Inferno -- Canto XXXI

The Giants and the Pit of Cocytus

 

Notes

 

4 Achilles’ lance, given him by his father Peleus, had the power to heal the wounds it inflicted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

16  Roland, nephew of Charlemagne, commanded the army’s rear-guard which the Moors attacked at Roncevalles in the Pyrenees. As told in the Song of Roland he delayed signaling for help by blowing his horn, and he and his men were slain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

31 The origin of Dante's Giants can be traced in both mythological and biblical traditions.

 

 

 

 

 

41 Montereggion, a castle near Siena, originally had fourteen towers around its walls.

44 Jove conquered the rebellious Titans with his thunderbolts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

67 Nimrod speaks gibberish.

 

 

 

 

 

77 Nimrod was commonly credited with building the Tower of Babel (Genesis 10: 8-10, 11:1-9), which was the cause for the different languages among people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

94 Ephialtes, with his brother Otus, attempted to overthrow the gods on Mount Olympus; he piled up mountains to ascend there.

99 Briareus and Antaeus were sons of Tellus (the Earth).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

123 Cocytus is the ninth circle of hell.

124 Tityus and Typhon are other Titans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

136 The leaning tower of Garisenda still stands in Bologna.

          The same tongue which had first so stung me
          That it made the blood rush to both my cheeks
          Then delivered the antidote to me.
 
          So I have heard the lance that Achilles
5        Had from his father used to be the cause
          First of a hurtful, then of a healing, stroke.
 
          We turned our backs upon the woeful pit,
          Climbing up the bank that rings it round
          And crossing it without a word between us.
 
10       Here it was less than night and less than day,
          So that my sight could scarcely press ahead —
          But then I heard so loud a bugle blast
 
          It would have made a thunderclap sound faint.
          At this, my eyes, following their way backward,
15       Drew their full focus straight to a single spot.
 
          After the heartbreaking debacle, when
          Charlemagne had lost his sacred rearguard,
          The horn of Roland sounded less foreboding.
 
          To that spot I had briefly turned my head
20       When I seemed to see high serried towers.
          "Tell me, master," I asked, "what city is this?"
 
          And he replied, "Because you penetrate
          Into the darkness from too far away,
          Your imagination strays into confusion.
 
25       "When you reach there, then you shall clearly see
          How much the distance has deceived your senses:
          For that reason, spur yourself on faster,"
 
          Then lovingly he took me by the hand
         And said, "Before we move any farther forward,
30      That the reality may seem less strange,
 
          "Know this: they are not towers, they are giants!
          And all of them around the steep embankment
          Are plunged up to their navels in the well."
 
          Just as, when foggy mist is blowing off,
35       The staring eyes bit by bit figure out
          What it is the airy vapors hide,
 
          So, while I pierced the thick dark atmosphere
          And came up closer and closer to the brink,
          Error fled from me and fear grew stronger.
 
40       For, as upon its rounded rampart wall
          Montereggion is crowned with towers,
          So here these huge horrendous giants, whom Jove
 
          Still threatens from heaven when he thunders,
          With half their bodies towered high above
45       The bank that winds around the sunken hole.
 
          And by now I’d made out the face of one,
          His shoulders and chest, much of his stomach,
          And, down along his sides, both of his arms.
 
          Nature surely, when she quit the art
50       Of shaping brutes like these, did the right thing
          To rob Mars of such executioners.
 
          And even though she has not yet repented
          Of elephants and whales, he who looks wisely
          Will hold that here she is more just and prudent,
 
55       Since where the reasoning faculty of the mind
          Is joined to evil will and naked power,
          Then people can find no defense against it.
 
          His face appeared to me as long and broad
          As is the pine cone at Saint Peter’s in Rome,
60       And all his other bones were in proportion,
 
          So that the bank, which acted as an apron
          From the middle downward, revealed in full
          So much of him above that three Frieslanders
 
          Would boast in vain of reaching to his hair,
65       For I viewed thirty spans of him down from
          The place a person buckles up his cloak.
 
          "Raphel mai amecche zabi almi!"
          He began babbling with his beastly mouth
          For which no sweeter psalm was better suited.
 
70       And my guide turned toward him, "You stupid soul,
          Stick to your horn and vent yourself with that
          Whenever rage or other passions grip you!
 
          "Grope at your neck and you will find the strap
          That holds your horn on tight, you scatterbrain,
75       And look at where it rests on your large chest!"
 
          Then he told me, "He stands there self-accused:
          This is Nimrod, by whose bad idea
          The world no longer uses just one language.
 
          "Leave him there and we won’t lose time in talk,
80       For every language is the same to him
          As is his to others: all are unknown tongues."
 
          After that we took up our long journey,
          Turning leftward, and at a bowshot’s distance,
          We found one more far fiercer, larger giant.
 
85       Who might the master be who tied him up
          I cannot say, but someone there had pinned
          His left arm to his back, his right in front,
 
          Both shackled by a chain which held him bound
          From the neck down, and on the part exposed
90       It looped five times down around his torso.
 
          "This proud giant wished to test his prowess
          Against the power of the most high Jove,"
          My guide told me; "this is the prize he won!
 
          "His name is Ephialtes. He proved his huge
95       Strength when the giants struck fear in the gods.
          The arms he used, he shall not move again."
 
          And I told him, "If possible, I’d like
          My own eyes to have the experience
          Of that prodigious hulk Briareus."
 
100     To this he answered, "Near here you shall see
          Antaeus, who can talk and goes unfettered:
          He’ll place us on the bottom pit of sin.
 
          "The one you want to see lies farther off,
          And he is chained and shaped like this one here
105      Except his looks are even more ferocious."
 
          No shock of earthquake ever shook a tower
          With greater violence than did Ephialtes
          All of a sudden shake himself with rage.
 
          Then more than ever did I fear to die,
110     And the fear might have been enough to do it
          If I had not already spied his shackles.
 
          We left him to continue on our way,
          And came to Antaeus, who rose five ells,
          Not reckoning his head, above the rockbed.
 
115     "O you — who, in that fortunate valley
          Where Scipio became the heir of glory
          When Hannibal withdrew with all his men,
 
          "Took once a thousand lions as your prey
          And, if you had been with your brothers there
120      In their high war, as seems some still believe,
 
          "The sons of earth would have won victory —
          Set us down below, where cold locks in
          Cocytus, and do not disdain to do it!
 
          "Force us not to go to Tityus or Typhon:
125     This man can grant you what they long for here;
          And so bend down and do not curl your lip.
 
          "He still can make you famous in the world,
          For he lives, and looks forward to long life,
          Unless grace calls him back before his time."
 
130      So spoke my master, and in haste the giant
          Stretched out his hands, whose tremendous grip
          Hercules once felt, and clasped my guide.
 
          Virgil, when he felt hands grasping him,
          Called to me, "Come here, so I can hold you!"
135     And then he made himself and me one bundle.
 
          As the Garisenda tower appears to look
          From under its leaning side when clouds pass over
          On the opposite direction it hangs in,
 
          So Antaeus looked to me while I watched
140     Him bending over, and at such a moment
          I wished that I had gone some other way.
 
          But gently at that bottom which swallows
          Lucifer with Judas, he put us down
          And did not stay bent over us for long,
 
145     But rose up like the mainmast of a ship.
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