Saturday, November 21, 2009

Inferno, Song XIX

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 descend to next level of Hell on the back of Geryon, a flying monster who is the personification of fraud. It is the circle of the fraudulent, and in the first two bolgias, they encounter the panderers, seducers, and flatterers.

Virgil looks on while Dante speaks to the soul of Pope Nicholas II.

O Simon Magus, O his miserable followers,
Who, of the things of God, and of the goodness
That should be His brides, in your rapacity

For gold and silver you turned.
Now the trumpet must sound for you,
For your place is in the third bolgia.

We were now at the next tomb,
Having gone up the rock to that part
Which hangs over the middle of the trench.

O Highest Wisdom, how great is the art
You display in Heaven, on Earth, and in the world of the disgraced!
And how justly You wield Your power!

I saw the sides and bottom were
Full of holes in the bruise-like stone.
All were of one width, and all were round.

They did not seem of less or greater width
Than those that are in my beautiful San Giovanni,
Created as places of baptism.

One of which, not many years ago,
I broke open for one who was drowning inside.
And this matter I seal, clarifying it for everyone.

Stuck outside the mouth of each were
The feet and legs of a sinner
Up to the calf, and the rest was inside.

Their soles were all lit afire,
From which their joints writhed so strongly
That they would have snapped withes or tethers.

As flame on oily things just
Moves along the outer surface,
So it did there from the heels to the toes.

“Who is that one, Master, who in torment
Writhes more than his peers,”
I said, “and who is licked by a redder flame?”

He said to me, “If you would like for me to carry you
Down there by way of that steeper bank,
You should learn of him and his crimes from him.”

And I replied, “What pleases you is to my benefit.
You are my lord, and you know that I do not part
From your will. You also know what I am silent about.”

Then we came onto the fourth dike.
We turned and descended on the left-hand side
There down to the pitted and narrow floor.

The good master, from his side, still
Did not put me down until he brought me to the hole
Of the one whose feet lamented so for him.

“Oh, whoever you are, held upside down,
Sad soul, like an embedded post,”
I began to say. “If you can, speak.”

I stood like the friar who takes the confession of
The treacherous assassin, who, after being hung,
Calls him back in order to delay death.

And he cried, “Are you standing there already,
Are you standing there already, Boniface?
The writing lied to me by quite a few years.

Is it so soon that you are sated
By the things you were not afraid to take by guile from
The beautiful lady, and then torture her?”

And so I became like those who stand
Not understanding the reply made to them.
It was as if I had been mocked, and I did not know how to respond.

Then Virgil said, “Tell him quickly:
‘I am not him, I am not him who you think.’”
And I replied as I was told.

At that the spirit’s feet writhed hard.
Then, sighing and with a tearful voice,
He said, “So what are you asking of me?

If to know who I am is so important to you
That you have descended the bank for the answer,
Know that I wore the great mantle;

And I was truly a son of the she-bear,
So greedy to advance my cubs
That above I hoarded things in my purse, and here myself.

Beneath my head are dragged the others
Who preceded me in simony--
Squeezed flat through the fissures of the rock.

I shall sink down there when the other
Comes—him whom I believed you to be
When I asked my hasty question.

But I have already spent more time with my feet aflame
And upside down
Than he shall stay planted with his feet burning.

For after him will come one of fouler deeds
From the west, a lawless shepherd,
One fit to cover him and me.

He shall be a new Jason, of whom one reads about
In the Maccabees, and as that one was appeased by
His king, so shall this one be treated by the one who rules France.”

I do not know if I was too reckless here,
In that I replied to him in this manner:
“Pray tell me now: how much treasure was required by

Our Lord before, to Saint Peter’s
Care, he put the keys.
He certainly did not ask anything but ‘Follow me.’

Neither Peter nor the others took from Matthias
Gold or silver when he was chosen
For the place lost by the guilty soul.

So stay, for you are rightly punished,
And pay good mind to the ill-got wealth
That made you bold against Charles.

And were I not still forbidden by
My reverence for the supreme keys
That you held in the happy life,

I should use even harsher language.
For your avarice afflicts the world,
Trampling the good and exalting the wicked.

The Evangelist had you shepherds in mind
When she that sits upon the waters,
Fornicating with kings, was seen by him.

She was born with seven heads,
And was compelled in her actions by the ten horns,
As long as her husband took pleasure in her virtue.

You have made yourself a god of gold and silver.
And what is the difference between you and the idolaters,
Except that they worship one and you a hundred?

Ah, Constantine, to how much evil have you given birth?
Not your conversion, but that dowry
The first rich Father took from you!”

And while I sang this song to him,
Either anger or conscience bit at him—
He kicked hard with both feet.

I well believe that my leader was pleased.
He stood throughout with such a content look,
Listening to the words of truth I spoke.

After that he held me to him with both his arms,
And then, while he held me to his chest,
He again set out upon the way he had come down.

Nor did he tire of holding me close.
And so he carried me up to the top of the arch
That crosses from the fourth dike to the fifth.

Here he gently set his burden down—
Gently for the steep rockiness of the slope,
Which would have been a difficult climb for a goat.

From there another valley was revealed to me.

Continue to Song XX

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