Sunday, November 30, 2014

Inferno, Song XXXIII

The story thus far: Dante, a poet and town prior in Florence, finds himself on a dark road of the soul. Before his spirit can fall to its ruin, he encounters Virgil, the greatest poet of classical Rome. Virgil, at the behest of Beatrice, a woman who was Dante's inspiration in life, offers Dante a journey through the realms of the afterworld, through which Dante may find his soul's salvation. He shall travel through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, with Virgil as his guide through the first two. Dante accepts Virgil's offer, and they embark. After passing through the gates of Hell, they encounter the souls of the cowards who took no stand in conflicts between good and evil, and then proceed to Limbo, the realm of the noble or innocent souls who were not baptized or otherwise not believers in the Christian faith. Dante and Virgil then travel through the first circles of damnation and the city of Dis, which punish those who embrace earthly appetites and goods at God's expense. Upon leaving the city, Virgil explains the plan of Hell to Dante. The circles that follow hold, in descending order of heinousness, those who commit violence, fraud, and betrayal. In the circle of the Violent, they encounter murderers, merciless conquerors, suicides, and those who squandered or destroyed their belongings. From there, they walk alongside a desert where fire rains down. It is the prison for those who were violent against God and nature, including blasphemers, sodomites, and usurers. Dante and Virgil then descend to the circle of the fraudulent, where they encounter the panderers, seducers, flatterers, corrupt clergy, fortune-tellers, diviners, and grafters. The last are overseen by a gaggle of demons, from whom Dante and Virgil must escape. They then encounter the religious hypocrites and the thieves. Next are the false counselors, including Odysseus, who tells Virgil of his final voyage, and Guido da Montefeltro, who was damned by his sinister military advice to Pope Boniface VIII. Those who sowed division are next. Among their number are Bertan de Born, Ali, and Mohammed. After them are the falsifiers, whose numbers include the alchemists, impersonators, counterfeiters, and false witnesses. With the help of the giant Nimrod, who built the Tower of Babel, Virgil and Dante reach the lowest level of Hell. There they find, embedded in a frozen lake, those guilty of treachery. They stop at the sight of one sinner gnawing on the head of another.


The imprisonment in life of Count Ugolino and his sons.



His mouth lifted from the beastly meal.
That sinner wiped it on the hair
Of the head that he had torn into on the back side.

He then began: “You want me to relive
The desperate sorrow that wrings my heart
Already--just thinking about it before I speak is enough.

But if my words would be seeds that bear
The fruits of infamy for the traitor at whom I gnaw,
You shall see me speak and weep at the same time.

I don’t know who you are, or how
You have descended here, but a Florentine
You definitely seem when I hear you.

You must know I was Count Ugolino,
And this is the Archbishop Ruggieri.
Now I shall tell you how we came to be so close.

Of how, through his evil conniving,
That I, trusting him, was captured
And then killed, there is no need to say.

But of that which you cannot be aware--
That is, how cruel my death was--
You shall hear, and you shall know if he has wronged me.

A small opening in the Mew Tower--
Now called the Tower of Hunger because of me,
And in which others shall yet be shut inside--

It had shown me through its tiny window
Many moons' passing already when I had the nightmare
That slashed open the future’s veil.

This one appeared to me as master and lord,
Hunting the wolf and its pups on the mountain
That blocks the Pisans from seeing Lucca.

Along with lean, trained, and eager hounds,
The Gualandi, Sismondi, and Lanfranchi
Had been sent by him as his advance.

After a short run, they seemed spent to me,
The father and sons, and from the sharp fangs
I believe I saw their flanks ripped open.

I woke before morning, when
I heard my sons crying in their sleep.
They were with me, and pleading for bread.

You are truly cruel if you are not already feeling sorrow
At the thought of what my heart dreaded.
And if it does not bring you to tears, what would?

They were now awake, and the hour came near
When our food was brought to us.
Each one was anxious due to his dream.

I then heard them nailing shut the door below
Of that horrible tower. At this, I looked
Into the faces of my sons without a word.

I did not cry; I had turned to stone inside.
They cried, though, and my little Anselm
Said, “The way you look, Father! What is the matter?”

At that I did not weep nor respond
All that day nor the following night,
Until another sun came out upon the world.

When a small ray made its way
Into our woeful prison, and I saw
My countenance in those four faces,

I bit both my hands in grief.
And they, thinking that I did so from a longing
To eat, suddenly rose up

And said: ‘Father, we shall know far less pain
If you eat us. You dressed us in
This miserable flesh, and you should strip us of it.’

I then calmed myself, so I would not make them sadder.
That day and the next we stayed completely silent.
Oh, hard earth, why did you not open yourself?

When the fourth day had come,
Gaddo threw himself at my feet. Laying outstretched,
He said, “My father, why don’t you help me?”

There he died, and as you see me
I saw the other three drop, one by one,
On the fifth and sixth days. At this, I gave myself,

Already blind, to running my hands over each one.
For two days I called them, although they were dead.
And then hunger overpowered my sorrow.”

Upon saying this, his eyes became crazed.
He again gripped the wretched skull with his teeth
And ground hard against it, like a dog.

Ah, Pisa! Shame of the peoples
Of the fair land where is sounded!
Since your neighbors are slow to punish you,

May Capraia and Gorgona shift their ground,
And create a dam at the mouth of the Arno--
So that it drowns all who reside within you!

Even though Count Ugolino was to blame
For the treason towards your castles,
You should not have subjected his children to such torment.

Their youthful years made them innocent,
You latter-day Thebes--Uguccione, and Brigata,
And the other two I have spoken of in my song.

We went on further, to where the ice
Harshly binds another group.
Their heads were not turned downward; they were all face up.

There, the very act of weeping is what does not allow them to weep,
And the sorrow that finds a barrier in the eyes
Turns inward to create even greater anguish.

For the first tears create a cluster,
And like a crystal visor,
Fill the hollows below the brow.

Although, like a callus,
The cold made all sensation
Fade from my face,

I now seemed to feel some wind.
At which I said, “Master, who sets this forth?
Are not all breezes stilled down here?”

He said to me, “You will soon be where
Your eyes shall give you the answer,
Upon seeing the cause of this squall.”

Then one of the sad ones from the frozen crust
Cried out to us, “O cruel souls,
So cruel that you have been deposited in this final appointed place,

Lift the hard veils from my face
So that I may vent the sorrow that has suffused my heart,
If only a little, before the tears freeze again.”

At this I replied, “If you want me to help you,
Tell me who you are, and if I do not follow through,
May I be sent to the bottom of the ice.”

He then answered, “I am Fra Alberigo.
I am he of the evil garden’s fruit,
Who here is paid with dates for figs.”

“Oh,” I said to him, “are you already dead?”
And he replied, “How my body fares
In the world above I do not know.

Ptolomea here has such a privilege
That on many occasions a soul falls to the place
Before Atropos of the Fates sends it along.

And so that you may more willingly clear
The glaze of tears from my face,
Know this: As soon as the soul betrays another

Like I did, its body is taken over
By a demon, which from that point rules it
Until its time is finished.

The soul falls headlong into this cistern,
And perhaps still appearing above is the body
Of this soul that winters behind me here.

You must know him, if you have only just descended.
He is Ser Branca d’Oria, and many years have
Passed since he was imprisoned so.”

“I believe,” I said to him, “That you are trying to deceive me,
For Branca d’Oria has not by any means died,
And he eats and drinks and sleeps and puts on clothes.”

“In the ditch above,” he said, “of the Malebranche,
Where the sticky tar boils,
Michel Zanche had not yet joined them.

When this one left a devil instead of himself
In his body, as also happened with the kinsman
Who engaged in the treachery with him,

But now extend your hand here.
Open my eyes.” And I did not open them for him.
It was a courtesy to him to be rude.

Ah, you Genoese, a people divorced
From every good custom and full of every corruption,
Why are you not driven from the world?

For with the most evil spirit from Romagna,
I have found one of you whom for his deeds
Already has his soul immersed in Cocytus

While in body he still appears alive above.