Monday, May 18, 2009

Inferno, Song XVI

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, such as the sodomites. Among the latter is Brunetto Latini, who was Dante's mentor and role model while growing up.

Dante and Virgil summon Geryon from the pit

I was already at the place where I heard the sound
Of water falling into the next circle--
It was like the buzzing of beehives--

When together three shades left, while
Running, a crowd that was passing
Beneath the rain of harsh torment.

They came towards us, and each was crying,
“Stop, you, whose clothes appear
To be of one from our degenerate land.”

Ah, me, what wounds I saw in their limbs,
Both new and old, from the burning flames!
The memory still makes me grieve when I recall it.

My teacher held back upon hearing their cries,
And he turned his face to me. “Wait now,”
He said. “To these we should show courtesy.

And if it weren’t for the strafing fire, borne from
The nature of the place, I would say
That haste is better for you than them.”

As we came to a stop, they again began their
Ancient song, and when they reached us,
The three of them made a wheel of themselves

Like only champions do, naked and oiled,
Watching for their grip and advantage
Before they trade thrusts and blows.

And wheeling around so, each one’s face
Was directed towards me, so that counter to their necks
Their feet were continually moving.

“If the misery of this sandy place
Treats us and our prayers with contempt,
As well as our darkened and hairless appearance,” one began,

“May your soul submit to our renown
And tell us who you are that your living feet
Travel safely through Hell.

This one, in whose tracks you see me tread,
Although he goes naked and peeling,
Was of a higher rank than you believe.

He was the grandson of the good Gualdrada.
His name was Guido Guerra, and in his life
He accomplished much with his judgment and sword.

The other, who treads the sand behind me,
Is Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, whose voice
Should have been welcomed in the world above.

And I, who has been placed with them in torment,
Am Jacopo Rusticucci, and certainly
More than anything my beast of a wife is what brought me low.”

If I had been shielded from the fire,
I would have thrown myself down among them,
And I believe my teacher would have tolerated it.

But because I would be burned and baked,
Fear conquered my goodwill,
Which had made me eager to embrace them.

I then began, “It is not contempt, but grief
Over your condition that is fixed inside me,
So much so that it will be a long time before it is entirely gone.

Because of this my lord said to me
Words that made me think
That men such as you were coming.

I am of your land, and always
Your deeds and honored names
I have heard and recounted with affection.

I am leaving the gall and heading towards the sweet fruit
Promised to me by my trustworthy leader.
However, I must first descend to the center.”

“So, long may your soul guide
Your limbs,” he replied in turn,
“and your fame shine after you.

Tell us if courtesy and valor live
In our city like they used to,
Or if they have entirely gone away.

For Guglielmo Borsiere, who has suffered
With us for a short time--he goes over there with our company--
Greatly torments us with his words.”

“The new people and sudden gains
Have created such pride and excess
In you, Florence, that it already has you crying.”

I cried this out with my face raised.
And the three, taking it for a reply,
Looked at one another as if they were hearing the truth.

“If at other times it costs you so little,”
They all replied, “to satisfy others,
You must be a happy man to speak so at your pleasure!

Therefore, if you escape from these dark places
And return to see the beautiful stars again,
When it will do you good to say, ‘I was there,’

Speak of us as such to others.”
They then broke their wheel, and as they fled
Their legs resembled wings.

An “Amen” could not have been said
As quickly as they had disappeared.
For my master, it appeared we should leave.

I followed him, and we had only gone a little onward
When the sound of water was so near
That it was difficult to hear each other speak.

Like that river whose course is
First from Mount Viso to the east,
On the left side of the Apennines--

It is called Acquacheta above, before
It pours into its lower bed
And loses that name at Forlì.

There it resounds over San Benedetto
by falling with one leap
Into a fissure where there might have been a thousand.

And so, down a steep bank,
We found that dark water echoing
So that in a short time it would have injured our ears.

I had a cord wrapped around me,
And with it I once thought
To take the leopard with the spotted fur.

After I had loosened all of it from me,
As my leader had ordered,
I passed it to him coiled and knotted.

Then he swung around to his right side,
And flung it some distance out from the edge
Into that deep abyss.

“Certainly something strange will respond,”
I said to myself, “to the odd signal
That my Master so follows with his eye.

Ah, how cautious men should be
Pressing those who not only look on our actions
With good judgment, but our thoughts as well!

He said to me, “Soon will arise
That which I wait for and of which your thoughts dream.
Soon your eyes will discover it for themselves.”

Always, to that truth that has the face of a lie,
A man should seal his lips as much as he can,
Since without guilt it makes one ashamed.

But here I cannot be silent. And by the lines
Of this Comedy, reader, I swear to you,
So they may not fail to gain lasting favor,

That through that heavy and murky air I saw
A figure come swimming up that would be
Astonishing to even the steadiest heart,

It was like one who returns from going down
On occasion to loosen an anchor that is stuck
In a reef, or something else that is hidden in the sea,

Stretching upward and drawing in his feet.

Continue to Song XVII

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