The Divine Comedy: Hell, by Dante Alighieri

Canto XXIV

IN the year’s early nonage, when the sun

Tempers his tresses in Aquarius’ urn,

And now towards equal day the nights recede,

When as the rime upon the earth puts on

Her dazzling sister’s image, but not long

Her milder sway endures, then riseth up

The village hind, whom fails his wintry store,

And looking out beholds the plain around

All whiten’d, whence impatiently he smites

His thighs, and to his hut returning in,

There paces to and fro, wailing his lot,

As a discomfited and helpless man;

Then comes he forth again, and feels new hope

Spring in his bosom, finding e’en thus soon

The world hath chang’d its count’nance, grasps his crook,

And forth to pasture drives his little flock:

So me my guide dishearten’d when I saw

His troubled forehead, and so speedily

That ill was cur’d; for at the fallen bridge

Arriving, towards me with a look as sweet,

He turn’d him back, as that I first beheld

At the steep mountain’s foot.  Regarding well

The ruin, and some counsel first maintain’d

With his own thought, he open’d wide his arm

And took me up.  As one, who, while he works,

Computes his labour’s issue, that he seems

Still to foresee the’ effect, so lifting me

Up to the summit of one peak, he fix’d

His eye upon another.  “Grapple that,”

Said he, “but first make proof, if it be such

As will sustain thee.”  For one capp’d with lead

This were no journey.  Scarcely he, though light,

And I, though onward push’d from crag to crag,

Could mount.  And if the precinct of this coast

Were not less ample than the last, for him

I know not, but my strength had surely fail’d.

But Malebolge all toward the mouth

Inclining of the nethermost abyss,

The site of every valley hence requires,

That one side upward slope, the other fall.

At length the point of our descent we reach’d

From the last flag: soon as to that arriv’d,

So was the breath exhausted from my lungs,

I could no further, but did seat me there.

“Now needs thy best of man;” so spake my guide:

“For not on downy plumes, nor under shade

Of canopy reposing, fame is won,

Without which whosoe’er consumes his days

Leaveth such vestige of himself on earth,

As smoke in air or foam upon the wave.

Thou therefore rise:  vanish thy weariness

By the mind’s effort, in each struggle form’d

To vanquish, if she suffer not the weight

Of her corporeal frame to crush her down.

A longer ladder yet remains to scale.

From these to have escap’d sufficeth not.

If well thou note me, profit by my words.”

I straightway rose, and show’d myself less spent

Than I in truth did feel me.  “On,” I cried,

“For I am stout and fearless.”  Up the rock

Our way we held, more rugged than before,

Narrower and steeper far to climb.  From talk

I ceas’d not, as we journey’d, so to seem

Least faint; whereat a voice from the other foss

Did issue forth, for utt’rance suited ill.

Though on the arch that crosses there I stood,

What were the words I knew not, but who spake

Seem’d mov’d in anger.  Down I stoop’d to look,

But my quick eye might reach not to the depth

For shrouding darkness; wherefore thus I spake:

“To the next circle, Teacher, bend thy steps,

And from the wall dismount we; for as hence

I hear and understand not, so I see

Beneath, and naught discern.” — “I answer not,”

Said he, “but by the deed.  To fair request

Silent performance maketh best return.”

We from the bridge’s head descended, where

To the eighth mound it joins, and then the chasm

Opening to view, I saw a crowd within

Of serpents terrible, so strange of shape

And hideous, that remembrance in my veins

Yet shrinks the vital current.  Of her sands

Let Lybia vaunt no more:  if Jaculus,

Pareas and Chelyder be her brood,

Cenchris and Amphisboena, plagues so dire

Or in such numbers swarming ne’er she shew’d,

Not with all Ethiopia, and whate’er

Above the Erythraean sea is spawn’d.

Amid this dread exuberance of woe

Ran naked spirits wing’d with horrid fear,

Nor hope had they of crevice where to hide,

Or heliotrope to charm them out of view.

With serpents were their hands behind them bound,

Which through their reins infix’d the tail and head

Twisted in folds before.  And lo!  on one

Near to our side, darted an adder up,

And, where the neck is on the shoulders tied,

Transpierc’d him.  Far more quickly than e’er pen

Wrote O or I, he kindled, burn’d, and chang’d

To ashes, all pour’d out upon the earth.

When there dissolv’d he lay, the dust again

Uproll’d spontaneous, and the self-same form

Instant resumed.  So mighty sages tell,

The’ Arabian Phoenix, when five hundred years

Have well nigh circled, dies, and springs forthwith

Renascent.  Blade nor herb throughout his life

He tastes, but tears of frankincense alone

And odorous amomum:  swaths of nard

And myrrh his funeral shroud.  As one that falls,

He knows not how, by force demoniac dragg’d

To earth, or through obstruction fettering up

In chains invisible the powers of man,

Who, risen from his trance, gazeth around,

Bewilder’d with the monstrous agony

He hath endur’d, and wildly staring sighs;

So stood aghast the sinner when he rose.

Oh!  how severe God’s judgment, that deals out

Such blows in stormy vengeance!  Who he was

My teacher next inquir’d, and thus in few

He answer’d:  “Vanni Fucci am I call’d,

Not long since rained down from Tuscany

To this dire gullet.  Me the beastial life

And not the human pleas’d, mule that I was,

Who in Pistoia found my worthy den.”

I then to Virgil:  “Bid him stir not hence,

And ask what crime did thrust him hither:  once

A man I knew him choleric and bloody.”

The sinner heard and feign’d not, but towards me

His mind directing and his face, wherein

Was dismal shame depictur’d, thus he spake:

“It grieves me more to have been caught by thee

In this sad plight, which thou beholdest, than

When I was taken from the other life.

I have no power permitted to deny

What thou inquirest.”  I am doom’d thus low

To dwell, for that the sacristy by me

Was rifled of its goodly ornaments,

And with the guilt another falsely charged.

But that thou mayst not joy to see me thus,

So as thou e’er shalt ’scape this darksome realm

Open thine ears and hear what I forebode.

Reft of the Neri first Pistoia pines,

Then Florence changeth citizens and laws.

From Valdimagra, drawn by wrathful Mars,

A vapour rises, wrapt in turbid mists,

And sharp and eager driveth on the storm

With arrowy hurtling o’er Piceno’s field,

Whence suddenly the cloud shall burst, and strike

Each helpless Bianco prostrate to the ground.

This have I told, that grief may rend thy heart.”

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