Verse > Harvard Classics > Dante Alighieri > The Divine Comedy
  PREVIOUS NEXT  
CONTENTS · BOOK CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Inferno [Hell]
 
Canto XXXIV
 
 
ARGUMENT.—In the fourth and last round of the ninth circle, those who have betrayed their benefactors are wholly covered with ice. And in the midst is Lucifer, at whose back Dante and Virgil ascend, till by a secret path they reach the surface of the other hemisphere of the earth, and once more obtain sight of the stars.
 
 
“THE BANNERS of Hell’s Monarch do come forth
Toward us; therefore look,” so spake my guide,
“If thou discern him.” As, when breathes a cloud
Heavy and dense, or when the shades of night
Fall on our hemisphere, seems view’d from far        5
A windmill, which the blast stirs briskly round;
Such was the fabric then methought I saw.
  To shield me from the wind, forthwith I drew
Behind my guide: no covert else was there.
  Now came I (and with fear I bid my strain        10
Record the marvel) where the souls were all
Whelm’d underneath, transparent, as through glass
Pellucid the frail stem. Some prone were laid;
Others stood upright, this upon the soles,
That on his head, a third with face to feet        15
Arch’d like a bow. When to the point we came,
Whereat my guide was pleased that I should see
The creature eminent in beauty once,
He from before me stepp’d and made me pause.
  “Lo!” he exclaim’d, “lo! Dis; and lo! the place,        20
Where thou hast need to arm thy heart with strength.”
  How frozen and how faint I then became,
Ask me not, reader! for I write it not;
Since words would fail to tell thee of my state.
I was not dead nor living. Think thyself,        25
If quick conception work in thee at all,
How I did feel. That emperor, who sways
The realm of sorrow, at mid breast from the ice
Stood forth; and I in stature am more like
A giant, than the giants are his arms.        30
Mark now how great that whole must be, which suits
With such a part. If he were beautiful
As he is hideous now, and yet did dare
To scowl upon his Maker, well from him
May all our misery flow. Oh what a sight!        35
How passing strange it seem’d, when I did spy
Upon his head three faces: one in front
Of hue vermilion, the other two with this
Midway each shoulder join’d and at the crest;
The right ’twixt wan and yellow seem’d; the left        40
To look on, such as come from whence old Nile
Stoops to the lowlands. Under each shot forth
Two mighty wings, enormous as became
A bird so vast. Sails never such I saw
Outstretch’d on the wide sea. No plumes had they,        45
But were in texture like a bat; and these
He flapp’d i’ th’ air, that from him issued still
Three winds, wherewith Cocytus to its depth
Was frozen. At six eyes he wept: the tears
Adown three chins distill’d with bloody foam.        50
At every mouth his teeth a sinner champ’d,
Bruised as with ponderous engine; so that three
Were in this guise tormented. But far more
Than from that gnawing, was the foremost pang’d
By the fierce rending, whence oft-times the back        55
Was stript of all its skin. “That upper spirit,
Who hath worst punishment,” so spake my guide,
“Is Judas, he that hath his head within
And plies the feet without. Of th’ other two,
Whose heads are under, from the murky jaw        60
Who hangs, is Brutus: 1 lo! how he doth writhe
And speaks not. The other, Cassius, that appears
So large of limb. But night now reascends;
And it is time for parting. All is seen.”
  I clipp’d him round the neck; for so he bade:        65
And noting time and place, he, when the wings
Enough were oped, caught fast the shaggy sides,
And down from pile to pile descending stepp’d
Between the thick fell and the jagged ice.
  Soon as he reach’d the point, whereat the thigh        70
Upon the swelling of the haunches turns,
My leader there, with pain and struggling hard,
Turn’d round his head where his feet stood before,
And grappled at the fell as one who mounts;
That into Hell methought we turn’d again.        75
  “Expect that by such stairs as these,” thus spake
The teacher, panting like a man forespent,
“We must depart from evil so extreme:”
Then at a rocky opening issued forth,
And placed me on the brink to sit, next join’d        80
With wary step my side. I raised mine eyes,
Believing that I Lucifer should see
Where he was lately left, but saw him now
With legs help upward. Let the grosser sort,
Who see not what the point was I had past,        85
Bethink them if sore toil oppress’d me then.
  “Arise,” my master cried, “upon thy feet.
The way is long, and much uncouth the road;
And now within one hour and a half of noon 2
The sun returns.” It was no palace-hall        90
Lofty and luminous wherein we stood,
But natural dungeon where ill-footing was
And scant supply of light. “Ere from the abyss
I separate,” thus when risen I began:
“My guide! vouchsafe few words to set me free        95
From error’s thraldom. Where is now the ice?
How standeth he in posture thus reversed?
And how from eve to morn in space so brief
Hath the sun made his transit?” He in few
Thus answering spake: “Thou deemest thou art still        100
On the other side the centre, where I grasp’d
The abhorred worm that boreth through the world.
Thou wast on the other side, so long as I
Descended; when I turn’d, thou didst o’erpass
That point, to which from every part is dragg’d        105
All heavy substance. Thou art now arrived
Under the hemisphere opposed to that,
Which the great continent doth overspread,
And underneath whose canopy expired
The Man, that was born sinless and so lived.        110
Thy feet are planted on the smallest sphere,
Whose other aspect is Judecca. Morn
Here rises, when there evening sets: and he,
Whose shaggy pile we scaled, yet standeth fix’d,
As at the first. On this part he fell down        115
From Heaven; and th’ earth here prominent before,
Through fear of him did veil her with the sea,
And to our hemisphere retired. Perchance,
To shun him, was the vacant space left here,
By what of firm land on this side appears, 3        120
That sprang aloof.” There is a place beneath,
From Belzebub as distant, as extends
The vaulted tomb; 4 discover’d not by sight,
But by the sound of brooklet, that descends
This way along the hollow of a rock,        125
Which, as it winds with no precipitous course,
The wave hath eaten. By that hidden way
My guide and I did enter, to return
To the fair world: and heedless of repose
We climb’d, he first, I following his steps,        130
Till on our view the beautiful lights of Heaven
Dawn’d through a circular opening in the cave:
Thence issuing we again beheld the stars.
 
Note 1. “Brutus.” Landino struggles to extricate Brutus from the unworthy lot which is here assigned him. He maintains that by Brutus and Cassius are not meant the individuals known by those names, but any who put a lawful monarch to death. Yet if Cæsar was such, the conspirators might be regarded as deserving of their doom. If Dante, however, believed Brutus to have been actuated by evil motives in putting Cæsar to death, the excellence of the patriot’s character in other respects would only have aggravated his guilt in that particular. [back]
Note 2. The Poet uses the Hebrew manner of computing the day, according to which the third hour answers to our twelve o’clock at noon. [back]
Note 3. The mountain of Purgatory. [back]
Note 4. “The vaulted tomb” (“La tomba”). This word is used to express the whole depth of the infernal region. [back]
 

CONTENTS · BOOK CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUS NEXT  
 
Loading
Click here to shop the Bartleby Bookstore.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2014 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors