The Divine Comedy: Hell, by Dante Alighieri

Canto XXI

THUS we from bridge to bridge, with other talk,

The which my drama cares not to rehearse,

Pass’d on; and to the summit reaching, stood

To view another gap, within the round

Of Malebolge, other bootless pangs.

Marvelous darkness shadow’d o’er the place.

In the Venetians’ arsenal as boils

Through wintry months tenacious pitch, to smear

Their unsound vessels; for th’ inclement time

Sea-faring men restrains, and in that while

His bark one builds anew, another stops

The ribs of his, that hath made many a voyage;

One hammers at the prow, one at the poop;

This shapeth oars, that other cables twirls,

The mizen one repairs and main-sail rent

So not by force of fire but art divine

Boil’d here a glutinous thick mass, that round

Lim’d all the shore beneath.  I that beheld,

But therein nought distinguish’d, save the surge,

Rais’d by the boiling, in one mighty swell

Heave, and by turns subsiding and fall.  While there

I fix’d my ken below, “Mark! mark!” my guide

Exclaiming, drew me towards him from the place,

Wherein I stood.  I turn’d myself as one,

Impatient to behold that which beheld

He needs must shun, whom sudden fear unmans,

That he his flight delays not for the view.

Behind me I discern’d a devil black,

That running, up advanc’d along the rock.

Ah! what fierce cruelty his look bespake!

In act how bitter did he seem, with wings

Buoyant outstretch’d and feet of nimblest tread!

His shoulder proudly eminent and sharp

Was with a sinner charg’d; by either haunch

He held him, the foot’s sinew griping fast.

“Ye of our bridge!” he cried, “keen-talon’d fiends!

Lo! one of Santa Zita’s elders!  Him

Whelm ye beneath, while I return for more.

That land hath store of such.  All men are there,

Except Bonturo, barterers: of ’no’

For lucre there an ’aye’ is quickly made.”

Him dashing down, o’er the rough rock he turn’d,

Nor ever after thief a mastiff loos’d

Sped with like eager haste.  That other sank

And forthwith writing to the surface rose.

But those dark demons, shrouded by the bridge,

Cried “Here the hallow’d visage saves not: here

Is other swimming than in Serchio’s wave.

Wherefore if thou desire we rend thee not,

Take heed thou mount not o’er the pitch.”  This said,

They grappled him with more than hundred hooks,

And shouted:  “Cover’d thou must sport thee here;

So, if thou canst, in secret mayst thou filch.”

E’en thus the cook bestirs him, with his grooms,

To thrust the flesh into the caldron down

With flesh-hooks, that it float not on the top.

Me then my guide bespake:  “Lest they descry,

That thou art here, behind a craggy rock

Bend low and screen thee; and whate’er of force

Be offer’d me, or insult, fear thou not:

For I am well advis’d, who have been erst

In the like fray.”  Beyond the bridge’s head

Therewith he pass’d, and reaching the sixth pier,

Behov’d him then a forehead terror-proof.

With storm and fury, as when dogs rush forth

Upon the poor man’s back, who suddenly

From whence he standeth makes his suit; so rush’d

Those from beneath the arch, and against him

Their weapons all they pointed.  He aloud:

“Be none of you outrageous:  ere your time

Dare seize me, come forth from amongst you one,

Who having heard my words, decide he then

If he shall tear these limbs.”  They shouted loud,

“Go, Malacoda!”  Whereat one advanc’d,

The others standing firm, and as he came,

“What may this turn avail him?” he exclaim’d.

“Believ’st thou, Malacoda!  I had come

Thus far from all your skirmishing secure,”

My teacher answered, “without will divine

And destiny propitious?  Pass we then

For so Heaven’s pleasure is, that I should lead

Another through this savage wilderness.”

Forthwith so fell his pride, that he let drop

The instrument of torture at his feet,

And to the rest exclaim’d: “We have no power

To strike him.”  Then to me my guide:  “O thou!

Who on the bridge among the crags dost sit

Low crouching, safely now to me return.”

I rose, and towards him moved with speed:  the fiends

Meantime all forward drew:  me terror seiz’d

Lest they should break the compact they had made.

Thus issuing from Caprona, once I saw

Th’ infantry dreading, lest his covenant

The foe should break; so close he hemm’d them round.

I to my leader’s side adher’d, mine eyes

With fixt and motionless observance bent

On their unkindly visage.  They their hooks

Protruding, one the other thus bespake:

“Wilt thou I touch him on the hip?”  To whom

Was answer’d:  “Even so; nor miss thy aim.”

But he, who was in conf’rence with my guide,

Turn’d rapid round, and thus the demon spake:

“Stay, stay thee, Scarmiglione!”  Then to us

He added:  “Further footing to your step

This rock affords not, shiver’d to the base

Of the sixth arch.  But would you still proceed,

Up by this cavern go:  not distant far,

Another rock will yield you passage safe.

Yesterday, later by five hours than now,

Twelve hundred threescore years and six had fill’d

The circuit of their course, since here the way

Was broken.  Thitherward I straight dispatch

Certain of these my scouts, who shall espy

If any on the surface bask.  With them

Go ye:  for ye shall find them nothing fell.

Come Alichino forth,” with that he cried,

“And Calcabrina, and Cagnazzo thou!

The troop of ten let Barbariccia lead.

With Libicocco Draghinazzo haste,

Fang’d Ciriatto, Grafflacane fierce,

And Farfarello, and mad Rubicant.

Search ye around the bubbling tar.  For these,

In safety lead them, where the other crag

Uninterrupted traverses the dens.”

I then:  “O master! what a sight is there!

Ah! without escort, journey we alone,

Which, if thou know the way, I covet not.

Unless thy prudence fail thee, dost not mark

How they do gnarl upon us, and their scowl

Threatens us present tortures?”  He replied:

“I charge thee fear not:  let them, as they will,

Gnarl on:  ’t is but in token of their spite

Against the souls, who mourn in torment steep’d.”

To leftward o’er the pier they turn’d; but each

Had first between his teeth prest close the tongue,

Toward their leader for a signal looking,

Which he with sound obscene triumphant gave.

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