Thursday, November 17, 2005

Dante's Inferno

Dante's Inferno
Translation by: John Ciardi with notes

Dante's Inferno, Circle 7 is where the warmongers reside after their life here on earth. Here is where those who commit the violence againt the neighbors, the great war-makers, cruel tyrants, all who shed the blood of their fellowmen. As they wallowed in blood during their lives, so they are immersed in the boiling blood forever, each according to the degree of his guilt, while fierce Centaurs patrol the banks, ready to shoot with thier arrows any sinner who raises himself out of the boiling blood beyond the limits permitted him.
Canto XII, Circle 7, Round 1

But turn your eyes to the valley; there we shall find (line46

The river of boiling blood in which are steeped

All who struck down their fellow men. Oh blind!


…”Here they pay for their ferocity. (line 106

Here is Alexander. And Dionysius,

Who brought long years of grief to Sicily .


That brow you see with the hair as black as night

Is Azzolino; and that beside him, the blonde,

Is Opizzo da Esti, who had his mortal light


Blown out by his own stepson.” I turned then

to speak to the Poet but he raised a hand:

“let him be the teacher now, and I will listen.”


Further on, the Centaur stopped beside

A group of spirits steeped as far as the throat

In the race of boiling blood, and there our guide


Pointed out a sinner who stood alone:

“That one before God's altar pierced a heart

still honored on the Thames .” And he passed on. (120)


We came in sight of some who were allowed

To raise the head and all the chest from the river,

And I recognized many there. Thus, as we followed


Along the stream of blood, its level fell

Until it cooked no more than the feet of the dammed.

And here we crossed the ford to deeper Hell.


“Just as you see the boiling stream grow shallow

along this side,” the Centaur said to us

when we stood on the other bank, “I would have you know


that on the other, the bottom sinks anew

more and more, until it comes again

full circle to the place where the tyrants stew.


It is there that Holy Justice spends its wrath

On Sextus and Pyrrhus through eternity,

And on Attila, who was a scourge on earth: (135)


And everlastingly milks out the tears

Of Rinier da Corneto and Rinier Pazzo,

those two assassins who for many years


stalked the highways, bloody and abhorred.”

And with that he started back across the ford.

47. the river with flowing blood This is Phlegethon, the river that circules through the First Round of the Seventh Circle, then sluices through the wood of the suicides (the second round) and the burning sands (third round) to spew over the great Cliff into the Eight CIrcle, and so, eventually, to the bottom of Hell (Cocytus). The river is deepest at the point at which the Poets first approach it and grows shallower along both sides of the circle until it reaches the ford, which is at the opposite point of the First round. THe souls of the dammed are placed in deeper or shallower parts of the river according to the degree of their guilt.
55. The Centaurs: The Centaurs were creatures of classical mythology. half-horse, half-men. They were skilled and savage hunters, creatures of passion and violence. Like the Minotaur, they are symbols of the bestial-human, and as such, they are fittingly chosen as the tormentors of these sinners.
65. Chiron: The son of Saturn and of the nymph Philira. He was the wiest and most just of the Centaurs and reputedly was the teacher of Achilles and of other Greek heros to whom he imparted great skill in bearing arms, medicine, astronomy, music, and augury. Dante places him far down in Hell with the others of his kind, but through he draws Chiron's coarseness, he also grants him a kind of majestic understanding.
67. Nessus: Nessus carried travelers across the River Evenus for hire. He was hired to ferry Dejanira, the wife of Hercules, and tried to abduct her, but Hercules killed him with a poisened arrow. While Nessus was dying, he whispered to Dejanira that a shirt stained with his poisoned blood would act as a love charm should Hercules' affections stray. When Hercules fell in love with Iole, Dejanira sent him a shirt stained with the Centaur's blood. The shirt poisoned Hercules and he died in agony. Thus Nessus revenged himself with his own blood.
107. Alexander: Alexander the Great. Dionysius: Dionysius I (died 367B.C.) and his son, Dionysius II (died 343) were tyrants of Sicly. Both were infamous as prototypes of the bloodthirsty and exorbitant ruler. Dante may intend either or both.
110. Azzolino (or Ezzelino): Ezzelino da Romano, Count of Onora (1194-1259). The cruelest of the Ghibelline tyrants. In 1236 Frederick II appointed Ezzelino his vicar in Padua. Ezzelino became especially infamnous for his bloody treatment of the Paduans, whom he slaughtered in great numbers.
111. Opizzo da Esti: Marquis of Ferrara (1264-1293) The account of his life is confused. One must accept Dante's facts as given.
119-120. that one...a heart still hnored on the Thames: The sinner indicated is Guy de Montfort. His father, Simon de Montfort, was a leader of the barons who rebelled against Henry III and was killed at the battle of Evesham (1265) by Prince Edward (later Prince Edward I) In 1271, Guy (then Vicar General of Tuscany) avenged his fathers death by murdering Henery's nepher (who was also named Henry) The crime was openly committed in a church at Viterbo. The mudered Henry's heart was sealed in a casket and sent to London, where it was accorded various honors.
134. Sextus: Probably the younger son of Pompey the Great. His piracy is mentioned in Lucan (Pharsalia, VI, 420,422) Pyrrhus: Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, was especially bloodthristy at the sack of Troy. Phrrhus, King of Epirus (319-371 BC) waged relentless and bloody war against the Greeks and Romans. Either may be intended.
135. Attila: King of the Huns from 433 to 453. He was called the Scourge of God.
137. Rinier da Corneto, Rinier Pazzo: Both were especially bloodthirsty robber-barons of the thirteenth century.
The Inferno, Dante Alighieri, Translated by John Ciardi;1954

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