Inferno -- Canto XXVIII

Sowers of Discord, Bertran de Born






7 The wars summed up in these opening stanzas range from the wars of the early Romans (here "Trojans") against the Samnites (343-290 B.C.) and the Punic Wars (264-146 B.C.) which included the battle of Cannae in 216 where Romans were slaughtered (l. 11) to Robert Guiscard’s battles from 1059 to 1090 against the Greeks and Saracens in southern Italy and Sicily, as well as the Apulian treachery which turned the pass of Ceperano (l. 16) over to Manfred’s foes in 1266, and Charles of Anjou’s stratagem which enabled him to defeat Manfred’s nephew Conradin at the battle of Tagliacozzo in 1268. Alardo (l. 18) is Charles’ general Erard de Valery.


24 See the fate of Judas in Acts 1:18, "he burst open and his guts spilled out."





31 Mohammed (d. 632), the founder of Islam, with his son-in-law Ali appears here in the ninth pouch with the sowers of schism.














55 Fra Dolcino in 1300 headed the Apostolic Brothers, an outlawed religious sect that was forcibly suppressed; he was burned at the stake in 1307.











73 Pier da Medicina, driven from Romagna in 1287, intrigued among its rulers to turn them against themselves.

76 Malatestino of Rimini, to acquire Fano for himself, invited Angiolello da Carignano and Guido del Cassero, two of the town’s leaders, to meet him at La Cattolica, a cape between the two towns, and had them drowned off the headland of Focara. The city (ll. 85 and 93) is Rimini.









97 Curio is said by the Roman poet Lucan to have urged Caesar to cross the Rubicon, declaring war on the Republic in 49 B.C. The spot is near Rimini.





106 Mosca dei Lamberti suggested that one of the Buondelmonti be murdered rather than beaten; the act resulted in the strife between Ghibellines and Guelphs. See Paradiso XVI, l. 135, and note.





118 The headless body is that of Bertran de Born (1140-1215), a knight and Provenšal troubadour, who was believed to have instigated a quarrel between Henry II of England and his son.











137 Achitophel supported Absalom in his rebellion against his father King David (2 Samuel 15-17).

          Who could ever, even in straight prose
          And after much retelling, tell in full
          The bloodletting and wounds that I now saw?
          Each tongue that tried would certainly trip up
5         Because our speaking and remembering
          Cannot comprehend the scope of pain.
          Were all those men gathered again together
          Who once in the fateful land of Apulia
          Mourned the lifeblood spilled by the Trojans,
10       And those who shed their blood in the long war
          In which the spoils were a mound of golden rings,
          As Livy has unerringly informed us,
          And those also who felt the painful gashes
          In the onslaught against Robert Guiscard,
15       And those others whose bones are still stacked up
          At Ceperano where all the Apulians
          Turned traitors, and those too from Tagliacozzo
          Where old Alardo conquered without weapons,
          And those who show their limbs run through and those
20       With limbs hacked off — they all could not have matched
          The ninth pocket’s degraded state of grief.
          Even a cask with bottom or sides knocked out
          Never cracked so wide as one soul I saw
          Burst open from the chin to where one farts.
25       His guts were hanging out between his legs;
          His pluck gaped forth and that disgusting sack
          Which turns to shit what throats have gobbled down.
          While I was all agog with gazing at him,
          He stared at me and, as his two hands pulled
30       His chest apart, cried, "Look how I rip myself!
          "Look at how mangled is Mohammed here!
          In front of me, Ali treks onward, weeping,
          His face cleft from his chin to his forelock.
          "And all the others whom you see down here
35       Were sowers of scandal and schism while
          They lived, and for this they are rent in two.
          "A devil goes in back here who dresses us
          So cruelly by trimming each one of the pack
          With the fine cutting edge of his sharp sword
40       "Whenever we come round this forlorn road:
          Because by then our old wounds have closed up
          Before we pass once more for the next blow.
          "But who are you, moping upon that ridge
          Perhaps to put off facing the penalty
45       Pronounced on you by your own accusations?"
          "Death has not yet reached him, nor guilt led him
          To the torture here," — my master answered,
          "But, to offer him the full experience,
          "I who am dead am destined to guide him
50       From circle to circle down here into hell,
          And, as surely as I speak to you, it’s true."
          More than a hundred, when they heard him, halted
          Inside the ditch to peer at me in wonder,
          Forgetting their torments for the moment.
55       "Tell Brother Dolcino then, you who perhaps
          Shortly shall see the sun, to arm himself
          With food — unless he wants to follow me
          "Here promptly — so that the weight of snow
          Does not bring victory to the Novarese
60       Who otherwise would not find winning easy."
          With one foot lifted in the air to go,
          Mohammed addressed these words to me,
          Then set the foot back on the ground and left.
          Another sinner with his throat lanced through
65       And with his nose carved off up to the eyebrows
          And with only a single ear remaining
          Stopped with the rest to stare in amazement,
          And, before they could, he opened wide his windpipe,
          Which on the outside looked bright red, and said,
70       "O you whom guilt does not condemn and whom
          I have seen in the land of Italy,
          Unless a strong resemblance now deceives me,
          "Remember Pier da Medicina should you
          Ever return to view the gentle plain
75       Which slopes from Vercelli to Marcab˛,
          "And make known to the two best men of Fano,
          To Messers Guido and Angiolello,
          That, unless our foresight here be worthless,
          "They shall be thrown overboard from their ship
80       And sunk with stones near La Cattolica
          Through the treachery of a felon tyrant.
          "Between the islands of Cyprus and Majorca
          Neptune never saw a crime more heinous
          By raiding pirates or the ancient Argives.
85      "That one-eyed traitor — who rules over the city
          On which someone here with me would prefer
          That he had never fed his single sight —
          "Shall first arrange for them a parley with him,
          Then act to make sure that they will not need
90       Vows or prayers against Focara’s headwinds."
          And I told him, "If you want me to carry
          News of you above, point out and tell me
          Who is the one who rues sighting the city?"
          At that he gripped a hand upon the jaw
95       Of his companion and forced his mouth agape,
          Shouting, "Here’s the one, but he doesn’t talk!
          "This chap in exile submerged all the doubts
          Of Caesar, boasting that one well prepared
          Can only suffer loss by hesitation."
100      Oh how flabbergasted he appeared to me,
          With his tongue slashed in his throat — Curio,
          Who once had been so resolute in speaking!
          And one who had both of his hands chopped off,
          Raising up his stumps in the smut-filled air
105     So that the blood besmeared and soiled his face,
          Cried out, "You will also remember Mosca
          Who said, alas, ‘What’s done is dead and gone!’
          That sowed the seed of trouble for the Tuscans!"
          And I added, "— and for your kinsfolk, death!"
110     With that the sinner, sorrow heaped on sorrow,
          Scurried away like one gone mad with grief.
          But I stayed there to inspect that muster
          And spied something that I should be afraid
          To tell of on my own without more proof,
115      Had I not the assurance of my conscience,
          The good companion heartening a man
          Beneath the breastplate of its pure intention.
          I saw for sure — and still I seem to see it —
          A body without a head that walked along
120     Just as the others in that sad herd were walking,
          But it held the severed head by the hair,
          Swinging it like a lantern in its hand,
          And the head stared at us and said, "Ah me!"
          Itself had made a lamp of its own self,
125     And they were two in one and one in two:
          How can that be? He knows who so ordains it.
          When it was right at the base of the bridge,
          It raised up full length the arm with the head
          To carry closer to us words, which were:
130      "Now you see the galling punishment,
          You there, breathing, come visiting the dead:
          See if you find pain heavier than this!
          "And so that you may bring back news of me,
          Know that I am Bertran de Born, the one
135     Who offered the young king corrupt advice.
          "I made the son and father rebel foes.
          Achitophel with his pernicious promptings
          Did no worse harm to Absalom and David.
          "Because I severed persons bound so closely,
140      I carry my brain separate (what grief!)
          From its life-source which is within this trunk.
          "So see in me the counterstroke of justice."
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