The Divine Comedy: Hell, by Dante Alighieri

Canto XX

AND now the verse proceeds to torments new,

Fit argument of this the twentieth strain

Of the first song, whose awful theme records

The spirits whelm’d in woe.  Earnest I look’d

Into the depth, that open’d to my view,

Moisten’d with tears of anguish, and beheld

A tribe, that came along the hollow vale,

In silence weeping:  such their step as walk

Quires chanting solemn litanies on earth.

As on them more direct mine eye descends,

Each wondrously seem’d to be revers’d

At the neck-bone, so that the countenance

Was from the reins averted:  and because

None might before him look, they were compell’d

To’ advance with backward gait.  Thus one perhaps

Hath been by force of palsy clean transpos’d,

But I ne’er saw it nor believe it so.

Now, reader! think within thyself, so God

Fruit of thy reading give thee! how I long

Could keep my visage dry, when I beheld

Near me our form distorted in such guise,

That on the hinder parts fall’n from the face

The tears down-streaming roll’d.  Against a rock

I leant and wept, so that my guide exclaim’d:

“What, and art thou too witless as the rest?

Here pity most doth show herself alive,

When she is dead.  What guilt exceedeth his,

Who with Heaven’s judgment in his passion strives?

Raise up thy head, raise up, and see the man,

Before whose eyes earth gap’d in Thebes, when all

Cried out, ‘Amphiaraus, whither rushest?

‘Why leavest thou the war?’  He not the less

Fell ruining far as to Minos down,

Whose grapple none eludes.  Lo! how he makes

The breast his shoulders, and who once too far

Before him wish’d to see, now backward looks,

And treads reverse his path.  Tiresias note,

Who semblance chang’d, when woman he became

Of male, through every limb transform’d, and then

Once more behov’d him with his rod to strike

The two entwining serpents, ere the plumes,

That mark’d the better sex, might shoot again.

“Aruns, with rere his belly facing, comes.

On Luni’s mountains ’midst the marbles white,

Where delves Carrara’s hind, who wons beneath,

A cavern was his dwelling, whence the stars

And main-sea wide in boundless view he held.

“The next, whose loosen’d tresses overspread

Her bosom, which thou seest not (for each hair

On that side grows) was Manto, she who search’d

Through many regions, and at length her seat

Fix’d in my native land, whence a short space

My words detain thy audience.  When her sire

From life departed, and in servitude

The city dedicate to Bacchus mourn’d,

Long time she went a wand’rer through the world.

Aloft in Italy’s delightful land

A lake there lies, at foot of that proud Alp,

That o’er the Tyrol locks Germania in,

Its name Benacus, which a thousand rills,

Methinks, and more, water between the vale

Camonica and Garda and the height

Of Apennine remote.  There is a spot

At midway of that lake, where he who bears

Of Trento’s flock the past’ral staff, with him

Of Brescia, and the Veronese, might each

Passing that way his benediction give.

A garrison of goodly site and strong

Peschiera stands, to awe with front oppos’d

The Bergamese and Brescian, whence the shore

More slope each way descends.  There, whatsoev’er

Benacus’ bosom holds not, tumbling o’er

Down falls, and winds a river flood beneath

Through the green pastures.  Soon as in his course

The steam makes head, Benacus then no more

They call the name, but Mincius, till at last

Reaching Governo into Po he falls.

Not far his course hath run, when a wide flat

It finds, which overstretchmg as a marsh

It covers, pestilent in summer oft.

Hence journeying, the savage maiden saw

’Midst of the fen a territory waste

And naked of inhabitants.  To shun

All human converse, here she with her slaves

Plying her arts remain’d, and liv’d, and left

Her body tenantless.  Thenceforth the tribes,

Who round were scatter’d, gath’ring to that place

Assembled; for its strength was great, enclos’d

On all parts by the fen.  On those dead bones

They rear’d themselves a city, for her sake,

Calling it Mantua, who first chose the spot,

Nor ask’d another omen for the name,

Wherein more numerous the people dwelt,

Ere Casalodi’s madness by deceit

Was wrong’d of Pinamonte.  If thou hear

Henceforth another origin assign’d

Of that my country, I forewarn thee now,

That falsehood none beguile thee of the truth.”

I answer’d:  “Teacher, I conclude thy words

So certain, that all else shall be to me

As embers lacking life.  But now of these,

Who here proceed, instruct me, if thou see

Any that merit more especial note.

For thereon is my mind alone intent.”

He straight replied:  “That spirit, from whose cheek

The beard sweeps o’er his shoulders brown, what time

Graecia was emptied of her males, that scarce

The cradles were supplied, the seer was he

In Aulis, who with Calchas gave the sign

When first to cut the cable.  Him they nam’d

Eurypilus:  so sings my tragic strain,

In which majestic measure well thou know’st,

Who know’st it all.  That other, round the loins

So slender of his shape, was Michael Scot,

Practis’d in ev’ry slight of magic wile.

“Guido Bonatti see:   Asdente mark,

Who now were willing, he had tended still

The thread and cordwain; and too late repents.

“See next the wretches, who the needle left,

The shuttle and the spindle, and became

Diviners:  baneful witcheries they wrought

With images and herbs.  But onward now:

For now doth Cain with fork of thorns confine

On either hemisphere, touching the wave

Beneath the towers of Seville.  Yesternight

The moon was round.  Thou mayst remember well:

For she good service did thee in the gloom

Of the deep wood.”  This said, both onward mov’d.

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