Inferno -- Canto XVII

Geryon, Usurers



1 The monster is Geryon, in classical myth a giant king of Spain, and later pictured as an ogre who lured travelers to their death. Here he personifies fraud.









18 Arachne, a Lydian girl famed for her weaving, challenged Minerva and was turned into a spider.

22 The beaver was thought to catch fish with its tail.





















54 The usurers, the last group in the seventh circle, are only identified by their coats of arms: among them are the Gianfigliazzi (l. 59), and the Ubriachi (l. 63), both of Florence, and Scrovegni (l. 65) and a Vitaliano (l. 68) who shall join them later, both of Padua. Giovanni Buiamonte is the Florentine knight referred to in line 72; he was a rich moneylender who died—in poverty—in 1310.






























107 Phaethon tried to fly the sun-chariot of his father Apollo; Icarus (l. 109), son of Daedalus, flew too high toward the sun and also perished.

          "Look at the beast with the pointed tail!
          He passes mountains, smashes walls and weapons!
          Look at the one that smells up the whole world!"
          This way my guide began to talk to me
5         As he signaled the beast to land on shore
          Close to the edge of our stone-paved pathway.
          And that repugnant picture of pure fraud
          Came on, landing his head and his chest first,
          But darting his tail out beyond the bank.
10       His face was the face of a saintly person,
          So placid was the surface of the skin,
          But his whole trunk was the shape of a snake.
          He had two paws, with hair up to his armpits;
          His back and breasts and both of his flanks
15      Were painted gaudily with knots and loops.
          Tartars or Turks never wove a cloth
          With more colors in background and design,
          Nor did Arachne ever loom such webs.
          Just as boats sometimes lie on shore
20       Half in the water and half still on land,
          And just as there among the guzzling Germans
          The beaver crouches ready to do battle,
          So did that worst of all wild beasts lay there
          On the rim of stone bordering the sand.
25       Out in the void all his tail stretched quivering,
          Twisting in the air its poisonous fork
          Which had a tip armed like a scorpion’s.
          My leader said, "Now we had better veer
          Our way slightly, until we come as far
30       As that wicked beast squatting over there."
          We stepped down, then, to the right-hand breast,
          And walked ten paces out along the ledge
          To keep wholly clear of the sand and flame.
          And when we had walked up to Geryon,
35       I noticed on the sand, a bit farther on,
          People sitting next to empty space.
          Here my master said to me, "That you may
          Acquire the full experience this ring offers,
          Go now and see the state that they are in.
40       "But let your conversation there be brief.
          Till you come back, I shall talk with this beast
          To have him lend us his strong shoulders."
          So still farther along the utmost brink
          Of that seventh circle I walked alone
45       To where the people deep in mourning sat.
          Misery was bursting from their eyes;
          This way and that, they ward off with their hands
          One time the flames and next the burning sands,
          No differently do dogs in summertime,
50       Now with muzzles, now with paws, when they are
          Bitten by fleas or gnats or by horseflies.
          When I had cast my eyes on certain faces
          Of those on whom the oppressive fire falls,
          I recognized none of them, but I observed
55       That from the neck of each there hung a purse
          Having a special color and coat of arms,
          And on his own each seemed to feast his eyes.
          While I went among them, looking about
          I glimpsed a purse of yellow upon azure
60       Which bore the face and figure of a lion.
          Then, letting my gaze wander over them,
          I saw another purse as red as blood
          Displaying a goose whiter than butter.
          And one who had an azure pregnant sow
65       Represented on his small white pouch
          Asked me, "What are you doing in this ditch?
          "Now get going — and since you’re still alive,
          You should know my neighbor Vitaliano
          Shall have a seat here soon at my left side.
70       "I, a Paduan, am with these Florentines;
          Incessantly they deafen my poor eardrums
          With their shouting, ‘Bring on the royal knight
          " ‘Who bears on him his pouch with the three goats!’ "
          At this he twisted his mouth around and stuck
75       His tongue out, like an ox licking its nose.
          And I, in fear that any longer stay
          Might vex him who had warned me not to tarry,
          Turned my back upon these worn-out sinners.
          I found my guide who had already climbed
80       Up on the rump of that wild animal,
          And he said to me, "Now be strong and stout!
          "Our way down from here is by stairs like these.
          You mount in front: I want the middle section
          So that his sharp tail cannot cause you harm."
85       As one who, feeling the shivers of a fever
          So close his nails already are turned blue,
          Shudders just at the sight of some cool shade,
          So I became when I had heard his words.
          But then I felt the taunt of shame which makes
90       A servant bold before his worthy master.
          I hunched down on those monstrous shoulders
          Wanting to say — but my voice did not come
          As I thought — "Make sure you hold on to me."
          But he who had at other times helped me
95       In other dangers, as soon as I was mounted,
          Folded me in his arms and held me tight.
          He called, "Now, Geryon, get up! Be sure
          To make your circles wide and move down slowly:
          Remember the strange weight that you now carry."
100     Just as a rowboat pulls out from its berth
          Backwards, backwards, so that beast pushed off,
          And when he felt himself all free in space,
          There where his chest had been he turned his tail,
          Stretching it out and waving it like an eel,
105     While with his paws he gathered in the air.
          I do not think the fear was any sharper
          When Phaethon let the sun’s reins drop away
          (The reason why the sky is scorched with stars)
          Nor when unhappy Icarus felt his flanks
110     Unfeathering as the wax started melting,
          His father shouting, "You’re going the wrong way!"
          Than mine was when I saw that on all sides
          I floated in the air and I saw all
          Sights lost to view except the beast himself.
115      He flew on slowly, slowly swimming on,
          Spiraling and gliding: this I knew only
          By the winds in my face and underneath me.
          I heard already on my right the whirlpool
          Roaring with such horror there beneath us
120     That I stretched out my neck and peered below.
          Then I grew more panicky of going down
          For I saw flames and I heard wailing cries;
          So, trembling, I pressed my legs in tighter.
          And then I saw, what I had not seen before:
125      His descent was spiraled, since I saw torments
          On every side were drawing nearer to us.
          Just as a falcon, a long while on the wing,
          Who, without spotting lure or prey,
          Makes the falconer cry, "Ah, you’re coming down,"
130      Descends, tired, with a hundred turnings
          To where he set out so swiftly, and perches,
          Aloof and furious, far off from his master,
          So at the bottom Geryon set us down
          Right next to the base of a jagged rockface
135     And, once rid of the burden of our bodies,
          He vanished like an arrow from a bowstring.
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