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

The Eighth Circle. Fraud
The Ninth Trench. Sowers of Discord

Who ever could, ev'n with unfettered words,
tell fully of the blood and of the wounds
which now I saw, though oft he told the tale?
All tongues would certainly fall short of it,
by reason of our speech and of our mind,
whose means are small for taking in so much.

If all the people should again assemble,
who on Apulia's fortune-ravaged soil
suffered of old from all the loss of blood
shed by the Trojans, and in that long war,
which with its spoil of rings made such high heaps,
as Livy writes, who maketh no mistakes;
with those who felt the painful force of blows
received in waging war with Robert Guiscard,
and those whose bones are still heaped up together
at Ceperano, where a faithless liar
was each Apulian, and near Tagliacozzo,
where old Alardo won, though all unarmed;
and if, of these, one showed a limb pierced through,
and one a limb lopped off, 't would all be nothing,
compared with this ninth trench's foul display.

No cask, indeed, by loss of middle-board
or stave, is opened as was one I saw,
split from the chin to where one breaketh wind;
while down between his legs his entrails hung,
his pluck appeared, and that disgusting sack,
which maketh excrement of what is swallowed.

While I on seeing him was all intent,
he looked at me, and opening with his hands
his breast, he said: "See now how I am cloven!
Behold how torn apart Mahomet is!
Ali in tears moves on ahead of me,
cloven in his face from forelock down to chin;
and all the others whom thou seest here
disseminators were, when still alive,
of strife and schism, and hence are cloven thus.
There is a devil here behind, who thus
fiercely adorns, and to the sword's edge puts
each member of this company anew,
when we have gone around the woeful road;
because, ere one return in front of him,
the wounds thus made have all been closed again.
But who art thou, that musest on the crag,
perhaps to put off going to the torture
adjudged thine accusation of thyself?"

"Death hath not reached him yet," replied my Teacher,
"nor to a torment is he led by guilt,
but that complete experience may be giv'n him,
I, who am dead, must needs conduct him here
from circle unto circle down through Hell;
and this is true, as that I speak to thee."

On hearing him, more were there than a hundred
who stopped there in the ditch to look at me,
and who through their surprise forgot their pain.

"To Fra Dolcino do thou therefore say,
thou that, perhaps, wilt shortly see the sun,
if soon he would not hither follow me,
to arm him so with food, lest stress of snow
should give the Novarese a victory,
which else would not be easily obtained."

When one foot he had raised to go away,
Mahomet said these words to me; which done,
upon the ground he stretched it to depart.

Another then, who had his neck pierced through,
his nose cut off as far as 'neath his brows,
and who had one ear only, having stopped
to gaze in wonder with the others there,
opened, before the rest, his throat, whose neck
vermilion was on every side, and said:

"O thou that by thy guilt art not condemned,
and whom up in the Latin land I 've seen,
unless too great resemblance play me false,
call Pier da Medicina to thy mind,
if e'er thou see again the lovely plain,
which from Vercelli slopes to Marcab˛.
And make it known to Fano's two best men,
to Messer Guido and Angiolello, too,
that they, unless foreseeing be in vain
down here, will from their vessel be cast forth,
and drowned in sacks near La Catt˛lica,
through a disloyal tyrant's treachery.
Between the isles Majolica and Cyprus
Neptune ne'er saw so great a crime committed
by pirates, nay, nor by the Argolic folk.
That traitor who sees only with one eye,
and holds the town, from seeing which, one now
is with me here, who fain would fasting be,
will to a conference have them come with him;
he 'll then so act, that 'gainst Focara's wind
they 'll stand in need of neither vow nor prayer."

And I to him: "Point out and show to me,
if news of thee thou 'dst have me bear above,
which is the one who had the bitter sight."

Thereat he laid his hand upon the jaw
of one of his companions, oped his mouth,
and cried: "This is the one, for he speaks not;
when exiled, he removed all doubt in Caesar,
by saying that a man, when once prepared,
ne'er brooked delay but to his detriment."

Oh, how dismayed that Curio seemed to me,
who from his throat now had his tongue cut out,
yet once had been so daring in his speech!

Then one, from whom both hands had been lopped off,
raising his maimed arms through the gloomy air,
so that his blood befouled his face, cried out:
"Mosca will thou remember, too, who said,
alas! 'What 's done is done!' a speech which proved
the seed of evil for the Tuscan race."
"And death" I thereto added, "to thy tribe!"
Then he, as woe on woe he heaped, went off,
as one would whom his grief had made insane.

But I remained to look upon the throng,
and such a thing I saw as I should be
afraid to tell of without further proof;
if it were not that conscience reassures me,
the good companion which, beneath the breastplate
of conscious purity, emboldens man.
I really saw, and still I seem to see it,
a trunk without a head, which moved along,
as moved the others of the mournful herd;
and by the hair it held the severed head,
which, hanging like a lantern from its hand,
was saying as it gazed at us: "O me!"
With his own self he made himself a lamp,
and two in one they were, and one in two;
how this can be, He knows who so ordains.

When at the bridge's very foot he was,
he raised his arm above him, head and all,
that he might thus bring near to us his words,
which were: "Now see my baneful punishment,
thou that, though breathing, go'st to see the dead!
See whether any be as great as this!
And that thou with thee mayst bear news of me,
know that Bertran de Born I am, the man
who gave the youthful king the ill support.
Of sire and son I mutual rebels made;
Ahithophel by Absalom and David,
with his malicious goadings, did no more.
Because I severed those who thus were joined,
I bear my brain around with me, alas!
severed from its foundation in this trunk;
retaliation thus is seen in me."


1. Even with only the records of the battle fields of southern Italy through the centuries to depict, Dante feels that even unfettered prose were inadequate to describe the wounds and mutilations of which he is about to draw a picture for his readers' imagination.
8. Southern Italy, the Kingdom of Naples.
10. The Trojans, including the Romans, their descendants. The fifteen-year second Punic War waged against Rome by Hannibal, described by the Latin historian Livy, who tells of the rings collected from Roman [[lxi]] fingers after the Battle of Cannae.
13. The war waged by the Normans under Guiscard for the conquest of Apulia.
15. An indirect reference to the great Battle of Benevento in 1266, in which Frederick II's son, Manfred, was defeated, and died as a result of treachery.
17. Where in 1268 Frederick's grandson, Conradin, was captured, and the power of the Swabian domination destroyed, through the strategy of Charles of Anjou's general, the French Erard de ValÚry.
22. The natural realism of the battle field transferred to his pages by the most Nature-like of poets.
31. It having been believed in Dante's time that Mohammed was originally a Christian, and that, in founding Islam, he was the author of a schism in the Church, he is the one to lead off among the disseminators of discord in the brotherhood of Man. Ali comes next as the founder of a sect in the ranks of Mohammedanism.
45. Real punishment follows only upon self-accusation.
46. A clear definition of Dante's status and object in traversing Hell.
55. Fra Dolcino, the leader of a heretical and socialistic free-love sect, against whom Clement V proclaimed a crusade. Forced to surrender by snow and famine, he was burned alive at Novara in 1307; hence the prophetic form of Dante's account.
73. Little is known of this man whom Dante had personally seen, and who hailed from Medicina in the territory of Bologna.
74. Practically the whole of the great Lombard plain watered by the Po.
76. The prophecy of a murder committed by the one-eyed Malatestino Malatesta on the Adriatic soon after 1312.
82. Throughout the whole length of the Mediterranean.
86. Curio, mentioned below, who wishes he had never seen Rimini, near the Rubicon where he gave Caesar the bad advice.
89. A place on the Adriatic noted for its squalls.
96. The Roman, Curio, who, when Caesar was hesitating whether or not to cross the Rubicon, and end Rome's doubtful freedom, gave him the wise, but unpatriotic, and hence evil, advice mentioned in the text.
106. In the original Florentine Guelph-Ghibelline feud, when the Amidei were considering how to avenge an insult offered them by one of the Buondelmonti allied to the Donati, it was Mosca de' Lamberti who advised murder, by urging the oft quoted saying: "Cosa fatta capo ha," literally, "A thing that is done has a head." To this incident were subsequently traced the party feuds of Florence; while for his share in it, Mosca's family, the Lamberti, were later on permanently exiled from the city.
115. Dante's definition [[lxii]] of a good Conscience.
134. Bertran de Born, the celebrated Provenšal troubadour, who flourished in the last part of the twelfth century, and was believed to have instigated the rebellion of Prince Henry of England, "the youthful king," against his father Henry II.
137. The instigator of Absalom's rebellion against King David.
142. The law of Retaliation, or of "an eye for an eye," which may be said to prevail in Dante's Hell in its most perfect form, in that all punishments therein described are but pictures of the essence of the sin itself. To sin against the paternal or filial relations of others is, spiritually, to sin against those that are actually or potentially one's own.

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