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Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Inferno [Hell]
 
Canto XI
 
 
ARGUMENT.—Dante arrives at the verge of a rocky precipice which encloses the seventh circle, where he sees the sepulchre of Anastasius the Heretic; behind the lid of which pausing a little, to make himself capable by degrees of enduring the fetid smell that steamed upward from the abyss, he is instructed by Virgil concerning the manner in which the three following circles are disposed, and what description of sinners is punished in each. He then inquires the reason why the carnal, the gluttonous, the avaricious and prodigal, the wrathful and gloomy, suffer not their punishments within the city of Dis. He next asks how the crime of usury is an offence against God; and at length the two Poets go toward the place from whence a passage leads down to the seventh circle.
 
 
UPON the utmost verge of a high bank,
By craggy rocks environ’d round, we came.
Where woes beneath, more cruel yet, were stow’d:
And here, to shun the horrible excess
Of fetid exhalation upward cast        5
From the profound abyss, behind the lid
Of a great monument we stood retired,
Whereon this scroll I mark’d: “I have in charge
Pope Anastasius, 1 whom Photinus drew
From the right path.” “Ere our descent, behoves        10
We make delay, that somewhat first the sense,
To the dire breath accustom’d, afterward
Regard it not.” My master thus; to whom
Answering I spake: “Some compensation find,
That the time pass not wholly lost.” He then:        15
“Lo! how my thoughts e’en to thy wishes tend.
My son! within these rocks,” he thus began,
“Are three close circles in gradation placed,
As these which now thou leavest. Each one is full
Of spirits accurst; but that the sight alone        20
Hereafter may suffice thee, listen how
And for what cause in durance they abide.
  “Of all malicious act abhorr’d in Heaven,
The end is injury; and all such end
Either by force or fraud works other’s woe.        25
But fraud, because of man’s peculiar evil,
To God is more displeasing; and beneath,
The fraudulent are therefore doom’d to endure
Severer pang. The violent occupy
All the first circle; and because, to force,        30
Three persons are obnoxious, in three rounds,
Each within other separate, is it framed.
To God, his neighbor, and himself, by man
Force may be offer’d; to himself I say,
And his possessions, as thou soon shalt hear        35
At full. Death, violent death, and painful wounds
Upon his neighbor he inflicts; and wastes,
By devastation, pillage, and the flames,
His substance. Slayers, and each one that smites
In malice, plunderers, and all robbers, hence        40
The torment undergo of the first round,
In different herds. Man can do violence
To himself and his own blessings: and for this,
He, in the second round must aye deplore
With unavailing penitence his crime,        45
Whoe’er deprives himself of life and light,
In reckless lavishment his talent wastes,
And sorrows there where he should dwell in joy.
To God may force be offer’d, in the heart
Denying and blaspheming His high power,        50
And Nature with her kindly law contemning.
And thence the inmost round marks with its seal
Sodom, and Cahors, and all such as speak
Contemptuously of the Godhead in their hearts.
  “Fraud, that in every conscience leaves a sting,        55
May be by man employ’d on one, whose trust
He wins, or on another, who withholds
Strict confidence. Seems as the latter way
Broke but the bond of love which Nature makes.
Whence in the second circle have their nest,        60
Dissimulation, witchcraft, flatteries,
Theft, falsehood, simony, all who seduce
To lust, or set their honesty at pawn,
With such vile scum as these. The other way
Forgets both Nature’s general love, and that        65
Which thereto added afterward gives birth
To special faith. Whence in the lesser circle,
Point of the universe, dread seat of Dis,
The traitor is eternally consumed.”
  I thus: “Instructor, clearly thy discourse        70
Proceeds, distinguishing the hideous chasm
And its inhabitants with skill exact.
But tell me this: they of the dull, fat pool,
Whom the rain beats, or whom the tempest drives,
Or who with tongues so fierce conflicting meet,        75
Wherefore within the city fire-illumed
Are not these punish’d, if God’s wrath be on them?
And if it be not, wherefore in such guise
Are they condemn’d?” He answer thus return’d:
“Wherefore in dotage wanders thus thy mind,        80
Not so accustom’d? or what other thoughts
Possess it? Dwell not in thy memory
The words, wherein thy ethic page 2 describes
Three dispositions adverse to Heaven’s will,
Incontinence, malice, and mad brutishness,        85
And how incontinence the least offends
God, and least guilt incurs? If well thou note
This judgment, and remember who they are,
Without these walls to vain repentance doom’d,
Thou shalt discern why they apart are placed        90
From these fell spirits, and less wreakful pours
Justice divine on them its vengeance down.”
  “O sun! who healest all imperfect sight,
Thou so content’st me, when thou solvest my doubt,
That ignorance not less than knowledge charms.        95
Yet somewhat turn thee back,” I in these words
Continued,” where thou said’st, that usury
Offends celestial Goodness; and this knot
Perplex’d unravel.” He thus made reply:
“Philosophy, to an attentive ear,        100
Clearly points out, not in one part alone,
How imitative Nature takes her course
From the celestial mind, and from its art:
And where her laws 3 the Stagirite unfolds,
Not many leaves scann’d o’er, observing well        105
Thou shalt discover, that your art on her
Obsequious follows, as the learner treads
In his instructor’s step; so that your art
Deserves the name of second in descent
From God. These two, if thou recall to mind        110
Creation’s holy book, 4 from the beginning
Were the right source of life and excellence
To human-kind. But in another path
The usurer walks; and Nature in herself
And in her follower thus he sets at nought,        115
Placing elsewhere his hope. 5 But follow now
My steps on forward journey bent; for now
The Pisces play with undulating glance
Along the horizon, and the Wain 6 lies all
O’er the northwest; and onward there a space        120
Is our steep passage down the rocky height.”
 
Note 1. By some supposed to have been Anastasius II.; by others, the fourth of that name; while a third set, jealous of the integrity of the papal faith, contend that our poet has confounded him with Anastasius I., Emperor of the East. [back]
Note 2. “Thy ethic page.” He refers to Aristotle’s Ethics, lib. vii. c. 1: “———let it be defined that respecting morals there are three sorts of things to be avoided, malice, incontinence, and brutishness.” [back]
Note 3. “Her laws.” Aristotle’s Physics, lib. ii. c. 2: “Art imitates nature.” [back]
Note 4. “Creation’s holy book.” Genesis, c. ii. v. 15: “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden, to dress it, and to keep it.” And, Genesis, c. iii. v. 19: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” [back]
Note 5. “Placing elsewhere his hope.” The usurer, trusting in the produce of his wealth lent out on usury, despises nature directly, because he does not avail himself of her means for maintaining or enriching himself; and indirectly, because he does not avail himself of the means which art, the follower and imitator of nature, would afford him for the same purposes. [back]
Note 6. “The Wain.” The constellation Boötes, or Charles’s Wain. [back]
 

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