Sunday, April 26, 2009

Inferno, Song XV

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 travel along a river of boiling blood, in which the spirits of murderers and savage conquerors are imprisoned. They then enter the wood of the suicides, which also imprisons 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. The blasphemers are the first Dante takes note of, but they are only one of the many kinds of sinners who reside here.

Dante and Virgil encounter Brunetto Latini

One of the stone margins bears us now,
And the steam from the flowing water gives shade above,
So that it protects the water and the banks from the fire.

Like the Flemings between Wissant and Bruges,
Afraid of a flood rushing in on them,
Who build a dike to drive back the sea,

And as the Paduans along the Brenta
Do to protect their towns and castles
Before Carentania feels the heat,

These were made in the same manner,
Although not so high nor wide
As that was made, whoever the builder was.

We were already outside the wood
So far that I could not have seen where it was
Even if I had turned back,

When we encountered a band of souls
Who were coming alongside the bank, and each
Looked at us like men at night

Looking at one another under a new moon.
And they furrowed their brows while looking at us,
Like an old tailor does with the eye of a needle.

Thus caught sight of by that group,
I was recognized by one, who took hold
Of my hem and cried, “How marvelous!”

And I, when he extended his arm to me,
Fixed my eyes upon his baked appearance
So that his scorched face did not keep

My mind from recognizing him,
And lowering my hand to his face
I replied, “Are you here, Ser Brunetto?”

And he said, “O my son, may it not displease you
If Brunetto Latini for a little while with you
Turns back and lets the train go on.

I said to him, “As much as I can I beg it of you,
And if you would like to sit down with me,
I will, if it pleases him with whom I go.”

“O son,” he said, “Of this flock, whoever
Stops for a moment then lies for a hundred years
Without shielding himself when the fire strikes him.

Therefore, go on. I will walk at your hem,
And then rejoin my group,
Who go crying over their eternal damnation.”

I did not dare to descend from the path
In order to walk at his level, but I bent my head,
Keeping it like a man who walks with reverence.

He began, “What fortune or destiny
Brings you down here before your last day?
And who is this that shows the way?”

“Up there in the bright light above,”
I answered him, “I lost my way in a valley
Before my age had reached its fullness.

Just yesterday morning I turned my back on it.
This one appeared to me as I was returning there,
And he is leading me home by this road.”

And he said to me, “If you follow your star
You cannot fall short of a glorious destination,
If I judged you well in the beautiful life.

And if I had not died at such a time,
Seeing Heaven so favorable to you,
I would have applauded you in your work.

But those ungrateful and malicious people
Who came down from Fiesole long ago,
And who still retain something of the mountain and the rock about them.

They shall become your enemy due to your good deeds.
And with reason, for among the sorb trees
It is all but impossible for the sweet fig to come to fruit.

An old saying in the world calls them blind:
An avaricious, envious, and proud people.
See that you purge yourself of their ways.

Your fortune holds so much honor for you
That one party and the other will be hungry
For you, but the grass shall be kept far from the goat.

Let the Fiesolan beasts feed
Upon themselves, and not touch the plant,
If any should yet grow from their manure

In whom the holy seed lives again--that
Of those Romans who remained there when
It was made the nest of so much wickedness.”

“If all I wished for was granted,”
I replied, “You would not yet have been
Banished from humanity,

For it is fixed in my memory, and now my heart,
The good, dear, fatherly image
Of you when, in the world, hour by hour,

You taught me how man makes himself immortal.
And I am so grateful that, while I live,
My voice shall declare it for all to hear.

That which you tell me of my course I write
And keep with another text for commentary
By a lady who will know, if I reach her.

I would like you to be aware of this much:
So that my conscience does not trouble me,
I am ready for Fortune to do as she will.

What you say is nothing new to my ears.
Let Fortune turn her wheel
As she pleases, and the peasant his spade.”

My master then turned his head
Backward and to the right and looked at me.
He then said, “He who takes note listens well.”

Nonetheless, I continued talking
With Ser Brunetto, and I asked who is
Highest and most noteworthy in his present company.

He replied, “It is good to know of some,
But of the others it is best to be silent,
For time is too short for so much talk.

Know in sum that all were clerks
And great and famous scholars
Who were stained by the same sin in the world.

Priscian goes along with that troubled crowd,
And Franciscus Accursius, too. And look there,
If you have a hankering for such slime,

You can see him whom the Servant of Servants
Transferred from the Arno to the Bacchiglione,
Where he left his senses ruined by sin.

I would say more, but to speak and walk with you
I can do no longer, as I see
A new cloud of smoke rising from the sand.

People come with whom I must not be.
Let my Tesoro be recommended to you,
In which I still live, and I ask no more.”

He then turned, and he seemed like one of those
Who run for the green cloth in Verona
At the field. And among them he seemed like

One of those who wins, not one who loses.

Continue to Song XVI

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