Monday, January 12, 2009

Inferno, Song XI

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 travel through a mock cemetery that holds the souls of the arch-heretics, who believe the soul dies with the body.

Virgil and Dante recoil from the stench of the abyss

Up at the far end of a tall cliff
That was made by large broken rocks in a circle,
We came upon a harsher coop.

And there, overwhelmed by the horror
Of the stench spewed by the deep abyss,
We withdrew back behind a lid

Of a great vault, where I saw an inscription
That said, “I watch over Pope Anastasius,
Whom Photinus drew from the path of righteousness.”

“It is best to delay our descent,
So that the senses first accustom themselves a little
To the dismal air. Then we shall not mind it.”

So said my master. “Something to compensate,” I
Said to him. “Let’s find it, so that the time spent is not
Lost.” He replied, “You will see that these are my thoughts:

My son, within these rocks,”
He then began to say, “are three lesser circles,
One below the other, like those you are leaving.

All are full of accursed spirits.
But so that the sight will be enough for you,
Understand how and why they are confined.

Of all the vices that gain hatred in Heaven,
Injury is the goal, and all such goals,
Either by force or by fraud, afflict others.

But since fraud is mankind’s particular evil,
The more it displeases God. And since standing alone are
The fraudulent, the more sorrow assails them.

The first circle is entirely of the violent.
But since force is committed against three people,
It is constructed of three distinct rings.

Against God, against oneself, against one’s neighbor
Is violence done, I say, towards them and their belongings,
As you, with open mind, shall hear.

Death by violence and painful wounds
Are inflicted upon one’s neighbor, bringing what he has to
Ruin and burning, and taking destructive tolls.

So murderers and each who maliciously does harm,
Pillagers and plunderers, all are tormented in
The first ring at different levels.

A man can lay violent hands upon himself
And upon his belongings, and thus, in the second
Ring are gathered those who repent in vain:

Anyone who deprives oneself of your world,
Gambling and squandering away one’s assets,
And crying where one should rejoice.

Violence can be done to the Deity
By denying and blaspheming Him in one’s heart,
As well as despising Nature and her good tidings.

And thus the smallest ring marks
Sodom and Cahors with its insignia,
As well as one who speaks scornfully of God in one’s heart.

Fraud, which bites at every conscience,
Man can practice on one who has faith in him,
And on one who has not placed in him one’s trust.

This latter way appears to impinge upon
Just the bond of love that nature makes,
So that nesting in the second circle are

Hypocrisy, flattery, and those that commit sorcery,
Forgery, theft, and simony…
Pimps, grafters, and similar filth.

Through the other way is forsaken that love
That nature makes, and that which is then added to it,
From which a special trust is created.

Thus, in the smallest circle, at the center
Of the universe, upon which Dis sits,
Any and all traitors are consumed for eternity.”

And I said, “Master, with much clarity proceeds
Your reasoning, and very well does it distinguish
This abyss and the people that it holds.

But tell me, those of the oily marsh,
Those beaten by the wind, those battered by the rain,
And those who meet each other with such bitter tongues,

Why not inside the red city
Should they be punished, if God holds them in His wrath?
And if he does not, why are they held in such a manner?”

He replied, “Why such incoherence,”
He said, “That your reason wanders so?
Or where else is your mind looking?

Don’t you remember those words
With which your Ethics treats
The three dispositions that Heaven did not will—

Incontinence, malice, and insane
Beastliness? And how incontinence
Offends God less and earns less condemnation.

If you consider well this principle,
And call to mind who those are,
Who outside and above suffer punishment,

You shall well see why from these fallen
They are separated, and why with less torment
They are pummeled by the Divine vengeance.”

“O sun that restores all troubled sight,
You make me so content when you resolve
The doubts that grow within me, for which I am no less than grateful.

However, go back a little,”
I said, “to the point where usury offends
The good tidings of the Divine, and untangle that knot.”

“Philosophy,” he said to me, “for one who understands,
Nevertheless notes, and not just in one place,
How nature takes its course

From the Divine Intelligence and Its art.
And if you study your Physics well,
You will find, not many pages on,

That your art, to the extent it can,
Follows, such as the master makes the disciple,
So that your art, to God, is something of a grandchild.

By these two, if you recall to mind
Genesis at the beginning, it befits
Mankind to take hold of their lives and better themselves.

Continue to Song XII

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