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

The Ninth Circle. Treachery. Cocytus
Traitors to their Relatives, and to their Country

If I had rhymes that were as harsh and hoarse
as would be fitting for the dismal hole,
on which lean all the other circling rocks,
I 'd squeeze the juice of my conception out
more fully; but because I have them not,
not without fear do I resolve to speak;
for to describe the bottom of the universe
is not an enterprise wherewith to jest,
nor for a tongue that says 'mamma' and 'dad';
let, then, those Ladies give my verse their aid,
who helped Amphion build the walls of Thebes,
that from the facts the telling differ not.

O rabble, that, ill-born beyond all people,
are in a place, to speak of which is hard,
far better had ye here been sheep or goats!

When we were down within the gloomy well,
beneath the Giant's feet, though lower far,
and I still gazing at its lofty wall,
I heard one say to me: "Look where thou walkest!
and see that with thy feet thou trample not
the heads of us two wretched, weary brothers!"
Thereat I turned around, and saw before me,
and 'neath my feet, a lake which, being frozen,
seemed to be made of glass and not of water.

The Danube up in Austria never made
so thick a veil in winter for its course,
nor yonder 'neath the cold sky did the Don,
as what was here; for even if Tambernich
had fallen on it, or had Pietrapana,
it had not cracked even at its very edge.

And as a frog remains, to do its croaking,
with muzzle out of water, in the season
when oft the peasant dreams that she is gleaning;
even so, as far as where one's shame is shown,
the woeful shades were livid in the ice,
as to the notes of storks they set their teeth.
Each kept his face turned downward; from his mouth,
the cold, and from his eyes, his saddened heart
provides itself a witness in their midst.

When I had gazed around a while, I looked
down at my feet, and two I saw with heads
so close together, that their hair was mixed.

"Ye that are pressing thus your breasts together,
say who ye are," said I. They bent their necks,
and when their faces had been raised toward me,
their eyes, moist only inwardly before,
gushed upward though the lids; whereat the cold,
binding the tears between them, closed them up.

A clamp ne'er bound so tightly board to board;
whereat, so great the anger mastering them,
like two he-goats, they butted one another.

And one who had, by reason of the cold,
lost both his ears, with face still lowered, said:
"Why dost thou mirror thee so much on us?
If thou wouldst know who those two near thee are,
the valley from which thy Bisenzio flows
belonged to their sire Albert and to them.
They issued from one body; and thou canst search
through all Cažna, but thou 'lt never find
a shade more worthy to be fixed in ice;
not he, whose breast and shadow broken were
by one same blow at Arthur's hand; nor yet
Focaccia; nor this fellow here, whose head
so blocks me, that I cannot see beyond,
and who was Sŗssol Mascheroni called;
who he was, thou, if Tuscan, now knowst well.
And that thou put me to no further speech,
know, then, that I was CamiciÚn de' Pazzi,
and that, to excuse me, I await Carlžn."

Thereafter I beheld a thousand faces
made doglike by the cold; hence frozen ponds
cause me to shudder now, and always will.

And now, while toward that center we were moving,
whereto all heavy objects gravitate,
and I was trembling in the eternal cold;
I know not whether it were will, or fate,
or chance; but as I walked among the heads,
hard in the face of one I struck my foot.
Weeping he scolded: "Wherefore dost thou smite me?
Unless thou comest to increase the vengeance
for Mont' Aperti, why dost thou molest me?"

And I said: "Teacher, wait now for me here,
that I through him may issue from a doubt;
then at thy pleasure shalt thou hurry me."

My Leader stopped; and I to him, who still
was savagely blaspheming, said: "What sort
of man art thou, that scoldest people so?"

"Now who art thou, that goest" he replied,
"through Antenora, smiting cheeks so roughly,
that it would be too much, wert thou alive?"

"I am alive, and it may profit thee"
was my reply, "for me to place thy name,
if fame thou ask, among my other notes."

And he: "I crave the contrary; away
with thee, and bother me no more; for ill
dost thou know how to flatter in this bog!"

Thereat I seized him by the nape, and said:
"It needs must be that thou reveal thy name,
or that no hair remain upon thee here!"

Then he to me: "Though thou pull out my hair,
I 'll neither say, nor show thee, who I am,
fall thou upon my head a thousand times."

I had his hair wrapped round my hand already,
and more than one shock had I plucked from him,
while he was barking, with his eyes turned down;
when here another cried: "What ails thee, Bocca?
Is making noise with jawbones not enough,
unless thou bark? What devil touches thee?"

"Henceforth" said I, "I would not have thee speak,
perfidious traitor; for true news of thee
I 'll carry with me to thy lasting shame."

"Begone, and tell whate'er thou wilt;" he answered,
but be not silent, if thou issue hence,
of him who had just now his tongue so ready.
He here bewails the money of the French;
'Him of Duera' thou canst say, 'I saw
where cold the days are for the sinful folk.'
And if thou shouldst be asked who else was there,
thou hast beside thee him of Beccherža,
who had his gorget cut in two by Florence.
Gianni de' Soldanier is further on,
I think, with Ganellon, and Tebaldello,
who, while its people slept, unlocked Faenza."

From him we had departed now, when two
I saw, so frozen in a single hole,
that one man's head served as the other's cap.
And as because of hunger bread is eaten,
even so the upper on the other set
his teeth, where to the nape the brain is joined.
Not otherwise did Tydeus gnaw the temples
of Menalippus out of spite, than this one
was gnawing at the skull and other parts.

"O thou that showest by a sign so beastly
hatred toward him thou eatest, tell me why,"
said I to him, "on this express condition,
that shouldst thou rightfully of him complain,
I, knowing who ye are, and that one's sin,
may quit thee for it in the world above,
if that, wherewith I speak, be not dried up."


1. Dante in the Divine Comedy seems to have drawn upon the whole vocabulary of his language, always appositely, and with no fear of calling a spade a spade. In this complete freedom of speech of his he reminds one of Rostand's Chantecler's words: "Being the Cock, I use all words."
3. All the upper Circles which surround the ever diminishing inverted cone, or funnel, of Dante's Inferno rest ultimately upon the walls of the central well at the bottom, in which is situated the frozen lake of Cocytus, which a few lines down he will call "the bottom of the universe," to indicate that utter selfishness is spiritually the state furthest removed from God.
9. The vernacular, or language of every-day life. Until Dante it was thought that the perfected language, Latin, was the only one fit for the serious purposes of religion or philosophy.
10. The Muses, who so inspired Amphion's lyre that stones came down from Mt. Citheron, and of their own accord formed themselves into the walls of Thebes.
23. The fourth River of Hell turned into a frozen lake.
28. Tambernicch's identity has not been made out; Pietrapana is a mountain in the Tuscan Apennine range.
34. The human face, to which shame brings a blush.
37. Cocytus being divided into four concentric rings of ice surrounding Lucifer, the first, named Cažna after Cain, is given up to those who betrayed relatives. Fixed in the ice up to their heads, they hold them bowed down.
56. A little stream which empties into the Arno not far from Florence.
57. Two sons of a Count of Mangona, who treacherously killed each other.
61. Mordred, the nephew of King Arthur, who, turning traitor, was killed in battle by a thrust of his uncle's lance, which, on being pulled out, let a ray of the setting sun through Mordred's body and through the shadow it cast.
63. The next three mentioned were murderers through treachery.
69. Carlin de' Pazzi, a particularly outrageous traitor, being in 1300 still alive, Dante makes Camicion look forward to his coming as a means of making his own crime seem less heinous. Dante was never prevented by [[lxix]] the "after death," nature of the allegorical clothing of his description of Hell from seeing in it as an illustration, any individuals whose case seemed adapted to his purpose. If one class of sinners can go to Hell before the death of the body, all can, and do, as all know who have been there; and who has not to some extent been both in Hell and Heaven, while most of the time painfully struggling through Purgatory?
70. Crossing the ice into its second ring - called Antenora after Antenor of Troy whom Dante believed to have been a traitor to his city - the poets come across heads projecting from the ice with their faces turned up; these were traitors to their country or to their party.
72. Dante frequently makes statements like this to suggest that the experience of his Vision made great changes in his subsequent life.
74. Sin is treated from the point of view of its spiritual specific gravity. The eternal cold of Cocytus stands for the utter cold-heartedness which makes treachery possible.
76. These three are probably three ways of expressing the same thing.
81. The battle in which the Ghibellines under Farinata degli Uberti defeated the Florentine Guelphs with great slaughter, was partly due to the treachery of one of their number, Bocca degli Abati, who cut off the arm of the Florentine standard bearer; hence Dante's suspicious interest in the speaker.
90. Blinded by the ice, he takes Dante for a sinner going to his own place nearer the center.
94. Dante did not yet know that traitors did not wish to be remembered on earth.
97. In the case of traitors, righteous indignation seems to receive Reason's tacit permission to express itself in action.
106. By mentioning his name the other traitor betrays to Dante that he was talking to the traitor of Mont' Aperti.
115. Buoso da Duera of Cremona, who in 1265 was paid to permit the passage through Italy of the French army of Charles I of Anjou.
118. The Italian expression "stanno freschi" means considerably more than "are cold." Its continuous slanglike use from Dante's time until now shows that it had a humorous ironical significance, an attempt to render which is made in the translation.
119. The following were all Italian traitors to their country or party, except Ganelon who was [[lxx]] the traitor in the Chanson de Roland referred to in a previous note.
124. Here begins the story of Count Ugolino, one of the most famous, as well as strongest, of the episodes of the whole poem. For simplicity and realism, and as a picture of the possibilities of human cold-heartedness, it would be hard to find its equal in all literature. In the translation, therefore, an effort has been made to draw to the fullest possible extent upon the homely, monosyllabic element of English, with a view to reproducing the sternly simple strength of the original.
130. Tydeus, one of the seven Kings besieging Thebes, who, having killed Menalippus by whom he had been wounded, before dying procured his enemy's head, and gnawed it.
139. Knowing that he could secure no information from traitors by promising them fame, Dante appeals to Ugolino's eager yearning for vengeance on earth as well as in Hell, and does not do so in vain.

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