Cantos XVII, XVIII, XIX, and XX

“LO! the fell monster with the deadly sting!
Who passes mountains, breaks through fenced walls
And firm embattled spears, and with his filth
Taints all the world!”  Thus me my guide address’d,
And beckon’d him, that he should come to shore,
Near to the stony causeway’s utmost edge.

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Forthwith that image vile of fraud appear’d,
His head and upper part expos’d on land,
But laid not on the shore his bestial train.
His face the semblance of a just man’s wore,
So kind and gracious was its outward cheer;
The rest was serpent all: two shaggy claws
Reach’d to the armpits, and the back and breast,
And either side, were painted o’er with nodes
And orbits.  Colours variegated more
Nor Turks nor Tartars e’er on cloth of state
With interchangeable embroidery wove,
Nor spread Arachne o’er her curious loom.
As ofttimes a light skiff, moor’d to the shore,
Stands part in water, part upon the land;
Or, as where dwells the greedy German boor,
The beaver settles watching for his prey;
So on the rim, that fenc’d the sand with rock,
Sat perch’d the fiend of evil.  In the void
Glancing, his tail upturn’d its venomous fork,
With sting like scorpion’s arm’d.  Then thus my guide:
“Now need our way must turn few steps apart,
Far as to that ill beast, who couches there.”

Thereat toward the right our downward course
We shap’d, and, better to escape the flame
And burning marle, ten paces on the verge
Proceeded.  Soon as we to him arrive,
A little further on mine eye beholds
A tribe of spirits, seated on the sand
Near the wide chasm.  Forthwith my master spake:
“That to the full thy knowledge may extend
Of all this round contains, go now, and mark
The mien these wear: but hold not long discourse.
Till thou returnest, I with him meantime
Will parley, that to us he may vouchsafe
The aid of his strong shoulders.”  Thus alone
Yet forward on the’ extremity I pac’d
Of that seventh circle, where the mournful tribe
Were seated.  At the eyes forth gush’d their pangs.
Against the vapours and the torrid soil
Alternately their shifting hands they plied.
Thus use the dogs in summer still to ply
Their jaws and feet by turns, when bitten sore
By gnats, or flies, or gadflies swarming round.

Noting the visages of some, who lay
Beneath the pelting of that dolorous fire,
One of them all I knew not; but perceiv’d,
That pendent from his neck each bore a pouch
With colours and with emblems various mark’d,
On which it seem’d as if their eye did feed.

And when amongst them looking round I came,
A yellow purse I saw with azure wrought,
That wore a lion’s countenance and port.
Then still my sight pursuing its career,
Another I beheld, than blood more red.
A goose display of whiter wing than curd.
And one, who bore a fat and azure swine
Pictur’d on his white scrip, addressed me thus:
“What dost thou in this deep?  Go now and know,
Since yet thou livest, that my neighbour here
Vitaliano on my left shall sit.
A Paduan with these Florentines am I.
Ofttimes they thunder in mine ears, exclaiming
‘O haste that noble knight! he who the pouch
With the three beaks will bring!'”  This said, he writh’d
The mouth, and loll’d the tongue out, like an ox
That licks his nostrils.  I, lest longer stay
He ill might brook, who bade me stay not long,
Backward my steps from those sad spirits turn’d.

My guide already seated on the haunch
Of the fierce animal I found; and thus
He me encourag’d.  “Be thou stout; be bold.
Down such a steep flight must we now descend!
Mount thou before: for that no power the tail
May have to harm thee, I will be i’ th’ midst.”

As one, who hath an ague fit so near,
His nails already are turn’d blue, and he
Quivers all o’er, if he but eye the shade;
Such was my cheer at hearing of his words.
But shame soon interpos’d her threat, who makes
The servant bold in presence of his lord.

I settled me upon those shoulders huge,
And would have said, but that the words to aid
My purpose came not, “Look thou clasp me firm!”

But he whose succour then not first I prov’d,
Soon as I mounted, in his arms aloft,
Embracing, held me up, and thus he spake:
“Geryon! now move thee! be thy wheeling gyres
Of ample circuit, easy thy descent.
Think on th’ unusual burden thou sustain’st.”

As a small vessel, back’ning out from land,
Her station quits; so thence the monster loos’d,
And when he felt himself at large, turn’d round
There where the breast had been, his forked tail.
Thus, like an eel, outstretch’d at length he steer’d,
Gath’ring the air up with retractile claws.

Not greater was the dread when Phaeton
The reins let drop at random, whence high heaven,
Whereof signs yet appear, was wrapt in flames;
Nor when ill-fated Icarus perceiv’d,
By liquefaction of the scalded wax,
The trusted pennons loosen’d from his loins,
His sire exclaiming loud, “Ill way thou keep’st!”
Than was my dread, when round me on each part
The air I view’d, and other object none
Save the fell beast.  He slowly sailing, wheels
His downward motion, unobserv’d of me,
But that the wind, arising to my face,
Breathes on me from below.  Now on our right
I heard the cataract beneath us leap
With hideous crash; whence bending down to’ explore,
New terror I conceiv’d at the steep plunge:

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For flames I saw, and wailings smote mine ear:
So that all trembling close I crouch’d my limbs,
And then distinguish’d, unperceiv’d before,
By the dread torments that on every side
Drew nearer, how our downward course we wound.

As falcon, that hath long been on the wing,
But lure nor bird hath seen, while in despair
The falconer cries, “Ah me! thou stoop’st to earth!”
Wearied descends, and swiftly down the sky
In many an orbit wheels, then lighting sits
At distance from his lord in angry mood;
So Geryon lighting places us on foot
Low down at base of the deep-furrow’d rock,
And, of his burden there discharg’d, forthwith
Sprang forward, like an arrow from the string.

CANTO XVIII

THERE is a place within the depths of hell
Call’d Malebolge, all of rock dark-stain’d
With hue ferruginous, e’en as the steep
That round it circling winds.  Right in the midst
Of that abominable region, yawns
A spacious gulf profound, whereof the frame
Due time shall tell.  The circle, that remains,
Throughout its round, between the gulf and base
Of the high craggy banks, successive forms
Ten trenches, in its hollow bottom sunk.

As where to guard the walls, full many a foss
Begirds some stately castle, sure defence
Affording to the space within, so here
Were model’d these; and as like fortresses
E’en from their threshold to the brink without,
Are flank’d with bridges; from the rock’s low base
Thus flinty paths advanc’d, that ‘cross the moles
And dikes, struck onward far as to the gulf,
That in one bound collected cuts them off.
Such was the place, wherein we found ourselves
From Geryon’s back dislodg’d. The bard to left
Held on his way, and I behind him mov’d.

On our right hand new misery I saw,
New pains, new executioners of wrath,
That swarming peopled the first chasm.  Below
Were naked sinners.  Hitherward they came,
Meeting our faces from the middle point,
With us beyond but with a larger stride.
E’en thus the Romans, when the year returns
Of Jubilee, with better speed to rid
The thronging multitudes, their means devise
For such as pass the bridge; that on one side
All front toward the castle, and approach
Saint Peter’s fane, on th’ other towards the mount.

Each divers way along the grisly rock,
Horn’d demons I beheld, with lashes huge,
That on their back unmercifully smote.
Ah! how they made them bound at the first stripe!

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None for the second waited nor the third.

Meantime as on I pass’d, one met my sight
Whom soon as view’d; “Of him,” cried I, “not yet
Mine eye hath had his fill.”  With fixed gaze
I therefore scann’d him.  Straight the teacher kind
Paus’d with me, and consented I should walk
Backward a space, and the tormented spirit,
Who thought to hide him, bent his visage down.
But it avail’d him nought; for I exclaim’d:
“Thou who dost cast thy eye upon the ground,
Unless thy features do belie thee much,
Venedico art thou.  But what brings thee
Into this bitter seas’ning?”  He replied:
“Unwillingly I answer to thy words.
But thy clear speech, that to my mind recalls
The world I once inhabited, constrains me.
Know then ’twas I who led fair Ghisola
To do the Marquis’ will, however fame
The shameful tale have bruited.  Nor alone
Bologna hither sendeth me to mourn
Rather with us the place is so o’erthrong’d
That not so many tongues this day are taught,
Betwixt the Reno and Savena’s stream,
To answer SIPA in their country’s phrase.
And if of that securer proof thou need,
Remember but our craving thirst for gold.”

Him speaking thus, a demon with his thong
Struck, and exclaim’d, “Away! corrupter! here
Women are none for sale.”  Forthwith I join’d
My escort, and few paces thence we came
To where a rock forth issued from the bank.
That easily ascended, to the right
Upon its splinter turning, we depart
From those eternal barriers. When arriv’d,
Where underneath the gaping arch lets pass
The scourged souls: “Pause here,” the teacher said,
“And let these others miserable, now
Strike on thy ken, faces not yet beheld,
For that together they with us have walk’d.”

From the old bridge we ey’d the pack, who came
From th’ other side towards us, like the rest,
Excoriate from the lash.  My gentle guide,
By me unquestion’d, thus his speech resum’d:
“Behold that lofty shade, who this way tends,
And seems too woe-begone to drop a tear.
How yet the regal aspect he retains!
Jason is he, whose skill and prowess won
The ram from Colchos. To the Lemnian isle
His passage thither led him, when those bold
And pitiless women had slain all their males.
There he with tokens and fair witching words
Hypsipyle beguil’d, a virgin young,
Who first had all the rest herself beguil’d.
Impregnated he left her there forlorn.
Such is the guilt condemns him to this pain.
Here too Medea’s inj’ries are avenged.
All bear him company, who like deceit
To his have practis’d.  And thus much to know
Of the first vale suffice thee, and of those
Whom its keen torments urge.”  Now had we come
Where, crossing the next pier, the straighten’d path
Bestrides its shoulders to another arch.

Hence in the second chasm we heard the ghosts,
Who jibber in low melancholy sounds,
With wide-stretch’d nostrils snort, and on themselves
Smite with their palms.  Upon the banks a scurf
From the foul steam condens’d, encrusting hung,
That held sharp combat with the sight and smell.

So hollow is the depth, that from no part,
Save on the summit of the rocky span,
Could I distinguish aught.  Thus far we came;
And thence I saw, within the foss below,
A crowd immers’d in ordure, that appear’d
Draff of the human body.  There beneath
Searching with eye inquisitive, I mark’d
One with his head so grim’d, ‘t were hard to deem,
If he were clerk or layman.  Loud he cried:
“Why greedily thus bendest more on me,
Than on these other filthy ones, thy ken?”

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“Because if true my mem’ry,” I replied,
“I heretofore have seen thee with dry locks,
And thou Alessio art of Lucca sprung.
Therefore than all the rest I scan thee more.”

Then beating on his brain these words he spake:
“Me thus low down my flatteries have sunk,
Wherewith I ne’er enough could glut my tongue.”

My leader thus: “A little further stretch
Thy face, that thou the visage well mayst note
Of that besotted, sluttish courtezan,
Who there doth rend her with defiled nails,
Now crouching down, now risen on her feet.

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“Thais is this, the harlot, whose false lip
Answer’d her doting paramour that ask’d,
‘Thankest me much!’—’Say rather wondrously,’
And seeing this here satiate be our view.”

CANTO XIX

WOE to thee, Simon Magus! woe to you,
His wretched followers! who the things of God,
Which should be wedded unto goodness, them,
Rapacious as ye are, do prostitute
For gold and silver in adultery!
Now must the trumpet sound for you, since yours
Is the third chasm.  Upon the following vault
We now had mounted, where the rock impends
Directly o’er the centre of the foss.

Wisdom Supreme! how wonderful the art,
Which thou dost manifest in heaven, in earth,
And in the evil world, how just a meed
Allotting by thy virtue unto all!

I saw the livid stone, throughout the sides
And in its bottom full of apertures,
All equal in their width, and circular each,
Nor ample less nor larger they appear’d
Than in Saint John’s fair dome of me belov’d
Those fram’d to hold the pure baptismal streams,
One of the which I brake, some few years past,
To save a whelming infant; and be this
A seal to undeceive whoever doubts
The motive of my deed.  From out the mouth
Of every one, emerg’d a sinner’s feet
And of the legs high upward as the calf
The rest beneath was hid.  On either foot
The soles were burning, whence the flexile joints
Glanc’d with such violent motion, as had snapt
Asunder cords or twisted withs.  As flame,
Feeding on unctuous matter, glides along
The surface, scarcely touching where it moves;
So here, from heel to point, glided the flames.

“Master! say who is he, than all the rest
Glancing in fiercer agony, on whom
A ruddier flame doth prey?”  I thus inquir’d.

“If thou be willing,” he replied, “that I
Carry thee down, where least the slope bank falls,
He of himself shall tell thee and his wrongs.”

I then: “As pleases thee to me is best.
Thou art my lord; and know’st that ne’er I quit
Thy will: what silence hides that knowest thou.”
Thereat on the fourth pier we came, we turn’d,
And on our left descended to the depth,
A narrow strait and perforated close.
Nor from his side my leader set me down,
Till to his orifice he brought, whose limb
Quiv’ring express’d his pang.  “Whoe’er thou art,
Sad spirit! thus revers’d, and as a stake
Driv’n in the soil!”  I in these words began,
“If thou be able, utter forth thy voice.”

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There stood I like the friar, that doth shrive
A wretch for murder doom’d, who e’en when fix’d,
Calleth him back, whence death awhile delays.

He shouted: “Ha! already standest there?
Already standest there, O Boniface!
By many a year the writing play’d me false.
So early dost thou surfeit with the wealth,
For which thou fearedst not in guile to take
The lovely lady, and then mangle her?”

I felt as those who, piercing not the drift
Of answer made them, stand as if expos’d
In mockery, nor know what to reply,
When Virgil thus admonish’d: “Tell him quick,
I am not he, not he, whom thou believ’st.”

And I, as was enjoin’d me, straight replied.

That heard, the spirit all did wrench his feet,
And sighing next in woeful accent spake:
“What then of me requirest?”  “If to know
So much imports thee, who I am, that thou
Hast therefore down the bank descended, learn
That in the mighty mantle I was rob’d,
And of a she-bear was indeed the son,
So eager to advance my whelps, that there
My having in my purse above I stow’d,
And here myself.  Under my head are dragg’d
The rest, my predecessors in the guilt
Of simony.  Stretch’d at their length they lie
Along an opening in the rock.  ‘Midst them
I also low shall fall, soon as he comes,
For whom I took thee, when so hastily
I question’d.  But already longer time
Hath pass’d, since my souls kindled, and I thus
Upturn’d have stood, than is his doom to stand
Planted with fiery feet.  For after him,
One yet of deeds more ugly shall arrive,
From forth the west, a shepherd without law,
Fated to cover both his form and mine.
He a new Jason shall be call’d, of whom
In Maccabees we read; and favour such
As to that priest his king indulgent show’d,
Shall be of France’s monarch shown to him.”

I know not if I here too far presum’d,
But in this strain I answer’d: “Tell me now,
What treasures from St. Peter at the first
Our Lord demanded, when he put the keys
Into his charge?  Surely he ask’d no more
But, Follow me! Nor Peter nor the rest
Or gold or silver of Matthias took,
When lots were cast upon the forfeit place
Of the condemned soul.  Abide thou then;
Thy punishment of right is merited:
And look thou well to that ill-gotten coin,
Which against Charles thy hardihood inspir’d.
If reverence of the keys restrain’d me not,
Which thou in happier time didst hold, I yet
Severer speech might use.  Your avarice
O’ercasts the world with mourning, under foot
Treading the good, and raising bad men up.
Of shepherds, like to you, th’ Evangelist
Was ware, when her, who sits upon the waves,
With kings in filthy whoredom he beheld,
She who with seven heads tower’d at her birth,
And from ten horns her proof of glory drew,
Long as her spouse in virtue took delight.
Of gold and silver ye have made your god,
Diff’ring wherein from the idolater,
But he that worships one, a hundred ye?
Ah, Constantine! to how much ill gave birth,
Not thy conversion, but that plenteous dower,
Which the first wealthy Father gain’d from thee!”

Meanwhile, as thus I sung, he, whether wrath
Or conscience smote him, violent upsprang
Spinning on either sole.  I do believe
My teacher well was pleas’d, with so compos’d
A lip, he listen’d ever to the sound
Of the true words I utter’d.  In both arms
He caught, and to his bosom lifting me
Upward retrac’d the way of his descent.

Nor weary of his weight he press’d me close,
Till to the summit of the rock we came,
Our passage from the fourth to the fifth pier.
His cherish’d burden there gently he plac’d
Upon the rugged rock and steep, a path
Not easy for the clamb’ring goat to mount.

Thence to my view another vale appear’d

CANTO XX

AND now the verse proceeds to torments new,
Fit argument of this the twentieth strain
Of the first song, whose awful theme records
The spirits whelm’d in woe.  Earnest I look’d
Into the depth, that open’d to my view,
Moisten’d with tears of anguish, and beheld
A tribe, that came along the hollow vale,
In silence weeping: such their step as walk
Quires chanting solemn litanies on earth.

As on them more direct mine eye descends,
Each wondrously seem’d to be revers’d
At the neck-bone, so that the countenance
Was from the reins averted: and because
None might before him look, they were compell’d
To’ advance with backward gait.  Thus one perhaps
Hath been by force of palsy clean transpos’d,
But I ne’er saw it nor believe it so.

Now, reader! think within thyself, so God
Fruit of thy reading give thee! how I long
Could keep my visage dry, when I beheld
Near me our form distorted in such guise,
That on the hinder parts fall’n from the face
The tears down-streaming roll’d.  Against a rock
I leant and wept, so that my guide exclaim’d:
“What, and art thou too witless as the rest?
Here pity most doth show herself alive,
When she is dead.  What guilt exceedeth his,
Who with Heaven’s judgment in his passion strives?
Raise up thy head, raise up, and see the man,
Before whose eyes earth gap’d in Thebes, when all
Cried out, ‘Amphiaraus, whither rushest?
‘Why leavest thou the war?’  He not the less
Fell ruining far as to Minos down,
Whose grapple none eludes.  Lo! how he makes
The breast his shoulders, and who once too far
Before him wish’d to see, now backward looks,
And treads reverse his path.  Tiresias note,
Who semblance chang’d, when woman he became
Of male, through every limb transform’d, and then
Once more behov’d him with his rod to strike
The two entwining serpents, ere the plumes,
That mark’d the better sex, might shoot again.

“Aruns, with more his belly facing, comes.
On Luni’s mountains ‘midst the marbles white,
Where delves Carrara’s hind, who wons beneath,
A cavern was his dwelling, whence the stars
And main-sea wide in boundless view he held.

“The next, whose loosen’d tresses overspread
Her bosom, which thou seest not (for each hair
On that side grows) was Manto, she who search’d
Through many regions, and at length her seat
Fix’d in my native land, whence a short space
My words detain thy audience.  When her sire
From life departed, and in servitude
The city dedicate to Bacchus mourn’d,
Long time she went a wand’rer through the world.
Aloft in Italy’s delightful land
A lake there lies, at foot of that proud Alp,
That o’er the Tyrol locks Germania in,
Its name Benacus, which a thousand rills,
Methinks, and more, water between the vale
Camonica and Garda and the height
Of Apennine remote.  There is a spot
At midway of that lake, where he who bears
Of Trento’s flock the past’ral staff, with him
Of Brescia, and the Veronese, might each
Passing that way his benediction give.
A garrison of goodly site and strong
Peschiera stands, to awe with front oppos’d
The Bergamese and Brescian, whence the shore
More slope each way descends.  There, whatsoev’er
Benacus’ bosom holds not, tumbling o’er
Down falls, and winds a river flood beneath
Through the green pastures.  Soon as in his course
The steam makes head, Benacus then no more
They call the name, but Mincius, till at last
Reaching Governo into Po he falls.
Not far his course hath run, when a wide flat
It finds, which overstretchmg as a marsh
It covers, pestilent in summer oft.
Hence journeying, the savage maiden saw
‘Midst of the fen a territory waste
And naked of inhabitants.  To shun
All human converse, here she with her slaves
Plying her arts remain’d, and liv’d, and left
Her body tenantless.  Thenceforth the tribes,
Who round were scatter’d, gath’ring to that place
Assembled; for its strength was great, enclos’d
On all parts by the fen.  On those dead bones
They rear’d themselves a city, for her sake,
Calling it Mantua, who first chose the spot,
Nor ask’d another omen for the name,
Wherein more numerous the people dwelt,
Ere Casalodi’s madness by deceit
Was wrong’d of Pinamonte.  If thou hear
Henceforth another origin assign’d
Of that my country, I forewarn thee now,
That falsehood none beguile thee of the truth.”

I answer’d: “Teacher, I conclude thy words
So certain, that all else shall be to me
As embers lacking life.  But now of these,
Who here proceed, instruct me, if thou see
Any that merit more especial note.
For thereon is my mind alone intent.”

He straight replied: “That spirit, from whose cheek
The beard sweeps o’er his shoulders brown, what time
Graecia was emptied of her males, that scarce
The cradles were supplied, the seer was he
In Aulis, who with Calchas gave the sign
When first to cut the cable.  Him they nam’d
Eurypilus: so sings my tragic strain,
In which majestic measure well thou know’st,
Who know’st it all.  That other, round the loins
So slender of his shape, was Michael Scot,
Practis’d in ev’ry slight of magic wile.

“Guido Bonatti see:  Asdente mark,
Who now were willing, he had tended still
The thread and cordwain; and too late repents.

“See next the wretches, who the needle left,
The shuttle and the spindle, and became
Diviners: baneful witcheries they wrought
With images and herbs.  But onward now:
For now doth Cain with fork of thorns confine
On either hemisphere, touching the wave
Beneath the towers of Seville.  Yesternight
The moon was round.  Thou mayst remember well:
For she good service did thee in the gloom
Of the deep wood.”  This said, both onward mov’d.

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