Sunday, September 26, 2010

Inferno, Song XXII

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, diviners, and grafters. The last are overseen a gaggle of demons, who agree to lead Dante and Virgil to a ridge they can cross to continue their journey.

The wily grafter escapes the clutches of the demons.

I have seen horsemen breaking camp before,
And commencing attack and assembling to present themselves,
As well as, at times, their fleeing to make their escape.

I have seen scouts going through your land,
O Aretines. I have also seen the march of plunderers,
The clashes in tournaments, and the charges in jousts,

At times with trumpets and at times with bells,
With drums and with signals from castles,
And with things of our own and those of foreigners.

Never yet at such a peculiar bugling
Have I seen horsemen advance, nor foot soldiers,
Nor ship by signal of land or star.

We went on with the ten demons--
oh, what a savage bunch--but, in church
With the saints and with boozers in the tavern.

My attention was entirely upon the tar--
To see all aspects of the pit
And the people burning within it.

It was like with dolphins when they make a sign
With the arch of their back, telling sailors
That they should take steps to save their ship.

Occasionally, in order to relieve the pain,
One of the sinners would show his back
And then hide it faster than a flash of lightning.

And like, at the edge of the water in a ditch,
Frogs linger with only their snout out,
So that they hide their feet and the rest of their bulk,

The sinners were standing in every part,
But as Thornybeard approached,
They then returned below the boiling surface.

I saw--and my heart still shudders at it--
One of them wait thus, in the way one finds
That one frog remains while the other dives.

And Dogscratch, who was closest to him,
Hooked him by his tar-soaked hair
And hauled him in, so that he looked to me like an otter.

I already knew all their names,
Noting them when they were picked,
And then what they called each other.

“Oh, Redface, do that so you put to him
Your claws--on his back--so that you flay it!”,
The fiends all cried out together.

I said, “My master, if you can, do
Find out who the wretched one is that
Has fallen into the hands of his enemies.”

My leader went up beside him,
Asking him where he came from, and he replied,
“I was born in the kingdom of Navarre.

My mother placed me in the service of a lord,
As she had borne me to a good-for-nothing
Who brought an end to himself and his possessions.

Then I was in the household of good King Thibault.
There I showed myself the practice of graft,
For which I now pay into this burning’s account.”

And then Pigface, from whose mouth protruded
A tusk on each side like a boar,
Had him feel how one of them could tear the flesh.

The mouse had found himself between some vicious cats,
But Thornybeard locked him up in his arms,
And said, “Stay over there while I skewer him.”

He then turned to face my master.
“Ask him questions,” he said, “if you still desire more
To learn from him, before the others tear him apart.”

The one who leads me then said to the man: “Now tell me, of the other sinners,
Are there any Italians you know
Underneath the pitch?” And he replied, “I left

One who was from nearby there just now.
Would that I were still down there with him,
So that I shouldn’t fear claw nor hook!”

“We have suffered too much,” Lustykins
Said, and, with his hook, took the sinner by the arm,
Tearing it and pulling off a muscle.

Viledragon also wanted to grab him,
Down there by the legs, at which point their captain
Turned round and round with an evil look.

After they had quieted down a bit,
To him who was still looking at his wound
My leader asked without delay,

“Who was the one from whom you unfortunately parted,
As you said, upon coming ashore?”
And he responded, “It was Fra Gomita,

He of Gallura, vessel of every fraud,
Who had the enemies of his benefactor in hand,
And dealt with them so that they each lauded him.

He took the money and let them off easy,
So he says, and in other affairs as well,
He was no small bribe-taker, but a majestic one.”

Keeping company with him is Don Michel Zanche
Of Logodoro
, and when speaking of Sardinia,
Their tongues never grow tired.

Oh, my, look at that other one gritting his teeth.
I would tell you more, but I’m afraid that he
Is getting ready to flay my hide.”

The great marshal then turned to Browbeater,
Who was rolling his eyes preparing to attack,
And said to him, “Make your way over there, wicked bird!”

“If you would like to see or hear,”
The frightened one then began again,
“Tuscans or Lombards, I will make them come.

But have the Evilclaws stand back a little
So that the ones I speak of do not fear their reprisals.
And I, sitting in this same place,

Being the one that I am, I will make seven come
When I whistle, as is our custom
To do when one of us gets out.”

Dirthound raised his snout at these words,
Shaking his head, and he said, “Hear the mischief
He has thought up so he can jump back down below!”

Hearing that, he who had trickery in great supply
Replied, “I am exceedingly full of mischief
When it comes to getting my friends in more trouble.”

Gnarlback did not hold himself in, and against the will
Of the others, said to him, “If you jump down,
I will not come after you at a gallop,

But beating my wings over the pitch.
Let us leave the bank and hide behind the dike
Just to see if you alone are more than our match.”

O you who are reading, you shall hear of a new sport:
Each of their eyes turned towards the other bank--
He who had been most against doing it was first.

The Navarrese chose his time well.
He braced his feet against the ground and suddenly
Jumped, breaking free of their detention.

At this, each was stricken with guilt,
But he who was the biggest cause of the mistake,
He moved forward and cried, “You are caught!”

But it gained him little. Terror is a thing wings
Cannot outrace. That one went below,
And the other, flying upward, lifted his breast--

Not unlike the duck that, all of sudden,
Plunges down when the falcon approaches,
The latter returning to the air thwarted and demoralized.

Frostheel, angry at the trick,
Went flying after them, eager
For the sinner to escape so that he could start a fight.

And once the grafter had disappeared,
He turned his claws upon his companion,
Grabbing hold of him above the ditch.

The heat broke up the fight immediately,
But there was still no getting out,
As their wings had become so covered with tar.

Thornybeard, as disheartened as the others,
Made four fly to the other bank,
All with their hooks, and very quickly

On this side and that one, they descended to their posts,
Extending their hooks towards the trapped ones,
Who were already cooked inside their hides.

And we left them in their embarrassment.

Continue to Song XXIII

No comments:

Post a Comment