The thief, at the conclusion of his words,
lifted his hands with both their figs, and cried:
"Take that, O God, for 't is to Thee I show them!"
From that time onward snakes have been my friends,
for thereupon one coiled around his neck,
as if to say: "I 'd have thee speak no more;"
another, coiling, tied his arms together,
and clinched itself so well in front of him,
that he could make no use of them at all.
Pistoia, ah, Pistoia, why not will
to burn to ashes, and no longer last,
since in ill-doing thou excell'st thy seed?
In all of Hell's dark rings I 've seen no spirit
so arrogant toward God; not even he,
who fell down headlong from the walls at Thebes.
Without another word he fled away;
whereat I saw a Centaur full of rage
come crying: "Where, where is the stubborn soul?"
Not ev'n Maremma has so many snakes,
I think, as on his crupper that one had,
as far as where our human form begins.
Upon his shoulders right behind his nape
there crouched a dragon with wide opened wings;
and he sets fire to whomsoe'er he meets.
My Teacher said: "He, yonder, Cacus is,
who 'neath the rocks that form Mount Aventine
oft made a lake of blood. He travels not
along the road o'er which his brethren go,
because of having fraudulently robbed
the famous herd which he as neighbor had;
this ended his sly deeds beneath the club
of Hercules, who may perhaps have dealt him
a hundred blows, whereof he felt but ten."
While thus he spoke, that sinner, too, made off;
whereat three spirits came and stood below us,
whom neither I nor even my Leader noticed,
until they all cried out: "Who then are ye?"
because of which our conversation ceased,
for afterward we heeded them alone.
I knew them not; but so it happened then,
as it is wont to do in certain cases,
that one perforce employed another's name,
saying: "But where can Cianfa have remained?"
Hence, that my Leader might give heed, I placed
my finger in a line from chin to nose.
If thou art slow now, Reader, to believe
what I shall tell, no marvel will it be,
for I, who saw it, hardly grant I did.
As toward them I was holding up my brows,
lo, a six-footed serpent hurls itself
in front of one, and clings to him all over;
with both its middle feet it clasped his paunch,
and with its fore feet seized upon his arms;
then with its teeth it wounded both his cheeks;
it spread its hind feet out along his thighs,
and thrusting next its tail between the two,
it stretched it upward all along his back.
Ivy was never rooted to a tree
so fast, as round about the other's limbs
that horrible wild creature twined its own.
And thereupon, as if hot wax they were,
they stuck together, and their colors mixed,
till neither seemed to be what it had been;
just as a browish hue precedes the flame
on burning paper which is not yet black,
while, equally, the white part dies away.
The other two looked on, and each exclaimed:
"O me, Agnello, what a change is thine!
for see, thou now art neither two nor one."
Already into one had both heads turned,
when we two countenances still beheld
mixed in a single face, where both were lost.
From the four previous strips two arms were made;
the thighs and legs, the belly and the chest
became such members as were never seen.
Cancelled therein was every former aspect;
the transformed figure seemed both two and none;
and thus appearing slowly moved away.
As like a lightning-flash a lizard looks,
if, changing hedges 'neath the dog-day's scourge,
across a road it passes; even such
a little fiery serpent seemed to me,
as toward the bellies of the other two
it came, livid and black as peppercorn.
And in that part through which our nourishment
is first received, it transfixed one of them,
and then fell down, stretched out in front of him.
The pierced man gazed at it, but nothing said;
nay, firmly on his feet he stood, and yawned,
as if attacked by fever or by sleep.
He at the serpent looked, and it at him;
one through his wound, the other through its mouth
smoked hard, and each smoke with the other mingled.
Let Lucan, then, be silent, where he tells
of poor Sabellus' and Nassidius' fate,
and, giving heed, hear what is now proclaimed.
Of Cadmus, and of Arethusa, too,
let Ovid cease to speak; for though his verse
turn him into a snake, and make of her
a fount, I grudge him not; for face to face
he ne'er so changed two natures, that the forms
of each were ready to exchange their matter.
They blended each with each in such a way
that, while the serpent fork-wise clove its tail,
the wounded man together drew his feet.
The legs and with them ev'n the very thighs
so stuck together, that in little time
their juncture left no mark that could be seen.
The cloven tail was taking on the shape
which there was being lost; the skin of one,
meanwhile, was growing soft, and hard the other's.
I saw his arms withdraw into his armpits,
and both the serpent's feet, which were not long,
lengthen as much, as those were growing short.
And then its hinder feet, together twisted,
became the member which a man conceals,
while from his own the wretch had two thrust forth.
And while the smoke was veiling both of them
with novel hues, and generated hair
on one side, and deprived of it the other,
the one stood up, and down the other fell,
nor turned aside for that the impious eyes,
beneath which each of them was changing face.
The one who stood, drew his in toward his temples;
and from the excessive matter coming there
ears issued on his undeveloped cheeks;
and that, which ran not back, but was retained,
of this superfluous matter, gave the face
a nose, and thickened suitably its lips.
He who was lying down thrusts forth his muzzle,
and backward through his head withdraws his ears,
even as a snail doth with its horns; his tongue,
which single used to be, and prompt to speech,
divides itself, while in the other case,
the split one closes, and the smoking stops.
The soul which had become a savage beast
flees hissing through the trench; the other spits
behind him as he talks. Then, having turned
away from him his just created shoulders,
he to the third said: "I 'd have Buoso run,
as I have, on his belly o'er this path."
I thus beheld the seventh balast change
and interchange; here let its novelty
excuse me, if it slightly blur my pen.
And though somewhat bewildered were my eyes,
and though confused my mind, those men could not
escape so secretly, that I should fail
Pýccio Sciancato perfectly to see;
and of the three companions who came first,
he only was not changed; the other one
was he, for whom, GavillŽ, thou dost weep.
1. A coarse, defiant insult, consisting in shaking the fist, while holding the thumb between the index and the middle finger. This gesture was once carved on a Pistoian tower facing Florence, which it thereby defied.
10. Pistoia's turn now! Dante spared none of the wrangling, faction-weakened republics of his time, which kept Italy disunited, self-enslaved, and a prey to foreign interference and aggression. Pistoia was believed to have been founded by the remnants of Catiline's rebellious army. Vanni Fucci would have been seen in the Seventh Circle with Capeneus, had not fraudulent theft been spiritually worse than violence.
19. The Tuscan Maremma, whose wild deserted woodland has already been compared to the forest of the Suicides above, was reputed to be infested with snakes.
25. Cacus, a centaur-like son of Vulcan, who dwelt in a cave under Mt. Aventine, and who having by trickery robbed Hercules of his herd of cattle, was killed by the latter, who gave him more blows with his club than he ever felt. His robbery being fraudulent, he is not with his fellow Centaurs above.
43. Cianfa Donati, a Florentine, charged with having converted public funds to his own use.
68. Agnello Brunelleschi, a well born Florentine, said to have been a thief from his youth up.
79. Here begins one of the most marvelously weird, uncouth and uncanny pieces of imaginative description in all literature, the mutual transformation of a man and a serpent, into every possible detail of which Dante goes with the keeness of a Poe, and all to show the snakelike nature of fraudulent theft, wherein human intelligence is maliciously sharpened in the [[lvi]] service of greed. So proud is Dante of it, that he calls on Lucan and even on Ovid to acknowledge his supremacy even in this side department of poetic imagination.
94. Lucan had told the story of Sabellus, one of Cato's soldiers crossing the desert of Libya, who, when bitten by a snake, had melted away; and of Nassidius, another, who had swollen up until he burst his armor.
97. Ovid had related the metamorphosis of Cadmus into a serpent, and of Arethusa into a fountain; and yet Dante refuses to be envious, for here (as similarly throughout the poem) whatever he owed to his "sources," "the sustained realism," to borrow Dr. Grandgent's words, "the atmosphere of mystery and horror, the uncanny yawn, stare, and smoke are Dante's own."
140. A Florentine; probably Buoso degli Abati.
142. This Seventh Trench is called a "ballast," because its transformations suggest the continual shifting of the ballast in a ship's hold.
148. Another Florentine, with a reputation of being gentlemanly, and of doing his stealing by day.
151. A fifth Florentine, Guercio de' Cavalcanti, killed by the men of Gaville on the Arno, which resulted in lasting bad blood between his family and the men of that village. The reader of this canto will hardly need to be reminded of R. L. Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."