About strange punishments must I make verses,
and furnish matter for the twentieth song
of this first lay, which treats of those submerged.
Already had I wholly given myself
to looking down at its uncovered bottom,
which with the tears of agony was bathed;
when people in the great round trench I saw
come weeping silently, and at the pace,
at which in this world litanies advance.
Then, as my sight fell on them lower down,
wondrously twisted each of them appeared
between the chin and where the chest begins;
for toward his loins his face was turned around,
and backward it behooved him to advance,
because of foresight they had been deprived.
By palsy some, perhaps, may thus have been
entirely turned around, but I 've not seen it,
nor do I think there ever was one such.
So may God let thee, Reader, gather fruit
from this thy reading, think now for thyself
how I could ever keep my own face dry,
when at close range I saw our human image
so twisted, that the weeping of the eyes
along the fissure bathed the back. Indeed,
as on a rock of that hard crag I leaned,
I wept so, that my Escort said to me:
"Art thou still foolish as the others are?
Here liveth piety when wholly dead
is pity. Who, then, guiltier is than he
who lets his feelings judge Divine Decrees?
Lift, lift thy head, and see the man for whom,
before the Trojans' eyes, the earth was opened!
whence all cried: 'Whither art thou rushing now,
AmphiarÓus? Why quittest thou the war?'
and he ceased not from plunging headlong down
to Minos, who lays hold on every one.
See how he makes a bosom of his shoulders;
because he wished to see too far ahead,
he looks behind, and backward goes his way.
Behold Tiresias there, who changed his looks,
when female he became, from being male,
his members being each and all transformed;
and afterward he needs must strike again
the two entwining serpents with his rod,
ere he the plumage of a male regained.
He who to that one's belly turns his back,
is Aruns, who in Luni's mountain quarries,
where toils the Carrarese who dwells below,
among white marbles had as dwelling-place
a cave, from which his view was not cut off,
when at the stars he gazed, or at the sea.
And she who, yonder, with dishevelled locks
covers the breasts which thou dost not behold,
and has on that side all her hairy skin,
was Manto, who first searched through many lands,
then settled in the place where I was born;
thereof I 'd have thee hear me speak a little.
After her father had from life departed,
and Bacchus' city had become enslaved,
she wandered long about the world. Up there
in lovely Italy, beneath the Alps
which o'er the Tyrol lock out Germany,
there lies a lake which is BenÓco called.
From o'er a thousand springs, I trow, 'tween Garda
and Val Cam˛nica, the Pennine Alp
is bathed by waters which therein find rest.
A midway place there is, where Trento's shepherd,
and he of Brescia, and the Veronese,
might each his blessing give, if there he went.
Peschiera next, a fair and mighty fortress,
and fit to face both Bergamasks and Brescians,
sits where the shore lies lowest round about.
There all that in BenÓco's spacious lap
cannot be held, flows out of it perforce,
and down through verdant pastures forms a stream.
When once its water gathers head to run,
no more BenÓco, Mincio is its name,
till at GovŔrnolo it joins the Po.
Not long its course, before it finds low ground,
o'er which it spreads, and, making it a marsh,
is wont at times to be unsound in summer.
Passing that way, the cruel virgin saw
a region in the middle of the fen,
untilled and naked of inhabitants.
There, to escape all human fellowship,
and work her arts, she settled with her slaves,
and lived, and there she left her empty body.
Thereafter men, who all around were scattered,
collected in that place, which was a strong one,
because it had a fen on every side.
O'er those dead bones of hers they built a town;
then, after her, who first picked out the site,
they called it Mantua, with no other lot.
The people in it were more numerous once,
before the foolishness of Casalodi
had been deceived by Pinamonte's guile.
I charge thee, then, if e'er thou hear it said
my town had its beginning otherwise,
permit no falsehood to defraud the truth."
"Thy statements, Teacher, are so sure to me,"
said I, "and take such hold upon my faith,
that those of others would be burnt-out coals.
But tell me if among these passing people
thou seest any one deserving note;
for my mind now is wholly bent on that."
He told me then: "The one who from his cheeks
extends his beard across his swarthy shoulders,
an augur was, when Greece lacked males so much,
that for her cradles only few were left;
't was he who set, with Chalcas' aid, at Aulis
the time to cut the fleet's first rope. His name
Eur?pylus, and in a certain place
he thus is called by my high Tragedy;
this thou know'st well, who knowest all of it.
That other one, so thin about his flanks,
was Michael Scot, who surely understood
the artful game of magical deceits.
Guido Bonatti see; and see Asdente,
who wishes now that he had given heed
to cord and leather, but too late repents.
See the sad women who abandoned needles,
spindles and shuttles, to become diviners;
these wrought their spells with herbs and images.
But now come on, for Cain is with his thorns
holding the bounds of both the hemispheres,
and plays upon the waves below Seville,
and round already was the moon last night;
thou surely must recall it, since at times,
it harmed thee not, when in the dark wood's depths."
Thus he to me, as, meanwhile, on we went.
1. From time to time Dante will incidentally suggest the care with which he had planned out the symmetrical balance of the component parts of his work. In fact, in what poem in universal literature has the architecture of the Divine Comedy been surpassed or equalled?
7. The sinners in this trench, if supposed to have seen into the future, have turned it into a past. This is described by their punishment - a mere picture of the real nature of their sin - which consists in walking ahead with their faces turned completely around, what they see being thus a past over which they have no creative control. Dante hereby suggests that man is a co-creator with God, and that the spiritual future being yet uncreated by their free co÷peration, cannot be known.
27. This is in Italian a play upon the double meaning of the word pietÓ, piety and pity. Dante, being here concerned for the fate of no individual sinner, is reproved by Virgil for what here seems his sympathy with the sin, to separate which from its equivalent punishment would be as irrational, as it would be to wish any physical or logical law to be other than what it is.
31, 40, 46. Amphiaraus, a diviner, one of the seven Kings who besieged Thebes; Tiresias and Aruns also diviners; all three known to classic lore.
48. Great Italian marble quarries northwest of Pisa.
52. With Manto Dante reaches a case peculiarly interesting to him, because she was the fabled foundress of Mantua in Lombardy, the home [[xlviii]] of his teacher Virgil.
59. A reference to the fall of Thebes, the birthplace of the god, Bacchus, under the tyranny of Creon.
61. One of Dante's most graceful bits of Italian geography, with its expression of the inveterate Latin feeling that the greater function of the highest Alps is to keep Germany and her traditional Barbarians out of the "Garden of the Empire," as he calls Italy in the Purgatorio.
67. Trento, as well as Brescia and Verona, an Italian city.
78. Governolo, the modern form of Governo.
94. A reference to internal Ghibelline-Guelph dissensions in Mantua, which resulted in a decrease of the city in population and importance.
97. Dante here, for some unknown reason preferred this version of the origin of Mantua to one given by Virgil in the Aeneid. Not being history, a later version of a legend may well be better than an earlier one.
103. "But . . .!"
106. Soothsayers connected with the story of Troy, and the sailing of the Greeks from Aulis.
115. Michael Scot, a famous Scotch thirteenth-century physician and astrologer, reputed a magician.
118. Italian necromancers, and women who won for themselves the dangerous name of witches.
124. Cain and his thorns, a popular Italian version of the Man in the Moon; an astronomical bit indicating that it is now about 6 a.m.