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

The Edge of the Central Well
The Giants

One and the selfsame tongue first wounded me,
so that it colored both my cheeks, and then
supplied me with the medicine required;
Achilles' and his father's lance, I hear,
was likewise wont to be the source of, first,
a sad, and, after, of a grateful gift.

We turned our backs upon the woeful vale
over the bank which girds it round about,
and passed across without a single word.

Here less than night it was, and less than day,
so that my sight advanced not far; but here
I heard a horn give forth so loud a sound,
that it had rendered any thunder faint;
this led mine eyes, as counter to its path
they followed, wholly to a single place.

After the woeful rout, when Charlemagne
the holy army of his knights had lost,
Roland blew not so terrible a blast.

I had not kept my head turned toward it long,
when many lofty towers I seemed to see;
I, therefore: "Teacher, say what town is this?"

"Since through the darkness from too far away
thou peerest," he replied, "it comes about
that afterward thou errest in conceiving.
If yonder thou attain, thou 'lt clearly see
how from afar one's senses are deceived;
hence onward urge thyself a little more."

Thereat he took my hand with kindly care,
and said to me: "Ere further on we go,
so that the fact may seem less strange to thee,
know, then, that towers they are not, but Giants;
and all of them are standing in the well
around the bank, each from his navel down."

As, when a fog is thinning off, one's gaze
little by little giveth shape to that,
which, since it packs the air, the mist conceals;
even so, as through the dense, dark air I pierced,
and nearer drew and nearer to the brink,
error in me took flight, and fear increased;
for, as upon its round enclosing walls
Montereggione crowns itself with towers;
thus o'er the margin which surrounds the well
with one half of their bodies towered up
those frightful Giants, whom, when from the sky
he thunders, Jupiter is threatening still.

Already now was I distinguishing
the face of one, his shoulders and his breast,
most of his paunch, and, down his sides, both arms.

When Nature ceased from making animals
like these, and took such executioners
from Mars, she certainly did very well;
and ev'n if she of elephants and whales
repent her not, whoever subtly looks
holds her therein the more discreet and just;
for where the reasoning faculty is joined
to evil will equipped with power to act,
people can make against it no defence.

His face appeared to me as long and big
as is at Rome the pine-cone of Saint Peter's,
and in proportion to it were his other bones;
so that the bank, which from his middle down
an apron was, showed quite so much of him
above it, that of reaching to his hair
three Frisians would have made a useless boast;
for I full thirty spans of him perceived,
down from the place at which one buckles cloaks.

"Rafel mai amech zabi et almi"
the frightful mouth, to which no sweeter psalms
were fitting, thereupon began to cry.

Then toward him cried my Leader: "Foolish soul,
keep to thy horn, and vent thyself therewith,
when wrath or other passion seizes thee!
Search at thy neck, and thou wilt find the cord
which holds it tied, O spirit of confusion,
and see it lying on thy mighty breast."

To me then: "Self-accused he stands, for this
is Nimrod, to whose evil thought is due
that more than one tongue in the world is spoken.
Let us leave him alone, nor talk in vain;
for such is every tongue to him, as his
to others is, for that is known to none.

Then, turning to the left, we travelled on
much further; and within a crossbow's shot
we found the next one far more large and fierce.
What was the master's power who girded him,
I cannot say; but this one had in front
his left arm, and behind his back his right,
tied by a chain, which downward from his neck
held him so bound, that on the uncovered part
it wound around as far as the fifth coil.

My Leader said to me: "'Gainst Jove Most High
this proud soul wished to test his strength, and hence
hath this reward. Ephialtes is his name;
his haughty undertaking he attempted
what time the Giants caused the Gods to fear;
the arms he plied he moveth now no more."

And I to him: "If possible it be,
I 'd gladly have these eyes of mine enjoy
experience of the measureless Briareus."

Then he replied: "Antaeus thou 'lt behold
not far from here, who speaks, and, since unbound,
can set us at the bottom of all sin.
He is much further on, whom thou wouldst see,
and bound he is, and shaped like this one, save
that more ferocious in his looks he seems."

There never was an earthquake strong enough
to shake a tower with so much violence,
as Ephialtes quickly shook at this.
Then more than ever yet did I fear death,
nor for it was there need of more than fear,
had it not been that I perceived his bonds.

We thereupon proceeded further still,
and to Antaeus came, who full five ells,
beside his head, protruded from the pit.

"O thou that in the valley fortune-blest,
which once caused Scipio to inherit glory
when with his followers Hannibal took flight,
once tookst a thousand lions as thy prey,
and who, hadst thou been at thy brethren's war
on high, it seems that it is still believed
the Sons of Earth had been the victors there;
pray set us down below, nor let disdain
affect thee, where the cold locks up Cocytus.
Make us not go to Tětyus or to Těpheus;
this man can give what most is longed for here;
stoop, then, nor twist thy muzzle. He can still
give fame to thee on earth, since he is living,
and still looks forward to long life, if Grace
recall him not untimely to itself."

The Teacher thus; then he in haste stretched out
the hands, whose mighty pressure Hercules
once felt, and took my Leader. Virgil then,
on feeling himself taken, said to me:
"Come here, that I may take thee up;" and then
so did, that he and I one bundle were.

Such as the Carisenda seems, when viewed
beneath its leaning side, whene'er a cloud
sails o'er it so, that opposite it hangs;
such did Antaeus seem to me, who watched
to see him stoop, and such a moment 't was,
that I had gladly gone another road.

But lightly at the bottom, which devours
Judas and Lucifer, he set us down;
nor, thus bent over, did he linger there,
but raised himself, as on a ship a mast.


1. The miraculous ability of the lance of Peleus and of his son Achilles, to heal the wound itself had made, was fruitful in suggestions to old Italian poets, who compared it to a lovely woman's glance and kiss.
12. The horn here strikes the first note characterizing this canto, which, dealing with Giantism, first treats of the arrogant boastfulness of the Superman.
16. A reference to the rout of the rear-guard of Charlemagne's army by the Saracens at Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees, when Roland, the greatest of his knights, as sublimely narrated in the early French epic, the Chanson de Roland, blew so loudly on his ivory horn just before dying, that the Emperor heard him away off in France.
20. The second motive of the canto's theme, towers, which made Dante think that he was approaching a great mediaeval fortified town.
31. In the Giants towering up around the Central Well are symbolized all cases of overweening Pride and Ambition, or of mere Might overriding the claims of Right. Drawing equally upon the resources of Biblical and Classical mythology, Dante paints a [[lxvi]] picture in this canto of rebellious material power held firmly in the chains of the ultimate Power which is spiritual.
41. An ancient Sienese castle, whose walls were once fortified by fourteen high towers.
44. In the atavistic memory of man God is still the sky-god, Jupiter, and thunder a threat of avenging power. Dante throughout the poem draws impartially upon all available spiritual suggestions to be gotten from ancient mythology.
49. A remarkably suggestive warning against putting political or other kinds of power, especially when equipped with trained intelligence, into the hands of men uncontrolled by moral and spiritual training. The God of Dante is a God of Power, Wisdom, and Love. Without the latter quality to guard the other two, he would become the worst kind of a Barbarian god imaginable.
59. A pine cone of bronze, once some eleven feet high, still to be seen in one of the garden courts of the Vatican Museum.
64. Reputed the tallest men in Europe.
67. This line evidently means nothing at all, for the simple reason, as the poet tells us in lines 80 and 81, that "such is every tongue to him, as his to others is, for that is known to none;" and yet all known languages have been painfully examined by literalistic scholars, to discover what was intended to represent the "confusion of tongues" for which the speaker stands!
77. Nimrod, reputed a Giant, who built the tower of Babel, whence he might defy Heaven in his attempt to dominate man, with the result that the confusion of interests produced of itself an utter failure of the defiant undertaking. Even morality will lose its power unless transfused and quickened by a spiritual motive.
78. Allegorically, a diversity of antagonistic languages symbolizes a confusing diversity of mutually contending interests, which prevent all progress in furthering the free Brotherhood of Man under the spiritual Fatherhood of a God of Freedom.
91. Dante, who drove all of civilization's horses abreast, will throughout the poem draw impartially upon all great human attempts, Pagan, Hebraic, or Christian, to name the Unnamable.
95. This conception of a temporary fear on the part of the Gods, necessary to give the struggle any interest, is to be found even in Milton's Paradise Lost in the initial stages of its grand description of the conflict between the Almighty and Lucifer. Ephialtes and Briareus were leaders among the Sons of Earth, the Titans, in their attempt to scale the heavens, and supplant Zeus.
102. And so the bottom of Hell is the bottom of [[lxvii]] all Sin, which is, as will be seen, utter Selfishness, or moral and spiritual Zerohood.
108. Ephialtes is jealous of this ascription of greater fierceness to Antaeus.
111. In the spirit's eye, rebellious Might is seen to be bound.
113. Of Antaeus it was fabled that he was absent from the fight of his brethren against Jove in the Battle of Phlegra; that is why he is here unbound, and able to yield to Virgil's request to set them down at the bottom of the otherwise inaccessible Well of Cocytus.
115. The site of the decisive Battle of Zama, when the Roman Scipio defeated the Carthaginian Hannibal.
121. The Titans, the Sons of Earth, the mythological exponents of Materialism, and of its religion of Might.
124. Two other Titans only less famous for their strength than those already mentioned.
128. It is not known just when Dante wrote this canto, but he was recalled by Grace "untimely to itself," when still in exile from Florence at Ravenna, in 1321, at the age of fifty-six.
132. Hercules, having, in his struggle with Antaeus, observed that the Giant received renewed strength every time he touched his mother Earth, lifted him up in the air, and was then able to strangle him.
136. The Carisenda, one of two famous leaning towers of Bologna, which by an optical illusion, can seem to be falling on one who, standing beneath it, is watching clouds moving across the sky in the direction opposite to its inclination. Compare with this illustration a similar one from Coleridge's Ode, Dejection: "and those thin clouds above, in flakes and bars, that give away their motion to the stars."
142. The human and the angelic Archtraitors. Antaeus must have leaned way over to set the poets down at the bottom, which is described in the next canto as "beneath the giant's feet, though lower far."

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