Thursday, April 1, 2010

Inferno, Song XX

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 three bolgias, they encounter the panderers, seducers, flatterers, and the corrupt clergy.

Dante and Virgil look out upon the diviners and fortune-tellers.

I must create verses of new agonies
And give form to the twentieth song
Of my first canticle, which is about those forsaken underground.

I was now entirely preoccupied
With watching what was revealed there,
Which was bathed with anguished tears.

And I saw people around the circular valley
Coming, silent and tearful, at the pace
Made by the litany processions in this world.

As my eyes traveled down them,
Each appeared strangely twisted
Between the chin and collarbone.

For the face was turned to the back,
And they walked in reverse,
As if looking forward had been taken from them.

Perhaps palsy has
contorted one so completely,
But I have not seen it nor believe it to be so.

So, reader, may God grant that you gather the fruit
Of your readings here. Now contemplate
How I could keep my eyes dry

When nearby I saw our form
So twisted that the eyes’ tears
Bathed the buttocks at the cleft.

I certainly cried, leaning against one of the rocks
On that hardy ridge. And so my escort
Said to me, “Are you still as foolish as the rest?

Here lives pity when it is good and dead.
What is wickeder than the one
Who behaves so in the face of divine judgment?

Raise your head, raise it, and see the one for whom
The ground opened itself before the eyes of the Thebans--
For whom they all cried, “Where are you rushing,

Amphiaraus? Why have you left the war?’
And he did not stop his fall into the depths
That end with Minos, who seizes everyone.

Look at how he has made a breast of his shoulders.
Because he wished to see too far ahead,
He watches behind himself and makes his way backwards.

See Tiresias, who changed appearance
When from a male he became a female,
Transformed in every aspect of his body.

And then, like the first time, he had to again strike
The two entwined serpents with his rod
In order to regain his manly features.

Aruns is that one who backs up to the other’s belly.
He is the one who in the mountains of the Luni, where tilling the ground are
The Carraresi who live below them.

He had a cave among the white marble
For his home, where watching the stars
And the sea made for a boundless sight.

And she who cover her breasts--
Which you do not see--with her loose tresses,
And who has all her hairy parts there as well,

She was Manto, who searched through many lands
And settled in the place where I was born.
Please listen to me about this for a bit.

After her father had departed from life,
And the city of Bacchus became enslaved,
She roamed the world for a long while.

Above in beautiful Italy lies a lake
At the foot of the Alps that lock in Germany
Above Tyrol. It is called Benaco.

I believe a thousand springs or more wash down
Between Garda and Val Camonica and Appennine
With the water that settles in that aforementioned lake.

A place is there in the middle of it where the Trentian
Pastors, as well as those of Brescia and the Veronese,
Might give their blessing if they took that way.

Peschiera sits there, a beautiful and strong fortress
That stands against the Brescians and Bergamese
At the lowest point of the surrounding shore.

All the waterfalls gather there
That cannot stay in the bosom of Benaco,
And which become a river down through the green pastures.

As soon as the water begins to run,
It is no longer Benaco. It is called Mincio
Until it reaches Governolo, where it empties into the Po.

Its course is not long before it finds a level
In which it spreads and creates a marsh.
At times it becomes rank in the summer.

Passing through there, the wild maiden
Saw land in the middle of the bog,
Uncultivated and empty of inhabitants.

There, in order to avoid all human society,
She settled there with those who served her so she could practice her arts.
It was where she lived, and where she left her corpse.

The people who were scattered around then
Gathered in that place, which was secure
Because of the bog that surrounded it on every side.

They built the city over those dead bones.
And after her who first chose the place,
They, without further ado, named it Mantua.

Once there were more people within its boundaries—
Before the madness of Casalodi
Became the victim of Pinamonte’s deceit.

As such, I charge you, that if you ever hear
Another story of my city’s founding,
No lie shall distort the truth.”

I replied, “Master, your account
Is for me so certain and so holds my confidence
That any other for me would be spent coals.

Then he said to me, “That one who from his cheeks
Has grown a beard reaching to his dark shoulders
Was--when Greece was bereft of men

To the extent that few remained for the cradles--
The augur, and with Calchas gave the moment
In Aulis to cut the first cord.

Eurypylus was his name, and as such is sung by
My high tragedy in a certain place.
As you know well, knowing it in its entirety.

That other one, who in the flanks is so small,
He is Michael Scot, who certainly
Knew the game of magic frauds.

See Guido Bonatti. See Asdente,
Who, having talent for the leather and the thread,
Now wishes for it, but he has repented too late.

See the sad women who left behind the needle,
The shuttle, and the spindle and became fortune-tellers,
Casting spells with herbs and likenesses.

But come now, for he already holds the confines
Of both hemispheres and touch the waves
Below Seville. That is, Cain and his thorns.

And last night the moon was already round.
Remember that well, for it helped you
At times in the depth of the wood.”

So he said to me while we went onward.

Continue to Song XXI

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