Thursday, October 23, 2008

Inferno, Song VIII

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. After crossing the river Acheron, they enter 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 to the first circles of damnation. The first is reserved for the lustful, the second holds the gluttonous, and the third holds those who hoarded or squandered their money. Virgil and Dante then come to the edge of the swamp known as the Styx, which imprisons the wrathful and the sullen, and they see a tower in the distance.

Phlegyas ferries Dante and Virgil across the Styx


I say, continuing, that long before
We reached the foot of the high tower
Our eyes traveled upward to the summit.

For we saw two flames placed there
And another returning the signal from far away,
So much so that it punished the eye's ability to take its measure.

And I turned to the sea of all wisdom.
I said, "What does this mean? And what is the response of
That other fire? And who are they that made it?"

And he replied, "On through the oily miasmas
You can already determine what is expected
If the fumes of the bog do not hide it from you."

An arrow was never shot from a bowstring
That raced so swiftly through the air
Like a small boat I saw

Coming towards us through the water at that moment
Under the guidance of a lone pilot
Who cried, "Now you are joined, fallen soul!"

"Phlegyas, Phlegyas, you cry out in vain,"
My liege said. "In this instance,
You will not have us beyond our passage through the mire."

Like one who heeds great deceit
That has been done to him and then regrets it,
So became Phlegyas in his accompanying rage.

My leader descended into the skiff
And then made me enter after him.
And only when I was inside did it seem tangible.

As soon as my leader and I were in the boat,
The ancient prow went slicing
Through the water more than it would have with others.

While we were crossing the dead channel,
One soaked with mud rose before me
And said, "Who are you who comes before the appointed time?"

I replied, "If I come, I do not remain.
But who are you, that you have become so miserable?"
He responded, "You see that I am one who weeps."

I replied "Among weeping and among mourning,
Sinful spirit, you remain.
For I know you, though you are filthy all over."

He then extended both hands to the boat,
For which my wary master pushed him back,
Saying, "Your way is there with the other dogs."

My master put his arms around my neck and then my shoulders,
Kissing me in turn and saying, "Affronted and judgmental soul,
Bless├ęd is she who carried you inside her!

That one, in the world, was a haughty person.
It is not goodness that adorns his memory,
So, here, his shade is full of resentment.

How many are now seen as great kings above
Who here will be like pigs in the mud,
Having left horrible condemnations in their wake!"

And I said, "Master, I should be very eager
To watch him being dunked in this soup
Before we depart from the lake."

He replied, "Before the shore that
You will leave this to see, you will be satisfied.
It is worthwhile that you enjoy such a desire."

Shortly after this, I saw that torture
Inflicted on him by the people of the mire,
For which I still praise and thank God.

"At Filippo Argenti," they all cried.
And the grotesque Florentine spirit
Turned his teeth upon himself.

There we left him, of whom I tell no more.
A wailing, however, beat upon my ears,
For which I opened my eyes wide and looked intently ahead.

The good master said, "Now, my son,
The city called Dis draws near
With solemn citizens in great multitudes."

I said, "Master, already its mosques
I make out with certainty in the valley.
A vermilion red as if emerged from fire

They are." And he said to me, "The eternal flame
Within the kindling appears as red
As that you see in this lower Hell."

We then arrived inside the upper moats
That contained that troubled ground.
The walls, it appeared to me, were iron.

Not without first circling wide
Did we come to the place where the boatman loudly
Cried, "Get out. Here is the entrance."

I saw above the gates more than a thousand of those
Rained down from Heaven
, who angrily
Said, "Who is this whom without death

Goes through the kingdom of the dead?"
And my wise master made a sign
That he wished to speak with them privately.

They then quieted their great disdain a bit
And said, "You come alone and that one goes away,
He who so dares to enter through this kingdom.

Let him return alone along the road of madness,
Try as he may. For you will remain here,
You who has escorted him through so dark a way."

Consider, Reader, if I was disturbed
By the sound of those evil words.
For I believed I would never return here from there.

"Oh, my dear leader, who more than seven times
Has made me safe and led
Me from the high peril that stood before me,

Do not," I said, "leave me so undone.
And if further passage is denied us,
Let us quickly retrace our steps together."

And that liege who led me there
Said to me, "Do not be afraid, for our way
Cannot be taken from us by a few: by such a one is it given.

Wait for me here, though, and, weary soul,
Take comfort and feed upon good hope,
For I will not leave you in the netherworld."

So, he goes away and abandons me there,
The sweet sire, and I remain in doubt,
Such that yes and no struggle within my head.

I could not hear what he put forth to them,
But he did not stay among them long,
For each within the group returned to their rivalry.

Our adversaries shut the doors
In the face of my liege, who remained outside
And came back to me with slow steps.

His eyes to the ground and his eyelids stripped
Of all boldness, he said, amid sighs,
"Who has denied me the houses of sorrow?!?"

And to me he said, "You, because I've become angry,
Do not be dismayed, for I will overcome this trial
'Round which the guards within turn.

This stubbornness of theirs isn't new,
For they've already shown it at a less secret gate
That still finds itself without a latch.

You saw the fatal inscription above it.
And already he descends the steep slope from there,
Passing through the circles without escort.

Through him shall the city be opened."


Continue to Song IX

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