17
Dante Alighieri - La Divina Commedia - Inferno
Courtney Langdon - The Divine Comedy

The Seventh Circle. The Third Ring
Violence against Art. Usurers

"Behold the wild beast with the pointed tail,
which, crossing mountains, breaks through walls and armor;
behold who sickens all the world with stench!"

My Leader thus began to speak to me,
and signalled to it to approach the edge,
near where the marble we had traversed ended.
And that foul image of deceit came on,
and landed on the bank its head and chest;
but o'er the edge it drew not up its tail.

Its face was as the face of a just man,
so pleasing outwardly was its complexion;
the body of a serpent all the rest.
Two paws it had, all hairy to the arm-pits;
its back and breast, as well as both its sides,
were painted o'er with snares and wheel-like shields.
Ne'er with more colors in its woof and warp
did Turks or Tartars manufacture cloth,
nor by Arachnne were such webs designed.

As flat-boats sometimes lie upon the shore,
in water partly, partly on the land;
and as among the greedy Germans yonder,
the beaver seats himself to wage his war;
so lay that worst of beasts upon the edge
which closes in the sandy plain with stone.
All of its tail was quivering in the void,
and twisting upward its envenomed fork,
which like a scorpion's weapon armed its tip.

"Our path must turn aside a little now,"
my Leader said to me, "until we reach
that wicked beast reclining over there."

Around our right breast, therefore, we went down,
and took ten paces on the very edge,
thus surely to avoid both sand and fire;
and after we had come to it, I saw,
upon the sand a little further on,
some people sitting near the precipice.

My Teacher then: "That thou mayst take with thee
a full experience of this ring, go on,
and see the nature of the life they lead.
There be thy conversation brief; meanwhile,
till thou return, I 'll talk with this wild beast,
that its strong shoulders may be yielded us."

Thus further on, along the outer edge
of that seventh circle, all alone I went,
to where the melancholy people sat.
Out of their eyes their woe was bursting forth;
first here, then there, they helped them with their hands,
now from the flames, now from the heated soil.
Not otherwise do dogs in summer-time,
now with their paws, and with their muzzles now,
whene'er by flees, or flies, or gadflies bitten.

When on the face of some I set mine eyes,
on whom the woeful fire is falling there,
I knew not one of them; but I perceived
that from the neck of each there hung a pouch,
which had a certain color and design,
wherewith their eyes appeared to feed themselves.
And as I, looking, came into their midst,
azure upon a yellow pouch I saw,
which had the form and semblance of a lion.
Then, as my gaze continued on its course,
another I beheld, as red as blood,
exhibiting a goose more white than butter.

And one of them, who had his small white pouch
emblazoned with an azure pregnant sow,
said to me: "What dost thou in this our ditch?
Now go thy way; and since thou livest still,
know that my fellow townsman, Vitaliano,
will sit beside me here upon my left.
I, with these Florentines, a Paduan am,
and very frequently they stun my ears
by shouting: "Let the sovereign knight arrive,
who 'll bring with him the pocket with three beaks!"'
Herewith his mouth he twisted, sticking out
his tongue, as doth an ox that licks its nose.
And I, afraid lest any longer stay
might anger him who warned me to be brief,
turned from those weary spirits back again.

I found my Leader, who had climbed already
upon the back of that fierce animal,
and said to me: "Now be thou strong and bold!
By stairs like these shall we descend hereafter;
climb thou in front, for midst I wish to be,
so that the tail may do no injury."

Like one with quartan-fever's chill so near,
that pale already are his finger nails,
and that, but looking at the shade, he shudders;
such at the words he uttered I became;
but that shame made its threats to me, which renders
a servant strong when in a good lord's presence.
As on those horrid shoulders I sat down,
I wished to tell him: "See that thou embrace me!"
my voice, however, came not as I thought.

But he, who succoured me at other times
and other straights, as soon as I was up,
encircled and sustained me with his arms;
and then he said: "Now, Geryon, move thou on!
Wide be thy wheels, and gradual thy descent;
bethink thee of the unwonted load thou hast."

As from its mooring place a little boat
backs slowly out, even so did he withdraw;
and when he wholly felt himself in play,
to where his breast had been, he turned his tail,
and moved the latter, stretched out like an eel,
while with his paws he gathered in the air.

I do not think that there was greater fear
when PhaŽthon let go his horses' reins,
whereby, as still appears, the sky was burned;
nor yet when wretched Icarus perceived
his back unfeathering through the melting wax,
while, calling him, his father cried: "Thou hold'st
an evil course!" than mine was, when I saw
that I was in the air on every side,
and gone the sight of all things save the beast.

The latter, swimming, slowly wends his way,
wheels and descends, but I perceive it not,
save by the wind below and in my face.
The waterfall I now heard on the right,
making a horrid roar beneath us; hence,
I outward thrust my head with eyes turned down.
More fearful of the abyss I then became,
for fires I now beheld, and wailings heard;
hence, trembling, I clung closer with my thighs.
And then, for I perceived it not before,
by the great torments which on divers sides
drew near, I saw our wheeling and descent.

Even as a falcon long upon the wing,
which, without seeing lure or game-bird, makes
the falconer say: "Alas, thou comest down!"
descendeth weary, through a hundred rings,
whence he had swiftly started, and alights
far from his lord in angry sullenness;
so likewise Geryon set us down below,
close to the bottom of the rough-hewn rock;
and, of our persons rid, as fast as flies
an arrow from a bowstring, sped away.


1. Geryon, the symbol of Fraud, whose nature will be revealed by the punishment of its several forms in the following Circle.
17-21. A marvelous selection of illustrations of Fraud! Arachne a Lydian maiden who challenged Athene to weaving, and was turned by her into a spider.
31. They had to go to the right to avoid crossing the stream of blood; ten paces means a few.
34. Usurers; Usury being of all forms of violence the nearest to Fraud, they are next to the Abyss.
39. To understand the evil of Usury Dante does not need to be accompanied by Virgil.
45. Making money work for them, the usurers are represented as seated, with nothing to do but "avail themselves of the market," and make money - spiritually a "melancholy" job.
49. One of several little instances in the poem of Dante's grim sense of humor.
54. Being without character, which is inseparable from personal distinction, these usurers are distinguishable only by means of the money bags hanging from their necks, and hence, except in financial circles, are of no account.
59. The devices on the bags are the coats of arms of prominent Florentine and Paduan usurers.
72. Giovanni Buiamonte, said to have been the most infamous usurer in Europe in Dante's time.
82. Hereafter the two poets can no longer descend from one Circle to another on foot; here, only by consenting to accept the help of Fraud itself in the person of Geryon, can insight into Fraud be acquired; but Man, in so doing, must be sure to let Reason sit between him and Fraud's sting.
107. PhaŽthon, the son of Apollo, who, misguiding the chariot of the Sun, burned the skies and produced the Milky Way.
109. Icarus, the son of the inventor Daedalus, the mythical [[xliv]] founder of aŽronautics.
122. The punishments of the Eighth Circle, which they are approaching.
127. Another simile drawn from the art of Falconry; Geryon had only grudgingly performed the service imposed on him by Virgil.

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