Inferno -- Canto XXX

Master Adam and Sinon



1 Juno often took revenge on the mortal women seduced by Jove. Semele, daughter of Cadmus, was struck by lightning and her brother-in-law, King Athamas went insane, killing his son Learchus and driving his wife Ino into drowning herself and their other son Melicertes (Metamorphoses III, 259-309; IV, 512-530).




16 Hecuba, wife of King Priam, after the fall of Troy was forced to see her daughter Polyxena slain in sacrifice and find her son Polydorus dead on the beach of Thrace (Metamorphoses XIII, 404-571).









31 The Aretine is Griffolino da Arezzo again.

32 Gianni Schicchi, a mimic and member of the Cavalcanti clan, posed as the dying Buoso Donati — who was already dead — and made a new last will to benefit the heir and himself (with a prize mare, l. 43).

38 Myrrha is with the falsifiers of the tenth pocket for tricking her father, King Cinyras of Cyprus, into sleeping with her (Metamorphoses X, 298-513}.













61 Master Adam, most likely an Englishman, was in the employ of the Conti Guidi of Romena, and coined debased florins for them. He was burned at Florence in 1281.












82 According to estimates, given the circumference of the eighth circle at this point to be eleven miles, at the rate of one inch per hundred years, it would take Master Adam 700,000 years to get to his nemesis.







97 Potiphar’s wife falsely charged Joseph (Genesis 39:6-23).

98 Sinon, a Greek, convinced the Trojans to accept the horse as a gift (Aeneid II, 57-194).


















128 Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in the water.

          At the time when Juno waxed so wrathful
          Over Semele, against the Theban bloodline,
          That again and again she showed her fury,
          She drove Athamas to such a fit of madness
5         That, on seeing his wife with their two sons
          Whom she carried one on each arm, he cried,
          "Let’s spread the nets out so that we can catch
          The lioness and cubs as they pass by!"
          And then he stretched out his clawed ruthless hands
10       And, snatching up the son named Learchus,
          Swung him around and dashed him on a rock.
          She, with her other child, drowned herself.
          And after Fortune wheeled down to the ground
15       The all-daring pride of Troy, so that the king,
          Along with his kingdom, was devastated,
          Hecuba, depressed, bereft, and captive,
          After she had seen Polyxena slain
          And, to her grief, her Polydorus cast up
20       On the shore of the sea, out of her senses,
          Barked like a dog, so profoundly had
          Her sorrow twisted this poor mother’s mind.
          But neither the Theban nor the Trojan wrath
          In ripping animals and human limbs
          Was ever seen so cruel against another
25       As the two shadows I saw, stripped and pallid,
          Biting and running in the selfsame way
          A hog behaves when let out of the sty.
          One came straight at Capocchio and sank
          His tusks into his scruff and, dragging him,
30       Scraped his stomach against the stony floor.
          And the one left behind, the Aretine,
          Shivering said, "That ghoul is Gianni Schicchi,
          And he goes rabid, like that, mauling others."
          "Oh," I said to him, "so may the other shade
35       Never sink teeth in you, kindly tell me
          Who that one is before it rushes off."
          And he told me, "That is the ancient spirit
          Of Myrrha, the debased soul, who became,
          Outside of rightful love, her father’s friend.
40       "In this fashion she came to sin with him,
          Pretending that her body was someone else’s,
          Just as the other ghoul who runs off there,
          "That he might win the lady of the herd,
          Disguised himself as Buoso Donati,
45       Writing a will to make the whole sham legal."
          And when that raging pair had scurried off —
          I’d kept my eyes glued on them long enough —
          I turned to watch the rest of the ill-bred crew.
          I saw one sinner there shaped like a lute
50       If only he’d been cut off below the belt
          At the groin where the body forks in two.
          The bloating dropsy which can so mismatch
          The limbs with its ill-digested fluids
          That face and paunch are all out of proportion
55       Forced him to hold his lips out far apart,
          Like the feverish man who in his thirst
          Curls one lip down and curls the other up.
          "O you who are free of all punishment
          In this harsh wretched world — I don’t know why—"
60       He called out to us, "look and pay attention
          "To the miserableness of Master Adam.
          I had in life all that I ever wanted
          And now, poor wretch, I long for a drop of water.
          "The streamlets flowing from the greening hills
65       Of Casentino down into the Arno,
          Creating cool and moistening currents,
          "Forever rise before me — I have no rest —
          The image of the streams makes me thirst more
          Than the malady that thins out my face.
70       "The stern Justice which torments me here
          Uses the landscape in which my sins occurred
          To hasten the swift flight of my deep sighs.
          "There is Romena, where I counterfeited
          The currency stamped with the Baptist’s head.
75       For this I left my body up there, burned.
          "But if I here could see the stricken souls
          Of Guido, Alexander, or their brother,
          I would not change the view for Branda’s fountain.
          "One’s here inside already, if what the raging
80       Shades who race around report is true.
          But what good does that do me: my limbs are tied.
          "If only I were lighter, so I could
          Advance one inch in every hundred years,
          I should by now have set out on the road
85       "To search for him among these deformed people,
          Although the road runs some eleven miles
          Around and more than half a mile across.
          "It’s thanks to them that I am in this family:
          The three persuaded me to coin the florins
90      With gold which had three carats of alloy."
          And I inquired, "Who are those two drudges,
          Steaming like wet hands in wintertime?
          They lie close to you on your right-hand side."
          "I found them here when I rained into this gorge,"
95       He answered, "and they have not stirred since,
          And I believe that they will never budge.
          "She is the wife who falsely accused Joseph,
          The other is false Sinon, the Greek from Troy.
          Their burning fever makes their bodies reek."
100      And one of them, appearing to take offense,
          Perhaps at being named so negatively,
          Punched his fist at Adam’s stretched-out paunch.
          The paunch reverberated like a drum,
          And Master Adam smashed him in the face
105     With a hook just as hard, telling him,
          "I may be kept from moving by the weight
          Of these swollen limbs, but I have an arm
          Free and cocked to serve for such occasions!"
          To this the other answered, "When you marched
110     To the fire, it wasn’t so ready then:
          But it was plenty ready when you coined!"
          And the one with dropsy: "That’s telling the truth!
          But you were no such witness to the truth
          There, when asked to tell the truth at Troy!"
115     "If I spoke false, you falsified the coins,"
          Said Sinon, "And I am here for one crime,
          But you for more than any other devil."
          "Just recall the horse, you perjurer,"
          The one with the bloated belly replied,
120     "And suffer, since the whole world knows of it!"
          "And thirst that cracks your tongue torture you,"
          Cried back the Greek, "and the foul bilge swell up
          Your guts to hedge-size right before your eyes!"
          Then the coiner: "So your mouth pops wide,
125      Feverish with filth as usual;
          But if I’m thirsty and fluids bulge me out,
          "You’ve gotten burning heat and an aching head!
          For you to lap up the mirror of Narcissus
          You wouldn’t need a lot of words of coaxing!"
130     I was all involved in listening to them
          When my master said, "Now keep on looking
          A little longer and I’ll quarrel with you!"
          When I heard him speak to me in anger,
          I turned toward him with such a rush of shame
135     That still it churns round in my memory.
          Like someone dreaming that he is in danger
          And in his dream he wishes he were dreaming,
          Desiring what really is as though it were not,
140      So I acted, unable to say a word:
          I wanted to ask pardon and did ask
          Pardon meanwhile, not thinking that I did.
          "Less shame would wash away a graver fault
          Than yours has been," my master said to me;
145     "Therefore, rid yourself of all regret.
          "If ever again fortune should find you
          Where people loiter for such wrangling,
          Then realize that always I am with you:
          "To choose to hear such barbs is a base choice."
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