The Divine Comedy: Hell, by Dante Alighieri

Canto XXXI

THE very tongue, whose keen reproof before

Had wounded me, that either cheek was stain’d,

Now minister’d my cure.  So have I heard,

Achilles and his father’s javelin caus’d

Pain first, and then the boon of health restor’d.

Turning our back upon the vale of woe,

W cross’d th’ encircled mound in silence.  There

Was twilight dim, that far long the gloom

Mine eye advanc’d not:  but I heard a horn

Sounded aloud. The peal it blew had made

The thunder feeble.  Following its course

The adverse way, my strained eyes were bent

On that one spot.  So terrible a blast

Orlando blew not, when that dismal rout

O’erthrew the host of Charlemagne, and quench’d

His saintly warfare.  Thitherward not long

My head was rais’d, when many lofty towers

Methought I spied.  “Master,” said I, “what land

Is this?”  He answer’d straight:  “Too long a space

Of intervening darkness has thine eye

To traverse:  thou hast therefore widely err’d

In thy imagining.  Thither arriv’d

Thou well shalt see, how distance can delude

The sense.  A little therefore urge thee on.”

Then tenderly he caught me by the hand;

“Yet know,” said he, “ere farther we advance,

That it less strange may seem, these are not towers,

But giants.  In the pit they stand immers’d,

Each from his navel downward, round the bank.”

As when a fog disperseth gradually,

Our vision traces what the mist involves

Condens’d in air; so piercing through the gross

And gloomy atmosphere, as more and more

We near’d toward the brink, mine error fled,

And fear came o’er me.  As with circling round

Of turrets, Montereggion crowns his walls,

E’en thus the shore, encompassing th’ abyss,

Was turreted with giants, half their length

Uprearing, horrible, whom Jove from heav’n

Yet threatens, when his mutt’ring thunder rolls.

Of one already I descried the face,

Shoulders, and breast, and of the belly huge

Great part, and both arms down along his ribs.

All-teeming nature, when her plastic hand

Left framing of these monsters, did display

Past doubt her wisdom, taking from mad War

Such slaves to do his bidding; and if she

Repent her not of th’ elephant and whale,

Who ponders well confesses her therein

Wiser and more discreet; for when brute force

And evil will are back’d with subtlety,

Resistance none avails.  His visage seem’d

In length and bulk, as doth the pine, that tops

Saint Peter’s Roman fane; and th’ other bones

Of like proportion, so that from above

The bank, which girdled him below, such height

Arose his stature, that three Friezelanders

Had striv’n in vain to reach but to his hair.

Full thirty ample palms was he expos’d

Downward from whence a man his garments loops.

“Raphel bai ameth sabi almi,”

So shouted his fierce lips, which sweeter hymns

Became not; and my guide address’d him thus:

“O senseless spirit!  let thy horn for thee

Interpret:  therewith vent thy rage, if rage

Or other passion wring thee.  Search thy neck,

There shalt thou find the belt that binds it on.

Wild spirit!  lo, upon thy mighty breast

Where hangs the baldrick!”  Then to me he spake:

“He doth accuse himself.  Nimrod is this,

Through whose ill counsel in the world no more

One tongue prevails.  But pass we on, nor waste

Our words; for so each language is to him,

As his to others, understood by none.”

Then to the leftward turning sped we forth,

And at a sling’s throw found another shade

Far fiercer and more huge.  I cannot say

What master hand had girt him; but he held

Behind the right arm fetter’d, and before

The other with a chain, that fasten’d him

From the neck down, and five times round his form

Apparent met the wreathed links.  “This proud one

Would of his strength against almighty Jove

Make trial,” said my guide; “whence he is thus

Requited: Ephialtes him they call.

Great was his prowess, when the giants brought

Fear on the gods:  those arms, which then he piled,

Now moves he never.”  Forthwith I return’d:

“Fain would I, if ’t were possible, mine eyes

Of Briareus immeasurable gain’d

Experience next.”  He answer’d: “Thou shalt see

Not far from hence Antaeus, who both speaks

And is unfetter’d, who shall place us there

Where guilt is at its depth.  Far onward stands

Whom thou wouldst fain behold, in chains, and made

Like to this spirit, save that in his looks

More fell he seems.”  By violent earthquake rock’d

Ne’er shook a tow’r, so reeling to its base,

As Ephialtes.  More than ever then

I dreaded death, nor than the terror more

Had needed, if I had not seen the cords

That held him fast.  We, straightway journeying on,

Came to Antaeus, who five ells complete

Without the head, forth issued from the cave.

“O thou, who in the fortunate vale, that made

Great Scipio heir of glory, when his sword

Drove back the troop of Hannibal in flight,

Who thence of old didst carry for thy spoil

An hundred lions; and if thou hadst fought

In the high conflict on thy brethren’s side,

Seems as men yet believ’d, that through thine arm

The sons of earth had conquer’d, now vouchsafe

To place us down beneath, where numbing cold

Locks up Cocytus.  Force not that we crave

Or Tityus’ help or Typhon’s.  Here is one

Can give what in this realm ye covet.  Stoop

Therefore, nor scornfully distort thy lip.

He in the upper world can yet bestow

Renown on thee, for he doth live, and looks

For life yet longer, if before the time

Grace call him not unto herself.”  Thus spake

The teacher.  He in haste forth stretch’d his hands,

And caught my guide.  Alcides whilom felt

That grapple straighten’d score.  Soon as my guide

Had felt it, he bespake me thus:  “This way

That I may clasp thee;” then so caught me up,

That we were both one burden.  As appears

The tower of Carisenda, from beneath

Where it doth lean, if chance a passing cloud

So sail across, that opposite it hangs,

Such then Antaeus seem’d, as at mine ease

I mark’d him stooping.  I were fain at times

T’ have pass’d another way.  Yet in th’ abyss,

That Lucifer with Judas low ingulfs,

I,ightly he plac’d us; nor there leaning stay’d,

But rose as in a bark the stately mast.

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