The Divine Comedy: Hell, by Dante Alighieri

Canto VI

MY sense reviving, that erewhile had droop’d

With pity for the kindred shades, whence grief

O’ercame me wholly, straight around I see

New torments, new tormented souls, which way

Soe’er I move, or turn, or bend my sight.

In the third circle I arrive, of show’rs

Ceaseless, accursed, heavy, and cold, unchang’d

For ever, both in kind and in degree.

Large hail, discolour’d water, sleety flaw

Through the dun midnight air stream’d down amain:

Stank all the land whereon that tempest fell.

Cerberus, cruel monster, fierce and strange,

Through his wide threefold throat barks as a dog

Over the multitude immers’d beneath.

His eyes glare crimson, black his unctuous beard,

His belly large, and claw’d the hands, with which

He tears the spirits, flays them, and their limbs

Piecemeal disparts.  Howling there spread, as curs,

Under the rainy deluge, with one side

The other screening, oft they roll them round,

A wretched, godless crew.  When that great worm

Descried us, savage Cerberus, he op’d

His jaws, and the fangs show’d us; not a limb

Of him but trembled.  Then my guide, his palms

Expanding on the ground, thence filled with earth

Rais’d them, and cast it in his ravenous maw.

E’en as a dog, that yelling bays for food

His keeper, when the morsel comes, lets fall

His fury, bent alone with eager haste

To swallow it; so dropp’d the loathsome cheeks

Of demon Cerberus, who thund’ring stuns

The spirits, that they for deafness wish in vain.

We, o’er the shades thrown prostrate by the brunt

Of the heavy tempest passing, set our feet

Upon their emptiness, that substance seem’d.

They all along the earth extended lay

Save one, that sudden rais’d himself to sit,

Soon as that way he saw us pass.  “O thou!”

He cried, “who through the infernal shades art led,

Own, if again thou know’st me.  Thou wast fram’d

Or ere my frame was broken.”  I replied:

“The anguish thou endur’st perchance so takes

Thy form from my remembrance, that it seems

As if I saw thee never.  But inform

Me who thou art, that in a place so sad

Art set, and in such torment, that although

Other be greater, more disgustful none

Can be imagin’d.”  He in answer thus:

“Thy city heap’d with envy to the brim,

Ay that the measure overflows its bounds,

Held me in brighter days.  Ye citizens

Were wont to name me Ciacco.  For the sin

Of glutt’ny, damned vice, beneath this rain,

E’en as thou see’st, I with fatigue am worn;

Nor I sole spirit in this woe:  all these

Have by like crime incurr’d like punishment.”

No more he said, and I my speech resum’d:

“Ciacco!  thy dire affliction grieves me much,

Even to tears.  But tell me, if thou know’st,

What shall at length befall the citizens

Of the divided city;  whether any just one

Inhabit there:  and tell me of the cause,

Whence jarring discord hath assail’d it thus?”

He then: “After long striving they will come

To blood; and the wild party from the woods

Will chase the other with much injury forth.

Then it behoves, that this must fall, within

Three solar circles; and the other rise

By borrow’d force of one, who under shore

Now rests.  It shall a long space hold aloof

Its forehead, keeping under heavy weight

The other oppress’d, indignant at the load,

And grieving sore.  The just are two in number,

But they neglected.  Av’rice, envy, pride,

Three fatal sparks, have set the hearts of all

On fire.”  Here ceas’d the lamentable sound;

And I continu’d thus: “Still would I learn

More from thee, farther parley still entreat.

Of Farinata and Tegghiaio say,

They who so well deserv’d, of Giacopo,

Arrigo, Mosca, and the rest, who bent

Their minds on working good.  Oh!  tell me where

They bide, and to their knowledge let me come.

For I am press’d with keen desire to hear,

If heaven’s sweet cup or poisonous drug of hell

Be to their lip assign’d.”   He answer’d straight:

“These are yet blacker spirits.  Various crimes

Have sunk them deeper in the dark abyss.

If thou so far descendest, thou mayst see them.

But to the pleasant world when thou return’st,

Of me make mention, I entreat thee, there.

No more I tell thee, answer thee no more.”

This said, his fixed eyes he turn’d askance,

A little ey’d me, then bent down his head,

And ’midst his blind companions with it fell.

When thus my guide:  “No more his bed he leaves,

Ere the last angel-trumpet blow.  The Power

Adverse to these shall then in glory come,

Each one forthwith to his sad tomb repair,

Resume his fleshly vesture and his form,

And hear the eternal doom re-echoing rend

The vault.”  So pass’d we through that mixture foul

Of spirits and rain, with tardy steps; meanwhile

Touching, though slightly, on the life to come.

For thus I question’d:  “Shall these tortures, Sir!

When the great sentence passes, be increas’d,

Or mitigated, or as now severe?”

He then:  “Consult thy knowledge; that decides

That as each thing to more perfection grows,

It feels more sensibly both good and pain.

Though ne’er to true perfection may arrive

This race accurs’d, yet nearer then than now

They shall approach it.”  Compassing that path

Circuitous we journeyed, and discourse

Much more than I relate between us pass’d:

Till at the point, where the steps led below,

Arriv’d, there Plutus, the great foe, we found.

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