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

The Ninth Circle. Treachery. Cocytus
Traitors to their Benefactors. Lucifer

"The banners of the King of Hell advance
toward us; now, therefore, look ahead of thee,"
my Teacher said, "and see if thou perceive him."

As, when a heavy fog is breathed abroad,
or when at night our hemisphere grows dark,
a windmill looks when seen from far away;
even such a structure seemed I now to see;
then, for the wind, I shrank behind my Leader,
for other shelter was there none. I now -
and 't is with fear I put it into verse, -
was where the shades were wholly covered up,
and visible as is a straw in glass;
some lying are; and some are standing up,
one on his head, the other on his soles;
one, like a bow, bends toward his feet his face.

When we had gone so far ahead, that now
it pleased my Teacher to reveal to me
the Creature who once seemed so beautiful,
he stepped from where he was in front of me,
stopped me, and said: "Lo Dis, and lo the place,
where thou must arm thyself with fortitude!"

How frozen and how weak I then became,
ask thou not, Reader, for I write it not,
because all speech would be of small avail.
I did not die, nor yet remained alive;
think for thyself now, hast thou any wit,
what I became, of both of these deprived.

The Emperor of the Realm of Woe stood forth
out of the ice from midway up his breast;
and I compare more closely with a Giant,
than merely with his arms the Giants do;
consider now how great that whole must be,
that with such parts as these may be compared.
If, once as beautiful as ugly now,
he still raised up his brows against his Maker,
justly doth every woe proceed from him.

Oh, what a marvel it appeared to me,
when I beheld three faces to his head!
One was in front of us, and that was red;
the other two were to the latter joined
right o'er the middle of each shoulder-blade,
and met each other where he had his crest;
that on the right twixt white and yellow seemed;
the left one such to look at, as are those
who come from there, where valeward flows the Nile.
Under each face two mighty wings stretched out,
of size proportioned to so huge a bird;
sails of the sea I never saw so large.
They had no feathers, but were like a bat's
in fashion; these he flapped in such a way,
that three winds issued forth from him; thereby
Cocytus was completely frozen up.
With six eyes he was weeping, and his tears
and bloody slaver trickled o'er three chins.
In each mouth, as a heckle would have done,
a sinner he was crushing with his teeth,
and thus was causing pain to three of them.
To him who was in front of us the biting
was nothing to the clawing, for at times
his back remained completely stripped of skin.

"That soul up there which hath the greatest pain
Judas Iscariot is," my Teacher said,
"who hath his head within, and plies his legs
without. Of the other two, whose heads are down,
Brutus is he who from the black snout hangs;
see how he writhes, and utters not a word!
Cassius the other is, who so big-limbed
appears. But night is coming up again,
and now 't is time to leave, for we 've seen all."

Then, as it pleased him, I embraced his neck,
and he availed himself of time and place,
and when the wings were opened wide enough,
he firmly grasped the shaggy flanks, and then
from tuft to tuft he afterward descended
between the matted hair and frozen crusts.

When we were come to where the thigh turns round,
just at the thick part of the hips, my Leader
with tiring effort and with stress of breath
turned his head round to where his legs had been,
and seized the hair as one would who ascends;
hence I thought we were going back to Hell.

"Hold fast to me, for by such stairs as these"
panting like one worn out, my Teacher said,
"must such great wickedness be left behind."
Then, through an opening in the rock he issued,
and, after seating me upon its edge,
over toward me advanced his cautious step.

Raising mine eyes, I thought that I should still
see Lucifer the same as when I left him;
but I beheld him with his legs held up.
And thereupon, if I became perplexed,
let those dull people think, who do not see
what kind of point that was which I had passed.

"Stand up" my Teacher said, "upon thy feet!
the way is long and difficult the road,
and now to middle-tierce the sun returns."

It was no palace hallway where we were,
but just a natural passage under ground,
which had a wretched floor and lack of light.

"Before I tear myself from this abyss,
Teacher," said I on rising, "talk to me
a little, and correct my wrong ideas.
Where is the ice? And how is this one fixed
thus upside down? And in so short a time
how hath the sun from evening crossed to morn?"

Then he to me: "Thou thinkest thou art still
beyond the center where I seized the hair
of that bad Worm who perforates the world.
While I was going down, thou wast beyond it;
but when I turned, thou then didst pass the point
to which all weights are drawn on every side;
thou now art come beneath the hemisphere
opposed to that the great dry land o'ercovers,
and 'neath whose zenith was destroyed the Man,
who without sinfulness was born and died;
thy feet thou hast upon the little sphere,
which forms the other surface of Judecca.
'T is morning here, whenever evening there;
and he who made our ladder with his hair,
is still fixed fast, ev'n as he was before.

He fell on this side out of Heaven; whereat,
the land, which hitherto was spread out here,
through fear of him made of the sea a veil,
and came into our hemisphere; perhaps
to flee from him, what is on this side seen
left the place empty here, and upward rushed."

There is a place down there, as far removed
from Beelzebub, as e'er his tomb extends,
not known by sight, but by a brooklet's sound,

which flows down through a hole there in the rock,
gnawed in it by the water's spiral course,
which slightly slopes. My Leader then, and I,
in order to regain the world of light,
entered upon that dark and hidden path;
and, without caring for repose, went up,
he going on ahead, and I behind,
till through a rounded opening I beheld
some of the lovely things the sky contains;
thence we came out, and saw again the stars.


1. This line, Latin in the original, was borrowed from the first line of an early Latin hymn in honor of the Cross, to which Dante added the word Inferni, to make it apply to Satan.
8. When facing the absolutely empty conception of absolute Evil the mind has no recourse but Reason.
11. Herewith Dante enters the final, central ring of ice, in which are frozen those who were traitors to their Benefactors; they are wholly immersed in the ice, each in a different position, probably to indicate a difference in the degree of their individual guilt.
18. Hebraic mythology had identified Satan with Lucifer, the Bearer of Light, famed for his Intelligence and Beauty, and one, if not the greatest, of the Archangels.
21. Again a crisis for which the utmost courage is requisite.
28. Called Emperor of the Realm of Woe, Dante's Satan is far from being the ruler in any way of God's Hell, seeing that, though his eternally defeated spirit everywhere pervades it, he is in reality its greatest prisoner, fixed immovably in the ice of his own making, with only freedom enough to enable his wings to be the freezing source of woe, and his mouths to be the symbols of the punishment of the three guiltiest of traitors. If Milton's Satan be the poetical hero of the Paradise Lost, Dante's Dis is, as he [[lxxiii]] should be, the reverse. As Dante describes him he stands for the eternal failure of the Rebellion of Intellectual Might against the sovereignty of Spiritual Right.
38. Lucifer's three material faces are the direct opposite of the three spiritual qualities of God, Power, Wisdom, and Love, which together form a Trinity, since any one or two of these is spiritually inconceivable apart from the other two or one. The red face represents Hatred, or utter lack of Love; the sickly white and yellow face, Impotence, or the utter lack of Power; and the black Ethiopian face, Ignorance, or the utter lack of Wisdom. Lucifer is, therefore, the Zero point of Spirituality, and himself the perfect negation of all the positive, but imperfect, human qualities which Man attributes to the God of Reality in perfection. His three wings serve only to spread these self-punishing negative qualities through Hell, the state of Disobedience - utter Selfishness being thus the source and "bottom of all Sin."
55. Having saved three traitors against their Benefactors to represent the last and most monstrously guilty of sinners, Dante uses Lucifer's three mouths for their punishment; Judas as a traitor to the Divine Majesty of Jesus, ordained by God to be Man's spiritual King; Brutus and Cassius as traitors to the Human Majesty of Julius Caesar, equally ordained by God to order the material interests of Man. Both were traitors to Oneness, to carry out which ethically and spiritually is Man's fundamental duty. Of the dignified Brutus Dante had to record that, in spite of his-torture, "he uttered not a word;" why he thought of Cassius as "big-limbed" is not known.
68. It is now evening of the Saturday before Easter in the northern hemisphere.
69. "All," except the negative, retrospective view of Satan, or Disobedience to one's inmost nature, which will immediately follow the poet's arrival on the other side of the Giudecca, the central ring of ice so named after Judas.
73. Dante imagines that there is a space left between the hairy body of Lucifer and the surrounding ice.
82. This descent and its following ascent signify that only by the closest insight into Evil can it be wholly abandoned.
90. Dante, who had just seen Lucifer as the incarnation of the Terrible, now sees him upside down, which in any lesser creature would render him Ridiculous. The last glimpse of Evil, therefore, reveals its Foolishness, or its Upside downness, which formed a part of the punishment of the more individual case of the Simoniacs. As seen from the point of view of the southern hemisphere, which is that of Purgatory and of the Paradise above it, Satan is always upside down.
96. Mid-tierce is half-past seven in the morning of a repeated Saturday.
108. The Worm of Selfishness which separates each individual self from its fellows, and from the Universal Self which is its Eternal, but not its temporal, Source and Goal.
111. The center of Lucifer's body being at the center of gravity of the Earth, to continue in the same direction involved climbing upward toward its southern surface.
112. The hemisphere opposite to the one whose zenith is over Jerusalem; some think Dante meant the corresponding celestial hemispheres, in which case the line should read: "opposed to that which spans the great dry land."
118. Twelve hours separate the time of one hemisphere from that of the other. There is no change in Lucifer, but only in the human point of view from which he is seen.
121. This is the first part of the profoundly significant myth of Satan's Fall, the last part of which is saved for the Paradiso. Lucifer's rebellion, an eternal event, creates the state of Hell, and by reaction, the state of Purgatory, which is due to a revulsion against Sin.
127. The poets have now all the way to traverse that lies between the center to that part of the surface of the earth which is at the antipodes of the place where they entered Hell. It is conceived as a dark, spirally winding pathway which it will take them twenty-four hours to ascend, its only feature being a brook they hear as it trickles its way downward toward Cocytus and its ice. This is the overflow of Lethe, the blessed river of Oblivion, which carries down from the Terrestrial Paradise on the summit of Mount Purgatory all memories of the sinful dispositions remaining in the Penitents who have been bathed in it.
139. The Stars stand symbolically for the world of Hope, and therefore [[lxxv]] Dante ends each of the three parts of the Divine Comedy with the word which peculiarly characterizes human nature; for, as Browning said in "A Death in the Desert," when contrasting Man with God and animals: "God is, they are, man partly is, and wholly hopes to be."

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