From Literal Pimps and Whores to Metaphorical Pimps and Whores

  • a high style marked by apostrophes and metaphoric language
  • the prostituting of the Church-bride by her Pope-bridegroom picks up and metaphorizes the sexualized language of Inferno 18
  • reference to the capital punishment of propaginazzione in verses 49-51; see the Introduction to Inferno 27 for discussion of the historical tortures and punishments referenced in the Commedia
  • the intense dialogic quality recalls Inferno 10, where too dialogue is fount of misunderstanding
  • the theology of repentance is disregarded in order to damn Boniface VIII to Hell (see Inferno 20, Inferno 27, and Purgatorio 5)
  • St. John author of the Apocalpyse
  • the Donation of Constantine and its eventual debunking by the philologist Lorenzo Valla: one of the great instances of the practice of philology, the discipline of the historicized understanding of language

Inferno 19 is the Commedia’s first full-fledged indictment of the Church, picking up on some earlier indications that Dante links the clerical establishment with the sin of avarice. We remember especially the following verses from Inferno 7, where Dante says that he sees cardinals and popes among the misers in the fourth circle:

  Questi fuor cherci, che non han coperchio
piloso al capo, e papi e cardinali,
in cui usa avarizia il suo soperchio. (Inf. 7.46-48)
  These to the left—their heads bereft of hair—
were clergymen, and popes and cardinals,
within whom avarice works its excess.

The third bolgia is devoted to the type of fraud called simony, in which spiritual things are sold or exchanged for temporal things:

Simony is usually defined “a deliberate intention of buying or selling for a temporal price such things as are spiritual or annexed unto spirituals”. While this definition only speaks of purchase and sale, any exchange of spiritual for temporal things is simoniacal. Nor is the giving of the temporal as the price of the spiritual required for the existence of simony; according to a proposition condemned by Innocent XI (Denzinger-Bannwart, no. 1195) it suffices that the determining motive of the action of one party be the obtaining of compensation from the other. (“Simony,” from The Catholic Encyclopedia, accessed 10/27/2015).

Simon Magus, from whom simony gets its name, is a figure in the New Testament. Acts 8:9-24 recounts Simon’s attempt to buy from St. Peter the power to grant the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands:

Simon, seeing that the Holy Spirit was granted through the imposition of the apostles’ hands, offered them money; let me too, he said, have such powers that when I lay my hands on anyone he will receive the Holy Spirit. Whereupon Peter said to him, take thy wealth with thee to perdition, thou who hast told thyself that God’s free gift can be bought with money. (Acts 8:18-20)

Inferno 19 is a stunning canto, metaphorically and dramatically elaborate. It begins explosively, with a dramatic apostrophe to Simon Magus and his followers, all those who prostitute for gold and silver the “things of God, that ought to be the brides of righteousness”:

  O Simon mago, o miseri seguaci
che le cose di Dio, che di bontate
deon essere spose, e voi rapaci
  per oro e per argento avolterate,
or convien che per voi suoni la tromba,
però che ne la terza bolgia state. (Inf. 19.1-6)
  O Simon Magus! O his sad disciples!
Rapacious ones, who take the things of God,
that ought to be the brides of Righteousness,
  and make them fornicate for gold and silver!
The time has come to let the trumpet sound for you;
your place is here in this third pouch.

Here, at the beginning of Inferno 19, Dante inaugurates the key theme of innocence that is wantonly corrupted by its alleged protectors: the metaphor of a prostituted bride runs throughout the canto. Here the “things of God” that should be “brides of righteousness” are not protected by those charged to protect them, the churchmen. Rather, the things of God / that ought to be the brides of Righteousness”—“le cose di Dio, che di bontate / deon essere spose” (Inf. 19.2-3)—are prostituted: sold for money, debased, and corrupted.

Because this opening is couched as an apostrophe to Simon Magus and his followers, as direct address, the indictment rings out in the second person plural: “e voi rapaci / per oro e per argento avolterate” (and you rapacious ones / prostitute them for gold and silver [Inf. 19.3-4]). The second person plural pronoun “voi” is repeated in verse 5, where the poet tells the simonists that his trumpet sounds for them, the inhabitants of his third bolgia: “or convien che per voi suoni la tromba, / però che ne la terza bolgia state” (The time has come to let the trumpet sound / for you; your place is here in this third pouch [Inf. 19.5-6]). The repeated voi initiates the intensely dialogic nature of Inferno 19.

Ultimately, in this canto, the “spose” will cease to be plural and generic “brides of righteousness” and will become a singular bride: the Church, prostituted not by generic simonists, but by her very bridegroom, the Pope. Dante thus uses the bolgia of simony to indict the Church in its very pinnacle of power and authority: the papacy. By putting two popes into the bolgia of simony, one who speaks to Dante and another whose coming is foretold, Dante indicts the papacy itself.

Moreover, the metaphor of the Church as a bride prostituted by her Pope-bridegroom is all the more effective coming as it does after the prostituted sister (Ghisolabella, prostituted by her brother Venedico Caccianemico) and the pregnant abandoned bride (Hypsipyle, seduced and abandoned by Jason) of Inferno 18.

In The Undivine Comedy I discuss the progression from the straightforward and literal language of Inferno 18 (“puttana” in Inf. 18.133 refers to the literal “whore” Thaïs) to the densely metaphoric fabric of Inferno 19 (“puttaneggiar coi regi” in Inf. 19.108 refers to the whoring of the Church):

Again, the point is the stylistic discrepancy between the two cantos: from the relatively simple, unadorned, plain style of canto 18 to the rhetorical profusion of canto 19. The transition from a literal and rhetorically unelaborated style to a language of great metaphorical density finds its emblem in the transition from the literal “puttana” of 18.133, Thaïs, to the metaphorical “puttaneggiar coi regi” (whoring with kings [19.108]) of the Church on behalf of the pimping popes. The back-to-back use of puttana and puttaneggiar (the former used only twice more, both times in Purgatorio 32 for the Church, the latter a hapax), underscores the transition from literal to metaphorical whoring and thus the rhetorical differences between cantos: the straightforward narrative of Inferno 18 contrasts sharply with the grandiloquence of Inferno 19, a canto that contains three apostrophes, that indeed opens with the apostrophic trumpet blast directed at Simon Magus and his fellow prostituters of “the things of God.” (The Undivine Comedy, pp. 77-8)

* * *

In this canto of high drama as well as of high language, Dante does not simply view sinners in their respective pouches but participates in an animated dialogic encounter with Pope Nicholas III, who mistakes Dante for a later pontiff, Boniface VIII. Nicholas III, the Roman nobleman Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, Pope from 1277 to 1280, is now in the bolgia of simony, head-first in a cleft in the rock floor, only his feet visible. Since he is buried head-first, Nicholas III cannot see the figure standing above him and as a result he mistakes Dante for the man whom he expects, whose arrival will push him further into the rock and who will take his place as the upper-most of upside-down popes wedged deeply into the very floor of Hell.

The narrator describes his own posture during the colloquy with Nicholas III.  He stands above the soul who is wedged into the rock floor of Hell and compares himself to a friar who stands above a man who is condemned to death by propagginazione, being buried alive:

Io stava come ’l frate che confessa
lo perfido assessin, che, poi ch’è fitto,
richiama lui per che la morte cessa.   (Inf. 19.49-51) 

I stood as does the friar who confesses
the foul assassin who, fixed fast, head down,
calls back the friar, and so delays his death. 

The torture of propagginazione will be discussed in the context of other references to capital punishment in the Commedia in the Introduction to Inferno 27.

The successor pope to whom Nicholas III thinks he is speaking is Pope Boniface VIII, born Benedetto Caetani. Boniface VIII became pope fourteen years after the death of Nicholas III, in 1294, and remained head of the Holy See until his death in 1303. Boniface VIII succeeded the holy hermit, Pietro da Morrone, who was Pope Celestine V for five months in 1294 before he became the first pope to resign his office. Many, like the Franciscan poet Jacopone da Todi, hoped that the pious and humble Celestine V would be able to reform the Church, a cause that was set back by the “usurpation” of the papacy by the worldly Boniface VIII. On Celestine V, see the Introduction to Inferno 3.

Nicholas III speaks mordantly to the man whom he mistakenly believes to be Boniface VIII, accusing him of having first “taken by deceit” (“tòrre a ’nganno” = togliere con l’inganno) and then violated (fare strazio di) the “beautiful lady”— “la bella donna” (57)—who is his bride, namely the Church:

  Se’ tu sì tosto di quell’aver sazio
per lo qual non temesti tòrre a ’nganno
la bella donna, e poi di farne strazio? (Inf. 19.55-57)
  Are you so quickly sated with the riches
for which you did not fear to take by guile
the Lovely Lady, then to violate her?

In Nicholas’ characterization, Boniface VIII becomes the metaphoric equivalent of two sinners from Inferno 18. Boniface VIII first deceives his bride, taking her by deceit (“tòrre a ’nganno” in verse 56), like Jason, whose seduction of Hypsipyle is characterized by the same inganno (“Ivi con segni e con parole ornate / Isifile ingannò” [Inf. 18.91-2]). He then violates her, like Venedico Caccianemico, who prostituted his sister Ghisolabella, whose very name “Ghisolabella” is echoed in the description of the Church as “la bella donna” in verse 57.

In addition to providing the stunning accusation leveled by one simoniac Pope (present and stuffed into the ground) at another (mistakenly deemed to be present and standing above him), the dialogue between Nicholas III and the pilgrim is part of an extraordinary dramatic conceit concocted by Dante in order to damn a Pope who was still alive in 1300.

Boniface VIII did not die until 1303, while the pilgrim journeys into Hell in April 1300. Dante, writing this canto years after Boniface’s death, wants to find a way to indicate that Boniface’s abode is Hell. The solution is that Nicholas III, who is stuck head-first into the rock and cannot see, mistakenly identifies the pilgrim as Boniface VIII and speaks to him by name. Dante cleverly “covers” himself by even having Nicholas indicate his surprise that Boniface has arrived in Hell several years earlier than expected:

Ed el gridò: “Se’ tu già costì ritto,
se’ tu già costì ritto, Bonifazio?
Di parecchi anni mi mentì lo scritto.”  (Inf. 19.52-54)

And he cried out: “Are you already standing,
already standing there, o Boniface?
The book has lied to me by several years.”   

Later in Inferno 19 Dante-pilgrim worries that he might have been “troppo folle” (too rash [Inf. 19.88]) in the outburst that he directs at Nicholas III. This is a good example of the poet defusing his own boldness by projecting it onto the pilgrim. For the truly rash act of Inferno 19 is Dante-poet’s reserving a place in hell for Boniface VIII.

In damning Boniface VIII, Dante sets aside the theology of repentance, which holds that sinners can delay repentance until the very last moment of life and still be saved. Dante is highly aware of this doctrine and indeed dramatizes late repentance and consequent salvation in Purgatorio 5. By damning Boniface before he died in 1303, Dante denies him the possibility of repentance in extremis and—most important—he seems to set aside his free will, his God-given ability to repent and convert to the good as long as he is alive.

Within a poem whose premise of knowing the afterlife is always already deterministic, Dante flirts here—through the trope of damning Boniface three years before his historical death in 1303—with a more specific and technical determinism: that practiced by astrologers and diviners. This more technically construed determinism is precisely the topic of Inferno 20. For further discussion of Boniface VIII in this context, see the Introductions to Inferno 20 and Inferno 27.

* * *

We have seen that the capacity of words to wound or to misrepresent is a feature of dialogue in Inferno: dialogue is essential to all human interaction, but it can therefore also be a fount of misunderstanding and hurt. In Inferno 10 Cavalcanti père misconstrues the pilgrim’s past absolute “ebbe” in verse 63 (“forse cui Guido vostro ebbe a disdegno”), taking the tense of the verb as a sign that his son Guido is dead: “Come? / dicesti ‘elli ebbe’? non viv’elli ancora?” (What’s that? / He ‘did disdain’? He is not still alive? [Inf. 10.67-8]).

The pilgrim hesitates in responding to the father in Inferno 10, because he doesn’t understand how Cavalcanti senior had arrived at his mistaken assumption. Here too, in Inferno 19, the pilgrim hesitates in responding to Nicholas III. After all, it’s not every day in Hell that one is mistaken for a Pope! His hesitation is sufficiently prolonged that Virgilio intervenes, telling Dante precisely what to say to Nicholas: “Dilli tosto: / ‘Non son colui, non son colui che credi’” (Tell this to him at once: / ‘I am not he—not whom you think I am’ [Inf. 19.61-2]). The dialogic nature of this moment is emphasized in these verses, in which Virgilio tells Dante, in embedded direct discourse, the very words that he should speak to Nicholas III.

When the pilgrim realizes that he is speaking to the very custodian of the Church-bride, her Pope-bridegroom, he is emboldened to speak harsh words of censure to Pope Nicholas, beginning in Inferno 19.90. We remember that, in the simile of verses 49-51, the narrator describes himself as like the “friar who confesses” in his posture toward this sinner. All the more appropriate, then, that the pilgrim appropriates biblical language for his harsh reproof, at a certain point in his tirade citing the New Testament and specifically the visions of the Apocalypse:

  Di voi pastor s’accorse il Vangelista,
quando colei che siede sopra l’acque
puttaneggiar coi regi a lui fu vista... (Inf. 19.106-108)
  You, shepherds, the Evangelist had noticed
when he saw her who sits upon the waters
and realized she fornicates with kings...

Dante here calls the author of the Apocalpyse the “Evangelist”—“Vangelista” in Inf. 19.106—because in Dante’s time John the Evangelist was believed to be also the author of the Apocalypse, as well as the author of the Gospel of John. There was as yet no knowledge of John of Patmos.

John’s visions in the King James version of the Bible include the following: “I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication” (Revelation 17:1-2). Dante invokes this passage from the Apocalypse (also known as Revelation), telling Nicholas that the Evangelist had become aware of “pastors” like him when he saw “the whore who sits upon the waters” engaged in “fornicating with kings”: “quando colei che siede sopra l’acque / puttaneggiar coi regi a lui fu vista” (Inf. 19.107-8).

The “meretrix magna” of Apocalypse 17:1-3 was interpreted in antiquity as a reference to Rome. However, medieval Christians, especially in the milieu of reformers like the spiritual Franciscans, interpreted the whore who sits upon the waters as a reference to the corrupt and wealthy Church. The extraordinary phrase “puttaneggiar coi regi”—“whoring with kings”—thus concludes the traslatio from literal pimps (Venedico Caccianemico) and literal whores (Thaïs, a “puttana” in Inf. 18.133) in Inferno 18 to metaphorical pimps and metaphorical whores in Inferno 19.

Dante-pilgrim concludes his tirade with an apostrophe to the Emperor Constantine, beginning in Inferno 19.115:

  Ahi, Costantin, di quanto mal fu matre,
non la tua conversion, ma quella dote
che da te prese il primo ricco patre! (Inf. 19.115-17)
  Ah, Constantine, what wickedness was born—
and not from your conversion—from the dower
that you bestowed upon the first rich father!

Here initiates another long thematic thread of the Commedia: the idea that the corruption of the Church began when Emperor Constantine, who ruled from 306 to 337 CE, departed for Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). It was believed that Emperor Constantine, having been cured by Pope Sylvester of leprosy, in gratitude bequeathed the Western Roman Empire to the Church, as a parting “dowry” (continuing the bridal metaphor). According to this view of history, current in Dante’s time, Pope Sylvester thus received from Constantine on behalf of the Papacy a vast empire and a vast fortune.

The Papal claim to temporal power was based on the so-called Donation of Constantine. This document, which bequeaths Rome and its empire to the Church, was held in Dante’s time to be a legal document written in Constantine’s court. In reality it was “the best-known and most important forgery of the Middle Ages”:

Donation of Constantine [Credit: ]

Donation of Constantine, Latin Donatio Constantini and Constitutum Constantini, the best-known and most important forgery of the Middle Ages, the document purporting to record the Roman emperor Constantine the Great’s bestowal of vast territory and spiritual and temporal power on Pope Sylvester I (reigned 314–335) and his successors. Based on legends that date back to the 5th century, the Donation was composed by an unknown writer in the 8th century. Although it had only limited impact at the time of its compilation, it had great influence on political and religious affairs in medieval Europe until it was clearly demonstrated to be a forgery by Lorenzo Valla in the 15th century.

(“Donation of Constantine,” Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed 10/27/2015; the fresco shows Sylvester [left] receiving the purported donation from Constantine [right], in Santi Quattro Coronati, Rome, 13th century)

Dante deplores the Donation of Constantine, believing that the corruption of the Church and its inability to follow in the footsteps of Christ and live according to His mandate of evangelical purity are the result of the enormous temptations and mistaken priorities generated by so vast a material gift.

In Dante’s view the Church was effectively submerged by earthly goods and by the pernicious desire to possess those goods, as a direct consequence of Constantine’s well-intentioned but maleficent gift. In Purgatorio 32, a canto that is Dante’s personal version of the Apocalypse, he has a vision of the church as a chariot that is submerged in an eagle’s feathers (Purg. 32.124-29). The feathers represent the corrupting material goods that came to the Church via the imperial eagle and through the Donation of Constantine. In Paradiso 6, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, who reigned from 527 to 565,  tells the story of the Roman Empire, and he refers to Constantine’s transferral of the seat of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople in 330 as going “contr’al corso del ciel”—“counter to heaven’s course”: “Poscia che Costantin l’aquila volse / contr’ al corso del ciel” (After Constantine had turned the Eagle / counter to heaven’s course [Par. 6.1-2]). At the same time, Constantine’s good intentions will be specifically vindicated in Paradiso 20 when the pilgrim sees the soul of the Emperor twinkling among the lights of the eagle of justice (Par. 20.55-60).

If Dante had lived a few centuries later, he would have witnessed the humanist Lorenzo Valla use philological skills to debunk the document on which the Church’s claims were based. In one of the great instances of the practice of philology—the discipline that is the historicized understanding language—Lorenzo showed that the Latin of the Donation of Constantine was not the Latin of the fourth century. The Donation of Constantine was a forgery written in the papal court circa 750-800 CE, long after the reign of Emperor Constantine. But Dante, having no reason in his time to believe the document fraudulent and illegal, could only kick and scream against its contents.

Coordinated Reading

The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 4, “Narrative and Style in Lower Hell”, pp. 78-79.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Inferno 19: From Literal Pimps and Whores to Metaphorical Pimps and Whores.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/inferno/inferno-19/

About the Commento

1O Simon mago, o miseri seguaci
2che le cose di Dio, che di bontate
3deon essere spose, e voi rapaci

4per oro e per argento avolterate,
5or convien che per voi suoni la tromba,
6però che ne la terza bolgia state.

7Già eravamo, a la seguente tomba,
8montati de lo scoglio in quella parte
9ch’a punto sovra mezzo ’l fosso piomba.

10O somma sapïenza, quanta è l’arte
11che mostri in cielo, in terra e nel mal mondo,
12e quanto giusto tua virtù comparte!

13Io vidi per le coste e per lo fondo
14piena la pietra livida di fóri,
15d’un largo tutti e ciascun era tondo.

16Non mi parean men ampi né maggiori
17che que’ che son nel mio bel San Giovanni,
18fatti per loco d’i battezzatori;

19l’un de li quali, ancor non è molt’ anni,
20rupp’ io per un che dentro v’annegava:
21e questo sia suggel ch’ogn’omo sganni.

22Fuor de la bocca a ciascun soperchiava
23d’un peccator li piedi e de le gambe
24infino al grosso, e l’altro dentro stava.

25Le piante erano a tutti accese intrambe;
26per che sì forte guizzavan le giunte,
27che spezzate averien ritorte e strambe.

28Qual suole il fiammeggiar de le cose unte
29muoversi pur su per la strema buccia,
30tal era lì dai calcagni a le punte.

31«Chi è colui, maestro, che si cruccia
32guizzando più che li altri suoi consorti»,
33diss’ io, «e cui più roggia fiamma succia?».

34Ed elli a me: «Se tu vuo’ ch’i’ ti porti
35là giù per quella ripa che più giace,
36da lui saprai di sé e de’ suoi torti».

37E io: «Tanto m’è bel, quanto a te piace:
38tu se’ segnore, e sai ch’i’ non mi parto
39dal tuo volere, e sai quel che si tace».

40Allor venimmo in su l’argine quarto;
41volgemmo e discendemmo a mano stanca
42là giù nel fondo foracchiato e arto.

43Lo buon maestro ancor de la sua anca
44non mi dipuose, sì mi giunse al rotto
45di quel che si piangeva con la zanca.

46«O qual che se’ che ’l di sù tien di sotto,
47anima trista come pal commessa»,
48comincia’ io a dir, «se puoi, fa motto».

49Io stava come ’l frate che confessa
50lo perfido assessin, che, poi ch’è fitto,
51richiama lui per che la morte cessa.

52Ed el gridò: «Se’ tu già costì ritto,
53se’ tu già costì ritto, Bonifazio?
54Di parecchi anni mi mentì lo scritto.

55Se’ tu sì tosto di quell’ aver sazio
56per lo qual non temesti tòrre a ’nganno
57la bella donna, e poi di farne strazio?».

58Tal mi fec’ io, quai son color che stanno,
59per non intender ciò ch’è lor risposto,
60quasi scornati, e risponder non sanno.

61Allor Virgilio disse: «Dilli tosto:
62“Non son colui, non son colui che credi”»;
63e io rispuosi come a me fu imposto.

64Per che lo spirto tutti storse i piedi;
65poi, sospirando e con voce di pianto,
66mi disse: «Dunque che a me richiedi?

67Se di saper ch’i’ sia ti cal cotanto,
68che tu abbi però la ripa corsa,
69sappi ch’i’ fui vestito del gran manto;

70e veramente fui figliuol de l’orsa,
71cupido sì per avanzar li orsatti,
72che sù l’avere e qui me misi in borsa.

73Di sotto al capo mio son li altri tratti
74che precedetter me simoneggiando,
75per le fessure de la pietra piatti.

76Là giù cascherò io altresì quando
77verrà colui ch’i’ credea che tu fossi,
78allor ch’i’ feci ’l sùbito dimando.

79Ma più è ’l tempo già che i piè mi cossi
80e ch’i’ son stato così sottosopra,
81ch’el non starà piantato coi piè rossi:

82ché dopo lui verrà di più laida opra,
83di ver’ ponente, un pastor sanza legge,
84tal che convien che lui e me ricuopra.

85Nuovo Iasón sarà, di cui si legge
86ne’ Maccabei; e come a quel fu molle
87suo re, così fia lui chi Francia regge».

88Io non so s’i’ mi fui qui troppo folle,
89ch’i’ pur rispuosi lui a questo metro:
90«Deh, or mi dì: quanto tesoro volle

91Nostro Segnore in prima da san Pietro
92ch’ei ponesse le chiavi in sua balìa?
93Certo non chiese se non “Viemmi retro”.

94Né Pier né li altri tolsero a Matia
95oro od argento, quando fu sortito
96al loco che perdé l’anima ria.

97Però ti sta, ché tu se’ ben punito;
98e guarda ben la mal tolta moneta
99ch’esser ti fece contra Carlo ardito.

100E se non fosse ch’ancor lo mi vieta
101la reverenza de le somme chiavi
102che tu tenesti ne la vita lieta,

103io userei parole ancor più gravi;
104ché la vostra avarizia il mondo attrista,
105calcando i buoni e sollevando i pravi.

106Di voi pastor s’accorse il Vangelista,
107quando colei che siede sopra l’acque
108puttaneggiar coi regi a lui fu vista;

109quella che con le sette teste nacque,
110e da le diece corna ebbe argomento,
111fin che virtute al suo marito piacque.

112Fatto v’avete dio d’oro e d’argento;
113e che altro è da voi a l’idolatre,
114se non ch’elli uno, e voi ne orate cento?

115Ahi, Costantin, di quanto mal fu matre,
116non la tua conversion, ma quella dote
117che da te prese il primo ricco patre!».

118E mentr’ io li cantava cotai note,
119o ira o coscïenza che ’l mordesse,
120forte spingava con ambo le piote.

121I’ credo ben ch’al mio duca piacesse,
122con sì contenta labbia sempre attese
123lo suon de le parole vere espresse.

124Però con ambo le braccia mi prese;
125e poi che tutto su mi s’ebbe al petto,
126rimontò per la via onde discese.

127Né si stancò d’avermi a sé distretto,
128sì men portò sovra ’l colmo de l’arco
129che dal quarto al quinto argine è tragetto.

130Quivi soavemente spuose il carco,
131soave per lo scoglio sconcio ed erto
132che sarebbe a le capre duro varco.

133Indi un altro vallon mi fu scoperto.

O Simon Magus! O his sad disciples!
Rapacious ones, who take the things of God,
that ought to be the brides of Righteousness,

and make them fornicate for gold and silver!
The time has come to let the trumpet sound
for you; your place is here in this third pouch.

We had already reached the tomb beyond
and climbed onto the ridge, where its high point
hangs just above the middle of the ditch.

O Highest Wisdom, how much art you show
in heaven, earth, and this sad world below,
how just your power is when it allots!

Along the sides and down along the bottom,
I saw that livid rock was perforated:
the openings were all one width and round.

They did not seem to me less broad or more
than those that in my handsome San Giovanni
were made to serve as basins for baptizing;

and one of these, not many years ago,
I broke for someone who was drowning in it:
and let this be my seal to set men straight.

Out from the mouth of each hole there emerged
a sinner’s feet and so much of his legs
up to the thigh; the rest remained within.

Both soles of every sinner were on fire;
their joints were writhing with such violence,
they would have severed withes and ropes of grass.

As flame on oily things will only stir
along the outer surface, so there, too,
that fire made its way from heels to toes.

“Master,” I said, “who is that shade who suffers
and quivers more than all his other comrades,
that sinner who is licked by redder flames?”

And he to me: “If you would have me lead
you down along the steepest of the banks,
from him you’ll learn about his self and sins.”

And I: “What pleases you will please me too:
you are my lord; you know I do not swerve
from what you will, you know what is unspoken.”

At this we came upon the fourth embankment;
we turned and, keeping to the left, descended
into the narrow, perforated bottom.

My good lord did not let me leave his side
until he’d brought me to the hole that held
that sinner who lamented with his legs.

“Whoever you may be, dejected soul,
whose head is downward, planted like a pole,”
my words began, “do speak if you are able.”

I stood as does the friar who confesses
the foul assassin who, fixed fast, head down,
calls back the friar, and so delays his death;

and he cried out: “Are you already standing,
already standing there, o Boniface?
The book has lied to me by several years.

Are you so quickly sated with the riches
for which you did not fear to take by guile
the Lovely Lady, then to violate her?”

And I became like those who stand as if
they have been mocked, who cannot understand
what has been said to them and can’t respond.

But Virgil said: “Tell this to him at once:
‘I am not he—not whom you think I am.'”
And I replied as I was told to do.

At this the spirit twisted both his feet,
and sighing and with a despairing voice,
he said: “What is it, then, you want of me?

If you have crossed the bank and climbed so far
to find out who I am, then know that I
was one of those who wore the mighty mantle,

and surely was a son of the she—bear,
so eager to advance the cubs that I
pursed wealth above while here I purse myself.

Below my head there is the place of those
who took the way of simony before me;
and they are stuffed within the clefts of stone.

I, too, shall yield my place and fall below
when he arrives, the one for whom I had
mistaken you when I was quick to question.

But I have baked my feet a longer time,
have stood like this, upon my head, than he
is to stand planted here with scarlet feet:

for after him, one uglier in deeds
will come, a lawless shepherd from the west,
worthy to cover him and cover me.

He’ll be a second Jason, of whom we read
in Maccabees; and just as Jason’s king
was soft to him, so shall the king of France

be soft to this one.” And I do not know
if I was too rash here—I answered so:
“Then tell me now, how much gold did our Lord

ask that Saint Peter give to him before
he placed the keys within his care? Surely
the only thing he said was: ‘Follow me.’

And Peter and the others never asked
for gold or silver when they chose Matthias
to take the place of the transgressing soul.

Stay as you are, for you are rightly punished;
and guard with care the money got by evil
that made you so audacious against Charles.

And were it not that I am still prevented
by reverence for those exalted keys
that you had held within the happy life,

I’d utter words much heavier than these,
because your avarice afflicts the world:
it tramples on the good, lifts up the wicked.

You, shepherds, the Evangelist had noticed
when he saw her who sits upon the waters
and realized she fornicates with kings,

she who was born with seven heads and had
the power and support of the ten horns,
as long as virtue was her husband’s pleasure.

You’ve made yourselves a god of gold and silver;
how are you different from idolaters,
save that they worship one and you a hundred?

Ah, Constantine, what wickedness was born—
and not from your conversion—from the dower
that you bestowed upon the first rich father!”

And while I sang such notes to him—whether
it was his indignation or his conscience
that bit him—he kicked hard with both his soles.

I do indeed believe it pleased my guide:
he listened always with such satisfied
expression to the sound of those true words.

And then he gathered me in both his arms
and, when he had me fast against his chest,
where he climbed down before, climbed upward now;

nor did he tire of clasping me until
he brought me to the summit of the arch
that crosses from the fourth to the fifth rampart.

And here he gently set his burden down—
gently because the ridge was rough and steep,
and would have been a rugged pass for goats.

From there another valley lay before me.

O SIMON MAGUS, O forlorn disciples,
Ye who the things of God, which ought to be
The brides of holiness, rapaciously

For silver and for gold do prostitute,
Now it behoves for you the trumpet sound,
Because in this third Bolgia ye abide.

We had already on the following tomb
Ascended to that portion of the crag
Which o er the middle of the moat hangs plumb.

Wisdom supreme, O how great art thou showest
In heaven, in earth, and in the evil world,
And with what justice doth thy power distribute !

I saw upon the sides and on the bottom
The livid stone with perforations filled,
All of one size, and every one was round.

To me less ample seemed they not, nor greater
Than those that in my beautiful Saint John
Are fashioned for the place of the baptisers,

And one of which, not many years ago,
I broke for some one, who was drowning in it;
Be this a seal all men to undeceive.

Out of the mouth of each one there protruded
The feet of a transgressor, and the legs
Up to the calf, the rest within remained.

In all of them the soles were both on fire;
Wherefore the joints so violently quivered,
They would have snapped asunder withes and bands.

Even as the flame of unctuous things is wont
To move upon the outer surface only,
So likewise was it there from heel to point.

“Master, who is that one who writhes himself,
More than his other comrades quivering,”
I said, “and whom a redder flame is sucking ?”

And he to me: “If thou wilt have me bear thee
Down there along that bank which lowest lies,
From him thou’lt know his errors and himself.”

And I: “What pleases thee, to me is pleasing;
Thou art my Lord, and knowest that I depart not
From thy desire, and knowest what is not spoken.”

Straightway upon the fourth dike we arrived;
We turned, and on the left—hand side descended
Down to the bottom full of holes and narrow.

And the good Master yet from off his haunch
Deposed me not, till to the hole he brought me
Of him who so lamented with his shanks.

“Whoe’er thou art, that standest upside down,
O doleful soul, implanted like a stake,”
To say began I, “if thou canst, speak out.”

I stood even as the friar who is confessing
The false assassin, who, when he is fixed,
Recalls him, so that death may be delayed.

And he cried out: “Dost thou stand there already,
Dost thou stand there already, Boniface ?
By many years the record lied to me.

Art thou so early satiate with that wealth,
For which thou didst not fear to take by fraud
The beautiful Lady, and then work her woe ?”

Such I became, as people are who stand,
Not comprehending what is answered them,
As if bemocked, and know not how to answer.

Then said Virgilius: “Say to him straightway,
‘ I am not he, I am not he thou thinkest.”‘
And I replied as was imposed on me.

Whereat the spirit writhed with both his feet,
Then, sighing, with a voice of lamentation
Said to me: “Then what wantest thou of me ?

If who I am thou carest so much to know,
That thou on that account hast crossed the bank,
Know that I vested was with the great mantle;

And truly was I son of the She—bear,
So eager to advance the cubs, that wealth
Above, and here myself, I pocketed.

Beneath my head the others are dragged down
Who have preceded me in simony,
Flattened along the fissure of the rock.

Below there I shall likewise fall, whenever
That one shall come who I believed thou wast,
What time the sudden question I proposed.

But longer I my feet already toast,
And here have been in this way upside down.
Than he will planted stay with reddened feet;

For after him shall come of fouler deed
From tow’rds the west a Pastor without law,
Such as befits to cover him and me.

New Jason will he be, of whom we read
In Maccabees ; and as his king was pliant,
So he who governs France shall be to this one.”

I do not know if I were here too bold,
That him I answered only in this metre:
“I pray thee tell me now how great a treasure

Our Lord demanded of Saint Peter first,
Before he put the keys into his keeping?
Truly he nothing asked but ‘ Follow me.’

Nor Peter nor the rest asked of Matthias
Silver or gold, when he by lot was chosen
Unto the place the guilty soul had lost.

Therefore stay here, for thou art justly punished,
And keep safe guard o’er the ill—gotten money,
Which caused thee to be valiant against Charles.

And were it not that still forbids it me
The reverence for the keys superlative
Thou hadst in keeping in the gladsome life,

I would make use of words more grievous still;
Because your avarice afflicts the world,
Trampling the good and lifting the depraved.

The Evangelist you Pastors had in mind,
When she who sitteth upon many waters
To fornicate with kings by him was seen;

The same who with the seven heads was born,
And power and strength from the ten horns received,
So long as virtue to her spouse was pleasing.

Ye have made yourselves a god of gold and silver;
And from the idolater how differ ye,
Save that he one, and ye a hundred worship?

Ah, Constantine ! of how much ill was mother,
Not thy conversion, but that marriage dower
Which the first wealthy Father took from thee !”

And while I sang to him such notes as these.
Either that anger or that conscience stung him,
He struggled violently with both his feet.

I think in sooth that it my Leader pleased,
With such contented lip he listened ever
Unto the sound of the true words expressed.

Therefore with both his arms he took me up,
And when he had me all upon his breast,
Remounted by the way where he descended.

Nor did he tire to have me clasped to him;
But bore me to the summit of the arch
Which from the fourth dike to the fifth is passage.

There tenderly he laid his burden down,
Tenderly on the crag uneven and steep,
That would have been hard passage for the goats:

Thence was unveiled to me another valley.

O Simon Magus! O his sad disciples!
Rapacious ones, who take the things of God,
that ought to be the brides of Righteousness,

and make them fornicate for gold and silver!
The time has come to let the trumpet sound
for you; your place is here in this third pouch.

We had already reached the tomb beyond
and climbed onto the ridge, where its high point
hangs just above the middle of the ditch.

O Highest Wisdom, how much art you show
in heaven, earth, and this sad world below,
how just your power is when it allots!

Along the sides and down along the bottom,
I saw that livid rock was perforated:
the openings were all one width and round.

They did not seem to me less broad or more
than those that in my handsome San Giovanni
were made to serve as basins for baptizing;

and one of these, not many years ago,
I broke for someone who was drowning in it:
and let this be my seal to set men straight.

Out from the mouth of each hole there emerged
a sinner’s feet and so much of his legs
up to the thigh; the rest remained within.

Both soles of every sinner were on fire;
their joints were writhing with such violence,
they would have severed withes and ropes of grass.

As flame on oily things will only stir
along the outer surface, so there, too,
that fire made its way from heels to toes.

“Master,” I said, “who is that shade who suffers
and quivers more than all his other comrades,
that sinner who is licked by redder flames?”

And he to me: “If you would have me lead
you down along the steepest of the banks,
from him you’ll learn about his self and sins.”

And I: “What pleases you will please me too:
you are my lord; you know I do not swerve
from what you will, you know what is unspoken.”

At this we came upon the fourth embankment;
we turned and, keeping to the left, descended
into the narrow, perforated bottom.

My good lord did not let me leave his side
until he’d brought me to the hole that held
that sinner who lamented with his legs.

“Whoever you may be, dejected soul,
whose head is downward, planted like a pole,”
my words began, “do speak if you are able.”

I stood as does the friar who confesses
the foul assassin who, fixed fast, head down,
calls back the friar, and so delays his death;

and he cried out: “Are you already standing,
already standing there, o Boniface?
The book has lied to me by several years.

Are you so quickly sated with the riches
for which you did not fear to take by guile
the Lovely Lady, then to violate her?”

And I became like those who stand as if
they have been mocked, who cannot understand
what has been said to them and can’t respond.

But Virgil said: “Tell this to him at once:
‘I am not he—not whom you think I am.'”
And I replied as I was told to do.

At this the spirit twisted both his feet,
and sighing and with a despairing voice,
he said: “What is it, then, you want of me?

If you have crossed the bank and climbed so far
to find out who I am, then know that I
was one of those who wore the mighty mantle,

and surely was a son of the she—bear,
so eager to advance the cubs that I
pursed wealth above while here I purse myself.

Below my head there is the place of those
who took the way of simony before me;
and they are stuffed within the clefts of stone.

I, too, shall yield my place and fall below
when he arrives, the one for whom I had
mistaken you when I was quick to question.

But I have baked my feet a longer time,
have stood like this, upon my head, than he
is to stand planted here with scarlet feet:

for after him, one uglier in deeds
will come, a lawless shepherd from the west,
worthy to cover him and cover me.

He’ll be a second Jason, of whom we read
in Maccabees; and just as Jason’s king
was soft to him, so shall the king of France

be soft to this one.” And I do not know
if I was too rash here—I answered so:
“Then tell me now, how much gold did our Lord

ask that Saint Peter give to him before
he placed the keys within his care? Surely
the only thing he said was: ‘Follow me.’

And Peter and the others never asked
for gold or silver when they chose Matthias
to take the place of the transgressing soul.

Stay as you are, for you are rightly punished;
and guard with care the money got by evil
that made you so audacious against Charles.

And were it not that I am still prevented
by reverence for those exalted keys
that you had held within the happy life,

I’d utter words much heavier than these,
because your avarice afflicts the world:
it tramples on the good, lifts up the wicked.

You, shepherds, the Evangelist had noticed
when he saw her who sits upon the waters
and realized she fornicates with kings,

she who was born with seven heads and had
the power and support of the ten horns,
as long as virtue was her husband’s pleasure.

You’ve made yourselves a god of gold and silver;
how are you different from idolaters,
save that they worship one and you a hundred?

Ah, Constantine, what wickedness was born—
and not from your conversion—from the dower
that you bestowed upon the first rich father!”

And while I sang such notes to him—whether
it was his indignation or his conscience
that bit him—he kicked hard with both his soles.

I do indeed believe it pleased my guide:
he listened always with such satisfied
expression to the sound of those true words.

And then he gathered me in both his arms
and, when he had me fast against his chest,
where he climbed down before, climbed upward now;

nor did he tire of clasping me until
he brought me to the summit of the arch
that crosses from the fourth to the fifth rampart.

And here he gently set his burden down—
gently because the ridge was rough and steep,
and would have been a rugged pass for goats.

From there another valley lay before me.

O SIMON MAGUS, O forlorn disciples,
Ye who the things of God, which ought to be
The brides of holiness, rapaciously

For silver and for gold do prostitute,
Now it behoves for you the trumpet sound,
Because in this third Bolgia ye abide.

We had already on the following tomb
Ascended to that portion of the crag
Which o er the middle of the moat hangs plumb.

Wisdom supreme, O how great art thou showest
In heaven, in earth, and in the evil world,
And with what justice doth thy power distribute !

I saw upon the sides and on the bottom
The livid stone with perforations filled,
All of one size, and every one was round.

To me less ample seemed they not, nor greater
Than those that in my beautiful Saint John
Are fashioned for the place of the baptisers,

And one of which, not many years ago,
I broke for some one, who was drowning in it;
Be this a seal all men to undeceive.

Out of the mouth of each one there protruded
The feet of a transgressor, and the legs
Up to the calf, the rest within remained.

In all of them the soles were both on fire;
Wherefore the joints so violently quivered,
They would have snapped asunder withes and bands.

Even as the flame of unctuous things is wont
To move upon the outer surface only,
So likewise was it there from heel to point.

“Master, who is that one who writhes himself,
More than his other comrades quivering,”
I said, “and whom a redder flame is sucking ?”

And he to me: “If thou wilt have me bear thee
Down there along that bank which lowest lies,
From him thou’lt know his errors and himself.”

And I: “What pleases thee, to me is pleasing;
Thou art my Lord, and knowest that I depart not
From thy desire, and knowest what is not spoken.”

Straightway upon the fourth dike we arrived;
We turned, and on the left—hand side descended
Down to the bottom full of holes and narrow.

And the good Master yet from off his haunch
Deposed me not, till to the hole he brought me
Of him who so lamented with his shanks.

“Whoe’er thou art, that standest upside down,
O doleful soul, implanted like a stake,”
To say began I, “if thou canst, speak out.”

I stood even as the friar who is confessing
The false assassin, who, when he is fixed,
Recalls him, so that death may be delayed.

And he cried out: “Dost thou stand there already,
Dost thou stand there already, Boniface ?
By many years the record lied to me.

Art thou so early satiate with that wealth,
For which thou didst not fear to take by fraud
The beautiful Lady, and then work her woe ?”

Such I became, as people are who stand,
Not comprehending what is answered them,
As if bemocked, and know not how to answer.

Then said Virgilius: “Say to him straightway,
‘ I am not he, I am not he thou thinkest.”‘
And I replied as was imposed on me.

Whereat the spirit writhed with both his feet,
Then, sighing, with a voice of lamentation
Said to me: “Then what wantest thou of me ?

If who I am thou carest so much to know,
That thou on that account hast crossed the bank,
Know that I vested was with the great mantle;

And truly was I son of the She—bear,
So eager to advance the cubs, that wealth
Above, and here myself, I pocketed.

Beneath my head the others are dragged down
Who have preceded me in simony,
Flattened along the fissure of the rock.

Below there I shall likewise fall, whenever
That one shall come who I believed thou wast,
What time the sudden question I proposed.

But longer I my feet already toast,
And here have been in this way upside down.
Than he will planted stay with reddened feet;

For after him shall come of fouler deed
From tow’rds the west a Pastor without law,
Such as befits to cover him and me.

New Jason will he be, of whom we read
In Maccabees ; and as his king was pliant,
So he who governs France shall be to this one.”

I do not know if I were here too bold,
That him I answered only in this metre:
“I pray thee tell me now how great a treasure

Our Lord demanded of Saint Peter first,
Before he put the keys into his keeping?
Truly he nothing asked but ‘ Follow me.’

Nor Peter nor the rest asked of Matthias
Silver or gold, when he by lot was chosen
Unto the place the guilty soul had lost.

Therefore stay here, for thou art justly punished,
And keep safe guard o’er the ill—gotten money,
Which caused thee to be valiant against Charles.

And were it not that still forbids it me
The reverence for the keys superlative
Thou hadst in keeping in the gladsome life,

I would make use of words more grievous still;
Because your avarice afflicts the world,
Trampling the good and lifting the depraved.

The Evangelist you Pastors had in mind,
When she who sitteth upon many waters
To fornicate with kings by him was seen;

The same who with the seven heads was born,
And power and strength from the ten horns received,
So long as virtue to her spouse was pleasing.

Ye have made yourselves a god of gold and silver;
And from the idolater how differ ye,
Save that he one, and ye a hundred worship?

Ah, Constantine ! of how much ill was mother,
Not thy conversion, but that marriage dower
Which the first wealthy Father took from thee !”

And while I sang to him such notes as these.
Either that anger or that conscience stung him,
He struggled violently with both his feet.

I think in sooth that it my Leader pleased,
With such contented lip he listened ever
Unto the sound of the true words expressed.

Therefore with both his arms he took me up,
And when he had me all upon his breast,
Remounted by the way where he descended.

Nor did he tire to have me clasped to him;
But bore me to the summit of the arch
Which from the fourth dike to the fifth is passage.

There tenderly he laid his burden down,
Tenderly on the crag uneven and steep,
That would have been hard passage for the goats:

Thence was unveiled to me another valley.