Friday, July 31, 2009

Inferno, Song XVIII

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 encounter murderers, merciless conquerors, suicides, and 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, including blasphemers, sodomites, and usurers. Dante and Virgil then come to a precipice, where Virgil summons Geryon, a flying monster who is the personification of fraud. The two descend to the next level of Hell on its back.

Virgil points out Thaïs among the flatterers.

There is a place in Hell called Malebolge,
All made of stones the color of iron
Like the wall that goes around it.

Right in the middle of the malign field
There yawns a very wide and deep pit,
The ordering of which I shall talk about here, in its place.

That belt that remains hooked is round;
It is between the pit and the foot of the high stony bank,
And it is divided into ten valleys at the bottom.

Like such places where, in order to guard the walls,
Increasing numbers of moats encircle the castles,
The site shaped into a pattern--

Such was the design those made there.
As such, fortresses from their thresholds
Have small bridges leading to their outside bank.

And so, from the base of the rock, ridges
Ran that cut across the dikes and embankments,
Ending at the pit where they are cut short and gathered in.

In this place, shaken from the back
Of Geryon, we found ourselves. The Poet
Held to the left, and I followed.

On my right side I saw new sorrows,
New torments, and new torturers.
The first ditch was full with them.

Those at the bottom were naked and sinners.
If they were between us and the middle, they came toward us.
And if they were on the other side, they went as we did, although with greater strides.

They were like those in Rome, because of the great numbers,
In the year of the Jubilee. In order for
The people to cross the bridge,

All on the one side were facing
Towards the Castle and went to St. Peter’s,
And on the other side they went towards the Mount.

On this side, on that side, all along the gloomy rock
I saw horned demons with heavy whips
Cruelly lashing them from behind.

Oh, how they were made to pick up their pace
At the first blow! Indeed, no one
Waited for the second or the third.

While I went on, my eyes by one of them
Were met, and I quickly said,
“Him I knew and would see more of.”

I stopped walking to better make him out,
And my gracious Leader stopped with me,
Agreeing to let me turn back a little.

And that one being tortured thought to conceal himself by
Hiding his face, but with little success,
As I said, “O you whose eyes are cast upon the ground,

If the features you bear are not false,
You are Venedico Caccianemico.
But what leads you to such a foul Salse?”

And he replied, “I do not answer voluntarily.
I am compelled by your plain speech,
Which reminds me of the past world.

I am the one who brought Ghisolabella
To do the will of the Marquis,
However the scandalous story is told.

And I am not the only one from Bologna grieving here.
On the contrary, this place is so full of them
That now many tongues have not learned

To say sipa between the Savena and the Reno.
And if you would like proof or confirmation of this,
Just remember our greedy natures.”

While he was speaking a demon struck him
With his whip, saying, “Get going,
Pimp! There are no women here to sell.”

I rejoined my escort.
A few steps later, we came
To where a rock jutted out of the bank.

We climbed that quite easily,
And turning to the right on through its crags
We left those who were circling eternally.

When we arrived at the place where it yawns
Below so those who have been whipped can pass,
My leader said, “ Stop, and let fall

Upon you the sight of these other misbegotten ones,
Whose faces you have not yet seen
Because they were walking the same way we were.”

From the ancient bridge we watched the procession
That came toward us from the other side,
And who, like the first, were chased by whips.

And without my asking, the good master
Said to me, “Look at that great one who approaches.
Despite his pain he does not appear to shed tears.

How he still retains his royal manner!
He is Jason, who through courage and savvy
Took the Fleece away from the Colchians.

He passed by the island of Lemnos
When the bold and pitiless women
Had put all their males to death.

There, with gifts and adorned words,
He beguiled Hypsipyle, the young woman
Who before had beguiled all the others.

There he left her: pregnant, shunned.
Such guilt condemns him to such torment,
And Medea is avenged as well.

All who deceive in this way go with him.
And let this be enough of the first valley
As well as knowledge of those held in its grip.”

Already we were there where the narrow path
Cuts across the second dike
And makes another arch of that shoulder.

Here we heard people moaning
In the other ditch, blubbering
And hitting themselves with their palms.

The banks were covered with mold.
It wafts up from below and sticks to them,
Assailing the eyes and nose.

The bottom is so dark that there is no
Place to see without going up to the top
Of the arch, where the ridge overhangs the most.

We went there, and then, below in the pit,
I saw people immersed in excrement
That appeared to come from men’s outhouses.

And while searching down there with my eyes
I saw one whose head was so filthy with shit
That one could not tell if he was layman or cleric.

“Why,” he scolded me, “do you so intently
Look at me more than the other filthy ones?”
And I replied, “Because, if I remember well,

I saw you once with dry hair,
And you are Alessio Interminelli of Lucca.
That is why I eye you more than all the others.”

And then, beating himself upon his crown, he replied,
“Down here I have been sunk by the flatteries
My tongue never grew weary of.”

After that my leader said to me, “Make yourself
Look ahead a bit further,
So that you may get a good look at the face

Of that filthy and disheveled wretch
Who is there scratching herself with shit-covered fingernails,
First squatting and now standing on her feet.

It is Thaïs, the whore whose response
To her lover when he said, ‘Has the favor
I have found with you great?,’ was, “On the contrary, beyond what any would believe.’

And with that let our sight be satisfied.

Continue to Song XIX

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