Saturday, November 15, 2008

Inferno, Song X

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 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. After crossing the swamp known as the Styx, which holds the wrathful and the sullen, Dante and Virgil come to the gates of the city of Dis. The residents refuse them entry, and divine intervention is required to open the gates. Once inside, Dante and Virgil come across a mock cemetery that holds the souls of the arch-heretics, who believe the soul dies with the body.

Dante and Virgil encounter the soul of Farinata degli Uberti

Now, going along a narrow path,
Between the city wall and those tortured,
There is my master, and I behind him.

“O one of highest virtue, who through these impious circles
Turns me,” I began. “As it pleases you,
Speak to me and satisfy my longings.

The people who lie in these tombs--
Can they be seen? Already raised are
All the lids, and no one is keeping watch.”

He replied, “All will be shut
When they return here from Jehosh’aphat
With the bodies they left above.

Their cemetery has, on this side,
Epicurus with all his followers,
For whom the soul dies with the body.

As for the question that you put to me,
What you wish to know will soon be satisfied within,
As well as the desire of which, to me, you say nothing.”

I said, “Dear leader, I do not hold in reserve
My heart in order to speak little to you.
You have not, until now, inclined me towards this.”

“O Tuscan, who through the city of fire
Goes living, speaking with prudence,
May it please you to tarry in this place.

Your speech shows you to be
A native of that noble fatherland
Of which I was perhaps too great a scourge.”

Suddenly this sound came forth
From one of the tombs. I then drew near,
Frightened, a little closer to my leader.

And he said to me, "Turn around! What are you doing?
See Farinata there, standing up straight.
From the waist up you will be fully able to see him."

I had already fixed my eyes upon his.
And he rose, his breast and face
Seeming to hold Hell in contempt.

The fast and decisive hands of my leader
Thrust me through the tombs towards him,
Saying, "Make your words count."

As soon as I was at the foot of his grave,
He looked at me a bit, and then, somewhat disdainfully,
Asked me, "Who were your elders?"

I, who wished to obey,
Did not hide anything, but revealed everything,
Whereupon he raised his eyebrows a bit.

He then said, "They were fiercely opposed
To me, my forebears, and my party
As such, I routed them on two occasions."

"If they were driven out, they returned from all parts
the first and the other time," I replied to him.
"But yours have not learned that art well."

At that point, there rose, uncovered to view,
A shade, from the head up, alongside him.
I think it had risen upon its knees.

It looked around me, as if, driven,
He had to see if another was with me.
And then, when all expectation of that was gone,

It said, weeping, "If through this blind
Prison you go by way of high genius,
Where is my son--and why is he not with you?"

I replied, "I did not come by myself.
I am led by him who waits for me there,
Whom perhaps your Guido had held in disdain."

His words and the mode of punishment
Had already told me this man's name.
As such, my reply was quite full.

He suddenly stood up and cried, "What
Did you say? He had? Isn't he still alive?
Doesn't the sweet light fill his eyes?"

When he saw the hesitation
On my part before I responded,
He laid down, falling back, and showed himself no further.

But that other noble one, in whose presence
I remained, did not change expression.
He neither moved his neck nor bent his back.

And, continuing from what was spoken of before,
He said, "If they have learned that art poorly,
That torments me more than this bed.

But not fifty times shall glow
The face of the lady who rules here,
When you shall learn how much the burden of that art weighs.

And, should you ever stand again in the sweet world,
Tell me, why are those people so cruel
Against my own in each of their laws?"

I answered, "The agony and great slaughter
That have colored the Arbia red

Have brought about such declarations in our assembly."

Then, having sighed, he shook his head.
"I was not alone in that," he said, "and certainly not
Without reason would I have engaged in that with the others.

But I was alone, there when it was decided
Unanimously that Florence be razed--
I was the one who openly championed her.

“Ah, so your descendants may one day know rest,”
I beseeched him, “solve for me that riddle
That has preoccupied my thoughts here.

It seems that you see, if I hear well,
What time brings with it in advance.
Although in the present, you have another tendency.

“We see, like those who see poorly,
He said, “the things that are far from us;
The Supreme Ruler still shines this much upon us.

When things occur or are at hand, all is in vain for
Our perceptions; if others do not bring us news,
We know nothing of life in the world above.

You can therefore understand that all is over
For what we know at that point
When the door shall be closed on the future.”

Then, out of guilt for my lapse,
I said to him, “Now would you then tell the one who fell back
That his son is still among the living?

And if I was, just now, silent to his response,
Let him know it was due to my thinking
Already about the riddle you have solved for me.”

And already my master called me back,
Leading me to more eagerly beseech the spirit
To tell me who was there with him.

He said, “More than a thousand lie here with me.
Among them is Frederick the Second
And the Cardinal. Of the others I will be silent.”

He then withdrew from view, and towards the ancient
Poet I turned my steps, thinking
About those words, which seemed hostile.

He moved along, and then, while walking,
He said to me, “Why are you so puzzled?”
And I answered his question.

“Keep in your memory what you have heard
Against yourself,” that sage directed me,
“And now pay attention here.” And he raised his finger.

“When you are before the sweet radiance
Of she whose beautiful eyes see all,
From her you will learn about your life’s journey.”

His feet moved to the left,
Leaving the wall and heading towards the center
Along a path that cut into a valley

That even there was foul from its stench.

Continue to Song XI

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