Sunday, February 22, 2009

Inferno, Song XII

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.

Virgil and Dante encounter the Minotaur

It was the place where one descends the ridge
To which we came. It was alpine steep, and because of what was there,
It was such that every eye would shun it.

Like that landslide that, on the side
Of Trent, struck the Adige,
Due to either earthquake or the land’s weak foundation--

From atop the mountain, where it began,
To the plain where the rock is so shattered.
That it would offer a path to one above--

Such was the descent down that ravine.
And at the edge of the broken chasm
Lay the infamy of Crete,

Who was conceived inside the false cow.
And when he saw us he bit himself
Like one whose rage blazes within.

My mentor cried out to him, “Perhaps
You think that this here is the Duke of Athens,
Who in the world above brought you to your death?

Leave, beast, for this one does not come
Instructed by your sister,
But goes here in order to see the sufferings of you all.”

Like the bull that breaks free the moment
It has received the killing blow,
And cannot turn and run, instead jumping this way and that--

This I saw the Minotaur do.
And the wise one yelled, “Run to the pass.
It is best to descend while he is enraged.”

And so we made our way down through the scattering
Of those rocks, which often moved
Underneath my feet thanks to the weight none before me brought to bear.

I was then thinking, and he said, “You are musing,
Perhaps, about this ruin that is watched over
By that bestial anger I quelled just now.

Know then that the other time
I descended into the lower Hell,
Those rocks had not yet fallen.

But certainly it was a bit before, if I figure rightly,
When He came, so that the great bounty
Of Dis be taken from the highest circle.

The deep, stinking valley in all parts
Trembled so, and I thought the universe
Had felt love, by which, some believe,

The world has many times been transformed into chaos.
And at that moment this ancient stone
Was therefore brought down, here and elsewhere.

But fix your eyes down yonder, for approaching is
The river of blood where those are boiled
Who through violence injure others.”

O blind greed and mad anger,
That so spur us on in our brief life,
And then, in the eternal, plunge us into such woe!

I saw a wide moat twisted into an arc
So that it encircled the entire plain
In accordance with what my escort had said.

And between it and the foot of the cliff, in file
Ran centaurs, armed with arrows,
As they did while hunting in our world.

Seeing us descend, they all stopped,
And from the group, three came forward,
With the bows and shafts they had just pulled out.

And one cried from a distance, “To what torment
Do you all come, you who descend the bank?
Tell us from there; if not, I draw my bow.”

My master said, “The reply
We make shall be to Chiron by your side.
Your sin was always to act too quickly upon your will.”

Then he nudged me, and said, “That is Nessus,
Who died for the beautiful Deianira,
And through himself had his revenge.

And the one in the middle, looking down upon his chest,
Is the great Chiron, he who raised Achilles.
That other is Pholus, who was so full of anger.

Around the moat they go by the thousands,
Shooting arrows at any soul that raises itself
From the blood more than its guilt allows.”

We came nearer to these swift beasts.
Chiron took an arrow, and with the notch
Pushed his beard back to his jaw.

When he had uncovered his great mouth,
He said to his companions, “Have you also noted
That the one behind moves what he touches?

The feet of the dead are not supposed to do so.”
And my good leader, who stood already at his breast,
Where the two natures were joined,

Replied, “He is indeed alive, and so alone.
I must show him the dark valley.
Necessity brings him here, not pleasure.

It was one who left singing Hallelujah
Who assigned me this unprecedented duty.
He is not a thief; nor am I such a soul.

But by that Power by whom I take
My steps through such a savage road,
Give us one of your own, whom we may follow,

And that he may show us where the ford is,
And that he may carry this one upon his back,
For he is not a spirit who may go through the air.”

Chiron turned round upon his right breast
And said to Nessus, “Go, and so guide them,
And turn back other posses if they prove an obstacle.”

We then moved along with our faithful guide
Along the banks of the boiling crimson,
Where the ones boiled made high-pitched shrieks.

I saw people immersed to the eyebrows,
And the great centaur said, “They are tyrants
Who gave themselves over to blood and plunder.

Here they weep to themselves over their ruthless crimes.
Here is Alexander, and savage Dionysius,
Who brought years of woe to Sicily.

And that forehead with such black hair
Is Ezzelino, and that other, who is blond,
He is Obizzo da Esti, who indeed

Was slain by his stepson in the world above.”
I then turned to the poet, and he said,
“In this he shall be first to you, and I second.”

A little farther on, the centaur stopped in his tracks
Above a group that were up to the throat,
It appeared, in where they came out of the boiling steam.

He pointed out to us a shade alone on one side,
Saying, “That one cut in the lap of God
The heart that still drips upon the Thames.”

Then I saw people who, above the river’s surface,
Held their head and even their whole chest,
And of these I recognized many.

And so it became more and more shallow--
That blood--until it only cooked the feet.
And here was our passage through the moat.

“So, as you see on this side
The boiling stream grows continually more shallow,”
The centaur said. “I would have you know

That, on the other side, the deeper and deeper
The bottom, until it again reaches
Where tyranny gathers to groan.

There divine justice stabs at
That Attila who was a scourge on Earth,
As well as Pyrrhus and Sextus. And it eternally milks

The tears, unlocked by the boiling,
From Rinier da Corneto to Rinier Pazzo,
Who on the highways caused so much strife.”

Then he turned around and again crossed the ford.

Continue to Song XIII

No comments:

Post a Comment