When in the youthful season of the year
the sun beneath Aquarius warms his locks,
while southward now the nights pursue their way;
and when the hoar-frost draws upon the ground
the counterfeit of her white sister's face,
though shortly lasts the temper of her pen;
the peasant, lacking provender, gets up,
looks out, and, seeing all the country white,
slaps himself on the thigh, returns in doors,
and walking to and fro, laments, poor wretch,
not knowing what to do; then later on
returning out again, recovers hope,
on seeing that the world has shortly changed
its face; and, taking down his shepherd-staff,
out to their feeding drives his tender sheep.
Even thus my Teacher filled me with dismay,
when I beheld such trouble in his face;
thus, too, the plaster quickly reached the wound;
for when we had attained the ruined bridge,
my Leader turned to me with that sweet look,
which at the Mountain's foot I first perceived.
First having well surveyed the ruined arch,
after some counsel taken with himself,
his arms he opened, and took hold of me.
And like a man who ponders while he acts,
and always seems to look ahead; ev'n so,
while upward to the top of one great rock
he pushed me, he sought out another crag,
and said: "Take hold of that one next, but first
see whether it be fit to bear thy weight."
No path was this for one who wore a cloak,
since scarcely could we two, though he was light,
and I was pushed, ascend from rock to rock.
And had the slope on that bank not been shorter,
than on the other, I know not of him,
but I would surely have been overcome;
but since the whole of MalebolgŰ slopes
down to the opening of the lowest well,
such is the nature of each trench's banks,
that one is high, and low the following one;
and yet we reached at length the ridge above,
from which the crag's last rock projects.
My breath was so exhausted from my lungs,
when up at last, that I could go no further;
nay, on arriving I sat down at once.
"Thus, henceforth, must thou rid thyself of sloth,"
my Teacher said; "for one attains not fame,
sitting on cushions, or 'neath canopies;
and he that lives without attaining it,
leaveth on earth such traces of himself,
as smoke doth in the air, or foam in water.
Therefore get up! O'ercome thy troubled breath
with that soul-energy, which wins all fights,
unless it sink beneath its body's weight!
A longer stairway must be climbed; 't is not
enough that these stairs have been left; if, then,
thou understand me, let it profit thee."
I thereupon arose, and showed myself
better equipped with breath than I had felt,
and said: "Go on, for I am strong and bold!"
We took the pathway up along the crag,
which rocky was, narrow and hard to climb,
and steeper far than was the one before.
Not to seem weak, I talked as on I went;
this from the next trench caused a voice to come,
which was incapable of forming words.
Though I was on the summit of the arch
which crosses here, I know not what it said;
but moved to anger seemed the one who spoke.
Downward I looked, and yet my living eyes
could not attain the bottom for the dark;
hence, "Teacher, try to reach the following ridge,"
said I, "and let us from the wall descend,
for as I hear, but do not understand,
so, looking down from hence, I make out nothing."
"No other answer give I thee," he said,
"save that of action; for a fair request
ought to be met by deeds without a word."
We climbed down from the bridge's further head,
where to the eighth embankment it is joined,
and then the trench was clearly shown to me;
and in it I beheld a frightful throng
of snakes, and of so weird a kind, that still
the memory of them freezes up my blood.
Let Libya and her sand no longer boast;
for though she breed chel?dri, jÓculi,
with cenchri, phÓreae and Ómphisbaenae,
ne'er with all Ethiopia did she show,
nor e'en with what above the Red Sea lies,
either so many or such evil plagues.
Among this cruel and most dismal swarm
people were running, nude and terrified,
and with no hope of hole or heliotrope.
Their hands were bound behind their back with snakes,
whose tail and head were thrust between their loins,
and tied together in a knot in front.
Then lo, a serpent hurled himself at one,
who near our bank was standing, and transfixed him
there where the neck is to the shoulders joined.
Never were o or i so quickly written,
as he took fire, and, burning up, must needs
turn wholly into ashes as he fell;
whereat, though thus destroyed upon the ground,
the dust, assembling of its own accord,
turned instantly into the self-same man.
So likewise, as great sages have declared,
the Phoenix dies, and then is born again,
as she approaches her five-hundredth year;
she feeds through life on neither herbs or grain,
but on am˛mum only and incense-tears;
her final swaddling bands are nard and myrrh.
And as is he who falls, nor knoweth how,
by demon force, which pulls him to the ground,
or other inhibition binding man,
and who, on getting up again, looks round
wholly bewildered by the great distress
which he has felt, and, as he looks, heaves sighs;
such was that sinner, after he had risen.
O Power of God, how truly just thou art,
that in revenge dost deal such blows as these!
Thereat my Leader asked him who he was,
and he replied: "Into this wild ravine
I rained from Tuscany not long ago.
Mule that I was, a beast's life, not a man's,
I liked; I 'm Vanni Fucci, called the Beast;
for me Pistoia was a worthy den."
Then "Tell him not to slip away," I said,
"and ask what fault thrust him down here; for I
once saw in him a man of blood and strife."
The sinner then, who understood, feigned not,
but turned toward me both mind and face, and said,
as with a sudden shame he colored up:
"That thou hast caught me in the misery
in which thou see'st me, gives me greater pain
than that which took me from the other life.
I can't refuse what thou dost ask of me.
I 'm placed thus low, because 't was I who robbed
the vestry known for its fair ornaments;
a deed once falsely put upon another.
But now, lest thou enjoy this sight of me,
if thou art ever out of these dark lands,
thine ears to my announcement ope, and hear:
Pistoia first despoils herself of Neri;
then Florence changes folk and government.
From Val di Magra Mars draws forth a bolt
by turbid clouds enveloped; next, with wild
and cruel storm, a battle will be fought
upon the Picene Plain; then suddenly
the bolt will cleave the mist in such a way,
that every Bianco will thereby be wounded.
And this I 've said, that it may give thee pain!"
1. As a means of emphasizing Virgil's calm self-mastery, Dante opens his next description of Fraud, by giving his reader a charming picture of a mid-February day in Tuscany, where the snows of its short winter which permits roses to bloom in December, and spring-flowers in February, are much dreaded, largely because, on the plain, they rarely exceed the effects of a heavy frost. When the sun is in Aquarius in January and February, with spring not far off, it is beginning to warm its locks, as in early autumn it might be said to cool them, and as the season is advancing toward the vernal equinox, the nights are said to move southward, as six [[liv]] months later they would be moving toward the North.
21. When he came to Dante's rescue in the gloomy Wood.
30. Judging from his many descriptions of it throughout the poem, Dante must have had much experience in mountain-climbing during his journeys in Italy and elsewhere.
53. Dante's own experience had shown him that imponderable soul-energy was the greatest of all forces.
56. An anticipation of his long climb up Mount Purgatory.
65. The word onde of the Italian text seems to suggest that it was Dante's distinct speaking which caused the inarticulate voice in the trench he was approaching. Hence the translation.
85. His well conned Latin poets, Lucan and Ovid, had familiarized Dante with the classical snakes of the Libyan Desert, whose names have been reproduced unchanged in the translation, because their Latin names seem to make them snakier, for the same reason that the reverse would be true in the case of flowers. At any rate Dante does not propose to let either Africa or Asia boast of worse snakes than those he saw in Hell.
93. The stone, heliotrope, was supposed to render its bearer invisible.
100. Two letters each of which is written by one stroke of the pen.
106. Both Ovid and Brunetto Latini had told the oriental myth of the Phoenix, whose essentials Dante has reproduced here.
112. Epileptics, as in the Gospel account of them, were supposed to be under the control of the devil.
118. Dante is filled with admiration of the Power of God, as displayed in the miraculous transformations seen in this trench. The variant quanto Ŕ severa, "how severe it is," while grammatically more satisfactory, would not give as Dantelike and significant a thought as the one here adopted.
124. Vanni Fucci of Pistoia, was a bastard, well known in Dante's time as a man of violence, but not generally suspected as a fraudulent thief; hence Dante's surprise at finding him here instead of higher up, in the relatively less guilty Seventh Circle, among highway robbers.
130. Knowing that he was recognized, Vanni Fucci does not try to hide his identity.
138. The vestry of the cathedral of Pistoia, whence some of its ecclesiastical treasures had been stolen in 1293; that Vanni Fucci was the thief was apparently discovered only some time later.
143. To vent his spite on Dante for having identified him among the snake-like thieves, Vanni Fucci proceeds to prophecy to him the misfortunes of his party, the Whites, from 1300 to 1302 or, possibly, 1306. A brief account of events will here suffice. In 1301, the Neri were driven from [[lv]] Pistoia; later Florence changed her government by banishing the Whites; in 1302, Moroello Malaspina (the bolt) of Lunigiana (Val di Magra) unexpectedly routed the Whites of Pistoia. Whatever the true historical interpretation of this meteorologically couched prophecy post eventum, it is interesting to note that in 1306 Dante, in exile, was a guest of this Malaspina, and is said to have dedicated his Purgatorio to him. By the term Picene Plain Dante referred to the territory of Pistoia.