The Quest

  • Florentine imperial ambitions castigated by Dante in opening apostrophe (compare Guittone d’Arezzo in Ahi, lasso, or è stagion de doler tanto)
  • transmission of the Ulysses-myth from antiquity and the bifurcated critical reception
  • Ulyssean lexicon and metaphors sutured into DNA of Commedia: the metaphor of flying as the desire to know
  • an epic hero writ into the veracular
  • Dante’s “backwards pedagogy”: the Greek hero Ulysses as a signifier for Biblical Adam

Inferno 26 presents one of the Commedia’s most famous characters: the Greek hero of Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus, known by his Latin name as Ulysses.

Inferno 26 opens with a scathingly sarcastic apostrophe to Florence. You have reached such pinnacles of greatness, says the poet to his natal city, that you beat your wings over sea and land and spill your name throughout Hell:

Godi, Fiorenza, poi che se’ sì grande
che per mare e per terra batti l’ali,
e per lo ’nferno tuo nome si spande!   (Inf. 26.1-3)

Be joyous, Florence, you are great indeed,
for over sea and land you beat your wings;
through every part of Hell your name extends!

The second terzina of the apostrophe lets us know, retrospectively (in the same way that we learn only at the beginning of Inferno 6 that Paolo and Francesca of Inferno 5 are “cognati”, in-laws), that the five souls we see in the bolgia of thieves are all Florentines:

Tra li ladron trovai cinque cotali
tuoi cittadini onde mi ven vergogna,
e tu in grande orranza non ne sali.  (Inf. 26.4-6)

Among the thieves I found five citizens
of yours—and such, that shame has taken me; 
with them, you can ascend to no high honor. 

The first terzina of Inferno 26 frames Florentine imperial ambitions and expansionism in the language of quest and journey. This is language deeply sutured into the DNA of this poem, which begins in Inferno 1 with the metaphor of a land-journey (by way of a cammino) and whose first simile in Inferno 1 is that of a mariner whose ship is lost at sea. The apostrophe features Florence as a giant bird of prey that beats its wings relentlessly over all the world—“per mare e per terra”—over both sea and land.

The wings of the beautiful Ulyssean image that is seared in our minds from later in this canto, that of the hero’s turning his oars into wings for his mad flight—de’ remi facemmo ali al folle volo” (we made wings of our oars in a wild flight [Inf. 26.125])—are thus at the outset of Inferno 26 presented as the wings of a giant and malignant bird of prey.

Let me note, à propos Florentine expansionism, that Dante was atypical in castigating his native city for her imperial ambitions. An inscription of 1255 on the Palazzo del Bargello in Florence celebrates the city “quae mare, quae terram, quae totum possidet orbem” (who is master of the sea, of the land, of the whole world; cited by commentators, for instance Chiavacci Leonardi and Sapegno). There is nothing sarcastic about the inscription, and indeed the more typical contemporary sarcasm would be that of Guittone d’Arezzo in his political canzone Ahi, lasso, or è stagion de doler tanto, written after the defeat of Florence at Montaperti in 1260. Guittone deplores the political decline of Florence, which until then had been the most powerful city in Tuscany, and uses biting sarcasm to try to reawaken Florentine imperial ambitions.

The opening verses of the apostrophe forecast the great protagonist of Inferno 26. Florence is “grande” in verse 1 (“poi che se’ sì grande”) and Ulysses is a great hero—and whereas Florence’s greatness is punctured immediately by the author’s sarcasm, Ulysses’ is not.

The Ulysses episode is not ultimately cast in the mode of sarcasm or irony but of tragic, heroic, flawed greatness. The author does not intend to cut his hero down to size as he does Capaneus and Vanni Fucci, at least not within Inferno 26. The adjective grande that stands at the threshold of the bolgia that houses the Greek hero casts an epic grandeur over the proceedings, an epic grandeur and solemnity that Dante maintains until the beginning of Inferno 27.

In The Undivine Comedy, I noted the “anti-oratorical high style” of Inferno 26, a rhetorical mode with which Dante “endows the cadences of authentic grandeur” upon his epic hero, Ulysses:

The rhetoric of canto 26 is austere, sublimely simple. The opening apostrophe to Florence carries over from the oratorical flourishes and virtuoso displays of the preceding bolgia. As the canto progresses the narrative voice takes on more and more the note of dispassionate passion that will characterize its hero, that indeed makes him a hero, until finally the voice flattens out, assumes the divine flatness of God’s voice, like the flat surface of the sea that will submerge the speaker, pressing down his high ambitions. The anti-oratorical high style that culminates at the end of Inferno 26 is perhaps the most telling index of the poet’s commitment to the canto’s protagonist, upon whom he endows the cadences of authentic grandeur. (The Undivine Comedy, p. 89)

As noted above, the opening apostrophe of Inferno 26 engages Dante’s self-consciously “Ulyssean” lexicon, dipping into the deep reservoir of metaphoric language related to quest and voyage that Dante has been using since the beginning of his poem. This code and lexicon will persist long after we leave Inferno 26, indeed it will persist to the end of the poem, where the poet’s wings finally fail him at the end of Paradiso 33: “ma non eran da ciò le proprie penne” (and my own wings were not up to that [Par. 33.139]).

The description in verse 2 of Florence as a giant bird whose wings beat over land and sea causes Dante to invoke all three modalities of journeying: by land, by sea, and by air. The metaphor of Florence’s wings that beat in flight takes us back mentally to the pilgrim’s flight down to the eighth circle on Geryon’s back (Inferno 17), with its comparison of Dante to the mythological failed flyers Phaeton and Icarus. The metaphor of battere le ali also forecasts the great verse spoken by Ulysses later in this canto, when he conjures the heroic quest as a passionately exuberant and indeed reckless flight: “de’ remi facemmo ali al folle volo” (we made wings of our oars in a wild flight [Inf. 26.125]).

The Ulyssean lexicon is sutured into the DNA of the Commedia, and Ulysses himself has therefore a wholly unique status among sinners. Ulysses has a sustained presence in the poem: he is named in each canticle, not only in Inferno 26 but also in Purgatorio 19, where the siren of Dante’s dream claims to have turned Ulysses aside from his path with her song, and in Paradiso 27, where the pilgrim, looking down at Earth, sees the trace of “il varco / folle d’Ulisse” (the mad leap of Ulysses [Par. 27.82-83]), in a stunning reminiscence of the original episode’s “folle volo” (Inf. 26.125).

As “folle volo” and “varco folle” indicate, Ulysses and his surrogates, other failed flyers like Phaeton and Icarus, are connected to one of the Commedia’s most basic metaphorical assumptions: if we desire sufficiently, we fly; if we desire sufficiently, our quest takes on wings. Dante explicitly establishes this equivalence in Purgatorio 4, telling us that in order to climb the steep grade of lower Purgatory one needs to fly with the wings of desire:

ma qui convien ch’om voli;
dico con l’ale snelle e con le piume
del gran disio  (Purg. 4.27-29)

But here one must fly,
I mean with the swift wings and the pinions of great desire

Ulysses embodies the fundamental trope of voyage, and he dramatizes the Commedia’s metaphorization of desire as flight.

* * *

The first thing to know before tackling Inferno 26, the canto of Ulysses, is that Dante did not read Greek and never read the Iliad or the Odyssey. Homer’s works were not available in the West until later humanists recovered the knowledge of ancient Greek and the texts of Greek antiquity. Dante’s Ulysses is entirely mediated through Latin texts, in particular through Book 2 of Vergil’s Aeneid and through Cicero’s De Finibus.

The negative Ulysses is portrayed in Book 2 of Vergil’s Aeneid, where he is labeled “dirus” (dreadful [Aen. 2.261]) and “scelerum inventor” (deviser of crimes [Aen. 2.164]). Vergil’s portrayal came to dominate the Latin and later the medieval tradition, producing the conventional stereotype of a treacherous and sacrilegious warrior that leads directly to Dante’s fraudulent counselor, who is punished in one flame with his comrade-in-arms Diomedes, since “insieme / a la vendetta vanno come a l’ira” (together they go to punishment as they went to anger [Inf. 26.56-57]).

However, Dante’s Ulysses is a complex creation that goes far beyond the negative stereotype. Dante borrowed also from the positive rendering of Ulysses that was preserved mainly among the Stoics, for whom the Greek hero exemplified heroic fortitude in the face of adversity. Horace praises Ulysses in the Epistle to Lollius for his discernment and endurance and especially for his ability to withstand the temptations that proved the undoing of his companions: “Sirenum voces et Circae pocula” (Sirens’ songs and Circe’s cups [Epistles 1.2.23]). From the Ars Poetica, where Horace cites the opening verses of the Odyssey, Dante learned that Ulysses “saw the wide world, its ways and cities all”: “mores hominum multorum vidit et urbes” (Ars Poetica, 142).

And, most suggestively, in De Finibus, Cicero celebrates the mind’s innate craving of learning and of knowledge, what he calls the “lust for learning”: “discendi cupiditas” (De Finibus 5.18.49). As his exemplary lover of wisdom, Cicero presents none other than Ulysses. Cicero interprets Homer’s Sirens as givers of knowledge and Ulysses’ response to their invitation as praiseworthy, writing: “It is knowledge that the Sirens offer, and it was no marvel if a lover of wisdom held this dearer than his home” (De Finibus 5.18).

Dante’s reconfiguring of Ulysses is a remarkable blend of the two traditional characterizations that also succeeds in charting an entirely new and extremely influential direction for this most versatile of mythic heroes. For Dante invents a new story, never told before. His Ulysses departs from Circe straight on his new quest, pulled not by the desire for home and family but by the lure of adventure, by the “the longing / I had to gain experience of the world / and of the vices and the worth of men”: “l’ardore / ch’i’ ebbi a divenir del mondo esperto / e de li vizi umani e del valore” (Inf. 26.97-99). As the classicist W. B. Stanford points out in his wonderful book The Ulysses Theme:In place of [Homer’s] centripetal, homeward-bound figure Dante substituted a personification of centrifugal force” (p. 181).

Stanford offers a remarkable tribute to the importance of Dante’s contribution to the Ulysses myth: “Next to Homer’s conception of Ulysses, Dante’s, despite its brevity, is the most influential in the whole evolution of the wandering hero” (The Ulysses Theme, p. 178). The wings of Dante’s alta fantasia may fail him at the end of the journey but they vouchsafe him remarkable insights along the way. It is indeed a testament to that fantasia that—without knowing Homer—Dante was able to summon the authentic Ulyssean spirit in his brief episode, and to impress his version of that spirit upon our collective imagination.

* * *

The critical reception of Inferno 26 reflects the bifurcated Ulysses of the tradition that Dante inherited. Dante criticism has been divided on the subject of Ulysses essentially since its inception. Among the fourteenth-century commentators, Buti takes a moralizing position critical of the Homeric hero, while Benvenuto sees him as exciting Dante’s admiration. For complete documentation of the Ulysses debate, beginning with the early commentators and moving to later critics, see The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 3, “Ulysses, Geryon, and the Aeronautics of Narrative Transition”, and my article “Ulysses” in The Dante Encyclopedia, cited in Coordinated Reading.

We can sketch the positions of various modern critics around the same polarity demonstrated by Buti and Benvenuto in the fourteenth century. There is a pro-Ulysses group, spearheaded by Fubini, who maintains that Dante feels only admiration for the folle volo, for the desire for knowledge that it represents, and for the oration that justifies it. (Fubini’s supporters include Sapegno, Pagliaro, and Forti.) Then there is a less unified group that emphasizes the Greek hero’s sinfulness and seeks to determine the primary cause for his infernal abode.

Discussion of Ulysses’ suitability for the eighth bolgia is further complicated by Dante’s avoidance of this pit’s label until the end of the next canto. Only at the end of Inferno 27 does a devil, cited in Guido da Montefeltro’s account of the dramatic altercation that occurred at his death, clarify that Guido is located in the eighth bolgia “perché diede ’l consiglio frodolente” (because the counsel that he gave was fraudulent [Inf. 27.116]).

Within the Ulysses debate, the more negative critical camp can be subdivided into those who see the folle volo itself as the chief of Ulysses’ sins and those who concentrate instead on the sin of fraudulent counsel as described by Guido da Montefeltro. Those in the latter group focus on Ulysses’ rhetorical deceitfulness as manifested in his “orazion picciola” (Inf. 26.122), the “little speech” with which he persuades his men to follow him. (This group includes Padoan and Dolfi.)

Most influential in the first category has been the position of Nardi, who argues that Dante’s Ulysses is a new Adam, a new Lucifer, and that his sin is precisely Adam’s, namely, “il trapassar del segno” (the going beyond the mark) of which Adam speaks in Paradiso 26.117. Ulysses is thus a transgressor, whose pride incites him to seek a knowledge that is beyond the limits set for man by God, in the same way that Adam’s pride drove him to a similar transgression, also in pursuit of a knowledge that would make him Godlike.

We can consider the positions of Dante scholars within the Ulysses querelle along a continuum with extreme positions at either end. At one extreme are those critics, like Fubini, who maintain that Dante feels only admiration for Ulysses’ voyage and that it has nothing whatever to do with his damnation. At the other are those critics, like Cassell, who deny Ulysses any special importance, telling us that the poet feels nothing but scorn for his creature and that to see anything else at work in the canto is to read it through anachronistic romantic eyes.

Both these readings rob the episode of its tension and deflate it of its energy—on the one hand, by making the fact that Ulysses is in Hell irrelevant and, on the other, by denying that this particular sinner means more to the poem than do his
companions. Fubini’s simple admiration fails to deal with the fact that Dante places Ulysses in Hell; Cassell’s simple condemnation fails to take into account the structural and thematic significance that the Greek hero bears for the Commedia as a whole.

The encounter with Ulysses belongs to the eighth bolgia, but Dante does not tell us that the eighth bolgia houses fraudulent counselors until the end of Inferno 27. A deliberate ambiguity is thus structured into the presentation of Ulysses. On the one hand it is clear (at least retrospectively, after we read Inferno 27) that Ulysses is guilty of fraudulent counsel: in Dante’s account he urged his men to sail with him past the pillars of Hercules, and so led them to their deaths. On the other hand, it is equally clear that Dante’s narrative does not focus on fraudulent counsel but on the idea of a heroic quest that leads to perdition.

For more on the critical responses to Ulysses, see The Undivine Comedy, where my goal is to achieve an integrated critical response, as Dante’s hero himself integrates the complex and polysemous Ulysses who came down through the centuries.

Dante is most often a both/and writer, rather than an either/or writer. He gets the maximum out of every word he writes, because every word is susceptible to multiple meanings, not in the banal sense of allegory but in the living sense of language that goes in multiple directions, all psychologically true and real to life. In Inferno 26 Dante weaves together both the deceptive Ulysses of the Aeneid and the lover of knowledge praised by Cicero in the De Finibus. Dante’s brilliance is to capture both strands in a polysemous whole.

* * *

Dante’s placement of Ulysses among the sinners of fraud, and specifically among the fraudulent counselors, depends heavily on the anti-Greek pro-Trojan propaganda of imperial Rome: the sentiment Dante found in the Aeneid. Aeneas, Vergil’s choice as mythic founder of Rome, is a Trojan, and Vergil’s Ulysses reflects the tone of the second book of the Aeneid, in which Aeneas recounts the bitter fall of Troy. The fall of Troy occurred, after ten long years of war, not because of military superiority but because of the stratagem—the Ulyssean stratagem—of the Trojan horse.

Dante’s Virgilio recites a list of Ulyssean “crimes” that are fully consonant with the “scelera” (crimes) of which Ulysses is the inventor in Aeneid 2 (“scelerum inventor” [deviser of crimes Aen. 2.164]). He is guilty first and foremost of the Trojan horse: “l’agguato del caval che fé la porta / onde uscì de’ Romani il gentil seme” (the horse’s fraud that caused a breach— / the gate that let Rome’s noble seed escape [Inf. 26.59-60]). Ulysses is guilty also of the trick by which Achilles was lured to war and the theft of the Palladium:

Piangevisi entro l’arte per che, morta,
Deïdamìa ancor si duol d’Achille,
e del Palladio pena vi si porta.  (Inf. 26.61-63)

There they regret the guile that makes the dead
Deidamia still lament Achilles;
and there, for the Palladium, they pay. 

On the other hand, despite this damning recital, countless readers have felt compelled to admire Ulysses’ stirring account of his journey beyond the Pillars of Hercules. He wants to experience what is “di retro al sol, del mondo sanza gente” (beyond the sun, in the world that is unpeopled [Inf. 26.117]).

Like humans then who were involved in the European explorations of the Atlantic that were just beginning in Dante’s day, like humans today who seek to go further into the solar system, Ulysses wants to go beyond the markers of the known world.

In order to persuade his old and tired companions to undertake such a “folle volo” (mad flight [Inf. 26.125]), Ulysses deploys his forceful eloquence in an “orazion picciola” (little oration [Inf. 26.122]). Rightly or wrongly, his oration has moved generations of readers and (quite divorced of its infernal context) has achieved proverbial status in Italy. Ulysses exhorts his companions to follow him to the unknown, framing such a voyage as a pursuit of knowledge:

Considerate la vostra semenza:
fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza. (Inf. 26.118-20)

Consider well the seed that gave you birth:
you were not made to live your lives as brutes,
but to be followers of worth and knowledge.  

The words spoken by Dante’s Ulisse in Inferno 26 resonate still in Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses”:

We are not now that strength which in old days 
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; 
One equal temper of heroic hearts, 
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will 
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. 

In its infernal context, this oration exemplifies fraudulent counsel, since through it Ulysses leads his companions to their destruction. But it also powerfully evokes the authentic spirit of the Ciceronian discendi cupiditas. The cupiditas or lust for learning that Cicero’s Ulysses feels is perfectly captured by the “ardor” to see all that there is to see:

                           l’ardore
ch’i’ ebbi a divenir del mondo esperto
e de li vizi umani e del valore.  (Inf. 26.97-99)

                           the longing
I had to gain experience of the world
and of the vices and the worth of men.  

The desire to see and to know is a long-term Dantean quest, celebrated in the opening of the Convivio, where Dante cites Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Aristotle begins the first book of the Metaphysics thus:

All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight. For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do anything, we prefer seeing (one might say) to everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things.

Although Virgilio gives a concise account of all the deceits and tricks for which Ulysses was famous, Dante focuses Inferno 26 on the heroic quest. His Ulysses presents himself as a fearless (perhaps reckless) voyager into the unknown who leaves behind all the ties of human affect and society to pursue “virtue and knowledge”: “virtute e canoscenza” (Inf. 26.120). He incites his men to a folle volo to uninhabited lands beyond the known world. Sailing the watery and uninhabited wastes of the southern hemisphere, Ulysses eventually sees a mountain in the distance, “the highest mountain I had ever seen” (Inf. 26.133-135). This is Mount Purgatory, unapproachable except by way of the angel’s boat, as we will see in Purgatorio 1 and 2. The end of Purgatorio 1, in particular, is suffused with Ulyssean tropes, which work to make evident the contrast between Ulysses and Dante-pilgrim.

Indeed, the sighting of Mount Purgatory makes inescapable the connection between Dante and Ulysses, a connection that in any case the narrator of Inferno 26 has underscored throughout the episode. Dante tells us explicitly from the outset that the materia of this canto grieves and concerns him in a particular way:

  Allor mi dolsi, e ora mi ridoglio
quando drizzo la mente a ciò ch’io vidi,
e più lo ’ngegno affreno ch’i’ non soglio,
  perché non corra che virtù nol guidi... (Inf. 26.19-22)
  It grieved me then and now grieves me again
when I direct my mind to what I saw;
and more than usual, I curb my talent,
  that it not run where virtue does not guide...

The idea that he must curb or restrain his own ingegno, keeping it from running recklessly over the bounds, speaks to Dante’s own fears of engaging in a “Ulyssean” quest. The question is: is one’s quest for knowledge a self-motivated search for personal glory or is it a divinely sanctioned journey undertaken to help others? Inferno 26 reminds us of Dante’s reply to Cavalcante de’ Cavalcanti in Inferno 10. Dante’s claim that “My own powers have not brought me”—“da me stesso non vegno” (Inf. 10.61)—puts his journey at the opposite end of the spectrum from Ulysses’ self-willed voyage.

But the pilgrim’s self-association with Ulysses is very strong. In this bolgia as in some others, the souls are not visible in human form: they are tongues of flame that flicker on the floor of the bolgia like fireflies in the summer twilight (Inf. 26.25-33). When Dante learns from Virgilio of Ulysses and Diomedes encased in a twinned flame (an interesting reprise of the “two in one” theme from the previous canto), his desire overwhelms him. He begs Virgilio to allow him to await the arrival of the horned flame, since, as he exclaims, he “bends” towards it: “vedi che del disio ver’ lei mi piego!” (see how, out of my desire, I bend toward it! [Inf. 26.69]).

Later in the poem we learn that the bending or inclination of the soul toward an object of desire is love: “quel piegare è amor” (that bending is love [Purg. 18.26]). There is no doubt that Dante is communicating his love and fascination for the Greek hero.

The narrator however also creates an opportunity for dissociating the pilgrim from Ulysses, when he has Virgilio suggest that he must address the twinned flame, because the epic heroes would be disdainful towards Dante’s vernacular:

Lascia parlare a me, ch’i’ ho concetto
ciò che tu vuoi; ch’ei sarebbero schivi,
perch’ e’ fuor greci, forse del tuo detto. (Inf. 26.73-75)  

Let me address them—I have understood
what you desire of them. Since they were Greek,
perhaps they’d be disdainful of your speech.

We will come back in the Introduction to the next canto to this important moment, when Dante seems to suggest that it is best for an epic poet—a writer of alta tragedìa (as he calls the Aeneid in Inferno 20.113)—to address epic heroes. He will pick up this idea in a fascinating way at the beginning of Inferno 27. For now, let us note that Dante here scripts for Virgilio language that—while written in Italian—sounds as much like Latin epic as it is possible for the vernacular to sound. Virgilio’s lofty words to Ulysses resound with the high accents of heroic undertakings and noble deeds:

  «O voi che siete due dentro ad un foco,
s’io meritai di voi mentre ch’io vissi,
s’io meritai di voi assai o poco
  quando nel mondo li alti versi scrissi,
non vi movete; ma l'un di voi dica dove,
per lui, perduto a morir gissi». (Inf. 26.79-84)
  “You two who move as one within the flame,
if I deserved of you while I still lived,
if I deserved of you much or a little
  when in the world I wrote my noble lines,
do not move on; let one of you retell
where, having gone astray, he found his death.”

Ulysses himself will maintain this lofty diction through his discourse, modulating from the unfettered excitement of his ardor to know and the charismatic humanism with which he summons his men to his dignified and lapidary final submission to the higher power that sends him to a watery grave—his ardor forever unquenched.

* * *

 A final note on the “backwards pedagogy” of the Commedia.

As we have seen in the Introduction above, Dante gives to his Ulysses an Adamic function, meaning that in Dante’s very idiosyncratic and personal mythography Ulysses inhabits a moral space analogous to that of Adam in the Christian tradition: indeed, Ulysses is a signifier of what Dante’s own Adam calls “il trapassar del segno” (Par. 26.117).

We meet Dante’s Adam in Paradiso 26, where Adam names another signifier of trespass: Nembrot, the Biblical builder of the Tower of Babel. Nembrot, whom we will encounter in Inferno 31, is the emblem for Dante of linguistic trespass and fall, cited by Adam for his “ovra inconsummabile”—his “unaccomplishable task” (Par. 26.125). Moreover, Nembrot is the only Dantean sinner, other than Ulysses, whom Dante names in each canticle of the Commedia (for which, see The Undivine Comedy, p. 115). By the time we reach Paradiso 26, and indeed by the time we reach the Garden of Eden, this strange constellation—Ulysses, Nembrot, Adam—makes sense to us.

But it is worth noting that Dante, a Christian author, leads his readers on a very counter-intuitive course to the understanding that we eventually attain. It would have been far simpler, in other words, to have presented Adam himself—rather than Ulysses—as the signifier of Adamic trespass. The fact that in the Commedia we work backwards, arriving at the idea of Christian trespass through Dante’s incarnation of the Greek hero, is itself worthy of note.

Of course, at a fundamental level this happens because Dante has us read Inferno before Purgatorio and Paradiso, thus presenting much material in its negative variant, through a negative representative, and so forth. The effect of this in malo reading experience must inevitably be to complicate matters, since we get hold of things from the wrong end first and have to scramble about a bit and disentangle a good deal to get things back to right. For instance, we have to wrestle with feeling compassion in Hell and learning why it is wrong rather than avoiding such an arduous lesson until we are well versed in the requisite theology.

But the experience of backward reading is not in itself sufficient to account for Ulysses as Dante’s avatar of Adam. After all, Nembrot alone would have been able to fulfill that function more straightforwardly, confronting one Biblical character with another. What is remarkable is the choice of a classical figure for the personification of Adamic trespass, a choice that creates a yet more steep learning curve for the reader.

The choice of Greek Ulysses is one for which we are prepared by the presence of other classical trespassers in Inferno, particularly by Capaneus, one of the Seven Against Thebes. At the same time, Capaneus is a figure for whom the author elicits no sympathy, whom he keeps at arms-length and to whom Virgilio speaks with disdain. Ulysses, by contrast, is a figure to whom Virgilio speaks with great respect and with whom the pilgrim explicitly identifies, saying: “vedi che del disio ver’ lei mi piego!” (see how, out of my desire, I bend toward it! [Inf. 26.69]).

The identification of the pilgrim with Ulysses is one that the narrator of Inferno has been building since the first canto of the Commedia, through voyage and maritime imagery and the deployment of a specific metaphoric code and “Ulyssean” lexicon. It is an identification that he effectively announces when, in Inferno 2, he has the pilgrim use the adjective “folle” for his undertaking: “temo che la venuta non sia folle” (I fear my venture may be wild [Inf. 2.35]).
As discussed in the Introduction to Inferno 2, that canto is devoted to both declaring and preemptively defusing Dante’s self-identification with trespass, the trespass that he figures as Ulyssean.

From the beginning of the Inferno, therefore, we are schooled in a different rhetoric, and in a different mythography—we are taken on a very personal course toward understanding. This path, saturated in early humanism and classical antiquity, is Dante’s own varco folle. The very idea that Adamic trespass will be introduced through the figure of Ulysses is a varco folle. It is a sign of Dante’s having consummated his own “ovra inconsummabile”—of his having successfully constructed his own “towering” achievement—that we now take his mythography for granted, and that we give so little consideration to the backwards pedagogy that starts with Ulysses and finally arrives at Adam.

Coordinated Reading

The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 3, “Ulysses, Geryon, and the Aeronautics of Narrative Transition”, especially pp. 48-58, p. 77, p. 89; Dante’s Poets, pp. 228-29, 232-33; “Ulysses”, in The Dante Encyclopedia, ed. Richard Lansing (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 2000), pp. 842-47; W. B. Stanford, The Ulysses Theme: A Study in the Adaptability of a Traditional Hero, 2nd ed., Ann Arbor: U. of Michigan Press, 1968.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Inferno 26: The Quest.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/inferno/inferno-26/

About the Commento

1Godi, Fiorenza, poi che se’ sì grande
2che per mare e per terra batti l’ali,
3e per lo ’nferno tuo nome si spande!

4Tra li ladron trovai cinque cotali
5tuoi cittadini onde mi ven vergogna,
6e tu in grande orranza non ne sali.

7Ma se presso al mattin del ver si sogna,
8tu sentirai, di qua da picciol tempo,
9di quel che Prato, non ch’altri, t’agogna.

10E se già fosse, non saria per tempo.
11Così foss’ ei, da che pur esser dee!
12ché più mi graverà, com’ più m’attempo.

13Noi ci partimmo, e su per le scalee
14che n’avean fatto iborni a scender pria,
15rimontò ’l duca mio e trasse mee;

16e proseguendo la solinga via,
17tra le schegge e tra ’ rocchi de lo scoglio
18lo piè sanza la man non si spedia.

19Allor mi dolsi, e ora mi ridoglio
20quando drizzo la mente a ciò ch’io vidi,
21e più lo ’ngegno affreno ch’i’ non soglio,

22perché non corra che virtù nol guidi;
23sì che, se stella bona o miglior cosa
24m’ha dato ’l ben, ch’io stessi nol m’invidi.

25Quante ’l villan ch’al poggio si riposa,
26nel tempo che colui che ’l mondo schiara
27la faccia sua a noi tien meno ascosa,

28come la mosca cede a la zanzara,
29vede lucciole giù per la vallea,
30forse colà dov’ e’ vendemmia e ara:

31di tante fiamme tutta risplendea
32l’ottava bolgia, sì com’ io m’accorsi
33tosto che fui là ’ve ’l fondo parea.

34E qual colui che si vengiò con li orsi
35vide ’l carro d’Elia al dipartire,
36quando i cavalli al cielo erti levorsi,

37che nol potea sì con li occhi seguire,
38ch’el vedesse altro che la fiamma sola,
39sì come nuvoletta, in sù salire:

40tal si move ciascuna per la gola
41del fosso, ché nessuna mostra ’l furto,
42e ogne fiamma un peccatore invola.

43Io stava sovra ’l ponte a veder surto,
44sì che s’io non avessi un ronchion preso,
45caduto sarei giù sanz’ esser urto.

46E ’l duca che mi vide tanto atteso,
47disse: «Dentro dai fuochi son li spirti;
48catun si fascia di quel ch’elli è inceso».

49«Maestro mio», rispuos’ io, «per udirti
50son io più certo; ma già m’era avviso
51che così fosse, e già voleva dirti:

52chi è ’n quel foco che vien sì diviso
53di sopra, che par surger de la pira
54dov’ Eteòcle col fratel fu miso?».

55Rispuose a me: «Là dentro si martira
56Ulisse e Dïomede, e così insieme
57a la vendetta vanno come a l’ira;

58e dentro da la lor fiamma si geme
59l’agguato del caval che fé la porta
60onde uscì de’ Romani il gentil seme.

61Piangevisi entro l’arte per che, morta,
62Deïdamìa ancor si duol d’Achille,
63e del Palladio pena vi si porta».

64«S’ei posson dentro da quelle faville
65parlar», diss’ io, «maestro, assai ten priego
66e ripriego, che ’l priego vaglia mille,

67che non mi facci de l’attender niego
68fin che la fiamma cornuta qua vegna;
69vedi che del disio ver’ lei mi piego!».

70Ed elli a me: «La tua preghiera è degna
71di molta loda, e io però l’accetto;
72ma fa che la tua lingua si sostegna.

73Lascia parlare a me, ch’i’ ho concetto
74ciò che tu vuoi; ch’ei sarebbero schivi,
75perch’ e’ fuor greci, forse del tuo detto».

76Poi che la fiamma fu venuta quivi
77dove parve al mio duca tempo e loco,
78in questa forma lui parlare audivi:

79«O voi che siete due dentro ad un foco,
80s’io meritai di voi mentre ch’io vissi,
81s’io meritai di voi assai o poco

82quando nel mondo li alti versi scrissi,
83non vi movete; ma l’un di voi dica
84dove, per lui, perduto a morir gissi».

85Lo maggior corno de la fiamma antica
86cominciò a crollarsi mormorando,
87pur come quella cui vento affatica;

88indi la cima qua e là menando,
89come fosse la lingua che parlasse,
90gittò voce di fuori e disse: «Quando

91mi diparti’ da Circe, che sottrasse
92me più d’un anno là presso a Gaeta,
93prima che sì Enëa la nomasse,

94né dolcezza di figlio, né la pieta
95del vecchio padre, né ’l debito amore
96lo qual dovea Penelopè far lieta,

97vincer potero dentro a me l’ardore
98ch’i’ ebbi a divenir del mondo esperto
99e de li vizi umani e del valore;

100ma misi me per l’alto mare aperto
101sol con un legno e con quella compagna
102picciola da la qual non fui diserto.

103L’un lito e l’altro vidi infin la Spagna,
104fin nel Morrocco, e l’isola d’i Sardi,
105e l’altre che quel mare intorno bagna.

106Io e ’ compagni eravam vecchi e tardi
107quando venimmo a quella foce stretta
108dov’ Ercule segnò li suoi riguardi

109acciò che l’uom più oltre non si metta;
110da la man destra mi lasciai Sibilia,
111da l’altra già m’avea lasciata Setta.

112“O frati”, dissi, “che per cento milia
113perigli siete giunti a l’occidente,
114a questa tanto picciola vigilia

115d’i nostri sensi ch’è del rimanente
116non vogliate negar l’esperïenza,
117di retro al sol, del mondo sanza gente.

118Considerate la vostra semenza:
119fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
120ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza”.

121Li miei compagni fec’ io sì aguti,
122con questa orazion picciola, al cammino,
123che a pena poscia li avrei ritenuti;

124e volta nostra poppa nel mattino,
125de’ remi facemmo ali al folle volo,
126sempre acquistando dal lato mancino.

127Tutte le stelle già de l’altro polo
128vedea la notte, e ’l nostro tanto basso,
129che non surgëa fuor del marin suolo.

130Cinque volte racceso e tante casso
131lo lume era di sotto da la luna,
132poi che ’ntrati eravam ne l’alto passo,

133quando n’apparve una montagna, bruna
134per la distanza, e parvemi alta tanto
135quanto veduta non avëa alcuna.

136Noi ci allegrammo, e tosto tornò in pianto;
137ché de la nova terra un turbo nacque
138e percosse del legno il primo canto.

139Tre volte il fé girar con tutte l’acque;
140a la quarta levar la poppa in suso
141e la prora ire in giù, com’ altrui piacque,

142infin che ’l mar fu sovra noi richiuso».

Be joyous, Florence, you are great indeed,
for over sea and land you beat your wings;
through every part of Hell your name extends!

Among the thieves I found five citizens
of yours—and such, that shame has taken me;
with them, you can ascend to no high honor.

But if the dreams dreamt close to dawn are true,
then little time will pass before you feel
what Prato and the others crave for you.

Were that already come, it would not be
too soon—and let it come, since it must be!
As I grow older, it will be more heavy.

We left that deep and, by protruding stones
that served as stairs for our descent before,
my guide climbed up again and drew me forward;

and as we took our solitary path
among the ridge’s jagged spurs and rocks,
our feet could not make way without our hands.

It grieved me then and now grieves me again
when I direct my mind to what I saw;
and more than usual, I curb my talent,

that it not run where virtue does not guide;
so that, if my kind star or something better
has given me that gift, I not abuse it.

As many as the fireflies the peasant
(while resting on a hillside in the season
when he who lights the world least hides his face),

just when the fly gives way to the mosquito,
sees glimmering below, down in the valley,
there where perhaps he gathers grapes and tills—

so many were the flames that glittered in
the eighth abyss; I made this out as soon
as I had come to where one sees the bottom.

Even as he who was avenged by bears
saw, as it left, Elijah’s chariot—
its horses rearing, rising right to heaven—

when he could not keep track of it except
by watching one lone flame in its ascent,
just like a little cloud that climbs on high:

so, through the gullet of that ditch, each flame
must make its way; no flame displays its prey,
though every flame has carried off a sinner.

I stood upon the bridge and leaned straight out
to see; and if I had not gripped a rock,
I should have fallen off—without a push.

My guide, who noted how intent I was,
told me: “Within those fires there are souls;
each one is swathed in that which scorches him.”

“My master,” I replied, “on hearing you,
I am more sure; but I’d already thought
that it was so, and I had meant to ask:

Who is within the flame that comes so twinned
above that it would seem to rise out of
the pyre Eteocles shared with his brother?”

He answered me: “Within that flame, Ulysses
and Diomedes suffer; they, who went
as one to rage, now share one punishment.

And there, together in their flame, they grieve
over the horse’s fraud that caused a breach—
the gate that let Rome’s noble seed escape.

There they regret the guile that makes the dead
Deidamia still lament Achilles;
and there, for the Palladium, they pay.”

“If they can speak within those sparks,” I said,
“I pray you and repray and, master, may
my prayer be worth a thousand pleas, do not

forbid my waiting here until the flame
with horns approaches us; for you can see
how, out of my desire, I bend toward it.”

And he to me: “What you have asked is worthy
of every praise; therefore, I favor it.
I only ask you this: refrain from talking.

Let me address them—I have understood
what you desire of them. Since they were Greek,
perhaps they’d be disdainful of your speech.”

And when my guide adjudged the flame had reached
a point where time and place were opportune,
this was the form I heard his words assume:

“You two who move as one within the flame,
if I deserved of you while I still lived,
if I deserved of you much or a little

when in the world I wrote my noble lines,
do not move on; let one of you retell
where, having gone astray, he found his death.”

The greater horn within that ancient flame
began to sway and tremble, murmuring
just like a fire that struggles in the wind;

and then he waved his flame—tip back and forth
as if it were a tongue that tried to speak,
and flung toward us a voice that answered: “When

I sailed away from Circe, who’d beguiled me
to stay more than a year there, near Gaeta—
before Aeneas gave that place a name—

neither my fondness for my son nor pity
for my old father nor the love I owed
Penelope, which would have gladdened her,

was able to defeat in me the longing
I had to gain experience of the world
and of the vices and the worth of men.

Therefore, I set out on the open sea
with but one ship and that small company
of those who never had deserted me.

I saw as far as Spain, far as Morocco,
along both shores; I saw Sardinia
and saw the other islands that sea bathes.

And I and my companions were already
old and slow, when we approached the narrows
where Hercules set up his boundary stones

that men might heed and never reach beyond:
upon my right, I had gone past Seville,
and on the left, already passed Ceuta.

‘Brothers,’ I said, ‘o you, who having crossed
a hundred thousand dangers, reach the west,
to this brief waking—time that still is left

unto your senses, you must not deny
experience of that which lies beyond
the sun, and of the world that is unpeopled.

Consider well the seed that gave you birth:
you were not made to live your lives as brutes,
but to be followers of worth and knowledge.’

I spurred my comrades with this brief address
to meet the journey with such eagerness
that I could hardly, then, have held them back;

and having turned our stern toward morning, we
made wings out of our oars in a wild flight
and always gained upon our left—hand side.

At night I now could see the other pole
and all its stars; the star of ours had fallen
and never rose above the plain of the ocean.

Five times the light beneath the moon had been
rekindled, and, as many times, was spent,
since that hard passage faced our first attempt,

when there before us rose a mountain, dark
because of distance, and it seemed to me
the highest mountain I had ever seen.

And we were glad, but this soon turned to sorrow,
for out of that new land a whirlwind rose
and hammered at our ship, against her bow.

Three times it turned her round with all the waters;
and at the fourth, it lifted up the stern
so that our prow plunged deep, as pleased an Other,

until the sea again closed—over us.”

REJOICE, 0 Florence, since thou art so great,
That over sea and land thou beatest thy wings,
And throughout Hell thy name is spread abroad !

Among the thieves five citizens of thine
Like these I found, whence shame comes unto me,
And thou thereby to no great honour risest.

But if when morn is near our dreams are true,
Feel shalt thou in a little time from now
What Prato, if none other, craves for thee.

And if it now were, it were not too soon;
Would that it were, seeing it needs must be,
For ’twill aggrieve me more the more I age.

We went our way, and up along the stairs
The bourns had made us to descend before,
Remounted my Conductor and drew me.

And following the solitary path
Among the rocks and ridges of the crag,
The foot without the hand sped not at all.

Then sorrowed I, and sorrow now again,
When I direct my mind to what I saw,
And more my genius curb than I am wont,

That it may run not unless virtue guide it;
So that if some good star, or better thing,
Have given me good, I may myself not grudge it.

As many as the hind (who on the hill
Rests at the time when he who lights the world
His countenance keeps least concealed from us,

While as the fly gives place unto the gnat)
Seeth the glow—worms down along the valley,
Perchance there where he ploughs and makes his vintage

With flames as manifold resplendent all
Was the eighth Bolgia, as I grew aware
As soon as I was where the depth appeared.

And such as he who with the bears avenged him
Beheld Elijah’s chariot at departing,
What time the steeds to heaven erect uprose

For with his eye he could not follow it
So as to see aught else than flame alone,
Even as a little cloud ascending upward,

Thus each along the gorge of the intrenchment
Was moving; for not one reveals the theft,
And every flame a sinner steals away.

I stood upon the bridge uprisen to see,
So that, if I had seized not on a rock,
Down had I fallen without being pushed.

And the Leader, who beheld me so attent,
Exclaimed: “Within the fires the spirits are;
Each swathes himself with that wherewith he burns.”

‘My Master,” I replied, “by hearing thee
I am more sure; but I surmised already
It might be so, and already wished to ask thee

Who is within that fire, which comes so cleft
At top, it seems uprising from the pyre
Where was Eteocles with his brother placed.”

He answered me: “Within there are tormented
Ulysses and Diomed, and thus together
They unto vengeance run as unto wrath.

And there within their flame do they lament
The ambush of the horse, which made the door
Whence issued forth the Romans’ gentle seed;

Therein is wept the craft, for which being dead
Deidamia still deplores Achilles,
And pain for the Palladium there is borne.”

“If they within those sparks possess the power
To speak,” I said, “thee, Master, much I pray,
And re—pray, that the prayer be worth a thousand,

That thou make no denial of awaiting
Until the horned flame shall hither come;
Thou seest that with desire I lean towards it.”

And he to me: “Worthy is thy entreaty
Of much applause, and therefore I accept it;
But take heed that thy tongue restrain itself.

Leave me to speak, because I have conceived
That which thou wishest; for they might disdain
Perchance, since they were Greeks, discourse of thine.”

When now the flame had come unto that point,
Where to my Leader it seemed time and place,
After this fashion did I hear him speak:

“O ye, who are twofold within one fire,
If I deserved of you, while I was living,
If I deserved of you or much or little

When in the world I wrote the lofty verses,
Do not move on, but one of you declare
Whither, being lost, he went away to die.”

Then of the antique flame the greater horn,
Murmuring, began to wave itself about
Even as a flame doth which the wind fatigues.

Thereafterward, the summit to and fro
Moving as if it were the tongue that spake
It uttered forth a voice, and said: “When I

From Circe had departed, who concealed me
More than a year there near unto Gaeta,
Or ever yet Aenas named it so,

Nor fondness for my son, nor reverence
For my old father, nor the due affection
Which joyous should have made Penelope,

Could overcome within me the desire
I had to be experienced of the world,
And of the vice and virtue of mankind;

But I put forth on the high open sea
With one sole ship, and that small company
By which I never had deserted been.

Both of the shores I saw as far as Spain,
Far as Morocco. and the isle of Sardes,
And the others which that sea bathes round about.

I and my company were old and slow
When at that narrow passage we arrived
Where Hercules his landmarks set as signals,

That man no farther onward should adventure.
On the right hand behind me left I Seville,
And on the other already had left Ceuta.

‘O brothers, who amid a hundred thousand
Perils,’ I said, ‘ have come unto the West,
To this so inconsiderable vigil

Which is remaining of your senses still
Be ye unwilling to deny the knowledge,
Following the sun, of the unpeopled world.

Consider ye the seed from which ye sprang;
Ye were not made to live like unto brutes,
But for pursuit of virtue and of knowledge.’

So eager did I render my companions,
With this brief exhortation, for the voyage,
That then I hardly could have held them back.

And having turned our stern unto the morning,
We of the oars made wings for our mad flight,
Evermore gaining on the larboard side.

Already all the stars of the other pole
The night beheld, and ours so very low
It did not rise above the ocean floor.

Five times rekindled and as many quenched
Had been the splendour underneath the moon,
Since we had entered into the deep pass,

When there appeared to us a mountain, dim
From distance, and it seemed to me so high
As I had never any one beheld.

Joyful were we, and soon it turned to weeping;
For out of the new land a whirlwind rose,
And smote upon the fore part of the ship.

Three times it made her whirl with all the waters,
At the fourth time it made the stern uplift,
And the prow downward go, as pleased Another,

Until the sea above us closed again.”

Be joyous, Florence, you are great indeed,
for over sea and land you beat your wings;
through every part of Hell your name extends!

Among the thieves I found five citizens
of yours—and such, that shame has taken me;
with them, you can ascend to no high honor.

But if the dreams dreamt close to dawn are true,
then little time will pass before you feel
what Prato and the others crave for you.

Were that already come, it would not be
too soon—and let it come, since it must be!
As I grow older, it will be more heavy.

We left that deep and, by protruding stones
that served as stairs for our descent before,
my guide climbed up again and drew me forward;

and as we took our solitary path
among the ridge’s jagged spurs and rocks,
our feet could not make way without our hands.

It grieved me then and now grieves me again
when I direct my mind to what I saw;
and more than usual, I curb my talent,

that it not run where virtue does not guide;
so that, if my kind star or something better
has given me that gift, I not abuse it.

As many as the fireflies the peasant
(while resting on a hillside in the season
when he who lights the world least hides his face),

just when the fly gives way to the mosquito,
sees glimmering below, down in the valley,
there where perhaps he gathers grapes and tills—

so many were the flames that glittered in
the eighth abyss; I made this out as soon
as I had come to where one sees the bottom.

Even as he who was avenged by bears
saw, as it left, Elijah’s chariot—
its horses rearing, rising right to heaven—

when he could not keep track of it except
by watching one lone flame in its ascent,
just like a little cloud that climbs on high:

so, through the gullet of that ditch, each flame
must make its way; no flame displays its prey,
though every flame has carried off a sinner.

I stood upon the bridge and leaned straight out
to see; and if I had not gripped a rock,
I should have fallen off—without a push.

My guide, who noted how intent I was,
told me: “Within those fires there are souls;
each one is swathed in that which scorches him.”

“My master,” I replied, “on hearing you,
I am more sure; but I’d already thought
that it was so, and I had meant to ask:

Who is within the flame that comes so twinned
above that it would seem to rise out of
the pyre Eteocles shared with his brother?”

He answered me: “Within that flame, Ulysses
and Diomedes suffer; they, who went
as one to rage, now share one punishment.

And there, together in their flame, they grieve
over the horse’s fraud that caused a breach—
the gate that let Rome’s noble seed escape.

There they regret the guile that makes the dead
Deidamia still lament Achilles;
and there, for the Palladium, they pay.”

“If they can speak within those sparks,” I said,
“I pray you and repray and, master, may
my prayer be worth a thousand pleas, do not

forbid my waiting here until the flame
with horns approaches us; for you can see
how, out of my desire, I bend toward it.”

And he to me: “What you have asked is worthy
of every praise; therefore, I favor it.
I only ask you this: refrain from talking.

Let me address them—I have understood
what you desire of them. Since they were Greek,
perhaps they’d be disdainful of your speech.”

And when my guide adjudged the flame had reached
a point where time and place were opportune,
this was the form I heard his words assume:

“You two who move as one within the flame,
if I deserved of you while I still lived,
if I deserved of you much or a little

when in the world I wrote my noble lines,
do not move on; let one of you retell
where, having gone astray, he found his death.”

The greater horn within that ancient flame
began to sway and tremble, murmuring
just like a fire that struggles in the wind;

and then he waved his flame—tip back and forth
as if it were a tongue that tried to speak,
and flung toward us a voice that answered: “When

I sailed away from Circe, who’d beguiled me
to stay more than a year there, near Gaeta—
before Aeneas gave that place a name—

neither my fondness for my son nor pity
for my old father nor the love I owed
Penelope, which would have gladdened her,

was able to defeat in me the longing
I had to gain experience of the world
and of the vices and the worth of men.

Therefore, I set out on the open sea
with but one ship and that small company
of those who never had deserted me.

I saw as far as Spain, far as Morocco,
along both shores; I saw Sardinia
and saw the other islands that sea bathes.

And I and my companions were already
old and slow, when we approached the narrows
where Hercules set up his boundary stones

that men might heed and never reach beyond:
upon my right, I had gone past Seville,
and on the left, already passed Ceuta.

‘Brothers,’ I said, ‘o you, who having crossed
a hundred thousand dangers, reach the west,
to this brief waking—time that still is left

unto your senses, you must not deny
experience of that which lies beyond
the sun, and of the world that is unpeopled.

Consider well the seed that gave you birth:
you were not made to live your lives as brutes,
but to be followers of worth and knowledge.’

I spurred my comrades with this brief address
to meet the journey with such eagerness
that I could hardly, then, have held them back;

and having turned our stern toward morning, we
made wings out of our oars in a wild flight
and always gained upon our left—hand side.

At night I now could see the other pole
and all its stars; the star of ours had fallen
and never rose above the plain of the ocean.

Five times the light beneath the moon had been
rekindled, and, as many times, was spent,
since that hard passage faced our first attempt,

when there before us rose a mountain, dark
because of distance, and it seemed to me
the highest mountain I had ever seen.

And we were glad, but this soon turned to sorrow,
for out of that new land a whirlwind rose
and hammered at our ship, against her bow.

Three times it turned her round with all the waters;
and at the fourth, it lifted up the stern
so that our prow plunged deep, as pleased an Other,

until the sea again closed—over us.”

REJOICE, 0 Florence, since thou art so great,
That over sea and land thou beatest thy wings,
And throughout Hell thy name is spread abroad !

Among the thieves five citizens of thine
Like these I found, whence shame comes unto me,
And thou thereby to no great honour risest.

But if when morn is near our dreams are true,
Feel shalt thou in a little time from now
What Prato, if none other, craves for thee.

And if it now were, it were not too soon;
Would that it were, seeing it needs must be,
For ’twill aggrieve me more the more I age.

We went our way, and up along the stairs
The bourns had made us to descend before,
Remounted my Conductor and drew me.

And following the solitary path
Among the rocks and ridges of the crag,
The foot without the hand sped not at all.

Then sorrowed I, and sorrow now again,
When I direct my mind to what I saw,
And more my genius curb than I am wont,

That it may run not unless virtue guide it;
So that if some good star, or better thing,
Have given me good, I may myself not grudge it.

As many as the hind (who on the hill
Rests at the time when he who lights the world
His countenance keeps least concealed from us,

While as the fly gives place unto the gnat)
Seeth the glow—worms down along the valley,
Perchance there where he ploughs and makes his vintage

With flames as manifold resplendent all
Was the eighth Bolgia, as I grew aware
As soon as I was where the depth appeared.

And such as he who with the bears avenged him
Beheld Elijah’s chariot at departing,
What time the steeds to heaven erect uprose

For with his eye he could not follow it
So as to see aught else than flame alone,
Even as a little cloud ascending upward,

Thus each along the gorge of the intrenchment
Was moving; for not one reveals the theft,
And every flame a sinner steals away.

I stood upon the bridge uprisen to see,
So that, if I had seized not on a rock,
Down had I fallen without being pushed.

And the Leader, who beheld me so attent,
Exclaimed: “Within the fires the spirits are;
Each swathes himself with that wherewith he burns.”

‘My Master,” I replied, “by hearing thee
I am more sure; but I surmised already
It might be so, and already wished to ask thee

Who is within that fire, which comes so cleft
At top, it seems uprising from the pyre
Where was Eteocles with his brother placed.”

He answered me: “Within there are tormented
Ulysses and Diomed, and thus together
They unto vengeance run as unto wrath.

And there within their flame do they lament
The ambush of the horse, which made the door
Whence issued forth the Romans’ gentle seed;

Therein is wept the craft, for which being dead
Deidamia still deplores Achilles,
And pain for the Palladium there is borne.”

“If they within those sparks possess the power
To speak,” I said, “thee, Master, much I pray,
And re—pray, that the prayer be worth a thousand,

That thou make no denial of awaiting
Until the horned flame shall hither come;
Thou seest that with desire I lean towards it.”

And he to me: “Worthy is thy entreaty
Of much applause, and therefore I accept it;
But take heed that thy tongue restrain itself.

Leave me to speak, because I have conceived
That which thou wishest; for they might disdain
Perchance, since they were Greeks, discourse of thine.”

When now the flame had come unto that point,
Where to my Leader it seemed time and place,
After this fashion did I hear him speak:

“O ye, who are twofold within one fire,
If I deserved of you, while I was living,
If I deserved of you or much or little

When in the world I wrote the lofty verses,
Do not move on, but one of you declare
Whither, being lost, he went away to die.”

Then of the antique flame the greater horn,
Murmuring, began to wave itself about
Even as a flame doth which the wind fatigues.

Thereafterward, the summit to and fro
Moving as if it were the tongue that spake
It uttered forth a voice, and said: “When I

From Circe had departed, who concealed me
More than a year there near unto Gaeta,
Or ever yet Aenas named it so,

Nor fondness for my son, nor reverence
For my old father, nor the due affection
Which joyous should have made Penelope,

Could overcome within me the desire
I had to be experienced of the world,
And of the vice and virtue of mankind;

But I put forth on the high open sea
With one sole ship, and that small company
By which I never had deserted been.

Both of the shores I saw as far as Spain,
Far as Morocco. and the isle of Sardes,
And the others which that sea bathes round about.

I and my company were old and slow
When at that narrow passage we arrived
Where Hercules his landmarks set as signals,

That man no farther onward should adventure.
On the right hand behind me left I Seville,
And on the other already had left Ceuta.

‘O brothers, who amid a hundred thousand
Perils,’ I said, ‘ have come unto the West,
To this so inconsiderable vigil

Which is remaining of your senses still
Be ye unwilling to deny the knowledge,
Following the sun, of the unpeopled world.

Consider ye the seed from which ye sprang;
Ye were not made to live like unto brutes,
But for pursuit of virtue and of knowledge.’

So eager did I render my companions,
With this brief exhortation, for the voyage,
That then I hardly could have held them back.

And having turned our stern unto the morning,
We of the oars made wings for our mad flight,
Evermore gaining on the larboard side.

Already all the stars of the other pole
The night beheld, and ours so very low
It did not rise above the ocean floor.

Five times rekindled and as many quenched
Had been the splendour underneath the moon,
Since we had entered into the deep pass,

When there appeared to us a mountain, dim
From distance, and it seemed to me so high
As I had never any one beheld.

Joyful were we, and soon it turned to weeping;
For out of the new land a whirlwind rose,
And smote upon the fore part of the ship.

Three times it made her whirl with all the waters,
At the fourth time it made the stern uplift,
And the prow downward go, as pleased Another,

Until the sea above us closed again.”