Inferno -- Canto XV

Brunetto Latini




4 Wissant and Bruges, canal towns in Flanders, and also the dikes built by the Paduans to hold back the spring floods of the Brenta river, in the duchy of Chiarentana (l. 9), help us to picture the banks of the Phlegethon.














30 Brunetto Latini (d. 1294) was a prominent Guelph official. Dante recognizes him as his onetime teacher.



















62 Brunetto describes the first Roman occupation of the Etruscan Fiesole and the subsequent founding of Florence. He also foretells Dante's exile in 1303.


















90 The lady Dante is referring to is Beatrice. The poet will meet her in Purgatorio XXX.












109 Priscian is either the grammarian and poet of the sixth century or the law professor of Bologna of the thirteenth. Francesco d'Accorso (1125-1294) also taught law at Bologna and Oxford.

112 Andrea de' Mozzi, a bishop of Florence, was transferred to Vicenza by Pope Boniface VIII in 1295 and died the following year. Like the others, he was apparently guilty of sodomy.

119 Brunetto considered this book, written in French (Livres du Trésor — a sort of medieval encyclopedia) as his major work, but it is a rather minor accomplishment.

121 The foot-race was run annually on the first Sunday of Lent at Verona.

          Now one of the stone margins bears us on.
          Above, the river’s smoke throws up a shadow
          Which screens the banks and water from the fire.
          Just as the Flemings, between Wissant and Bruges,
5        In terror of the tide that surges toward them
          Build dikes to make the flooding sea recede,
          And as the Paduans, along the Brenta,
          Before the heat wave comes to Chiarentana,
          Build walls to defend their towns and castles,
10       In the same fashion were these banks constructed,
          Except the builder, whoever he might be,
          Had made them not so high and not so wide.
          Already we were so far from the wood
          That I could not have noticed where it was
15       Even had I turned round to look for it,
          When we came across a troop of spirits
          Walking along the bankside, and each one
          Stared at us as men at dusk will study
          Each other in the light of a new moon,
20       Knitting their eyebrows at us in a squint
          Like an old tailor threading a needle’s eye.
          Eyed in this manner by that brotherhood,
          I there was recognized by one who grasped me
          By the hem — and cried, "How wonderful!"
25       And I, when he stretched out his arm to me,
          So fixed my eyes upon his burnt-out features
          Even his crusted face did not prevent me
          From apprehending him in my mind’s eye,
          And bending down my face to be with his,
30       I asked him, "Ser Brunetto, are you here?"
          And he: "My son, pray do not be displeased
          If Brunetto Latini stays back a while
          With you and lets that line trek on ahead."
          And I: "With all my heart, I beg you to,
35       And should you want me to sit here with you,
          I will, if he who goes with me permits it."
          "My son," he said, "whoever of this flock
          Stops for an instant must stay a hundred years,
          Unable to brush off the burning flames.
40        "Go on then. I will walk here at your hem,
          And later I will join my company
          Who pass in sorrow for their endless woes."
          I did not dare to step down from the path
          To walk by him; instead I held my head
45       Bowed down like a man reverently walking.
          He then began, "What chance or destiny
          Brings you down here before your final day
          And who is this one here who shows the way?"
          "Up there above in the sun-brightened life,"
50       I answered him, "I lost myself in a valley
          Before reaching the fullness of my years.
          "Just yesterday morning I turned my back
          On it: when I was lost, this one appeared
          To lead me home once more along this road."
55       And he said to me, "Follow your own star
          And you cannot miss your harbor of glory
          If I judged you rightly in that lovely life.
          "And if I had not died before the time,
60       Seeing how gracious heaven has been to you,
          I should have warmly championed your work.
          "But that unthankful, evil-minded people
          Who long ago came down from Fiesole,
          And still have the rock and mountain in them,
          "For the good you do shall be your enemy,
65       And the reason is: among the bitter sorb trees
          It is not right the sweet fig should bear fruit.
          "The world’s word of old for them was ‘blind’:
          A greedy, envious, and haughty stock,
          Make sure you rid yourself of their bad ways.
70       "Your future holds out such honor to you
          That one party and the other will hunger
          For you — but grass does not grow near the goat!
          "Let the beasts of Fiesole feed on
          Each other, and let them not touch the plant —
75       Should any still be growing on their dungheap —
          "A plant in which lives on the holy seed
          Of the Romans who remained in Florence
          When that nest of foul wickedness was built."
          "If my appeal then had been fully granted,"
80       I responded to him, "you would not be
          Still banished from the ranks of humankind.
          "For in my memory is etched — it grieves me
          Even now — the dear, kind, fatherly image
          Of you, when in the world, hour by hour,
85      "You taught me how man makes himself immortal,
          And I am so grateful that, while I live,
          I will fittingly express it in my speech.
          "What you tell me of my course I write down
          And keep it with another text to read to
90       A lady who, if I reach her, shall gloss it.
          "One thing at least I purpose to make clear:
          As long as my conscience does not blame me,
          Whatever fate wills I am ready for it.
          "Nothing new I hear in this prediction,
95       So let Fortune, as she pleases, rotate
          Her wheel and let the peasant turn his spade."
          At this my master twisted his head back,
          Around to his right, and peering at me,
          He said, "Whoever notes this down, listens well."
100     But for all that, I did not cease from speaking
          To Ser Brunetto, and I asked who were
          His most noble and renowned companions.
          And he told me, "To know of some is good,
          Of others it is better to be silent,
105     As time would be too short for so much talk.
          "Briefly, you should know that all were clerics,
          Great men of letters, men of wide repute,
          Dirtied by the selfsame sin on earth.
          "Priscian travels with that stricken crowd,
110      And Francesco d’Accorso too, and you may see,
          If you have any appetite for such scurf,
         "The one the Servant of Servants transferred
          From the Arno to the Bacchiglione river
          Where he left his organs stretched by sin.
115     "I would say more, but my walking and my talk
May last no longer, since I see over there
New smoke billowing upward from the sandbar.
          "People are coming — I must not be with them.
          Let me commend my Treasury to you:
120     In it I still live and no more I ask."
          At that he turned and seemed like one of those
          Who at Verona run through the countryside
          For the green cloth, and among them he appeared
          The winner of the race and not the loser.
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