Rejoice, O Florence, since thou art so great,
that thou dost beat thy wings o'er sea and land,
while ev'n through Hell thy name is spread abroad!
Among the thieves five such as these I found,
thy citizens, whence shame accrues to me,
nor to great honor risest thou thereby.
But if the truth be dreamed at dawn's approach,
thou 'lt feel a little while from now what Prato,
of others not to speak, is craving for thee;
and were it now, it would not be too soon;
so were it, then, since thus it needs must be!
for it will grieve me more, the more I age.
We went away, and up the flight of stairs,
the bournes had formed for our descent before,
my Teacher climbed again, and drew me with him;
and as we followed up the lonely path
among the rocks and boulders of the crag,
our feet proceeded not without our hands.
I sorrowed then, and now again I sorrow,
when I direct my mind to what I saw,
and curb my genius more than I am wont,
lest it should run when virtue guides it not;
that, if a kindly star, or aught that's better,
have blest me, I myself may not regret it.
As many glow-worms as the countryman, -
who on the hillside takes his rest, when he,
who lights the world, least hides his face from us,
while to the gnat the fly is giving way, -
sees down along the valley where, perchance,
he gathers in his grapes, or ploughs his field;
with just as many flames the whole eighth trench
was gleaming bright, as I perceived at once,
when I was where its bottom came in view.
As he who by the bears avenged himself,
beheld Elijah's chariot when it left,
and when to heaven its horses rose erect,
since he could not so trace it with his eyes,
as to see more than just the flame alone,
when like a little cloud it rose on high;
of such a nature were the flames that moved
along the gulley of the ditch, for none
displays its theft, though each a sinner hides.
Risen up to look, I so stood on the bridge,
that without being pushed I would have fallen,
had I not grasped a great projecting rock.
My Leader, who perceived me thus intent,
then said: "The spirits are within the fires,
and each is swathed by that wherewith he burns."
"My Teacher," I replied, "I 'm more assured
through hearing thee, but deemed it so already,
and wished to ask thee: 'Who is in the flame
which comes along so cloven at the top,
that from the pyre it seems to rise, whereon
Etèocles was with his brother placed?'"
He answered me: "Therein are both Ulysses
and Diomed tormented, who in pain
thus go together, as they did in wrath;
and in that flame of theirs they now bewail
the ambush of the horse, which made the gate,
from which the Roman's noble seed went forth;
there they lament the trick, because of which
Deidamìa, dead, still mourns Achilles;
there the Palladium's penalty is paid."
"If they can speak within those sparks," said I,
"I pray thee, Teacher, much, and pray again
that mine be worth to thee a thousand prayers,
refuse not my request to linger here
until the horned flame come this way; thou see'st
that toward it I 'm inclined by great desire."
And he replied to me: "Thy prayer deserves
much praise and therefore I accede to it,
but see thou that thy tongue restrain itself.
Leave speech to me, who have a clear idea
of what thou wouldst; for they, since Greeks they were,
might be, perchance, disdainful of thy words."
After the flame had come so near to us,
that time and place seemed fitting to my Leader,
't was in this fashion that I heard him speak:
"O ye that in a single flame are two,
if I deserved of you, when still alive,
if I deserved of you or much or little,
when in the world I wrote the lofty verses,
depart not; but let one of you inform us
whither, when lost, he went away to die."
The greater horn then of the ancient flame
began to quiver with a murmuring sound,
as would a flame made weary by the wind;
and then, while swaying here and there its tip,
as if the latter were the tongue that spoke,
gave forth a voice, and said: "When I departed
from Circe, who concealed me near Gaeta
more than a year before Aeneas so
had named the place, nor fondness for my son,
nor pious reverence for my agèd father,
nor ev'n the bounden love which should have cheered
Penelope, could overcome within me
the eagerness I had to gain experience
both of the world, and of the vice and worth
of men; but forth I put upon the deep
and open sea with but a single ship,
and with that little company, by whom
I had not been deserted. Both its shores
I then beheld, as far away as Spain,
Morocco and the island of the Sards,
and all the rest that sea bathes round about.
Both old and slow were I and my companions,
when we attained that narrow passage-way,
where Hercules set up those signs of his,
which warned men not to sail beyond their bounds;
Seville I left behind me on the right hand,
Ceuta I'd left already on the other.
And then I said: 'O brothers, ye who now
have through a hundred thousand perils reached
the West, to this so short a waking-time
still left your senses, will not to refuse
experience of that world behind the sun
which knows not man! Bethink you of the seed
whence ye have sprung; for ye were not created
to lead the life of stupid animals,
but manliness and knowledge to pursue.'
So eager for the voyage did I make
my fellows by this little speech of mine,
that, after it, I hardly could have checked them.
Hence, to the morning having turned our stern,
we with our oars made wings for our mad flight,
e'er veering toward the left as on we sped.
Night was already seeing all the stars
of the other pole, and our pole so low down,
that from the ocean's floor it never rose.
Five times rekindled, and as often quenched,
had been the light beneath the moon, since first
we entered on the passage of the deep,
when lo, a mountain loomed before us, dim
by reason of the distance, and so high
it seemed to me, that I had seen none such.
And we rejoiced; but soon our happiness
was turned to grief; for from the new-found land
a whirlwind rose, and smote our vessel's prow;
three times it made her whirl with all the waters;
then at the fourth it made her stern go up,
and prow go down, even as Another pleased,
till over us the ocean's waves had closed."
1. One of Dante's bitterest invectives against his native city, which, owing to her growing prosperity, was sending her sons abroad, while at home she was contributing to the peopling of every part of Hell.
7. Dante frequently avails himself of the ancient belief that dreams dreamt near dawn were sure to come true. This one is a reference either to the people of Prato, a rebellious neighboring dependency of Florence, and to her other enemies, or else to a Cardinal di Prato, who sent by the Pope to pacify Florence in 1304, left her with the curse of God and the Church, as did another emissary two years later.
19. In marked contrast to his indignation against the thieves is Dante's pity for the sinners he now meets, who misused their great persuasive [[lvii]] oratorical or rhetorical gifts. Realizing, as no man more, his own eloquence, Dante prays that it may never be used, save in the service of a worthy cause, whether it have been the gift of destiny, or of special Divine Grace.
25. A beautiful picture that can still be verified from almost any of the heights surrounding the vineyard, orchard, and garden girded City of Flowers.
34. A reference to the prophet Elisha's last vision of his "translated" master.
41. The flames which moved around the trench, concealing (as does a candle's flame its wick) the sinners within them, symbolize the burning eloquence of the words which served to persuade, while concealing the real mind and convictions of those that uttered them.
48. Again, the sin is its own punishment; for these flames, cold now to others, burn only those whose fire was not their own.
50. Dante, rapidly learning the fundamental truth of the Hell he is visiting, can now tell without help the nature of a sin, on seeing its equivalent punishment.
54. Eteocles and Polynices of Thebes, having killed each other, a double flame is said to have shot up from the one funeral pyre on which their bodies were burned.
55. To Ulysses, one of the great Greeks in the war against Troy, Dante here associates Diomed, who was with him in getting Achilles back from Scyros, and in the theft of the Palladium. According to Virgil - upon whom Dante depended, since he could not have read Homer - Ulysses was alone in devising the trick of the Horse, which brought about the fall of Troy, and in which Dante was specially interested because it resulted in the ultimate conquest of Italy by the Trojans, and "the lofty walls of Rome." It was for his guile, of course, and for his abuse of his wonderful powers of persuasion that Dante picked out the great Greek, whose better Hellenic qualities he admired, to be the principal illustration of this trench's sin. Deidamia, whom Dante will hear of later as being in the Limbo, was abandoned by Achilles when he returned to the War. The Palladium was the sacred image of Pallas, upon whose custody the Trojans relied for the safety of their city. The flame in which Ulysses and the rest are burning further suggests the conflagration of evil that may spread from the spark of a single lie.
69. Dante's great desire to see Ulysses' shade was due to the chance it offered of solving one of the greatest mediaeval literary questions: what became of Ulysses after his return to Ithaca? He felt somewhat as a lover of Shakespeare might on seeing the spirit of Hamlet in "another [[lviii]] world."
74. This seems to be on Dante's part a realization of the trouble which writers in a modern language would long have in getting due recognition from representatives of the ancient classics.
82. Virgil in the Aeneid had done much to spread abroad through the ancient and mediaeval worlds the fame of the two Greek heroes.
90. The story of Ulysses' last journey and death in quest of adventure, which closes the canto, is more than an illustration of its hero's baneful powers of persuasion, if it be that. Transcending this, it becomes in his hand one of Dante's most classically conceived passages, presenting a picture of the Hellenic race's genius for fearless pursuit of knowledge and truth for its own sake, couched in words so simple, direct, and self-restrained that one, who did not know Dante, would think that the whole canto was written by a different hand from that which penned the last two. Never have the essentials of a shipwreck been narrated with such awfully convincing brevity.
91. The sorceress Circe, who turned men into beasts.
92. Gaeta was named by Aeneas after his nurse who died there.
108. The Pillars of Hercules, Calpe (Gibraltar), and the opposite eminence, Abyla. The warning "Ne plus ultra," which is the motto of the amorial bearings of Spain.
114. He bids them, since they have but little time to live, to spend it grandly, as befitted Greeks.
117. The southern hemisphere, believed to be wholly covered by water, with vague notions of a possible great uninhabited island in its midst.
121. Ulysses certainly used his eloquence here to persuade his companions, but Dante does not make it clear that it was, in this case, for any guilty ulterior purpose.
126. That is, they skirted the northwest coast of Africa toward the equator, which they had passed when the North star had ceased to be visible.
130. Five months had elapsed since they left the straits of Gibraltar.
133. Dante's allegorical adumbration of the mountain-island of Purgatory, a spiritual state to be dimly seen from afar, but not to be attained, by the Pagan mind.
141. "Another," God, whose name is not mentioned by any one speaking reverently in Hell.
142. This perfect close of a perfect description can only be looked at, to use Dante's own words, "as one looks at truth."