Not yet had Nessus reached the other side,
when we had set our steps within a wood,
which was not marked by any path whatever.
No green leaves there, but leaves of gloomy hue;
no smooth and straight, but gnarled and twisted, twigs;
nor was there any fruit, but poison-thorns.
No thickets rough and dense as these are owned
by those wild beasts, that hate the tilled estates
that lie between the CÚcina and Corneto.
Herein those ugly Harpies make their nest,
who drove the Trojans from the Strophades,
with gloomy prophecies of future loss.
Wide wings they have, and human necks and faces;
their feet are clawed, and feathered their great bellies;
they utter wailings on the uncouth trees.
My kindly Teacher then began to say:
"Before thou enter any further, know
that in the second ring thou art, and wilt be,
until thou reach the horrid plain of sand;
hence look around thee well, and things thou 'lt see,
that from my words would take away belief."
Moans I heard uttered upon every side,
but saw no person who might make them there;
hence, utterly confused, I checked my steps.
I think he thought I thought that all those voices
were uttered from among those thorny trunks
by people hiding there on our account.
The Teacher therefore said: "If thou break off
a little twig from any of these trees,
the thoughts thou hast will all be proven false."
I then stretched out my hand a little way,
and from a sturdy thorn-tree plucked a twig,
whereat its trunk cried out: "Why dost thou rend me?"
Then, after growing dark with blood, its cry
began again: "Why dost thou break me off?
Hast thou no spirit of compassion in thee?
Men were we once, and now are stocks become;
thy hand ought surely to have had more pity,
even if the souls of serpents we had been."
As from a fresh, green log, that at one end
is being burned, and at the other drips
and makes a hissing with the escaping air;
so from the broken twig together issued
both words and blood; I therefore dropped the end,
and stood dumbfounded, like a man who fears.
"Had he before been able to believe,
O wounded soul," replied my Sage to him,
"what in my verses only he has seen,
he had not set his hand on thee; whereas
the thing's incredibility has made me
lead him to do what I myself regret.
But tell him who thou wast, that he, by way
of compensation, may refresh thy fame
up in the world, where he can still return."
The trunk: "With sweet words thou dost so entice me,
that I can not keep still; be not annoyed,
if I am tempted to a little talk.
I am the man who once held both the keys
of Frederick's heart, and he who turned them round
so gently, locking and unlocking it,
that most men from his secrets I withheld;
so faithful was I to my glorious charge,
that for its sake I lost both sleep and strength.
The courtesan who never turned away
her harlot eyes from Caesar's dwelling-place,
a common form of death and vice of courts,
'gainst me inflamed the minds of every one;
and those on fire inflamed Augustus so,
that my glad honors turned to wretched grief.
My mind, to vent its feelings of disdain,
and thinking to avoid disdain by death,
made me unjust against myself, the just.
By this tree's uncouth roots, I swear to you,
I never broke the faith I owed my lord,
who so deserving was of reverence!
And to the world should one of you return,
let him assist my memory, which still
lies crushed beneath the blow which envy gave it!"
A while he waited, then the Poet said:
"Since he is still, lose not thy chance; but speak,
and ask him other questions, if thou like."
Whence I to him: "Ask thou again whate'er
thou thinkest satisfactory to me;
for I could not, such pity stirs my heart!"
Hence he began again: "So may this man
do freely for thee what thy words request,
imprisoned spirit, may it please thee still
to tell us how within these knotted trunks
a soul is bound; and tell us, if thou canst,
if any from such limbs is ever freed."
Thereat the trunk blew hard, and afterward
that wind was changed into the following words:
"Briefly shall a reply be made to you.
Whenever a wild spirit leaves the body,
from which itself hath torn itself away,
Minos commits it to the seventh ravine.
Into the wood it falls, nor is a place
allotted to it; but where Fortune hurls it,
there, like a grain of spelt, it germinates.
It grows into a sapling and wild tree;
the Harpies, feeding then upon its leaves,
cause pain to it, and for the pain a vent.
Like other spirits, for our spoils we 'll come,
though not that any be reclothed therewith;
for 't is not right to have what one casts off.
We 'll drag them with us here, and then our bodies
will all around the dismal wood be hung,
each on the thorn-tree of its hostile shade."
We still were giving heed unto the trunk,
believing that it wished to tell us more,
when we were startled by a sudden noise,
as likewise he is, who perceives a boar
and pack of hounds approach his hunting-post,
and hears the crashing of the beasts and boughs.
And lo, two on the left, who naked were
and scratched, and fled away so rapidly,
they shattered all the branches of the wood.
The one ahead: "Now hurry, hurry, death!"
and the other one, who thought himself too slow,
cried: "Lano, not so knowing were thy legs,
when running from Del Toppo's battle-jousts!"
And then, perhaps because of failing breath,
he there made of himself and of a bush
a group. The wood behind these two was full
of swarthy bitches, ravenous and fleet
as greyhounds are, when from their chains unleashed.
Into the one who crouched they set their teeth,
and tore him into pieces bit by bit;
they then made off with those his suffering limbs.
Thereat my Escort took me by the hand,
and led me to the bush, which all in vain
out of its bleeding rents was shedding tears.
"O GiÓcomo" it said, "da Sant'Andrea,
what boots it thee to make a screen of me?
and how am I to blame for thy bad life?"
When over him my Teacher stopped, he said:
"Who then wast thou, that through so many gashes
art blowing forth with blood such painful speech?"
And he to us: "O spirits that have come
in time to see the unbecoming havoc,
which from me thus hath torn away my leaves,
collect them at the foot of my sad bush!
I to that town belonged, which for the Baptist
changed its first patron; wherefore he, for this,
will always make her mournful with his art;
and were it not that on the Arno's bridge
there lingers still some little glimpse of him,
those townsmen who rebuilt her afterward
over the ashes left by Attila,
had caused that work to be performed in vain.
I made myself a gibbet of my house."
1. The weird Forest of the Suicides.
9. A river and a town which bound the wild district of the Tuscan Maremma.
10. The Harpies, symbols of remorse and fear of the future, feed on bushes, to which are reduced the spirits of those who deprived themselves of human bodies.
21. Things unbelievable, if merely narrated.
37. Suicide, either by the killing of the body or by inaction, is here pictured as essentially vegetating, a self-lowering in the scale of life.
45. The perfection of psychological description.
48. A similar wonder told by Virgil in the Aeneid about Polydorus.
58. Pier delle Vigne, a Chancellor of Frederick II, who, according to Dante here, was unjustly accused of treachery, and took his own life in prison.
68. Frederick II.
75. It is only as an illustration of the significance of Heresy that Dante sees him in the Sixth Circle.
84. Sympathy again unreproved.
94. The state of Suicides before and after the Final Judgment; the life of the body, of which the spirit of the suicide deprives himself, is considered as an instrument for the building of character for which he is responsible.
96. The suicide's own conscience.
115. Those who were violent against their property, which Dante considered as an outer body, for which a spirit is also responsible.
118. Lano da Siena, and Giacomo da Sant' Andrea, two thirteenth-century Italians famous as squanderers of their means.
121. Lano died in the battle of Pieve del Toppo, won in 1289 by the Aretines against the Sienese.
125. The Spendthrifts' creditors.
143. Florence, whose patron Saint was John the Baptist, had been in its more warlike, and less commercial, Pagan times under the protection of Mars, a part of whose statue was said to have been set on the Ponte Vecchio, after the legendary destruction of Florence [[xxxix]] by Attila. The whole passage is a warning to any people, which, in its eagerness for commercial prosperity, risks losing the military qualities which alone would enable them to keep it.
151. The speaker may have been a certain Lotto degli Agli, a prior of Florence who hanged himself in his own house.