Inferno -- Canto XI

Virgil and the Plan of Hell

 

Notes

 

 

 

 

8 Pope Anastasius II (here confused with Emperor Anastasius) was said to have allowed the fifth-century heretic Photinus to communion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

50 Cahors, a city in the south of France, is coupled with the biblical city of unnatural vices, Sodom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

65 The center of the universe is the same as the center of the earth, the place where Dis (Lucifer) resides. See Canto XXXIV.

 

 

70 The slimy marsh is Styx, just outside the fiery city of Dis (circle 5). Other references are, circle 2 (blasting winds), circle 3 (beating rain), and circle 4 (clashing stones).

 

 

 

80 The Nichomachean Ethics and the Physics (l. 101) are works by Aristotle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

107 Dante alludes to Genesis 1:28 where God tells Adam "to replenish the earth and subdue it," and Genesis 3:19: "In the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread."

 

113 The signs of the zodiac here indicate the time: about two hours before sunrise on Holy Saturday.

          On the ridgetop of a high embankment
          Shaped in a circle by huge broken rockfalls,
          We came above an even crueler fold:
 
          And here, because of the overwhelming stench
5        Which that bottomless abyss throws up,
          We recoiled — back behind the covering lid
 
          Of a large tomb where I saw inscribed
          These words: "I hold Pope Anastasius
          Whom Photinus lured from the straight path."
 
10       "We must delay our downward journey here
          So that our sense may gradually grow used
          To the foul gas-fumes; then we will not mind it."
 
          This my master said, and I replied,
          "Offset it somehow, so we may not lose
15       Our time." And he: "That is my thought exactly."
 
          "My son, within the boundary of these boulders,"
          He then began, — "are three smaller circles,
          From tier to tier, like those you leave behind.
 
          "All are crammed full of ill-stricken spirits —
20       But, that sheer sight later may suffice you,
          Listen to how and why they are held bound.
 
          "The aim of all malicious acts that merit
          Hatred in heaven is injustice: all such actions,
          By violence or by fraud, harm someone else.
 
25       "Since fraud, however, is man’s peculiar vice,
          It gives God more displeasure; the fraudulent, then,
          Lie lower down and more pain harries them.
 
          "The whole first circle is for the violent;
          But, as force is turned against three persons,
30       This first is fashioned in three separate rings.
 
          "On God, on self, and on one’s neighbor force
          Can turn: I mean, on them and on their goods,
          As you shall now hear logically set forth.
 
          "By violence come death and painful wounds
35       To one’s neighbor; and to his possessions
          Come hurtful wrecking, arson, and extortion.
 
          "So murderers, robbers, plunderers,
          And all who wrongly do bodily injury
          The first ring tortures in assorted ranks.
 
40       "A man may lay violent hands on himself
          And on his property: so in the second
          Ring each one must fruitlessly repent
 
          "Who wills to rob himself of your bright world,
          Gambles away or wastes his own belongings,
45       And grieves up there where he should rejoice.
 
          "Violence may be done against the Godhead
          By denial in the heart and blasphemy
          And by despising nature and her bounty.
 
          "And so the smallest ring has set its seal
50       On both Sodom and Cahors and all those
          Whose words betray their hearts’ contempt of God.
 
          "Fraud, that chews away at every conscience,
          A man may practice on one who trusts him
          Or on one who has no confidence in him.
 
55       "For those who trust not, only the link of love
          Which nature forges appears to be cut;
          Therefore, in the second circle nest
 
          "Hypocrites, flatterers, and sorcerers,
          Falsifiers, thieves, and simoniacs,
60       Panders, graft-takers, and all that trash.
 
          "For those who trust, both the love nature
          Forges is forgotten and the love
          Added to it that creates a special bond.
 
          "So, in the smallest circle, at the center
65       Of the universe and the seat of Dis,
          All traitors are eternally consumed."
 
          And I: "Master, the logic of your words
          Is crystal clear and well delineates
          The chasm and the people it contains.
 
70       "But tell me, those mired in the slimy marsh,
          Those the wind blasts and those the rain beats on
          And those that clash with such savage tongues,
 
          "Why aren’t they punished in the red-hot city
          If God holds them as well in his great wrath?
75       And if he does not, why are they in torment?"
 
          He said to me, "Why does your mind drift off
          So distantly from its accustomed pathway?
          Or do your thoughts now turn to other things?
 
80       "Do you not remember those passages
          In which your Ethics treats in full detail
          The three perversities opposed by heaven:
 
          "Incontinence, maliciousness, and raving
          Bestiality — and how incontinence,
          Offending God the least, incurs least blame?
 
85       "If you will study this teaching carefully
          And call to mind the people up above
          Who outside the city endure penances,
 
          "You’ll plainly see why they are set apart
          From these felons and why divine vengeance
90       Hammers at them there with lesser anger."
 
          "O sun that clears up every troubled vision,
          You so content me when you solve my doubts
          That doubting pleases me no less than knowing.
 
          "Once more go back a little to the point,"
95       I said, "where you state usury offends
          The divine goodness, and untie the knot."
 
          "Philosophy, to one who understands,
          Points out — and on more than one occasion —
          How nature gathers her entire course
 
100     "From divine intellect and divine art.
          And if you pore over your Physics closely,
          You’ll find, not many pages from the start,
 
          "That, when possible, your art follows nature
          As a pupil does his master; in effect,
105      Your art is like the grandchild of our God.
 
          "From art and nature, if you will recall
          The opening of Genesis, man is meant
          To earn his way and further humankind.
 
          "But still the usurer takes another way:
110      He scorns nature and her follower, art,
          Because he puts his hope in something else.
 
          "But follow me now since I want to go:
          For the Fish shimmer low on the horizon
          And all the Wain stretches over Caurus,
 
115     "And there, beyond, the road runs off the cliff."
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