Monday, February 13, 2012

Inferno, Song XXVII

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 and the thieves. Next are the false counselors, whose punishment entails their transformation into moving pillars of fire. Their number includes Odysseus, who tells Virgil of his final voyage.

Guido da Montefeltro in flames

Now calm and standing tall, the flame
Spoke no more. It then left us
With the consent of the kind poet.

Then, another coming along behind
Made us turn our eyes toward its tip
By a confused sound that came out of it.

The sound was like the Sicilian bull--which first bellowed
Justly with the cries of him
Who sculpted it with his file--

Bellowed with the voice of its victim
In a way that, despite being made entirely of brass,
It still seemed impaled by sorrow.

And so, since there was no path or exit
From their origin within the fire, it was into the fire’s language that
The pathetic words were converted.

But after they had made their journey
Up through the point, giving it that vibration
The tongue had once given with the passage of words,

We heard it say, “O you to whom I direct
My voice, and who was speaking in Lombard,
Saying, ‘Go your way, I am not asking more,’

While I perhaps have joined you somewhat late,
Don’t let it irk you to stay and speak with me.
You see it doesn’t irk me, and I burn!

If now, into this blind world, you
Have fallen from that sweet land
Of Italy from where I bring all my guilt,

Tell me if the Romagnoles are at peace or war,
As I was from the hills there between Urbino
And the pass from which the Tiber pours.”

I was still crouched down and listening
When my leader tapped me on the side and
Said, “You speak. This one is Italian.”

And I, who was already prepared to answer,
Began to speak without hesitation:
“O soul who is hidden down there,

Your Romagna is not, and never was,
Without war in the hearts of its tyrants.
But none was showing itself when I left just now.

Ravenna stands as it has for many years.
The eagle of Polenta broods over it,
And covers Cervia with its pinions.

The land that once endured the long siege
And left the French in a bloody heap,
Again finds itself underneath the green claws.

The Old and Young Mastiff of Verrucchio,
Who treated Montagna with evil,
Sunk their teeth in the way they always do.

The cities along the Lamone and the Santerno
Are ruled by the Young Lion of the White Lair,
Who shifts sides from summer to winter.

And that one whose flank is bathed by the Savio,
As it lies between the plain and the mountain,
So it lives between tyranny and freedom.

Now who are you? I pray you tell us.
Do not be more unyielding than another has been.
Have your name maintain its fame in the world.”

After the fire had roared some
In its manner, it moved its sharp point
From here, from there, and then breathed like so:

If I believed my answer would be
To one who might ever return to the world,
This flame would stand without further movement.

But since never from this depth,
If I have heard the truth, has one returned alive,
I reply without fear of infamy.

I was a man of arms, and then I was a corded friar.
I thought, being so belted, I would make amends.
And indeed, my belief should have come to be

If it had not been for the great priest--may evil take him!--
Who set me back to my earlier sins.
And how and why, I want you to hear from me.

While I was still made of the flesh and bone
My mother gave me, my deeds
Were not of the lion, but of the fox.

The tricks and the covert ways--
I knew them all, and practiced their arts in such a way
That it resounded to the ends of the earth.

When I saw myself reach that part
Of my life when one should
Lower the sails and gather the ropes,

That which I had enjoyed before then grieved me,
And penitent and confessed I gave over.
Oh, woe is me--how I would have been rewarded!

The prince of the new Pharisees,
Making war near the Lateran,
And not with the Saracens nor the Jews.

For all of his enemies were Christian.
None had been at the conquest of Acre,
Nor traded in the land of the Sultan.

Neither the supreme office nor the sacred orders
Did he consider when it came to himself, nor with me that cord
That once made its wearers leaner.

But as Constantine sought out Sylvester
In Soracte to cure his leprosy,
So this one sought out me to be the doctor

To cure his pride’s fever.
He asked for my counsel, and I was silent,
For his words seemed drunken.

And then he again spoke, ‘Do not allow your heart to be suspicious.
I absolve you in advance, so instruct me in
How to drive Palestrina into the ground.

I can lock and unlock Heaven
As you know, for there are two keys
That my predecessor did not value.’

Then his weighty arguments drove me
To where silence seemed the worse advice,
So I said, “Father, since you cleanse me

Of that sin into which I now must fall,
Broad promises briefly honored
Will reap you triumph on your throne.’

Then, when I was dead, Francis came
For me. But one of the black cherubim
Said to him, 'Do not take him; do not cheat me.

He must come down among my minions
Because he counseled fraud.
From then till now I have been by his scalp's fringe.

One who does not repent cannot be absolved.
Nor can one decide to do something and repent at the same time.
The contradiction is not permitted.’

O wretched me! How I shuddered
When I was taken. He said to me, “Perhaps
It did not occur to you that I was a logician!”

He carried me off to Minos. That one coiled
His tail eight times around his scaly back,
And after biting it in a great rage,

He said, ‘This is one of the wicked of the thieves’ fire.’
As such, I am lost where you see me,
And so draped, I walk in bitterness.”

When he had finished his words,
The sorrowful flame left,
The pointed horn twisting and writhing.

We passed onward, my leader and I,
Over through the ridge to the next arch,
Which spanned the ditch where the price is paid

By those who earned imprisonment by sowing discord.

Continue to Song XXVIII

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