The Divine Comedy: Hell, by Dante Alighieri

Canto XXV

WHEN he had spoke, the sinner rais’d his hands

Pointed in mockery, and cried:  “Take them, God!

I level them at thee!”  From that day forth

The serpents were my friends; for round his neck

One of then rolling twisted, as it said,

“Be silent, tongue!”  Another to his arms

Upgliding, tied them, riveting itself

So close, it took from them the power to move.

Pistoia!  Ah Pistoia!  why dost doubt

To turn thee into ashes, cumb’ring earth

No longer, since in evil act so far

Thou hast outdone thy seed?  I did not mark,

Through all the gloomy circles of the’ abyss,

Spirit, that swell’d so proudly ’gainst his God,

Not him, who headlong fell from Thebes.  He fled,

Nor utter’d more; and after him there came

A centaur full of fury, shouting, “Where

Where is the caitiff?”  On Maremma’s marsh

Swarm not the serpent tribe, as on his haunch

They swarm’d, to where the human face begins.

Behind his head upon the shoulders lay,

With open wings, a dragon breathing fire

On whomsoe’er he met.  To me my guide:

“Cacus is this, who underneath the rock

Of Aventine spread oft a lake of blood.

He, from his brethren parted, here must tread

A different journey, for his fraudful theft

Of the great herd, that near him stall’d; whence found

His felon deeds their end, beneath the mace

Of stout Alcides, that perchance laid on

A hundred blows, and not the tenth was felt.”

While yet he spake, the centaur sped away:

And under us three spirits came, of whom

Nor I nor he was ware, till they exclaim’d;

“Say who are ye?”  We then brake off discourse,

Intent on these alone.  I knew them not;

But, as it chanceth oft, befell, that one

Had need to name another.  “Where,” said he,

“Doth Cianfa lurk?”  I, for a sign my guide

Should stand attentive, plac’d against my lips

The finger lifted.  If, O reader!  now

Thou be not apt to credit what I tell,

No marvel; for myself do scarce allow

The witness of mine eyes.  But as I looked

Toward them, lo!  a serpent with six feet

Springs forth on one, and fastens full upon him:

His midmost grasp’d the belly, a forefoot

Seiz’d on each arm (while deep in either cheek

He flesh’d his fangs); the hinder on the thighs

Were spread, ’twixt which the tail inserted curl’d

Upon the reins behind.  Ivy ne’er clasp’d

A dodder’d oak, as round the other’s limbs

The hideous monster intertwin’d his own.

Then, as they both had been of burning wax,

Each melted into other, mingling hues,

That which was either now was seen no more.

Thus up the shrinking paper, ere it burns,

A brown tint glides, not turning yet to black,

And the clean white expires.  The other two

Look’d on exclaiming:  “Ah, how dost thou change,

Agnello!  See!  Thou art nor double now,

Nor only one.”  The two heads now became

One, and two figures blended in one form

Appear’d, where both were lost.  Of the four lengths

Two arms were made:  the belly and the chest

The thighs and legs into such members chang’d,

As never eye hath seen.  Of former shape

All trace was vanish’d.  Two yet neither seem’d

That image miscreate, and so pass’d on

With tardy steps.  As underneath the scourge

Of the fierce dog-star, that lays bare the fields,

Shifting from brake to brake, the lizard seems

A flash of lightning, if he thwart the road,

So toward th’ entrails of the other two

Approaching seem’d, an adder all on fire,

As the dark pepper-grain, livid and swart.

In that part, whence our life is nourish’d first,

One he transpierc’d; then down before him fell

Stretch’d out.  The pierced spirit look’d on him

But spake not; yea stood motionless and yawn’d,

As if by sleep or fev’rous fit assail’d.

He ey’d the serpent, and the serpent him.

One from the wound, the other from the mouth

Breath’d a thick smoke, whose vap’ry columns join’d.

Lucan in mute attention now may hear,

Nor thy disastrous fate, Sabellus!  tell,

Nor shine, Nasidius!  Ovid now be mute.

What if in warbling fiction he record

Cadmus and Arethusa, to a snake

Him chang’d, and her into a fountain clear,

I envy not; for never face to face

Two natures thus transmuted did he sing,

Wherein both shapes were ready to assume

The other’s substance.  They in mutual guise

So answer’d, that the serpent split his train

Divided to a fork, and the pierc’d spirit

Drew close his steps together, legs and thighs

Compacted, that no sign of juncture soon

Was visible:  the tail disparted took

The figure which the spirit lost, its skin

Soft’ning, his indurated to a rind.

The shoulders next I mark’d, that ent’ring join’d

The monster’s arm-pits, whose two shorter feet

So lengthen’d, as the other’s dwindling shrunk.

The feet behind then twisting up became

That part that man conceals, which in the wretch

Was cleft in twain.  While both the shadowy smoke

With a new colour veils, and generates

Th’ excrescent pile on one, peeling it off

From th’ other body, lo!  upon his feet

One upright rose, and prone the other fell.

Not yet their glaring and malignant lamps

Were shifted, though each feature chang’d beneath.

Of him who stood erect, the mounting face

Retreated towards the temples, and what there

Superfluous matter came, shot out in ears

From the smooth cheeks, the rest, not backward dragg’d,

Of its excess did shape the nose; and swell’d

Into due size protuberant the lips.

He, on the earth who lay, meanwhile extends

His sharpen’d visage, and draws down the ears

Into the head, as doth the slug his horns.

His tongue continuous before and apt

For utt’rance, severs; and the other’s fork

Closing unites.  That done the smoke was laid.

The soul, transform’d into the brute, glides off,

Hissing along the vale, and after him

The other talking sputters; but soon turn’d

His new-grown shoulders on him, and in few

Thus to another spake:  “Along this path

Crawling, as I have done, speed Buoso now!”

So saw I fluctuate in successive change

Th’ unsteady ballast of the seventh hold:

And here if aught my tongue have swerv’d, events

So strange may be its warrant.  O’er mine eyes

Confusion hung, and on my thoughts amaze.

Yet ’scap’d they not so covertly, but well

I mark’d Sciancato:  he alone it was

Of the three first that came, who chang’d not:  thou,

The other’s fate, Gaville, still dost rue.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dante/d19he/canto25.html

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