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

The Seventh Circle. The Third Ring
Violence against God. Blasphemers

Since love for my own native place constrained me,
I gathered up the scattered twigs and leaves,
and gave them back to him who now was weak.
Thence to the bound we came, where from the third
the second ring is severed, and wherein
a frightful form of Justice may be seen.

To manifest aright what here was new,
I say that we had reached a barren plain,
which from its bed removeth every plant.
The woeful wood is as a garland round it,
as round the former is the dismal moat;
there on its very edge we stayed our steps.
Its soil was of a dense and arid sand,
whose nature differed in no way from that,
which once was trodden by the feet of Cato.

Vengeance of God, how much by every one
thou oughtest to be feared, who readeth here
what to these eyes of mine was manifest!

Of naked souls I many flocks beheld,
who all wept very sorely, while on each
a different law appeared to be imposed.
A few lay on the ground upon their backs;
and some were seated cuddled up together,
while others moved about continually.
Most numerous were those that moved around,
and least so those that under torment lay,
but all the freer had their tongues to wail.

Down on the whole great waste of sand there rained
with gentle fall dilated flakes of fire,
like flakes of snow that fall on windless Alps.
As were the flames which Alexander saw
in India's torrid regions, as they fell
upon his hosts, unbroken to the ground;
- and this he met, by ordering his troops
to trample on the soil, because the flames,
when single, were more easily put out -
even such descended here the eternal heat,
whereby the sand was set on fire, as tinder
is kindled under steel, to double pain.
And ever without resting was the dance
of wretched hands, that kept, now here, now there,
slapping away each latest burning flake.

"Thou, Teacher," I began, "that conquerest all,
except the stubborn devils who came out
against us at the entrance of the gate,
who is that great one who seems not to mind
the fire, but lies there scornful and awry,
so that the rain seems not to ripen him?"

And that same one, who had observed that I
concerning him was questioning my Leader,
cried: "As I was alive, such am I dead!
If Jove should tire that smith of his, from whom,
in wrath, he took the pointed thunderbolt,
wherewith I smitten was that final day;
or should he tire the others, each in turn,
in Mongibello's smithy black with smoke,
by calling out: 'Help, help, good Vulcan, help!'
even as he did on Phlegra's battle-field;
and should he shoot at me with all his might,
no glad revenge would he obtain thereby!"

Thereat my Leader spoke with so much force,
that I had never heard him use the like:
"In that thine arrogance, O Capaneus,
is not extinguished, art thou all the more
chastised; no torment, saving thine own rage,
were for thy furious pride a fitting pain."

Then with a gentler mien he turned to me,
and said: "One of the seven kings was he,
who Thebes besieged; he held, and seems to hold
God in disdain, and little seems to prize Him;
but, as I told him, his own spitefulness
is fit enough adornment for his breast.
Now follow me, and see that thou meanwhile
set not thy feet upon the burning sand,
but to the thicket keep them ever close."

In silence we went on, and came to where,
out of the wood a little stream spirts forth,
whose ruddy color makes me shudder still.
As from the Bulicāmë springs a brook,
which afterward the sinful women share,
even so went that one down across the sand.
Its bottom and both sides had turned to stone,
as also had the embankments on each side;
I hence perceived the crossing-place was there.

"Of all the other things which I have shown thee
since first we entered through the outer gate,
whose threshold unto no one is denied,
nothing has ever by thine eyes been seen
as notable as is this present brook,
which deadens o'er itself all little flames."

These were my Leader's words; I therefore begged
that he would freely grant to me the food,
desire of which he had so freely given.

"Amid the sea there lies a wasted land,"
he told me thereupon, "whose name is Crete,
under whose king the world of old was pure.
There is a mountain there, which, happy once
with waters and green leaves, was Ida called;
't is now abandoned like a thing outworn.
Whilom as trusty cradle for her son
Rhea selected it, and when he wept,
to hide him better, caused a shouting there.
Within that mountain stands a great Old Man,
who holds his shoulders toward Damiata turned,
and who, as at his mirror, looks at Rome.
His head is formed of finest gold, his arms
and breast are of the purest silver, then,
as far as to his loins, he 's made of brass;
all chosen iron is he down from there,
save that baked clay his right foot is, and straighter
he stands on that, than on the other foot.
Each of these parts, except the golden one,
is broken by a cleft, whence trickle tears,
which, when collected, perforate that cave.
From rock to rock they course into this vale;
then Acheron with Styx and Phlegethon
they form, and through this narrow duct descend
as far as where one goes no further down;
they form Cocytus there; and what that pool
is like, thou 'lt see; hence here it is not told.

And I to him: "If thus this present stream
hs from our world descended, why alone
on this ring's edge hath it appeared to us?"

And he: "Thou knowest that the place is round,
and though a long way thou hast gone already,
e'er to the left descending toward the bottom,
through the whole circle thou hast not yet gone;
wherefore, if aught that 's new appear to us,
it should not bring amazement to thy face."

And I again: "But where are Phlegethon
and Lethe, Teacher? For, of this one silent,
thou say'st the other of this rain is made."

And he replied: "Thou certainly dost please me
in all thy questions, but the red stream's boiling
ought surely to have answered one of them.
Lethe thou 'lt see, but there, outside this cave,
whither souls go to wash themselves, when once
their sin, repented of, has been removed."

And then he said: "It now is time for us
to leave the wood; see that thou follow me;
the banks, which are not burned, afford a path;
and up above them every flame is quenched."

1. Bitterly as Dante at times inveighed against Florence for her vices and ingratitude, no man ever loved his native place more tenderly and proudly than did Dante.
8. The Plain of burning sand on which nothing will grow, finely symbolizes sins against spiritual, human, and social growth.
15. The Libyan desert crossed by Cato of Utica with the remnants of Pompey's army.
16. God's Vengeance consists in causing sins to contain the seed of their own punishment.
22. Those prostrate on the ground are the violent against God directly; those seated without doing anything the violent against Industry, the economic art; and those restlessly running around with no results the violent against the procreative laws of Nature in Man.
28. The Rain of Fire, the symbol of God's Wrath.
31. An Alexandrian legend probably the result of blending two experiences, one of a heavy snow fall, and the other of torrid heat.
44. Reason reminded of its limitations.
49. Capaneus, one of the famous seven kings who fought against Thebes; he was killed with a thunderbolt hurled by Zeus, whom he had arrogantly defied. This is the Dante character which most resembles the Satan of Milton.
52. Vulcan, who had his smithy in Mongibello, Mt. Aetna.
58. Phlegra, in Thessaly, the site of the mythical struggle between Zeus and the Giants, the Sky-god and the Sons of Earth, Spirit and Matter.
65. Capaneus' blasphemous rage its own punishment.
77. The overflow of Phlegethon.
79. A pond of boiling mineral water near Viterbo.
88. This brook is peculiarly notable possibly because the fact that the flames falling upon the third ring which it crosses, are extinguished above it, shows that the punishment of one sin cannot extend to another; the overflow of Phlegethon is still a part of [[xl]] the first ring.
94. The classic myth of the origin of Man in the island of Crete, and of the Golden Age under Saturn, whose wife, Rhea, secured the survival of Jupiter, by substituting a stone for him at his birth, thus concealing him from his father who would else have devoured him, because the Fates had declared that he would be dethroned by a son. The truth of this myth may consist in the fact that while there is only one God, conceptions of Him are continually dethroning each other in turn. The Hebraic Garden of Eden myth is saved by Dante for use in the Terrestrial Paradise at the top of Mount Purgatory.
103. The Old Man of Crete, the symbol of the ever deteriorating human race, whose tears furnish Hell with its rivers; Damietta, in Egypt, represents the ancient world of Man before the age of Imperial and Christian Rome.
126. In the Inferno the two poets, when not going down toward the center, regularly turn to the left around an arc of each circle, thus following the course of the sun.
130. Phlegethon means, in Greek, boiling; Lethe, the other infernal river of classic mythology, Dante saves for a higher purpose in the Terrestrial Paradise.
139. Another of countless instances of the way Dante makes his reader feel the concrete realism of the story with which he has clothed his Allegory; a definite time is allotted to each part of his journey.

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