Inferno -- Canto XXIII

Hypocrites

 

Notes

 

6 The tale, attributed to Aesop at the time, tells of a frog that ferries a mouse across a river, intending to drown him, but before the frog can do so, a hawk attacks them both; in one version, the mouse escapes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

66 Frederick II was reputed to execute traitors by sealing them into metal capes and melting them. The hypocrites of the sixth ditch go wrapped in similar cloaks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

103 "The Jovial Friars" was a popular nickname for the military order of the Glorious Virgin Mary founded at Bologna in 1261. Catalano de’ Catalani, a Guelph, and Loderingo degli Andalo, a Ghibelline, were members who were appointed chief magistrates over Florence in 1266 to preserve peace: they failed. Gardingo (l. 108) was a violent quarter in the city.

110 The crucified figure is that of the high priest Caiaphas whose father-in-law Annas (l. 121) also took part in sentencing Jesus to death. See John 11:49 and 18:13.

 

 

 

 

 

 

124 Virgil can’t explain this scene; in fact when he previously descended through hell, Caiaphas was not there yet because it was before Christ’s death.

          Silent, solitary, without escort,
          We walked along, one behind the other,
          Like minor friars traveling the road.
 
          Because of the scuffle we had just seen,
5        My thoughts turned to one of Aesop’s fables
          In which he tells about the frog and mouse.
 
          For "soon" and "shortly" are not more similar
          Than fiction is like fact, if carefully
          You compare the beginning and end of both.
 
10       And just as one thought rises from another,
          So this gave birth to still another thought
          That doubled the first fear that I had felt.
 
          I thought like this: These devils have been mocked
          By us with so much damage and derision
15       That I believe they feel deeply offended.
 
          If anger should be added to bad-will,
          They will chase us even more viciously
          Than the hound that snatches up the hare.
 
          Already I felt my hair start to stand up
20       With fear that gripped me as I stared behind.
          "Master," I said, "if you don’t find a spot
 
          "To hide us — quick — I dread the Malebranche —
          They’re after us right now — I imagine that
          They’re there — so close that I can hear them now!"
 
25       And he replied, "Were I a leaded mirror
          I couldn’t catch your outward look more quickly
          Than your inner thoughts occur to me.
 
          "Just now, in fact, they mingled with my own,
          So similar in act and coloration
30       That I will put them both to one resolve:
 
          "Should the right bank slope in such a way
          That we may descend to the next pocket,
          We could escape the chase we both have pictured."
 
          He’d hardly finished setting forth his plan
35       When I saw them approaching with spread wings
          Not too far off, intent on taking us.
 
          All of a sudden my guide snatched me up,
          Just as a mother waking to a roar
          And seeing flames bursting next to her
 
40       Snatches her son and runs and will not stop —
          She cares much more for him than for herself —
          She does not even pause to put a robe on!
 
          And so down from the height of the hard bank
          Upon his back he slid on the sloping rock
45       Which blocks off one side of the next pocket.
 
          Never water ran along a sluice
          So fast to turn the wheel of a land-mill
          When it courses closest to the paddles,
 
          As my master hastened down that bank,
50       Carrying me held fast upon his breast
          As if I were his son, not a companion.
 
          Hardly had his feet hit down on bedrock
          On the ground below when the fiends were high
          On the ridge right over us — no need to panic:
 
55       For the divine Providence that willed them
          To be placed as servants of the fifth ditch
          Deprived them of all power for leaving it.
 
          Below that point we found a painted people
          Who walked in circles with the slowest steps,
60       Weeping and worn in looks and overwhelmed.
 
          The cloaks they wore had cowls drawn down low
          Over their eyes, made in a similar style
          As those that are made for monks in Cluny.
 
          These are so gilded outside that they dazzle,
65       But inside, solid lead, and so heavy that,
          Compared to them, Frederick’s capes were straw.
 
          O mantle of unending weariness!
          Once again we turned to the left hand,
          Along with those souls rapt in their sad tears.
 
70       But with their weights the tired people trod
          So slowly that we had fresh company
          With every step we took along the way.
 
          At this sight I asked my guide, "Please find
          Someone I should know by deed or name:
75       Let your eyes roam around while we walk on."
 
          And one who had picked up my Tuscan accent
          Shouted out behind us, "Halt your steps,
          You, racing so fast through this murky air!
 
          "Perhaps you’ll get from me what you ask for!"
80       So my guide turned to me, proposing, "Wait,
          Then move ahead according to this pace."
 
          I stopped, and saw two showing in their faces
          Their minds’ restless haste to be with me,
          But their loads and the narrow road delayed them.
 
85       When they caught up, they viewed me with their eyes
          Askance, staring and not uttering a word;
          Then they turned to one another and observed,
 
          "This one seems alive, since his throat moves,
          But if they both are dead, what privilege
90       Lets them go unclad by the heavy mantles?"
 
          Then they said to me, "O Tuscan, you come
          To this chapter of the sorry hypocrites:
          Do not scorn to tell us who you are."
 
          And I told them, "I was born and grew up
95       In the great city by the Arno’s lovely stream,
          And I am in the flesh I’ve always had.
 
          "But who are you whose grief distills such tears
          As I perceive now coursing down your cheeks?
          What is this penance glittering upon you?"
 
100     And one of them replied, "The yellow cloaks
          Are thick with lead of so much weight it makes us
          Who are the scales in the balance creak.
 
          "We both were Jovial Friars, and Bolognese:
          My name was Catalano, his Loderingo;
105      Together we were chosen by your city
 
          "To do what one man usually is assigned,
          Keep the peace, and how much we succeeded
          Still can be seen around the Gardingo."
 
          I began, "O friars, your wicked ..." — but said
110     No more: my eyes caught the sight of one
          Crucified with three stakes on the ground.
 
          When he saw me, he twisted all around,
          Breathing hard into his beard with sighs,
          And brother Catalano, who observed this,
 
115      Said to me, "That one you see nailed down
          Advised the Pharisees it was expedient
          To sacrifice one man for the people.
 
          "Stretched out naked he lies, across the way,
          As you yourself see, and is made to feel
120      The full weight of every passer-by.
 
          "In the same way is his father-in-law racked
          In this same ditch, and the rest of that council
          Which has sowed so much evil for the Jews."
 
          Then I saw Virgil struck with wonder over
125     The one who lay stretched there on the cross
          So ignominiously in unending exile.
 
          He afterwards spoke these words to the friar,
          "Would you please, if it’s allowed, tell us
          If on the right side there lies any passage
 
130      "By which we two can go away from here
          Without compelling some of those black angels
          To come down to this depth to get us out."
 
          He answered then, "Closer than you hope
          There is a rocky ridge that reaches out from
135     The huge round wall and spans all the wild valleys
 
          "Except this broken bridge which does not cross.
          You can climb back up by way of the ruins
          That lie along the slope, heaped at the bottom."
 
          My guide stood awhile, head bowed, then said,
140      "That one who grapples sinners over there
          Gave us a false account about this business."
 
          And the friar: "Once in Bologna I heard
          Described the devil’s many vices, among them
          That he’s a liar and the father of lies."
 
145     With giant strides my guide then hurried off,
          Somewhat perturbed, by the anger in his look.
          At this I left those heavy-burdened souls,
 
          Following the prints of his dear feet.
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