The Divine Comedy: Hell, by Dante Alighieri

Canto XXVIII

WHO, e’en in words unfetter’d, might at full

Tell of the wounds and blood that now I saw,

Though he repeated oft the tale? No tongue

So vast a theme could equal, speech and thought

Both impotent alike.  If in one band

Collected, stood the people all, who e’er

Pour’d on Apulia’s happy soil their blood,

Slain by the Trojans, and in that long war

When of the rings the measur’d booty made

A pile so high, as Rome’s historian writes

Who errs not, with the multitude, that felt

The grinding force of Guiscard’s Norman steel,

And those the rest, whose bones are gather’d yet

At Ceperano, there where treachery

Branded th’ Apulian name, or where beyond

Thy walls, O Tagliacozzo, without arms

The old Alardo conquer’d; and his limbs

One were to show transpierc’d, another his

Clean lopt away; a spectacle like this

Were but a thing of nought, to the’ hideous sight

Of the ninth chasm.  A rundlet, that hath lost

Its middle or side stave, gapes not so wide,

As one I mark’d, torn from the chin throughout

Down to the hinder passage: ’twixt the legs

Dangling his entrails hung, the midriff lay

Open to view, and wretched ventricle,

That turns th’ englutted aliment to dross.

Whilst eagerly I fix on him my gaze,

He ey’d me, with his hands laid his breast bare,

And cried;  “Now mark how I do rip me!  lo!

How is Mohammed mangled!  before me

Walks Ali weeping, from the chin his face

Cleft to the forelock; and the others all

Whom here thou seest, while they liv’d, did sow

Scandal and schism, and therefore thus are rent.

A fiend is here behind, who with his sword

Hacks us thus cruelly, slivering again

Each of this ream, when we have compast round

The dismal way, for first our gashes close

Ere we repass before him.  But say who

Art thou, that standest musing on the rock,

Haply so lingering to delay the pain

Sentenc’d upon thy crimes?” — “Him death not yet,”

My guide rejoin’d, “hath overta’en, nor sin

Conducts to torment; but, that he may make

Full trial of your state, I who am dead

Must through the depths of hell, from orb to orb,

Conduct him.  Trust my words, for they are true.”

More than a hundred spirits, when that they heard,

Stood in the foss to mark me, through amazed,

Forgetful of their pangs.  “Thou, who perchance

Shalt shortly view the sun, this warning thou

Bear to Dolcino:  bid him, if he wish not

Here soon to follow me, that with good store

Of food he arm him, lest impris’ning snows

Yield him a victim to Novara’s power,

No easy conquest else.”  With foot uprais’d

For stepping, spake Mohammed, on the ground

Then fix’d it to depart.  Another shade,

Pierc’d in the throat, his nostrils mutilate

E’en from beneath the eyebrows, and one ear

Lopt off, who with the rest through wonder stood

Gazing, before the rest advanc’d, and bar’d

His wind-pipe, that without was all o’ersmear’d

With crimson stain.  “O thou!” said ’he, “whom sin

Condemns not, and whom erst (unless too near

Resemblance do deceive me) I aloft

Have seen on Latian ground, call thou to mind

Piero of Medicina, if again

Returning, thou behold’st the pleasant land

That from Vercelli slopes to Mercabo;

And there instruct the twain, whom Fano boasts

Her worthiest sons, Guido and Angelo,

That if ’t is giv’n us here to scan aright

The future, they out of life’s tenement

Shall be cast forth, and whelm’d under the waves

Near to Cattolica, through perfidy

Of a fell tyrant.  ’Twixt the Cyprian isle

And Balearic, ne’er hath Neptune seen

An injury so foul, by pirates done

Or Argive crew of old.  That one-ey’d traitor

(Whose realm there is a spirit here were fain

His eye had still lack’d sight of) them shall bring

To conf’rence with him, then so shape his end,

That they shall need not ’gainst Focara’s wind

Offer up vow nor pray’r.”  I answering thus:

“Declare, as thou dost wish that I above

May carry tidings of thee, who is he,

In whom that sight doth wake such sad remembrance?”

Forthwith he laid his hand on the cheek-bone

Of one, his fellow-spirit, and his jaws

Expanding, cried:  “Lo! this is he I wot of;

He speaks not for himself:  the outcast this

Who overwhelm’d the doubt in Caesar’s mind,

Affirming that delay to men prepar’d

Was ever harmful.  “Oh  how terrified

Methought was Curio, from whose throat was cut

The tongue, which spake that hardy word.  Then one

Maim’d of each hand, uplifted in the gloom

The bleeding stumps, that they with gory spots

Sullied his face, and cried: “Remember thee

Of Mosca, too, I who, alas!  exclaim’d,

‘The deed once done there is an end,’ that prov’d

A seed of sorrow to the Tuscan race.”

I added:  “Ay, and death to thine own tribe.”

Whence heaping woe on woe he hurried off,

As one grief stung to madness.  But I there

Still linger’d to behold the troop, and saw

Things, such as I may fear without more proof

To tell of, but that conscience makes me firm,

The boon companion, who her strong breast-plate

Buckles on him, that feels no guilt within

And bids him on and fear not.  Without doubt

I saw, and yet it seems to pass before me,

A headless trunk, that even as the rest

Of the sad flock pac’d onward.  By the hair

It bore the sever’d member, lantern-wise

Pendent in hand, which look’d at us and said,

“Woe’s me!”  The spirit lighted thus himself,

And two there were in one, and one in two.

How that may be he knows who ordereth so.

When at the bridge’s foot direct he stood,

His arm aloft he rear’d, thrusting the head

Full in our view, that nearer we might hear

The words, which thus it utter’d:  “Now behold

This grievous torment, thou, who breathing go’st

To spy the dead; behold if any else

Be terrible as this.  And that on earth

Thou mayst bear tidings of me, know that I

Am Bertrand, he of Born, who gave King John

The counsel mischievous.  Father and son

I set at mutual war.  For Absalom

And David more did not Ahitophel,

Spurring them on maliciously to strife.

For parting those so closely knit, my brain

Parted, alas!  I carry from its source,

That in this trunk inhabits.  Thus the law

Of retribution fiercely works in me.”

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