Sunday, September 11, 2011

Inferno, Song XXV

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, from whom Dante and Virgil must escape before encountering the religious hypocrites. The poets then move on to encounter the thieves, who are beset upon by snakes whose bite transforms them. One thief, Vanni Fucci, tells Dante a dark prophecy about Florence.

The transformation of Agnello Brunelleschi

At the end of his words, the thief
Raised his hands--both of them figs--
And cried, “Take that, God, for they’re aimed directly at you!

From that point forward, the serpents were my friends,
For one wound itself around his neck,
As if to say, “You shall speak no more.”

And another went around his arms, and bound him again,
Clinching itself the same in front
So he could not move them.

Oh Pistoia, Pistoia! Why do you not condemn
Yourself to burning and continue no longer,
Since you have gone beyond your seed in evildoing?

Throughout all the dark circles of Hell
I did not see a spirit so arrogant towards God,
Not even the one who fell from the walls of Thebes.

He fled without saying another word,
And I saw a centaur full of rage
Come, calling out, “Where is he, where is the bitter one?”

I do not believe Maremma has as many
Snakes as he had upon his back
Up to where our human form begins.

Upon his shoulders, behind the back of his neck,
Lay a dragon with open wings,
And it set fire to any who got in the way.

My master said, “This is Cacus,
Who beneath the rock of Mount Aventine
Often made a lake of blood.

He does not walk the same path as his brothers,
Due to the theft--achieved by fraud--
Of the great herd that neighbored him.

This led to the end of his wicked doings
Under the club of Hercules, who struck
Him perhaps a hundred times, and he did not feel ten.”

While he spoke, the centaur went past,
And three spirits showed up below us.
Neither me nor my leader noticed them

Until they cried, “Who are you?”
At which our conversation broke off,
And we then gave all our attention to them.

I did not know them. But it happened
As it often happens by some chance:
One proceeded to name another,

Saying, “Cianfa--where has he left himself?”
At that, so my leader would continue paying attention,
I put my finger to my chin and nose.

If, Reader, you are now slow to believe
What I shall tell, it will be no wonder,
For I who saw it can barely admit it to myself.

While I kept my eyes fixed on them,
A serpent with six feet jumped
In front of one and gripped him all over.

It clasped the belly with its middle feet,
And with the front ones held the arms.
It then bit into both cheeks.

It extended the hind feet upon his thighs,
And thrust its tail between them,
And stretched it up behind over the loins.

Ivy never clung
To a tree as tightly as the horrible beast
Entwined the other’s limbs with its own.

They then melted together--they were
Like hot wax--and, mixing their colors,
Neither one nor the other now appeared as they had been.

It was like, ahead of the flame burning
on a piece of paper, a dark color appearing
That is not yet black while the white perishes.

The other two watched this, and each one
Cried out, “Oh my, Agnello, how you are changing!
Look at how already you are neither two nor one.”

The heads had now become one,
As the two shapes appeared to us blended
Into one face in which both were lost.

The two arms were made of the four limbs;
The thighs with the legs, and the belly and the chest
Became members that had never before been seen.

All their original features were erased:
Both and neither the perverted shape
Appeared. At that point, it slowly moved away.

Like the lizard under the great scourge
Of summer’s dog days, jumping between hedges,
Seeming like lightning as it crosses the road,

So appeared, heading toward the bellies
Of the other two, a fiery snakeling,
Black and as like a bruise as a peppercorn.

And at that part from which we first take
Our nourishment, it bit one, leaving him transfixed.
It then dropped in front of him, laying sprawled out.

The transfixed one stared at it, but said nothing.
He just stood still and yawned,
As if sleep or fever had seized him.

The serpent stared at him, and he stared at the serpent.
From the wound of one and the mouth of the other,
Smoke poured out, and the plumes collided.

Let Lucan be silent now with his stories
About poor Sabellus and Nasidius,
And let him wait to hear what comes now.

Let Ovid be silent about Cadmus and Arethusa,
For if the former into a serpent and her into a fountain
They are transformed in his poetry, I do not envy him.

For two natures never from face to face
Had he transformed so that both forms
Were ready to exchange their substance.

They responded as one in this way:
The serpent split its tail into a fork,
And the wounded one brought his feet together.

The legs became one at the thighs,
So adhering themselves that soon the juncture
Did not show a sign of itself.

The cleft tail took the form
That was lost there so, and its skin
Became soft, and the other’s hard.

I saw the arms recede into the armpits,
And the beast’s two paws, which were short,
Lengthen as much as the other one’s shortened.

Then the hind feet, they twisted together.
They became the member that man conceals,
And the wretch from his own brought forth two.

While the smoke veils each of them
With new color, and grows the hair out
On the one and strips it out from the other,

The one rose and the other fell down.
However, neither turned away from the wicked beacon
Underneath which they exchanged faces.

The one who was standing drew his toward the temples,
And from the excess matter that resulted,
The ears came out from the smooth cheeks.

The matter that stayed and didn’t go back there,
A nose for the face was made from that excess,
And the lips thickened to their appropriate size.

The one who was lying down thrust his face forward,
And his ears drew back into his head
Like the snail does with its horns.

As for his tongue, which was whole and given over
‘til then to speech, it split, and the forked one
Of the other fused together. The smoke then stopped.

The soul that had become a beast
Fled hissing through the valley,
With the other behind him talking and spitting.

He then turned his new shoulders
And said to the other: “I’ll have Buoso run,
As I have done, on all fours down this road.”

Thus ended my seeing the seventh bottom feeder
Change and transform, and pardon
My pen if the strangeness has made it falter.

And though my eyes were confused
To an extent, and my mind bewildered,
These ones could not flee without my notice.

The one whom I did not clearly see was Puccio Sciancato,
And he was the only one of the three companions
We first saw who had not changed.

The other, Gaville, was the one who made you mourn.

Continue to Song XXVI

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