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

The Eighth Circle. Fraud
The Fifth Trench. Corrupt Politicians

Ere now have I seen cavalry break camp,
start to attack, or be reviewed, and even,
at times, retreat, in order to escape;
scouts have I also seen upon your lands,
O Aretines; raids, too, have I beheld,
and tournaments and tilting-matches fought;
with trumpets now, and now with bells, with drums
and beacon-signals made from fortresses,
with native and with foreign things; but never
have I seen horse, or infantry, or ship,
by sign of either land or sky, set out
with instrument of wind as odd as that.

With the ten demons we were going on;
ah, the fierce company! But in a church
with saints consort, with gluttons at an inn!
Upon the pitch alone was I intent,
that I might see all details of the trench
and of the people who were burned therein.

As dolphins do, when, arching up their backs,
they give the warning which bids mariners
take measures for the safety of their ship;
even so at times, his suffering to relieve,
one of the sinners there displayed his back,
and hid it in less time than lightning takes.

And as in ditches at the water's edge
frogs stay with nothing but their muzzles out,
and thus conceal their feet and all the rest;
even so on all sides did those sinners stay;
and now that Barbariccia was approaching,
they likewise 'neath the boiling pitch withdrew.

I saw, and still it stirs my heart with horror,
one waiting thus, as oft, while one frog stays,
it happens that another scurries off.
And Graffiacane, who was nearest to him,
hooking his pitch-smeared tresses, pulled him up,
so that an otter he appeared to me.

I knew by now the names of each and all,
I noted them so well when they were chosen,
and, when they called each other, noticed how.
"O Rubicante, see thou set thy claws
upon him so, that thou peel off his skin!"
the accursèd all cried out together then.

And I: "My Teacher, if thou canst, contrive
to learn who that wretch is, who thus
has fallen into his adversaries' hands."

My Leader thereupon drew near to him,
and asked him whence he was, and he replied:
"Of Navarre's kingdom I a native was.
My mother placed me out to serve a lord,
for she had borne me to a rascal knave,
who both himself and what he owned destroyed.
I next in good King Thibaut's household served,
and there I set myself to practice graft,
for which I pay the reckoning in this heat."

Here Ciriatto, from whose mouth protruded,
as from a boar's, a tusk on either side,
caused him to feel how one of them could rip.
Among bad cats the mouse had fallen now;
for Barbariccia clasped him in his arms,
and said: "Stand off, while I am clutching him!"
Then, toward my Teacher having turned his face,
he said: "Ask him again, if more thou wish
to know of him, before the others rend him."

My Leader then: "Now tell me: know'st thou any,
among the other sinners 'neath the pitch,
who Latin is?" And he: "Not long ago
I left a man from that vicinity;
would that like him I still were covered up,
for I should then fear neither claw nor hook!"

Here Libicocco said: "We 've borne too much!"
and with his hook so seized him by the arm,
and tore it, that he carried off a piece.
And Draghignazzo also wished to clutch him
down at his legs; but their decurion then
turned right around at them with threatening looks.

When they were somewhat pacified again,
of him, who still was looking at his wound,
my Leader asked without delay: "Who, then,
was he, from whom thou tookst unlucky leave,
as thou hast said, to land upon the shore?"

And he made answer: "That was Fra Gomita,
Gallura's man, a vessel of all fraud,
who, when he held in hand his master's foes,
so dealt with them that each is glad. Their money
he took, and, as he puts it, let them all
off easy, and even in other offices
was not a petty, but a first rate grafter.
With him Don Michel Zanche of Logodoro
associates; and never do their tongues
feel tired out by talking of Sardinia.
But oh! Look at the other grinning there!
More would I say, but am afraid lest that one
be making ready now to claw my skin."

Then the great provost turned toward Farfarello,
who rolled his eyes as if he meant to strike,
and said: "Off yonder, thou malicious bird!"

"If you desire" thereat began again
the terror-stricken man, "to see or hear
Tuscans or Lombards, I will have some come.
But let the Evil Claws here stand aside
a little, that their vengeance be not feared,
and I, while sitting in this very place,
for one that I am, shall make seven come out,
when I shall whistle, as our wont it is,
when any one of us protrudes himself."

Cagnazzo at this speech his muzzle raised,
and shook his head, and said: "Hear the sly trick
devised by him to cast himself below!" Then he, who frauds in great abundance had,
replied to him: "Tricky indeed am I,
when for my mates a greater pain I win!"

Here Alichìn could not control himself,
but said, in opposition to the rest:
"I shall not gallop after thee, in case
thou dive, but o'er the pitch shall beat my wings;
the ridge abandoned, be the bank a screen,
to see if thou alone art more than we!"

Now, Reader, of a new sport shalt thou hear!
Each turned his eyes the other way; and he
the first, who had thereto been most opposed.
The Navarrese chose well his time, stood firmly
upon the ground, and, jumping suddenly,
from what they purposed freed himself thereby.
For this each felt himself to blame, but most
the one who of the loss had been the cause;
hence he moved first, and shouted: "Thou art caught!"
But little did it profit him; for wings
could not outmeasure fear; as one went under,
the other, flying upward, raised his breast;
nor different is the speed with which a duck
dives under water, when a hawk draws near,
who, vexed and baffled thus, flies up again.

Then Calcabrina, angered by the flout,
flew out behind him, glad that one escaped,
because it let him scuffle with the other;
and then, the grafter having disappeared,
he turned his claws upon his own companion,
and grappled with him o'er the ditch; but he,
being, indeed, a fighting sparrow-hawk
fitted to claw him well, they both fell down
into the middle of the boiling fen.
A sudden separator was the heat;
but rising thence was quite impossible,
they had their wings so limed with sticky pitch.

Then Barbariccia, vexed as were the rest,
his mates, had four of them with all their hooks
fly to the other bank; on both sides then
they speedily descended to their posts,
and stretched their hooks out toward the pitch-belimed,
who now were cooked inside their crusted hides;
and, thus embarassed, we abandoned them.


1. Though the name Commedia was in Dante's time that given to serious poetic compositions that ended well, and so befits Dante's supreme poem, which ends happily in Paradise, the nature of this and of the following canto is such that Comedy in the modern sense would perfectly apply to them. Corruption in politics, and the endless struggle between corrupt representatives of the people and often equally corrupt executives of the laws passed against that corruption, have always been fair game for more or less good natured amusement, cartooning, etc. True to his nature as a great artist, Dante in dealing with the subject at once descends in incident and language to the natural level of the comedy of the perennial political tragedy, so that any criticism from the point [[xlix]] of view of taste can be met by the answer that everything in these cantos is as organically fitting as is anything in the other ninety-eight.
6. The first note struck; the world of grafters and corrupt politicians is a dark world, wherein they "lie low."
7. Venice was in Dante's time, as it had been long before, and was to be long after, the great naval power of the world.
8. Pitch, the other characteristic of the relation sustained to each other and to their entangling profession by grafters who can only ply their nefarious trade at the expense of good government by playing into each other's corrupt hands; grafting is dark and sticky business.
19. A wonderful picture of the temporary excitement made by public suspicions of corruption and graft in the underworld, and the almost immediate subsiding of the public interest momentarily aroused.
29. The nearest modern equivalent of this black devil and his mates would seem to be something approaching a blend of the more or less permanently effective newspapers and police.
37. Evil-claws; Santa Zita being the patroness of the city of Lucca in Tuscany, the reference here is to its town council.
40. Bonturo Dati, ironically made an exception to the wholesale charge against Lucca, had the reputation of being in 1300 its boss, and the worst grafter of them all.
42. Ita, the Latin for "yes" used on the judicial occasions where these magistrates and lawyers testified or voted, for financial considerations, contrary to their sworn duty.
46. "Doubled up" in a position such as that assumed by those worshipping the Holy Face, an ancient image of Christ believed to have been by the hand of Nicodemus, which was preserved in Lucca.
49. A stream near Lucca, a popular bathing resort for its inhabitants.
53. An attitude all too frequently assumed towards such people by a conniving police or press.
62. A reference to Virgil's previous descent through Hell, or to his historical experience with the corrupt politics of Rome and Italy in his time.
76. Evil Tail.
82. Two ways of viewing the same cause.
84. The promise of Reason's ultimate success in leading Man into a resultful knowledge of the world of political evil.
95. A Tuscan town which surrendered to the Lucchese, and to the Florentines with whom Dante was serving, in 1289, when a young man of twenty-four.
106-114. Three statements by the devil, the first and last of which were true, while the middle one was false; the third, moreover, being a beguiling truth of religious import. The next crag-bridge was down, but so were all [[l]] of them in the sixth trench, so that the second statement was untrue; 1266 years from 1300 took one back to the year 34, that of Christ's death, when the earthquake accompanying it shattered the outer Gate of Hell, the high bank separating the sixth from the seventh Circles, and the bridges across the Sixth Trench, that of the Hypocrites. This would seem to be the devils' formula for telling a successful lie: sandwich it between two truths.
118. These comic devils all of them have more or less significant names, some seeming to have resulted from grotesquing those of well known Italian families, which may have been tainted with this sin of graft.
125. Since there was no crag that "all unbroken" crossed the dens, or trenches, this ominous order was the same as telling the devils to do with the two investigating poets as they pleased.
137. The last three lines of this canto find their due explanation in the note to line 1, and at any rate are boldly endorsed by the four opening terzine of the next canto. Dante's contempt for corruption in politics was too great, and too well justified, for him to shrink from giving it the most apposite expression that occurred to him.

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