Inferno -- Canto XIII

Suicides, Pier delle Vigne

 

Notes

 

 

 

8 The second round of the seventh circle, the wood of the suicides, is compared to the wild Maremma region in Tuscany, between the towns of Cecina and Corneto.

10 The Harpies, vicious bird-women, lived on the islands of the Strophades which Aeneas and his men visited.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

46 In the Aeneid (III, 22-43) Aeneas breaks off a myrtle branch and the voice of his dead friend Polydorus comes out of the ground.

 

 

 

55 The trunk is housing  Pier delle Vigne (d. 1249), a minister of Emperor Frederick II.

 

 

 

 

 

65 Royal palaces. Here Dante refers to the court of Frederick II which has been prostituted by jealousy.

68 Augustus stands for the emperor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

120 Lano da Siena, a well-known spendthrift, died fighting the Aretines in 1287.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

133 Jacopo da Sant' Andrea of Padua, another squanderer, was murdered in 1239.

 

 

139 The speaker remains unknown, but he was from Florence.

 

143 Mars was the pagan patron of Florence; John the Baptist, the Christian patron saint, replaced him. After the sack of Florence in 542 by Totila the Ostrogoth (not "Attila") the statue of Mars was again set up on the Ponte Vecchio.

          Nessus had not yet reached the other bank
          When we on this side moved into a wood
          That was not marked at all by any path:
 
          No leaves of green but of a blackish color,
5        No branches smooth but gnarled and tangled up,
          No fruits were growing, only thorns of poison.
 
          No wild beasts, shunning the furrowed farmlands
          Between Cecina and Corneto, burrow
          Underbrush that is so thick and barbed.
 
10       Inside here nest the repugnant Harpies
          Who chased the Trojans from the Strophades
          With foul prophecies of coming losses.
 
          They have wide wings, human necks and faces,
          Feet with claws, and big feathered bellies;
15       They shriek laments from up in the strange trees.
 
          "Before you enter farther," my kind master
          Began saying to me, "know you are here
          Within the second circle and will remain
 
          "Until you come out to the dreadful sand.
20       Look carefully, then, and you shall witness things
          That would destroy your faith in words of mine."
 
          I heard deep wailings rising from all sides,
          Without discerning anyone who made them,
          So that, completely baffled, I stopped short.
 
25       I think he thought that I was thinking that
          All of the voices from among the trunks
          Rose up from people who were hiding from us.
 
          My master said to me, "If you tear off
          A tiny twig from one of the growths here,
30       Your thoughts will also be nipped in the bud."
 
          Then reaching out my hand a bit ahead,
          I snapped a shoot off from a massive thornbush,
          And the trunk of it cried, "Why do you break me?"
 
          And after it had darkened with its blood,
35       It started up again, "Why do you rip me?
          Do you possess no pity in your soul?
 
          "Men we were and now we are mere stumps.
          Surely your hand ought to have been kinder
          Even if we had been the souls of serpents."
 
40       Just as a green log blazing at one end
          Oozes sap out of the other, all the while
          Hissing with the air that it blows out,
 
          So from that broken bough issued together
          Words and blood: at that I let the tip
45       Fall, standing like a man stricken with fear.
 
          To him my sage responded, "Wounded spirit,
          Had he been able to believe before
          What he had witnessed only in my verses,
 
          "He would not have raised his hand against you.
50       But so incredible a thing caused me
          To urge him to an act I now regret.
 
          "But tell him who you were, to make amends
          By refreshing your fame in the world above
          To which he is permitted to return."
 
55       And the trunk: "Your sweet words so attract me
          I cannot remain still, and be not loath
          If I become caught up in conversation.
 
          "I am the one who held both of the keys
          To Frederick's heart, and I turned them so,
60       Locking and unlocking, with such smoothness
 
          "That I kept his secrets almost from all men.
          I stayed so faithful to my glorious office
          That for its sake I lost both sleep and strength.
 
          "The jealous whore who never turns away
65       Her sluttish eyes from Caesar's palaces,
          The deadly plague and common vice of courts,
 
          "Inflamed the minds of all the rest against me,
          And those inflamed then so inflamed Augustus,
          That happy honors turned to tristful woes.
 
70      "My mind, because of its disdainful bent
          Believing it would flee disdain by dying,
          Made me unjust against my own just self.
 
          "By the fresh roots of this tree here I swear
          To you that never once did I break faith
75       With my lord who was worthy of such honor.
 
          "And should one of you return to the world,
          Bolster up my memory which still lies
          Flattened by the blow that envy gave it."
 
          Waiting a while, the poet next said to me,
80       "Since he is silent, do not lose the chance,
          But speak and ask him if you would hear more."
 
          To this I answered, "Do you ask him further
          Whatever you believe will satisfy me,
          For I cannot, such pity rends my heart."
 
85       So he began again, "That this man should
          Gladly perform what you request of him,
          Imprisoned spirit, may it yet please you
 
          "To tell us how the spirit is so bound
          Into these knots; and tell us if you can,
90       Are any ever freed from limbs like these?"
 
          At that the trunk puffed hard and afterward
          That breath was transformed to this speaking voice:
          "The answer I give you shall be concise.
 
          "Whenever the violent soul forsakes the flesh
95       From which it tore itself by its own roots,
          Minos assigns it to the seventh pit.
 
          "It plummets to the wood — no place is picked —
          But wherever fortune happens to have hurled it,
          There it sprouts up like a grain of spelt;
 
100     "It springs into a sapling and wild tree;
          The harpies, feeding on its foliage,
          Cause pain and then an outlet for the pain.
 
          "Like others we shall go to our shed bodies,
          But not to dress ourselves in them once more,
105     For it is wrong to own what you tossed off.
 
          "Here shall we haul them, and throughout the sad
          Wood forevermore shall our bodies hang,
          Each from the thornbush of its tortured shade."
 
          We both continued listening for the trunk,
110     Thinking it still might want to tell us more,
          When a loud uproar caught us by surprise,
 
          Just as a hunter is suddenly alarmed
          By the wild boar and chase — right at his post —
          Hearing the dogs bark and the branches crack.
.
115     And look! there on the left-hand side two wraiths,
          Naked and scratched, fleeing so frantically
          That they smashed all the bushes in the wood.
 
          The front one: "Now come quick, come quick, death!"
          The other, knowing himself out of the race,
120     Shouted, "Lano, your legs were not so nimble
 
          "When you jousted at the battle of Toppo!"
          And then, perhaps, from shortness of his breath,
          He crouched into a knot inside a thicket.
 
          In back of them the wood at once ran wild
125     With black bitches, ravenous and swift,
          Like greyhounds let loose from the leash.
 
          On the crouching shade they gripped their teeth
          And piece by piece they ripped him open-wide
          And then they carried off his wretched limbs.
 
130      Immediately my escort took my hand
          And led me forward to the bush that wept
          In vain laments through its bloody cuts:
 
          "O Jacopo da Sant' Andrea," it said,
          "What have you gained by making me your covert?
135     What blame have I for your own sinful life?"
 
          After my master had drawn up beside it,
          He asked, "Who were you who through many wounds
          Now breathe in blood your mournful speech to us?"
 
          And he told us, "O souls that have arrived
140      In time to see the dishonorable mangling
          Which here has torn my leaves away from me,
 
          "Gather them up at the foot of this sad bush.
          I was of the city that exchanged the Baptist
          For its first patron, Mars, for which reason
 
145     "He'll always make her regret it, with his art,
          And were it not that at the Arno's crossing
          There still remains some vestige of his statue,
 
          "Those citizens who later rebuilt the city
          Upon the ashes Attila left behind
150     Would have performed their labors without profit.
 
          "Of my own house I made myself a gallows."
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