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Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Inferno [Hell]
 
Canto XXVI
 
 
ARGUMENT.—Remounting by the steps, down which they have descended to the seventh gulf, they go forward to the arch that stretches over the eighth, and from thence behold numberless flames wherein are punished the evil counsellors, each flame containing a sinner, save one, in which were Diomede and Ulysses, the latter of whom relates the manner of his death.
 
 
FLORENCE, exult! for thou so mightily
Hast thriven, that o’er land and sea thy wings
Thou beatest, and thy name spreads over hell.
Among the plunderers, such the three I found
Thy citizens; whence shame to me thy son,        5
And no proud honour to thyself redounds.
  But if our minds, when dreaming near the dawn,
Are of the truth presageful, thou ere long
Shalt feel what Prato 1 (not to say the rest)
Would fain might come upon thee; and that chance        10
Were in good time, if it befell thee now.
Would so it were, since it must needs befall!
For as time wears me, I shall grieve the more.
  We from the depth departed; and my guide
Remounting scaled the flinty steps, which late        15
We downward traced, and drew me up the steep.
Pursuing thus our solitary way
Among the crags and splinters of the rock,
Sped not our feet without the help of hands.
  Then sorrow seized me, which e’en now revives,        20
As my thought turns again to what I saw,
And, more than I am wont, I rein and curb
The powers of nature in me, lest they run
Where Virtue guides not; that, if aught of good
My gentle star or something better gave me,        25
I envy not myself the precious boon.
  As in that season, when the sun least veils
His face that lightens all, what time the fly
Gives way to the shrill gnat, the peasant then,
Upon some cliff reclined, beneath him sees        30
Fire-flies innumerous spangling o’er the vale,
Vineyard or tilth, where his day-labor lies;
With flames so numberless throughout its space
Shone the eighth chasm, apparent, when the depth
Was to my view exposed. As he, whose wrongs        35
The bears avenged, as its departure saw
Elijah’s chariot, when the steeds erect
Raised their steep flight for heaven; his eyes meanwhile,
Straining pursued them, till the flame alone,
Upsoaring like a misty speck, he kenn’d:        40
E’en thus along the gulf moves every flame,
A sinner so enfolded close in each,
That none exhibits token of the theft.
  Upon the bridge I forward bent to look
And grasp’d a flinty mass, or else had fallen,        45
Though push’d not from the height. The guide, who mark’d
How I did gaze attentive, thus began:
“Within these ardours are the spirits; each
Swatched in confining fire.” “Master! thy word,”
I answer’d, “hath assured me; yet I deem’d        50
Already of the truth, already wish’d
To ask thee who is in yon fire, that comes
So parted at the summit, as it seem’d
Ascending from that funeral pile 2 where lay
The Theban brothers.” He replied: “Within,        55
Ulysses there and Diomede endure
Their penal tortures, thus to vengeance now
Together hasting, as erewhile to wrath
These in the flame with ceaseless groans deplore
The ambush of the horse, 3 that open’d wide        60
A portal for the goodly seed to pass,
Which sow’d imperial Rome; nor less the guile
Lament they, whence, of her Achilles ’reft,
Deidamia yet in death complains.
And there is rued the stratagem that Troy        65
Of her Palladium spoil’d.”—“If they have power
Of utterance from within these sparks,” said I,
“O master! think my prayer a thousand-fold
In repetition urged, that thou vouchsafe
To pause till here the horned flame arrive.        70
See, how toward it with desires I bend.”
  He thus: “Thy prayer is worthy of much praise,
And I accept it therefore; but do thou
Thy tongue refrain: to question them be mine;
For I divine thy wish: and they perchance,        75
For they were Greeks, 4 might shun discourse with thee.”
  When there the flame had come, where time and place
Seem’d fitting to my guide, he thus began:
“O ye, who dwell two spirits in one fire!
If, living, I of you did merit aught,        80
Whate’er the measure were of that desert,
When in the world my lofty strain I pour’d,
Move ye not on, till one of you unfold
In what clime death o’ertook him self-destroy’d.”
  Of the old flame forthwith the greater horn        85
Began to roll, murmuring, as a fire
That labors with the wind, then to and fro
Wagging the top, as a tongue uttering sounds,
Threw out its voice, and spake: “When I escaped
From Circe, who beyond a circling year        90
Had held me near Caieta by her charms,
Ere thus Æneas yet had named the shore;
Nor fondness for my son, nor reverence
Of my old father, nor return of love,
That should have crown’d Penelope with joy,        95
Could overcome in me the zeal I had
To explore the world, and search the ways of life,
Man’s evil and his virtue. Forth I sail’d
Into the deep illimitable main,
With but one bark, and the small faithful band        100
That yet cleaved to me. As Iberia far,
Far as Marocco, either shore I saw,
And the Sardinian and each isle beside
Which round that ocean bathes. Tardy with age
Were I and my companions, when we came        105
To the strait pass, 5 where Hercules ordain’d
The boundaries not to be o’erstepp’d by man.
The walls of Seville to my right I left,
On the other hand already Ceuta past.
‘O brothers!’ I began, ‘who to the west        110
Through perils without number now have reach’d;
To this the short remaining watch, that yet
Our senses have to wake, refuse not proof
Of the unpeopled world, following the track
Of Phœbus. Call to mind from whence ye sprang:        115
Ye were not form’d to live the life of brutes,
But virtue to pursue and knowledge high.’
With these few words I sharpen’d for the voyage
The mind of my associates, that I then
Could scarcely have withheld them. To the dawn        120
Our poop we turn’d, and for the witless flight
Made our oars wings, still gaining on the left.
Each star of the other pole night now beheld,
And ours so low, that from the ocean floor
It rose not. Five times reillumed, as oft        125
Vanish’d the light from underneath the moon,
Since the deep way we enter’d, when from far
Appear’d a mountain dim, 6 loftiest methought
Of all I e’er beheld. Joy seized us straight;
But soon to mourning changed. From the new land        130
A whirlwind sprung, and at her foremost side
Did strike the vessel. Thrice it whirl’d her round
With all the waves; the fourth time lifted up
The poop, and sank the prow: so fate decreed:
And over us the booming billow closed.” 7        135
 
Note 1. “Shalt feel what Prato.” The Poet prognosticates the calamities which were soon to befall his native city, and which, he says, even her nearest neighbor, Prato, would wish her. The calamities more particularly pointed at are said to be the fall of a wooden bridge over the Arno, in May, 1304, where a large multitude were assembled to witness a representation of hell and the infernal torments, in consequence of which accident many lives were lost; and a conflagration, that in the following month destroyed more than 1,700 houses. See G. Villani, Hist. lib. viii. c. lxx. and lxxi. [back]
Note 2. The flame is said to have divided the bodies of Eteocles and Polynices, as if conscious of the enmity that actuated them while living. [back]
Note 3. The wooden horse that caused Æneas to quit Troy and seek his fortune in Italy, where his descendants founded Rome. [back]
Note 4. Perhaps implying arrogance. [back]
Note 5. The Strait of Gibraltar. [back]
Note 6. The mountain of Purgatory.—Among various opinions respecting the situation of the terrestrial paradise, Peitro Lombardo relates, that “it was separated by a long space, either of sea or land, from the regions inhabited by men, and placed in the ocean, reaching as far as to the luner circle, so that the waters of the deluge did not reach it.”—Sent. lib. ii. dist. 17. [back]
Note 7. “Closed.” Venturi refers to Pliny and Solinus for the opinion that Ulysses was the founder of Lisbon, from whence he thinks it was easy for the fancy of a poet to send him on yet further enterprises. The story (which it is not unlikely that our author borrowed from some legend of the Middle Ages) may have taken its rise partly from the obscure oracle returned by the ghost of Tiresias to Ulysses (eleventh book of the Odyssey), and partly from the fate which there was reason to suppose had befallen some adventurous explorers of the Atlantic Ocean. [back]
 

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