Inferno -- Canto IX

The City of Dis

 

Notes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

23 Erichtho, a sorceress, conjured up souls from the dead.

 

 

26 The zone of Judas in the fourth section of the ninth circle (see Canto XXXIV).

 

 

 

 

 

38 The three Furies of Queen Hecate torment those who break divine laws in classical myth. Medusa, the Gorgon, turns people who look at her to stone (l. 52).

 

 

46-48 Megaera, Alecto, and Tisiphone, the names of the three Furies, in Greek mean respectively, Enemy, She Who Does not Sleep, and Avenger of Homicides.

 

 

54 Theseus attempted to abduct Proserpine or Hecate, but was caught. Hercules rescued him from hell, dragging Cerberus (l. 98) along by his necks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

80 The angel, God's messenger, comes to the rescue of the wayfarers. The journey is beyond their power, but it is willed by God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

112 Arles, in French Provence, contains the cemetery of Aliscamps, still covered with tombs.

          That color cowardice painted on my face,
          When I had seen my leader turned around,
          More quickly caused him to repress his pallor.
 
          Attentive he halted, like a man listening,
5        Because his eyes could not lead him on farther
          Through the blackening air and thickening fog.
 
          "Yet we must overcome and win this fight —"
          He began, "if not — so much offered us —
          How long it seems before somebody comes!"
 
10       I saw quite clearly how he covered up
          What he began to say with what then followed:
          His last words were so different from his first.
 
          Nevertheless, his speech made me afraid
          Because I drew out from his broken phrases
15       A meaning worse perhaps than what they had.
 
          "Down to the bottom of this sorry pit
          Do any ever climb from the first level
          Where the only punishment is severed hope?"
 
          This question I put to him; he replied,
20      "Rarely it happens that any one of us
          Makes the journey I am making now.
 
          "True, once before I was here below,
          Conjured by that heartless Erichtho
          Who summoned shades back to their own bodies.
 
          "Shortly after I’d been stripped of flesh
25       She made me enter inside that same wall
          To draw a soul back from the zone of Judas.
 
          "That place is the lowest and the darkest
          And the farthest from all-encircling heaven.
30       I know the pathway well, so rest assured.
 
          "The marshland that breathes out a monstrous stench
          Girdles all about the tear-racked city
          Where now we cannot enter without wrath."
 
          And more he said, but it escapes my mind
35       For my eye had completely drawn me upward
          To the high tower with the flame-tipped top
 
          Where at one spot there straightaway stood up
          Three infernal Furies stained with blood,
          Their bodies and behavior that of women.
 
40       Their waists were cinctured with green hydras;
          For hair they had horned snakes and poison adders
          With which their savage temples were enwreathed.
 
          And clearly recognizing the handmaidens
          Of the Queen of unending mournfulness,
45       He said to me, "Look at the fierce Erinyes:
 
          "That one there on the left is Megaera,
          And on the right is Alecto, wailing;
          Tisiphone is in the middle." He ceased.
 
          With her nails each one tore at her own breasts,
50       Thrashed with her hands, and shouted out so loud
          That in dread I drew closer to the poet.
 
          "Bring on Medusa! We’ll turn him to stone!"
          They all screeched out together, staring down;
          "We will revenge the raid of Theseus!"
 
55       "Turn your back now and keep your eyes shut tight,
          For should the Gorgon come and you see her
          You would not return to the world above."
 
          So spoke my master. He himself turned me
          Around and, not relying on my hands,
60       Covered my face as well with his own palms.
 
          O you possessing sound intelligence,
          Study well the doctrine which lies hidden
          Under the veil of my unusual verse!
 
          For now there came upon the muddy waves
65       A blasting sound, a fear-inspiring roar,
          Causing both sides of the shore to tremble:
 
          Not unlike the blast made by the wind,
          Turbulent from changing temperatures,
          Which strikes the forest and without check
 
70       Breaks and knocks down boughs, blows them away,
          Sweeping on proudly with a cloud of dust
          And chasing off shepherds and wild animals.
 
          He freed my eyes and told me, "Now direct
          Your eyesight straight into that ancient scum,
75       Right there to where the fog is hanging thickest."
 
          Just as the frogs before their enemy
          The snake all disappear into the water
          Until each one squats down upon the bottom,
 
          I saw more than a thousand wasted souls
80       Fleeing from the path of one who strode
          Dry-shod above the waters of the Styx.
 
          Often he brushed the foul air from his face,
          Rhythmically moving his left hand out in front,
          And only with that bother appeared weary.
 
85       Easily I knew that he was sent from heaven,
          And I turned to my master, but he signaled
          That I stay still and bow down there to him.
 
          Ah how full of deep disdain he seemed to me!
          He then approached the gate, and with a wand
90       He opened it without the least resistance.
 
          "O outcasts from heaven, detested race,"
          He now began upon the horrid threshold,
          "Why is this insolence so settled in you?
 
          "Why are you opponents to that Will
95       Which cannot be dissevered from its end
          And which has often swelled your sufferings?
 
          "What good is it to butt against the Fates?
          Your Cerberus, as you should well recall,
          For just that had his chin and gullet peeled!"
 
100     Then he turned back along the filthy road
          Without a word to us, but with the look
          Of someone pressed and spurred by other cares
 
          Than those that lie right there in front of him.
105     And we walked on, straight forward to the city,
          Through the safe-conduct of his sacred words.
 
          Without a fight we went directly in,
          And I, filled with a longing to find out
          The state of those shut up within that fortress,
 
          Once I was inside, cast my eyes around
110     And saw, on every side, a vast landscape
          Rife with distress and wretched punishment.
 
          Just as at Arles, where the Rhone is stagnant,
          Just as at Pola, near Quarnero’s gulf
          That closes Italy and bathes her borders,
 
115     The sarcophagi make all the ground uneven,
          So did they here, lying every whichway,
          Except that their condition was far worse.
 
          For there among the tombs were scattered flames
          That made them glow all over with more heat
120     Than any craftsman requires for his iron.
 
          All of their open lids were lifted up,
          And from inside such harsh laments escaped
          As would come from the wretched and the injured.
 
          And I: "Master, who are these people that,
125     Entombed within these chests of solid stone,
          Make themselves felt by their distressful sighs?"
 
          And he told me, "Here lie the arch-heretics
          With their disciples, from all sects, and more
          Than you’ll believe are loaded in these tombs.
 
130     "Like soul lies buried here encased with like;
          Some monuments are hotter and some less."
          And then he made a turn to the right hand:
 
          We passed between the torments and high walls.
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