A place there is in Hell, called Malebolgë,
wholly of stone, and of an iron hue,
as is the round wall which encircles it.
Right in the midst of its malicious field
yawneth a well exceeding wide and deep,
of whose construction, in its place, I 'll speak.
Round, therefore, is the girdle which remains
between the well and that hard, high wall's base,
and ten great trenches subdivide its bed.
As is the appearance which, where many moats
encircle castles for the walls' protection,
the section where they are presents;
such was the one those trenches furnished here;
and just as in such fortresses small bridges
stretch from their thresholds to the outmost bank;
so crags ran from the bottom of the cliff
across the banks and trenches to the well,
which, gathering them together, cuts them off.
In this place, then, we found ourselves, when dropped
from Geryon's back; the Poet thereupon
held to the left, and I behind him moved.
Upon the right side I beheld new cause
for sympathy, new pains, and scourgers new,
wherewith the first trench was completely filled.
Down at its bottom naked were the sinners;
this side the middle facing us they came,
beyond it with us, but with quicker steps;
means such as those which at the Jubilee
the Romans took, because of its great throng,
to have the people pass across the bridge,
who toward the Castle all on one side face,
and toward Saint Peter's go their way; while all
move toward the mountain on the other edge.
This side and that, upon the dark, stone floor,
horned demons with great scourges I beheld,
who from behind were fiercely whipping them.
Ah, how they caused them to lift them up their heels,
when by the first blows smitten! Certainly
none waited for the second, or the third.
While I was going on, mine eyes were met
by one of them; and instantly I said:
"I fast not from a previous sight of him."
To make him out I therefore stayed my feet;
and, having stopped with me, my gentle Leader
assented to my going back a little.
That scourged one thought that he could hide himself
by looking down, but little it availed him;
for "Thou, that castest down thine eyes," said I,
unless the features which thou hast are false,
Venèdico Caccianimico art;
but what brings thee into such pungent sauces?"
And he to me: "Unwillingly I tell it;
but forced I am by thy transparent speech,
which makes me recollect the olden world.
I was the one who led Ghisolabella
to do according to the Marquis' will,
however the disgusting tale be told.
Nor am I here the only Bolognese
that weeps; nay, this place is so full of us,
that not so many tongues are taught today
between Savena and Reno to say sipa;
and if thereof thou wouldst have pledge or proof,
recall to mind our avaricious breasts."
As thus he spoke, a demon with his lash
smote him, and said to him: "Pandar, begone!
There are no women here to sell for coin."
I then rejoined my Escort; whereupon,
when we had taken some few steps, we came
to where a crag projected from the bank.
This we ascended with the greatest ease,
and turning to the right along its ridge,
we left those everlasting circling walls.
When we were where it hollows out below,
to let the scourged pass through, my Leader said:
"Now stay thy steps, and on thee let the sight
of all these other ill-born spirits strike,
whose faces thou hast not perceived as yet,
because they 've gone with us in our direction."
As from the ancient bridge we watched the troop,
which on the other side was toward us coming,
and which the scourge was likewise driving on,
without my asking, my good Teacher said:
"Look at that great man there, who, as he comes,
for all his pain, seems not to shed a tear.
How royal an appearance he still keeps!
Jason is he, who, by his doughtiness
and wit, deprived the Colchians of their ram.
He passed the isle of Lemmos on his way,
after its pitiless and daring women
had given up to death their every male.
With tokens of his love and flattering words
he there deceived the maid, Hypsìpylë,
who previously had all the rest deceived.
He left her there with child, and all alone;
him to this punishment that fault condemns;
and for Medea, too, is vengeance wrought.
With him go those that in this way deceive;
be this enough to know of this first ditch,
and of those, too, that in its fangs it holds."
Already were we where the narrow path
forms with the second bank a cross, and makes
therewith abutments for another arch.
We thence heard people in the following trench
who whined and groaned, and with their muzzles puffed,
while smiting their own bodies with their palms.
The banks were crusted over with a mould
by vapor from below, which, sticking there,
offensive to both eyes and nose became.
So deep the bottom, that there is no means
of looking into it, unless one climb
the arch's summit, where the crag is highest.
Thither we came, and from it in the ditch
people I saw immersed in excrement,
which seemed from human privies to have come.
While peering with mine eyes down there, I saw
a head so foul with filth, that whether clerk's
or layman's head it were, was not apparent.
Scolding, he said: "Why greedier art thou
to look at me, than at the other foul ones?"
And I: "Because, if I remember well,
I 've seen thee with dry hair ere now, for thou
Alèssio Interminèi of Lucca art;
that 's why I eye thee more than all the rest."
And he then, as he beat upon his pate:
"Those flatteries immersed me here below,
wherewith my tongue was never surfeited."
Then, after this, my Leader said to me:
"See that thou urge thy glance a little further,
that with thine eyes thou quite attain the face
of that disgusting and dishevelled wench,
who yonder claws herself with filthy nails,
and crouches now, and now is on her feet.
That Thaïs is, the prostitute, who answered
her paramour, when he had said 'Have I
great thanks from thee?': 'Nay, marvelously great!'
Herewith, then, let our sight be satisfied."
1. Malebolge, or the Circle of the Evil Pockets, in which are caught those who by one form of deceit or another tried to "bag" others, is conceived as a vast plain cut by ten concentric trenches bridged by a series of crags, the whole sloping toward a central well, at the bottom of which is the Ninth Circle, the frozen lake of Cocytus.
22. Pandars, pimps, or professional procurers of women, driven around the trench by devils armed with scourges, who represent the mean passions which restlessly goad them on to fraud.
25. Dante uses nakedness here and elsewhere to portray sins that are peculiarly indefensible.
27. The second band were moving faster than were the walking poets.
28. Immense crowds of pilgrims from all over Europe gathered at Rome for the Jubilee of 1300; Dante may himself have been there, and witnessed what he describes.
31. The Castle of Sant' Angelo; the mountain opposite is Giordano.
49. A Bolognese, who for money is said to have betrayed his own sister to the lust of a Marquis da Esti of [[xlv]] Ferrara.
51. A grim play upon the word salse, sauces, a name given to a place near Bologna, where the bodies of criminals were thrown.
61. In Bologna, which lies between the rivers Savena and Reno, sipa used to be the dialectic form of sì, yes.
76. Seducers of women, scourged around the trench in the opposite direction.
83. Jason, the royal leader of the Argonauts in their quest of the Golden Fleece of Colchos, and the seducer of Hypsipyle, Medea and other women.
90. Because, ever since cursed by Venus, they had been abandoned by their husbands. In the general massacre Hypsipyle had saved her father, King Thoas.
100. Here Flatterers and Prostitutes, viewed as men and women who, for personal advantage of one kind or another, prostituted their souls or their bodies by playing with friendship, affection, admiration, or love, are immersed in excrement, to signify the utterly disgusting and corrupt nature of their sin morally and spiritually; the boldest instance of Dante's unflinching realism.
122. A contemporary of Dante, of whom little else is known.
130. The famous Athenian courtesan, said to have been the mistress of Alexander. Whatever prostitution may be from other points of view, physical or ethical, Dante's marvelous insight saw that it was spiritually poisonous, because essentially the most corrupting form of Flattery.