Inferno -- Canto XXV

The Thieves Transformed











15 The suicide is Capaneus, a king who assaulted Thebes. See Canto XIV, ll. 46-72, and note.


19 Maremma is the swampland in Tuscany.



25 Cacus, a centaur and son of Vulcan, resides here in the seventh pocket with the thieves. He was killed by Hercules.











43 Cianfa belonged to the Donati family of Florence.

















68 Agnello was one of the Florentine Brunelleschi. He here is merged with the lizard Cianfa.
















94 Lucan in his Pharsalia (IX) tells how Sabellus and Nasidius, two soldiers in Cato’s army, were bitten by snakes: one melted like snow, the other swelled and burst his armor. Ovid describes how Cadmus turned into a serpent and Arethusa into a fountain (Metamorphoses IV and V).




























140 Buoso may be of the Donati or Abati clans.



148 Puccio Sciancato de Galigai was a Florentine Ghibelline. Francesco Cavalcanti, the third thief, was killed by the people of Gaville (l. 151), and his kinsmen avenged his death brutally. Here he steals the body of Buoso who becomes a reptile.

          At the end of this harangue of his the thief
          Raised high his fists forked into figs and cried,
          "Take that, God, I screwed them against you!"
          From then on the serpents were my friends
5         Because one of them coiled around his neck
          As though to say, "I’ll not have you say more!"
          And another whipped about his arms and tied him,
          Wrapping itself so tightly in front of him
          That with the knot he couldn’t jerk a muscle.
10       Pistoia, ah Pistoia! why not decree
          To turn yourself to ashes and end it all
          Since you outstrip your offspring in evil-doing?
          Throughout all the darkened circles of deep hell
          I saw no soul so insolent toward God,
15       Not even he who fell from the walls at Thebes.
          Without speaking another word, he fled,
          And then I saw a centaur, full of fury,
          Come shouting, "Where, where is that bitter beast?"
          I do not think Maremma has as many
20       Snakes as the centaur carried on his croup
          Right up to where our human shape begins.
          Upon his shoulders, just behind the scruff,
          With its wings outstretched, there sat a dragon
          That set on fire all that cross its path.
25       My master stated, "That centaur is Cacus:
          In a rock-cave beneath Mount Aventine
          Many the time he spilled a lake of blood.
          "He does not go the same road with his brothers
          Because he fraudulently committed theft
30       Of his neighbor’s mighty herd of cattle.
          "The club of Hercules, who must have hit him
          A hundred blows, ended his crooked deals:
          But after the tenth clout he felt nothing."
          While he was saying this, Cacus ran past,
35       And three spirits came along below us,
          But neither I nor my guide observed them
          Until they shouted up, "Who are you?"
          That put an end to our discussion, and
          Then we turned our attention fully to them.
40       I did not recognize them, but it happened,
          As it so often happens by some chance,
          That one had to call out the other's name,
          Questioning, "Where has Cianfa gone off to?"
          At this, I — to keep my guide listening —
45       Placed my finger between chin and nose.
          If you are now, reader, slow to believe
          What I shall tell, that would be no wonder,
          For I who saw it can scarcely accept it.
          While I was staring down at the three sinners
50       I saw a serpent with six feet, from in front
          Leap up on one and entirely grip him.
          It wrapped his stomach with its middle feet
          And with its forefeet pinned him by the arms;
          Then sank its teeth in one cheek, then the other.
55       It spread its hind feet down about his thighs
          And thrust the tail out between his legs
          And at his back pulled it up straight again.
          Never did ivy cling to any tree
          So tightly as that horrendous beast
60       Twined its limbs around and through the sinner’s.
          Then the two stuck together as if made
          Of hot wax and mixed their colors so
          Neither one nor other seemed what once they were:
          Just as, in front of the flame, a brown color
65       Advances on the burning paper, so that
          It is not yet black but the white dies away.
          The other two glared at one another, each
          Crying out, "O Agnello, how you change!
          Look! already you are neither two nor one."
70       The two heads by now had become one
          When we saw the two features fuse together
          Into one face in which they both were lost.
          Two arms took shape out of the four remnants;
          The thighs with the legs, belly, and chest,
75       Changed into members never before seen.
          Then every former likeness was blotted out:
          That perverse image seemed both two and neither,
          And, such, at a slow pace, it moved away.
          Just as the lizard, that under the giant lash
80       Of the dog days darts from hedge to hedge,
          Looks like a lightning flash as it crosses the path,
          So seemed, heading straight out toward the gut
          Of the other two, a small blazing serpent,
          Black and livid like a peppercorn.
85       And in one sinner it bit right through that part
          From which we first take suck and nourishment;
          And down it fell full length in front of him.
          The bitten sinner stared but uttered nothing.
          Instead, he just stood rooted there and yawned
90       Exactly as though sleep or fever struck him.
          The serpent looked at him, he looked at it:
          One through the mouth, the other through his wound
          Billowed dense smoke and so the two smokes mingled.
95       Let Lucan now be silent, where he tells
          Of hapless Sabellus and Nasidius,
          And let him listen to what I now project.
          Let Ovid too be silent about Cadmus
          And Arethusa, where in verse he makes one
          A snake and one a fount: I do not envy him,
100      Since he never so transmuted two natures
          Face to face that their spiritual forms
          Were ready to exchange their bodily substance.
          Together they responded to such laws
          That the snake slit its tail into a fork
105     While the wounded sinner drew his feet together.
          The legs with the thighs locked so firmly,
          One to the other, that shortly one could find
          No sign whatever where the seam had joined.
          The slit tail then assumed the very shape
110      That had been lost there; and the hide of one
          Softened as the skin of the other hardened.
          I saw his arms returning to the armpits
          And the two feet of the reptile — they were short —
          Lengthen out while the two arms shortened.
115      Afterward, the hind feet, twisted up
          Together, became the member that men hide,
          While from his member the wretch grew two paws.
          While smoke veiled both the one and the other
          With new color and made the hair grow matted
120     On the one skin, and the other it made bald,
          The one rose upright and the other fell,
          Neither averting the lamps of evil eyes
          As, staring, they exchanged a nose and snout.
          The one standing drew back the face toward
125      The temples, and from the surplus stuff massed there
          Ears emerged above the once-smooth cheeks;
          The surplus not pulled back but still remaining
          In front, then formed a nose for the face
          And filled the lips out to their proper size.
130     The one lying down sprouted forth a muzzle
          And withdrew the ears back into the head
          In the same way a snail pulls in its horns.
          And the tongue, once single, whole, and suited
          For speech, split, while the other’s forked tongue
135     Sealed back up, and the smoke also stopped.
          The soul that had been turned into a beast,
          Hissing, filed off along the gully, fast,
          And the other, speaking, spat after its tracks.
          He turned his new-made shoulders then and told
140     The third soul left there, "I want Buoso to run,
          The way I did, on all fours down the road!"
          And so I saw the cargo shift and reshift
          In the seventh hold — and let me be forgiven
          Strangeness that may have led my pen astray.
145      And although my eyes were somewhat out of focus
          And my mind out of joint, the three sinners
          Could not have fled so furtively that I
          Did not observe Puccio Sciancato,
          The only one, of the three comrades that
150     Came at first, who then had not been changed;
          The other was he who made you, Gaville, grieve.
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