The Divine Comedy: Hell, by Dante Alighieri

Canto XIV

SOON as the charity of native land

Wrought in my bosom, I the scatter’d leaves

Collected, and to him restor’d, who now

Was hoarse with utt’rance.  To the limit thence

We came, which from the third the second round

Divides, and where of justice is display’d

Contrivance horrible.  Things then first seen

Clearlier to manifest, I tell how next

A plain we reach’d, that from its sterile bed

Each plant repell’d. The mournful wood waves round

Its garland on all sides, as round the wood

Spreads the sad foss.  There, on the very edge,

Our steps we stay’d.  It was an area wide

Of arid sand and thick, resembling most

The soil that erst by Cato’s foot was trod.

Vengeance of Heav’n! Oh! how shouldst thou be fear’d

By all, who read what here my eyes beheld!

Of naked spirits many a flock I saw,

All weeping piteously, to different laws

Subjected:  for on the’ earth some lay supine,

Some crouching close were seated, others pac’d

Incessantly around; the latter tribe,

More numerous, those fewer who beneath

The torment lay, but louder in their grief.

O’er all the sand fell slowly wafting down

Dilated flakes of fire, as flakes of snow

On Alpine summit, when the wind is hush’d.

As in the torrid Indian clime, the son

Of Ammon saw upon his warrior band

Descending, solid flames, that to the ground

Came down:  whence he bethought him with his troop

To trample on the soil; for easier thus

The vapour was extinguish’d, while alone;

So fell the eternal fiery flood, wherewith

The marble glow’d underneath, as under stove

The viands, doubly to augment the pain.

Unceasing was the play of wretched hands,

Now this, now that way glancing, to shake off

The heat, still falling fresh.  I thus began:

“Instructor! thou who all things overcom’st,

Except the hardy demons, that rush’d forth

To stop our entrance at the gate, say who

Is yon huge spirit, that, as seems, heeds not

The burning, but lies writhen in proud scorn,

As by the sultry tempest immatur’d?”

Straight he himself, who was aware I ask’d

My guide of him, exclaim’d:  “Such as I was

When living, dead such now I am.  If Jove

Weary his workman out, from whom in ire

He snatch’d the lightnings, that at my last day

Transfix’d me, if the rest be weary out

At their black smithy labouring by turns

In Mongibello, while he cries aloud;

“Help, help, good Mulciber!” as erst he cried

In the Phlegraean warfare, and the bolts

Launch he full aim’d at me with all his might,

He never should enjoy a sweet revenge.”

Then thus my guide, in accent higher rais’d

Than I before had heard him:  “Capaneus!

Thou art more punish’d, in that this thy pride

Lives yet unquench’d:  no torrent, save thy rage,

Were to thy fury pain proportion’d full.”

Next turning round to me with milder lip

He spake:  “This of the seven kings was one,

Who girt the Theban walls with siege, and held,

As still he seems to hold, God in disdain,

And sets his high omnipotence at nought.

But, as I told him, his despiteful mood

Is ornament well suits the breast that wears it.

Follow me now; and look thou set not yet

Thy foot in the hot sand, but to the wood

Keep ever close.”  Silently on we pass’d

To where there gushes from the forest’s bound

A little brook, whose crimson’d wave yet lifts

My hair with horror.  As the rill, that runs

From Bulicame, to be portion’d out

Among the sinful women; so ran this

Down through the sand, its bottom and each bank

Stone-built, and either margin at its side,

Whereon I straight perceiv’d our passage lay.

“Of all that I have shown thee, since that gate

We enter’d first, whose threshold is to none

Denied, nought else so worthy of regard,

As is this river, has thine eye discern’d,

O’er which the flaming volley all is quench’d.”

So spake my guide; and I him thence besought,

That having giv’n me appetite to know,

The food he too would give, that hunger crav’d.

“In midst of ocean,” forthwith he began,

“A desolate country lies, which Crete is nam’d,

Under whose monarch in old times the world

Liv’d pure and chaste.  A mountain rises there,

Call’d Ida, joyous once with leaves and streams,

Deserted now like a forbidden thing.

It was the spot which Rhea, Saturn’s spouse,

Chose for the secret cradle of her son;

And better to conceal him, drown’d in shouts

His infant cries.  Within the mount, upright

An ancient form there stands and huge, that turns

His shoulders towards Damiata, and at Rome

As in his mirror looks.  Of finest gold

His head is shap’d, pure silver are the breast

And arms; thence to the middle is of brass.

And downward all beneath well-temper’d steel,

Save the right foot of potter’s clay, on which

Than on the other more erect he stands,

Each part except the gold, is rent throughout;

And from the fissure tears distil, which join’d

Penetrate to that cave.  They in their course

Thus far precipitated down the rock

Form Acheron, and Styx, and Phlegethon;

Then by this straiten’d channel passing hence

Beneath, e’en to the lowest depth of all,

Form there Cocytus, of whose lake (thyself

Shall see it) I here give thee no account.”

Then I to him:  “If from our world this sluice

Be thus deriv’d; wherefore to us but now

Appears it at this edge?”  He straight replied:

“The place, thou know’st, is round; and though great part

Thou have already pass’d, still to the left

Descending to the nethermost, not yet

Hast thou the circuit made of the whole orb.

Wherefore if aught of new to us appear,

It needs not bring up wonder in thy looks.”

Then I again inquir’d:  “Where flow the streams

Of Phlegethon and Lethe? for of one

Thou tell’st not, and the other of that shower,

Thou say’st, is form’d.”  He answer thus return’d:

“Doubtless thy questions all well pleas’d I hear.

Yet the red seething wave might have resolv’d

One thou proposest.  Lethe thou shalt see,

But not within this hollow, in the place,

Whither to lave themselves the spirits go,

Whose blame hath been by penitence remov’d.”

He added:  “Time is now we quit the wood.

Look thou my steps pursue:  the margins give

Safe passage, unimpeded by the flames;

For over them all vapour is extinct.”

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