15 Cato of Utica in 47 B.
C. led a Roman army across the Libyan desert.
More about Cato in Purgatorio I and II
31 Alexander is supposed to have
described this scene in a letter (now known to be a forgery) to Aristotle.
46 The person is Capaneus who
took part in the siege against Thebes. He represents the blasphemers in the third
round of the seventh circle.
57 Vulcan and the Cyclops forged
the thunderbolts of Jove on Mount Etna ("Mongibello" in Sicilian).
58 In the battle of Phlegra,
Vulcan was on the side of the Giants.
79 The Bulicame was a hot spring near
Viterbo. Prostitutes were not permitted to use the public baths and washed, instead, in a
stream running from the spring.
97 Mount Ida on Crete was the site
which Rhea (l. 100) chose to hide her son Jupiter from his father Saturn who usually
ate his offspring to avoid being replaced by one of them.
103 The Old Man of Crete is
described in the lines that follow. He is the center of time, his back to Damietta (l.
104) as the Egyptian past and his face toward Rome as the future, and he embodies the ages
of man, from gold to iron and clay. From him flow the three rivers of hell (l. 116) down
to the icy pool of Cocytus (l. 119). Lethe (l. 131), the river of forgetfulness, lies on
the other side of Cocytus' pit.
of our native city touched my heart:
bent and gathered up the scattered sprigs
gave them back to him whose voice grew faint.
there we reached the border that divided
The second from the third ring and there
witnessed the horrendous art of justice.
make these unfamiliar sights quite clear,
- I say
that we had come out on a plain
banishes all verdure from its bed.
The grief-stricken wood enwreathed it all
Around, as the sad ditch surrounds the wood.
right at the edge, we checked our steps.
and dense sand covered the grounds surface,
sand no different in its texture from
That the feet of Cato once trampled on.
vengeance of God, how much you ought to be
in fear by everyone who reads
things that were revealed before my eyes!
- I saw
myriad flocks of naked souls,
All weeping wretchedly, and it appeared
separate sentences were meted to them.
on their backs, some spread out on the ground;
squatted down, all hunched up in a crouch;
others walked about interminably.
More numerous were those who roamed around;
were those stretched out for the torture,
looser were their tongues to tell their hurt.
all the sand, large flakes of flame,
Falling slowly, came floating down, wafted
Like snow without a wind up in the mountains.
like the flames which Alexander saw
the torrid regions of India
Swarming to the ground upon his legions,
that he had his troops tramp down the soil,
- 35 The better to put out
the flaming flakes
to prevent them spreading other fires,
descended the everlasting blaze
which the sand enkindled, just like tinder
sparks from flint doubling the pain.
- 40 Restlessly
the dance of wretched hands
on and on, on this side and on that,
Beating off the freshly falling flames.
began, "Master, you can win out over
Everything except the arrogant demons
That sortied against us at the entrance gate
"Who is that giant who appears to ignore
fire, lying so scornful and scowling
the rain seems not to make him soften?"
that same wraith, when he observed how I
Questioned my guide about him, shouted out,
"What I was alive, I am the same dead!
"Though Jupiter wear out the smith from whom
seized in wrath the sharpened thunderbolt
on my last day was to strike me down,
"Though he wear out the others, one by one,
Serving at Mongibellos soot-black forge
- As he
bellows, Good Vulcan, help me! help me!
"The way he did on the battlefield at Phlegra
Though with his whole force he flash out at me,
Yet he will never have his fond revenge."
guide shot back at him so strongly that
- I had
not heard him use such force before,
"O Capaneus, since your insolent pride
"Is still unquenched, you are chastised the more:
No torture other than your own mad ravings
punish you enough for your grim rage."
with a gentler look he turned to me,
Saying, "That was one of the seven kings
laid siege to Thebes; he held and seems
"To hold God in disdain and prize him little;
as I told you, these affronts of his
the right decorations for his chest.
"Now follow me and watch you do not ever
your feet upon the scorching sand,
But always keep them back close to the trees."
silence we next reached a spot where gushed
of the wood a small and narrow brook
redness makes me still shudder with fear.
from the Bulicame flows a stream
Which prostitutes then share for their own use,
too these waters coursed across the sand.
bed and both its banks were made of stone,
were the borders all along its sides,
that I saw our passage lay that way.
"Of all the things that I have shown to you
the time we entered through the gate
Whose threshold is prohibited to none,
"Nothing your eyes have looked on up to now
- Is so
worthy of note as the stream before you
That quenches all the flames above its path."
were the words my guide addressed to me.
this I begged him to give me the food
which he had whetted my appetite.
"In the middle of the sea there lies a wasteland,"
He then declared to me; "it is called Crete,
whose king the world had once been chaste.
"A mountain rises there that long delighted
plants and water: Ida is its name;
it is deserted like a withered thing.
"Rhea once chose it for the trusted cradle
her son and, the better to hide him,
he would cry she made her servants shout.
"Within the mountain stands a huge Old Man
Straight up, his back turned to Damietta;
He gazes at Rome as if into a mirror.
"His head is molded out of refined gold;
arms and breast are fashioned in pure silver;
he is made of brass down to his crotch.
"From there on downward he is all choice iron,
Except that his right foot is hard-baked clay,
this foot he favors over the other.
"But for the gold, all the parts are cracked
- By a
fissure from which the tears drip out
when collected, penetrate the chasm.
"The tears run from the rocks into the valley,
Forming Acheron, Styx, and Phlegethon,
take their course through the narrow sluice,
"And, at the point where there is no way down,
form Cocytus; and what that pool is like
You shall see I will not describe it here."
- And I
responded, "If this rivulet
down in this way from our upper world,
do we view it only at this fringe?"
he replied, "You know this place is round,
And, although you have traveled a good distance
Bearing ever to the left toward the bottom,
"You have not even yet turned a full circle.
then if something new appears to us,
should not bring such wonder to your looks."
And I again: "Master, where shall we find
Phlegethon and Lethe? One you omit,
other you say is formed by tears of rain."
"In all your questions truly you please me,"
answered; "but the boiling blood-red water
Surely should have solved one you have asked.
"Lethe you will see but beyond this chasm
- There where the souls alight to cleanse themselves
- When their repented sins are wiped away."
he told me, "Now it is time to leave
This wood. See that you walk in back of me:
margins form a path that does not burn,
"And all the flames above them are snuffed out."