The Divine Comedy: Hell, by Dante Alighieri

Canto XXX

WHAT time resentment burn’d in Juno’s breast

For Semele against the Theban blood,

As more than once in dire mischance was rued,

Such fatal frenzy seiz’d on Athamas,

That he his spouse beholding with a babe

Laden on either arm, “Spread out,” he cried,

“The meshes, that I take the lioness

And the young lions at the pass:  “then forth

Stretch’d he his merciless talons, grasping one,

One helpless innocent, Learchus nam’d,

Whom swinging down he dash’d upon a rock,

And with her other burden self-destroy’d

The hapless mother plung’d:  and when the pride

Of all-presuming Troy fell from its height,

By fortune overwhelm’d, and the old king

With his realm perish’d, then did Hecuba,

A wretch forlorn and captive, when she saw

Polyxena first slaughter’d, and her son,

Her Polydorus, on the wild sea-beach

Next met the mourner’s view, then reft of sense

Did she run barking even as a dog;

Such mighty power had grief to wrench her soul.

Bet ne’er the Furies or of Thebes or Troy

With such fell cruelty were seen, their goads

Infixing in the limbs of man or beast,

As now two pale and naked ghost I saw

That gnarling wildly scamper’d, like the swine

Excluded from his stye.  One reach’d Capocchio,

And in the neck-joint sticking deep his fangs,

Dragg’d him, that o’er the solid pavement rubb’d

His belly stretch’d out prone.  The other shape,

He of Arezzo, there left trembling, spake;

“That sprite of air is Schicchi; in like mood

Of random mischief vent he still his spite.”

To whom I answ’ring:  “Oh!  as thou dost hope,

The other may not flesh its jaws on thee,

Be patient to inform us, who it is,

Ere it speed hence.” — “ That is the ancient soul

Of wretched Myrrha,” he replied, “who burn’d

With most unholy flame for her own sire,

And a false shape assuming, so perform’d

The deed of sin; e’en as the other there,

That onward passes, dar’d to counterfeit

Donati’s features, to feign’d testament

The seal affixing, that himself might gain,

For his own share, the lady of the herd.”

When vanish’d the two furious shades, on whom

Mine eye was held, I turn’d it back to view

The other cursed spirits.  One I saw

In fashion like a lute, had but the groin

Been sever’d, where it meets the forked part.

Swoln dropsy, disproportioning the limbs

With ill-converted moisture, that the paunch

Suits not the visage, open’d wide his lips

Gasping as in the hectic man for drought,

One towards the chin, the other upward curl’d.

“O ye, who in this world of misery,

Wherefore I know not, are exempt from pain,”

Thus he began, “attentively regard

Adamo’s woe.  When living, full supply

Ne’er lack’d me of what most I coveted;

One drop of water now, alas!  I crave.

The rills, that glitter down the grassy slopes

Of Casentino, making fresh and soft

The banks whereby they glide to Arno’s stream,

Stand ever in my view; and not in vain;

For more the pictur’d semblance dries me up,

Much more than the disease, which makes the flesh

Desert these shrivel’d cheeks.  So from the place,

Where I transgress’d, stern justice urging me,

Takes means to quicken more my lab’ring sighs.

There is Romena, where I falsified

The metal with the Baptist’s form imprest,

For which on earth I left my body burnt.

But if I here might see the sorrowing soul

Of Guido, Alessandro, or their brother,

For Branda’s limpid spring I would not change

The welcome sight.  One is e’en now within,

If truly the mad spirits tell, that round

Are wand’ring.  But wherein besteads me that?

My limbs are fetter’d.  Were I but so light,

That I each hundred years might move one inch,

I had set forth already on this path,

Seeking him out amidst the shapeless crew,

Although eleven miles it wind, not more

Than half of one across.  They brought me down

Among this tribe; induc’d by them I stamp’d

The florens with three carats of alloy.”

“Who are that abject pair,” I next inquir’d,

“That closely bounding thee upon thy right

Lie smoking, like a band in winter steep’d

In the chill stream?” — “When to this gulf I dropt,”

He answer’d, “here I found them; since that hour

They have not turn’d, nor ever shall, I ween,

Till time hath run his course.  One is that dame

The false accuser of the Hebrew youth;

Sinon the other, that false Greek from Troy.

Sharp fever drains the reeky moistness out,

In such a cloud upsteam’d.”  When that he heard,

One, gall’d perchance to be so darkly nam’d,

With clench’d hand smote him on the braced paunch,

That like a drum resounded:  but forthwith

Adamo smote him on the face, the blow

Returning with his arm, that seem’d as hard.

“Though my o’erweighty limbs have ta’en from me

The power to move,” said he, “I have an arm

At liberty for such employ.”  To whom

Was answer’d:  “When thou wentest to the fire,

Thou hadst it not so ready at command,

Then readier when it coin’d th’ impostor gold.”

And thus the dropsied:  “Ay, now speak’st thou true.

But there thou gav’st not such true testimony,

When thou wast question’d of the truth, at Troy.”

“If I spake false, thou falsely stamp’dst the coin,”

Said Sinon; “I am here but for one fault,

And thou for more than any imp beside.”

“Remember,” he replied, “O perjur’d one,

The horse remember, that did teem with death,

And all the world be witness to thy guilt.”

“To thine,” return’d the Greek, “witness the thirst

Whence thy tongue cracks, witness the fluid mound,

Rear’d by thy belly up before thine eyes,

A mass corrupt.”  To whom the coiner thus:

“Thy mouth gapes wide as ever to let pass

Its evil saying.  Me if thirst assails,

Yet I am stuff’d with moisture.  Thou art parch’d,

Pains rack thy head, no urging would’st thou need

To make thee lap Narcissus’ mirror up.”

I was all fix’d to listen, when my guide

Admonish’d:  “Now beware:  a little more.

And I do quarrel with thee.”  I perceiv’d

How angrily he spake, and towards him turn’d

With shame so poignant, as remember’d yet

Confounds me.  As a man that dreams of harm

Befall’n him, dreaming wishes it a dream,

And that which is, desires as if it were not,

Such then was I, who wanting power to speak

Wish’d to excuse myself, and all the while

Excus’d me, though unweeting that I did.

“More grievous fault than thine has been, less shame,”

My master cried, “might expiate.  Therefore cast

All sorrow from thy soul; and if again

Chance bring thee, where like conference is held,

Think I am ever at thy side.  To hear

Such wrangling is a joy for vulgar minds.”

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