The Divine Comedy: Hell, by Dante Alighieri

Canto XXXIII

HIS jaws uplifting from their fell repast,

That sinner wip’d them on the hairs o’ th’ head,

Which he behind had mangled, then began:

“Thy will obeying, I call up afresh

Sorrow past cure, which but to think of wrings

My heart, or ere I tell on’t. But if words,

That I may utter, shall prove seed to bear

Fruit of eternal infamy to him,

The traitor whom I gnaw at, thou at once

Shalt see me speak and weep.  Who thou mayst be

I know not, nor how here below art come:

But Florentine thou seemest of a truth,

When I do hear thee.  Know I was on earth

Count Ugolino, and th’ Archbishop he

Ruggieri.  Why I neighbour him so close,

Now list.  That through effect of his ill thoughts

In him my trust reposing, I was ta’en

And after murder’d, need is not I tell.

What therefore thou canst not have heard, that is,

How cruel was the murder, shalt thou hear,

And know if he have wrong’d me.  A small grate

Within that mew, which for my sake the name

Of famine bears, where others yet must pine,

Already through its opening sev’ral moons

Had shown me, when I slept the evil sleep,

That from the future tore the curtain off.

This one, methought, as master of the sport,

Rode forth to chase the gaunt wolf and his whelps

Unto the mountain, which forbids the sight

Of Lucca to the Pisan.  With lean brachs

Inquisitive and keen, before him rang’d

Lanfranchi with Sismondi and Gualandi.

After short course the father and the sons

Seem’d tir’d and lagging, and methought I saw

The sharp tusks gore their sides.  When I awoke

Before the dawn, amid their sleep I heard

My sons (for they were with me) weep and ask

For bread.  Right cruel art thou, if no pang

Thou feel at thinking what my heart foretold;

And if not now, why use thy tears to flow?

Now had they waken’d; and the hour drew near

When they were wont to bring us food; the mind

Of each misgave him through his dream, and I

Heard, at its outlet underneath lock’d up

The’ horrible tower:  whence uttering not a word

I look’d upon the visage of my sons.

I wept not:  so all stone I felt within.

They wept:  and one, my little Anslem, cried:

“Thou lookest so!  Father what ails thee?”  Yet

I shed no tear, nor answer’d all that day

Nor the next night, until another sun

Came out upon the world.  When a faint beam

Had to our doleful prison made its way,

And in four countenances I descry’d

The image of my own, on either hand

Through agony I bit, and they who thought

I did it through desire of feeding, rose

O’ th’ sudden, and cried, Father, we should grieve

Far less, if thou wouldst eat of us: thou gav’st

These weeds of miserable flesh we wear,

And do thou strip them off from us again.’

Then, not to make them sadder, I kept down

My spirit in stillness.  That day and the next

We all were silent.  Ah, obdurate earth!

Why open’dst not upon us?  When we came

To the fourth day, then Geddo at my feet

Outstretch’d did fling him, crying, ’Hast no help

For me, my father!’  “There he died, and e’en

Plainly as thou seest me, saw I the three

Fall one by one ’twixt the fifth day and sixth:

Whence I betook me now grown blind to grope

Over them all, and for three days aloud

Call’d on them who were dead.  Then fasting got

The mastery of grief.”  Thus having spoke,

Once more upon the wretched skull his teeth

He fasten’d, like a mastiff’s ’gainst the bone

Firm and unyielding.  Oh thou Pisa!  shame

Of all the people, who their dwelling make

In that fair region, where th’ Italian voice

Is heard, since that thy neighbours are so slack

To punish, from their deep foundations rise

Capraia and Gorgona, and dam up

The mouth of Arno, that each soul in thee

May perish in the waters!  What if fame

Reported that thy castles were betray’d

By Ugolino, yet no right hadst thou

To stretch his children on the rack.  For them,

Brigata, Ugaccione, and the pair

Of gentle ones, of whom my song hath told,

Their tender years, thou modern Thebes!  did make

Uncapable of guilt.  Onward we pass’d,

Where others skarf’d in rugged folds of ice

Not on their feet were turn’d, but each revers’d

There very weeping suffers not to weep;

For at their eyes grief seeking passage finds

Impediment, and rolling inward turns

For increase of sharp anguish:  the first tears

Hang cluster’d, and like crystal vizors show,

Under the socket brimming all the cup.

Now though the cold had from my face dislodg’d

Each feeling, as ’t were callous, yet me seem’d

Some breath of wind I felt.  “Whence cometh this,”

Said I, “my master?  Is not here below

All vapour quench’d?” — “’Thou shalt be speedily,”

He answer’d, “where thine eye shall tell thee whence

The cause descrying of this airy shower.”

Then cried out one in the chill crust who mourn’d:

“O souls so cruel!  that the farthest post

Hath been assign’d you, from this face remove

The harden’d veil, that I may vent the grief

Impregnate at my heart, some little space

Ere it congeal again!”  I thus replied:

“Say who thou wast, if thou wouldst have mine aid;

And if I extricate thee not, far down

As to the lowest ice may I descend!”

“The friar Alberigo,” answered he,

“Am I, who from the evil garden pluck’d

Its fruitage, and am here repaid, the date

More luscious for my fig.” — “Hah!”  I exclaim’d,

“Art thou too dead!” — “How in the world aloft

It fareth with my body,” answer’d he,

“I am right ignorant.  Such privilege

Hath Ptolomea, that ofttimes the soul

Drops hither, ere by Atropos divorc’d.

And that thou mayst wipe out more willingly

The glazed tear-drops that o’erlay mine eyes,

Know that the soul, that moment she betrays,

As I did, yields her body to a fiend

Who after moves and governs it at will,

Till all its time be rounded; headlong she

Falls to this cistern.  And perchance above

Doth yet appear the body of a ghost,

Who here behind me winters.  Him thou know’st,

If thou but newly art arriv’d below.

The years are many that have pass’d away,

Since to this fastness Branca Doria came.”

“Now,” answer’d I, “methinks thou mockest me,

For Branca Doria never yet hath died,

But doth all natural functions of a man,

Eats, drinks, and sleeps, and putteth raiment on.”

He thus:  “Not yet unto that upper foss

By th’ evil talons guarded, where the pitch

Tenacious boils, had Michael Zanche reach’d,

When this one left a demon in his stead

In his own body, and of one his kin,

Who with him treachery wrought.  But now put forth

Thy hand, and ope mine eyes.”  I op’d them not.

Ill manners were best courtesy to him.

Ah Genoese!  men perverse in every way,

With every foulness stain’d, why from the earth

Are ye not cancel’d?  Such an one of yours

I with Romagna’s darkest spirit found,

As for his doings even now in soul

Is in Cocytus plung’d, and yet doth seem

In body still alive upon the earth.

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