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Dante's Inferno: Canto XIV
The Sand Waste and the Rain of Fire. The Violent against God. Capaneus. The Statue of Time, and the Four Infernal Rivers.
BECAUSE the charity of my native place
Constrained me, gathered I the scattered leaves,
And gave them back to him, who now was hoarse.
Then came we to the confine, where disparted
The second round is from the third, and where 5
A horrible form of Justice is beheld.
Clearly to manifest these novel things,
I say that we arrived upon a plain,
Which from its bed rejecteth every plant;
The dolorous forest is a garland to it 10
All round about, as the sad moat to that;
There close upon the edge we stayed our feet.
The soil was of an arid and thick sand,
Not of another fashion made than that
Which by the feet of Cato once was pressed. 15
Vengeance of God, O how much oughtest thou
By each one to be dreaded, who doth read
That which was manifest unto mine eyes!
Of naked souls beheld I many herds,
Who all were weeping very miserably, 20
And over them seemed set a law diverse.
Supine upon the ground some folk were lying;
And some were sitting all drawn up together,
And others went about continually.
Those who were going round were far the more, 25
And those were less who lay down to their torment,
But had their tongues more loosed to lamentation.
O'er all the sand-waste, with a gradual fall,
Were raining down dilated flakes of fire,
As of the snow on Alp without a wind. 30
As Alexander, in those torrid parts
Of India, beheld upon his host
Flames fall unbroken till they reached the ground,
Whence he provided with his phalanxes
To trample down the soil, because the vapor 35
Better extinguished was while it was single;
Thus was descending the eternal heat,
Whereby the sand was set on fire, like tinder
Beneath the steel, for doubling of the dole.
Without repose forever was the dance 40
Of miserable hands, now there, now here,
Shaking away from off them the fresh gleeds.
"Master," began I, "thou who overcomest
All things except the demons dire, that issued
Against us at the entrance of the gate, 45
Who is that mighty one who seems to heed not
The fire, and lieth lowering and disdainful,
So that the rain seems not to ripen him?"
And he himself, who had become aware
That I was questioning my Guide about him, 50
Cried: "Such as I was living, am I, dead!
If Jove should weary out his smith, from whom
He seized in anger the sharp thunderbolt,
Wherewith upon the last day I was smitten,
And if he wearied out by turns the others 55
In Mongibello at the swarthy forge,
Vociferating, 'Help, good Vulcan, help!'
Even as he did there at the fight of Phlegra,
And shot his bolts at me with all his might,
He would not have thereby a joyous vengeance." 60
Then did my Leader speak with such great force,
That I had never heard him speak so loud:
"O Capaneus, in that is not extinguished
Thine arrogance, thou punished art the more;
Not any torment, saving thine own rage, 65
Would be unto thy fury pain complete."
Then he turned round to me with better lip,
Saying: "One of the Seven Kings was he
Who Thebes besieged, and held, and seems to hold
God in disdain, and little seems to prize him; 70
But, as I said to him, his own despites
Are for his breast the fittest ornaments.
Now follow me, and mind thou do not place
As yet thy feet upon the burning sand,
But always keep them close unto the wood." 75
Speaking no word, we came to where there gushes
Forth from the wood a little rivulet,
Whose redness makes my hair still stand on end.
As from the Bulicame springs the brooklet,
The sinful women later share among them, 80
So downward through the sand it went its way.
The bottom of it, and both sloping banks,
Were made of stone, and the margins at the side;
Whence I perceived that there the passage was.
"In all the rest which I have shown to thee 85
Since we have entered in within the gate
Whose threshold unto no one is denied,
Nothing has been discovered by thine eyes
So notable as is the present river,
Which all the little flames above it quenches." 90
These words were of my Leader; whence I prayed him
That he would give me largess of the food,
For which he had given me largess of desire.
"In the mid-sea there sits a wasted land,"
Said he thereafterward, "whose name is Crete, 95
Under whose king the world of old was chaste.
There is a mountain there, that once was glad
With waters and with leaves, which was called Ida;
Now 't is deserted, as a thing worn out.
Rhea once chose it for the faithful cradle 100
Of her own son; and to conceal him better,
Whene'er he cried, she there had clamors made.
A grand old man stands in the mount erect,
Who holds his shoulders turned tow'rds Damietta,
And looks at Rome as if it were his mirror. 105
His head is fashioned of refined gold,
And of pure silver are the arms and breast;
Then he is brass as far down as the fork.
From that point downward all is chosen iron,
Save that the right foot is of kiln-baked clay, 110
And more he stands on that than on the other.
Each part, except the gold, is by a fissure
Asunder cleft, that dripping is with tears,
Which gathered together perforate that cavern.
From rock to rock they fall into this valley; 115
Acheron, Styx, and Phlegethon they form;
Then downward go along this narrow sluice
Unto that point where is no more descending.
They form Cocytus; what that pool may be
Thou shalt behold, so here 't is not narrated." 120
And I to him: "If so the present runnel
Doth take its rise in this way from our world,
Why only on this verge appears it to us?"
And he to me: "Thou knowest the place is round,
And notwithstanding thou hast journeyed far, 125
Still to the left descending to the bottom,
Thou hast not yet through all the circle turned.
Therefore if something new appear to us,
It should not bring amazement to thy face."
And I again: "Master, where shall be found 130
Lethe and Phlegethon, for of one thou 'rt silent,
And sayest the other of this rain is made?"
"In all thy questions truly thou dost please me,"
Replied he; "but the boiling of the red 134
Water might well solve one of them thou makest.
Thou shalt see Lethe, but outside this moat,
There where the souls repair to lave themselves,
When sin repented of has been removed."
Then said he: "It is time now to abandon
The wood; take heed that thou come after me; 140
A way the margins make that are not burning,
And over them all vapors are extinguished."
1. In this third round of the seventh circle are punished the Violent against God,
"In heart denying and blaspheming him,
And by disdaining Nature and her bounty."
"Foremost, behold, I lead you to the toil,
My feet shall foremost print the dusty soil."
31. Boccaccio confesses that he does not know where Dante found this tradition of Alexander. Benvenuto da Imola says it is in a letter which Alexander wrote to Aristotle. He quotes the passage as follows: "In India ignited vapors fell from heaven like snow. I commanded my soldiers to trample them under foot."
Dante perhaps took the incident from the old metrical Romance of Alexander, which in some form or other was current in his time. In the English version of it, published by the Roxburghe Club, we find the rain of fire, and a fall of snow; but it is the snow, and not the fire, that the soldiers trample down. So likewise in the French version. The English runs as follows, line 4164:—
"Than fandis he furth as I finde five and twenti days,
Come to a velanus vale thare was a vile cheele,
Quare flaggis of the fell snawe fell fra the heven,
That was a brade, sais the buke, as battes ere of wolle.
Than bett he many brigt fire and lest it bin nold,
And made his folk with thaire fcete as flores it to trede.*****Than fell ther fra the firmament as it ware fell sparkes,
Ropand doune o rede fire, than any rayne thikir."
45. Canto VIII. 83.
"While o'er the battlements sprung Capaneus,
Jove struck him with his thunder, and the earth
Resounded with the crack; meanwhile mankind
Stood all aghast; from off the ladder's height
His limbs were far asunder hurled, his hair
Flew to'ards Olympus, to the ground his blood,
His hands and feet whirled like Ixion's wheel,
And to the earth his flaming body fell."
"As he the cite wolde assaile,
God toke him selfe the bataile
Ayen his pride, and fro the sky
A firy thonder sudeinly
He sende and him to pouder smote."
"The city of Viterbo was built by the Romans, and in old times was called Vigezia, and the citizens Vigentians. And the Romans sent the sick there on account of the baths which flow from the Bulicame, and therefore it was called Vita Erbo, that is, life of the sick, or city of life."
80. "The building thus appropriated," says Mr. Barlow, Contributions to the Study of the Divine Comedy, p. 129, " would appear to have been the large ruined edifice known as the Bagno di Ser Paolo Benigno, situated between the Bulicame and Viterbo. About half a mile beyond the Porta di Faule, which leads to Toscanella, we come to a way called Riello, after which we arrive at the said ruined edifice, which received the water from the Bulicame by conduits, and has popularly been regarded as the Bagno delle Meretrici alluded to by Dante; there is no other building here found, which can dispute with it the claim to this distinction."
103. The statue of Time, turning its back upon the East and looking towards Rome, Compare Daniel ii. 31.
113. The Tears of Time, forming the infernal rivers that flow into Cocytus.
"Abhorred Styx, the flood of deadly hate;
Sad Acheron of sorrow, black and deep;
Cocytus, named of lamentation loud
Heard on the rueful stream; fierce Phlegeton,
Whose waves of torrent fire inflame with rage.
Far off from these a slow and silent stream,
Lethè, the river of oblivion, rolls
Her watery labyrinth, whereof who drinks
Forthwith his former state and being forgets,
Forgets both joy and grief, pleasure and pain."