Monday, July 1, 2013

Inferno, Song XXXI

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. After them are the falsifiers, whose numbers include the alchemists, impersonators, counterfeiters, and false witnesses.


The very same tongue first stung me,
Flushing my cheeks,
That then provided remedy,

Just as I have heard that the lance
Of Achilles and his father brought to bear
First pain and then healing.

We turned our back on that miserable valley,
And up through the circling bank,
We crossed over without speaking.

Here it was less than night and less than day,
And I could not see very far ahead,
But I heard a horn sounding

So loud that any thunder would seem distant.
I tried to figure where it came from,
And my eyes were prompted to one place and one place only.

Even after the devastating rout, when
Charlemagne lost the holy army,
Roland’s horn blast was not as terrible.

I had not kept my head turned that way for long
When I saw what appeared to be many high towers.
And I said, "Master, tell me, what city is this?"

He said to me, "It is because you scan
The dark from too far away
That you arrive at such flights of imagination.

You shall well see, if you reach there,
How much the sense is deceived by distance.
Therefore, push yourself onward somewhat harder."

He then kindly took me by the hand
And said, "Before we go further,
So that the reality shall prove less strange,

Know that they are not towers, but giants.
They are in the pit round its banks,
All of them held from the navel down."

It was like when the fog clears:
One’s sight little by little makes out
That which the mist in the air hides.

So, as I cut through the thick and dark air,
Coming nearer and nearer towards the bank,
Error fled, and fear grew within me.

So, just as the circling walls around
Montereggione is crowned with towers,
The bank’s walls were also circling the pit.

Towering with their bodies half above and half below were
Horrible giants, who are threatened
Still by Jove when he thunders from the heavens.

And with one of them, I had already discerned the face,
The shoulders, the breast, and a great part of the belly,
As well as the arms down along his sides.

Certainly Nature, when she left behind the art
Of making such creatures, did quite well
In keeping these agents from Mars.

And if of elephants and whales she
Does not repent, one who looks thoughtfully
Will view her as more just and prudent for it.

For where the devices of the mind
Are joined to evil will and to power,
People cannot defend themselves against it.

To me his face appeared to be as long and as large
As the pinecone of St. Peter’s in Rome,
And his other bones had the same proportions,

So that the bank, which was an apron to him
From the midsection down, still showed so much
Above that coming up to his hair was something

That three Frieslanders would have boasted of in vain.
For I saw thirty hand spans of him
Above where a man buckles his cloak.

"Raphèl maì amècche zabì almi,"
The beastly mouth began crying.
He was one for whom no sweeter psalms were fit.

My Leader said to him, "Foolish soul,
Stick to your horn, and vent yourself with that
When rage or other passions take you!"

Search around your neck, and you will find the cord
That keeps it tied, O confused soul.
See how it lies on your great chest."

He then said to me, "He accuses himself.
This is Nimrod. It is because of his evil that
The world does not use just one language.

Let us leave him and not speak in vain.
For every language is to him
As his is to others, and that is known to none."

We then made our way further along,
Turning left, and a shot from a crossbow away
We found another even more savage and huge.

The master who bound him so
I cannot say, but he had pinned
In front of him his right arm and the other behind

With a chain that held him fast
From the neck down, so that on the uncovered part of him
It was wound five coils round.

"This haughty spirit chose to test
His strength against supreme Jove,"
My leader said, “and he is thus rewarded.

His name is Ephialtes, and he made the great challenge
When the giants brought fear to the gods.
He will never again raise the arms with which he led."

I said to him, “If it is possible, I would like
If, with the immense Briareus,
I might experience the sight with my own eyes.”

And he responded, "You shall see Antaeus
Near here. He speaks and is not chained,
And he will set us down at the lowest level of all guilt.

He whom you wish to see is much farther out,
And he is bound and set like this one.
The difference is he appears much fiercer."

A powerful earthquake never
Shook a tower more furiously
Than Ephialtes suddenly shook himself.

At that moment I was never more afraid of dying,
And I would not have needed more than that terror
If I had not seen his chains.

We then went on farther ahead
And came to Antaeus--a good five ells
He stood above the rock, not counting his head.

"O you--who in the fateful valley
Where Scipio was made glory’s heir
When Hannibal and his men turned tail,

Did once take a thousand lions for prey,
And who, if you had been at the great war
With your brothers, it seems one can still believe

That the sons of the earth would have been conquered--
Do not be disdainful, and set us down below,
Where the cold holds Cocytus.

Do not make us go to Tityos or Typhon.
This one can give you that which is desired here.
Therefore bend down, and do not turn up your nose.

He can still give back your fame to the world,
As he lives, and expects to live long still
If Grace does not call him early to itself."

So my master said, and the other hastily
Reached out his hands and took hold of my leader--the hands
Whose great grip had once been felt by Hercules.

Virgil, when he felt himself being taken,
Said to me, "Come here, so that I may take you."
He then made one bundle of himself and me.

The way Garisenda seems to appear
Under the leaning side when a cloud goes by
Over it opposite the hanging side,

That was how Antaeus appeared to me as I stood watching
To see him bend. And it was such a moment
That I would have wished to go by another road.

But gently upon the bottom that has swallowed up
Lucifer and Judas, there he set us down.
He did not stay bent like that.

He raised himself up like a mast on a ship.

Continue to Song XXXII.

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