12
Dante Alighieri - La Divina Commedia - Inferno
Courtney Langdon - The Divine Comedy

The Seventh Circle. The First Ring. Violence against one's Fellow Man. Murderers and Spoilers.
Phlegethon

The place, where to descend the bank we came,
was Alp-like, and, through what was also there,
such that all eyes would be repelled by it.

As is that downfall on the hither side
of Trent, which sidewise smote the Ądige,
through earthquake or through failure of support;
since from the mountain's summit, whence it moved
down to the plain, the rock is shattered so,
that it would yield a path for one above;
even such was the descent of that ravine;
and on the border of the broken bank
was stretched at length the Infamy of Crete,
who in the seeming heifer was conceived;
and when he saw us there he bit himself,
like one whom inward anger overcomes.

In his direction then my Sage cried out:
"Dost thou, perhaps, think Athens' duke is here,
who gave thee death when in the world above?
Begone, thou beast! for this man cometh not
taught by thy sister, but is going by,
in order to behold your punishments."

As doth a bull, who from his leash breaks free
the moment he receives the mortal blow,
and cannot walk, but plunges here and there;
so doing I beheld the Minotaur;
and he, aware, cried out: "Run to the pass!
't is well that, while he rages, thou descend."

Thereat we made our way adown that heap
of fallen rocks, which often 'neath my feet
were moved, because of their unwonted load.

I went along in thought; and he: "Perchance
thou thinkest of this landslide, which is guarded
by that beast's anger which I quenched just now.
Now I would have thee know that, when down here
to nether Hell I came, that other time,
this mass of rock had not yet fallen down.
But certainly, if I remember well,
not long ere He arrived, who carried off
from Dis the highest circle's mighty prey,
on every side the deep and foul abyss
so trembled that I thought the universe
had felt the love, whereby, as some believe,
the world to Chaos hath been oft reduced;
and at that moment this old mass of rock
was thus, both here and elsewhere, overthrown.
But turn thine eyes down yonder now; for lo,
the stream of blood is drawing near to us,
wherein boils who by violence harms others."

O blind cupidity, O foolish wrath,
that so dost in our short life goad us on,
and after, in the eternal, steep us thus!

I saw a wide moat curving in an arc,
and such that it embraces all the plain,
according as my Escort had informed me;
and in a file, between it and the bank,
Centaurs were running by, with arrows armed,
as in the world it was their wont to hunt.
On seeing us descend, they all stopped short,
and three of them detached them from the troop,
with bows and arrows they had chosen first.

And one cried from afar: "Ye that descend
the slope, to what pain are ye coming?
Tell it from there, or else I draw my bow."

My Teacher said: "Our answer will we give
to Chiron yonder, when we reach his side;
thus ever to thy harm was thy will rash."

He touched me then, and said: "That one is Nessus,
who died for lovely Dejanira's sake,
and who himself wrought vengeance for himself;
the middle one, who gazes at his breast,
is that great Chiron who brought up Achilles;
the other, Pholus, who so wrathful was.
They go by thousands round about the moat,
shooting each soul that from the blood emerges
further than its own sin allotted it."

To those swift-footed beasts we then drew near;
Chiron an arrow took, and with its notch
backward upon his jaws he pushed his beard.
When he had thus uncovered his great mouth,
he said unto his mates: "Are ye aware
that he who comes behind moves what he touches?
Yet dead men's feet are not thus wont to do."

And my good Leader, who now reached his breast,
where the two natures are together joined,
replied: "He lives indeed, and thus alone
must I needs show to him the dark abyss;
necessity is leading him, not pleasure.
One who withdrew from singing praise to God,
gave me this new commission; he is not
a highwayman, nor I a robber's soul.
But by the Power, through whom I move my steps
along so wild a road, bestow on us
one of thy troop, at whose side we may be,
and who may show us where one fords, and carry
this man upon his back, for he is not
a spirit who can travel through the air."

Upon his right breast Chiron turned, and said
to Nessus: "Turn around, and guide them thus,
and if another troop should meet you, cause it
to stand aside." Then we with this safe escort
skirted the edge of that red, boiling stream,
wherein the boiled were crying out aloud.

I saw some people in it to their brows.
"These tyrants are," the mighty Centaur said,
"who took to bloodshed and to plundering.
Here tears are shed because of heartless wrongs;
here Alexander is, and who for years
grieved Sicily, fierce Dionysius.
The brow which hath so black a head of hair,
is Azzolino; the other which is blond,
Obizzo of Este, who in truth was quenched
up in the world by his un-natural son."
I turned then toward the Poet, but he said:
"Be he now first to thee, and second I."

A little further on the Centaur stopped
over some people who, it seemed, emerged
out of that boiling river from their necks.
On one side there a lonely shade he showed us,
and said: "He yonder in God's bosom pierced
the heart, which still is honored on the Thames."

Then people I beheld who from the stream
held out their heads, and even all their chest;
and many did I recognize of these.
Thus shallower and shallower became
that blood, until it only cooked their feet;
here was the place for us to ford the ditch.

"Even as thou seest that the boiling stream
grows shallow more and more on this side here,"
the Centaur said, "I wish thee to believe
that on this other side its bottom sinks
increasingly, until it joins the place
where it behooveth tyranny to groan.
Justice Divine is over here tormenting
that Attila who was a scourge on earth,
Pyrrhus, and Sextus; and forever milks
the tears, which with the boiling it unlocks,
from Rinier da Corneto and Rinier Pazzo,
who on the highroads waged so great a war."

He then turned back, and crossed the ford again.


1. Descent into the Seventh Circle, suggestively imagined as being much lower and more inaccessible than were the previous circles from each other.
12. The Minotaur, symbol of Bestiality, the monster, half man and half bull, who was killed by Theseus with the help of Ariadne. His terrorizing fury defeats its own end.
29. Another reminder that Dante is the only physically living being in the Inferno.
35. When conjured down by Erichtho.
38. Christ, who when in Hades removed from the Limbo the believing Worthies of the Old Dispensation.
41. The earthquake at Jesus' death, which, breaking open the outer Gate of Hell, furnished access to the Circle of Violence; the whole myth symbolizing the insight into Evil resulting from the life and death of Jesus.
43. Reference to the doctrine of Empedocles, who taught that Love restored to a happy Chaos the seeds of things that had been separated by Hate.
52. Phlegethon, the river of Blood, guarded by the semi-human Centaurs, symbols of human Brutality.
67. Wounded by a poisoned arrow by Hercules for trying to carry off Dejanira, Nessus left his shirt which, being poisoned, killed Hercules.
75. Sin self-punished.
77. One of countless touches of convincing realism.
84. The human and the equine.
88. Beatrice, already defined as being herself the "true Praise of God, which is spiritual appreciation, and not intellectual understanding or servile flattery, of Him.
103. Tyrants, or wholesale slaughterers like Attila, the Hun, the most deeply immersed in the Blood of Phlegethon.
109. Italian thirteenth-century tyrants.
114. Nessus is put temporarily in charge of Dante, as being the local expert.
116. Murderers.
118. Guy de Montfort, who during Mass ("God's bosom") at Viterbo killed Prince Henry [[xxxviii]] of England, whose heart King Edward I brought home, and buried in a shrine on London Bridge.
135. The famous King of Epirus, and a pirate son of Pompey.
137. Italian Highway Robbers apparently well known in Dante's time.

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