Stories from the Italian Poets: With Lives of the Writers, Volume 1
by Leigh Hunt
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His angels, however, are another matter. Belief was prepared for those winged human forms, and they furnished him with some of his most beautiful combinations of the natural with the supernatural. Ginguene has remarked the singular variety as well as beauty of Dante's angels. Milton's, indeed, are commonplace in the comparison. In the eighth canto of the Inferno, the devils insolently refuse the poet and his guide an entrance into the city of Dis:—an angel comes sweeping over the Stygian lake to enforce it; the noise of his wings makes the shores tremble, and is like a crashing whirlwind such as beats down the trees and sends the peasants and their herds flying before it. The heavenly messenger, after rebuking the devils, touches the portals of the city with his wand; they fly open; and he returns the way he came without uttering a word to the two companions. His face was that of one occupied with other thoughts. This angel is announced by a tempest. Another, who brings the souls of the departed to Purgatory, is first discovered at a distance, gradually disclosing white splendours, which are his wings and garments. He comes in a boat, of which his wings are the sails; and as he approaches, it is impossible to look him in the face for its brightness. Two other angels have green wings and green garments, and the drapery is kept in motion like a flag by the vehement action of the wings. A fifth has a face like the morning star, casting forth quivering beams. A sixth is of a lustre so oppressive, that the poet feels a weight on his eyes before he knows what is coming. Another's presence affects the senses like the fragrance of a May-morning; and another is in garments dark as cinders, but has a sword in his hand too sparkling to be gazed at. Dante's occasional pictures of the beauties of external nature are worthy of these angelic creations, and to the last degree fresh and lovely. You long to bathe your eyes, smarting with the fumes of hell, in his dews. You gaze enchanted on his green fields and his celestial blue skies, the more so from the pain and sorrow in midst of which the visions are created.

Dante's grandeur of every kind is proportionate to that of his angels, almost to his ferocity; and that is saying every thing. It is not always the spiritual grandeur of Milton, the subjection of the material impression to the moral; but it is equally such when he chooses, and far more abundant. His infernal precipices—his black whirlwinds—his innumerable cries and claspings of hands—his very odours of huge loathsomeness—his giants at twilight standing up to the middle in pits, like towers, and causing earthquakes when they move—his earthquake of the mountain in Purgatory, when a spirit is set free for heaven—his dignified Mantuan Sordello, silently regarding him and his guide as they go by, "like a lion on his watch"—his blasphemer, Capaneus, lying in unconquered rage and sullenness under an eternal rain of flakes of fire (human precursor of Milton's Satan)—his aspect of Paradise, "as if the universe had smiled"—his inhabitants of the whole planet Saturn crying out so loud, in accordance with the anti-papal indignation of Saint Pietro Damiano, that the poet, though among them, could not hear what they said—and the blushing eclipse, like red clouds at sunset, which takes place at the apostle Peter's denunciation of the sanguinary filth of the court of Rome—all these sublimities, and many more, make us not know whether to be more astonished at the greatness of the poet or the raging littleness of the man. Grievous is it to be forced to bring two such opposites together; and I wish, for the honour and glory of poetry, I did not feel compelled to do so. But the swarthy Florentine had not the healthy temperament of his brethren, and he fell upon evil times. Compared with Homer and Shakspeare, his very intensity seems only superior to theirs from an excess of the morbid; and he is inferior to both in other sovereign qualities of poetry—to the one, in giving you the healthiest general impression of nature itself—to Shakspeare, in boundless universality—to most great poets, in thorough harmony and delightfulness. He wanted (generally speaking) the music of a happy and a happy-making disposition. Homer, from his large vital bosom, breathes like a broad fresh air over the world, amidst alternate storm and sunshine, making you aware that there is rough work to be faced, but also activity and beauty to be enjoyed. The feeling of health and strength is predominant. Life laughs at death itself, or meets it with a noble confidence—is not taught to dread it as a malignant goblin. Shakspeare has all the smiles as well as tears of nature, and discerns the "soul of goodness in things evil." He is comedy as well as tragedy—the entire man in all his qualities, moods, and experiences; and he beautifies all. And both those truly divine poets make nature their subject through her own inspiriting medium—not through the darkened glass of one man's spleen and resentment. Dante, in constituting himself the hero of his poem, not only renders her, in the general impression, as dreary as himself, in spite of the occasional beautiful pictures he draws of her, but narrows her very immensity into his pettiness. He fancied, alas, that he could build her universe over again out of the politics of old Rome and the divinity of the schools!

Dante, besides his great poem, and a few Latin eclogues of no great value, wrote lyrics full of Platonical sentiment, some of which anticipated the loveliest of Petrarch's; and he was the author of various prose works, political and philosophical, all more or less masterly for the time in which he lived, and all coadjutors of his poetry in fixing his native tongue. His account of his Early Life (the Vita Nuova) is a most engaging history of a boyish passion, evidently as real and true on his own side as love and truth can be, whatever might be its mistake as to its object. The treatise on the Vernacular Tongue (de Vulgari Eloquio) shews how critically he considered his materials for impressing the world, and what a reader he was of every production of his contemporaries. The Banquet (Convito) is but an abstruse commentary on some of his minor poems; but the book on Monarchy (de Monarchia) is a compound of ability and absurdity, in which his great genius is fairly overborne by the barbarous pedantry of the age. It is an argument to prove that the world must all be governed by one man; that this one man must be the successor of the Roman Emperor—God having manifestly designed the world to be subject for ever to the Roman empire; and lastly, that this Emperor is equally designed by God to be independent of the Pope—spiritually subject to him, indeed, but so far only as a good son is subject to the religious advice of his father; and thus making Church and State happy for ever in the two divided supremacies. And all this assumption of the obsolete and impossible the author gravely proves in all the forms of logic, by arguments drawn from the history of AEneas, and the providential cackle of the Roman geese!

How can the patriots of modern Italy, justified as they are in extolling the poet to the skies, see him plunge into such depths of bigotry in his verse and childishness in his prose, and consent to perplex the friends of advancement with making a type of their success out of so erring though so great a man? Such slavishness, even to such greatness, is a poor and unpromising thing, compared with an altogether unprejudiced and forward-looking self-reliance. To have no faith in names has been announced as one of their principles; and "God and Humanity" is their motto. What, therefore, has Dante's name to do with their principles? or what have the semi-barbarisms of the thirteenth century to do with the final triumph of "God and Humanity?" Dante's lauded wish for that union of the Italian States, which his fame has led them so fondly to identify with their own, was but a portion of his greater and prouder wish to see the whole world at the feet of his boasted ancestress, Rome. Not, of course, that he had no view to what he considered good and just government (for what sane despot purposes to rule without that?); but his good and just government was always to be founded on the sine qua non principle of universal Italian domination.[35]

All that Dante said or did has its interest for us in spite of his errors, because he was an earnest and suffering man and a great genius; but his fame must ever continue to lie where his greatest blame does, in his principal work. He was a gratuitous logician, a preposterous politician, a cruel theologian; but his wonderful imagination, and (considering the bitterness that was in him) still more wonderful sweetness, have gone into the hearts of his fellow-creatures, and will remain there in spite of the moral and religious absurdities with which they are mingled, and of the inability which the best-natured readers feel to associate his entire memory, as a poet, with their usual personal delight in a poet and his name.

[Footnote 1: As notices of Dante's life have often been little but repetitions of former ones, I think it due to the painstaking character of this volume to state, that besides consulting various commentators and critics, from Boccaccio to Fraticelli and others, I have diligently perused the Vita di Dante, by Cesare Balbo, with Rocco's annotations; the Histoire Litteraire d'Italie, by Ginguene; the Discorso sul Testo della Commedia, by Foscolo; the Amori e Rime di Dante of Arrivabene; the Veltro Allegorico di Dante, by Troja; and Ozanam's Dante et la Philosophie Catholique an Treixieme Siecle.]

[Footnote 2: Canto xv. 88.]

[Footnote 3: For the doubt apparently implied respecting the district, see canto xvi. 43, or the summary of it in the present volume. The following is the passage alluded to in the philosophical treatise "Risponder si vorrebbe, non colle parole, ma col coltello, a tanta bestialita." Convito,—Opere Minori, 12mo, Fir. 1834, vol. II. p. 432. "Beautiful mode" (says Perticeri in a note) "of settling questions."]

[Footnote 4: Istorie Fiorentine, II. 43 (in Tutte le Opere, 4to, 1550).]

[Footnote 5: The name has been varied into Allagheri, Aligieri, Alleghieri, Alligheri, Aligeri, with the accent generally on the third, but sometimes on the second syllable. See Foscolo, Discorso sul Testo, p. 432. He says, that in Verona, where descendants of the poet survive, they call it Aligeri. But names, like other words, often wander so far from their source, that it is impossible to ascertain it. Who would suppose that Pomfret came from Pontefract, or wig from parrucca? Coats of arms, unless in very special instances, prove nothing but the whims of the heralds.

Those who like to hear of anything in connexion with Dante or his name, may find something to stir their fancies in the following grim significations of the word in the dictionaries:

"Dante, a kind of great wild beast in Africa, that hath a very hard skin."—Florio's Dictionary, edited by Torreggiano.

"Dante, an animal called otherwise the Great Beast."—Vocabolario della Crusca, Compendiato, Ven. 1729.]

[Footnote 6: See the passage in "Hell," where Virgil, to express his enthusiastic approbation of the scorn and cruelty which Dante chews to one of the condemned, embraces and kisses him for a right "disdainful soul," and blesses the "mother that bore him."]

[Footnote 7: Opere minori, vol iii 12. Flor. 1839, pp. 292 &c.]

[Footnote 8: "Beatrix quitta la terre dans tout l'eclat de la jeunesse et de la virginite." See the work as above entitled, Paris, 1840, p. 60. The words in Latin, as quoted from the will by the critic alluded to in the _Foreign Quarterly Review_ (No._ 65, art. _Dante Allighieri_), are, "Bici filiae suae et uxori D. (Domini) Simonis de Bardis." "Bici" is the Latin dative case of Bice, the abbreviation of Beatrice. This employment, by the way, of an abbreviated name in a will, may seem to go counter to the deductions respecting the name of Dante. And it may really do so. Yet a will is not an epitaph, nor the address of a beatified spirit; neither is equal familiarity perhaps implied, as a matter of course, in the abbreviated names of male and female.]

[Footnote 9: Vita Nuova. ut sup. p. 343]

[Footnote 10: Vita Nuova, p. 345.]

[Footnote 11: In the article on Dante, in the Foreign Quarterly Review, (ut supra), the exordium of which made me hope that the eloquent and assumption-denouncing writer was going to supply a good final account of his author, equally satisfactory for its feeling and its facts, but which ended in little better than the customary gratuitousness of wholesale panegyric, I was surprised to find the union with Gemma Donati characterised as "calm and cold,—rather the accomplishment of a social duty than the result of an irresistible impulse of the heart," p. 15. The accomplishment of the "social duty" is an assumption, not very probable with regard to any body, and much less so in a fiery Italian of twenty-six; but the addition of the epithets, "calm and cold," gives it a sort of horror. A reader of this article, evidently the production of a man of ability but of great wilfulness, is tempted to express the disappointment it has given him in plainer terms than might be wished, in consequence of the extraordinary license which its writer does not scruple to allow to his own fancies, in expressing his opinion of what he is pleased to think the fancies of others.]

[Footnote 12: "Le invettive contr' essa per tanti secoli originarono dalla enumerazione rettorica del Boccaccio di tutti gli inconvenienti del matrimonio, e dove per altro ei dichiara,—'Certo io non affermo queste cose a Dante essere avvenute, che non lo so; comeche vero sia, che o a simili cose a queste, o ad altro che ne fusse cagione, egli una volta da lei partitosi, che per consolazione de' suoi affanni gli era stata data, mai ne dove ella fusse volle venire, ne sofferse che dove egli fusse ella venisse giammai, con tutto che di piu figliuoli egli insieme con lei fusse parente." Discorso sul Testo, ut sup. Londra, Pickering, 1825, p. 184.]

[Footnote 13: Foscolo, in the Edinburgh review, vol. xxx. p. 351. ]

[Footnote 14: "Ahi piaciuto fosse al Dispensatore dell'universo, che la cagione della mia scusa mai non fosse stata; che ne altri contro a me avria fallato, ne io sofferto avrei pena ingiustamente; pena, dico, d'esilio e di poverta. Poiche fu piacere de' cittadini della bellissima e famosissima figlia di Roma, Florenza, di gettarmi fuori del suo dolcissimo seno (nel quale nato e nudrito fui sino al colmo della mia vita, e nel quale, con buona pace di quella, desidero con tutto il core di riposare l'animo stanco, e terminare il tempo che m'e dato); per le parti quasi tutte, alle quali questa lingua si stende, peregrino, quasi mendicando, sono andato, mostrando contro a mia voglia la piaga della fortuna, che suole ingiustamente al piagato molte volte essere imputata. Veramente io sono stato legno sanza vela e sanza governo, portato a diversi porti e foci e liti dal vento secco che vapora la dolorosa poverta; e sono vile apparito agli occhi a molti, che forse per alcuna fama in altra forma mi aveano immaginato; nel cospetto de' quali non solamente mia persona invilio, ma di minor pregio si fece ogni opera, si gia fatta, come quella che fosse a fare."-Opere Minori, ut sup. vol. ii. p. 20.]

[Footnote 15: "In licteris vestris et reverentia debita et affectione receptis, quam repatriatio mea cure sit vobis ex animo grata mente ac diligenti animaversione concepi, etenim tanto me districtius obligastis, quanto rarius exules invenire amicos contingit. ad illam vero significata respondeo: et si non eatenus qualiter forsam pusillanimitas appeteret aliquorum, ut sub examine vestri consilii ante judicium, affectuose deposco. ecce igitur quod per licteras vestri mei: que nepotis, necnon aliorum quamplurium amicorum significatum est mihi. per ordinamentum nuper factum Florentie super absolutione bannitorum. quod si solvere vellem certam pecunie quantitatem, vellemque pati notam oblationis et absolvi possem et redire ut presens. in quo quidem duo ridenda et male perconciliata sunt. Pater, dico male perconciliata per illos qui tali expresserunt: nam vestre litere discretius et consultius clausulate nicil de talibus continebant. estne ista revocatio gloriosa qua d. all. (i. e. Dantes Alligherius) revocatur ad patriam per trilustrium fere perpessus exilium? becne meruit conscientia manifesta quibuslibet? hec sudor et labor continuatus in studiis? absit a viro philosophie domestica temeraria terreni cordis humilitas, ut more cujusdam cioli et aliorum infamiam quasi vinctus ipse se patiatur offerri. absit a viro predicante justitiam, ut perpessus injuriam inferentibus. velud benemerentibus, pecuniam suam solvat. non est hec via redeundi ad patriam, Pater mi, sed si alia per vos, aut deinde per alios invenietur que fame d. (Dantis) que onori non deroget, illam non lentis passibus acceptabo. quod si per nullam talem Florentia introitur, nunquam Florentiam introibo. quidni? nonne solis astrorumque specula ubique conspiciam? nonne dulcissimas veritates potero speculari ubique sub celo, ni prius inglorium, imo ignominiosum populo, Florentineque civitati am reddam? quippe panis non deficiet."]

[Footnote 16: Opere minori, ut sup. vol iii. p. 186.]

[Footnote 17: Veltro Allegorico di Dante, ut sup. p. 208, where the Appendix contains the Latin original.]

[Footnote 18: See Fraticelli's Dissertation on the Convito, in Opere Minori, ut sup. vol. ii. p. 560.]

[Footnote 19: Discorso sul Testo, p. 54.]

[Footnote 20: Balbo. Naples edition, p. 132.]

[Footnote 21: "Di se stesso presunse maravigliosamente tanto, che essendo egli glorioso nel colmo del reggimento della republica, e ragionandosi tra maggiori cittadini di mandare, per alcuna gran bisogna, ambasciata a Bonifazio Papa VIII., e che principe della ambasciata fosse Dante, ed egli in cio in presenzia di tutti quegli che cio consigliavano richiesto, avvenne, che soprastando egli alla risposta, alcun disse, che pensi? alle quali parole egli rispose: penso, se io vo, chi rimane; e s'io rimango, chi va: quasi esso solo fosse colui che tra tutti valesse e per cui tutti gli altri valessero." And he goes on to say respecting the stone-throwing—"Appresso, come che il nostro poeta nelle sua avversita paziente o no si fosse, in una fu impazientissimo: ed egli infino al cominciamento del suo esilio stato guelfissimo, non essendogli aperta la via del ritornare in casa sua, si fuor di modo divento ghibellino, che ogni femminella, ogni picciol fanciullo, e quante volte avesse voluto, ragionando di parte, e la guelfa proponendo alla ghibellino, l'avrebbe non solamente fatto turbare, ma a tanta insania commosso, che se taciuto non fosse, a gittar le pietre l'avrebbe condotto." (Vita di Dante, prefixed to the Paris edition of the Commedia, 1844, p. XXV.) And then the "buon Boccaccio," with his accustomed sweetness of nature, begs pardon of so great a man, for being obliged to relate such things of him, and doubts whether his spirit may not be looking down on him that moment disdainfully from heaven! Such an association of ideas had Dante produced between the celestial and the scornful!]

[Footnote 22: Novelle di Franco Sacchetti, Milan edition, 1804, vol. ii. p. 148. It forms the setting, or frame-work, of an inferior story, and is not mentioned in the heading.]

[Footnote 23: The Vision; or, Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, of Dante Alighieri, &c. Smith's edition, 1844, p. 90.]

[Footnote 24: Discorso sul Testo, pp. 64, 77-90, 335-338.]

[Footnote 25: Purgatorio, canto III. 118, 138; referred to by Foscolo, in the Discorso sul Testo, p. 383.]

[Footnote 26: Warton's History of English Poetry, edition of 1840, vol. iii. p. 214.]

[Footnote 27: Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart. vol. ii. p. 122.]

[Footnote 28: Pentameron and Pentalogia, pp. 44-50.]

[Footnote 29: Discorso sul Testo, p. 226. The whole passage (sect. cx.) is very eloquent, horrible, and self-betraying.]

[Footnote 30: Discorso, as above, p. 101.]

[Footnote 31: Discorso, p. 103.]

[Footnote 32: Criticisms on the Rolliad, and Probationary Odes for the Laureateship. Third edit. 17S5, p. 317.]

[Footnote 33: The writer of the article on Dante in the Foreign Quarterly Review (as above) concedes that his hero in this passage becomes "almost cruel." Almost! Tormenting a man further, who is up to his chin in everlasting ice, and whose face he has kicked!]

[Footnote 34: "Cortesia fu lui esser villano." Inferno, canto xxxiii. 150.]

[Footnote 35: Every body sees this who is not wilfully blind. "Passionate," says the editor of the Opere Minori, "for the ancient Italian glories, and the greatness of the Roman name, he was of opinion that it was only by means of combined strength, and one common government, that Italy could be finally secured from discord in its own bosom and enemies from without, and recover its ancient empire over the whole world." "Amantissimo delle antiche glorie Italiane, e della grandezza del nome romano, ei considerava, che soltanto pel mezzo d'una general forza ed autorita poteva l'Italia dalle interne contese e dalle straniere invasioni restarsi sicura, e recuperare l'antico imperio sopra tutte le genti."—Ut sup. vol. iii. p. 8.]





The infernal regions, according to Dante, are situate in the globe we inhabit, directly beneath Jerusalem, and consist of a succession of gulfs or circles, narrowing as they descend, and terminating in the centre; so that the general shape is that of a funnel. Commentators have differed as to their magnitude; but the latest calculation gives 315 miles for the diameter of the mouth or crater, and a quarter of a mile for that of its terminating point. In the middle is the abyss, pervading the whole depth, and 245 miles in diameter at the opening; which reduces the different platforms, or territories that surround it, to a size comparatively small. These territories are more or less varied with land and water, lakes, precipices, &c. A precipice, fourteen miles high, divides the first of them from the second. The passages from the upper world to the entrance are various; and the descents from one circle to another are effected by the poet and his guide in different manners-sometimes on foot through by-ways, sometimes by the conveyance of supernatural beings. The crater he finds to be the abode of those who have done neither good nor evil, caring for nothing but themselves. In the first circle are the whole unbaptised world—heathens and infants—melancholy, though not tormented. Here also is found the Elysium of Virgil, whose Charon and other infernal beings are among the agents of torment. In the second circle the torments commence with the sin of incontinence; and the punishment goes deepening with the crime from circle to circle, through gluttony, avarice, prodigality, wrath, sullenness, or unwillingness to be pleased with the creation, disbelief in God and the soul (with which the punishment by fire commences), usury, murder, suicide, blasphemy, seduction and other carnal enormities, adulation, simony, soothsaying, astrology, witchcraft, trafficking with the public interest, hypocrisy, highway robbery (on the great Italian scale), sacrilege, evil counsel, disturbance of the Church, heresy, false apostleship, alchemy, forgery, coining (all these, from seduction downwards, in one circle); then, in the frozen or lowest circle of all, treachery; and at the bottom of this is Satan, stuck into the centre of the earth.

With the centre of the globe commences the antipodean attraction of its opposite side, together with a rocky ascent out of it, through a huge ravine. The poet and his guide, on their arrival at this spot, accordingly find their position reversed; and so conclude their downward journey upwards, till they issue forth to light on the borders of the sea which contains the island of Purgatory.


Dante says, that when he was half-way on his pilgrimage through this life, he one day found himself, towards nightfall, in a wood where he could no longer discern the right path. It was a place so gloomy and terrible, every thing in it growing in such a strange and savage manner, that the horror he felt returned on him whenever he thought of it. The pass of death could hardly be more bitter. Travelling through it all night with a beating heart, he at length came to the foot of a hill, and looking up, as he began to ascend it, he perceived the shoulders of the hill clad in the beams of morning; a sight which gave him some little comfort. He felt like a man who has buffeted his way to land out of a shipwreck, and who, though still anxious to get farther from his peril, cannot help turning round to gaze on the wide waters. So did he stand looking back on the pass that contained that dreadful wood. After resting a while, he again betook him up the hill; but had not gone far when he beheld a leopard bounding in front of him, and hindering his progress. After the leopard came a lion, with his head aloft, mad with hunger, and seeming to frighten the very air;[1] and after the lion, more eager still, a she-wolf, so lean that she appeared to be sharpened with every wolfish want. The pilgrim fled back in terror to the wood, where he again found himself in a darkness to which the light never penetrated. In that place, he said, the sun never spoke word.[2] But the wolf was still close upon him.[3]

While thus flying, he beheld coming towards him a man, who spoke something, but he knew not what. The voice sounded strange and feeble, as if from disuse. Dante loudly called out to him to save him, whether he was a man or only a spirit. The apparition, at whose sight the wild beasts disappeared, said that he was no longer man, though man he had been in the time of the false gods, and sung the history of the offspring of Anchises.

"And art thou, then, that Virgil," said Dante, "who has filled the world with such floods of eloquence? O glory and light of all poets, thou art my master, and thou mine author; thou alone the book from which I have gathered beauties that have gained me praise. Behold the peril I am in, and help me, for I tremble in every vein and pulse."

Virgil comforted Dante. He told him that he must quit the wood by another road, and that he himself would be his guide, leading him first to behold the regions of woe underground, and then the spirits that lived content in fire because it purified them for heaven; and then that he would consign him to other hands worthier than his own, which should raise him to behold heaven itself; for as the Pagans, of whom he was one, had been rebels to the law of him that reigns there, nobody could arrive at Paradise by their means.[4]

So saying, Virgil moved on his way, and Dante closely followed. He expressed a fear, however, as they went, lest being "neither AEneas nor St. Paul," his journey could not be worthily undertaken, nor end in wisdom. But Virgil, after sharply rebuking him for his faintheartedness, told him, that the spirit of her whom he loved, Beatrice, had come down from heaven on purpose to commend her lover to his care; upon which the drooping courage of the pilgrim was raised to an undaunted confidence; as flowers that have been closed and bowed down by frosty nights, rise all up on their stems in the morning sun.[5]

"Non vuol che 'n sua citta per me si vegna."

The Pagans could not be rebels to a law they never heard of, any more than Dante could be a rebel to Luther. But this is one of the absurdities with which the impious effrontery or scarcely less impious admissions of Dante's teachers avowedly set reason at defiance,—retaining, meanwhile, their right of contempt for the impieties of Mahometans and Brahmins; "which is odd," as the poet says; for being not less absurd, or, as the others argued, much more so, they had at least an equal claim on the submission of the reason; since the greater the irrationality, the higher the theological triumph.

"Through me is the road to the dolorous city; Through me is the road to the everlasting sorrows; Through me is the road to the lost people. Justice was the motive of my exalted maker; I was made by divine power, by consummate wisdom, and by primal love; Before me was no created thing, if not eternal; and eternal am I also. Abandon hope, all ye who enter."

Such were the words which Dante beheld written in dark characters over a portal. "Master," said he to Virgil, "I find their meaning hard."

"A man," answered Virgil, "must conduct himself at this door like one prepared. Hither must he bring no mistrust. Hither can come and live no cowardice. We have arrived at the place I told thee of. Here thou art to behold the dolorous people who have lost all intellectual good." [6]

So saying, Virgil placed his hand on Dante's, looking on him with a cheerful countenance; and the Florentine passed with him through the dreadful gate.

They entered upon a sightless gulf, in which was a black air without stars; and immediately heard a hubbub of groans; and wailings, and terrible things said in many languages, words of wretchedness, outcries of rage, voices loud and hoarse, and sounds of the smitings of hands one against another. Dante began to weep. The sound was as if the sand in a whirlwind were turned into noises, and filled the blind air with incessant conflict.

Yet these were not the souls of the wicked. They were those only who had lived without praise or blame, thinking of nothing but themselves. These miserable creatures were mixed with the angels who stood neutral in the war with Satan. Heaven would not dull its brightness with those angels, nor would lower hell receive them, lest the bad ones should triumph in their company.

"And what is it," said Dante, "which makes them so grievously suffer?"

"Hopelessness of death," said Virgil. "Their blind existence here, and immemorable former life, make them so wretched, that they envy every other lot. Mercy and justice alike disdain them. Let us speak of them no more. Look, and pass."

The companions went on till they came to a great river with a multitude waiting on the banks. A hoary old man appeared crossing the river towards them in a boat; and as he came, he said, "Woe to the wicked. Never expect to see heaven. I come to bear you across to the dark regions of everlasting fire and ice." Then looking at Dante, he said, "Get thee away from the dead, thou who standest there, live spirit."

"Torment thyself not, Charon," said Virgil. "He has a passport beyond thy power to question."

The shaggy cheeks of the boatman of the livid lake, who had wheels of fire about his eyes, fell at these words; and he was silent. But the naked multitude of souls whom he had spoken to changed colour, and gnashed their teeth, blaspheming God, and their parents, and the human species, and the place, and the hour, and the seed of the sowing of their birth; and all the while they felt themselves driven onwards, by a fear which became a desire, towards the cruel river-side, which awaits every one destitute of the fear of God. The demon Charon, beckoning to them with eyes like brasiers, collected them as they came, giving blows to those that lingered, with his oar. One by one they dropped into the boat like leaves from a bough in autumn, till the bough is left bare; or as birds drop into the decoy at the sound of the bird-call.

There was then an earthquake, so terrible that the recollection of it made the poet burst into a sweat at every pore. A whirlwind issued from the lamenting ground, attended by vermilion flashes; and he lost his senses, and fell like a man stupefied.

A crash of thunder through his brain woke up the pilgrim so hastily, that he shook himself like a person roused by force. He found that he was on the brink of a gulf, from which ascended a thunderous sound of innumerable groanings. He could see nothing down it. It was too dark with sooty clouds. Virgil himself turned pale, but said, "We are to go down here. I will lead the way."

"O master," said Dante, "if even thou fearest, what is to become of myself?" "It is pity, not fear," replied Virgil, "that makes me change colour."

With these words his guide led him into the first circle of hell, surrounding the abyss. The great noise gradually ceased to be heard, as they journeyed inwards, till at last they became aware of a world of sighs, which produced a trembling in the air. They were breathed by the souls of such as had died without baptism, men, women, and infants; no matter how good; no matter if they worshipped God before the coming of Christ, for they worshipped him not "properly." Virgil himself was one of them. They were all lost for no other reason; and their "only suffering" consisted in "hopeless desire!"

Dante was struck with great sorrow when he heard this, knowing how many good men must be in that place. He inquired if no one had ever been taken out of it into heaven. Virgil told him there had, and he named them; to wit, Adam, Abel, Noah, Moses, King David, obedient Abraham the patriarch, and Isaac, and Jacob, with their children, and Rachel, for whom Jacob did so much,—and "many more;" adding, however, that there was no instance of salvation before theirs.

Journeying on through spirits as thick as leaves, Dante perceived a lustre at a little distance, and observing shapes in it evidently of great dignity, inquired who they were that thus lived apart from the rest. Virgil said that heaven thus favoured them by reason of their renown on earth. A voice was then heard exclaiming, "Honour and glory to the lofty poet! Lo, his shade returns." Dante then saw four other noble figures coming towards them, of aspect neither sad nor cheerful.

"Observe him with the sword in his hand," said Virgil, as they were advancing. "That is Homer, the poets' sovereign. Next to him comes Horace the satirist; then Ovid; and the last is Lucan."

"And thus I beheld," says Dante, "the bright school of the loftiest of poets, who flies above the rest like an eagle."

For a while the illustrious spirits talked together, and then turned to the Florentine with a benign salutation, at which his master smiled and "further honour they did me," adds the father of Italian poetry, "for they admitted me of their tribe; so that to a band of that high account I added a sixth." [7]

The spirits returned towards the bright light in which they lived, talking with Dante by the way, and brought him to a magnificent castle, girt with seven lofty walls, and further defended with a river, which they all passed as if it had been dry ground. Seven gates conducted them into a meadow of fresh green, the resort of a race whose eyes moved with a deliberate soberness, and whose whole aspects were of great authority, their voices sweet, and their speech seldom.[8] Dante was taken apart to an elevation in the ground, so that he could behold them all distinctly; and there, on the "enamelled green," [9] were pointed out to him the great spirits, by the sight of whom he felt exalted in his own esteem. He saw Electra with many companions, among whom were Hector and AEneas, and Caesar in armour with his hawk's eyes; and on another side he beheld old King Latinus with his daughter Lavinia, and the Brutus that expelled Tarquin, and Lucretia, and Julia, and Cato's wife Marcia, and the mother of the Gracchi, and, apart by himself, the Sultan Saladin. He then raised his eyes a little, and beheld the "master of those who know" [10] (Aristotle), sitting amidst the family of philosophers, and honoured by them all. Socrates and Plato were at his side. Among the rest was Democritus, who made the world a chance, and Diogenes, and Heraclitus, &c. and Dioscorides, the good gatherer of simples. Orpheus also he saw, and Cicero, and the moral Seneca, and Euclid, and Hippocrates, and Avicen, and Averroes, who wrote the great commentary, and others too numerous to mention. The company of six became diminished to two, and Virgil took him forth on a far different road, leaving that serene air for a stormy one; and so they descended again into darkness.

It was the second circle into which they now came—a sphere narrower than the first, and by so much more the wretcheder. Minos sat at the entrance, gnarling—he that gives sentence on every one that comes, and intimates the circle into which each is to be plunged by the number of folds into which he casts his tail round about him. Minos admonished Dante to beware how he entered unbidden, and warned him against his conductor; but Virgil sharply rebuked the judge, and bade him not set his will against the will that was power.

The pilgrims then descended through hell-mouth, till they came to a place dark as pitch, that bellowed with furious cross-winds, like a sea in a tempest. It was the first place of torment, and the habitation of carnal sinners. The winds, full of stifled voices, buffeted the souls for ever, whirling them away to and fro, and dashing them against one another. Whenever it seized them for that purpose, the wailing and the shrieking was loudest, crying out against the Divine Power. Sometimes a whole multitude came driven in a body like starlings before the wind, now hither and thither, now up, now down; sometimes they went in a line like cranes, when a company of those birds is beheld sailing along in the air, uttering its dolorous clangs.

Dante, seeing a group of them advancing, inquired of Virgil who they were. "Who are these," said he, "coming hither, scourged in the blackest part of the hurricane?"

"She at the head of them," said Virgil, "was empress over many nations. So foul grew her heart with lust, that she ordained license to be law, to the end that herself might be held blameless. She is Semiramis, of whom it is said that she gave suck to Ninus, and espoused him. Leading the multitude next to her is Dido, she that slew herself for love, and broke faith to the ashes of Sichaeus; and she that follows with the next is the luxurious woman, Cleopatra."

Dante then saw Helen, who produced such a world of misery; and the great Achilles, who fought for love till it slew him; and Paris; and Tristan; and a thousand more whom his guide pointed at, naming their names, every one of whom was lost through love.

The poet stood for a while speechless for pity, and like one bereft of his wits. He then besought leave to speak to a particular couple who went side by side, and who appeared to be borne before the wind with speed lighter than the rest. His conductor bade him wait till they came nigher, and then to entreat them gently by the love which bore them in that manner, and they would stop and speak with him. Dante waited his time, and then lifted up his voice between the gusts of wind, and adjured the two "weary souls" to halt and have speech with him, if none forbade their doing so; upon which they came to him, like doves to the nest.[11]

There was a lull in the tempest, as if on purpose to let them speak; and the female addressed Dante, saying, that as he showed such pity for their state, they would have prayed heaven to give peace and repose to his life, had they possessed the friendship of heaven.[12]

"Love," she said, "which is soon kindled in a gentle heart, seized this my companion for the fair body I once inhabited—how deprived of it, my spirit is bowed to recollect. Love, which compels the beloved person upon thoughts of love, seized me in turn with a delight in his passion so strong, that, as thou seest, even here it forsakes me not. Love brought us both to one end. The punishment of Cain awaits him that slew us."

The poet was struck dumb by this story. He hung down his head, and stood looking on the ground so long, that his guide asked him what was in his mind. "Alas!" answered he, "such then was this love, so full of sweet thoughts; and such the pass to which it brought them! Oh, Francesca!" he cried, turning again to the sad couple, "thy sufferings make me weep. But tell me, I pray thee, what was it that first made thee know, for a certainty, that his love was returned?—that thou couldst refuse him thine no longer?"

"There is not a greater sorrow," answered she, "than calling to mind happy moments in the midst of wretchedness.[13] But since thy desire is so great to know our story to the root, hear me tell it as well as I may for tears. It chanced, one day, that we sat reading the tale of Sir Launcelot, how love took him in thrall. We were alone, and had no suspicion. Often, as we read, our eyes became suspended,[14] and we changed colour; but one passage alone it was that overcame us. When we read how Genevra smiled, and how the lover, out of the depth of his love, could not help kissing that smile, he that is never more to be parted from me kissed me himself on the mouth, all in a tremble. Never had we go-between but that book. The writer was the betrayer. That day we read no more."

While these words were being uttered by one of the spirits, the other wailed so bitterly, that the poet thought he should have died for pity. His senses forsook him, and he fell flat on the ground, as a dead body falls.[15]

On regaining his senses, the poet found himself in the third circle of hell, a place of everlasting wet, darkness, and cold, one heavy slush of hail and mud, emitting a squalid smell. The triple-headed dog Cerberus, with red eyes and greasy black beard, large belly, and hands with claws, barked above the heads of the wretches who floundered in the mud, tearing, skinning, and dismembering them, as they turned their sore and soddened bodies from side to side. When he saw the two living men, he showed his fangs, and shook in every limb for desire of their flesh. Virgil threw lumps of dirt into his mouth, and so they passed him.

It was the place of Gluttons. The travellers passed over them, as if they had been ground to walk upon. But one of them sat up, and addressed the Florentine as his acquaintance. Dante did not know him, for the agony in his countenance. He was a man nicknamed Hog (Ciacco), and by no other name does the poet, or any one else, mention him. His countryman addressed him by it, though declaring at the same time that he wept to see him. Hog prophesied evil to his discordant native city, adding that there were but two just men in it—all the rest being given up to avarice, envy, and pride. Dante inquired by name respecting the fate of five other Florentines, who had done good, and was informed that they were all, for various offences, in lower gulfs of hell. Hog then begged that he would mention having seen him when he returned to the sweet world; and so, looking at him a little, bent his head, and disappeared among his blinded companions.

"Satan! hoa, Satan!" roared the demon Plutus, as the poets were descending into the fourth circle.

"Peace!" cried Virgil, "with thy swollen lip, thou accursed wolf. No one can hinder his coming down. God wills it." [16]

Flat fell Plutus, collapsed, like the sails of a vessel when the mast is split.

This circle was the most populous one they had yet come to. The sufferers, gifted with supernatural might, kept eternally rolling round it, one against another, with terrific violence, and so dashing apart, and returning. "Why grasp?" cried the one—"Why throw away?" cried the other; and thus exclaiming, they dashed furiously together.

They were the Avaricious and the Prodigal. Multitudes of them were churchmen, including cardinals and popes. Not all the gold beneath the moon could have purchased them a moment's rest. Dante asked if none of them were to be recognised by their countenances. Virgil said, "No;" for the stupid and sullied lives which they led on earth swept their faces away from all distinction for ever.

In discoursing of fortune, they descend by the side of a torrent, black as ink, into the fifth circle, or place of torment for the Angry, the Sullen, and the Proud. Here they first beheld a filthy marsh, full of dirty naked bodies, that in everlasting rage tore one another to pieces. In a quieter division of the pool were seen nothing but bubbles, carried by the ascent, from its slimy bottom, of the stifled words of the sullen. They were always saying, "We were sad and dark within us in the midst of the sweet sunshine, and now we live sadly in the dark bogs." The poets walked on till they came to the foot of a tower, which hung out two blazing signals to another just discernible in the distance. A boat came rapidly towards them, ferried by the wrathful Phlegyas;[17] who cried out, "Aha, felon! and so thou hast come at last!"

"Thou errest," said Virgil. "We come for no longer time than it will take thee to ferry us across thy pool."

Phlegyas looked like one defrauded of his right; but proceeded to convey them. During their course a spirit rose out of the mire, looking Dante in the face, and said, "Who art thou, that comest before thy time?"

"Who art thou?" said Dante.

"Thou seest who I am," answered the other; "one among the mourners."

"Then mourn still, and howl, accursed spirit," returned the Florentine. "I know thee, all over filth as thou art."

The wretch in fury laid hold of the boat, but Virgil thrust him back, exclaiming, "Down with thee! down among the other dogs!"

Then turning to Dante, he embraced and kissed him, saying, "O soul, that knows how to disdain, blessed be she that bore thee! Arrogant, truly, upon earth was this sinner, nor is his memory graced by a single virtue. Hence the furiousness of his spirit now. How many kings are there at this moment lording it as gods, who shall wallow here, as he does, like swine in the mud, and be thought no better of by the world!" "I should like to see him smothering in it," said Dante, "before we go."

"A right wish," said Virgil, "and thou shalt, to thy heart's content."

On a sudden the wretch's muddy companions seized and drenched him so horribly that (exclaims Dante) "I laud and thank God for it now at this moment."

"Have at him!" cried they; "have at Filippo Argenti;" and the wild fool of a Florentine dashed his teeth for rage into his own flesh.[18]

The poet's attention was now drawn off by a noise of lamentation, and he perceived that he was approaching the city of Dis.[19] The turrets glowed vermilion with the fire within it, the walls appeared to be of iron, and moats were round about them. The boat circuited the walls till the travellers came to a gate, which Phlegyas, with a loud voice, told them to quit the boat and enter. But a thousand fallen angels crowded over the top of the gate, refusing to open it, and making furious gestures. At length they agreed to let Virgil speak with them inside; and he left Dante for a while, standing in terror without. The parley was in vain. They would not let them pass. Virgil, however, bade his companion be of good cheer, and then stood listening and talking to himself; disclosing by his words his expectation of some extraordinary assistance, and at the same time his anxiety for its arrival. On a sudden, three raging figures arose over the gate, coloured with gore. Green hydras twisted about them; and their fierce temples had snakes instead of hair.

"Look," said Virgil. "The Furies! The one on the left is Megaera; Alecto is she that is wailing on the right; and in the middle is Tisiphone." Virgil then hushed. The Furies stood clawing their breasts, smiting their hands together, and raising such hideous cries, that Dante clung to his friend.

"Bring the Gorgon's head!" cried the Furies, looking down; "turn him to adamant!"

"Turn round," said Virgil, "and hide thy face; for if thou beholdest the Gorgon, never again wilt thou see the light of day." And with these words he seized Dante and turned him round himself, clapping his hands over his companion's eyes.

And now was heard coming over the water a terrible crashing noise, that made the banks on either side of it tremble. It was like a hurricane which comes roaring through the vain shelter of the woods, splitting and hurling away the boughs, sweeping along proudly in a huge cloud of dust, and making herds and herdsmen fly before it. "Now stretch your eyesight across the water," said Virgil, letting loose his hands;—"there, where the smoke of the foam is thickest." Dante looked; and saw a thousand of the rebel angels, like frogs before a serpent, swept away into a heap before the coming of a single spirit, who flew over the tops of the billows with unwet feet. The spirit frequently pushed the gross air from before his face, as if tired of the base obstacle; and as he came nearer, Dante, who saw it was a messenger from heaven, looked anxiously at Virgil. Virgil motioned him to be silent and bow down.

The angel, with a face full of scorn, as soon as he arrived at the gate, touched it with a wand that he had in his hand, and it flew open.

"Outcasts of heaven," said he; "despicable race! whence this fantastical arrogance? Do ye forget that your torments are laid oil thicker every time ye kick against the Fates? Do ye forget how your Cerberus was bound and chained till he lost the hair off his neck like a common dog?"

So saying he turned swiftly and departed the way he came, not addressing a word to the travellers. His countenance had suddenly a look of some other business, totally different from the one he had terminated.

The companions passed in, and beheld a place full of tombs red-hot. It was the region of Arch heretics and their followers. Dante and his guide passed round betwixt the walls and the sepulchres as in a churchyard, and came to the quarter which held Epicurus and his sect, who denied the existence of spirit apart from matter. The lids of the tombs remaining unclosed till the day of judgment, the soul of a noble Florentine, Farinata degli Uberti, hearing Dante speak, addressed him as a countryman, asking him to stop.[20] Dante, alarmed, beheld him rise half out of his sepulchre, looking as lofty as if he scorned hell itself. Finding who Dante was, he boasted of having three times expelled the Guelphs. "Perhaps so," said the poet; "but they came back again each time; an art which their enemies have not yet acquired."

A visage then appeared from out another tomb, looking eagerly, as if it expected to see some one else. Being disappointed, the tears came into its eyes, and the sufferer said, "If it is thy genius that conducts thee hither, where is my son, and why is he not with thee?"

"It is not my genius that conducts me," said Dante, "but that of one, whom perhaps thy son held in contempt."

"How sayest thou?" cried the shade;—"held in contempt? He is dead then? He beholds no longer the sweet light?" And with these words he dropped into his tomb, and was seen no more. It was Cavalcante Cavalcanti, the father of the poet's friend, Guido.[21]

The shade of Farinata, who had meantime been looking on, now replied to the taunt of Dante, prophesying that he should soon have good reason to know that the art he spoke of had been acquired; upon which Dante, speaking with more considerateness to the lofty sufferer, requested to know how the gift of prophecy could belong to spirits who were ignorant of the time present. Farinata answered that so it was; just as there was a kind of eyesight which could discern things at a distance though not at hand. Dante then expressed his remorse at not having informed Cavalcante that his son was alive. He said it was owing to his being overwhelmed with thought on the subject he had just mentioned, and entreated Farinata to tell him so.

Quitting this part of the cemetery, Virgil led him through the midst of it towards a descent into a valley, from which there ascended a loathsome odour. They stood behind one of the tombs for a while, to accustom themselves to the breath of it; and then began to descend a wild fissure in a rock, near the mouth of which lay the infamy of Crete, the Minotaur. The monster beholding them gnawed himself for rage; and on their persisting to advance, began plunging like a bull when he is stricken by the knife of the butcher. They succeeded, however, in entering the fissure before he recovered sufficiently from his madness to run at them; and at the foot of the descent, came to a river of boiling blood, on the strand of which ran thousands of Centaurs armed with bows and arrows. In the blood, more or less deep according to the amount of the crime, and shrieking as they boiled, were the souls of the Inflicters of Violence; and if any of them emerged from it higher than he had a right to do, the Centaurs drove him down with their arrows. Nessus, the one that bequeathed Hercules the poisoned garment, came galloping towards the pilgrims, bending his bow, and calling out from a distance to know who they were; but Virgil, disdaining his hasty character, would explain himself only to Chiron, the Centaur who instructed Achilles. Chiron, in consequence, bade Nessus accompany them along the river; and there they saw tyrants immersed up to the eyebrows;—Alexander the Great among them, Dionysius of Syracuse, and Ezzelino the Paduan. There was one of the Pazzi of Florence, and Rinieri of Corneto (infestors of the public ways), now shedding bloody tears, and Attila the Scourge, and Pyrrhus king of Epirus. Further on, among those immersed up to the throat, was Guy de Montfort the Englishman, who slew his father's slayer, Prince Henry, during divine service, in the bosom of God; and then by degrees the river became shallower and shallower till it covered only the feet; and here the Centaur quitted the pilgrims, and they crossed over into a forest.

The forest was a trackless and dreadful forest—the leaves not green, but black—the boughs not freely growing, but knotted and twisted—the fruit no fruit, but thorny poison. The Harpies wailed among the trees, occasionally showing their human faces; and on every side of him Dante heard lamenting human voices, but could see no one from whom they came. "Pluck one of the boughs," said Virgil. Dante did so; and blood and a cry followed it.

"Why pluckest thou me?" said the trunk. "Men have we been, like thyself; but thou couldst not use us worse, had we been serpents." The blood and words came out together, as a green bough hisses and spits in the fire.

The voice was that of Piero delle Vigne, the good chancellor of the Emperor Frederick the Second. Just though he had been to others, he was thus tormented for having been unjust to himself; for, envy having wronged him to his sovereign, who sentenced him to lose his eyes, he dashed his brains out against a wall. Piero entreated Dante to vindicate his memory. The poet could not speak for pity; so Virgil made the promise for him, inquiring at the same time in what manner it was that Suicides became thus identified with trees, and how their souls were to rejoin their bodies at the day of judgment. Piero said, that the moment the fierce self-murderer's spirit tore itself from the body, and passed before Charon, it fell, like a grain of corn, into that wood, and so grew into a tree. The Harpies then fed on its leaves, causing both pain and a vent for lamentation. The body it would never again enter, having thus cast away itself, but it would finally drag the body down to it by a violent attraction; and every suicide's carcass will be hung upon the thorn of its wretched shade.

The naked souls of two men, whose profusion had brought them to a violent end, here came running through the wood from the fangs of black female mastiff's—leaving that of a suicide to mourn the havoc which their passage had made of his tree. He begged his countryman to gather his leaves up, and lay them at the foot of his trunk, and Dante did so; and then he and Virgil proceeded on their journey.

They issued from the wood on a barren sand, flaming hot, on which multitudes of naked souls lay down, or sat huddled up, or restlessly walked about, trying to throw from them incessant flakes of fire, which came down like a fall of snow. They were the souls of the Impious. Among them was a great spirit, who lay scornfully submitting himself to the fiery shower, as though it had not yet ripened him.[22] Overhearing Dante ask his guide who he was, he answered for himself, and said, "The same dead as living. Jove will tire his flames out before they conquer me."

"Capaneus," exclaimed Virgil, "thy pride is thy punishment. No martyrdom were sufficient for thee, equal to thine own rage." The besieger of Thebes made no reply.

In another quarter of the fiery shower the pilgrims met a crowd of Florentines, mostly churchmen, whose offence is not to be named; after which they beheld Usurers; and then arrived at a huge waterfall, which fell into the eighth circle, or that of the Fraudulent. Here Virgil, by way of bait to the monster Geryon, or Fraud, let down over the side of the waterfall the cord of St. Francis, which Dante wore about his waist,[23] and presently the dreadful creature came up, and sate on the margin of the fall, with his serpent's tail hanging behind him in the air, after the manner of a beaver; but the point of the tail was occasionally seen glancing upwards. He was a gigantic reptile, with the face of a just man, very mild. He had shaggy claws for arms, and a body variegated all over with colours that ran in knots and circles, each within the other, richer than any Eastern drapery. Virgil spoke apart to him, and then mounted on his back, bidding his companion, who was speechless for terror, do the salve. Geryon pushed back with them from the edge of the precipice, like a ship leaving harbour; and then, turning about, wheeled, like a sullen successless falcon, slowly down through the air in many a circuit. Dante would not have known that he was going downward, but for the air that struck up wards on his face. Presently they heard the crash of the waterfall on the circle below, and then distinguished flaming fires and the noises of suffering. The monster Geryon, ever sullen as the falcon who seats himself at a distance from his dissatisfied master, shook his riders from off his back to the water's side, and then shot away like an arrow.

This eighth circle of hell is called Evil-Budget,[24] and consists of ten compartments, or gulfs of torment, crossed and connected with one another by bridges of flint. In the first were beheld Pimps and Seducers, scourged like children by horned devils; in the second, Flatterers, begrimed with ordure; in the third, Simonists, who were stuck like plugs into circular apertures, with their heads downwards, and their legs only discernible, the soles of their feet glowing with a fire which made them incessantly quiver. Dante, going down the side of the gulf with Virgil, was allowed to address one of them who seemed in greater agony than the rest; and, doing so, the sufferer cried out in a malignant rapture, "Aha, is it thou that standest there, Boniface?[25] Thou hast come sooner than it was prophesied." It was the soul of Pope Nicholas the Third that spoke. Dante undeceived and then sternly rebuked him for his avarice and depravity, telling him that nothing but reverence for the keys of St. Peter hindered him from using harsher words, and that it was such as he that the Evangelist beheld in the vision, when he saw the woman with seven heads and ten horns, who committed whoredom with the kings of the earth.

"O Constantine!" exclaimed the poet, "of what a world of evil was that dowry the mother, which first converted the pastor of the church into a rich man!" [26] The feet of the guilty pope spun with fiercer agony at these words; and Virgil, looking pleased on Dante, returned with him the way he came, till they found themselves on the margin of the fourth gulf, the habitation of the souls of False Prophets.

It was a valley, in which the souls came walking along, silent and weeping, at the pace of choristers who chant litanies. Their faces were turned the wrong way, so that the backs of their heads came foremost, and their tears fell on their loins. Dante was so overcome at the sight, that he leant against a rock and wept; but Virgil rebuked him, telling him that no pity at all was the only pity fit for that place.[27] There was Amphiaraus, whom the earth opened and swallowed up at Thebes; and Tiresias, who was transformed from sex to sex; and Aruns, who lived in a cavern on the side of the marble mountains of Carrara, looking out on the stars and ocean; and Manto, daughter of Tiresias (her hind tresses over her bosom), who wandered through the world till she came and lived in the solitary fen, whence afterwards arose the city of Mantua; and Michael Scot, the magician, with his slender loins;[28] and Eurypylus, the Grecian augur, who gave the signal with Calchas at Troy when to cut away the cables for home. He came stooping along, projecting his face over his swarthy shoulders. Guido Bonatti, too, was there, astrologer of Forli; and Ardente, shoemaker of Parma, who now wishes he had stuck to his last; and the wretched women who quit the needle and the distaff to wreak their malice with herbs and images. Such was the punishment of those who, desiring to see too far before them, now looked only behind them, and walked the reverse way of their looking.

The fifth gulf was a lake of boiling pitch, constantly heaving and subsiding throughout, and bubbling with the breath of those within it. They were Public Peculators. Winged black devils were busy about the lake, pronging the sinners when they occasionally darted up their backs for relief like dolphins, or thrust out their jaws like frogs. Dante at first looked eagerly down into the gulf, like one who feels that he shall turn away instantly out of the very horror that attracts him. "See—look behind thee!" said Virgil, dragging him at the same time from the place where he stood, to a covert behind a crag. Dante looked round, and beheld a devil coming up with a newly-arrived sinner across his shoulders, whom he hurled into the lake, and then dashed down after him, like a mastiff let loose on a thief. It was a man from Lucca, where every soul was a false dealer except Bonturo.[29] The devil called out to other devils, and a heap of them fell upon the wretch with hooks as he rose to the surface; telling him, that he must practise there in secret, if he practised at all; and thrusting him back into the boiling pitch, as cooks thrust back flesh into the pot. The devils were of the lowest and most revolting habits, of which they made disgusting jest and parade.

Some of them, on a sudden, perceived Dante and his guide, and were going to seize them, when Virgil resorted to his usual holy rebuke. For a while they let him alone; and Dante saw one of them haul a sinner out of the pitch by the clotted locks, and hold him up sprawling like an otter. The rest then fell upon him and flayed him.

It was Ciampolo, a peculator in the service of the good Thiebault, king of Navarre. One of his companions under the pitch was Friar Gomita, governor of Gallura; and another, Michael Zanche, also a Sardinian. Ciampolo ultimately escaped by a trick out of the hands of the devils, who were so enraged that they turned upon the two pilgrims; but Virgil, catching up Dante with supernatural force, as a mother does a child in a burning house, plunged with him out of their jurisdiction into the borders of gulf the sixth, the region of Hypocrites.

The hypocrites, in perpetual tears, walked about in a wearisome and exhausted manner, as if ready to faint. They wore huge cowls, which hung over their eyes, and the outsides of which were gilded, but the insides of lead. Two of them had been rulers of Florence; and Dante was listening to their story, when his attention was called off by the sight of a cross, on which Caiaphas the High Priest was writhing, breathing hard all the while through his beard with sighs. It was his office to see that every soul which passed him, on its arrival in the place, was oppressed with the due weight. His father-in-law, Annas, and all his council, were stuck in like manner on crosses round the borders of the gulf. The pilgrims beheld little else in this region of weariness, and soon passed into the borders of one of the most terrible portions of Evil-budget, the land of the transformation of Robbers.

The place was thronged with serpents of the most appalling and unwonted description, among which ran tormented the naked spirits of the robbers, agonised with fear. Their hands were bound behind them with serpents—their bodies pierced and enfolded with serpents. Dante saw one of the monsters leap up and transfix a man through the nape of the neck; when, lo! sooner than a pen could write o, or i, the sufferer burst into flames, burnt up, fell to the earth a heap of ashes—was again brought together, and again became a man, aghast with his agony, and staring about him, sighing.[30] Virgil asked him who he was.

"I was but lately rained down into this dire gullet," said the man, "amidst a shower of Tuscans. The beast Vanni Fucci am I, who led a brutal life, like the mule that I was, in that den Pistoia."

"Compel him to stop," said Dante, "and relate what brought him hither. I knew the bloody and choleric wretch when he was alive."

The sinner, who did not pretend to be deaf to these words, turned round to the speaker with the most painful shame in his face, and said, "I feel more bitterly at being caught here by thee in this condition, than when I first arrived. A power which I cannot resist compels me to let thee know, that I am here because I committed sacrilege and charged another with the crime; but now, mark me, that thou mayest hear something not to render this encounter so pleasant: Pistoia hates thy party of the Whites, and longs for the Blacks back again. It will have them, and so will Florence; and there will be a bloody cloud shall burst over the battlefield of Piceno, which will dash many Whites to the earth. I tell thee this to make thee miserable."

So saying, the wretch gave a gesture of contempt with his thumb and finger towards heaven, and said, "Take it, God—a fig for thee!" [31]

"From that instant," said Dante, "the serpents and I were friends; for one of them throttled him into silence, and another dashed his hands into a knot behind his back. O Pistoia! Pistoia! why art not thou thyself turned into ashes, and swept from the face of the earth, since thy race has surpassed in evil thine ancestors? Never, through the whole darkness of hell, beheld I a blasphemer so dire as this—not even Capaneus himself."

The Pistoian fled away with the serpents upon him, followed by a Centaur, who came madly galloping up, crying, "Where is the caitiff?" It was the monster-thief Cacus, whose den upon earth often had a pond of blood before it, and to whom Hercules, in his rage, when he slew him, gave a whole hundred blows with his club, though the wretch perceived nothing after the ninth. He was all over adders up to the mouth; and upon his shoulders lay a dragon with its wings open, breathing fire on whomsoever it met.

The Centaur tore away; and Dante and Virgil were gazing after him, when they heard voices beneath the bank on which they stood, crying, "Who are ye?" The pilgrims turned their eyes downwards, and beheld three spirits, one of whom, looking about him, said, "Where's Cianfa?" Dante made a sign to Virgil to say nothing.

Cianfa came forth, a man lately, but now a serpent with six feet.[32]

"If thou art slow to believe, reader, what I am about to tell thee," says the poet, "be so; it is no marvel; for I myself, even now, scarcely credit what I beheld."

The six-footed serpent sprang at one of the three men front to front, clasping him tightly with all its legs, and plunging his fangs into either cheek. Ivy never stuck so close to a tree as the horrible monster grappled with every limb of that pinioned man. The two forms then gradually mingled into one another like melting wax, the colours of their skin giving way at the same time to a third colour, as the white in a piece of burning paper recedes before the brown, till it all becomes black. The other two human shapes looked on, exclaiming, "Oh, how thou changest, Agnello! See, thou art neither two nor yet one." And truly, though the two heads first became one, there still remained two countenances in the face. The four arms then became but two, and such also became the legs and thighs; and the two trunks became such a body as was never beheld; and the hideous twofold monster walked slowly away.[33]

A small black serpent on fire now flashed like lightning on to the body of one of the other two, piercing him in the navel, and then falling on the ground, and lying stretched before him. The wounded man, fascinated and mute, stood looking at the adder's eyes, and endeavouring to stand steady on his legs, yawning the while as if smitten with lethargy or fever; the adder, on his part, looked up at the eyes of the man, and both of them breathed hard, and sent forth a smoke that mingled into one volume.

And now, let Lucan never speak more of the wretched Sabellus or Nisidius, but listen and be silent; and now, let Ovid be silent, nor speak again of his serpent that was Cadmus, or his fountain that was Arethusa; for, says the Tuscan poet, I envy him not. Never did he change the natures of two creatures face to face, so that each received the form of the other.

With corresponding impulse, the serpent split his train into a fork, while the man drew his legs together into a train; the skin of the serpent grew soft, while the man's hardened; the serpent acquired tresses of hair, the man grew hairless; the claws of the one projected into legs, while the arms of the other withdrew into his shoulders; the face of the serpent, as it rose from the ground, retreated towards the temples, pushing out human ears; that of the man, as he fell to the ground, thrust itself forth into a muzzle, withdrawing at the same time its ears into its head, as the slug does its horns; and each creature kept its impious eyes fixed on the other's, while the features beneath the eyes were changing. The soul which had become the serpent then turned to crawl away, hissing in scorn as he departed; and the serpent, which had become the man, spat after him, and spoke words at him. The new human-looking soul then turned his back on his late adversary, and said to the third spirit, who remained unchanged, "Let Buoso now take to his crawl, as I have done."

The two then hastened away together, leaving Dante in a state of bewildered amazement, yet not so confused but that he recognised the unchanged one for another of his countrymen, Puccio the Lame. "Joy to thee, Florence!" cried the poet; "not content with having thy name bruited over land and sea, it flourishes throughout hell."

The pilgrims now quitted the seventh, and looked down from its barrier into the eighth gulf, where they saw innumerable flames, distinct from one another, flickering all over the place like fire-flies.

"In those flames," said Virgil, "are souls, each tormented with the fire that swathes it."

"I observe one," said Dante, "divided at the summit. Are the Theban brothers in it?"

"No," replied Virgil; "in that flame are Diomed and Ulysses." The sinners punished in this gulf were Evil Counsellors; and those two were the advisers of the stratagem of the Trojan horse.

Virgil addressed Ulysses, who told him the conclusion of his adventures, not to be found in books: how he tired of an idle life, and sailed forth again into the wide ocean; and how he sailed so far that he came into a region of new stars, and in sight of a mountain, the loftiest he ever saw; when, unfortunately, a hurricane fell upon them from the shore, thrice whirled their vessel round, then dashed the stern up in air and the prow under water, and sent the billows over their heads.

"Enough," said Virgil; "I trouble thee no more." The soul of Guido di Montefeltro, overhearing the great Mantuan speak in a Lombard dialect, asked him news of the state of things in Romagna; and then told him how he had lost his chance of paradise, by thinking Pope Boniface could at once absolve him from his sins, and use them for his purposes.[34] He was going to heaven, he said, by the help of St. Francis, who came on purpose to fetch him, when a black angel met them, and demanded his absolved, indeed, but unrepented victim. "To repent evil, and to will to do it, at one and the same time, are," said the dreadful angel, "impossible: therefore wrong me not."

"Oh, how I shook," said the unhappy Guido, "when he laid his hands upon me!" And with these words the flame writhed and beat itself about for agony, and so took its way.

The pilgrims crossed over to the banks of the ninth gulf, where the Sowers of Scandal, the Schismatics, Heretics, and Founders of False Religions, underwent the penalties of such as load themselves with the sins of those whom they seduce.

The first sight they beheld was Mahomet, tearing open his own bowels, and calling out to them to mark him. Before him walked his son-in-law, Ali, weeping, and cloven to the chin; and the divisions in the church were punished in like manner upon all the schismatics in the place. They all walked round the circle, their gashes closing as they went; and on their reaching a certain point, a fiend hewed them open again with a sword. The Arabian prophet, ere he passed on, bade the pilgrims warn Friar Dolcino how he suffered himself to be surprised in his mountain-hold by the starvations of winter-time, if he did not wish speedily to follow him.[35]

Among other mangled wretches, they beheld Piero of Medicina, a sower of dissension, exhibiting to them his face and throat all over wounds; and Curio, compelled to shew his tongue cut out for advising Caesar to cross the Rubicon; and Mosca de' Lamberti, an adviser of assassination, and one of the authors of the Guelf and Ghibelline miseries, holding up the bleeding stumps of his arms, which dripped on his face. "Remember Mosca," cried he; "remember him, alas! who said, 'A deed done is a thing ended.' A bad saying of mine was that for the Tuscan nation."

"And death to thy family," cried Dante.

The assassin hurried away like a man driven mad with grief upon grief; and Dante now beheld a sight, which, if it were not, he says, for the testimony of a good conscience—that best of friends, which gives a man assurance of himself under the breastplate of a spotless innocence[36]—he should be afraid to relate without further proof. He saw—and while he was writing the account of it he still appeared to see—a headless trunk about to come past him with the others. It held its severed head by the hair, like a lantern; and the head looked up at the two pilgrims, and said, "Woe is me!" The head was, in fact, a lantern to the paths of the trunk; and thus there were two separated things in one, and one in two; and how that could be, he only can tell who ordained it. As the figure came nearer, it lifted the head aloft, that the pilgrims might hear better what it said. "Behold," it said, "behold, thou that walkest living among the dead, and say if there be any punishment like this. I am Bertrand de Born, he that incited John of England to rebel against his father. Father and son I set at variance—closest affections I set at variance—and hence do I bear my brain severed from the body on which it grew. In me behold the work of retribution." [37]

The eyes of Dante were so inebriate with all that diversity of bleeding wounds, that they longed to stay and weep ere his guide proceeded further. Something also struck them on the sudden which added to his desire to stop. But Virgil asked what ailed him, and why he stood gazing still on the wretched multitude. "Thou hast not done so," continued he, "in any other portion of this circle; and the valley is twenty-two miles further about, and the moon already below us. Thou hast more yet to see than thou wottest of, and the time is short."

Dante, excusing himself for the delay, and proceeding to follow his leader, said he thought he had seen, in the cavern at which he was gazing so hard, a spirit that was one of his own family—and it was so. It was the soul of Geri del Bello, a cousin of the poet's. Virgil said that he had observed him, while Dante was occupied with Bertrand de Born, pointing at his kinsman in a threatening manner. "Waste not a thought on him," concluded the Roman, "but leave him as he is." "O honoured guide!" said Dante, "he died a violent death, which his kinsmen have not yet avenged; and hence it is that he disdained to speak to me; and I must needs feel for him the more on that account." [38]

They came now to the last partition of the circle of Evil-budget, and their ears were assailed with such a burst of sharp wailings, that Dante was fain to close his with his hands. The misery there, accompanied by a horrible odour, was as if all the hospitals in the sultry marshes of Valdichiana had brought their maladies together into one infernal ditch. It was the place of punishment for pretended Alchemists, Coiners, Personators of other people, False Accusers, and Impostors of all such descriptions. They lay on one another in heaps, or attempted to crawl about—some itching madly with leprosies—some swollen and gasping with dropsies—some wetly reeking, like hands washed in winter-time. One was an alchemist of Sienna, a nation vainer than the French; another a Florentine, who tricked a man into making a wrong will; another, Sinon of Troy; another, Myrrha; another, the wife of Potiphar. Their miseries did not hinder them from giving one another malignant blows; and Dante was listening eagerly to an abusive conversation between Sinon and a Brescian coiner, when Virgil rebuked him for the disgraceful condescension, and said it was a pleasure fit only for vulgar minds.[39]

The blushing poet felt the reproof so deeply, that he could not speak for shame, though he manifested by his demeanour that he longed to do so, and thus obtained the pardon he despaired of. He says he felt like a man that, during an unhappy dream, wishes himself dreaming while he is so, and does not know it. Virgil understood his emotion, and, as Achilles did with his spear, healed the wound with the tongue that inflicted it.

A silence now ensued between the companions; for they had quitted Evil-budget, and arrived at the ninth great circle of hell, on the mound of which they passed along, looking quietly and steadily before them. Daylight had given place to twilight; and Dante was advancing his head a little, and endeavouring to discern objects in the distance, when his whole attention was called to one particular spot, by a blast of a horn so loud, that a thunder clap was a whisper in comparison. Orlando himself blew no such terrific blast, after the dolorous rout, when Charlemagne was defeated in his holy enterprise.[40] The poet raised his head, thinking he perceived a multitude of lofty towers. He asked Virgil to what region they belonged; but Virgil said, "Those are no towers: they are giants, standing each up to his middle in the pit that goes round this circle." Dante looked harder; and as objects clear up by little and little in the departing mist, he saw, with alarm, the tremendous giants that warred against Jove, standing half in and half out of the pit, like the towers that crowned the citadel of Monteseggione. The one whom he saw plainest, and who stood with his arms hanging down on each side, appeared to him to have a face as huge as the pinnacle of St. Peter's, and limbs throughout in proportion. The monster, as the pilgrims were going by, opened his dreadful mouth, fit for no sweeter psalmody, and called after them, in the words of some unknown tongue, Rafel, maee amech zabee almee.[41] "Dull wretch!" exclaimed Virgil, "keep to thine horn, and so vent better whatsoever frenzy or other passion stuff thee. Feel the chain round thy throat, thou confusion! See, what a clenching hoop is about thy gorge!" Then he said to Dante, "His howl is its own mockery. This is Nimrod, he through whose evil ambition it was that mankind ceased to speak one language. Pass him, and say nothing; for every other tongue is to him, as his is to thee."

The companions went on for about the length of a sling's throw, when they passed the second giant, who was much fiercer and linger than Nimrod. He was fettered round and round with chains, that fixed one arm before him and the other behind him—Ephialtes his name, the same that would needs make trial of his strength against Jove himself. The hands which he then wielded were now motionless, but he shook with passion; and Dante thought he should have died for terror, the effect on the ground about him was so fearful. It surpassed that of a tower shaken by an earthquake. The poet expressed a wish to look at Briareus, but he was too far off. He saw, however, Antaeus, who, not having fought against heaven, was neither tongue-confounded nor shackled; and Virgil requested the "taker of a thousand lions," by the fame which the living poet had it in his power to give him, to bear the travellers in his arms down the steep descent into this deeper portion of hell, which was the region of tormenting cold. Antmus, stooping, like the leaning tower of Bologna, to take them up, gathered them in his arms, and, depositing them in the gulf below, raised himself to depart like the mast of a ship.[42]

Had I hoarse and rugged words equal to my subject, says the poet, I would now make them fuller of expression, to suit the rocky horror of this hole of anguish; but I have not, and therefore approach it with fear, since it is no jesting enterprise to describe the depths of the universe, nor fit for a tongue that babbles of father and mother.[43] Let such of the Muses assist me as turned the words of Amphion into Theban walls; so shall the speech be not too far different from the matter.

Oh, ill-starred creatures! wretched beyond all others, to inhabit a place so hard to speak of—better had ye been sheep or goats.

The poet was beginning to walk with his guide along the place in which the giant had set them down, and was still looking up at the height from which he had descended, when a voice close to him said, "Have a care where thou treadest. Hurt not with thy feet the heads of thy unhappy brethren."

Dante looked down and before him, and saw that he was walking on a lake of ice, in which were Murderous Traitors up to their chins, their teeth chattering, their faces held down, their eyes locked up frozen with tears. Dante saw two at his feet so closely stuck together, that the very hairs of their heads were mingled. He asked them who they were, and as they lifted up their heads for astonishment, and felt the cold doubly congeal them, they dashed their heads against one another for hate and fury. They were two brothers who had murdered each other.[44] Near them were other Tuscans, one of whom the cold had deprived of his ears; and thousands more were seen grinning like dogs, for the pain.

Dante, as he went along, kicked the face of one of them, whether by chance, or fate, or will,[45] he could not say. The sufferer burst into tears, and cried out, "Wherefore dost thou torment me? Art thou come to revenge the defeat at Montaperto?" The pilgrim at this question felt eager to know who he was; but the unhappy wretch would not tell. His countryman seized him by the hair to force him; but still he said he would not tell, were he to be scalped a thousand times. Dante, upon this, began plucking up his hairs by the roots, the man barking,[46] with his eyes squeezed up, at every pull; when another soul exclaimed, "Why, Bocca, what the devil ails thee? Must thou needs bark for cold as well as chatter?" [47]

"Now, accursed traitor, betrayer of thy country's standard," said Dante, "be dumb if thou wilt; for I shall tell thy name to the world."

"Tell and begone!" said Bocca; "but carry the name of this babbler with thee; 'tis Buoso, who left the pass open to the enemy between Piedmont and Parma; and near him is the traitor for the pope, Beccaria; and Ganellone, who betrayed Charlemagne; and Tribaldello, who opened Faenza to the enemy at night-time."

The pilgrims went on, and beheld two other spirits so closely locked up together in one hole of the ice, that the head of one was right over the other's, like a cowl; and Dante, to his horror, saw that the upper head was devouring the lower with all the eagerness of a man who is famished. The poet asked what could possibly make him skew a hate so brutal; adding, that if there were any ground for it, he would tell the story to the world.[48]

The sinner raised his head from the dire repast, and after wiping his jaws with the hair of it, said, "You ask a thing which it shakes me to the heart to think of. It is a story to renew all my misery. But since it will produce this wretch his due infamy, hear it, and you shall see me speak and weep at the same time. How thou tamest hither I know not; but I perceive by thy speech that thou art Florentine.

"Learn, then, that I was the Count Ugolino, and this man was Ruggieri the Archbishop. How I trusted him, and was betrayed into prison, there is no need to relate; but of his treatment of me there, and how cruel a death I underwent, bear; and then judge if he has offended me.

"I had been imprisoned with my children a long time in the tower which has since been called from me the Tower of Famine; and many a new moon had I seen through the hole that served us for a window, when I dreamt a dream that foreshadowed to me what was coming. Methought that this man headed a great chase against the wolf, in the mountains between Pisa and Lucca. Among the foremost in his party were Gualandi, Sismondi, and Lanfranchi, and the hounds were thin and eager, and high-bred; and in a little while I saw the hounds fasten on the flanks of the wolf and the wolf's children, and tear them. At that moment I awoke with the voices of my own children in my ears, asking for bread. Truly cruel must thou be, if thy heart does not ache to think of what I thought then. If thou feel not for a pang like that, what is it for which thou art accustomed to feel? We were now all awake; and the time was at hand when they brought us bread, and we had all dreamt dreams which made us anxious. At that moment I heard the key of the horrible tower turn in the lock of the door below, and fasten it. I looked at my children, and said not a word. I did not weep. I made a strong effort upon the soul within me. But my little Anselm said, 'Father, why do you look so? Is any thing the matter?' Nevertheless I did not weep, nor say a word all the day, nor the night that followed. In the morning a ray of light fell upon us through the window of our sad prison, and I beheld in those four little faces the likeness of my own face, and then I began to gnaw my hands for misery. My children, thinking I did it for hunger, raised themselves on the floor, and said, 'Father, we should be less miserable if you would eat our own flesh. It was you that gave it us. Take it again.' Then I sat still, in order not to make them unhappier: and that day and the next we all remained without speaking. On the fourth day, Gaddo stretched himself at my feet, and said, 'Father, why won't you help me?' and there he died. And as surely as thou lookest on me, so surely I beheld the whole three die in the same manner. So I began in my misery to grope about in the dark for them, for I had become blind; and three days I kept calling on them by name, though they were dead; till famine did for me what grief had been unable to do."

With these words, the miserable man, his eyes starting from his head, seized that other wretch again with his teeth, and ground them against the skull as a dog does with a bone.

O Pisa! scandal of the nations! since thy neighbours are so slow to punish thee, may the very islands tear themselves up from their roots in the sea, and come and block up the mouth of thy river, and drown every soul within thee. What if this Count Ugolino did, as report says he did, betray thy castles to the enemy? his children had not betrayed them; nor ought they to have been put to an agony like this. Their age was their innocence; and their deaths have given thee the infamy of a second Thebes.[49]

The pilgrims passed on, and beheld other traitors frozen up in swathes of ice, with their heads upside down. Their very tears had hindered them from shedding more; for their eyes were encrusted with the first they shed, so as to be enclosed with them as in a crystal visor, which forced back the others into an accumulation of anguish. One of the sufferers begged Dante to relieve him of this ice, in order that he might vent a little of the burden which it repressed. The poet said he would do so, provided he would disclose who he was. The man said he was the friar Alberigo, who invited some of his brotherhood to a banquet in order to slay them.

"What!" exclaimed Dante, "art thou no longer, then, among the living?"

"Perhaps I appear to be," answered the friar; "for the moment any one commits a treachery like mine, his soul gives up his body to a demon, who thenceforward inhabits it in the man's likeness. Thou knowest Branca Doria, who murdered his father-in-law, Zanche? He seems to be walking the earth still, and yet he has been in this place many years." [50]

"Impossible!" cried Dante; "Branca Doria is still alive; he eats, drinks, and sleeps, like any other man."

"I tell thee," returned the friar, "that the soul of the man he slew had not reached that lake of boiling pitch in which thou sawest him, ere the soul of his slayer was in this place, and his body occupied by a demon in its stead. But now stretch forth thy hand, and relieve mine eyes."

Dante relieved them not. Ill manners, he said, were the only courtesy fit for such a wretch.[51]

O ye Genoese! he exclaims,—men that are perversity all over, and full of every corruption to the core, why are ye not swept from the face of the earth? There is one of you whom you fancy to be walking about like other men, and he is all the while in the lowest pit of hell!

"Look before thee," said Virgil, as they advanced: "behold the banners of the King of Hell."

Dante looked, and beheld something which appeared like a windmill in motion, as seen from a distance on a dark night. A wind of inconceivable sharpness came from it.

The souls of those who had been traitors to their benefactors were here frozen up in depths of pellucid ice, where they were seen in a variety of attitudes, motionless; some upright, some downward, some bent double, head to foot.

At length they came to where the being stood who was once eminent for all fair seeming.[52] This was the figure that seemed tossing its arms at a distance like a windmill.

"Satan," whispered Virgil; and put himself in front of Dante to re-assure him, halting him at the same time, and bidding him summon all his fortitude. Dante stood benumbed, though conscious; as if he himself had been turned to ice. He felt neither alive nor dead.

The lord of the dolorous empire, each of his arms as big as a giant, stood in the ice half-way up his breast. He had one head, but three faces; the middle, vermilion; the one over the right shoulder a pale yellow; the other black. His sails of wings, huger than ever were beheld at sea, were in shape and texture those of a bat; and with these be constantly flapped, so as to send forth the wind that froze the depths of Tartarus. From his six eyes the tears ran down, mingling at his three chins with bloody foam; for at every mouth he crushed a sinner with his teeth, as substances are broken up by an engine. The middle sinner was the worst punished, for he was at once broken and flayed, and his head and trunk were inside the mouth. It was Judas Iscariot.

Of the other two, whose heads were hanging out, one was Brutus, and the other Cassius. Cassius was very large-limbed. Brutus writhed with agony, but uttered not a word.[53]

"Night has returned," said Virgil, "and all has been seen. It is time to depart onward."

Dante then, at his bidding, clasped, as Virgil did, the huge inattentive being round the neck; and watching their opportunity, as the wings opened and shut, they slipped round it, and so down his shaggy and frozen sides, from pile to pile, clutching it as they went; till suddenly, with the greatest labour and pain, they were compelled to turn themselves upside down, as it seemed, but in reality to regain their proper footing; for they had passed the centre of gravity, and become Antipodes.

Then looking down at what lately was upward, they saw Lucifer with his feet towards them; and so taking their departure, ascended a gloomy vault, till at a distance, through an opening above their heads, they beheld the loveliness of the stars.[54]

[Footnote 1: "Parea che l'aer ne temesse."]

[Footnote 2: "La dove 'l sol tace." "The sun to me is dark, And silent is the moon, Hid in her vacant interlunar cave."—Milton.]

[Footnote 3: There is great difference among the commentators respecting the meaning of the three beasts; some supposing them passions, others political troubles, others personal enemies, &c. The point is not of much importance, especially as a mystery was intended; but nobody, as Mr. Cary says, can doubt that the passage was suggested by one in the prophet Jeremiah, v. 6: "Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them; a leopard shall watch over their cities."]

[Footnote 4:

"Che quello 'mperador che la su regna Perch' i' fu'ribellante a la sua legge, Non vuol che 'n sua citta per me si vegna." ]

[Footnote 5:

"Quale i fioretti dal notturno gelo Chinati e chiusi, poi che 'l sol gl'imbianca, Si drizzan tutti aperti in loro stelo."

Like as the flowers that with the frosty night Are bowed and closed, soon as the sun returns, Rise on their stems, all open and upright.]

[Footnote 6: This loss of intellectual good, and the confession of the poet that he finds the inscription over hell-portal hard to understand (il senso lor m'e duro), are among the passages in Dante which lead some critics to suppose that his hell is nothing but an allegory, intended at once to imply his own disbelief in it as understood by the vulgar part of mankind, and his employment of it, nevertheless, as a salutary check both to the foolish and the reflecting;—to the foolish, as an alarm; and to the reflecting, as a parable. It is possible, in the teeth of many appearances to the contrary, that such may have been the case; but in the doubt that it affects either the foolish or the wise to any good purpose, and in the certainty that such doctrines do a world of mischief to tender consciences and the cause of sound piety, such monstrous contradictions, in terms, of every sense of justice and charity which God has implanted in the heart of man, are not to be passed over without indignant comment.]

[Footnote 7: It is seldom that a boast of this kind—not, it must be owned, bashful—has been allowed by posterity to be just; nay, in four out of the five instances, below its claims.]

[Footnote 8:

"Genti v'eran, con occhi tardi e gravi, Di grande autorita ne' lor sembianti Parlavan rado, con voci soavi." ]

[Footnote 9: "Sopra 'l verde smalto." Mr. Cary has noticed the appearance, for the first time, of this beautiful but now commonplace image.]

[Footnote 10: "Il maestro di color che sanno."]

[Footnote 11: This is the famous episode of Paulo and Francesca. She was daughter to Count Guido da Polenta, lord of Ravenna, and wife to Giovanni Malatesta, one of the sons, of the lord of Rimini. Paulo was her brother-in-law. They were surprised together by the husband, and slain on the spot. Particulars of their history will be found in the Appendix, together with the whole original passage.

"Quali colombe, dal disio chiamate, Con l'ali aperte e ferme, al dolce nido Volan per l'aer dal voler portate

Cotali uscir de la schiera ov'e Dido, A noi venendo per l'aer maligno, Si forte fu l'affettuoso grido."

As doves, drawn home from where they circled still, Set firm their open wings, and through the air Come sweeping, wafted by their pure good-will

So broke from Dido's flock that gentle pair, Cleaving, to where we stood, the air malign, Such strength to bring them had a loving prayer. ]

[Footnote 12: Francesca is to be conceived telling her story in anxious intermitting sentences—now all tenderness for her lover, now angry at their slayer; watching the poet's face, to see what he thinks, and at times averting her own. I take this excellent direction from Ugo Foscolo.]

[Footnote 13:

"Nessun maggior dolore, Che ricordarsi del tempo felice Ne la miseria." ]

[Footnote 14:

"Per piu fiate gli occhi ci sospinse Quella lettura." "To look at one another," says Boccaccio; and his interpretation has been followed by Cary and Foscolo; but, with deference to such authorities, I beg leave to think that the poet meant no more than he says, namely, that their eyes were simply "suspended"—hung, as it were, over the book, without being able to read on; which is what I intended to express (if I may allude to a production of which both those critics were pleased to speak well), when, in my youthful attempt to enlarge this story, I wrote "And o'er the book they hung, and nothing said, And every lingering page grew longer as they read."

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