Inferno -- Canto XVI

Jacopo Rusticucci, Waterfall







9 The rotten city is Florence.




















38 Guido Guerra (1220-1272), Gualdrada's grandson, was a Guelph leader, as was Tegghiaio Aldobrandi (l. 41) who died before 1266. Both were known Florentine political figures.


44 Jacopo Rusticucci was a wealthy Florentine citizen whose name is found in many documents between 1235 and 1254. He was still alive in 1266.















70 Not much is known about Guglielmo Borsiere. Boccaccio identifies him as "cavaliere di corte, uomo costumato molto e di laudevol maniera," a well-mannered knight of the court.














94 This passage compares the waterfall of the Phlegethon to that of the Montone River at San Benedetto dell'Alpe in the Apennines.






106 This cincture or cord may hint that Dante had been a third-order Franciscan friar.

          Already I was where I heard the rumbling fall
          Of water running down to the next circle,
          Like the sound that a humming beehive makes,
          When three shades broke away together,
5         Racing, out of the squad that went on past us
          Under the rain of grating punishment.
          They ran toward us, each of them shouting,
          "Stop! You — by the clothes you wear — seem
          To be like someone from our rotten city."
10       Ah me, what old and recent wounds I saw
          Seared into their bodies by those flames!
          Just to remember it still gives me pain.
          Their shouts caught the attention of my guide.
          He turned his face toward me: "Now wait,"
15       He said; "we must be courteous to them.
          "And were it not for the hot darting fire
          Which the nature of this place rains down on them,
          I’d say haste suits you better than it does them."
          While we stood still, they once again began
20       Their ancient dirge, and when they came to us
          The three of them together formed a wheel,
          As stripped and oiled wrestlers often do,
          First studying their grip and their advantage
          Before they come to blows and holds between them,
25       So, wheeling, each one directed his face
           Toward me, so that, in constant motion,
           His neck kept turning opposite his feet.
         "If the debasement of this unsteady sand
          And our bare and burnt-out faces," one began,
30       "Makes you feel contempt for our pleas and us,
          "May fame of ours induce the soul in you
          To tell us who you are who in such safety
          Can drag your feet, still living, throughout hell.
          "He in whose footsteps you see me tread,
35       Although he turns about here, skinned and naked,
          Was of a higher rank than you may think:
          "He was the grandson of the good Gualdrada;
          His name was Guido Guerra — in his life
          Much he achieved by counsel and his sword.
40       "The other who thrashes the sand behind me
          Is Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, whose voice
          In the world above ought to have won favor.
          "And I who am placed with them in this torment
          Was Jacopo Rusticucci, and surely
45       My hell-cat wife — more than anyone — ruined me!"
          If I had found a shelter from the flames,
          I would have hurled myself below with them,
          And I think my teacher would have allowed it.
          But since I would have been baked and toasted,
50       Fear conquered my initially kind impulse
          Which first made me so eager to embrace them.
          Then I began, "Not disdain, but distress
          For your condition seized me — so deeply that
          It will only leave me slowly, and not soon —
55       "At the instant my lord spoke to me the words
          Which led me then to realize that such men,
          Worthy as you are, were coming here.
          "I am of your city, and at all times
          I have spoken and heard others speak
60       Of your achievements and your honored names.
          "I quit the gall and go for the sweet apples
          Promised to me by my truthful leader,
          But first I must pass down into the center."
          "So may your soul long lead on your body,"
65       Once more he answered me, "and may your fame,
          After you have passed on, shed its light,
          "Tell us if courtesy and valor still
          Dwell in our city as they did in our day
          Or have they been entirely driven out?
70       "For Guglielmo Borsiere, who just joined
          Us in our grief and goes with our comrades,
          With his reports has caused us deep distress."
          "The new arrivals and the instant profits
          Have given rise to such pride and unrestraint
75       In you, Florence, that you already weep."
          These words I cried out with my face raised high,
          And the three, who took it for my answer,
          Gazed at each other as though they heard the truth.
          "If at other times you find it so easy
80       To please other people," all three replied,
          "Happy you to speak so fluently!
          "Should you escape, then, from these sunless regions
          And return to view once more the splendid stars,
          When it shall gladden you to say, ‘I was there,’
85        "Be sure to tell the people about us."
          At that they broke out of their wheeling circle,
          And, in fleeing, their legs resembled wings.
          An "Amen" would take less time to pronounce
          Than it took for the three of them to vanish:
90       And so my master thought it well to leave.
          I followed him, and we hadn’t walked on far
          Before the sound of water was so near
          We hardly could have heard each other talk.
          Just as that river, which first takes its course
95       From Mount Visco and flows toward the east
          On the left slope of the Apennines —
          Called the Acquacheta up above
          Before descending to its lower bed
          And at Forlė is known as the Montone —
100      Roars above San Benedetto dell’Alpe,
          Cascading in a single waterfall
          Where a thousand falls could easily have settled:
          Just so, down from one steep and rocky bank
          We found that tainted water so thundering
105      That in no time it would have burst our ears.
          I had a cord tied fast around my waist,
          And with it I had thought on one occasion
          To catch the leopard with the gaudy coat.
          As soon as I unwrapped the cord completely,
110      Exactly as my guide directed me,
          I passed it to him wound in a tight coil.
          At that he swung around toward his right
          And, far out over from the edge, threw it
          Right into the depth of the dark chasm.
115      "Surely there will be a strange response,"
          I said to myself, "to this strange signal:
          My master follows it so closely with his eye."
          Ah what care men need to show with those
          Who can not only see the outward act
120      But have the mind to read our inner thoughts!
          He said to me, "Soon shall come up from below
          What I wait for and your mind dreams about:
          Soon must it be discovered to your sight."
          Always, to the truth that seems a lie,
125      As far as he can, one must close his lips,
          For through no fault of his, it still brings shame.
          But here I cannot remain silent — reader,
          By the lines of this Comedy, I swear
          (So may my verse attain long-lasting favor)
130      That I saw through that thick and darkened air
          A figure come, swimming up toward us —
          A thing to dumbfound any steadfast heart —
          Like someone coming up from depths below
          Where he went down to free an anchor snagged
135      On a reef or something else hid in the sea,
          Stretching upward and drawing up his legs.
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