Cortesia and Wealth Management (II)

  • Dante’s treatment of sodomy continues to run counter to the cultural norm: it serves not to focus on sexual sin but as a lever for indicting corruption of famous Florentines
  • Inferno 16 removes the heroic patina of Inferno 15
  • social status and its signifers (e.g. dress and deportment)
  • wealth management and the Florentine nobility: Inferno 16’s castigation of new money
  • Dante as a political theorist of wealth and nobility: the contradictions between Inferno 16’s castigation of new money and his earlier refutation, in the canzone Le dolci rime and in Book 4 of the Convivio, of the theory whereby old money confers nobility. While he previously dismissed the idea of old money as a key feature of nobility, now Dante disparages new money, thus implying greater appreciation of the families characterized by their “antica possession d’avere” (ancient possession of wealth [Le dolci rime, 23]). The issue of appropriate noble behavior vis-à-vis wealth is also treated in the canzone Poscia ch‘Amor. (On Le dolci rime and Poscia ch’Amor from this perspective, see the essays “Sociology of the Brigata” and “Aristotle’s Mezzo,” cited in Coordinated Reading.)
  • an extended meditation on narrative transition (with many of the same features as those found in Inferno 8Inferno 9), beginning in the first verse of Inferno 16 and concluding at the end of Inferno 17

Inferno 16 continues Dante’s treatment of sodomy, which (we should note) does not feature the practice of sodomy at all. Rather, we might say that “sodomy” (a favorite whipping post among the preachers of the time) is present in this ring of hell about as much as “fornication” (another favorite whipping post) is present in the circle of lust. If we consider the treatment of sodomy among contemporary artists as well, we realize that Dante goes completely counter to the cultural norm represented, for instance, by an artist like Taddeo di Bartolo, whose extraordinarily violent treatment of sodomy is reproduced in my essay “Dante’s Sympathy for the Other” (see Coordinated Reading).

The graphic and violent punishment of sexual sin found in vision literature and in contemporary art, notable for its “torments directed at genitalia” (see the Introduction to Inferno 15), is altogether absent from the Commedia.

The sin of sodomy in Dante’s treatment seems rather to be a lever for indicting great Florentines, a way of accusing them of corrupt behavior. We thus move from a famous Florentine man of letters in Inferno 15 to famous Florentine men of public affairs in Inferno 16. All the men whom Dante places in the ring of sodomy were great citizens, worthy of reverence in earthly society.

The treatment of the Florentine sodomites in canto 16 will have a sobering retroactive effect with respect to the great humanistic themes of canto 15. While Brunetto’s cooked visage is only touched on in passing and his physical torment glossed over in the previous canto, Inferno 16 stresses the physical torment of the sinners: “Ahimè, che piaghe vidi ne’ lor membri / ricenti e vecchie, da le fiamme incese!” (Ah me, what wounds I saw upon their limbs, / wounds new and old, wounds that the flames seared in! [Inf.  16.10-11]).

Likewise the fall from high estate and dignity is passed over in Inferno 15 and stressed in Inferno 16. The simile that compares Brunetto to a runner in the footrace of Verona is mentioned poignantly at the end of Inferno 15, allowing the poet to conclude the canto with the pathos of “e parve di costoro / quelli che vince, non colui che perde” (of those runners / he appeared the one that wins, not the one that loses [Inf. 15.123-4]). The fall from dignity of the Florentines in Inferno 16 is immediately highlighted by the simile that compares these great nobles to nude wrestlers, greased and ready for a fight (Inf. 16.19-24).

The issue of earthly fame, imbued with such a heroic patina in Inferno 15, takes on a very different complexion when these miserable creatures speak of “la fama nostra” (our fame) in verse 31.

The Florentines featured here are great citizens of the generation before Dante, the generation that included the aristocratic Florentine protagonists of Inferno 10: Farinata degli Uberti (1212-1264) and Cavalcante de’ Cavalcanti (died ca. 1280). As with Brunetto Latini (1220-1294) in Inferno 15, the dramatic irony turns on what these famous souls are doing here: Guido Guerra (ca. 1220-1272), Tegghiaio Aldobrandi (died 1262), and Iacopo Rusticucci (died after 1266) are supposed to be among the noblest of the Florentines and yet here they are among the sodomites in Hell.

We remember that in Inferno 6, the first canto to focus on Florence and the city’s woes, Dante asked Ciacco about a specific list of great Florentines: “Farinata e ’l Tegghiaio, che fuor sì degni, / Iacopo Rusticucci, Arrigo e ’l Mosca” (Farinata and Tegghiaio, who were so worthy, / Iacopo Rusticucci, Arrigo, and Mosca [Inf. 6.79-80]). The pilgrim refers to these men as citizens who did good works, who used their intellects “a ben far”, “to do good”: “ch’a ben far puoser li ’ngegni” (had their minds bent toward the good [Inf. 6.81]). Picking up the theme of ben far from Inferno 6, the works that we do in life are a key theme of Inferno 15 and 16, which offer a meditation on our civic contributions to the common good.

Brunetto tells Dante that he would have supported his “opera” (work [Inf. 15.60]) had he lived, and he characterizes Dante’s own actions with the same phrase, “ben far”, that in Inferno 6 was used for the great Florentines:ti si farà, per tuo ben far, nimico” ([the Florentine people] for your good deeds, will be your enemy [Inf. 15.64]). We see here not only a non-ironic endorsement of the civic virtues that Dante and Brunetto held dear, but a sense of Dante’s views of the inter-generational obligations that hold up a community: the obligation of the previous generation to help and support their successors.

At the same time, we are made to understand the failure of the previous generation. Given that many of that prior generation’s great leaders are found in Hell, clearly the implications for the nature of the society and community that they created are dire. And indeed, with respect to the great Florentines of whom Dante asks Ciacco in Inferno 6, we are now in a position to check off quite a few from the list: Farinata is among the heretics in Inferno 10, while Tegghiaio and Iacopo Rusticucci are here among the sodomites in Inferno 16.

Like Inferno 6, Inferno 16 will treat Florentine corruption, although less through the lens of factional politics and more through the lens of the underlying greed and avarice that motivate human behavior. In other words, Inferno 16 approaches Florentine corruption (“la nostra terra prava” of verse 9) more through the lens of wealth acquisition and wealth management, issues treated in Inferno 7 and already deeply intertwined with the factional politics treated in Inferno 6.

Accordingly, in Inferno 16 the issue of social status comes to the fore, for instance in the attention paid to dress, a very important indicator of status in Florentine society (and indeed legislated as such). While Farinata recognizes Dante as a fellow Florentine through his diction (“la tua loquela” of Inferno 10.25), these souls recognize a fellow citizen of depraved Florence through his clothing: “Sòstati tu ch’a l’abito ne sembri / esser alcun di nostra terra prava” (Stop, you who by your clothing seem to be / someone who comes from our corrupt country! [Inf. 16.8-9]). In his commentary to these verses, Boccaccio notes the distinctiveness of civic dress: “ciascuna città aveva un suo singular modo di vestire, distinto e variato da quello delle circunvicine; per ciò che ancora non eravam divenuti inghilesi né tedeschi, come oggi agli abiti siamo” (Esposizioni sopra la Comedia di Dante, literal exposition of Inferno 16.7-9, consultable through the Dartmouth Dante Project).

Although the issue of Florence as a “terra prava” is put on the table from the very beginning of the encounter with the Florentine sodomites, and by the sinners themselves, the narrator continues to stress the high status that these sinners were accorded in society. Virgilio participates, telling his charge that these sinners must be treated with courtesy and adding, remarkably, that were it not for the nature of the place that consists in fire raining down like arrows, it would be more appropriate for Dante to run toward them than for them to be running toward him: “i’ dicerei / che meglio stesse a te che a lor la fretta” (I’d say that haste / was seemlier for you than for those three [Inf. 16.17-18]).

In other words, their status on earth was such that Virgilio still associates them with dignified comportment and wants to treat them with great respect. When the pilgrim learns who these souls are, the poet lets us know that his own reaction was fully in line with Virgilio’s assessment, for—says the narrator—if it had not been for the flames I would have jumped down from the bank in my eagerness to embrace these souls:

S’i’ fossi stato dal foco coperto, 
gittato mi sarei tra lor di sotto, 
e credo che ’l dottor l’avrìa sofferto.    (Inf. 16.46-8)

If I’d had shield and shelter from the fire,
I should have thrown myself down there among them—
I think my master would have sanctioned that.  

These souls are still keenly aware of their own past importance in Florentine society. When the conversation moves beyond their common Florentine citizenship, Iacopo remarks that their great fame should move Dante to speak with them: “la fama nostra il tuo animo pieghi / a dirne chi tu se” (then may our fame incline your mind / to tell us who you are [Inf. 16.31-2]). And, in presenting his comrades, Iacopo speaks of Guido Guerra using the term “grado” (degree), a word that is redolent of social hierarchy and rank: “fu di grado maggior che tu non credi” (he was higher in degree than you believe [Inf. 16.36]).

The key thematic indicator is Virgilio’s adjective cortese—a costor si vuole esser cortese” (to these one must show courtesy [Inf. 16.15])—reprised in the all-important noun cortesia in verse 67. The noble Florentines ask Dante about the current state of their city, and frame their query in terms of courtly values, “cortesia e valor”:

  «Se lungamente l’anima conduca
le membra tue», rispuose quelli ancora,
«e se la fama tua dopo te luca,
  cortesia e valor dì se dimora
ne la nostra città sì come suole,
o se del tutto se n’è gita fora...» (Inf. 16.64-69)
  “So may your soul long lead your limbs and may
your fame shine after you,” he answered then,
“tell us if courtesy and valor still
  abide within our city as they did
when we were there or have they disappeared
completely...”

Dante is here thematizing not just the urban politics of his native city, but the character and fiber of its highest citizens. He measures them by the knightly and feudal code of cortesia (not just “courtesy” but “courtliness”), as inherited in Tuscany from the Sicilian and Occitan courts, and as sung by poets of old.

This courtly world—not the urban and mercantile world of contemporary Florence but an older world that contemporary Florentines held in aspirational esteem—is evoked in Iacopo’s query about the presence of “cortesia e valor” in Florentine society. Knighthood, hearkening back to the feudal world of cortesia, was still a criterion of nobility, as we see in the passages from Carol Lansing’s The Florentine Magnates cited in the Introduction to Inferno 10. For more on the aspirational cortesia present in literary texts of Dante’s period, for instance in the sonnets of Folgore da San Gimignano, see my essay “Sociology of the Brigata,” cited in Coordinated Reading.

Dante replies to Iacopo’s query with his very personal analysis of what has been the cause of Florentine corruption. He believes that the city has been destabilized by new people with their new money: “La gente nuova e i sùbiti guadagni” (Newcomers to the city and quick gains [Inf. 16.73]). Dante here blames the decay of Florentine cortesia on the “nouveaux riches” who have changed the dynamics within the city, bringing “excess and arrogance”—“orgoglio e dismisura”:

  «La gente nuova e i sùbiti guadagni
orgoglio e dismisura han generata,
Fiorenza, in te, sì che tu già ten piagni». (Inf. 16.73-75)
  “Newcomers to the city and quick gains
have brought excess and arrogance to you,
o Florence, and you weep for it already!”

If we trace Dante’s thought process as a political theorist, we find that there are fascinating contradictions embedded in Inferno 16’s castigation of new money. For Dante had earlier refuted passionately and at length the theory whereby old money confers nobility.

Circa 1294, in the canzone Le dolci rime (a canzone whose Aristotelian ethical framework reflects Brunetto Latini’s translation of Aristotle’s Ethics, as discussed in the Introduction to Inferno 15), Dante claims that true nobility resides in virtue, not in lineage, and certainly not in ancient wealth.

In Le dolci rime Dante specifically takes aim at the definition of nobility as “old money and good manners”: “antica possession d’avere / con reggimenti belli” (ancestral wealth / together with fine manners [Le dolci rime, 23-24; trans. Richard Lansing). He mocks those who think that they derive worth and nobility from inherited wealth and status:

ed è tanto durata
la così falsa oppinion tra nui,
che l’uom chiama colui
omo gentil che può dicere: ‘Io fui
nepote, o figlio, di cotal valente’,
benché sia da niente.

And so ingrained
has this false view become among us
that one calls another noble
if he can say “I am the son, or
grandson, of such and such worthy man”,
despite being himself nothing.
(Le dolci rime, 32-37; trans. Richard Lansing modified by TB)

But in Inferno 16 Dante seems to veer away from the position of Le dolci rime, whereby old money does not confer special status. By attacking the new people and new money who bring “arrogance and excess”—“orgoglio e dismisura”—into the city, Dante suggests a greater appreciation of the families characterized by what Le dolci rime terms “antica possession d’avere” (ancient possession of wealth [Le dolci rime, 23]).

The newly-minted wealthy of Florence were perhaps more threatening to Dante, with respect to his personal status, than the older aristocracy. His own social position as a member of a non-wealthy family that claimed noble antecedents was rather precarious, and it must have been difficult for Dante, the greatly ambitious scion of a somewhat marginal family, to watch the speedy rise of pretentious insurgents.

Adding to Dante’s sensitivity to the “nuova gente” would be the decline of his family’s fortunes, traced by Enrico Faini in “Ruolo sociale e memoria degli Alighieri prima di Dante,” cited in Coordinated Reading. As Faini shows, Dante’s ancestors had achieved aristocratic status in the time of Cacciaguida and Alighiero I, while Dante’s branch of the family lost noble standing in the succeeding decades. The circumstances of Dante’s marriage to Gemma Donati, who brought a very small dowry into her marriage (see Chabot, cited in Coordinated Reading), are also worth considering in this context:

Lui era figlio di un mediocre campsor; lei, certo, apparteneva a una famiglia dell’antica aristocrazia cittadina. Ma se il padre di lei, Manetto Donati, non era in grado di sborsare più di 200 lire per darla in sposa, evidentemente condivideva con Alighiero la stessa mediocritas. (Chabot, “Il matrimonio di Dante,” p. 10).

He was the son of a middling money-changer; she, certainly, belonged to a family of the city’s ancient aristocracy. But if her father, Manetto Donati, was not in a position to disburse more than 200 lire to give her in marriage, evidently he shared the mediocritas of Alighiero.

Connected to Dante’s precarious social standing is the idea that nobility is not connected to wealth and social status, but is infused directly by God. This idea, originally developed by Dante in the canzone Le dolci rime following in the wake of Guido Guinizzelli’s canzone Al cor gentil, is present in the Commedia as well.  There is a strong endorsement of this view for instance in Purgatorio 7, where we learn that virtue comes from the transcendent principle, not from lineage:

Rade volte risurge per li rami 
l’umana probitate; e questo vole
quei che la dà, perché da lui si chiami.   (Purg. 7.121-23)

How seldom human worth ascends from branch
to branch, and this is willed by Him who grants
that gift, that one may pray to Him for it! 

But at the same time, the variegated social tapestry of the Commedia triggers complex reactions in Dante, which lead to some privileging of ancient lineage over the despised nouveaux riches. Thus, in Paradiso 16 Dante will return to the theme of the “gente nuova”—those who have money but no lineage—and whose arrival has ruined Florence.

Contradictions abound, too, between the values of feudal cortesia, which place a premium on spending money with largesse, and those of bourgeois (and Aristotelian) moderation. In the essays “Sociology of the Brigata” and “Aristotle’s Mezzo,” I discuss some of the ways in which Dante experienced himself and his society as buffetted by these different philosophies of wealth and social standing and consider too how “the Aristotelian template allows for an easy pivot on Dante’s part from ethics in the moral and philosophical sphere to ethics in the social and historical sphere:

If we bear in mind that the mean between avarice and prodigality is located by Aristotle in the virtue of liberality, a virtue of enormous resonance for the ethos of knighthood and for Dante’s own theory of what constitutes ‘true’ nobility (whose definition is expounded by him in the canzone Le dolci rime and then massively elaborated in book 4 of the Convivio), then we can see how the Aristotelian template allows for an easy pivot on Dante’s part from ethics in the moral and philosophical sphere to ethics in the social and historical sphere. (“Aristotle’s Mezzo,” p. 169).

In another moral canzone of the 1290s, Poscia ch’Amor (circa 1294-1295), Dante considered behaviors pertaining to cortesia, attempting to answer questions such as “how much should a nobleman spend, and how should he dress and speak?” (“Aristotle’s Mezzo,” p. 176). The connection to Inferno 16, where dress is actually referenced, is manifest.

The story of the barrater Ciampolo in Inferno 22 offers insight into the ethical challenges faced by the hangers-on living in the margins of a great court. Ciampolo’s tale highlights the pressures of a life-style in which financial prudence was much less valued than largesse in spending.

In “Aristotle’s Mezzo” I write too about the indicators of Dante’s social anxiety, linking the canzone Poscia ch’Amor to the attitudes toward Florence found in the Inferno:

Poscia ch’Amor’s vituperation of those who throw away their wealth, feigning liberality and nobility of character when in actuality they are not liberal but prodigal, is both profoundly Aristotelian (liberality as the virtuous mean between prodigality and avarice) and brimming with social anxiety: we can feel Dante’s frustration that these sham nobles can still be thought of as do-gooders by their fellow citizens (similarly, in Inferno 6, the great Florentines known for good works turn out to be “among the darkest souls”). The Inferno’s meditations on unethical wealth management indicate the continuing depth of Dante’s frustration: the prodigals who do not spend their wealth appropriately, in Inferno 7; the wastrels who dissipate their wealth, most likely on gaming and whoring, in Inferno 13; the “gente nuova” whose sudden wealth is responsible for Florentine “orgoglio e dismisura,” in Inferno 16.73–74; and the sarcastic reference to the “temperate spese” (Inf. 29.126) of the Sienese gilded youth known as the brigata spendereccia, in Inferno 29. (“Aristotle’s Mezzo,” pp. 176-77)

Do the sham nobles of the canzone Poscia ch’Amor possess new money or old? In the canzone, where he is struggling to distinguish the liberality required of a noble from the deplorable vice prodigality, Dante does not stipulate the families whose behavior he castigates. These distinctions await the Commedia, where Dante tends to show a nostalgic partiality to the feudal nobility and its old money, running counter to the more purist analysis of Le dolci rime, where money and status have nothing to do with nobility. For instance, in Purgatorio 8 he celebrates the Malaspina family for their aristocratic “pregio de la borsa” (Purg. 8.129). The “glory of their purse” refers to the Malaspina lords’ prowess in liberal spending, in noble largesse.

In Inferno 16 Dante’s attack focuses on the “orgoglio e dismisura” of the gente nuova. As I explain in “Aristotle’s Mezzo,” the word “dismisura” is the vernacular equivalent of the Aristotelian concept of “incontinenza” from Inferno 11: it refers to lack of measure (misura) and thus excess. Dante uses the word dismisura first in Inferno 7, à propos precisely wealth management, in the circle of avarice and prodigality. Dismisura in Dante’s usage becomes an umbrella term embracing the wide-ranging sickness of overheated and intemperate desire captured in the Christian concept of cupidigia (manifested by the lupa in Inferno 1) and in the Aristotelian concept of incontinenza (see Inf. 11.82 and 83). In Inferno 7, we recall that Dante expresses the concept of dismisura by saying that the misers and spendthrifts are those who spent without misura, hence with dismisura: “che con misura nullo spendio ferci” (no spending that they did was done with measure [Inf. 7.42]). The term dismisura appears only two times in the Commedia; the other use occurs appropriately on the terrace of avarice and prodigality, in Purgatorio 22.35.

Dante is working to reveal the common ground of excess or dismisura that underlies all the sins of incontinence, as he had begun to do years before in the canzone Doglia mi reca (see “Guittone’s Ora parrà, Dante’s Doglia mi reca, and the Commedia’s Anatomy of Desire,” cited in Coordinated Reading). Far from viewing dismisura as most applicable to sexual behavior, Dante’s focus had been for years, going back to his moral canzoni, on wealth and wealth management.

***

Beginning in Inferno 16.91, the narrator’s attention turns to the waterfall (first mentioned in the first verse of this canto) over the abyss and to the strange arrival of the flying monster who will serve as the vehicle on which they descend to the eighth circle: Geryon.

The remarkable feature of these verses is that Dante chooses them to baptize his poem, named as “questa comedìa” in Inferno 16.128:

  Sempre a quel ver c’ha faccia di menzogna
de’ l’uom chiuder le labbra fin ch’el puote,
però che sanza colpa fa vergogna;
  ma qui tacer nol posso; e per le note
di questa comedìa, lettor, ti giuro,
s’elle non sien di lunga grazia vòte,
  ch’i’vidi per quell’aere grosso e scuro
venir notando una figura in suso,
maravigliosa ad ogne cor sicuro... (Inf. 16.124-32)
  Faced with that truth which seems a lie, a man
should always close his lips as long as he can—
to tell it shames him, even though he's blameless;
  but here I can't be still; and by the lines
of this my Comedy, reader, I swear—
and may my verse find favor for long years—
  that through the dense and darkened air I saw
a figure swimming, rising up, enough
to bring amazement to the firmest heart...

In this passage, for the first time, Dante refers to his poem as a comedìa. The only other use of the word comedìa will occur in Inferno 21.2.

In linking his comedìa to a “truth that has the face of a lie”—“ver c’ha faccia di menzogna” (Inf. 16.124)—Dante defines comedìa: it is truth that has the appearance of a lie but that is nonetheless always a truth.

Dante here swears that the in-credible thing he saw swimming out of the murky deep is absolutely and incontrovertibly true. It is true because he saw it. And he swears this truth with an oath: an oath taken on the very notes of the poem that he is writing.

We note too that the poet swears his oath here on the stakes of the “lunga grazia” that he hopes his poem will achieve with its readers:

                   e per le note
di questa comedìa, lettor, ti giuro,
s’elle non sien di lunga grazia vòte (Inf. 16.127-29)
                    and by the lines
of this my Comedy, reader, I swear—
and may my verse find favor for long years—

In other words, Dante seeks a long life for his comedìa. This prayer for long life for his poem recalls Inferno 15 and Brunetto’s “nel qual io vivo ancora” and reminds us that we must be careful in discounting the value of literary fame for this poet.

As I write in The Undivine Comedy, “Geryon serves as an outrageously paradoxical authenticating device: one that, by being so overtly inauthentic, so literally a figure for inauthenticity, a figure for ‘fraud’, confronts and attempts to defuse the belatedness or inauthenticity to which the need for an authenticating device necessarily testifies” (The Undivine Comedy, p. 59). With respect to the oxymoronic juxtaposition of “maravigliosa” with “io vidi” in the verses cited above, I note: “Far from giving quarter, from backing off when the materia being represented is too ‘maravigliosa’ to be credible, Dante raises the ante by using such moments to underscore his poem’s veracity, its status as historical scribal record of what he saw” (The Undivine Comedy, p. 60).

Dante’s term comedìa will thus both vindicate the prophetic truth of his vision and confront the necessary quotient of deceit embedded in language.

Coordinated Reading

On cortesia, dismisura, and social status: “Sociology of the Brigata,” Italian Studies 67 (2012): 4-22; “Aristotle’s Mezzo, Courtly Misura, and Dante’s Canzone Le dolci rime: Humanism, Ethics, and Social Anxiety,” in Dante and the Greeks, ed. Jan Ziolkowski (Cambridge: Harvard U. Press, 2014); “Guittone’s Ora parrà, Dante’s Doglia mi reca, and the Commedia’s Anatomy of Desire”, 1997, rpt. Dante and the Origins, 2006. On comedìa: Dante’s Poets, pp. 213-18; on Geryon and comedìa: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 3, “Ulysses, Geryon, and the Aeronautics of Narrative Transition”. On Dante’s family and its position, see the essays in Dante attraverso i documenti. I. Famiglia e patrimonio (secolo XII-1300 circa), a cura di Giuliano Milani e Antonio Montefusco, Reti Medievali Rivista, 15, 2 (2014) <http://rivista.retimedievali.it> ISSN 1593-2214 © 2014 Firenze University Press. See especially: Enrico Faini, “Ruolo sociale e memoria degli Alighieri prima di Dante,” Reti Medievali Rivista, 15, 2 (2014); Isabelle Chabot, “Il matrimonio di Dante,” Reti Medievali Rivista, 15, 2 (2014).

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Inferno 16: Cortesia and Wealth Management (II).” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/inferno/inferno-16/

About the Commento

1 Già era in loco onde s’udìa ’l rimbombo
2 de l’acqua che cadea ne l’altro giro,
3 simile a quel che l’arnie fanno rombo,

4 quando tre ombre insieme si partiro,
5 correndo, d’una torma che passava
6 sotto la pioggia de l’aspro martiro.

7 Venian ver noi, e ciascuna gridava:
8 «Sòstati tu ch’a l’abito ne sembri
9 esser alcun di nostra terra prava».

10 Ahimè, che piaghe vidi ne’ lor membri,
11 ricenti e vecchie, da le fiamme incese!
12 Ancor men duol pur ch’i’ me ne rimembri.

13 A le lor grida il mio dottor s’attese;
14 volse ’l viso ver me, e: «Or aspetta»,
15 disse «a costor si vuole esser cortese.

16 E se non fosse il foco che saetta
17 la natura del loco, i’ dicerei
18 che meglio stesse a te che a lor la fretta».

19 Ricominciar, come noi restammo, ei
20 l’antico verso; e quando a noi fuor giunti,
21 fenno una rota di sé tutti e trei.

22 Qual sogliono i campion far nudi e unti,
23 avvisando lor presa e lor vantaggio,
24 prima che sien tra lor battuti e punti,

25 così rotando, ciascuno il visaggio
26 drizzava a me, sì che ’n contraro il collo
27 faceva ai piè continüo vïaggio.

28 E «Se miseria d’esto loco sollo
29 rende in dispetto noi e nostri prieghi»,
30 cominciò l’uno «e ’l tinto aspetto e brollo,

31 la fama nostra il tuo animo pieghi
32 a dirne chi tu se’, che i vivi piedi
33 così sicuro per lo ’nferno freghi.

34 Questi, l’orme di cui pestar mi vedi,
35 tutto che nudo e dipelato vada,
36 fu di grado maggior che tu non credi:

37 nepote fu de la buona Gualdrada;
38 Guido Guerra ebbe nome, e in sua vita
39 fece col senno assai e con la spada.

40 L’altro, ch’appresso me la rena trita,
41 è Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, la cui voce
42 nel mondo sù dovrìa esser gradita.

43 E io, che posto son con loro in croce,
44 Iacopo Rusticucci fui, e certo
45 la fiera moglie più ch’altro mi nuoce».

46 S’i’ fossi stato dal foco coperto,
47 gittato mi sarei tra lor di sotto,
48 e credo che ’l dottor l’avrìa sofferto;

49 ma perch’ io mi sarei brusciato e cotto,
50 vinse paura la mia buona voglia
51 che di loro abbracciar mi facea ghiotto.

52 Poi cominciai: «Non dispetto, ma doglia
53 la vostra condizion dentro mi fisse,
54 tanta che tardi tutta si dispoglia,

55 tosto che questo mio segnor mi disse
56 parole per le quali i’ mi pensai
57 che qual voi siete, tal gente venisse.

58 Di vostra terra sono, e sempre mai
59 l’ovra di voi e li onorati nomi
60 con affezion ritrassi e ascoltai.

61 Lascio lo fele e vo per dolci pomi
62 promessi a me per lo verace duca;
63 ma ’nfino al centro pria convien ch’i’ tomi».

64 «Se lungamente l’anima conduca
65 le membra tue», rispuose quelli ancora,
66 «e se la fama tua dopo te luca,

67 cortesia e valor dì se dimora
68 ne la nostra città sì come suole,
69 o se del tutto se n’è gita fora;

70 ché Guiglielmo Borsiere, il qual si duole
71 con noi per poco e va là coi compagni,
72 assai ne cruccia con le sue parole».

73 «La gente nuova e i sùbiti guadagni
74 orgoglio e dismisura han generata,
75 Fiorenza, in te, sì che tu già ten piagni».

76 Così gridai con la faccia levata;
77 e i tre, che ciò inteser per risposta,
78 guardar l’un l’altro com’ al ver si guata.

79 «Se l’altre volte sì poco ti costa»,
80 rispuoser tutti «il satisfare altrui,
81 felice te se sì parli a tua posta!

82 Però, se campi d’esti luoghi bui
83 e torni a riveder le belle stelle,
84 quando ti gioverà dicere “I’ fui”,

85 fa che di noi a la gente favelle».
86 Indi rupper la rota, e a fuggirsi
87 ali sembiar le gambe loro isnelle.

88 Un amen non saria potuto dirsi
89 tosto così com’ e’ fuoro spariti;
90 per ch’al maestro parve di partirsi.

91 Io lo seguiva, e poco eravam iti,
92 che ’l suon de l’acqua n’era sì vicino,
93 che per parlar saremmo a pena uditi.

94 Come quel fiume c’ha proprio cammino
95 prima dal Monte Viso ’nver’ levante,
96 da la sinistra costa d’Apennino,

97 che si chiama Acquacheta suso, avante
98 che si divalli giù nel basso letto,
99 e a Forlì di quel nome è vacante,

100 rimbomba là sovra San Benedetto
101 de l’Alpe per cadere ad una scesa
102 ove dovea per mille esser recetto;

103 così, giù d’una ripa discoscesa,
104 trovammo risonar quell’acqua tinta,
105 sì che ’n poc’ ora avria l’orecchia offesa.

106 Io avea una corda intorno cinta,
107 e con essa pensai alcuna volta
108 prender la lonza a la pelle dipinta.

109 Poscia ch’io l’ebbi tutta da me sciolta,
110 sì come ’l duca m’avea comandato,
111 porsila a lui aggroppata e ravvolta.

112 Ond’ ei si volse inver’ lo destro lato,
113 e alquanto di lunge da la sponda
114 la gittò giuso in quell’ alto burrato.

115 ‘ E’ pur convien che novità risponda’,
116 dicea fra me medesmo, ‘al novo cenno
117 che ’l maestro con l’occhio sì seconda’ .

118 Ahi quanto cauti li uomini esser dienno
119 presso a color che non veggion pur l’ovra,
120 ma per entro i pensier miran col senno!

121 El disse a me: «Tosto verrà di sovra
122 ciò ch’io attendo e che il tuo pensier sogna:
123 tosto convien ch’al tuo viso si scovra».

124 Sempre a quel ver c’ha faccia di menzogna
125 de’ l’uom chiuder le labbra fin ch’el puote,
126 però che sanza colpa fa vergogna;

127 ma qui tacer nol posso; e per le note
128 di questa comedìa, lettor, ti giuro,
129 s’elle non sien di lunga grazia vòte,

130 ch’i’ vidi per quell’ aere grosso e scuro
131 venir notando una figura in suso,
132 maravigliosa ad ogne cor sicuro,

133 sì come torna colui che va giuso
134 talora a solver l’àncora ch’aggrappa
135 o scoglio o altro che nel mare è chiuso,

136 che ’n sù si stende e da piè si rattrappa.

No sooner had I reached the place where one
could hear a murmur, like a beehive’s hum,
of waters as they fell to the next circle,

when, setting out together, three shades ran,
leaving another company that passed
beneath the rain of bitter punishment.

They came toward us, and each of them cried out:
“Stop, you who by your clothing seem to be
someone who comes from our indecent country!”

Ah me, what wounds I saw upon their limbs,
wounds new and old, wounds that the flames seared in!
It pains me still as I remember it.

When they cried out, my master paid attention;
he turned his face toward me and then he said:
“Now wait: to these one must show courtesy.

And were it not the nature of this place
for shafts of fire to fall, I’d say that haste
was seemlier for you than for those three.”

As soon as we stood still, they started up
their ancient wail again; and when they reached us,
they formed a wheel, all three of them together.

As champions, naked, oiled, will always do,
each studying the grip that serves him best
before the blows and wounds begin to fall,

while wheeling so, each one made sure his face
was turned to me, so that their necks opposed
their feet in one uninterrupted flow.

And, “If the squalor of this shifting sand,
together with our baked and barren features,
makes us and our requests contemptible,”

one said, “then may our fame incline your mind
to tell us who you are, whose living feet
can make their way through Hell with such assurance.

He in whose steps you see me tread, although
he now must wheel about both peeled and naked,
was higher in degree than you believe:

he was a grandson of the good Gualdrada,
and Guido Guerra was his name; in life
his sword and his good sense accomplished much.

The other who, behind me, tramples sand—
Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, one whose voice
should have been heeded in the world above.

And I, who share this punishment with them,
was Jacopo Rusticucci; certainly,
more than all else, my savage wife destroyed me.”

If I’d had shield and shelter from the fire,
I should have thrown myself down there among them—
I think my master would have sanctioned that;

but since that would have left me burned and baked,
my fear won out against the good intention
that made me so impatient to embrace them.

Then I began: “Your present state had fixed
not scorn but sorrow in me—and so deeply
that it will only disappear slowly—

as soon as my lord spoke to me with words
that made me understand what kind of men
were coming toward us, men of worth like yours.

For I am of your city; and with fondness,
I’ve always told and heard the others tell
of both your actions and your honored names.

I leave the gall and go for the sweet apples
that I was promised by my truthful guide;
but first I must descend into the center.”

“So may your soul long lead your limbs and may
your fame shine after you,” he answered then,
“tell us if courtesy and valor still

abide within our city as they did
when we were there, or have they disappeared
completely; for Guiglielmo Borsiere,

who only recently has come to share
our torments, and goes there with our companions,
has caused us much affliction with his words.”

“Newcomers to the city and quick gains
have brought excess and arrogance to you,
o Florence, and you weep for it already!”

So I cried out with face upraised; the three
looked at each other when they heard my answer
as men will stare when they have heard the truth.

“If you can always offer a reply
so readily to others,” said all three,
“then happy you who speak, at will, so clearly.

So, if you can escape these lands of darkness
and see the lovely stars on your return,
when you repeat with pleasure, ‘I was there,’

be sure that you remember us to men.”
At this they broke their wheel; and as they fled,
their swift legs seemed to be no less than wings.

The time it took for them to disappear—
more brief than time it takes to say “amen”;
and so, my master thought it right to leave.

I followed him. We’d only walked a little
when roaring water grew so near to us
we hardly could have heard each other speak.

And even as the river that is first
to take its own course eastward from Mount Viso,
along the left flank of the Apennines

(which up above is called the Acquacheta,
before it spills into its valley bed
and flows without that name beyond Forli),

reverberates above San Benedetto
dell’Alpe as it cascades in one leap,
where there is space enough to house a thousand;

so did we hear that blackened water roar
as it plunged down a steep and craggy bank,
enough to deafen us in a few hours.

Around my waist I had a cord as girdle,
and with it once I thought I should be able
to catch the leopard with the painted hide.

And after I had loosened it completely,
just as my guide commanded me to do,
I handed it to him, knotted and coiled.

At this, he wheeled around upon his right
and cast it, at some distance from the edge,
straight down into the depth of the ravine.

“And surely something strange must here reply,”
I said within myself, “to this strange sign—
the sign my master follows with his eye.”

Ah, how much care men ought to exercise
with those whose penetrating intellect
can see our thoughts—not just our outer act!

He said to me: “Now there will soon emerge
what I await and what your thought has conjured:
it soon must be discovered to your sight.”

Faced with that truth which seems a lie, a man
should always close his lips as long as he can—
to tell it shames him, even though he’s blameless;

but here I can’t be still; and by the lines
of this my Comedy, reader, I swear—
and may my verse find favor for long years—

that through the dense and darkened air I saw
a figure swimming, rising up, enough
to bring amazement to the firmest heart,

like one returning from the waves where he
went down to loose an anchor snagged upon
a reef or something else hid in the sea,

who stretches upward and draws in his feet.

NOW was I where was heard the reverberation
Of water falling into the next round,
Like to that humming which the beehives make,

When shadows three together started forth,
Running, from out a company that passed
Beneath the rain of the sharp martyrdom.

Towards us came they, and each one cried out:
“Stop, thou; for by thy garb to us thou seemest
To be some one of our depraved city.”

Ah me ! what wounds I saw upon their limbs,
Recent and ancient by the flames burnt in !
It pains me still but to remember it.

Unto their cries my Teacher paused attentive;
He turned his face towards me, and “Now wait,
He said; “to these we should be courteous.

And if it were not for the fire that darts
The nature of this region, I should say
That haste were more becoming thee than them.”

As soon as we stood still, they recommenced
The old refrain, and when they overtook us,
Formed of themselves a wheel, all three of them.

As champions stripped and oiled are wont to do,
Watching for their advantage and their hold,
Before they come to blows and thrusts between them,

Thus, wheeling round, did every one his visage
Direct to me, so that in opposite wise
His neck and feet continual journey made.

And, “If the misery of this soft place
Bring in disdain ourselves and our entreaties,”
Began one, “and our aspect black and blistered.

Let the renown of us thy mind incline
To tell us who thou art, who thus securely
Thy living feet dost move along through Hell.

He in whose footprints thou dost see me treading,
Naked and skinless though he now may go,
Was of a greater rank than thou dost think;

He was the grandson of the good Gualdrada;
His name was Guidoguerra, and in life
Much did he with his wisdom and his sword.

The other, who close by me treads the sand,
Tegghiaio Aldobrandi is, whose fame
Above there in the world should welcome be.

And I, who with them on the cross am placed,
Jacopo Rusticucci was; and truly
My savage wife, more than aught else, doth harm me.”

Could I have been protected from the fire,
Below I should have thrown myself among them,
And think the Teacher would have suffered it;

But as I should have burned and baked myself,
My terror overmastered my good will,
Which made me greedy of embracing them.

Then I began: “Sorrow and not disdain
Did your condition fix within me so,
That tardily it wholly is stripped off,

As soon as this my Lord said unto me
Words, on account of which I thought within me
That people such as you are were approaching.

I of your city am; and evermore
Your labours and your honourable names
I with affection have retraced and heard.

I leave the gall, and go for the sweet fruits
Promised to me by the veracious Leader;
But to the centre first I needs must plunge.”

“So may the soul for a long while conduct
Those limbs of thine,”did he make answer thee: ”
“And so may thy renown shine after thee,

Valour and courtesy, say if they dwell
Within our city, as they used to do,
Or if they wholly have gone out of it;

For Guglielmo Borsier, who is in torment
With us of late, and goes there with his comrades,
Doth greatly mortify us with his words.”

“The new inhabitants and the sudden gains,
Pride and extravagance have in thee engendered,
Florence, so that thou weep’st thereat already !”

In this wise I exclaimed with face uplifted;
And the three, taking that for my reply,
Looked at each other, as one looks at truth

“If other times so little it doth cost thee,”
Replied they all, “to satisfy another,
Happy art thou, thus speaking at thy will !

Therefore, if thou escape from these dark places,
And come to rebehold the beauteous stars,
When it shall pleasure thee to say, ‘ I was,’

See that thou speak of us unto the people.”
Then they broke up the wheel, and in their flight
It seemed as if their agile legs were wings.

Not an Amen could possibly be said
So rapidly as they had disappeared;
Wherefore the Master deemed best to depart.

I followed him, and little had we gone,
Before the sound of water was so near us,
That speaking we should hardly have been heard.

Even as that stream which holdeth its own course
The first from Monte Veso tow’rds the East,
Upon the left—hand slope of Apennine,

Which is above called Acquacheta, ere
It down descendeth into its low bed,
And at Forli is vacant of that name,

Reverberates there above San Benedetto
From Alps, by falling at a single leap,
Where for a thousand there were room enough;

Thus downward from a bank precipitate,
We found resounding that dark—tinted water,
So that it soon the ear would have offended.

I had a cord around about me girt,
And therewithal I whilom had designed
To take the panther with the painted skin.

After I this had all from me unloosed,
As my Conductor had commanded me,
I reached it to him, gathered up and coiled

Whereat he turned himself to the right side,
And at a little distance from the verge,
He cast it down into that deep abyss.

“It must needs be some novelty respond,”
I said within myself, “to the new signal
The Master with his eye is following so.”

Ah me I how very cautious men should be
With those who not alone behold the act,
But with their wisdom look into the thoughts !

He said to me: “Soon there will upward come
What I await; and what thy thought is dreaming
Must soon reveal itself unto thy sight.”

Aye to that truth which has the face of falsehood,
A man should close his lips as far as may be,
Because without his fault it causes shame;

But here I cannot; and, Reader, by the notes
Of this my Comedy to thee I swear,
So may they not be void of lasting favour,

Athwart that dense and darksome atmosphere
I saw a figure swimming upward come,
Marvellous unto every steadfast heart,

Even as he returns who goeth down
Sometimes to clear an anchor, which has grappled
Reef, or aught else that in the sea is hidden,

Who upward stretches, and draws in his feet.

No sooner had I reached the place where one
could hear a murmur, like a beehive’s hum,
of waters as they fell to the next circle,

when, setting out together, three shades ran,
leaving another company that passed
beneath the rain of bitter punishment.

They came toward us, and each of them cried out:
“Stop, you who by your clothing seem to be
someone who comes from our indecent country!”

Ah me, what wounds I saw upon their limbs,
wounds new and old, wounds that the flames seared in!
It pains me still as I remember it.

When they cried out, my master paid attention;
he turned his face toward me and then he said:
“Now wait: to these one must show courtesy.

And were it not the nature of this place
for shafts of fire to fall, I’d say that haste
was seemlier for you than for those three.”

As soon as we stood still, they started up
their ancient wail again; and when they reached us,
they formed a wheel, all three of them together.

As champions, naked, oiled, will always do,
each studying the grip that serves him best
before the blows and wounds begin to fall,

while wheeling so, each one made sure his face
was turned to me, so that their necks opposed
their feet in one uninterrupted flow.

And, “If the squalor of this shifting sand,
together with our baked and barren features,
makes us and our requests contemptible,”

one said, “then may our fame incline your mind
to tell us who you are, whose living feet
can make their way through Hell with such assurance.

He in whose steps you see me tread, although
he now must wheel about both peeled and naked,
was higher in degree than you believe:

he was a grandson of the good Gualdrada,
and Guido Guerra was his name; in life
his sword and his good sense accomplished much.

The other who, behind me, tramples sand—
Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, one whose voice
should have been heeded in the world above.

And I, who share this punishment with them,
was Jacopo Rusticucci; certainly,
more than all else, my savage wife destroyed me.”

If I’d had shield and shelter from the fire,
I should have thrown myself down there among them—
I think my master would have sanctioned that;

but since that would have left me burned and baked,
my fear won out against the good intention
that made me so impatient to embrace them.

Then I began: “Your present state had fixed
not scorn but sorrow in me—and so deeply
that it will only disappear slowly—

as soon as my lord spoke to me with words
that made me understand what kind of men
were coming toward us, men of worth like yours.

For I am of your city; and with fondness,
I’ve always told and heard the others tell
of both your actions and your honored names.

I leave the gall and go for the sweet apples
that I was promised by my truthful guide;
but first I must descend into the center.”

“So may your soul long lead your limbs and may
your fame shine after you,” he answered then,
“tell us if courtesy and valor still

abide within our city as they did
when we were there, or have they disappeared
completely; for Guiglielmo Borsiere,

who only recently has come to share
our torments, and goes there with our companions,
has caused us much affliction with his words.”

“Newcomers to the city and quick gains
have brought excess and arrogance to you,
o Florence, and you weep for it already!”

So I cried out with face upraised; the three
looked at each other when they heard my answer
as men will stare when they have heard the truth.

“If you can always offer a reply
so readily to others,” said all three,
“then happy you who speak, at will, so clearly.

So, if you can escape these lands of darkness
and see the lovely stars on your return,
when you repeat with pleasure, ‘I was there,’

be sure that you remember us to men.”
At this they broke their wheel; and as they fled,
their swift legs seemed to be no less than wings.

The time it took for them to disappear—
more brief than time it takes to say “amen”;
and so, my master thought it right to leave.

I followed him. We’d only walked a little
when roaring water grew so near to us
we hardly could have heard each other speak.

And even as the river that is first
to take its own course eastward from Mount Viso,
along the left flank of the Apennines

(which up above is called the Acquacheta,
before it spills into its valley bed
and flows without that name beyond Forli),

reverberates above San Benedetto
dell’Alpe as it cascades in one leap,
where there is space enough to house a thousand;

so did we hear that blackened water roar
as it plunged down a steep and craggy bank,
enough to deafen us in a few hours.

Around my waist I had a cord as girdle,
and with it once I thought I should be able
to catch the leopard with the painted hide.

And after I had loosened it completely,
just as my guide commanded me to do,
I handed it to him, knotted and coiled.

At this, he wheeled around upon his right
and cast it, at some distance from the edge,
straight down into the depth of the ravine.

“And surely something strange must here reply,”
I said within myself, “to this strange sign—
the sign my master follows with his eye.”

Ah, how much care men ought to exercise
with those whose penetrating intellect
can see our thoughts—not just our outer act!

He said to me: “Now there will soon emerge
what I await and what your thought has conjured:
it soon must be discovered to your sight.”

Faced with that truth which seems a lie, a man
should always close his lips as long as he can—
to tell it shames him, even though he’s blameless;

but here I can’t be still; and by the lines
of this my Comedy, reader, I swear—
and may my verse find favor for long years—

that through the dense and darkened air I saw
a figure swimming, rising up, enough
to bring amazement to the firmest heart,

like one returning from the waves where he
went down to loose an anchor snagged upon
a reef or something else hid in the sea,

who stretches upward and draws in his feet.

NOW was I where was heard the reverberation
Of water falling into the next round,
Like to that humming which the beehives make,

When shadows three together started forth,
Running, from out a company that passed
Beneath the rain of the sharp martyrdom.

Towards us came they, and each one cried out:
“Stop, thou; for by thy garb to us thou seemest
To be some one of our depraved city.”

Ah me ! what wounds I saw upon their limbs,
Recent and ancient by the flames burnt in !
It pains me still but to remember it.

Unto their cries my Teacher paused attentive;
He turned his face towards me, and “Now wait,
He said; “to these we should be courteous.

And if it were not for the fire that darts
The nature of this region, I should say
That haste were more becoming thee than them.”

As soon as we stood still, they recommenced
The old refrain, and when they overtook us,
Formed of themselves a wheel, all three of them.

As champions stripped and oiled are wont to do,
Watching for their advantage and their hold,
Before they come to blows and thrusts between them,

Thus, wheeling round, did every one his visage
Direct to me, so that in opposite wise
His neck and feet continual journey made.

And, “If the misery of this soft place
Bring in disdain ourselves and our entreaties,”
Began one, “and our aspect black and blistered.

Let the renown of us thy mind incline
To tell us who thou art, who thus securely
Thy living feet dost move along through Hell.

He in whose footprints thou dost see me treading,
Naked and skinless though he now may go,
Was of a greater rank than thou dost think;

He was the grandson of the good Gualdrada;
His name was Guidoguerra, and in life
Much did he with his wisdom and his sword.

The other, who close by me treads the sand,
Tegghiaio Aldobrandi is, whose fame
Above there in the world should welcome be.

And I, who with them on the cross am placed,
Jacopo Rusticucci was; and truly
My savage wife, more than aught else, doth harm me.”

Could I have been protected from the fire,
Below I should have thrown myself among them,
And think the Teacher would have suffered it;

But as I should have burned and baked myself,
My terror overmastered my good will,
Which made me greedy of embracing them.

Then I began: “Sorrow and not disdain
Did your condition fix within me so,
That tardily it wholly is stripped off,

As soon as this my Lord said unto me
Words, on account of which I thought within me
That people such as you are were approaching.

I of your city am; and evermore
Your labours and your honourable names
I with affection have retraced and heard.

I leave the gall, and go for the sweet fruits
Promised to me by the veracious Leader;
But to the centre first I needs must plunge.”

“So may the soul for a long while conduct
Those limbs of thine,”did he make answer thee: ”
“And so may thy renown shine after thee,

Valour and courtesy, say if they dwell
Within our city, as they used to do,
Or if they wholly have gone out of it;

For Guglielmo Borsier, who is in torment
With us of late, and goes there with his comrades,
Doth greatly mortify us with his words.”

“The new inhabitants and the sudden gains,
Pride and extravagance have in thee engendered,
Florence, so that thou weep’st thereat already !”

In this wise I exclaimed with face uplifted;
And the three, taking that for my reply,
Looked at each other, as one looks at truth

“If other times so little it doth cost thee,”
Replied they all, “to satisfy another,
Happy art thou, thus speaking at thy will !

Therefore, if thou escape from these dark places,
And come to rebehold the beauteous stars,
When it shall pleasure thee to say, ‘ I was,’

See that thou speak of us unto the people.”
Then they broke up the wheel, and in their flight
It seemed as if their agile legs were wings.

Not an Amen could possibly be said
So rapidly as they had disappeared;
Wherefore the Master deemed best to depart.

I followed him, and little had we gone,
Before the sound of water was so near us,
That speaking we should hardly have been heard.

Even as that stream which holdeth its own course
The first from Monte Veso tow’rds the East,
Upon the left—hand slope of Apennine,

Which is above called Acquacheta, ere
It down descendeth into its low bed,
And at Forli is vacant of that name,

Reverberates there above San Benedetto
From Alps, by falling at a single leap,
Where for a thousand there were room enough;

Thus downward from a bank precipitate,
We found resounding that dark—tinted water,
So that it soon the ear would have offended.

I had a cord around about me girt,
And therewithal I whilom had designed
To take the panther with the painted skin.

After I this had all from me unloosed,
As my Conductor had commanded me,
I reached it to him, gathered up and coiled

Whereat he turned himself to the right side,
And at a little distance from the verge,
He cast it down into that deep abyss.

“It must needs be some novelty respond,”
I said within myself, “to the new signal
The Master with his eye is following so.”

Ah me I how very cautious men should be
With those who not alone behold the act,
But with their wisdom look into the thoughts !

He said to me: “Soon there will upward come
What I await; and what thy thought is dreaming
Must soon reveal itself unto thy sight.”

Aye to that truth which has the face of falsehood,
A man should close his lips as far as may be,
Because without his fault it causes shame;

But here I cannot; and, Reader, by the notes
Of this my Comedy to thee I swear,
So may they not be void of lasting favour,

Athwart that dense and darksome atmosphere
I saw a figure swimming upward come,
Marvellous unto every steadfast heart,

Even as he returns who goeth down
Sometimes to clear an anchor, which has grappled
Reef, or aught else that in the sea is hidden,

Who upward stretches, and draws in his feet.