One of the hard embankments bears us now,
and overhead the brook's mist shades them so,
that from the fire it saves the stream and banks.
Such bulwarks as, to keep the sea away,
the Flemings make between Witsand and Bruges,
through fearing lest the high-tide break upon them;
and as the Paduans make along the Brenta,
their villages and strongholds to defend,
ere Chiarentana feel the summer heat;
in such a way were those embankments made,
although the master did not make them there
so high or thick, whoe'er he may have been.
So far we were already from the wood,
that I could not have seen just where it was,
even had I turned around to look behind,
when we a band of spirits met, who came
along the bank, each one of whom looked hard
at us, as in the evening one is wont
to look at people, when the moon is new;
and toward us they were knitting close their brows,
as an old tailor at his needle's eye.
When by that gathering I had thus been eyed,
one of them, who had recognized me, seizing
my garment's hem, exclaimed: "How wonderful!"
And I, when toward me he had stretched his arm,
fastened upon his roasted face mine eyes,
so that, though blistered, it did not prevent
mine intellect from recognizing him;
and downward having bent my face toward his,
I answered him: "Are you here, Ser Brunetto?"
And that one: "O my son, be not displeased
should Brunetto Latini a little way
turn back with thee, and let the troop go on."
"I beg you to with all my power;" said I,
"and if you 'd have me sit with you, I will,
if it please that one; for with him I go."
"O son," he said, "whoever of this herd
stands still at all, lies prone a hundred years,
nor shields himself when smitten by the fire.
Therefore go on; I 'll follow at thy skirts,
and then I 'll join again my company,
which goes bewailing its eternal loss."
I dared not from the path descend, to go
upon his level there; but held my head
bowed down, like one who walks in reverence.
And he began: "What fortune or what fate
before thy last day leadeth thee down here,
and who is he that showeth thee the way?"
I answered him: "When in the life serene
up yonder, in a vale I lost my way,
before my age had rounded out its noon.
Thereon I turned my back but yestermorn;
this one, as I returned to it, appeared
to me, and o'er this path now leads me home."
And he to me: "If thine own star thou follow,
thou canst not fail to reach a glorious port,
if in the lovely life I judged aright;
and had I not so prematurely died,
I, seeing Heaven so well disposed toward thee,
had given thee comfort in thy work. But that
ungrateful, wicked people, which of old
came down from Fièsolë, and which e'en now
smacks of the mountain and of hard grey stone,
for thy well-doing shall become thy foe;
and rightly, for among the acid sorbs
it is not fitting that sweet figs bear fruit.
An old fame in the world proclaims them blind,
a greedy, envious, overweening folk;
see to it that thou cleanse thee from their ways!
Thy fortune hath in store for thee such honor,
that either party shall be hungry for thee;
but distant from the goat shall be the grass.
Let, then, the beasts of Fièsolë make litter
with their own selves, nor let them touch the plant,
if on their dungheap any burgeon still,
in which the sacred seed may live again
of those old Romans who remained therein,
when of such wickedness the nest was made!"
"If perfectly fulfilled had been my prayer,"
I then replied to him, "you had not yet
been banished from the natural life of man;
for in my mind is fixed, and stirs e'en now
my heart, that dear and kind paternal face
you showed, when in the world from time to time
you taught me how man makes himself eternal;
and how much gratitude I feel for this,
must, while I live, be in my words perceived.
What of my course you tell, I write, and keep,
with other texts, for a Lady to explain,
who can, if ever I attain to her.
I only wish that this be clear to you,
that I, if but my conscience chide me not,
am ready for whatever Fortune wills.
Not new unto mine ears is such reward;
hence, as she lists, let Fortune turn her wheel,
and let the country clown his mattock ply!"
Thereat my Teacher over his right cheek
turned back, and looked at me; and then he said:
"He listens well, who giveth heed to this."
Nor speaking less do I, on this account,
go on with Ser Brunetto, asking who
his fellows were, of greatest note and rank.
And he to me: 'T is well to know of some;
our silence on the rest will merit praise,
for short the time were for so long a talk.
Know then, in brief, that clerics were they all,
and mighty men of letters of great fame,
soiled by the self same sin when in the world.
And with that sad crowd yonder Priscian goes,
and Francis of Accorso, too; and him,
if thou hadst had a longing for such scurf,
thou couldst have seen there, whom the servants' Servant
changed from the Arno to the Bacchigliònë,
where he behind him left his ill-strained nerves.
I 'd speak of more; but I can come and talk
no further, for a new dust-cloud I see
rising o'er yonder from the sandy plain.
People, with whom I must not be, are coming;
let my Tesoro, in which I 'm still alive,
be recommended thee; I ask no more."
Then round he turned, and seemed to be of those
who at Verona run across the meadow
to win the green cloth; and of these he seemed
not he who loses, but the one who wins.
4. The stone embankments protecting the overflow of Phlegethon compared to the Belgian dykes, and to the embankments along the river Brenta erected to meet the freshets from the Chiarentana mountains, both of which human constructions are declared to be larger than those in Hell; a realistic and masterly touch of self-restraint on Dante's part.
16. A band of Sodomites who were famous literary men.
22. Brunetto Latini, a distinguished Florentine Guelph, a statesman and writer, and author of Li Livres dou Trésor (Tesoro) an encyclopaedic work written in French. He probably helped Dante in his studies, and died in 1294.
30. Dante uses the specially polite voi in addressing Brunetto, as he did in the case of Farinata and Cavalcanti.
45. Reverence for [[xli]] the man, unaffected by condemnation of the sin he illustrated.
54. Not Italy, but Heaven.
55. Dante's astrological "star" (unless his natural disposition be intended) was the constellation of Gemini, the Twins, in which the Sun was at the date of his birth, some unknown day in May or June, 1265; this was supposed to be a prognostic of literary ability.
61. Dante believed himself descended from the original Roman stock of Florence, and not from the alien element which later came into it from the older and rougher mountain town of Fièsole.
68. Again the Greed, the Envy and the overweening Pride!
70. One of the many passages in the poem which testify to Dante's firm belief in his future fame, in spite of his rejection by his fellow Florentines.
79. Dante's deep sympathy for Brunetto here and in what follows shows that he impartially put his friends, as well as his enemies, in Hell.
85. One of the greatest tributes ever paid a teacher by his pupil.
89. Those of Ciacco and Farinata.
99. Reason's approval of Dante's fearless attitude toward the impersonal vagaries of Fortune.
109. Priscian, a celebrated grammarian of the early sixth century; Francesco d'Accorso, a professor of law at Oxford and Bologna late in the thirteenth.
112. A bishop of Florence (on the Arno) transferred to Vicenza (on the Bacchiglione), by Pope Boniface VIII, to whom Dante here gives his humblest title, Servus servorum Dei, ironically.
122. A popular foot race at Verona, instituted in 1207, and still held in Dante's time; a piece of green cloth was the prize contended for.