Inferno -- Canto XII

The Violent, Phlegethon

 

Notes

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 The Minotaur, born of Pasiphae the queen of Crete who used a wooden cow to seduce a bull, was half man and half bull. Theseus (l. 17) slew him with the help of Ariadne, half-sister to the beast. The Minotaur appears here as an example of violence in the seventh circle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

40 Again Christ's harrowing of hell is alluded to. The crucifixion was marked by a great earthquake.

 

 

47 The river of blood is the Phlegethon.

 

 

 

 

 

56 The centaurs were half men and half horse; their leader was Chiron. The centaur Nessus (l. 67) tried to rape Dejanira, but was killed by her husband Hercules. Before dying, Nessus gave her a poisoned shirt for Hercules; it destroyed him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

98 Nessus now carries Dante on his back along the riverbank and across the boiling shallows to the other side (l. 126).

 

 

 

107 Alexander the Great or the tyrant Alexander of Pherae (368-359 B. C.). Dionysius of Syracuse was a fifth-century tyrant.

110 Azzolino da Romano (1194-1259) and Opizzo II d'Este (d. 1293) were two brutal Italian tyrants.

 

 

 

119 Guy de Montfort, to avenge his father's death, murdered Henry, nephew of Henry III of England, in 1271.

 

 

 

 

134 Attila the Hun, who ruled from 433 to 453, was called the Scourge of God.

135 This Pyrrhus may be either the son of Achilles, a fighter in the Trojan war, or the king of Epirus (318-272 B. C.) who battled against the Romans. Sextus is probably the son of Pompey the Great; he became a pirate.

137 Rinier of Cometo and Rinier Pazzo were two notorious highwaymen of Dante's day.

          The place where we had come to clamber down
          The bank was mountainous, and what was there
          So grim all eyes would turn away from it.
 
          Just like that rockslide on this side of Trent
5        That struck the flank of the Adige River —
          Either by an earthquake or erosion —
 
          Where, from the mountaintop it started down
          To the plain below, the boulders shattered so,
          For anyone above they formed a path,
 
10       Such was the downward course of that ravine;
          And at the brink over the broken chasm
          There lay outspread the infamy of Crete
 
          That was conceived within the bogus cow;
          And when he saw us, he bit into himself,
15       Like someone whom wrath tears up from inside.
 
          My clever guide cried out to him, "Perhaps
          You believe that this is the Duke of Athens
          Who in the upper world contrived your death?
 
          "Go off, you beast! this man does not approach
20       Instructed by your sister but comes here
          In order to observe your punishments."
 
          Just as the bull breaks loose right at that moment
          When he has been dealt the fatal blow
          And cannot run but jumps this way and that,
 
25       So I saw the Minotaur react —
          And my quick guide called out, "Run for the pass!
          While he's raging is our chance to get down!"
 
          And so we made our way down through the pile
          Of rocks which often slid beneath my feet
30       Because they were not used to holding weight.
 
          I pushed on, thinking, and he said, "You wonder,
          Perhaps, about that wreckage which is guarded
          By that bestial rage I just now quelled.
 
          "Now you should know that the other time
35       I journeyed here below to lower hell,
          These boulders as yet had not tumbled down:
 
          "But for certain, if I recall correctly,
          It was shortly before He came who took
          From Dis the great spoils of the topmost circle
 
40       "That this deep loathsome valley on all sides
          Trembled so, I thought the universe
          Felt love, because of which, as some believe,
 
          "The world has often been turned back to chaos.
          And at that instant this ancient rock split up,
45       Scattering like this, here and elsewhere.
 
          "But fasten your eyes below — down to the plain
          Where we approach a river of blood boiling
          Those who harm their neighbors by violence."
 
          O blind cupidity and rabid anger
50       Which so spur us ahead in our short life
          Only to steep us forever in such pain!
 
          I saw a broad ditch bent into a bow,
          As though holding the whole plain in its embrace,
          Just as my guide had explained it to me.
 
55       Between the ditch and the foot of the bank
          Centaurs came running single-file, armed
          With arrows as they hunted in the world.
 
          Seeing us descend, they all pulled up,
          And from their ranks three of them moved forward
60       With bows and with their newly selected shafts.
 
          And from afar one shouted, "To what tortures
          Do you approach as you climb down the slope?
          Answer from there, or else I draw my bow."
 
          My master said, "We will make our response
65       To Chiron there who hovers at your side —
          To your own harm, your will was always rash."
 
          Then he nudged me, and said, "That is Nessus,
          Who died for the lovely Dejanira
          By taking his own revenge upon himself;
 
70       "And in the middle, staring at his chest,
          Is mighty Chiron, who tutored Achilles;
          The last is Pholus, who was so full of frenzy."
 
          Thousands on thousands march around the ditch,
          Shooting at any soul that rises up
75       Above the blood more than its guilt allows.
 
          When we drew near to these fleet-footed beasts,
          Chiron took an arrow and with its notch
          Parted his shaggy beard back from his jaws,
 
          And when he had uncovered his huge mouth,
80       Said to his companions, "Have you noticed
          How that one there behind stirs what he touches?
 
          "A dead man's feet would not cause that to happen!"
          And my good guide, now standing at the chest
          Where the two natures fuse together, answered,
 
85       "He is indeed alive, and so alone
          That I must show him all the somber valley.
          Necessity not pleasure brings him here.
 
          "A spirit came from singing alleluia
          To commission me with this new office:
90       He is no robber nor I a thieving soul.
 
          "But by the power by which I move my steps
          Along this roadway through the wilderness,
          Lend us one of your band to keep by us
 
          "To lead us where we two can ford across
95       And there to carry this man on his back,
          For he is not a spirit who flies through air."
 
          Chiron pivoted around on his right breast,
          Saying to Nessus, "Go back and guide them — if
          Another troop challenges, drive them away!"
 
100     So with this trusted escort we moved on
          Along the bank of the bubbling crimson river
          Where boiling souls raised their piercing cries.
 
          There I saw people buried to their eyebrows,
          And the strong centaur said, "These are tyrants
105     Who wallowed in bloodshed and plundering.
 
          "Here they bewail their heartless crimes: here lie
          Both Alexander and fierce Dionysius
          Who brought long years of woe to Sicily;
 
          "And there with his head of jet-black hair
110      Is Azzolino; and that other blond one
          Is Opizzo d'Este, who in the world
 
          "Actually was slain by his own stepson."
          With that I turned to the poet, who said,
          "Now let him be your first guide, I your second."
 
115     A little farther on, the centaur halted
          Above some people who appeared to rise
          Out of the boiling stream up to their throats.
 
          He pointed to one shade off by himself,
          And said, "In God's own bosom, this one stabbed
120     The heart that still drips blood upon the Thames."
 
          Then I saw others too who held their heads
          And even their whole chests out of the stream,
          And many of them there I recognized.
 
          So the blood eventually thinned out
125     Until it scalded only their feet in it;
          And here we found a place to ford the ditch.
 
          "Just as you see, this side, the boiling brook
          Grow gradually shallower," the centaur said,
          "So I would also have you understand
 
130     "That on the other side the riverbed
          Slopes deeper down from here until it reaches
          Again the spot where tyranny must grieve.
 
          "Heavenly justice there strikes with its goads
          That Attila who was a scourge on earth
135     And Pyrrhus and Sextus, and forever milks
 
          "The tears, released by boiling blood from both
          Rinier of Corneto and Rinier Pazzo
          Who waged such open warfare on the highways."
 
          Then he turned back and once more crossed the ford.
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