Monday, June 25, 2012

Inferno, Song XXVIII

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, and Guido da Montefeltro, who was damned by his sinister military advice to Pope Boniface VIII.

Virgil and Dante encounter Bertran de Born

Who, even with unrestrained words, could ever
Tell of the blood and wounds of punishment
That I saw--even if it had been described many times before?

Every voice would certainly come up short,
For our speech and memory
Lack the ability to entirely comprehend this.

If all the people gathered again
Who once, in the fateful land
Of Apulia, mourned the shedding of their blood

By those who were the Trojans, and in the long war
That made such a high pile of rings--
As Livy wrote, who does not err--

Along with those who felt the piercing blows
In the struggle with Robert Guiscard,
As well as those whose bones are still heaped

At Ceperano, where treachery defined
Every Pugliese
, and there by Tagliacozzo,
Where old Alardo conquered without weapons.

And if one’s wounded limb and another’s decapitated one
Were shown, it would be nothing like
It is in the foul ninth pit.

A wine barrel that has lost its end and side
Could never gape like that one whom I saw
Torn from the chin to where one farts.
The entrails hung between his legs.
The organs could be seen, as well as the dismal sack
That turns what is swallowed into shit.

While I was staring at him,
He looked at me and pulled his breast open with his hands,
Saying, “Now look at how I rend myself!

See how mangled Mohammed is!
Ali walks crying ahead of me,
His face split from chin to forelock.

And all the others you see here,
Sowers of scandal and schism
They were in life, and therefore are so split open.

Behind here is a devil who cuts us
Most cruelly. The edge of his sword
Is taken to each of our sort

When we have made our round of the woeful path.
For our wounds have again closed up
Before any goes before him again.

But who are you lingering on the ridge?
Perhaps you are putting off going to the punishment
You were sentenced to for your perjuries?

“Death has not yet reached him, nor has guilt brought him
To be tormented,” my master replied.
“But in order to give him the breadth of experience,

I, who am dead, must bring him down here
From circle to circle through Hell.
This is as true as my speaking to you now.

There were more than a hundred who, upon hearing this,
Stopped in the pit to look at me,
Forgetting their torment as they marveled.

“Then tell Fra Dolcino to arm himself,
You who may shortly see the sun,
If he does not want to follow me here soon.

He should do so with food, so winter’s hardship
Does not bring victory to the Novarese.
For otherwise conquest would not be easy.”

His foot was raised to continue onward when
Mohammed said these words to me.
He then extended it to the ground to leave.

Another, whose throat was slit,
His nose cut off just below his eyebrows,
And who had only one ear left,

Stopped to look and marvel
With the others, and standing in front of them, he opened his windpipe,
Leaving it all bloody on the outside.

He said, “O you whom guilt has not condemned,
And whom I saw above in the Italian land--
If too great a similarity does not deceive me--

Remember Pier da Medecina
If you ever return to see the sweet plain
That slopes from Vercelli to Mercabò.

And make it known to the two best men of Fano--
Sir Guido and Angiolello, too--
That, unless our foresight here is for naught,

They shall be thrown from their ship
And drowned near La Cattolica
Through the treachery of an evil tyrant.

From the islands of Cyprus to Majorca,
Neptune never saw so great a crime,
Not from pirates, nor the men of Greece.

That traitor who sees with only one eye
And rules the land this one with me
Would just as soon not seen,

Will bring them to a meeting with him.
And then deal with them so that, when it comes to the wind of Focara,
They will not have need of vow or prayer.”

And I to him: “Show him to me and explain,
If you want me to carry news of you above,
Who is the one to whom the sight was bitter.”

He then placed his hand on the jaw
Of one of his companions and opened the mouth,
Crying, “This is the man, and he does not speak.

This one, exiled, quelled doubts
In Caesar, asserting that one prepared
Always suffers by waiting so.”

Oh, how terrifying he appeared to me,
With his tongue cut out at the throat--
Curio, whose words were so bold!

And one who had both hands cut off,
Lifting the stumps through the murky air
So that the blood befouled his face,

He cried out, “Remember Mosca, too,
Who said, alas, ‘Actions have consequences!,’
Which sowed a terrible seed for the Tuscan people.”

But I stayed to watch the throng,
And I saw something I should fear,
Without more proof, to describe by myself.

However, I am reassured by my conscience,
That good companion that emboldens a man
Beneath the armor of the honesty he feels.

I certainly saw it, and I feel I see it still--
A trunk without a head making its way along with
The others who went with that sad herd.

And it held the decapitated head by the hair,
Swinging from its hand like a lantern.
And it looked at us and said, “Oh, me!”

Of itself it made for itself a lamp,
And they were two in one and one in two.
How it can be, He who commanded it knows.

When this one was directly below the bridge,
It raised the arm holding the head high
In order for its words to be better heard.

Those were: “Now gaze upon my terrible punishment,
You who, breathing, go gazing upon the dead.
See if any other is as great as this.

And so you may carry news of me,
Know that I am Bertran de Born, he
Who gave evil encouragement to the young king.

I set father and son against each other.
Achitophel did not do worse to Absalom
And David with his evil incitements.

Because I parted those joined souls,
I carry my head parted, alas,
From its roots in my trunk.

And so the counterpenalty is seen in me.

Continue to Song XXIX

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