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Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Inferno [Hell]
 
Canto XXV
 
 
ARGUMENT.—The sacrilegious Fucci vents his fury in blasphemy, is seized by serpents, and flying is pursued by Cacus in the form of a Centaur, who is described with a swarm of serpents on his haunch, and a dragon on his shoulders breathing forth fire. Our Poet then meets with the spirits of three of his countrymen, two of whom undergo a marvelous transformation in his presence.
 
 
WHEN he had spoke, the sinner raised his hands 1
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 them rolling twisted, as it said,        5
“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, cumbering earth        10
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, 2 who headlong fell from Thebes. He fled,        15
Nor utter’d more; and after him there came
A Centaur full of fury, shouting, “Where,
Where is the caitiff?” On Maremma’s marsh 3
Swarm not the serpent tribe, as on his haunch
They swarm’d, to where the human face begins.        20
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.        25
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        30
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,        35
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 4 lurk?” I, for a sign my guide
Should stand attentive, placed against my lips        40
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 look’d
Toward them, lo! a serpent with six feet        45
Springs forth on one, and fastens full upon him:
His midmost grasp’d the belly, a forefoot
Seized 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        50
Upon the reins behind. Ivy ne’er clasp’d
A dodder’d oak, as round the other’s limbs
The hideous monster intertwined his own.
Then, as they both had been of burning wax,
Each melted into other, mingling hues,        55
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,        60
Agnello! 5 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,        65
The thighs and legs, into such members changed
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        70
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 the entrails of the other two
Approaching seem’d an adder all on fire,        75
As the dark pepper-grain livid and swart.
In that part, whence our life is nourish’d first,
Once he transpierced; then down before him fell
Stretch’d out. The pierced spirit look’d on him,
But spake not; yea, stood motionless and yawn’d,        80
As if by sleep or feverous fit assail’d.
He eyed the serpent, and the serpent him.
One from the wound, the other from the mouth
Breathed a thick smoke, whose vapory columns join’d.
  Lucan in mute attention now may hear,        85
Nor thy disastrous fate, Sabellus, tell,
Nor thine, Nasidius. Ovid now be mute.
What if in warbling fiction he record
Cadmus and Arethusa, to a snake
Him changed, and her into a fountain clear,        90
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        95
Divided to a fork, and the pierced 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        100
Softening, his indurated to a rind.
The shoulders next I mark’d, that entering join’d
The monster’s arm-pits, whose two shorter feet
So lengthen’d, as the others dwindling shrunk.
The feet behind then twisting up became        105
That part that man conceals, which in the wretch
Was cleft in twain. While both the shadowy smoke
With a new color veils, and generates
The excrescent pile on one, peeling it off
From the other body, lo! upon his feet        110
One upright rose, and prone the other fell.
Nor yet their glaring and malignant lamps
Were shifted, though each feature changed beneath.
Of him who stood erect, the mounting face
Retreated toward the temples, and what there        115
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        120
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 utterance, severs; and the other’s fork
Closing unites. That done, the smoke was laid.        125
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        130
Crawling, as I have done, speed Buoso now!”
  So saw I fluctuate in successive change
The unsteady ballast of the seventh hold:
And here if aught my pen have swerved, events
So strange may be its warrant. O’er mine eyes        135
Confusion hung, and on my thoughts amaze.
  Yet ’scaped they not so covertly, but well
I mark’d Sciancato: he alone it was
Of the three first that came, who changed not: tho’
The other’s fate, Gaville! still dost rue.        140
 
Note 1. “The practice of thrusting out the thumb between the first and second fingers, to express the feelings of insult and contempt, has prevailed very generally among the nations of Europe, and for many ages had been denominated ‘making the fig,’ or described at least by some equivalent expression.”—Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” vol. i. p. 492, ed. 1807 [back]
Note 2. Capaneus. Canto xiv. [back]
Note 3. Near the Tuscan shore. [back]
Note 4. Said to have been of the family of Donati at Florence. [back]
Note 5. “Agnello.” Agnello Brunelleschi. [back]
 

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