Saturday, August 25, 2012

Inferno, Song XXIX

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, including Odysseus, who tells Virgil of his final voyage, and Guido da Montefeltro, who was damned by his sinister military advice to Pope Boniface VIII. Those who sowed division are next. Among their number are Bertan de Born, Ali, and Mohammed.

Virgil and Dante among the alchemists and counterfeiters

The many people and the various mutilations
Left my eyes so besotted
That they felt compelled to linger and weep.

But Virgil said to me, “What are you still watching?
Why does your gaze still linger
Down there among those sad and maimed shades?

You have not done this at the other pits.
If you are thinking of counting them, consider this:
The valley is twenty-two miles round.

Also, the moon is already underneath our feet.
The time allotted us is now short,
And there are other things to see that you have not seen.”

I then replied, “If you had
Waited for my reason for watching,
Perhaps you would have allowed me to stay longer.”

Meanwhile he went on, and I went behind him--
Him being my lord--at which point I had already made my reply,
Adding, “Inside that cave

Where I just now held my eyes so intently,
I believe a spirit of my own blood weeps over
The guilt that exacts such a price down there.”

My master then said, “Do not be distracted by
Your thoughts of him from this point on.
Attend to other things, as he will remain there.

For I saw him at the foot of the bridge
Pointing at you and threatening forcefully with his finger,
And I heard him called Geri del Bello.

You were so completely captivated at that point
By the one who once ruled Hautefort
That you did not look that way. So he left.”

“O my lord, the violent death,”
I said, “that has not yet been avenged
By any who share his blood, and with it his shame--

This has made him indignant. Because of it, he went on
Without speaking to me, or so I'm guessing.
And in doing so he has made me feel more charitable toward him.”

And so we talked as far as the closest point
Where the next valley may be seen from the ridge--
All the way to the bottom, if there had been more light.

When we were above the final region
Of Malebolge--so that its lay brothers
Could be seen by us--

I was beset upon by strange lamentations.
These arrows were barbed with pity,
And I covered my ears with my hands in response.

This is what the misery would be, such as for the hospitals
Of Valdichiana between July and September,
As well as those of Maremma and Sardinia--the diseased ones

Were all together in one ditch,
Such as it was, and such a stench came from it--
One that only comes from rotting limbs.

We descended to the final bank
Of the long cliff, still holding to the left,
And then my sight became clearer looking

Down to the bottom, where the lady minister
Of the High Lord--unerring Justice--
Punishes the falsifiers whose names she records.

I do not believe a sadder sight
Was all the people sick in Aegina
When the air was so full of malice

That the animals, down to the tiny worm,
All fell dead, and then the ancient people,
As the poets hold firm,

Were restored from the seed of ants,
As it was to see along that dark valley
Spirits languishing in scattered heaps.

One on his belly, and one on the shoulders
Of another--this was how they were laying. And one on all fours
Moved himself along the woeful path.

Step by step we went without speaking,
Watching and listening to the afflicted,
Who could not lift up their bodies.

I saw two sitting propped up against each other,
Like a pan is propped against a pan for heating.
They were pocked with scabs from head to foot.

And I have never seen a currycomb used
By a stableboy whose master waits for him,
Nor one kept awake against one’s will,

Like each continually brought the bite
Of his nails upon himself from the great rage
Of the itching that has no other relief.

And so their nails were pulling off scabs
Like the knife with the scales of a carp
Or other fish that have larger ones.

“O you who scrape off your hide with your fingers,”
My Leader began saying to one of them,
“And sometimes use them as pincers,

Tell us if any Italian is among those
Who are within here, so may your nails serve you
Eternally in your labor.”

“We are Italian, whom you see so disfigured
here--both of us,” one replied while weeping.
“But who are you that enquires of us?”

And my leader said, “I am one who descends
With this living man down through level to level,
And I intend to show him Hell.”

At that their support of each other was broken,
And each one turned to me trembling
Along with others who overheard him.

The good master drew close to me,
Saying, “Speak what you will to them.”
And after turning to them, I began.

So your memory may not fade
From the minds of men in the living world,
But live on under many suns,

Tell me who you are, and of what people.
Your horrid and nauseating punishment
Should not frighten you into not revealing yourself.”

I was from Arezzo, and Alberto of Siena
Put me to death by fire,” one responded.
“But what I died for is not what brings me here.

It is true that I said to him, speaking in jest,
‘I know how to rise through the air in flight.’
And he, being eager and having little sense,

Wanted me to show him the art. And only
Because I did not make him into Daedalus, he had me
Burned by the one who held him as a son.

But to the last bolgia of the ten with
Me, for the alchemy I practiced in the world.
That’s where I was delivered by Minos, who does not err.”

And I said to the poet, “Now was there ever
A people as vain as the Sienese?
Certainly not the French--by far!”

The other leper, upon hearing this,
Responded to my words: “Except for Stricca,
Who knew how to spend in moderation,

And Niccolò--the expensive custom
Of the clove was first discovered by him
In the garden where such seeds take root

And except that group who squandered, such as
Caccia d’Asciano did with his vineyard and his great forest.
It also included the Blunderer, who displayed his wisdom.

But so you know who seconds you
Against the Sienese, focus your eyes upon me,
So that my face answers you well.

You shall then see that I am the shade of Capocchio,
Who counterfeited metals with alchemy.
And you must remember, if I rightly make you out,

How good a mimic I was of nature.”

Continue to Song XXX

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