When Juno, on account of Semele,
was angry with the royal blood of Thebes,
as several times she showed herself to be,
so fiercely mad did Athamas become,
that, when he saw his wife approaching him,
burdened by her two sons on either side,
"Spread we the nets," he cried, "that I may take,
upon their passing, lioness and cubs!"
and thereupon stretched out his cruel claws,
and taking hold of one, Learchus named,
whirled him around, and dashed him 'gainst a rock;
his wife then with the other drowned herself.
Again, when Fortune so low down had brought
the Trojans' arrogant, all-daring power,
that with their kingdom shattered was their king;
Hecuba, sad, forlorn, and captive now,
when she had seen her dead Pol?xena,
and in her painful anguish had perceived
her Polydorus lying on the beach,
out of her senses, barked as would a dog;
so greatly had her suffering turned her mind.
But ne'er did furies or of Thebes or Troy
reveal in any one such cruelty,
in goading beasts or, much less, human limbs,
as that which I beheld in two death-pale
and naked shades, who ran around, and bit,
as doth a boar, when from the sty let out.
One reached Capocchio, and so thrust his tusks
into his neck behind, that, dragging him,
he made his belly scrape the solid ground.
The Aretine, still trembling, said to me:
"That imp is Gianni Schicchi who, enraged,
goes all around ill-treating others thus."
Then "Oh," said I to him, "so may the other
not fix his teeth in thee, be not too tired
to tell me who he is, before he 'skips'!"
And he to me: "That is the ancient soul
of wicked Myrrha, who, outside the bounds
of lawful love, became her father's mistress.
She came to sin with him by counterfeiting
another's person in herself, as dared
the other one who yonder goes away, -
that he might gain the lady of the stud, -
to counterfeit Buoso Donati's self,
and make his will and give it legal form."
When the two furious souls, on whom my eyes
were fixed, had passed away, I turned them round
to look upon the other evil born.
And one I saw, who like a lute were shaped,
if he had only had his groin cut off
down in the region where a man is forked.
The heavy dropsy which unmates the limbs
in such a way with ill-digested humor,
that face and paunch no longer correspond,
was causing him to keep his lips apart,
as doth the hectic, who, because of thirst,
turns one lip chinward, and the other up.
"O ye that are, and wherefore I know not,
free from all torment in this world of woe,"
said he to us, "behold, and pay attention
to Master Adam's wretched misery!
When living, I had all that I desired,
and now, alas, I crave a drop of water.
The little brooks which toward the Arno run
down from the Casentino's green-clad hills,
and render all their channels cool and fresh,
are evermore before me, nor in vain;
because their image makes me drier far
than this disease, which strips my face of flesh.
The rigid Justice, which is scourging me,
takes from the very place in which I sinned
the means to give my sighs a greater flight.
There lies Romena, where I falsified
the coin on which the Baptist's form is stamped;
for that I left my body burned above.
But could I see the woeful soul of Guido,
or Alexander, or their brother, here,
for Fonte Branda I 'd not give the sight.
One is in here already, if the shades,
who go around here raging, tell the truth,
but what is that to me whose limbs are bound?
If only I were still so light of foot,
that I could in a hundred years advance
one inch, I 'd be already on the road,
in search of him among the loathsome people,
although this trench goes round eleven miles,
and is no less than half a mile across.
Through them am I in such a family,
for they persuaded me to coin the florins,
which had at least three carats of alloy."
Then I to him said: "Who are those two wretches
who, smoking like wet hands in winter-time,
are lying there beside thee on thy right?"
"I found them here," he answered, "when I rained
into this ditch, since when they have not turned,
nor will, I think, for all eternity.
One is the woman who charged Joseph falsely;
the other, Sinon, Troy's deceitful Greek;
their burning fever makes them reek like this."
And one of them, who felt aggrieved, perhaps,
at being named so darkly, smote the speaker
upon his hard stiff belly with his fist.
It made a sound, as it had been a drum;
then Master Adam smote him with his arm,
which did not seem less hard, upon his face,
and said: "Though I of motion be deprived,
by reason of my limbs which heavy are,
I have an arm that 's loose for needs like this."
Then he replied: "When going to the fire
thou hadst it not so ready; but just so,
and more, thou hadst it, when thou madest coin."
He of the dropsy: "Here thou sayest true,
but thou wast not so true a witness there,
where thou wast questioned of the truth at Troy."
"If I spoke falsely, thou didst falsify
the coin!" said Sinon, "I 'm for one sin here,
and thou for more than any other demon!"
"Remember, perjurer, the horse," replied
he of the swollen paunch, "and bitter be
for thee, that known it is by all the world!"
"Ill be for thee the thirst wherewith thy tongue
is cracking," said the Greek, "and that foul water,
which 'fore thine eyes thus makes thy paunch a hedge!"
Thereat the coiner said: "As is its wont,
thy mouth in speaking evil gapeth wide;
for though I 'm thirsty, and humor stuffs me out,
thine is the fever and the aching head;
and thou 'dst not stand in need of many words
bidding thee lick the mirror of Narcissus."
On listening to them I was all intent,
when "Now be careful there!" my Teacher said,
"for I 'm not far from quarrelling with thee."
When I thus heard him speak to me in anger,
such was the shame wherewith I turned to him,
that through my memory it is circling still;
and such as he who dreameth of his harm,
and, dreaming, wishes that he dreamt, and thus,
as if it were not, longs for that which is;
such I became, who, impotent to speak,
would fain excuse myself, and all the while
was doing so, but did not think I was.
"Less shame would wash away a greater fault
than thine hath been;" my Teacher said to me,
"therefore unburden thee of all thy sadness,
and count on me as ever at thy side,
if it again should chance that Fortune find thee
where folk in such a wrangle are engaged;
for vulgar is the wish to hear such things."
1. Juno's spite against the royal house of Thebes was due to the love of Jupiter for Semele, the daughter of Cadmus the founder of the city, from which union sprang the god, Bacchus.
4. Athamas, king of Thebes, was the husband of Ino, Semele's sister, and Bacchus' nurse. "Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad."
13. The great classic instance of the fate of "overweening Pride."
37. Myrrha, daughter of a king of Cyprus, who having passed herself off as another woman, was discovered, and fleeing into Arabia, was turned into the plant, myrrh.
44. Gianni Schicchi de' Cavalcanti of Florence, who substituting himself for the dying Buoso Donati, made a will in due form, which successfully diverted the intended bequeathal of the old man's wealth, and incidentally procured for himself a fine mare he coveted, which was known as "the lady of the stud," or herd.
61. Master Adam, an agent of the impoverished Counts of Romena mentioned in the text, one of whom, Guido, having died in 1292, is already with him in this trench; the other two are expected!
64. On the most improbable occasions Dante will drop as here into a beautiful description of his beloved Florence, Tuscany, or Italy.
74. The Florentine gold coin, the florin, twenty-four carats fine, was stamped on one side with a figure of St. John the Baptist, the patron of the city, and on the other with that of a lily, whence its name.
78. A fountain near Romena, not the more famous Fonte Branda of Siena.
86. Only eleven miles around now; the poets are approaching the bottom of Hell.
94. On leaving Minos' presence, the damned are supposed to fall directly into the several places allotted each by their "accusation [[lxv]] of themselves," a fall for which Dante likes to use the term "rain."
97. Potiphar's wife.
98. Sinon, the Greek spy, who lied to the Trojans about the Wooden Horse, and persuaded them to bring it into the city.
100. Here follows a rare bit of unseemly repartee, for listening to which, Dante, who for organic poetic reasons saw fit to compose it, will later confess his shame. Another instance of the fact that the works of genius, like those of Nature, transcend in their scope the limits properly set up by refinement.
120. Whoever has read Virgil's Aeneid, which has been used to teach Latin for nineteen centuries, has read of the Wooden Horse of Troy.
128. Water; Narcissus, on seeing himself reflected in it, fell in love with himself.
130. Dante was, after all, "human" in more ways than one.
145. Reason, the counselling companion of Man's spirit.