Inferno -- Canto XXVII

Guido da Montefeltro

 

Notes

 

 

 

7 This brass bull was designed by Perillus for Phalaris, the Sicilian tyrant, as an instrument of torture; the first victim was its inventor.

 

 

 

 

 

19 The speaker is Guido da Montefeltro (1223-1298), count and leader of the Ghibellines of Romagna, the area described in lines 28-30.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

37 Romagna is a region in the North-East part of Italy; its main city is Ravenna.

 

40 Guido Vecchio da Polenta (his coat of arms contained an eagle) ruled Ravenna in 1300. Cervia is a small city some dozen miles below Ravenna.

43 Forlė was successfully defended in 1282 against the French; in 1300 it was ruled by Sinibal degli Ordelaffi, whose arms feature a green lion.

46 The mastiffs are Malatesta and his son Malatestino, lords of Rimini, who captured the Ghibelline leader Montagna de’ Parcitati in 1295 and then killed him.

50 Mainardo Pagano, lord of Faenza on the Lamone, of Imola near the Santerno, and of Forlė was a northern Ghibelline who supported the Florentine Guelphs. Cesena, on the Savio river (l. 52), was self-administrated at the time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

67 Guido entered the Franciscan order in 1296 and became an adviser to Boniface VIII (here "the high priest" and "prince of Pharisees") who under the pretense of amnesty for the Colonna family razed their stronghold of Penestrino, (now Palestrina) in 1298 (l. 102).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

94 Pope Sylvester (314-335) was called from Mount Soracte by Constantine to cure his leprosy. .

 

 

 

 

 

105 Celestine V abdicated in 1294, making way for Boniface.

 

 

 

112 St. Francis of Assisi. Guido had in fact become a Franciscan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

124 Minos (see Canto V) assigns the souls to their proper place in hell.

          By this time the flame stood straight and still
          With no more words and by now took its leave
          With the permission of the gentle poet
 
          When another, coming right behind it,
        Forced us to turn our eyes toward its tip
          Because of the scrambled sound it sputtered out.
 
          As the Sicilian bull — that bellowed first
          With cries of the man (it served him right!)
          Who with his file had tuned the beast for torture —
 
10       Would bellow so loudly with its victim’s voice
          Within it that, though the whole was brass
          The thing seemed penetrated by the pain:
 
          So, without a way out or through the soul
          Burning inside the flame, the words of woe
15       Then became the language of the fire.
 
          But after the voices found their own way up
          Through the tip, giving it the tremble which
          The tongue had given to the fiery passage,
 
          We heard the flame: "O you to whom I turn
20       My voice and who, speaking in Lombard, said,
          ‘Now you may leave, I ask no more of you,’
 
          "Although, perhaps, I come a little late,
          Take the trouble to stop and speak to me:
          See, it shan't trouble me, and I am burning.
 
25       "If you just now fell down to this blind world
          Out of that sweet country of Italy
          From which I carry all my guilt, tell me,
 
          "Do the Romagnoles have peace or war?
          For I came from the mountains between Urbino
30       And the range where the Tiber fountains forth."
 
          I still leaned out, bent and listening,
          When my guide nudged me on my side and said,
          "You talk to him: this one is Italian."
 
          And I, already eager to respond,
35       Began to speak up without hesitation:
          "O soul, hidden below there in that fire,
 
          "Your Romagna is not now and never was
          Free of war in the hearts of her tyrants,
          But no war was waging when I left her.
 
40       "Ravenna, now many years, remains the same:
          The eagle of Polenta broods over her
          And also covers Cervia with his wings.
 
          "Forlė, the city which once withstood the siege
          And reduced the French to a bloody rubble,
45       Finds herself again beneath green talons.
 
          "Both mastiffs, old and young, from Verrucchio,
          Who kept such a poor watchout for Montagna,
          Sink their teeth where they usually do.
 
          "The cities on Lamone and Santerno
50       Are ruled by the lion-cub on the white lair
          Who summer to winter shifts from side to side.
 
          "Cesena, whose shore the Savio bathes,
          Just as it lies between the plain and mountain,
          Lives in-between tyranny and freedom.
 
55       "Now I beg you to tell us who you are:
          Don’t be more stubborn than I’ve been with you
          If in the world you’d like your name to last."
 
          After the flame had roared on for some time
          In its unique way, the pointed tip swayed
60       Back and forth and then released this breath:
 
          "If I thought that my answer was to someone
          Who might one day return up to the world,
          This flame would never cease its flickering.
 
          "However, since no one ever turned back, alive,
65       From this abyss — should what I hear be true —
          Undaunted by infamy, I answer you.
 
          "I was a man of arms and then a friar,
          Thinking to atone, girt with the cincture,
          And surely my thought would have proven right
 
70       "Had not that high priest (evil overtake him!)
          Caused me to backslide into earlier crimes:
          And how and why, I would you heard from me.
 
          "While I was still bound by the bones and flesh
          My mother gave me, the things I accomplished
75       Were not those of the lion but the fox.
 
          "Its wiles and covert ways, I knew them all,
          And I conducted their art so cunningly
          My repute resounded to the ends of earth.
 
          "But when I saw that I had reached the point
80       In my life when each man takes on the duty
          To lower the sails and pull in the tackle,
 
          "Things that once brought pleasure now gave pain.
          Repentant and confessed, I joined the friars:
          What a pity! And it would have worked!
 
85      "The crowned prince of the new Pharisees —
          Going to war close to the Lateran
          And not against the Saracens or Jews
 
          "(Since every enemy of his was Christian
          And not one of them had gone to conquer Acre
90       Or been a trader in the Sultan’s country) —
 
          "Ignored the high office and holy orders
          Belonging to him and ignored the cincture
          Which once made men — like me — who wore it leaner:
 
          "But just as Constantine sought out Sylvester
95       On Mount Soracte to heal his leprosy,
          So he sought me to act as his physician
 
          "To help heal him of the fever of his pride.
          He asked me for my counsel — I kept quiet
          Because his words seemed from a drunken stupor.
 
100      "Then he said, ‘Your heart need not mistrust:
          I absolve you in advance and you instruct me
          How to knock Penestrino to the ground.
 
          " ‘I have the power to lock and unlock heaven,
          You know that, because I keep the two keys
105      For which my predecessor took no care.’
 
          "His weighty arguments so pressured me then
          That silence seemed the worse course, and I said,
          ‘Father, since you cleanse me of that sin
 
          " ‘Into which I now must fall — remember:
110     An ample promise with a small repayment
          Shall bring you triumph on the lofty throne.’
 
          "Francis — the moment that I died — came then
          For me, but one of the black cherubim
          Called to him, ‘Don’t take him! don’t cheat me!
 
115     " ‘He must come down to join my hirelings
          Because he offered counsel full of fraud,
          And ever since I’ve been after his scalp!
 
          " ‘For you can’t pardon one who won’t repent,
          And one cannot repent what one wills also:
120      The contradiction cannot be allowed.’
 
          "O miserable me! how shaken I was
          When he grabbed hold of me and cried, ‘Perhaps
          You didn’t realize I was a logician!’
 
          "He carried me off to Minos who twisted
125     His tail eight times around his hardened back,
          Then bit it in gigantic rage and blared,
 
          " ‘This is a sinner for the fire of thieves!’
          So I am lost here where you see me go
          Walking in this robe and in my rancor."
 
130      When he had finished speaking in this fashion,
          The lamenting flame went away in sorrow,
          Turning and tossing its sharp-pointed horn.
 
          We traveled on ahead, my guide and I,
          Along the ridge as far as the next bridgeway
135     Arching the ditch where they must pay the price
 
          Who earned such loads by sowing constant discord.
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