Inferno -- Canto XXIV

Thieves, Vanni Fucci



1 The time of the year between January 21st and February 21st.























































85 Libya, Ethiopia (l. 89), and Arabian lands around the Red Sea were thought to produce mythological reptiles, named here with obvious relish.



93 The heliotrope here is the bloodstone, believed to render the wearer invisible.









107 The phoenix is a mythological bird that, on reaching the age of 500 years, dies and is reborn.











125 Vanni Fucci, bastard son of Fuccio de Lazzeri, a Black Guelph in Pistoia, robbed the cathedral there in 1293. He predicts that the Whites shall drive the Blacks from Pistoia (in 1301); they fled to Florence to join the Black faction there, and the two sides battled at Piceno in 1302.








142 One more prophecy of Florence's upcoming turmoil that causes the poet's exile.

          When in that season of the youthful year
          The sun warms his rays beneath Aquarius,
          And soon the nights shall meet the days halfway,
          When the hoarfrost paints upon the ground
5        The perfect picture of his pure white sister
          (But pigment from his brush soon vanishes),
          The peasant, short on fodder for his sheep,
          Wakes up and looks out and sees the fields
          All blanketed in white: he smacks his thigh,
10       Turns back indoors and walking up and down,
          Frets like a wretch not knowing what to do;
          Out he comes once more, and hope revives
          When he sees the world has changed its face
          In so brief a time, and he takes up his staff
15       To drive his sheep outside to the green pasture:
          Just so I felt such deep dismay to see
          My master’s brow grown pale with some new trouble
          And as quickly came the gauze to heal the hurt.
          For as soon as we approached the shattered bridge
20       My escort turned to me that same sweet look
          Which I’d first seen at the foot of the mountain.
          He opened wide his arms — once he had closely
          Studied the wreckage and come to some resolve
          Within himself — then he took hold of me.
25       And just like one who works and thinks things out,
          Who is always ready for what lies ahead,
          So he, lifting me toward the dome of one
          Huge boulder, spied another crag above
          And said, "Now clamber onto that: but first
30       Try it out to see if it will hold you."
          It was no path for those clothed in their cloaks!
          For we could hardly — he, light, and I, with help —
          Handhold by handhold, scale the jutting rocks.
          And had it not been that, down from that rampart,
35       The slope of one bank was lower than the other,
          I cannot speak for him, but I’d be beaten.
          But because Malebolge all falls away
          Toward the open mouth of the lowest well,
          The layout of each valley predetermined
40       That as one bank rises, the next tapers off.
          And so we reached, at last, the point on top
          Where the last stone of the bridge fell broken.
          The breath was so pumped out of my lungs
          When I climbed aloft, I could not go onward,
45       And as soon as I’d come up there I sat down.
          "Now you must shake off all your laziness,"
          My master said, "for loungers and slugabeds
          Will never reach the heights of lasting fame:
          "Without fame a man wears away his life,
50        Leaving such traces of himself on earth
          As smoke on air or foam upon the water.
          "Straighten up! Conquer your fatigue
          With the spirit that wins every battle
          Unless it sink under the body’s weight.
55       "Longer stairs than these wait to be climbed!
          It is not enough to leave these souls behind:
          If you have understood my words, act on them!"
          I stood up then, showing that I was better
          Supplied with wind than I had been before,
60       And said, "Go on, for I am strong and ready."
          We picked our way along the curving ridge
          Which was more jagged, narrower and harder,
          And so much steeper than the ridge before.
          Not to seem weak, I talked as I pushed on;
65       Then, from the next ditch there arose a voice
          That seemed incapable of forming words.
          I don’t know what he said, though now I stood
          On the crown of the arch that crosses there,
          But whoever spoke appeared to be running.
70       I had bent over, yet my living eyes
          Could not pierce through the darkness to the bottom;
          So I said, "Master, kindly manage to reach
          "The next ring, and let us climb down the wall:
          From here I cannot grasp what I am hearing,
75       And I see down but I can make out nothing."
          "No other answer," he said, "shall I give you
          Than doing it, because a fit request
          Should in silence be followed by the deed."
          We climbed down where the bridgehead ended
80       And where it merged with the eighth embankment,
          And then its pocket opened up to me:
          And there within I saw a repulsive mass
          Of serpents in such a horrifying state
          That still my blood runs cold when I recall them.
85       No more need Libya boast about the sands
          Where chelydri, jaculi, phareae,
          And cenchres with amphisbaena breed:
          She could not show — with all Ethiopia
          Nor the lands that lie surrounding the Red Sea —
90      So rampant and pestiferous a plague.
          Among this cruel and miserable swarm
          Were people running stripped and terrified,
          With no hope of hiding-hole or heliotrope.
          They had hands tied behind their backs by snakes
95       That thrust out head and tail through their loins
          And that coiled then in knots around the front.
          And look! A serpent sprang up at one sinner
          Upon our strand and it transfixed him there
          Where neck and shoulders knotted at the nape.
100      No o or i was ever written faster
          Than that sinner flared up and burst in flames
          And, falling down, completely turned to ashes.
          And then, as he lay scattered on the ground,
          The ashy dust collected by itself
105      And suddenly returned to its first shape.
          Just so, men of high learning have avowed
          That the phoenix dies and is then reborn
          When it approaches its five-hundredth year;
          In life it does not feed on grass or grain,
110     But only on the tears of balm and incense,
          And its last winding-sheet is nard and myrrh.
          As one who falls in a fit, not knowing how —
          By devilish force that drags him to the ground
          Or by some other blockage that binds a man —
115      When he lifts himself up, and looks around,
          All out of focus with the heavy anguish
          He has suffered, sighing as he stares:
          Such was this sinner after he arose.
          O power of God, what great severity
120     To have poured down such blows in its vengeance!
          My guide then asked the sinner who he was,
          And he replied to this, "Not long ago
          I rained from Tuscany down to this hellmouth.
          "Bestial life and not the human pleased me,
125      Like the mule I was; I am Vanni Fucci,
          Beast, and Pistoia was a fit den for me."
          I said to my guide, "Tell him not to slink
          Away, and ask him what crime cast him here,
          For I knew him as a man of blood and tantrums."
130     The sinner, who understood, made no evasions
          But turned his mind and face straight toward me
          And reddened with distressful shame, then said,
          "It grieves me more that you have found me out
          Amid the wretchedness in which you see me
135      Than when I was taken from the other life.
          "I am not able to refuse your asking.
          I am set down so far because I robbed
          The sacristy of its splendid treasure,
          "And later someone else was falsely blamed.
140      But, that you may not revel in this sight,
          If ever you escape from these dark regions,
          "Open your ears and listen to my tidings:
          Pistoia first divests herself of Blacks;
          Then Florence changes over men and laws.
145      "From Valdimagra Mars draws a fiery vapor
          Which is enwrapped in dark and smoky clouds,
          And with a raging and relentless storm
          "There shall be battling on Campo Piceno
          Until it will abruptly smash the scud
150     And every White will be struck by the lightning.
          "And I have told you this to make you suffer."
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