WHEN he had spoke, the sinner rais’d his hands
Pointed in mockery, and cried: “Take them, God!
I level them at thee!” From that day forth
The serpents were my friends; for round his neck
One of then rolling twisted, as it said,
“Be silent, tongue!” Another to his arms
Upgliding, tied them, riveting itself
So close, it took from them the power to move.
Pistoia! Ah Pistoia! why dost doubt
To turn thee into ashes, cumb’ring earth
No longer, since in evil act so far
Thou hast outdone thy seed? I did not mark,
Through all the gloomy circles of the’ abyss,
Spirit, that swell’d so proudly ’gainst his God,
Not him, who headlong fell from Thebes. He fled,
Nor utter’d more; and after him there came
A centaur full of fury, shouting, “Where
Where is the caitiff?” On Maremma’s marsh
Swarm not the serpent tribe, as on his haunch
They swarm’d, to where the human face begins.
Behind his head upon the shoulders lay,
With open wings, a dragon breathing fire
On whomsoe’er he met. To me my guide:
“Cacus is this, who underneath the rock
Of Aventine spread oft a lake of blood.
He, from his brethren parted, here must tread
A different journey, for his fraudful theft
Of the great herd, that near him stall’d; whence found
His felon deeds their end, beneath the mace
Of stout Alcides, that perchance laid on
A hundred blows, and not the tenth was felt.”
While yet he spake, the centaur sped away:
And under us three spirits came, of whom
Nor I nor he was ware, till they exclaim’d;
“Say who are ye?” We then brake off discourse,
Intent on these alone. I knew them not;
But, as it chanceth oft, befell, that one
Had need to name another. “Where,” said he,
“Doth Cianfa lurk?” I, for a sign my guide
Should stand attentive, plac’d against my lips
The finger lifted. If, O reader! now
Thou be not apt to credit what I tell,
No marvel; for myself do scarce allow
The witness of mine eyes. But as I looked
Toward them, lo! a serpent with six feet
Springs forth on one, and fastens full upon him:
His midmost grasp’d the belly, a forefoot
Seiz’d on each arm (while deep in either cheek
He flesh’d his fangs); the hinder on the thighs
Were spread, ’twixt which the tail inserted curl’d
Upon the reins behind. Ivy ne’er clasp’d
A dodder’d oak, as round the other’s limbs
The hideous monster intertwin’d his own.
Then, as they both had been of burning wax,
Each melted into other, mingling hues,
That which was either now was seen no more.
Thus up the shrinking paper, ere it burns,
A brown tint glides, not turning yet to black,
And the clean white expires. The other two
Look’d on exclaiming: “Ah, how dost thou change,
Agnello! See! Thou art nor double now,
Nor only one.” The two heads now became
One, and two figures blended in one form
Appear’d, where both were lost. Of the four lengths
Two arms were made: the belly and the chest
The thighs and legs into such members chang’d,
As never eye hath seen. Of former shape
All trace was vanish’d. Two yet neither seem’d
That image miscreate, and so pass’d on
With tardy steps. As underneath the scourge
Of the fierce dog-star, that lays bare the fields,
Shifting from brake to brake, the lizard seems
A flash of lightning, if he thwart the road,
So toward th’ entrails of the other two
Approaching seem’d, an adder all on fire,
As the dark pepper-grain, livid and swart.
In that part, whence our life is nourish’d first,
One he transpierc’d; then down before him fell
Stretch’d out. The pierced spirit look’d on him
But spake not; yea stood motionless and yawn’d,
As if by sleep or fev’rous fit assail’d.
He ey’d the serpent, and the serpent him.
One from the wound, the other from the mouth
Breath’d a thick smoke, whose vap’ry columns join’d.
Lucan in mute attention now may hear,
Nor thy disastrous fate, Sabellus! tell,
Nor shine, Nasidius! Ovid now be mute.
What if in warbling fiction he record
Cadmus and Arethusa, to a snake
Him chang’d, and her into a fountain clear,
I envy not; for never face to face
Two natures thus transmuted did he sing,
Wherein both shapes were ready to assume
The other’s substance. They in mutual guise
So answer’d, that the serpent split his train
Divided to a fork, and the pierc’d spirit
Drew close his steps together, legs and thighs
Compacted, that no sign of juncture soon
Was visible: the tail disparted took
The figure which the spirit lost, its skin
Soft’ning, his indurated to a rind.
The shoulders next I mark’d, that ent’ring join’d
The monster’s arm-pits, whose two shorter feet
So lengthen’d, as the other’s dwindling shrunk.
The feet behind then twisting up became
That part that man conceals, which in the wretch
Was cleft in twain. While both the shadowy smoke
With a new colour veils, and generates
Th’ excrescent pile on one, peeling it off
From th’ other body, lo! upon his feet
One upright rose, and prone the other fell.
Not yet their glaring and malignant lamps
Were shifted, though each feature chang’d beneath.
Of him who stood erect, the mounting face
Retreated towards the temples, and what there
Superfluous matter came, shot out in ears
From the smooth cheeks, the rest, not backward dragg’d,
Of its excess did shape the nose; and swell’d
Into due size protuberant the lips.
He, on the earth who lay, meanwhile extends
His sharpen’d visage, and draws down the ears
Into the head, as doth the slug his horns.
His tongue continuous before and apt
For utt’rance, severs; and the other’s fork
Closing unites. That done the smoke was laid.
The soul, transform’d into the brute, glides off,
Hissing along the vale, and after him
The other talking sputters; but soon turn’d
His new-grown shoulders on him, and in few
Thus to another spake: “Along this path
Crawling, as I have done, speed Buoso now!”
So saw I fluctuate in successive change
Th’ unsteady ballast of the seventh hold:
And here if aught my tongue have swerv’d, events
So strange may be its warrant. O’er mine eyes
Confusion hung, and on my thoughts amaze.
Yet ’scap’d they not so covertly, but well
I mark’d Sciancato: he alone it was
Of the three first that came, who chang’d not: thou,
The other’s fate, Gaville, still dost rue.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07