The Divine Comedy: Hell, by Dante Alighieri

Canto XI

UPON the utmost verge of a high bank,

By craggy rocks environ’d round, we came,

Where woes beneath more cruel yet were stow’d:

And here to shun the horrible excess

Of fetid exhalation, upward cast

From the profound abyss, behind the lid

Of a great monument we stood retir’d,

Whereon this scroll I mark’d:  “I have in charge

Pope Anastasius, whom Photinus drew

From the right path. — Ere our descent behooves

We make delay, that somewhat first the sense,

To the dire breath accustom’d, afterward

Regard it not.”  My master thus; to whom

Answering I spake:  “Some compensation find

That the time past not wholly lost.”  He then:

“Lo! how my thoughts e’en to thy wishes tend!

My son! within these rocks,” he thus began,

“Are three close circles in gradation plac’d,

As these which now thou leav’st. Each one is full

Of spirits accurs’d; but that the sight alone

Hereafter may suffice thee, listen how

And for what cause in durance they abide.

“Of all malicious act abhorr’d in heaven,

The end is injury; and all such end

Either by force or fraud works other’s woe

But fraud, because of man peculiar evil,

To God is more displeasing; and beneath

The fraudulent are therefore doom’d to’ endure

Severer pang.  The violent occupy

All the first circle; and because to force

Three persons are obnoxious, in three rounds

Hach within other sep’rate is it fram’d.

To God, his neighbour, and himself, by man

Force may be offer’d; to himself I say

And his possessions, as thou soon shalt hear

At full.  Death, violent death, and painful wounds

Upon his neighbour he inflicts; and wastes

By devastation, pillage, and the flames,

His substance.  Slayers, and each one that smites

In malice, plund’rers, and all robbers, hence

The torment undergo of the first round

In different herds.  Man can do violence

To himself and his own blessings:  and for this

He in the second round must aye deplore

With unavailing penitence his crime,

Whoe’er deprives himself of life and light,

In reckless lavishment his talent wastes,

And sorrows there where he should dwell in joy.

To God may force be offer’d, in the heart

Denying and blaspheming his high power,

And nature with her kindly law contemning.

And thence the inmost round marks with its seal

Sodom and Cahors, and all such as speak

Contemptuously’ of the Godhead in their hearts.

“Fraud, that in every conscience leaves a sting,

May be by man employ’d on one, whose trust

He wins, or on another who withholds

Strict confidence.  Seems as the latter way

Broke but the bond of love which Nature makes.

Whence in the second circle have their nest

Dissimulation, witchcraft, flatteries,

Theft, falsehood, simony, all who seduce

To lust, or set their honesty at pawn,

With such vile scum as these.  The other way

Forgets both Nature’s general love, and that

Which thereto added afterwards gives birth

To special faith.  Whence in the lesser circle,

Point of the universe, dread seat of Dis,

The traitor is eternally consum’d.”

I thus:  “Instructor, clearly thy discourse

Proceeds, distinguishing the hideous chasm

And its inhabitants with skill exact.

But tell me this: they of the dull, fat pool,

Whom the rain beats, or whom the tempest drives,

Or who with tongues so fierce conflicting meet,

Wherefore within the city fire-illum’d

Are not these punish’d, if God’s wrath be on them?

And if it be not, wherefore in such guise

Are they condemned?”  He answer thus return’d:

“Wherefore in dotage wanders thus thy mind,

Not so accustom’d? or what other thoughts

Possess it?  Dwell not in thy memory

The words, wherein thy ethic page describes

Three dispositions adverse to Heav’n’s will,

Incont’nence, malice, and mad brutishness,

And how incontinence the least offends

God, and least guilt incurs?  If well thou note

This judgment, and remember who they are,

Without these walls to vain repentance doom’d,

Thou shalt discern why they apart are plac’d

From these fell spirits, and less wreakful pours

Justice divine on them its vengeance down.”

“O Sun! who healest all imperfect sight,

Thou so content’st me, when thou solv’st my doubt,

That ignorance not less than knowledge charms.

Yet somewhat turn thee back,” I in these words

Continu’d, “where thou saidst, that usury

Offends celestial Goodness; and this knot

Perplex’d unravel.”  He thus made reply:

“Philosophy, to an attentive ear,

Clearly points out, not in one part alone,

How imitative nature takes her course

From the celestial mind and from its art:

And where her laws the Stagyrite unfolds,

Not many leaves scann’d o’er, observing well

Thou shalt discover, that your art on her

Obsequious follows, as the learner treads

In his instructor’s step, so that your art

Deserves the name of second in descent

From God.  These two, if thou recall to mind

Creation’s holy book, from the beginning

Were the right source of life and excellence

To human kind.  But in another path

The usurer walks; and Nature in herself

And in her follower thus he sets at nought,

Placing elsewhere his hope.  But follow now

My steps on forward journey bent; for now

The Pisces play with undulating glance

Along the’ horizon, and the Wain lies all

O’er the north-west; and onward there a space

Is our steep passage down the rocky height.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dante/d19he/canto11.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:53