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DIVINE COMEDY
THE INFERNO

Introduction. In the Middle Ages it was popularly believed that Lucifer, falling from heaven, punched a deep hole in the earth, stopping only when he reached its centre. This funnel-shaped hole, directly under Jerusalem, is divided by Dante into nine independent circular ledges, communicating only by means of occasional rocky stairways or bridges. In each of these nine circles are punished sinners of a certain kind.

Canto I. In 1300, when thirty-five years of age, Dante claims to have strayed from the straight path in the "journey of life," only to encounter experiences bitter as death, which he relates in allegorical form to serve as warning to other sinners. Rousing from a stupor not unlike sleep, the poet finds himself in a strange forest at the foot of a sun-kissed mountain. On trying to climb it, he is turned aside by a spotted panther, an emblem of luxury or pleasure (Florence), a fierce lion, personifying ambition or anger (France), and a ravening wolf, the emblem of avarice (Rome). Fleeing in terror from these monsters, Dante beseeches aid from the only fellow-creature he sees, only to learn he is Virgil, the poet and master from whom he learned "that style which for its beauty into fame exalts me."

Then Virgil reveals he has been sent to save Dante from the ravening wolf (which also personifies the papal or Guelf party), only to guide him through the horrors of the Inferno, and the sufferings of Purgatory, up to Paradise, where a "worthier" spirit will attend him.

Canto II. The length of the journey proposed daunts Dante, until Virgil reminds him that cowardice has often made men relinquish honorable enterprises, and encourages him by stating that Beatrice, moved by love, forsook her place in heaven to bid him serve as Dante's guide. He adds that when he wondered how she could leave, even for a moment, the heavenly abode, she explained that the Virgin Mary sent Lucia, to bid her rescue the man who had loved her ever since she was a child. Like a flower revived after a chilly night by the warmth of the sun, Dante, invigorated by these words, intimates his readiness to follow Virgil.

Canto III. The two travellers, passing through a wood, reach a gate, above which Dante perceives this inscription:

  "Through me you pass into the city of woe:
  Through me you pass into eternal pain:
  Through me among the people lost for aye.
  Justice the founder of my fabric moved:
  To rear me was the task of power divine,
  Supremest wisdom, and primeval love.
  Before me things create were none, save things
  Eternal, and eternal I endure.
  All hope abandon, ye who enter here."[16]

Unable to grasp its meaning, Dante begs Virgil to interpret, and learns they are about to descend into Hades. Having visited this place before, Virgil boldly leads Dante through this portal into an ante-hell region, where sighs, lamentations, and groans pulse through the starless air. Shuddering with horror, Dante inquires what it all means, only to be told that the souls "who lived without praise or blame," as well as the angels who remained neutral during the war in heaven, are confined in this place, since Paradise, Purgatory, and Inferno equally refuse to harbor them and death never visits them.

While he is speaking, a long train of these unfortunate spirits, stung by gadflies, sweeps past them, and in their ranks Dante recognizes the shade of Pope Celestine V, who, "through cowardice made the grand renunciation,"—i.e., abdicated his office at the end of five months, simply because he lacked courage to face the task intrusted to him.

Passing through these spirits with downcast eyes, Dante reaches Acheron,—the river of death,—where he sees, steering toward them, the ferry-man Charon, whose eyes are like fiery wheels and who marvels at beholding a living man among the shades. When Charon grimly orders Dante back to earth, Virgil silences him with the brief statement: "so 'tis will'd where will and power are one." So, without further objection, Charon allows them to enter his skiff and hurries the rest of his freight aboard, beating the laggards with the flat of his oar. Because Dante wonders at such ill-treatment, Virgil explains that good souls are never forced to cross this stream, and that the present passengers have richly deserved their punishment. Just then an earthquake shakes the whole region, and Dante swoons in terror.

Canto IV. When he recovers his senses, Dante finds himself no longer in Charon's bark, but on the brink of a huge circular pit, whence arise, like emanations, moans and wails, but wherein, owing to the dense gloom, he can descry nothing. Warning him they are about to descend into the "blind world," and that his sorrowful expression—which Dante ascribes to fear—is caused by pity, Virgil conducts his disciple into the first circle of hell. Instead of lamentations, only sighs are heard, while Virgil explains that this semi-dark limbo is reserved for unbaptized children, and for those who, having lived before Christ, must "live desiring without hope." Full of compassion for these sufferers, Dante inquires whether no one from above ever visited them, and is told that One, bearing trophies of victory, once arrived there to ransom the patriarchs Adam, Abel, Noah, and others, but that until then none had ever been saved.

Talking busily, the two wend their way through a forest of sighing spirits, until they approach a fire, around which dignified shades have gathered. Informing Dante these are men of honored reputations, Virgil points out among them four mighty figures coming to meet them, and whispers they are Homer, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan. After conversing for a while with Virgil, these bards graciously welcome Dante as sixth in their poetic galaxy. Talking of things which cannot be mentioned save in such exalted company, Dante walks on with them until he nears a castle girdled with sevenfold ramparts and moat. Through seven consecutive portals the six poets pass on to a meadow, where Dante beholds all the creations of their brains, and meets Hector, Aeneas, Camilla, and Lucretia, as well as the philosophers, historians, and mathematicians who from time to time have appeared upon our globe. Although Dante would fain have lingered here, his guide leads him on, and, as their four companions vanish, they two enter a place "where no light shines."

Canto V. Stepping down from this circle to a lower one, Dante and Virgil reach the second circle of the Inferno, where all who lived unchaste lives are duly punished. Smaller in circumference than the preceding circle,—for Dante's hell is shaped like a graduated funnel,—this place is guarded by the judge Minos, who examines all newly arrived souls, and consigns them to their appointed circles by an equal number of convolutions in his tail.

  For when before him comes the ill-fated soul,
  It all confesses; and that judge severe
  Of sins, considering what place in hell
  Suits the transgression, with his tail so oft
  Himself encircles, as degrees beneath
  He dooms it to descend.

On beholding Dante, Minos speaks threateningly, but, when Virgil again explains they have been sent hither by a higher power, Minos too allows them to pass. Increasing sounds of woe now strike Dante's ear, until presently they attain the intensity of a deafening roar. Next he perceives that the whirlwind, sweeping violently round this abyss, holds in its grasp innumerable spirits which are allowed no rest. Like birds in a tempest they swirl past Dante, to whom Virgil hastily points out Semiramis, Dido, Cleopatra, Helen, Achilles, Paris, and Tristan, together with many others.

Obtaining permission to address two shades floating toward him, Dante learns that the man is the Paolo who fell in love with his sister-in-law, Francesca da Rimini. Asked how she happened to fall, the female spirit, moaning there is no greater woe than to recall happy times in the midst of misery, adds that while she and Paolo read together the tale of Launcelot they suddenly realized they loved in the same way, and thus fell into the very sin described in this work, for "book and writer both were love's purveyors." Scarcely has she confessed this when the wind, seizing Francesca and Paolo, again sweeps them on, and Dante, hearing their pitiful moans, swoons from compassion.

Canto VI. Recovering his senses, Dante finds Virgil has meantime transferred him to the third circle, a region where chill rains ever fall, accompanied by hail, sleet, and snow. Here all guilty of gluttony are rent and torn by Cerberus, main ruler of this circle. Flinging a huge fistful of dirt into the dog's gaping jaws to prevent his snapping at them, Virgil leads Dante quickly past this three-headed monster, to a place where they tread on the shades which pave the muddy ground. One of these, sitting up, suddenly inquires of Dante whether he does not recognize him, adding that he is the notorious Florentine glutton Ciacco. Fancying this shade may possess some insight into the future, Dante inquires what is to become of his native city, and learns that one political party will drive out the other, only to fall in its turn three years later. The glutton adds that only two just men are left in Florence, and, when Dante asks what has become of his friends, tells him he will doubtless meet them in the various circles of Hades, should he continue his downward course.

Then the spirit begs that, on returning to the "pleasant world," Dante will recall him to his friends' memory, and, closing his eyes, sinks back among the other victims, all of whom are more or less blind. Vouchsafing the information that this sinner will not rise again "ere the last angel trumpet blow," Virgil leads Dante over the foul mixture of shades and mud, explaining that, although the accursed can never hope to attain perfection, they are not entirely debarred from improvement.

Canto VII. Talking thus, the two travellers descend to the fourth circle, ruled by Plutus, god of wealth, who allows them to proceed, only after Virgil has informed him their journey is ordained, and is to be pursued to the very spot where Michael confined Satan. The mere mention of his master, the ex-archangel, causes Plutus to grovel; and Dante and Virgil, proceeding on their journey, discover that the fourth circle is occupied by all whom avarice mastered, as well as by prodigals, who are here condemned to roll heavy rocks, because their lives on earth were spent scuffling for money or because they failed to make good use of their gold. Dante descries among the victims tonsured polls, proving that monks themselves are not exempt from these sins. Meanwhile Virgil expounds how the Creator decreed nations should wield the mastery in turn, adding that these people are victims of Fortune, whose proverbial fickleness he ably describes.

After passing a well, whose boiling waters overflow and form a stream, they follow the latter's downward course to the marsh called Styx, where hundreds of naked creatures wallow in the mire, madly clutching and striking each other. Virgil explains that these are those "whom anger overcame," and adds that the sullen are buried beneath the slimy waters, where their presence is betrayed by bubbles caused by their breath which continually rise to the surface. Edging around this loathsome pool, the two poets finally arrive at the door of a tall tower.

Canto VIII. From the lofty turret flash flaming signals, evidently designed to summon some bark or ferry, since a vessel soon appears. Once more Virgil has to silence a snarling boatman (Phlegyas) ere he can enter his skiff, where he invites Dante to follow him. Then they row across the mire, whence heads keep emerging from time to time. One of the sufferers confined here suddenly asks Dante, "Who art thou that earnest ere thine hour?" only to be hastily assured the poet does not intend to stay. Just as Dante expresses the wish to know whom he is addressing, he recognizes this sinner (Argenti) and turns from him in loathing, an act which wins Virgil's approval. When Dante further mutters he wishes this monster were stifled in the mud, Virgil suddenly points to a squad of avenging spirits who, sweeping downward, are about to fulfil this cruel wish, when the culprit rends himself to pieces with his own teeth and plunges back into the Styx.

Sailing along, Virgil tries to prepare Dante for their arrival at the city of Dis, whose minarets, colored by a fiery glow from within, now shine in the distance. Steered into the moat surrounding this city, the travellers slowly circle its iron walls, from which hosts of lost souls lean clamoring, "Who is this that without death first felt goes through the region of the dead?" When Virgil signals he will explain, the demons disappear as if to admit them; but, when the travellers reach the gates, they find them still tightly closed. Virgil then explains that these very demons tried to oppose even Christ's entrance to Hades, and adds that their power was broken on the first Easter Day.

Canto IX. Quailing with terror, Dante hears Virgil admit that few have undertaken to tread these paths, although they are familiar to him, seeing that, guided by a witch (the Sibyl of Cumaea), he came here with Aeneas. While Virgil is talking, the three Furies appear on top of the tower, and, noting the intruders, clamor for Medusa to come and turn them into stone! Bidding Dante avoid the Gorgon's petrifying glance, Virgil further assures the safety of his charge by holding his hands over Dante's eyes. While thus blinded, the author of the poem hears waves splash against the shore, and, when Virgil's hands are removed, perceives an angel walking dry-shod over the Styx. At a touch from his hand, the gates of Dis open wide, and, without paying heed to the poets, who have instinctively assumed the humblest attitude, their divine rescuer recrosses the bog, leaving them free to enter into the iron fortress. There they find countless sinners cased in red-hot coffins sunk in burning marl. On questioning his guide, Dante learns each open sepulchre contains an arch-heretic, or leader of some religious sect, and that each tomb is heated to a degree corresponding to the extent of the harm done by its occupant's teachings.

Canto X. Gingerly treading between burning tombs and fortress wall, Virgil conducts Dante to an open sepulchre, where lies the Ghibelline leader Farinata. Partly rising out of his glowing tomb, this warrior informs Dante that the Guelfs—twice driven out of Florence—have returned thither. At that moment another victim, peering over the edge of his coffin, anxiously begs for news of his son Guido, thus proving that, while these unfortunates know both past and future, the present remains a mystery to them. Too amazed at first to speak, Dante mentions Guido in the past tense, whereupon the unhappy father, rashly inferring his son is dead, plunges back into his sepulchre with a desperate cry. Not being able to correct his involuntary mistake and thus comfort this sufferer, Dante begs Farinata to inform his neighbor, as soon as possible, that his son is still alive. Then, perplexed by all he has seen and heard, Dante passes thoughtfully on, noting the victims punished in this place, until, seeing his dismay, Virgil comforts him with the assurance that Beatrice will explain all he wishes to know at the end of his journey.

Canto XI. The poets now approach a depression, whence arises a stench so nauseating that they are compelled to take refuge behind a stone tomb to avoid choking. While they pause there, Dante perceives this sepulchre bears the name of Pope Anastasius, who has been led astray. Tarrying there to become acclimated to the smell, Virgil informs his companion they are about to pass through three gradations of the seventh circle, where are punished the violent, or those who by force worked injury to God, to themselves, or to their fellow-men.

Canto XII. His charge sufficiently prepared for what awaits him, Virgil leads the way down a steep path to the next rim, where they are confronted by the Minotaur, before whom Dante quails, but whom Virgil defies by mentioning Theseus. Taking advantage of the moment when the furious, bull-like monster charges at him with lowered head, Virgil runs with Dante down a declivity, where the stones, unaccustomed to the weight of mortal feet, slip and roll in ominous fashion. This passage, Virgil declares, was less dangerous when he last descended into Hades, for it has since been riven by the earthquake which shook this region when Christ descended into hell.

Pointing to a boiling river of blood (Phlegethon) beneath them, Virgil shows Dante sinners immersed in it at different depths, because while on earth they offered violence to their neighbors. Although anxious to escape from these bloody waters, the wicked are kept within their appointed bounds by troops of centaurs, who, armed with bows and arrows, continually patrol the banks. When these guards threateningly challenge Virgil, he calmly rejoins he wishes to see their leader, Chiron, and, while awaiting the arrival of this worthy, shows Dante the monster who tried to kidnap Hercules' wife.

On drawing near them, Chiron is amazed to perceive one of the intruders is alive, as is proved by the fact that he casts a shadow and that stones roll beneath his tread! Noticing his amazement, Virgil explains he has been sent here to guide his mortal companion through the Inferno, and beseeches Chiron to detail a centaur to carry Dante across the river of blood, since he cannot, spirit-like, tread air. Selecting Nessus for this duty, Chiron bids him convey the poet safely across the bloody stream, and, while performing this office, the centaur explains that the victims more or less deeply immersed in blood are tyrants who delighted in bloodshed, such as Alexander, Dionysius, and others. Borne by Nessus and escorted by Virgil, Dante reaches the other shore, and, taking leave of them, the centaur "alone repass'd the ford."

Canto XIII. The travellers now enter a wild forest, which occupies the second division of the seventh circle, where Virgil declares each barren thorn-tree is inhabited by the soul of a suicide. In the gnarly branches perch the Harpies, whose uncouth lamentations echo through the air, and who greedily devour every leaf that sprouts. Appalled by the sighs and wailings around him, Dante questions Virgil, who directs him to break off a twig. No sooner has he done so than he sees blood trickle from the break and hears a voice reproach him for his cruelty. Thus Dante learns that the inmate of this tree was once private secretary to Frederick II, and that, having fallen into unmerited disgrace, he basely took refuge in suicide. This victim's words have barely died away when the blast of a horn is heard, and two naked forms are seen fleeing madly before a huntsman and a pack of mastiffs. The latter, pouncing upon one victim, tears him to pieces, while Dante shudders at this sight. Meantime Virgil explains that the culprit was a young spendthrift, and that huntsman and hounds represent the creditors whose pursuit he tried to escape by killing himself.

Canto XIV. Leaving this ghastly forest, Dante is led to the third division of this circle, a region of burning sands, where hosts of naked souls lie on the ground, blistered and scathed by the rain of fire and vainly trying to lessen their pain by thrashing themselves with their hands. One figure, the mightiest among them, alone seems indifferent to the burning rain, and, when Dante inquires who this may be, Virgil returns it is Capaneus (one of the seven kings who besieged Thèbes[17]), who, in his indomitable pride, taunted Jupiter and was slain by his thunder-bolt.

Treading warily to avoid the burning sands, Virgil and his disciple cross a ruddy brook which flows straight down from Mount Ida in Crete, where it rises at the foot of a statue whose face is turned toward Rome. Virgil explains that the waters of this stream are formed by the tears of the unhappy, which are plentiful enough to feed the four mighty rivers of Hades! While following the banks of this torrent, Dante questions why they have not yet encountered the other two rivers which fall into the pit; and discovers that, although they have been travelling in a circle, they have not by far completed one whole round of the gigantic funnel, but have stepped down from one ledge to the other after walking only a short distance around each circumference.

Canto XV. The high banks of the stream of tears protect our travellers from the burning sands and the rain of fire, until they encounter a procession of souls, each one of which stares fixedly at them. One of these recognizes Dante, who in his turn is amazed to find there his old school-master Ser Brunetto, whom he accompanies on his way, after he learns he and his fellow-sufferers are not allowed to stop, under penalty of lying a hundred years without fanning themselves beneath the rain of fire. Walking by his former pupil's side, Brunetto in his turn questions Dante and learns how and why he has come down here, ere he predicts that in spite of persecutions the poet will ultimately attain great fame.

Canto XVI. Reaching a spot where the stream they are following suddenly thunders down into the eighth circle, Dante beholds three spirits running toward him, whirling round one another "in one restless wheel," while loudly exclaiming his garb denotes he is their fellow countryman! Gazing into their fire-scarred faces, Dante learns these are three powerful Guelfs; and when they crave tidings of their native city, he tells them all that has recently occurred there. Before vanishing these spirits piteously implore him to speak of them to mortals on his return to earth, and leave Dante and Virgil to follow the stream to the verge of the abyss. There Virgil loosens the rope knotted around Dante's waist, and, casting one end of it down into the abyss, intimates that what he is awaiting will soon appear. A moment later a monster rises from the depths, climbing hand over hand up the rope.

Canto XVII. This monster is Geryon, the personification of fraud, and therefore a mixture of man, beast, and serpent. When he reaches the upper ledge, Virgil bargains with him to carry them down, while Dante converses with neighboring sorrowful souls, who are perched on the top of the cliff and hide their faces in their hands. All these spirits wear purses around their necks, because as usurers while on earth they lived on ill-gotten gains. Not daring to keep his guide waiting, Dante leaves these sinners, and hurries back just as Virgil is taking his seat on the monster's back. Grasping the hand stretched out to him, Dante then timorously mounts beside his guide.

    "As one, who hath an ague fit so near,
  His nails already are turn'd blue, and he
  Quivers all o'er, if he but eye the shade;
  Such was my cheer at hearing of his words.
  But shame soon interposed her threat, who makes
  The servant bold in presence of his lord.
    I settled me upon those shoulders huge,
  And would have said, but that the words to aid
  My purpose came not, 'Look thou clasp me firm.'"

Then, bidding Dante hold fast so as not to fall, Virgil gives the signal for departure. Wheeling slowly, Geryon flies downward, moderating his speed so as not to unseat his passengers. Comparing his sensations to those of Phaeton falling from the sun-chariot, or to Icarus' horror when he dropped into the sea, Dante describes how, as they circled down on the beast's back, he caught fleeting glimpses of fiery pools and was almost deafened by the rising chorus of wails. With a falcon-like swoop Geryon finally alights on the next level, and, having deposited his passengers at the foot of a splintered rock, darts away like an arrow from a taut bow-string.

Canto XVIII. The eighth circle, called Malebolge (Evil Pits), is divided into ten gulfs, between which rocky arches form bridge-like passages. This whole region is of stone and ice, and from the pit in the centre continually rise horrid exhalations. Among the unfortunates incessantly lashed by horned demons in the first gulf, Dante perceives one who was a notorious pander on earth and who is justly suffering the penalty of his crimes. Later on, watching a train of culprits driven by other demons, Dante recognizes among them Jason, who secured the Golden Fleece, thanks to Medea, but proved faithless toward her in the end.

Crossing to the second division, Dante beholds sinners buried in dung, in punishment for having led astray their fellow-creatures by flattery. One of them,—whom the poet recognizes,—emerging from his filthy bath, sadly confesses, "Me thus low down my flatteries have sunk, wherewith I ne'er enough could glut my tongue." In this place Dante also notes the harlot Thais, expiating her sins, with other notorious seducers and flatterers.

Canto XIX. By means of another rocky bridge the travellers reach the third gulf, where are punished all who have been guilty of simony. These are sunk, head first, in a series of burning pits, whence emerge only the red-hot soles of their convulsively agitated feet. Seeing a ruddier flame hover over one pair of soles, Dante timidly inquires to whom they belong, whereupon Virgil, carrying him down to this spot, bids him seek his answer from the culprit himself. Peering down into the stone-pit, Dante then timidly proffers his request, only to be hotly reviled by Pope Nicholas III, who first mistakes his interlocutor for Pope Boniface, and confesses he was brought to this state by nepotism. But, when he predicts a worse pope will ultimately follow him down into this region, Dante sternly rebukes him.

Canto XX. Virgil is so pleased with Dante's speech to Pope Nicholas that, seizing him in his arms, he carries him swiftly over the bridge which leads to the fourth division. Here Dante beholds a procession of chanting criminals whose heads are turned to face their backs. This sight proves so awful that Dante weeps, until Virgil bids him note the different culprits. Among them is the witch Manto, to whom Mantua, his native city, owes its name, and Dante soon learns that all these culprits are the famous soothsayers, diviners, magicians, and witches of the world, who thus are punished for having presumed to predict the future.

Canto XXI. From the top of the next bridge they gaze into a dark pit, where public peculators are plunged into boiling pitch, as Dante discovers by the odor, which keenly reminds him of the shipyards at Venice. Virgil there directs Dante's attention toward a demon, who hurls a sinner headlong into the boiling tar, and, without watching to see what becomes of him, departs in quest of some other victim. The poet also perceives that, whenever a sinner's head emerges from the pitchy waves, demons thrust him down again by means of long forks. To prevent his charge falling a prey to these active evil spirits, Virgil directs Dante to hide behind a pillar of the bridge and from thence watch all that is going on.

While Dante lurks there, a demon, descrying him, is about to attack him, but Virgil so vehemently proclaims they are here by Heaven's will that the evil spirit drops his fork and becomes powerless to harm them. Perceiving the effect he has produced, Virgil then summons Dante from his hiding-place, and sternly orders the demon to guide them safely through the ranks of his grimacing fellows, all of whom make obscene gestures as they pass.

Canto XXII. Dante, having taken part in battles, is familiar with military manoeuvres, but he declares he never behold such ably marshalled troops as the demon hosts through which they pass. From time to time he sees a devil emerge from the ranks to plunge sinners back into the lake of pitch, or to spear one with his fork and, after letting him squirm aloft for a while, hurl him back into the asphalt lake. One of these victims, questioned by Virgil, acknowledges he once held office in Navarre, but, rather than suffer at the hands of the demon tormentors, this peculator voluntarily plunges back into the pitch. Seeing this, the baffled demons fight each other, until two actually fall into the lake, whence they are fished in sorry plight by fellow-fiends.

Canto XXIII. By a passage-way so narrow they are obliged to proceed single file, Dante and Virgil reach the next division, the author of this poem continually gazing behind him for fear lest the demons pursue him. His fears are only too justified, and Virgil, seeing his peril, catches him up in his arms and runs with him to the next gulf, knowing demons never pass beyond their beat.

    "Never ran water with such hurrying pace
  Adown the tube to turn a land-mill's wheel,
  When nearest it approaches to the spokes,
  As then along that edge my master ran,
  Carrying me in his bosom, as a child,
  Not a companion."

In the sixth division where they now arrive, they behold a procession of victims, weighed down by gilded leaden cowls, creeping along so slowly that Dante and Virgil pass all along their line although they are not walking fast. Hearing one of these bowed figures address him, Dante learns that, because he and his companions were hypocrites on earth, they are doomed to travel constantly around this circle of the Inferno, fainting beneath heavy loads.

A moment later Dante notices that the narrow path ahead of them is blocked by a writhing figure pinned to the ground by three stakes. This is Caiaphas, who insisted it was fitting that one man suffer for the people and who, having thus sentenced Christ to the cross, has to endure the whole procession to tramp over his prostrate form. The cowled figure with whom Dante is conversing informs him, besides, that in other parts of the circle are Ananias and the other members of the Sanhedrim who condemned Christ. Deeming Dante has now seen enough of this region, Virgil inquires where they can find an exit from this gulf, and is shown by a spirit a steep ascent.

Canto XXIV. So precipitous is this passage that Virgil half carries his charge, and, panting hard, both scramble to a ledge overhanging the seventh gulf of Malebolge, where innumerable serpents prey upon naked robbers, whose hands are bound behind them by writhing snakes. Beneath the constant bites of these reptiles, the robber-victims turn to ashes, only to rise phoenix-like a moment later and undergo renewed torments. Dante converses with one of these spirits, who, after describing his own misdeeds, prophesies in regard to the future of Florence.

Canto XXV. The blasphemous speeches and gestures of this speaker are silenced by an onslaught of snakes, before whose attack he attempts to flee, only to be overtaken and tortured by a serpent-ridden centaur, whom Virgil designates as Cacus. Further on, the travellers behold three culprits who are alternately men and writhing snakes, always, however, revealing more of the reptile than of the human nature and form.

                         "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 changed
  As never eye hath seen."

Canto XXVI. From another bridge Dante gazes down into the eighth gulf, where, in the midst of the flames, are those who gave evil advice to their fellow-creatures. Here Dante recognizes Diomedes, Ulysses, and sundry other heroes of the Iliad,—with whom his guide speaks,—and learns that Ulysses, after his return to Ithaca, resumed his explorations, ventured beyond the pillars of Hercules, and, while sailing in the track of the sun, was drowned in sight of a high mountain.

Canto XXVII. In the midst of another bed of flames, Dante next discovers another culprit, to whom he gives the history of the Romagna, and whose life-story he hears before following his leader down to the ninth gulf of Malebolge.

Canto XXVIII. In this place Dante discovers the sowers of scandal, schism, and heresy, who exhibit more wounds than all the Italian wars occasioned. Watching them, Dante perceives that each victim is ripped open by a demon's sword, but that his wounds heal so rapidly that every time the spirit passes a demon again his torture is renewed. Among these victims Dante recognizes Mahomet, who, wondering that a living man should visit hell, points out Dante to his fellow-shades. Passing by the travellers, sundry victims mention their names, and Dante thus discovers among them the leaders of strife between sundry Italian states, and shudders when Bertrand de Born, a fellow minstrel, appears bearing his own head instead of a lantern, in punishment for persuading the son of Henry II, of England, to rebel.

Canto XXIX. Gazing in a dazed way at the awful sights of this circle, Dante learns it is twenty-one miles in circumference, ere he passes on to the next bridge, where lamentations such as assail one's ears in a hospital constantly arise. In the depths of the tenth pit, into which he now peers, Dante distinguishes victims of all manners of diseases, and learns these are the alchemists and forgers undergoing the penalty of their sins. Among them Dante perceives a man who was buried alive on earth for offering to teach mortals to fly! So preposterous did such a claim appear to Minos—judge of the dead—that he ruthlessly condemned its originator to undergo the punishment awarded to magicians, alchemists, and other pretenders.

Canto XXX. Virgil now points out to Dante sundry impostors, perpetrators of fraud, and false-coiners, among whom we note the woman who falsely accused Joseph, and Sinon, who persuaded the Trojans to convey the wooden horse into their city. Not content with the tortures inflicted upon them, these criminals further increase each others' sufferings by cruel taunts, and Dante, fascinated by what he sees, lingers beside this pit, until Virgil cuttingly intimates "to hear such wrangling is a joy for vulgar minds."

Canto XXXI. Touched by the remorseful shame which Dante now shows, Virgil draws him on until they are almost deafened by a louder blast than was uttered by Roland's horn at Roncevaux. Peering in the direction of the sound, Dante descries what he takes for lofty towers, until Virgil informs him that when they draw nearer still he will discover they are giants standing in the lowest pit but looming far above it in the mist. Ere long Dante stares in wonder at chained giants seventy feet tall, whom Virgil designates as Nimrod, Ephialtes, and Antaeus.

                   As with circling round
  Of turrets, Montereggion crowns his walls;
  E'en thus the shore, encompassing the abyss,
  Was turreted with giants, half their length
  Uprearing, horrible, whom Jove from heaven
  Yet threatens, when his muttering thunder rolls.

Antaeus being unchained, Virgil persuades him to lift them both down in the hollow of his hands to the next level, "where guilt is at its depth." Although Dante's terror in the giant's grip is almost overwhelming, he is relieved when his feet touch the ground once more, and he watches with awe as the giant straightens up again like the mast of a huge ship.

                 "Yet in the abyss,
  That Lucifer with Judas low ingulfs,
  Lightly he placed us; nor, there leaning, stay'd;
  But rose, as in a barque the stately mast."

Canto XXXII. Confessing that it is no easy task to describe the bottom of the universe which he has now reached, Dante relates how perpendicular rocks reached up on all sides as far as he could see. He is gazing upward in silent wonder, when Virgil suddenly cautions him to beware lest he tread upon some unfortunate. Gazing down at his feet, Dante then becomes aware that he is standing on a frozen lake, wherein stick fast innumerable sinners, whose heads alone emerge, eased in ice owing to the tears constantly flowing down their cheeks.

Seeing two so close together that their very hair seems to mingle, Dante, on inquiring, learns they are two brothers who slew each other in an inheritance quarrel, for this is Caina, the region where the worst murderers are punished, and, like every other part of the Inferno, it is crowded with figures.

                     "A thousand visages
  Then mark'd, I, which the keen and eager cold
  Had shaped into a doggish grin; whence creeps
  A shivering horror o'er me, at the thought
  Of those frore shallows."

It happens that, while following his guide over the ice, Dante's foot strikes a projecting head. Permission being granted him to question its owner, Dante, because he at first refuses to speak, threatens to pull every hair out of his head, and actually gives him a few hard tugs. Then the man admits he is a traitor and that there are many others of his ilk in Antenora, the second division of the lowest circle.

Canto XXXIII. Beholding another culprit greedily gnawing the head of a companion, Dante learns that while on earth this culprit was Count Ugolino de'Gherardeschi, whom his political opponents, headed by the Archbishop Ruggiero, seized by treachery and locked up in the Famine-tower at Pisa, with two sons and two grandsons. Ugolino feelingly describes his horror when one morning he heard them nail up the door of the prison, and realized he and his were doomed to starve! Not a word did the prisoners exchange regarding their fate, although all were aware of the suffering awaiting them. At the end of twenty-four hours, beholding traces of hunger in the beloved faces of his children, Ugolino gnawed his fists in pain. One of his grandsons, interpreting this as a sign of unbearable hunger, then suggested that he eat one of them, whereupon he realized how needful it was to exercise self-control if he did not wish to increase the sufferings of the rest. Ugolino then describes how they daily grew weaker, until his grandsons died at the end of the fourth day, vainly begging him to help them. Then his sons passed away, and, groping blindly among the dead, he lingered on, until, famine becoming more potent than anything else, he yielded to its demands. Having finished this grewsome tale, Ugolino continued his feast upon the head of his foe!

                 "Thus having spoke,
  Once more upon the wretched skull his teeth
  He fasten'd like a mastiff's 'gainst the bone,
  Firm and unyielding."

Dante, passing on, discovers many other victims encased in the ice, and is so chilled by a glacial breeze that his face muscles stiffen. He is about to ask Virgil whence this wind proceeds, when one of the ice-encrusted victims implores him to remove its hard mask from his face. Promising to do so in return for the man's story, Dante learns he is a friar who, in order to rid himself of inconvenient kinsmen, invited them all to dinner, where he suddenly uttered the fatal words which served as a signal for hidden assassins to despatch them. When Dante indignantly exclaims the perpetrator of this heinous deed is on earth, the criminal admits that, although his shadow still lingers above ground, his soul is down here in Ptolomea, undergoing the penalty for his sins. Hearing this, Dante refuses to clear away the ice, and excuses himself to his readers by stating "ill manners were best courtesy to him." Canto XXXIV. Virgil now directs Dante's glance ahead, until our poet dimly descries what looks like an immense windmill. Placing Dante behind him to shield him a little from the cruel blast, Virgil leads him past countless culprits, declaring they have reached Judecca, a place where it behooves him to arm his heart with strength. So stiff with cold that he is hovering between life and death, Dante now beholds Dis or Satan,—Emperor of the Infernal Regions,—sunk in ice down to his waist, and discovers that the wind is caused by the constant flutter of his bat-like wings. He also perceives that Satan is as much larger than the giants just seen, as they surpass mankind, and states that, were the father of evil as fair as he is foul, one might understand his daring to defy God.

              "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."

Then Dante describes Satan's three heads, one red, one yellow and white, and one green, declaring that the arch-fiend munches in each mouth the sinners Judas, Cassius, and Brutus. After allowing Dante to gaze a while at this appalling sight, Virgil informs his charge that, having seen all, it behooves them to depart. With a brief order to Dante to cling tightly around his neck, Virgil, seizing a moment when Satan's wings are raised, darts beneath them, and clutching the demon's shaggy sides painfully descends toward the centre of the earth. Down, down they go until they reach the evil spirit's thighs, where, the centre of earth's gravity being reached, Virgil suddenly turns around and begins an upward climb with his burden. Although Dante fully expects soon to behold Satan's head once more, he is amazed to discover they are climbing up his leg. Then, through a chimney-like ascent, where the climbing demands all their strength, Dante and Virgil ascend toward the upper air.

Explaining they are about to emerge at the antipodes of the spot where they entered Hades, where they will behold the great Western Sea, Virgil adds they will find in its centre the Mount of Purgatory, constructed of the earth displaced by Satan's fall. Thus, Dante and his leader return to the bright world, and, issuing from the dark passage in which they have been travelling, once more behold the stars!

                   "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,
  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."


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