Inferno -- Canto XVIII

Panderers, Seducers, Flatterers



1 Malebolge ("Evil-Pockets") makes up the eighth circle with its ten stone ditch-pouches crammed with the fraudulent.












22 First ditch of the eighth circle —this place is for pimps and seducers, divided in two lines moving in opposite directions. These sinners are whipped by demons.


28 During the Jubilee year of 1300, pilgrims, in two facing  lines, had to cross a bridge near Castel Sant'Angelo in order to go to, or return from, St. Peter's. The "Mount" is a hill near Castel Sant'Angelo.












50 Venedico Caccianemico, a noble Bolognese Guelph, was said to have been a procurer of his sister Ghisolabella to gain the favor of Obizzo II of Este (the Marquis l. 56).






61 Savena and Reno are two rivers, near Bologna (Savena is on the east side, and Reno on the west side of the city); sipa is a word of the Bolognese dialect for "yes." Bologna is thus identified through the linguistic term sipa.





73 Dante sees now the seducers. They are in the line that goes the opposite direction.








86 Jason, leader of the Argonauts, stole the golden fleece with the help of Medea. After leaving Colchis for Athens, he then deserted her (as he had Hypsipyle) and, in revenge, she murdered their two sons.








103 Dante approaches the second ditch, which houses the flatterers, submerged in excrement.












122 Alessio Interminei of Lucca was a noble member of the White Guelph party.







133 Thais, a prostitute in Terence's play Eunuchus, is cited by Cicero in his treatise On Friendship as an example of flattery.

          Lodged in hell is a place called Malebolge,
          All made of stone the color of iron ore,
          As is the cliff wall that encloses it.
          Right in the middle of this cankered field
5        A broad and deep-cut chasm opens up —
          In its place I shall describe its structure.
          The belt, then, that is left between the chasm
          And the steep stony cliff, forms a circle
          And its bottom has been sliced into ten valleys.
10        Just as, where moat on moat encompasses
          A castle to defend its central walls,
          The ground in which they’re dug shapes a design,
          Such a pattern here these ditches formed;
          And as such fortresses have footbridges
15       Out from their gates up to the outer banks
          So from the bottom of the cliff ran ridges
          Which crossed above the embankments and ditches
          Up to the chasm where they end and merge.
          In this spot we found ourselves, dismounted
20       From the back of Geryon; the poet
          Kept to the left and I walked on behind him.
          At my right hand I saw fresh cause for pathos,
          Fresh punishments and fresh torturers
          That fully crammed the first of the ten pockets.
25       Naked sinners filed by on the bottom:
          On the near side they came facing toward us,
          On the other they moved along with us, but faster:
          So the Romans, because of the huge crowds
          During Jubilee year, have people pass
30       Over the bridge so that on the other side all face
          (According to the plan fixed to divide them)
          Toward the Castle and walk to Saint Peter’s,
          While on the other they walk toward the Mount.
          This side and that, along the gloom-filled rock,
35       I saw horned devils with their huge long whips
          Cruelly lashing those sinners from behind.
          Ah how they forced them to lift up their heels
          At the first strokes! There was nobody there
          Who waited for the second or the third!
40       While I moved on, my eye caught someone else’s,
          And immediately I said to myself,
          "Surely I have seen this one before."
          So I held up my steps to stare at him,
          And my kindly guide halted with me
45       And gave me leave to go a short way back.
          That scourged spirit thought that he could hide
          By lowering his head, but little it helped him,
          For I said, "You who gaze upon the ground,
          "Unless the features which you wear are false,
50       You are Venedico Caccianemico:
          But what put you in such a juicy pickle?"
          And he replied, "I tell it unwillingly,
          But your plain speech forces me to do it
          By reminding me of that world of old.
55       "I was the one who led Ghisolabella
          To satisfy the will of the Marquis,
          Whatever way the vile tale is reported.
          "But I am not the only Bolognese
          Weeping here; this place is so full of them
60       That not so many tongues have learned to say
          "Sipa between the Savena and Reno:
          And if you want a proof or witness for this,
          Recall to mind our sense of greediness."
          While he was talking a devil lashed at him
65       With his whip and cried out, "On your way, pimp!
          There are no women here for you to con."
          I turned back to be once more with my escort.
          Then, a few steps forward, we walked up
          To where a ridge out-jutted from the bank.
70       We climbed across it with no difficulty
          And, turning to the right along its crest,
          We left behind those everlasting circlings.
          When we had reached the spot where the ridgeline
          Yawns open to let the scourged pass below,
75       My guide said, "Stop and make sure that the sight
          "Of these other misbegotten souls strikes you:
          Their faces you have not observed before
          As they were moving the same direction we were."
          From the old bridge we gazed down at the troop
80       Coming toward us along the other tract,
          And they were likewise driven by the lash.
          Even without my asking, my good master
          Spoke up, "Look at that mighty one approaching
          Who does not seem to shed a tear for pain.
85       "What a kingly look he still retains!
          That is Jason, who with heart and brains
          Robbed Colchis of the gold fleece of their ram.
          "He voyaged to the island of Lemnos
          After the brash and merciless women
90       Had put all of their menfolk to the sword.
          "There with his love tokens and stylish words
          He beguiled the young Hypsipyle
          Who had first beguiled the other women.
          "There he left her, pregnant and forsaken:
95       Such sin condemns him to such punishment,
          And for Medea, too, is vengeance wreaked.
          ‘With him go all the beguilers of others —
          Let this now be enough for you to know
          Of the first valley and sinners in its jaws."
100      We had already come where the narrow path
          Crosses over to the second bank
          To form a new support for another arch.
          From there we heard people in the next pocket
          Whining and snorting gruffly from their snouts
105     And whacking themselves with flat open palms.
          The banks were coated with a slimy mold
          From exhalations below; it stuck to them,
          Attacking eyes and nose with stinging must.
          The bottom was so deep we could not see it
110     Anywhere, except by climbing up the spine
          Of the arch where the ridge rises highest.
          Here we arrived, and down there in the ditch
          I saw a people plunged in excrement
          As if it had been dumped from men’s latrines.
115      And as I searched below there with my eyes
          I saw one with his head so smeared with shit
          You could not tell if he were lay or cleric.
          He yelled up at me, "Why are you more greedy
          To stare at me than at the other scum?"
120      And I: "Because, if I remember rightly,
          "I have seen you before with your hair dry:
          And so I eye you more than all the rest.
          You are Alessio Interminei of Lucca."
          And he, smacking his squash, replied to me,
125      "Down here I am sunk by the flatteries
          That my tongue never tired of repeating."
          After this my teacher said to me,
          "Stretch your head forward a little farther
          So that your eyes may clearly catch the face
130      "Of that slatternly and smutty slut
          Who scratches herself with shit-blackened nails,
          Now squatting and now staggering to her feet.
          "She is Thais the whore, who when her lover
          Asked, ‘Are you very grateful to me?' answered,
135     ‘Very! Why, extravagantly so!’
          "But now our sight has had enough of this."
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