Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Inferno, Song XXXII

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. The giant Nimrod, who built the Tower of Babel, lowers Virgil and Dante, to the lowest level of Hell.


Dante confronts Bocca degli Abbati.



If I had the harsh and brooding rhymes
That would suit the sad hole
Upon which all the other rocks are supported,

I would express the nature of what I remember
More fully. But as I do not have these,
It is not without trepidation that I bring myself to speak.

For it is not an undertaking to take lightly,
Describing the bottom of the entire universe.
Nor is it for a tongue that calls out “mama” or “dada.”

But may those ladies help my verse
Who helped Amphion wall in the city of Thebes.
This is so the facts do not differ from what is said.

Oh, more than all others, ill-begotten horde
Who are in the place for which words are difficult,
It would have been better for you here if you had been sheep or goats!

When we were down in that dark shaft,
Far below the giants’ feet,
And I was still looking at the high wall,

I heard someone say to me, “Watch where you step.
Go so that your feet do not tread upon
The heads of the spent and miserable brethren.”

At that I turned, and I saw before me
And beneath my feet a lake that from cold
Appeared to be glass instead of water.

Such a thick veil has not covered
The Danube in Austria during winter.
Nor has it in Don under the cold sky

As it did here. If Mount Tambernic
Had fallen on it, or Pania della Croce,
It would not have made a creak even at the edge.

And like the frog lies croaking
With its muzzle out of the water, in the season when thoughts
Of the harvest are on the peasant woman’s mind.

So were these, looking bruised up to the place their shame appeared.
These were the sorrowful shades in the ice,
Their teeth making the sounds a stork does with its beak.

Each one held his face turned down.
From the mouth the cold, and from the eyes the heart’s sadness
Declare themselves.

After I had looked all around me,
I turned to my feet, and I saw two pressed together so tightly
That the hair on their heads had become intertwined.

“Tell me, you whose breasts are pressed together,”
I said, “who are you?” At which point they bent back their necks,
And then, upon raising their faces to me,

Their eyes, which before had been moist,
Gushed over at the lids. The ice then bound
Their eyes between the tears, shutting them again.

A clamp never held two beams together with
Such force. The spirits were like two goats,
Butting their heads together after rage had taken them over.

And one who had lost both ears
To the cold, with his face still down,
Said, “Why do you stare at us so long?

If you would like to know who these two are,
The valley where the Bisenzio flows
Belonged to them and their father Alberto.

They came from one womb, and in all of Caina
You can search and not find a shade
More worthy of being trapped in ice.

Not him whose breast and shadow were pierced With a single thrust from Arthur’s hand.
Nor Focaccia.
Nor this one who obstructs me

So with his head that I do not see beyond him--
His name was Sassolo Mascheroni.
If you are Tuscan, you know well who he was.

And so you put me to no further talk,
Know that I was Camicione de’ Pazzi,
And I wait for Carlino, who will make me seem innocent by comparison.”

After that I saw a thousand faces that the cold had made
Look like dogs. Ever since then I start shuddering,
And always will, at the sight of frozen puddles.

And while we were headed towards the center
Where all gravity converges,
And I was shivering in the eternal chill--

If it was will or fate or chance
I do not know--but passing between the heads,
My foot struck one hard in the face.

Weeping, he cried out, “Why do you trample me?
If you have not come to take further revenge
For Montaperti, why do you abuse me?”

I said, “My Master, now wait for me here
So I can rid myself of a doubt through this one.
Then you can make me make haste however much you like.”

My leader stopped, and I said to this one
Who still cursed furiously:
“Who are you who so reprimands others?”

“Now who are you who goes through Antenora,”
He replied, “striking others in the cheeks
Such that, if you were alive, it could not be harder?”

“I am alive, and it could be valuable for you,”
I replied, “if you ask for fame,
And I include your name among the others I note.”

He replied, “I long for the opposite.
Leave here and do not aggravate me further,
For your knowledge of flattery in this pit is sorely lacking.”

I then grabbed him by the nape of his neck
And said, “It behooves you to name yourself,
Or not a hair here will remain on you.”

And he replied, “Though you may pluck me bald,
I will not tell you who I am, nor will I show you
Even if you fall a thousand times upon my head.”

I already had his hair wound around my hand,
And had torn out more than one lock,
With him barking and his eyes drawn down,

When another cried, “What is with you, Bocca?
Are you so unhappy with the sound of your teeth chattering
That you must bark? What devil has touched you?”

“Now,” I said, “I do not want you to speak,
Evil traitor. Because of your disgrace,
I shall bring an accurate report of you.”

“Go away,” he said. “And tell the story you wish.
But don’t be silent, if you do get out from here,
Of that one who spoke so quickly just now.

He is here to lament the Frenchman’s silver.
You can report, ‘I saw that one of Duera,
There where the sinners are put on ice.’

If you are asked about others who are here,
You have beside you that one of Beccheria
Whose throat was slit by Florence.

I believe Gianni de’ Soldanieri is
Farther along with Ganelon and with Tebaldello,
Who opened the gates to Faenza while it slept.”

We had already left him behind
When I saw two frozen ones in a single hole.
The head of one served as a cap for the other.

And like bread devoured through hunger,
So the one on top set his teeth into the other
Where the brain joins with the nape of the neck.

It was no different than Tydeus gnawing at
The temples of Melanippus in rage,
As this one was doing with the skull and other parts.

“O you who through such a bestial manner shows
Hatred for the one at whom you gnaw away,
Tell me why,” I said, “on this condition:

That if you have reason in your grievance with him,
I, knowing, who you are and his sin as well,
Shall yet do you justice in the world above

If that with which I speak does not wither.”