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

The Eighth Circle. Fraud
The Sixth Trench. Hypocrites

Silent, alone, and unaccompanied,
we went along, one first and one behind,
as Minor Friars go when on the road.

My thoughts, by reason of the present brawl,
were turned to Aesop's fable, that wherein
he talks about the frog and mouse; for 'now'
and 'at this moment' are no more alike,
than one is like the other, if beginning
and end be linked by an attentive mind.
And ev'n as one thought from another springs,
so, next, from that one was another born,
which doubled my first fear. Hence thus I thought:
"These devils have been scorned on our account,
and with such injury and scoff, indeed,
that I believe that they are greatly vexed.
If anger to ill-will be joined, they 'll come
more fiercely after us, than doth a dog
the rabbit which he seizes with his teeth."

Already was I feeling all my hair
bristling with fear, when, gazing back intent,
I said: "If, Teacher, thou hide not thyself
and me with speed, I dread the Evilclaws;
we have them now behind us, and I so
imagine them, that I already feel them."

And he: "If I were made of leaded glass,
thine outward image I would not reflect
more quickly than thine inward I receive.
Even now thy thoughts were coming among mine
with outlook and intent so similar,
that I with both a single purpose formed.
If it be true the right bank slopeth so,
that to the following trench we can descend,
we shall escape from this imagined chase."

He had not finished telling me his plan,
when not far off I saw them coming on
with wings outspread, intent on seizing us.

My Leader then took hold of me at once,
even as a mother, by the noise aroused,
and seeing close to her the burning flames,
seizes her child and flees, and doth not stop,
since caring more for him than for herself,
even long enough to clothe her with a shift;
and downward from the ridge of that hard bank,
his back he yielded to the hanging rock,
which closes one side of the following trench.

Water ne'er moved as swiftly through a sluice,
to turn the overshot wheel of a mill,
when closest to the paddles it approaches,
as did my Teacher o'er that selvage-bank,
bearing me down with him upon his back,
as though his son I were, and not his mate.

His feet had hardly reached the trench's bed
below, when they were on the ridge above,
just over us; but naught was now to fear;
because the Providence on high, which willed
to place them in the fifth trench as its servants,
takes from them all the power of leaving it.

A painted people found we there below,
who, moving with exceedingly slow steps,
shed tears, and in their looks appeared subdued
and weary. Cloaks they had equipped with cowls
lowered before their eyes, and cut like those
which in Cologne are fashioned for her monks.
So gilded outside are they that they dazzle;
but inside all are lead, and of such weight,
that those which Frederick clothed men with were straw.
O cloak that wearies through eternity!

We turned again, as ever, to the left,
along with them, intent on their sad plaint;
but, owing to the weight, that weary folk
came on so slowly, that new company
we had at every motion of our legs.
Hence to my Leader I: "Contrive to find
some one whom we may know by deed or name,
and, while thus going, move thine eyes around."

And one, who heard my Tuscan speech, cried out
behind us: "Stay your feet, O ye that run
so quickly through the gloomy air! From me,
perhaps, shalt thou receive what thou dost ask."
Thereat my Leader turned and said: "Now wait;
and then proceed according to his pace."

I stopped, and two I saw, whose faces showed
great mental haste to be with me, and yet
their burden and the narrow path delayed them.
On coming up to us, they watched me long
with eyes askance, and uttered not a word;
then, toward each other turning, thus they spoke:
"This one seems by the action of his throat
alive; but if they 're dead, by what right, then,
go they uncovered by the heavy stole?"

And then, addressing me, they said: "O Tuscan,
who to the gathering of sad hypocrites
art come, scorn not to tell us who thou art."

And I to them: "On Arno's lovely stream,
and in its famous town, both born and bred,
I'm in the body I have always had.
But who are ye, adown whose cheeks there drips,
as I perceive, so great a woe, and what
the penalty which sparkles on you thus?"

"These orange cloaks," one answered, "are of lead,
and of such thickness are they, that the weights
thus cause the scales that balance them to creak.

We Jovial Friars were, and Bolognese;
I, Catalàn, and Loderingo he,
by name, and chosen by thy town together,
as one alone is usually called,
to keep its peace; and such we were, as still
in the Gardingo's neighborhood appears."

"O friars," I began, "your evil deeds . . ."
but said no more; because there struck mine eyes
one crucified by three stakes on the ground.
On seeing me, sighs through his beard he blew,
and writhed all over; then Fra Catalàn,
informed thereby of what had happened, said:

"The pinioned man thou gazest at, advised
the Pharisees that it expedient was
to torture one man for the people's sake.
Stretched crosswise, as thou seest, on the road,
and naked, he is forced to be the first
to feel how much whoever passes weighs.
And in like fashion suffer in this ditch
his father-in-law, and others of the council
which proved a seed of evil for the Jews."

I then saw Virgil marvelling at him,
who in the figure of a cross was stretched
so basely in eternal banishment.

Then to the friar he addressed these words:
"Be not displeased to tell us, an ye may,
if on the right there lie a crossing-place,

by means of which we two may issue hence,
without black Angels being forced to come
and extricate us from this trench's bed."

"Nearer than thou dost hope" he then replied,
"a crag there is, which at the great round wall
begins, and all the cruel trenches spans,
save that at this one it is broken down,
and spans it not; but ye can climb the ruins,
which from its base lie piled along the slope."

My Leader kept his head bowed down awhile;
then said: "Wrongly did he report the thing,
who yonder grapples sinners with his hook!"

The friar then: "Among the many vices given
the Devil at Bologna, I once heard
that he a liar is, and sire of lies."

Thereat my Leader with great strides departed,
somewhat disturbed by anger in his looks;
then I the burdened left, and followed on
behind the footprints of belovèd feet.


1. The comic frivolity of the last two cantos is with fine contrast succeeded by the solemn seriousness of this, whose tone is suggested by the opening line.
3. Franciscans.
4. This fable, supposed to be Aesop's, told how a frog who had tied a mouse to himself to tow him over the water, dived without regard to his companion, who while struggling was picked up by a kite, who carried them both off.
7. Mo and issa, two Italian dialectic words meaning now.
33. An imagined evil may be even more terrible than a so-called actual one.
51. Noteworthy are the frequent expressions of the tenderness Dante felt toward the poet Virgil, whose influence upon him must have been second only to that of the Florentine maiden, Beatrice, both of whom he accepted as, severally, his rational and spiritual guides through the world of reality.
55. The fact that the executives of each trench are limited in their action to their own immediate sphere of power, is here used [[lii]] to show that in the world of Divine Justice no punishment can follow a sin of which it is not merely a picture.
58. Dante sees hypocrites as a "painted," and "burdened" people - one of his most wonderful spiritual portraits, which besides recalling the "whited sepulchers" of the Gospel, is strangely reproduced in the case of Shakespeare's hypocrite, Claudius, who, lashed by Polonius' acknowledgment that "with devotion's visage and pious action we do sugar o'er the devil himself," contrasts his crime with his "most painted word," and exclaims: "O heavy burthen!"
63. Why Dante should have thought of the monks of Cologne as illustrating "the cloak of hypocrisy" has not been satisfactorily explained.
66. Frederick II was believed, at least by his enemies, to have had those guilty of lèse majesté clothed in lead, which was subsequently melted upon them.
67. Of course "exhaustion" and "for ever" are mutually contradictory terms; hence here as elsewhere a deeper meaning must be found for "eternal." Hypocrisy is innately and inescapably "fatiguing," since it involves living simultaneously two lives.
74. Dante is ever at pains to find concrete illustrations for his abstract moral and spiritual states, which is what makes a great poet greater, paradoxically speaking, than an equally great philosopher.
76. Again recognized by his Tuscan speech!
84. Hypocrites have to tread a narrow path because restlessly obliged, as the sincere and frank are not, to "mind their p's and q's."
88. A third device to remind us that Dante was the only one alive in the Inferno. One symptom of hypocritical piety is the solemnity and sadness it affects. Cf. the Gospel warning: "Be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance."
94. As the reader will frequently note, Dante in spite of what he had suffered from it, proudly loved his native town.
99. That's it! The penalty sparkles, because the penalty is the sin.
100. Their outwardly fair-seeming piety, morality, and interest in good things are really a burden to them, and cause them (the scales) to weep and moan (creak).
103-108. The second of these two hypocrites was the founder of the lay order of the Beata Maria, whose members, not obliged to be ascetic, so availed themselves of the exemption that they came to be known as "Joy" Friars; these two were both at different times called to be podestà (dictators for a year) of Italian towns, and in 1266, were called together to rule Florence; while in power they razed the houses of the Uberti in the neighborhood of an old [[liii]] fortress called the Gardingo.
109. How Dante would have ended his interrupted speech we do not know, but can easily imagine, from what we know of his hatred of hypocrisy and of his love for Florence.
115. This is the archhypocrite, Caiaphas the High Priest, the second of the infamous triumvirate of the Crucifixion, Pilate the archcoward, and Judas, the archtraitor being the other two. Not "lifted up" as Jesus was, Dante sees Caiaphas crucified like his victim, but on the ground, and forced to bear, as their type, the burden of all subsequent hypocrites.
122. Annas, the High Priest, and the other Pharisees, whose decision to prefer the logically and temporarily "expedient" to the spiritually and eternally right, brought an age long trouble upon their race.
124. Virgil had been through this trench before, but Caiaphas had not come to it yet.
129. Malacoda had told him that one crag-bridge still spanned the trench.
142. The friar, having studied theology at the great university of Bologna, had heard that the devil was professionally a liar, and ironically suggests that Virgil should not have been taken in by the pleasant outsides of the sandwich-lie.
147. And so this masterly picture of Hypocrisy, which began with the adjective "painted," ends with the adjective "burdened." Like all its companion pictures, its convincing power comes from the fact that a great poet addresses simultaneously his reader's total, undifferentiated intellectual aesthetic, moral and spiritual consciousness.

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