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

The Eighth Circle. Fraud
The Third Trench. Simoniacs

O Simon Magus, O his wretched followers,
since ye the things of God, which ought to be
the brides of righteousness, rapaciously
adulterate for silver and for gold;
it now behooves the trumpet sound for you,
for in the third great trench your station is!

We now had climbed the next tomb-spanning bridge,
and were on that part of the crag, which hangs
directly o'er the middle of the trench.

Wisdom Supreme, how great the art thou showest
in Heaven, on earth, and in the evil world!
How justly, too, thy virtue makes awards!

I saw that on its sloping sides and bottom
the livid-colored stone was full of holes,
all of one width, while each of them was round.
Nor less nor more wide did they seem to me,
than those which in my beautiful Saint John's
are made as places for baptizing priests;
and one of which, not many years ago,
I broke, to save one who was choking in it;
be this a witness undeceiving all!

Out of the mouth of each a sinner's feet
protruded, and, as far as to the calf,
his legs; the rest of him remained within.
The soles of all were, both of them, on fire;
because of which their joints so strongly twitched,
they would have snapped green twigs and cords of grass.
And as a flame on oily things is wont
to move along the outer surface only;
so likewise was it there from heels to toes.

"Who, Teacher, is he yonder, who is tortured
by twitching more than all the rest, his mates,"
said I, "and whom a redder flame is sucking?"

And he to me: "If thou wouldst have me bear thee
down yonder bank which lowest lies, from him
thou 'lt know both of himself and of his sins."

And I: "What pleases thee I like; my lord
thou art, and that I part not from thy will
thou knowst, as also what is left unsaid."

We then upon the fourth embankment came,
and, turning round, descended on our left
into that narrow bottom pierced with holes;
nor yet did my good Teacher set me down
from off his back, but brought me to the hole
of him who grieved so sorely with his shank.

"Whoe'er thou art, sad soul, that holdest down
thine upper portion, planted like a stake,"
I then began, "say something, if thou canst."

I there was like a friar that confesses
a base assassin, who, on being planted,
calls him again, that death may be delayed.

And he cried out: "Dost thou stand there already,
dost thou stand there already, Boniface?
By several years the writing lied to me.
Art thou so quickly sated with the wealth,
for which thou didst not fear to seize by fraud,
and outrage next, the Lady beautiful?"

Even such did I become, as those are, who,
not understanding what is answered them,
deem themselves mocked, and think of no reply.
Then Virgil said: "Tell him immediately:
'I 'm not the one, I 'm not the one thou thinkest!'"
And I replied to him as I was bidden.

Whereat the spirit writhed with both his feet;
then, sighing, and with weeping voice, he said:
"What is it, then, that thou dost ask of me?
If to know who I am concern thee so,
that for it thou hast crossed the bank; know, then,
that I was with the mighty Mantle clothed;
and verily the she-Bear's son was I,
so eager to advance the cubs, that wealth
I pocketed up there, and here myself.
The others, who in working simony
preceded me, are gathered 'neath my head,
flattened between the fissures of the rock.
I, in like manner, shall down yonder fall,
when he arrives, whom I believed thou wast,
when I of thee the sudden question asked.
But now already longer is the time,
that I, thus up-side down, have cooked my feet,
than he will planted stay with ruddy soles;
for after him shall come from westward lands
a lawless shepherd of still uglier deed,
and fit to cover him and me. Renewed
shall Jason be, of whom in Maccabees
one reads; and as to that one his king yielded,
even so who governs France shall yield to this."

I know not whether I was here too bold,
in that I answered him in this strain only:
"Now tell me, pray, how great the treasure was,
our Lord demanded of Saint Peter first,
before He placed the Keys in his control?
Surely he asked for naught but 'Follow me.'
Nor yet did Peter or the rest take gold
or silver from Matthias, when by lot
he took the place the guilty soul had lost.
Therefore keep still, for thou art rightly punished;
and take good care of that ill-gotten wealth,
which caused thee to be valiant against Charles.
And were it not for this, that I am still
forbidden by reverence for the Keys supreme
thou hadst in keeping in the joyful life,
words of still greater weight would I employ;
because your greed, by trampling on the good
and raising the depraved, afflicts the world.
The Evangelist was thinking of your shepherds,
when she, who on the waters hath her seat,
was seen by him to fornicate with kings;
the one who with the seven heads was born,
and from the ten horns her support received,
while virtue still was pleasing to her spouse.
Ye' ve made yourselves a god of gold and silver;
and from idolaters how differ ye,
save that they worship one, and ye a hundred?

Ah, Constantine, of how much ill was mother,
not thy conversion, but the dower-gift
the earliest wealthy Father took from thee!"

While I was singing him such notes as these,
he, whether it were wrath or conscience bit him,
was fiercely kicking out with both his feet.
I verily believe it pleased my Leader,
he heeded with so glad a look throughout
the utterance of those true, clear words of mine.
He therefore took me up with both his arms,
and when he had me wholly on his breast,
he climbed again the path down which he came;
nor tired of holding me in his embrace,
but bore me to the summit of the arch,
which crosses from the fourth bank to the fifth.
When there, he gently set his burden down,
gently, because that crag was rough and steep,
and would be difficult for goats to cross;
from thence another trench was shown to me.


1. Simon Magus, the magician who offered to pay St. Peter for spiritual gifts, the prototype of all who have been corrupt in the conduct of the Church's organization, by buying or selling its offices, or by setting a monetary value on its spiritual gifts. In so far as Universities share with the Church in the same high field of spiritual responsibility for Man's higher nature, they have been, and are, open to the same temptation.
10. The perfect Justice [[xlvi]] of God, whereby sin is its own punishment, illustrated throughout the Inferno, as virtue being its own reward is throughout the Paradiso.
17. The baptismal font in what was Dante's church, now the baptistery, in Florence, had four round wells around its central water basin, in which the baptizing priests stood, protected from the crowd bringing recently born children on special baptismal occasions. Dante, having once had to break one of these to release a child choking in it, is believed to be here defending himself against a charge of sacrilege.
28. The Simoniacs, having subjected their spiritual gifts, symbolized by the tongues of fire which rested on the Apostles' heads at Pentecost, to lower material interests, are here seen symbolically upside down with their heads in the earth, and with flames torturing the soles of their feet. Prostitution again!
49. Dante, as one of the six priors of Florence in the summer of 1300, may have been present officially at the execution of assassins for money, who were condemned to be planted head down in a hole dug in the ground.
52. Pope Nicholas III, who here mistakes Dante for Boniface VIII, still living, and equally guilty of simony. This is one of Dante's devices, whereby he is enabled to condemn to Hell one who in 1300, the date of his poem's Vision, not having yet died, could not be seen there.
56. Boniface VIII was believed to have ascended the Papal throne as the result of deceitful intrigues, ending in the abdication of Celestine V, mistakenly identified, some think, with "him who through his cowardice the great Refusal made."
70. Nicholas III belonged to the great Roman Orsini (Bear) family.
75. Having changed their allegiance from Spirit to Matter, their destiny is to disappear from the real world into the earth.
82. Clement V, of Bordeaux, who was to follow Boniface soon after his death in 1303, was a creature of Philip the Fair of France, as the High Priest Jason had been that of Antiochus of Syria.
99. Charles I of Anjou, to whom Nicholas was opposed.
100. In spite of his bitter attacks upon several Popes, notably Boniface VIII, for their corruption, Dante was always most loyal to the ideally great conception of the Pope's office as Head of a united Christian Church.
106. Dante here attributes to Papal Rome in its corruption what the author of the Apocalypse probably ascribed to Pagan Rome.
109. This probably means that the Church had prospered, or would prosper, only so long as her head, the Pope, remembered that she was born of the seven gifts [[xlvii]] of the Holy Spirit, and observed the ten moral commandments.
115. One of the most famous passages in the Inferno, and one capable of the widest range of application. Dante shared in the erroneous belief of his age that Constantine had abandoned Rome, and even the Empire of the West, to the Popes to rule therein as temporal sovereigns. The spiritual truth may, however, be disengaged from it that for spiritual institutions excessive or hampering material endowments are fraught with the danger of degeneration and loss of freedom.
121. Again Virgil approves of Dante's fearless expression of a righteous indignation.

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