The Divine Comedy: Hell, by Dante Alighieri

Canto XXVI

FLORENCE exult!  for thou so mightily

Hast thriven, that o’er land and sea thy wings

Thou beatest, and thy name spreads over hell!

Among the plund’rers such the three I found

Thy citizens, whence shame to me thy son,

And no proud honour to thyself redounds.

But if our minds, when dreaming near the dawn,

Are of the truth presageful, thou ere long

Shalt feel what Prato, (not to say the rest)

Would fain might come upon thee; and that chance

Were in good time, if it befell thee now.

Would so it were, since it must needs befall!

For as time wears me, I shall grieve the more.

We from the depth departed; and my guide

Remounting scal’d the flinty steps, which late

We downward trac’d, and drew me up the steep.

Pursuing thus our solitary way

Among the crags and splinters of the rock,

Sped not our feet without the help of hands.

Then sorrow seiz’d me, which e’en now revives,

As my thought turns again to what I saw,

And, more than I am wont, I rein and curb

The powers of nature in me, lest they run

Where Virtue guides not; that if aught of good

My gentle star, or something better gave me,

I envy not myself the precious boon.

As in that season, when the sun least veils

His face that lightens all, what time the fly

Gives way to the shrill gnat, the peasant then

Upon some cliff reclin’d, beneath him sees

Fire-flies innumerous spangling o’er the vale,

Vineyard or tilth, where his day-labour lies:

With flames so numberless throughout its space

Shone the eighth chasm, apparent, when the depth

Was to my view expos’d. As he, whose wrongs

The bears aveng’d, at its departure saw

Elijah’s chariot, when the steeds erect

Rais’d their steep flight for heav’n; his eyes meanwhile,

Straining pursu’d them, till the flame alone

Upsoaring like a misty speck he kenn’d;

E’en thus along the gulf moves every flame,

A sinner so enfolded close in each,

That none exhibits token of the theft.

Upon the bridge I forward bent to look,

And grasp’d a flinty mass, or else had fall’n,

Though push’d not from the height.  The guide, who mark’d

How I did gaze attentive, thus began:

“Within these ardours are the spirits, each

Swath’d in confining fire.” — “Master, thy word,”

I answer’d, “hath assur’d me; yet I deem’d

Already of the truth, already wish’d

To ask thee, who is in yon fire, that comes

So parted at the summit, as it seem’d

Ascending from that funeral pile, where lay

The Theban brothers?”  He replied:  “Within

Ulysses there and Diomede endure

Their penal tortures, thus to vengeance now

Together hasting, as erewhile to wrath.

These in the flame with ceaseless groans deplore

The ambush of the horse, that open’d wide

A portal for that goodly seed to pass,

Which sow’d imperial Rome; nor less the guile

Lament they, whence of her Achilles ’reft

Deidamia yet in death complains.

And there is rued the stratagem, that Troy

Of her Palladium spoil’d.” — “If they have power

Of utt’rance from within these sparks,” said I,

“O master!  think my prayer a thousand fold

In repetition urg’d, that thou vouchsafe

To pause, till here the horned flame arrive.

See, how toward it with desire I bend.”

He thus:  “Thy prayer is worthy of much praise,

And I accept it therefore:  but do thou

Thy tongue refrain:  to question them be mine,

For I divine thy wish:  and they perchance,

For they were Greeks, might shun discourse with thee.”

When there the flame had come, where time and place

Seem’d fitting to my guide, he thus began:

“O ye, who dwell two spirits in one fire!

If living I of you did merit aught,

Whate’er the measure were of that desert,

When in the world my lofty strain I pour’d,

Move ye not on, till one of you unfold

In what clime death o’ertook him self-destroy’d.”

Of the old flame forthwith the greater horn

Began to roll, murmuring, as a fire

That labours with the wind, then to and fro

Wagging the top, as a tongue uttering sounds,

Threw out its voice, and spake:  “When I escap’d

From Circe, who beyond a circling year

Had held me near Caieta, by her charms,

Ere thus Aeneas yet had nam’d the shore,

Nor fondness for my son, nor reverence

Of my old father, nor return of love,

That should have crown’d Penelope with joy,

Could overcome in me the zeal I had

T’ explore the world, and search the ways of life,

Man’s evil and his virtue.  Forth I sail’d

Into the deep illimitable main,

With but one bark, and the small faithful band

That yet cleav’d to me.  As Iberia far,

Far as Morocco either shore I saw,

And the Sardinian and each isle beside

Which round that ocean bathes.  Tardy with age

Were I and my companions, when we came

To the strait pass, where Hercules ordain’d

The bound’ries not to be o’erstepp’d by man.

The walls of Seville to my right I left,

On the’ other hand already Ceuta past.

“O brothers!”  I began, “who to the west

Through perils without number now have reach’d,

To this the short remaining watch, that yet

Our senses have to wake, refuse not proof

Of the unpeopled world, following the track

Of Phoebus. Call to mind from whence we sprang:

Ye were not form’d to live the life of brutes

But virtue to pursue and knowledge high.

With these few words I sharpen’d for the voyage

The mind of my associates, that I then

Could scarcely have withheld them.  To the dawn

Our poop we turn’d, and for the witless flight

Made our oars wings, still gaining on the left.

Each star of the’ other pole night now beheld,

And ours so low, that from the ocean-floor

It rose not.  Five times re-illum’d, as oft

Vanish’d the light from underneath the moon

Since the deep way we enter’d, when from far

Appear’d a mountain dim, loftiest methought

Of all I e’er beheld.  Joy seiz’d us straight,

But soon to mourning changed.  From the new land

A whirlwind sprung, and at her foremost side

Did strike the vessel.  Thrice it whirl’d her round

With all the waves, the fourth time lifted up

The poop, and sank the prow: so fate decreed:

And over us the booming billow clos’d.”

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