazing round me come among them,
Upon a yellow pouch I azure saw
That had the face and posture of a lion.
Proceeding then the current of my sight,
Another of them saw I, red as blood,
Display a goose more white than butter is.
And one, who with an azure sow and gravid
Emblazoned had his little pouch of white,
Said unto me: “What dost thou in this moat?
Now get thee gone; and since thou’rt still alive,
Know that a neighbour of mine, Vitaliano,
Will have his seat here on my left-hand side.
A Paduan am I with these Florentines;
Full many a time they thunder in mine ears,
Exclaiming, ‘Come the sovereign cavalier,
He who shall bring the satchel with three goats;'”
Then twisted he his mouth, and forth he thrust
His tongue, like to an ox that licks its nose.
And fearing lest my longer stay might vex
Him who had warned me not to tarry long,
Backward I turned me from those weary souls.
I found my Guide, who had already mounted
Upon the back of that wild animal,
And said to me: “Now be both strong and bold.
Now we descend by stairways such as these;
Mount thou in front, for I will be midway,
So that the tail may have no power to harm thee.”
Such as he is who has so near the ague
Of quartan that his nails are blue already,
And trembles all, but looking at the shade;
Even such became I at those proffered words;
But shame in me his menaces produced,
Which maketh servant strong before good master.
I seated me upon those monstrous shoulders;
I wished to say, and yet the voice came not
As I believed, “Take heed that thou embrace me.”
But he, who other times had rescued me
In other peril, soon as I had mounted,
Within his arms encircled and sustained me,
And said: “Now, Geryon, bestir thyself;
The circles large, and the descent be little;
Think of the novel burden which thou hast.”
Even as the little vessel shoves from shore,
Backward, still backward, so he thence withdrew;
And when he wholly felt himself afloat,
There where his breast had been he turned his tail,
And that extended like an eel he moved,
And with his paws drew to himself the air.
A greater fear I do not think there was
What time abandoned Phaeton the reins,
Whereby the heavens, as still appears, were scorched;
Nor when the wretched Icarus his flanks
Felt stripped of feathers by the melting wax,
His father crying, “An ill way thou takest!”
Than was my own, when I perceived myself
On all sides in the air, and saw extinguished
The sight of everything but of the monster.
Onward he goeth, swimming slowly, slowly;
Wheels and descends, but I perceive it only
By wind upon my face and from below.
I heard already on the right the whirlpool
Making a horrible crashing under us;
Whence I thrust out my head with eyes cast downward.
Then was I still more fearful of the abyss;
Because I fires beheld, and heard laments,
Whereat I, trembling, all the closer cling.
I saw then, for before I had not seen it,
The turning and descending, by great horrors
That were approaching upon divers sides.
As falcon who has long been on the wing,
Who, without seeing either lure or bird,
Maketh the falconer say, “Ah me, thou stoopest,”
Descendeth weary, whence he started swiftly,
Thorough a hundred circles, and alights
Far from his master, sullen and disdainful;
Even thus did Geryon place us on the bottom,
Close to the bases of the rough-hewn rock,
And being disencumbered of our persons,
He sped away as arrow from the string.