Monday, June 21, 2010

Inferno, Song XXI

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. It is the circle of the fraudulent, and along the way, they encounter the panderers, seducers, flatterers, corrupt clergy, fortune-tellers, and diviners.

The demon torturers of the grafters confront Virgil and Dante.

And so from bridge to bridge, talking about other things
That my Comedy does not choose to sing of,
We did go. And when we reached the summit,

We stopped to see the next fissure
Of Malebolge and more tears cried in vain.
And I saw it was astonishingly dark.

As with the Venetian Arsenal:
In winter they boil the strong pitch
In order to caulk their unsound ships.

Because then they cannot sail, and instead
One makes himself a new boat, and another patches
The frame that has made many voyages for him,

One hammers at the prow and one at the stern.
Another makes oars and another twists ropes.
One patches the jib and mainsail.

So, by divine art--not fire--
A thick tar boiled there below,
Sticking to the bank on every side.

I saw it, but I saw in it
Nothing but the bubbles that the boiling raised,
And all the swelling and ebbing.

While I was staring down there,
My Master said, “Look out, look out!”,
And pulled me to him from where I was standing.

I then turned like one who is eager
To see that which he must flee,
And who is unnerved by sudden fear,

Though by looking he does not delay his departure.
And behind us I saw a black devil
Come running up through the ridge.

Ah, how savage his face was!
And how fierce his movements seemed to me,
With his wings open and so quick on his feet!

His shoulder, which was sharp and high,
Carried a sinner by both haunches,
And he held the sinner by the tendons of his feet.

At our bridge, he said, “Oh, Evil-claws,
Here is one of the elders of Santa Zita!
Put him below, while I go back for more

In that land, which is well supplied with them.
Every man there takes bribes, except for Bonturo.
For money, ‘No’ becomes ‘Yes’.”

He threw the sinner down, and through the stony ridge
He turned back. And never had a released mastiff been
With such haste to pursue the thief.

That sinner plunged in, and came up again backside first.
However, the demons that were underneath the bridge
Cried out, “Here is not the place for your Sacred Face!

Here swimming is different than that in the Serchio!
So, if you don’t want our hooks,
Do not break the surface of the overwhelming pitch.”

Then they gouged him with more than a hundred hooks,
Saying, “You must dance covered up here,
So that, if you can, you pilfer covertly.

It was not unlike how cooks have their helpers
Plunge to the center of the cauldrons
The meat with their hooks, all so it does not float.

The good master said to me, “So that you
May not be seen to be here, crouch down
Behind a rock that gives you some protection.

And whatever outrage may be done to me,
Don’t you fear, for I know about things here—
I was in such a situation another time.

He then passed from there to the end of the bridge;
And upon reaching the sixth bank,
It was necessary for him to show a confident manner.

With the fury and clamor
Of dogs that come out charging at a beggar,
Who then stops in his tracks pleading,

These came out from under the bridge
And raised their pitchforks against my master.
But he yelled out, “Not one of you shall act against me!

Before you nab me with your hooks,
Send one of your number to hear me out,
And then discuss whether to stick your forks in me.

They all cried in return, “You go, Evil-Tail!”
So one motioned forward--the others stood still--
And came to my master saying, “What benefit this?”

“Do you believe, Evil-Tail, that you see me here
Having come,” my master said,
“Still safe from all your defenses,

Without Divine will and fate’s benevolence?
Let us go by, for in Heaven it is willed
That I show another this savage way.”

His pride was then so sunken
That he let his hook drop to his feet
And said to the others, “He must not be harmed.”

And my leader said to me, “Oh, you sitting
In a crouch between the jagged rocks of the bridge,
You may now return to me safely.”

At that I moved and quickly came to him,
And the devils all pushed forward
In a way that made me afraid for their keeping of the pact.

So I once saw the infantrymen’s fear
At coming out of Caprona under treaty,
Seeing themselves among so many enemies.

With all of my will, I drew myself
Closely to my leader, and did not take my eyes off
Their faces, which were not heartening.

They lowered their hooks. “You want to give him a swipe
On the rump?” one said to another.
And they all responded, “Yes, give him a cut there.”

But the demon who was holding forth
With my leader turned around quickly
And said, “Settle down, settle down, Clutterhead!”

He then said to us, “To go further by this
Ridge is not something you can do, for lying
All broken at the bottom is the sixth arch.

But if it still pleases you to go forward,
Go along through this grotto.
You can make your way through another nearby ridge.

Yesterday, five hours later than now,
One thousand, two hundred, and sixty-six
Years have gone by since the road here was ruined.

I am sending these of my men there
To see if any have come up for air.
Travel with them, for they know you are not among the guilty.”

“To the front, Gnarlback and Frostheel,”
he began saying to them. “You too, Dirthound.
And let Thornybeard lead the squad.

Lustykins comes, too, along with Viledragon,
Pigface with the tusks, and Dogscratch,
As well as Browbeater and crazy Redface.

Search around the boiling tar.
Let these be safe up to the next ridge
That is all unbroken going over the pits.

“Ah me, master, what is that I see?”,
I said. “Oh! Let us go alone without escort,
If you know the way. As for me, I want none of it.

If you are as wary as has been your habit,
Do you not see them grinding their teeth
And threatening anguish to us with their brows?”

And he to me, “I do not want you afraid.
Leave them to grind at their pleasure,
As they do it for the boiling wretched.”

They wheeled around to the left-hand bank.
But first they each pressed their tongue
Between their teeth for a signal from their leader.

He then made a trumpet of his ass.

Continue to Song XXII

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