Lucifer, Judecca



1 Vexilla regis prodeunt inferni: the opening line, quoted in Latin by Dante, is a slightly parodied version of a sixth-century hymn by Fortunatus. The pilgrims reach the fourth zone of Cocytus which is called Judecca (l. 117) for the traitor Judas.








20 Dis is another name that Dante uses for Lucifer. He is also addressed as Satan in l. 73.








34 Lucifer (a word derived from Latin, meaning "bearer of light") was beautiful before he rebelled against God.

















61 The sinners in the three mouths of Lucifer are Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Christ,center, and  Brutus and Cassius (ll. 65-67), left, who conspired to assassinate Julius Caesar.

67 Cassius looks brawny because, with his skin chewed away, the muscles are exposed.

68 It is the evening of Holy Saturday. When the poet passes the center point of the earth, it will be twelve hours earlier (l. 96).





























112 Lucifer fell headfirst from heaven through the southern hemisphere. All the land on that side of the globe rushed to the north, except for a mound caused by the impact of his fall: the Mount of Purgatory.









130 The stream of Lethe runs down from the Garden of Paradise on the top of purgatory.

         "‘The Banners of the King of Hell Advance’
          Closer to us," my master said; "so look
          Straight ahead and see if you can spot them."
          Just as when a thick fog starts to settle
5        Or when evening darkens all our hemisphere,
          Far-off a windmill appears to be rotating,
          So I thought I saw such a structure there.
          Then out of the wind I stepped back behind
          My guide, because there was no other shelter.
10       I was now — and with fear I set it down
          In verse — where the shades were wholly sealed
          And yet showed through below like straws in glass.
          Some of them lie flat, some stand upright,
          One on his head and one upon his soles;
15       Another, like a bow, bends face to foot.
          When we had made our way so far forward
          That my master sensed it time to show me
          The creature who was once so beautiful,
          He took a step aside and made me stop;
20       "Look at Dis," he said, "look at the place
          Where you must arm yourself with steadfastness."
          How faint and frozen, reader, I grew then
          Do not inquire: I shall not write it down,
          Since all my words would be too few and weak.
25       I did not die and still I did not live.
          Think for yourself — should you possess the talent —
          What I became, robbed of both life and death!
          The emperor of the kingdom of despair
          Rose up from mid-chest out of the sheer ice;
30       And I come closer to a giant’s height
          Than giants match the size of his huge arms:
          See now how large the whole of him must be
          If it’s proportionate to that one part!
          Were he once as beautiful as now he’s ugly
35        (And yet he raised his fist against his Maker!)
          Well may all our grief come down from him!
          Oh how much wonder was it for me when
          I saw that on his head he had three faces:
          One in front — and it was fiery red —
40       And two others, which joined onto this one
          Above the center of his shoulder blades,
          And all three came together at his crown.
          The right face seemed halfway white and yellow
          While the left one looked the color of the race
45       That lives close to the source of the Nile.
          Beneath each face there sprouted two large wings,
          Suitably massive for such a bird of prey:
          I never sighted sails so broad at sea.
          They had no feathers but looked just like a bat’s,
50       And he kept flapping these wings up and down
          So that three winds moved out from in around him:
          This was the cause Cocytus was all iced.
          With six eyes he wept, and from his three chins
          Dripped down the teardrops and a bloody froth.
55      In each mouth he mashed up a separate sinner
          With his sharp teeth, as if they were a grinder,
          And in this way he put the three through torture.
          For the one in front, the biting was as nothing
          Compared to the clawing, for at times his back
60       Remained completely stripped bare of its skin.
          "That soul up there who suffers the worst pain,"
          My master said, "is Judas Iscariot —
          His head within, he kicks his legs outside.
          "Of those other two, with their heads hung down,
65       The one who hangs from the black snout is Brutus:
          Look how he writhes and mutters not a word!
          "That other one is Cassius, who seems brawny.
          But nightfall rises once again, and we now
          Must take our leave, since we have seen the whole."
70       As he requested, I held him round the neck,
          And then he waited the right time and place,
          And when the wings spread open wide enough
          He caught firm hold of Satan’s shaggy flanks.
          Downward from shock to shock he climbed below
75       Between the matted hair and frozen crust.
          When we were at the point at which the thigh
          Revolves, right where the hip widens out,
          My guide, by straining and agonizing effort,
          Turned his head round to where his legs had been
80       And grabbed the hair, like a man climbing up,
          So that I thought we’d headed back to hell!
          "Hold tight! these are the only stairs to take us
          Out of this sin-filled hole," said my master,
          Panting, like a man worn out, for breath.
85       Then he squeezed through the crevice of a rock
          And raised me up onto its rim to sit,
          And afterward reached me with one wary step.
          I lifted up my eyes, thinking I’d see
          Lucifer as I had left him — instead
90       I found him with his legs suspended upward!
          And if at that time I became confused
          Let dull minds judge: those who do not see
          What point it was that I must just have passed.
          "Stand up!" my master said, "Up on your feet!
95       The way is long and the path strenuous.
          The sun once more turns back to middle tierce."
          It was no palace hall, the place where we
          Had come, but a natural stone cavern
          With scanty lighting and a treacherous floor.
100      "Before we uproot ourselves from this abyss,
          My master," said I when I stood up straight,
          "Talk to me a bit to clear my error:
          "Where is the ice? And how can he be fixed
          Upside-down like that? And how in so short time
105      Has the sun moved from dusk to morning?"
          And he told me, "You picture yourself still
          On the other side of center where I caught
          The hair of the vile worm that pierced the earth.
          "You were there as long as I climbed downward.
110      When I turned myself round you passed the point
          To which all weight on every side pulls down.
          "And now you come under the hemisphere
          Opposite that which domes the vast dry land:
          There, beneath its pinnacle of sky,
115      "The Man, sinless in birth and life, was slain.
          Your feet stand on a little sphere, a spot
          That marks the other side of Judecca.
          "Here it is morning when it is evening there,
          And he whose hair supplied our ladder down
120      Is still stuck fast, as he was from the first.
          "He fell down straight from heaven on this side,
          And the land, which once had bulged out here,
          In fright at his fall cloaked itself with sea
          "And rushed up toward our hemisphere; perhaps,
125      What you see on this side, to flee from him,
          Left this space vacant here and spurted upward.
          "Below, as far away from Beelzebub
          As the limit of his tomb, there is a place
          Which is known not by sight but by the sound
130      "Of a small stream that courses down this way
          Along the hollow of a rock it wore
          Away with winding flow and trickling fall."
          Along that hidden path my guide and I
          Started out to return to the bright world.
135      And without a thought for any resting-stops,
          We bounded up, he first and I second,
          Until, through a round opening, I saw
          Some of the lovely things the heavens hold:
          From there we came out to see once more the stars.
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