Inferno -- Canto XXIX

Falsifiers

 

Notes

 

 

 

 

 

10 The moon is at the antipodes of Jerusalem (beneath our feet). Since hell is below Jerusalem, and the moon is on the other side, it makes one hour past noon, Italy’s time. This means that Dante has been traveling for about 18 hours, and six hours remain before the journey through hell is over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

27 Geri del Bello was a first cousin of Dante’s father. Since he was slain in a feud, the family is called to revenge his death.

29 Hautefort was Bertran de Born’s castle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

46 Valdichiana, Maremma, and Sardinia were considered breeding places for malaria and other diseases.

 

 

 

 

 

 

59  Aegina, a nymph of that island, angered Juno who sent a plague there, killing everyone except Aeacus, who prayed Jove to change ants to men (Metamorphoses VII, 523-657).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

109  Griffolino da Arezzo was said to have duped Alberto da Siena into paying him for flying lessons. The bishop (rumored to be Alberto’s father) had Griffolino burned at the stake for black magic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

125 The speaker is Capocchio, who was burned at Siena in 1293 for practicing alchemy. He names several members of the "Spendthrifts’ Club" of Siena, a group well known for its foolish extravagance.

          The swarms of people and the sweep of wounds
          Had left my eyes so blind drunk with their tears
          That still they ached to linger on and weep.
 
          But Virgil said to me, "Why do you stare?
5         Why does your vision wallow down there yet
          Among those dismal, mutilated shadows?
 
          "At the other pockets you did not do so:
          Consider, if you could count all of them,
          Twenty-two miles the valley loops around.
 
10       "The moon already is beneath our feet:
The time that’s now allotted us is short
And you have more to see than you see here."
 
          "Had you observed," I right away replied,
          "The reason why I have been staring so,
15        Perhaps you would have let me stay here longer."
 
          Meantime my guide had started off, and I
          Walked on behind him, answering as I went,
          And adding, "Deep within that cavern there
 
          "On which just now I held my eyes so fixed,
20       I think the spirit of my own blood relation
          Weeps for the guilt that down here costs so dear."
 
          At this my master said, "Do not distract
          Yourself with thoughts about him in the future;
          Attend to other things and leave him there:
 
25       "For I saw him at the foot of the small bridge
          Pointing a menacing finger at you, boldly,
          And heard his name called out, Geri del Bello.
 
          "You at the time were so all taken up
          With the headless one who once held Hautefort,
30       You did not look down there, and he departed."
 
          "Oh my leader, it was his violent death
          Which has yet to be avenged," I answered,
          "By anyone of us who share his shame
 
          "That stirred his indignation, for this he left
35       Without a word — such is my own opinion —
          And for this he made me pity him the more."
 
          So we conversed, up to the first spot on
          The ridge with open view to the next valley
          And, had there been more light, right to the bottom.
 
40      When we had come above the final cloister
          Of Malebolge so that we could observe
          Before our eyes the congregated brethren,
 
          I was assaulted by weird volleying cries,
          Their shafts tipped with pathos, and at the noise
45       I covered both my ears with my two hands.
 
          What the suffering would be if all the sick
          In hospitals at Valdichiana, Maremma,
          And Sardinia, from July to September,
 
          Were thrown down altogether in one ditch,
50       Such was it there and such a stench surged up
          As usually comes from putrefying limbs.
 
          We climbed on downward to the final bank
          Of the long ridge by always keeping left,
          And then my eyes descried a clearer vista
 
55       Toward the bottom, where the emissary
          Of the high Lord, unerring justice, chastens
          The falsifiers registered on earth.
 
          I do not think the grief could have been greater
          To see the people in Aegina all diseased —
60       When the air was so infested with the plague
 
          That every animal, down to the smallest worm,
          Sickened and died, and later the ancient peoples
          (Poets record it as a certainty)
 
          Were born again from the progeny of ants —
65       Than was my grief to see, through that dark valley,
          The spirits languishing in scattered stacks.
 
          Some lay on their stomachs, some on the shoulders
          Of another sinner, some hauled themselves
          On hands and knees along the careworn roadway.
 
70       Step by step we tread on without talking,
          Watching and listening to the infirm souls
          Too weak to raise their bodies from the ground.
 
          I saw two seated, propped against each other,
          As pan on pan is propped to keep them hot,
75       And pocked, each one, from head to foot with scabs.
 
          And I have never seen a stableboy
          Comb a horse more quickly when his master
          Awaits him or he reluctantly stays up
 
          Then I saw these two scratch themselves with nails
80       Over and over because of the burning rage
          Of the fierce itching which nothing could relieve.
 
          The way their nails scraped down upon the scabs
          Was like a knife scraping off scales from carp
          Or some other sort of fish with larger scales.
 
85       "O you there tearing at your mail of scabs
          And even turning your fingers into pincers,"
          My guide began addressing one of them,
 
          "Tell us are there Italians among the souls
          Down in this hole and I’ll pray that your nails
90       Will last you in this task eternally."
 
          "We are both Italians whom you see
          So disfigured here," one replied in tears,
          "But who are you who ask this question of us?"
 
          And my guide said, "I am one climbing down
95       From ledge to ledge with this living man
          Whom I intend to show the whole of hell."
 
          At this the support they gave one another
          Broke and, shaking, each turned himself to me,
          And others who had overheard turned also.
 
100      My kindly master drew all close to me,
          Saying, "Now tell them what you want to know."
          And just as he wished, I began to speak:
 
          "So that your memory may not fade away
          In the first world from among the minds of men
105     But that it may live on under countless suns,
 
          "Tell me who you are and who your people are:
          Don’t let your ugly and loathsome torture
          Frighten you from baring your souls to me."
 
          "I was from Arezzo," one of them answered,
110      "And Albero of Siena had me burned;
          But what I died for does not bring me here.
 
          "It’s true I told him — I said it as a joke —
          ‘I’m smart enough to fly up through the air,’
          And he, all hankering and little sense,
 
115      "Begged me to show the art to him and, just
          Because I didn’t make him Daedalus,
          Had his church-father put me to the stake.
 
          "But here to the tenth and final pocket
          For the alchemy I practiced in the world
120     Minos who can never err condemned me."
 
          And I said to the poet, "Now were there ever
          People so flighty as the Sienese?
          Certainly the French cannot come close!"
 
          At this the other leper, who had heard me,
125      Jibed in reply, "There are, of course, exceptions:
          Stricca, who knew so much of frugal spending,
 
          "And Niccolò, the one who first discovered
          Costly uses for the clove in those gardens
          Wherein such seeds can rapidly take root,
 
130      "And Caccia d’Asciano’s associates,
          With whom he squandered vineyards and vast lands,
          While Abbagliato flashed his brilliant wit!
 
          "But should you want to know who seconds you
          Against the Sienese, direct your eyes to me
135      So that my face can give you a clear answer:
 
          "See, I am the shade of Capocchio
          Who falsified base metals through alchemy
          And, if I read you rightly, you recall
 
          "How fine an ape of nature I have been."
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