The Linguistic Fall

  • Inferno 31 as anticipation of Inferno 34: giants as anticipations of Lucifer
  • towers—like the fortified towers of the magnate families in Duecento cities—are figures of power, of the will to dominance and overweening pride
  • the Garisenda tower of Bologna and the early sonnet Non mi poriano
  • the interweaving of classical and biblical in the treatment of the giants
  • the Tower of Babel and the linguistic diaspora, as recounted by Dante in De vulgari eloquentia and reprised here
  • the opening “Una medesma lingua” translates the De vulgari eloquentia’s “una eademque loquela”: “one same language”
  • a linguistic theory that is based on the same principle as that of monarchy: unity versus diversity
  • Nembrot’s linguistic failure dramatizes the corrosion of the bonds that tie humans into social and familial consortia

Inferno 31 is a transitional canto, a pause in the plot that marks the transition to the ninth and lowest circle of Hell. It also serves to anticipate the very bottom of Hell, the lowest point of the universe toward which all weight tends: “lo mezzo / al quale ogne gravezza si rauna” (the center to which all weight is drawn [Inf. 32.73-74]). It does so by  featuring giants who are effectively lesser versions of Lucifer.

Less completely estranged, less devoid of cognition and understanding, less consigned to the category of enormous but unthinking brute matter (e.g. the elephants and whales of verse 52), still enjoying to some degree the “ability to reason” (“argomento della mente” in verse 55), the giants are nonetheless analogues to Lucifer in having rebelled through hubris against an all-mighty divinity.

Seeing tall structures in the distance, the pilgrim thinks that he sees towers—not a surprising error, for fortified towers belonging to rivaling magnate families were a hallmark of Duecento cities. Instead what Dante sees are the figures of the giants who ring the “well”—“pozzo” (Inf. 31.32)—that is the pit of Hell. The similarity between the towers and the giants casts the magnates who built those towers as prideful and arrogant, men who pursued a will to dominance like that of the giants.

Only in the topsy-turvy world of Dante’s Hell can the fact that these are giants, rather than towers, be considered “less strange”: “acciò che ’l fatto men ti paia strano, / sappi che non son torri, ma giganti” (so that the fact may seem less strange to you, / I’d have you know they are not towers, but giants [Inf. 31.30-31]).

The feet of the giants are on the floor of the ninth circle, while their torsos and heads stick up over the edge of the eighth circle. When seen from a distance, they thus appear as “towers” arranged in a circle, like the towers that ring Monteriggioni, a circular fortress built by the Sienese as a front in their war against the Florentines: “come su la cerchia tonda / Montereggion di torri si corona” (as, on its round wall, Montereggioni / is crowned with towers [Inf. 31.40-41]).

“Montereggion” is the first historical and contemporary landmark in this canto; later on Dante will refer to “Garisenda” (136), a famous tower in Bologna that he had referenced by name in his early sonnet Non mi poriano. (For more on “the Garisenda sonnet”, see my commentary in Dante’s Lyric Poetry.) In Inferno 31 Dante describes the tower in a precise way that indicates his having studied it in person, in Bologna. Again, by naming these places, by naming these features of the contemporary social and political landscape, Dante links his social world to the issues represented by the towers of Inferno 31: power, will to dominance, overweening pride.

The travelers ultimately reach the farthest reaches of the circle of fraud, and Virgilio asks one of the giants to pick them up and deposit them on the very floor of Hell, in the ninth and final circle. The giant who does this service is Antaeus, a classical figure, who thus provides transport to the ninth circle as Geryon once provided transport to the eighth. At canto’s end Antaeus picks up Dante and Virgilio upon Virgilio’s behest. Virgilio speaks to Antaeus at length (verses 115-29), including in his address to the giant a detailed captatio benevolentiae and a promise of renewed fame on earth if he will comply with the request. Fascinating too is Virgilio’s claim that long life awaits the pilgrim, if grace does not call him before his time:

Ancor ti può nel mondo render fama,
ch’el vive, e lunga vita ancor aspetta
se ’nnanzi tempo grazia a sé nol chiama. (Inf. 31.127-29)

He still can bring you fame within the world,
for he’s alive and still expects long life,
unless grace summon him before his time.

Most significantly, with respect to the thematics of Inferno 31 and this canto’s anticipation of Inferno 34, Antaeus still preserves the faculty of reason, and the sign of his cognitive presence is language: he can receive Virgilio’s communication, understand it, and comply. At the end of Inferno 31 Antaeus gently places the travelers on the floor of the ninth circle, and so the canto concludes with Dante and Virgilio deposited at the very bottom of the universe, the “fondo a tutto l’universo” (Inf. 32.8).

At first mention the giants are placed within a classical frame of reference, in the context of the mythological War of the Titans against the Olympians: they are “li orribili giganti, cui minaccia / Giove del cielo ancora quando tuona” (the terrifying giants, whom Jove still menaces / from Heaven when he sends his bolts of thunder down upon them [Inf. 31.44-45]). Later on in the canto, the classical giant Ephialtes is described in two verses that make him effectively a classical counterpart to Lucifer in his hubris. He is a “superbo” (91), a challenger of God’s supremacy and an embodiment of rebellious pride: “Questo superbo volle esser esperto / di sua potenza contra ’l sommo Giove (This giant in his arrogance had tested / his force against the force of highest Jove [Inf. 31.91-92]).

In the references to Jove’s thunderbolts, Dante is also echoing that other “superbo” (Inf. 25.14) who rebelled against Jove and is now punished as a blasphemer in Hell: Capaneus, explicitly reprised and called “superbo” in Inferno 25. When we meet Capaneus among the blasphemers in Inferno 14, he alludes to Jove’s battle against the giants as part of his grandiose insistence that nothing that Jove can do can possibly frighten him (Inf. 14.51-60). Central to the thematic of prideful transgression in Inferno, Capaneus informs our current encounter with the giants who once challenged Jove in their arrogance.

The classical giants of Inferno 31 are thus suitable anticipations of Lucifer in Dante’s personal mythography. This is a highly personal and idiosyncratic mythography in which, we recall, classical Ulysses is analogous to biblical Adam.

Although most of the giants named in Inferno 31 are classical—including Briareus, Tityus and Tiphon—the most interesting giant is the solitary biblical figure, Nembrot (known as Nimrod in English). The themes of pride and transgression figured in the classical giants are most illuminatingly set forth by Dante in his treatment of Nembrot. The classical giants will be paired with Lucifer and Nembrot again, as examples of overweening pride to be castigated and trampled upon, in Purgatorio’s terrace of pride (Purgatorio 12.28-36).

Dante uses Nembrot and the biblical story of the Tower of Babel to give the issue of pride a linguistic and artistic focus.

Nembrot is the Hebrew king who set out to build the Tower of Babel. The story of the tower of Babel is told in Genesis 11:1-9:

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

The story of the Tower of Babel was retold by many, including St. Augustine in The City of God. Dante too retells it, in his linguistic treatise, De vulgari eloquentia (On Vernacular Eloquence), which he wrote circa the mid-point of the first decade of the 14th century, after his exile in 1302 and before beginning Inferno. In his retelling of the Tower of Babel in De vulgari eloquentia, Dante focuses on the following key points of the biblical narrative: 1) when all the peoples of the earth were united in possessing one language they could do anything; 2) they misused this privilege by seeking to build a tower whose top could reach to heaven and challenge the divinity; 3) to restrain them God confounded their language.

Thus linguistic diversity is the castigation meted out by God for human hubris. Dante makes this point clearly in his linguistic treatise De vulgari eloquentia:

ut qui omnes una eademque loquela deserviebant ad opus, ab opere, multis diversificati loquelis, desinerent (Dve 1.7.6)

Previously all of them had spoken one and the same language while carrying out their tasks; but now they were forced to leave off their labors, never to return to the same occupation, because they had been split up into groups speaking different languages. (trans. Steven Botterill)

In other words, the people came to the work of building the Tower “with one same language”—“una eademque loquela”—but they left off the work “estranged from one another by a multiplicity of tongues”: “multis diversificati loquelis desinerent” (Dve 1.7.6).

Striking in this passage is the way the opposition between prelapsarian and postlapsarian is characterized in linguistic terms. In their prelapsarian state, the people  were blessed with one language—“una eademque loquela”—while in their postlapsarian condition they are diversified into many tongues: “multis diversificati loquelis”. This linguistic fall is in fact the great theme of Inferno 31, announced in its opening words: “Una medesma lingua” (One same tongue [Inf. 31.1]).

The first three words of Inferno 31 are in fact a reference to Virgilio’s tongue: the same tongue which had rebuked Dante at the end of the previous canto, admonishing him not to be fixated on the quarrel between Sinon and maestro Adamo, now comforts him and restores his good cheer. To be clear: in context and correctly construed, the words “una medesma lingua” at the beginning of Inferno 31 do not refer to the prelapsarian unified language. Nonetheless, the choice to begin Inferno 31 with the words “one same language” seems intentional. One might suggest that the canto that treats the linguistic diaspora as the wages of human arrogance begins with a vernacular translation of the phrase “una eademque loquela” from De vulgari eloquentia.

As in the bolgia of the schismatics (Inferno 28), in Inferno 31 too the underlying premise is that oneness is good and multiplicity is bad. As Dante puts it in the Monarchia (written later, in the second decade of the 14th century): “unde fit quod unum esse videtur esse radix eius quod est esse bonum, et multa esse eius quod est esse malum” (“to be one seems to be the root of what it is to be good, and to be many of what it is to be evil” [Mon. 1.15.2]). We thus arrive at the following alignment:

unum (one) = bonum (good) = una eademque loquela (one same language)
multa (many) = malum (evil) = multis diversificati loquelis (diversified into many languages)

In De vulgari eloquentia Dante also connects Nembrot specifically to artistic pride, in the following very important passage:

Presumpsit ergo in corde suo incurabilis homo, sub persuasione gigantis Nembroth, arte sua non solum superare naturam, sed etiam ipsum naturantem, qui Deus est. (Dve 1.7.4)

So uncurable man, persuaded by the giant Nembrot, presumed in his heart to surpass with his art not only nature, but also nature’s maker, who is God.

The connection between pride and human endeavor—human “art” as it is called in the above passage from De vulgari eloquentia—anticipates the Commedia. The idea that there is a kind of artist arrogant enough to presume “to surpass with his art not only nature, but also nature’s maker, who is God” runs through the Commedia and indeed lays the conceptual foundation for the terrace of pride in Purgatorio. As he does with many of his core ideas, Dante roots his idea of artistic presumption or hubris in both biblical and classical antecedents. For Dante, the mythological and Ovidian figures of the classical artists Daedalus and Arachne are matched by the biblical figure of Nembrot.

Nembrot’s attempt to surpass “not only nature but nature’s maker” will cause him to be remembered in each canticle of the poem, as part of an artistic constellation that also includes Ulysses. In Purgatorio 12, Nembrot stands dazedly at the foot of his “gran lavoro” (great work [Purg. 12.34]), which has been destroyed by God. In Paradiso 26 Adam recalls Nembrot’s failed attempt—his “ovra inconsummabile” (a work that cannot be completed)—one last time (Par. 26.125).

In Inferno 31 the theory of linguistic multiplicity as divine punishment for human arrogance is dramatized by the gibberish coming out of Nembrot’s mouth:

  «Raphél maì amèche zabì almi»,
cominciò a gridar la fiera bocca,
cui non si convenia più dolci salmi.  (Inf. 31.67-69)
  “Raphel mai amecche zabi almi,”     
began to bellow that brute mouth, for which
no sweeter psalms would be appropriate.

Dante has gone a step further than the biblical story by assigning to Nembrot, the instigator of the Tower of Babel, a language that is self-enclosed, unknown to anyone else. Whereas in the original story humans break into groups, each new group endowed with its own language, Dante has made Nembrot a group of one. He speaks non-sense and can communicate to no one, as Virgilio explains:

  Poi disse a me: «Elli stessi s’accusa;
questi è Nembrotto per lo cui mal coto
pur un linguaggio nel mondo non s’usa.
  Lasciànlo stare e non parliamo a vòto;
ché così è a lui ciascun linguaggio
come ’l suo ad altrui, ch’a nullo è noto». (Inf. 31.76-81)
  And then to me: “He is his own accuser;
for this is Nimrod, through whose wicked thought
one single language cannot serve the world.
  Leave him alone—let’s not waste time in talk;
for every language is to him the same
as his to others—no one knows his tongue.”

Nembrot’s non-sense is Dante’s projection to an extreme of the linguistic diaspora brought about by the Tower of Babel: the nightmare of complete linguistic isolation.

This linguistic fall is secondary only to the original fall in the Garden of Eden.

Failure to communicate is necessarily communicable. In other words, Nembrot’s incomprehensible babbling threatens the travelers with incomprehensibility, as Virgilio suggests:

Lasciànlo stare e non parliamo a vòto;
ché così è a lui ciascun linguaggio
come ’l suo ad altrui, ch’a nullo è noto. (Inf. 31.79-81)
Leave him alone—let’s not waste time in talk;
for every language is to him the same
as his to others—no one knows his tongue.

Literally Virgilio here says: “Let us leave him alone and not speak emptily”. The phrase parlare a vòto indicates the insurpassable gulf, the empty space between res and signum that is part of mankind’s fallen condition.

Much of Inferno has been devoted to an investigation of the problems of deceit and fraudulence inherent in the medium of language. As we saw in Inferno 17, Geryon was from the first associated with Arachne and with the perils of mimetic art. And yet, deeply aware as he is of the ways in which language can be used to deceive and abuse, Dante remains committed to the idea that without language we are less than human. Throughout Inferno semiotic abuse has been presented in a dazzling array of linguistic and literary vestments. Now we have arrived at a semiosis that cannot connect at all: we have arrived at the idea of a parlare a vòto, a speech into the void, a discourse in which the signifier will never bear any relation to the signified.

In the linguistic failure that Nembrot performs, Dante dramatizes the complete corrosion of the bonds that tie humans into social and familial consortia. There is no more telling correlative to the sin of treachery—of fraud practiced on those we trust, those to whom we are bound with special ties of love and obligation and devotion—than the failure of language, the human asset that we use to build and achieve together, to console each other, and to communicate our love. This failure is most poignantly expressed in the story told by Ugolino, in Inferno 33, in which the traitor withholds the consolation of language from his sons. It is ultimately a failure embodied by Lucifer, who uses his mouth to masticate—but not to speak.

Inferno 31 begins with Virgilio applying his tongue—his speech—to the multiple and proper offices of communication: as Virgilio used his tongue to cause Dante shame with his severe rebuke at the end of the previous canto, so now (at the beginning of Inferno 31) he uses it to offer the sweet balm of comfort. The canto ends with an anticipation of Lucifer’s mouth: a mouth that does not speak, does not communicate, but only devours. Antaeus places the travelers on “the floor that devours Lucifer with Judas”: “al fondo che divora / Lucifero con Giuda” (Inf. 31.142-43).

The anticipation of Lucifer’s devouring but non-communicating mouth, now in turn devoured by Hell (“the floor that devours”), will be the Inferno’s final image of a brute matter devoid of speech, because devoid of the light of reason. For Lucifer does not have what the giants still have, as Dante specifies in Inferno 31.49-57, where he opines that it is just as well that Nature has left off making creatures who are as large as elephants and whales but, unlike elephants and whales (Dante does not know what we know about the cognition of animals), still possess the ability to reason:

E s’ella d’elefanti e di balene
non si pente, chi guarda sottilmente,
più giusta e più discreta la ne tene;
ché dove l’argomento de la mente 
s’aggiugne al mal volere e a la possa,
nessun riparo vi può far la gente. (Inf. 31.52-57) 
And if she still produces elephants
and whales, whoever sees with subtlety
holds her—for this—to be more just and prudent;
for where the mind’s acutest reasoning
is joined to evil will and evil power,
there human beings can’t defend themselves.

The “argomento della mente”—“ability to reason” (Inf. 31.55)—is what produces language, and it is what makes us human. The inhumanity of humans, signaled by our failures with respect to language, is what engages Dante’s imagination in the last canti of Inferno.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, pp. 92, 115; on the sonnet Non mi poriano, see Dante’s Lyric Poetry.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Inferno 31: The Linguistic Fall.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/inferno/inferno-31/

About the Commento

1Una medesma lingua pria mi morse,
2sì che mi tinse l’una e l’altra guancia,
3e poi la medicina mi riporse;

4così od’ io che solea far la lancia
5d’Achille e del suo padre esser cagione
6prima di trista e poi di buona mancia.

7Noi demmo il dosso al misero vallone
8su per la ripa che ’l cinge dintorno,
9attraversando sanza alcun sermone.

10Quiv’ era men che notte e men che giorno,
11sì che ’l viso m’andava innanzi poco;
12ma io senti’ sonare un alto corno,

13tanto ch’avrebbe ogne tuon fatto fioco,
14che, contra sé la sua via seguitando,
15dirizzò li occhi miei tutti ad un loco.

16Dopo la dolorosa rotta, quando
17Carlo Magno perdé la santa gesta,
18non sonò sì terribilmente Orlando.

19Poco portäi in là volta la testa,
20che me parve veder molte alte torri;
21ond’ io: «Maestro, dì, che terra è questa?».

22Ed elli a me: «Però che tu trascorri
23per le tenebre troppo da la lungi,
24avvien che poi nel maginare abborri.

25Tu vedrai ben, se tu là ti congiungi,
26quanto ’l senso s’inganna di lontano;
27però alquanto più te stesso pungi».

28Poi caramente mi prese per mano
29e disse: «Pria che noi siam più avanti,
30acciò che ’l fatto men ti paia strano,

31sappi che non son torri, ma giganti,
32e son nel pozzo intorno da la ripa
33da l’umbilico in giuso tutti quanti».

34Come quando la nebbia si dissipa,
35lo sguardo a poco a poco raffigura
36ciò che cela ’l vapor che l’aere stipa,

37così forando l’aura grossa e scura,
38più e più appressando ver’ la sponda,
39fuggiemi errore e cresciemi paura;

40però che, come su la cerchia tonda
41Montereggion di torri si corona,
42così la proda che ’l pozzo circonda

43torreggiavan di mezza la persona
44li orribili giganti, cui minaccia
45Giove del cielo ancora quando tuona.

46E io scorgeva già d’alcun la faccia,
47le spalle e ’l petto e del ventre gran parte,
48e per le coste giù ambo le braccia.

49Natura certo, quando lasciò l’arte
50di sì fatti animali, assai fé bene
51per tòrre tali essecutori a Marte.

52E s’ella d’elefanti e di balene
53non si pente, chi guarda sottilmente,
54più giusta e più discreta la ne tene;

55ché dove l’argomento de la mente
56s’aggiugne al mal volere e a la possa,
57nessun riparo vi può far la gente.

58La faccia sua mi parea lunga e grossa
59come la pina di San Pietro a Roma,
60e a sua proporzione eran l’altre ossa;

61sì che la ripa, ch’era perizoma
62dal mezzo in giù, ne mostrava ben tanto
63di sovra, che di giugnere a la chioma

64tre Frison s’averien dato mal vanto;
65però ch’i’ ne vedea trenta gran palmi
66dal loco in giù dov’ omo affibbia ’l manto.

67«Raphèl maì amècche zabì almi»,
68cominciò a gridar la fiera bocca,
69cui non si convenia più dolci salmi.

70E ’l duca mio ver’ lui: «Anima sciocca,
71tienti col corno, e con quel ti disfoga
72quand’ ira o altra passïon ti tocca!

73Cércati al collo, e troverai la soga
74che ’l tien legato, o anima confusa,
75e vedi lui che ’l gran petto ti doga».

76Poi disse a me: «Elli stessi s’accusa;
77questi è Nembrotto per lo cui mal coto
78pur un linguaggio nel mondo non s’usa.

79Lasciànlo stare e non parliamo a vòto;
80ché così è a lui ciascun linguaggio
81come ’l suo ad altrui, ch’a nullo è noto».

82Facemmo adunque più lungo vïaggio,
83vòlti a sinistra; e al trar d’un balestro
84trovammo l’altro assai più fero e maggio.

85A cigner lui qual che fosse ’l maestro,
86non so io dir, ma el tenea soccinto
87dinanzi l’altro e dietro il braccio destro

88d’una catena che ’l tenea avvinto
89dal collo in giù, sì che ’n su lo scoperto
90si ravvolgëa infino al giro quinto.

91«Questo superbo volle esser esperto
92di sua potenza contra ’l sommo Giove»,
93disse ’l mio duca, «ond’ elli ha cotal merto.

94Fïalte ha nome, e fece le gran prove
95quando i giganti fer paura a’ dèi;
96le braccia ch’el menò, già mai non move».

97E io a lui: «S’esser puote, io vorrei
98che de lo smisurato Brïareo
99esperïenza avesser li occhi mei».

100Ond’ ei rispuose: «Tu vedrai Anteo
101presso di qui che parla ed è disciolto,
102che ne porrà nel fondo d’ogne reo.

103Quel che tu vuo’ veder, più là è molto
104ed è legato e fatto come questo,
105salvo che più feroce par nel volto».

106Non fu tremoto già tanto rubesto,
107che scotesse una torre così forte,
108come Fïalte a scuotersi fu presto.

109Allor temett’ io più che mai la morte,
110e non v’era mestier più che la dotta,
111s’io non avessi viste le ritorte.

112Noi procedemmo più avante allotta,
113e venimmo ad Anteo, che ben cinque alle,
114sanza la testa, uscia fuor de la grotta.

115«O tu che ne la fortunata valle
116che fece Scipïon di gloria reda,
117quand’ Anibàl co’ suoi diede le spalle,

118recasti già mille leon per preda,
119e che, se fossi stato a l’alta guerra
120de’ tuoi fratelli, ancor par che si creda

121ch’avrebber vinto i figli de la terra:
122mettine giù, e non ten vegna schifo,
123dove Cocito la freddura serra.

124Non ci fare ire a Tizio né a Tifo:
125questi può dar di quel che qui si brama;
126però ti china e non torcer lo grifo.

127Ancor ti può nel mondo render fama,
128ch’el vive, e lunga vita ancor aspetta
129se ’nnanzi tempo grazia a sé nol chiama».

130Così disse ’l maestro; e quelli in fretta
131le man distese, e prese ’l duca mio,
132ond’ Ercule sentì già grande stretta.

133Virgilio, quando prender si sentio,
134disse a me: «Fatti qua, sì ch’io ti prenda»;
135poi fece sì ch’un fascio era elli e io.

136Qual pare a riguardar la Carisenda
137sotto ’l chinato, quando un nuvol vada
138sovr’ essa sì, ched ella incontro penda:

139tal parve Antëo a me che stava a bada
140di vederlo chinare, e fu tal ora
141ch’i’ avrei voluto ir per altra strada.

142Ma lievemente al fondo che divora
143Lucifero con Giuda, ci sposò;
144né, sì chinato, lì fece dimora,

145e come albero in nave si levò.

The very tongue that first had wounded me,
sending the color up in both my cheeks,
was then to cure me with its medicine—

as did Achilles’ and his father’s lance,
even as I have heard, when it dispensed
a sad stroke first and then a healing one.

We turned our backs upon that dismal valley
by climbing up the bank that girdles it;
we made our way across without a word.

Here it was less than night and less than day,
so that my sight could only move ahead
slightly, but then I heard a bugle blast

so strong, it would have made a thunder clap
seem faint; at this, my eyes—which doubled back
upon their path—turned fully toward one place.

Not even Roland’s horn, which followed on
the sad defeat when Charlemagne had lost
his holy army, was as dread as this.

I’d only turned my head there briefly when
I seemed to make out many high towers; then
I asked him: “Master, tell me, what’s this city?”

And he to me: “It is because you try
to penetrate from far into these shadows
that you have formed such faulty images.

When you have reached that place, you shall see clearly
how much the distance has deceived your sense;
and, therefore, let this spur you on your way.”

Then lovingly he took me by the hand
and said: “Before we have moved farther on,
so that the fact may seem less strange to you,

I’d have you know they are not towers, but giants,
and from the navel downward, all of them
are in the central pit, at the embankment.”

Just as, whenever mists begin to thin,
when, gradually, vision finds the form
that in the vapor—thickened air was hidden,

so I pierced through the dense and darkened fog;
as I drew always nearer to the shore,
my error fled from me, my terror grew;

for as, on its round wall, Montereggioni
is crowned with towers, so there towered here,
above the bank that runs around the pit,

with half their bulk, the terrifying giants,
whom Jove still menaces from Heaven when
he sends his bolts of thunder down upon them.

And I could now make out the face of one,
his shoulders and his chest, much of his belly,
and both his arms that hung along his sides.

Surely when she gave up the art of making
such creatures, Nature acted well indeed,
depriving Mars of instruments like these.

And if she still produces elephants
and whales, whoever sees with subtlety
holds her—for this— to be more just and prudent;

for where the mind’s acutest reasoning
is joined to evil will and evil power,
there human beings can’t defend themselves.

His face appeared to me as broad and long
as Rome can claim for its St. Peter’s pine cone;
his other bones shared in that same proportion;

so that the bank, which served him as an apron
down from his middle, showed so much of him
above, that three Frieslanders would in vain

have boasted of their reaching to his hair;
for downward from the place where one would buckle
a mantle, I saw thirty spans of him.

“Raphel mai amecche zabi almi,”
began to bellow that brute mouth, for which
no sweeter psalms would be appropriate.

And my guide turned to him: “O stupid soul,
keep to your horn and use that as an outlet
when rage or other passion touches you!

Look at your neck, and you will find the strap
that holds it fast; and see, bewildered spirit,
how it lies straight across your massive chest.”

And then to me: “He is his own accuser;
for this is Nimrod, through whose wicked thought
one single language cannot serve the world.

Leave him alone—let’s not waste time in talk;
for every language is to him the same
as his to others—no one knows his tongue.”

So, turning to the left, we journeyed on
and, at the distance of a bow—shot, found
another giant, far more huge and fierce.

Who was the master who had tied him so,
I cannot say, but his left arm was bent
behind him and his right was bent in front,

both pinioned by a chain that held him tight
down from the neck; and round the part of him
that was exposed, it had been wound five times.

“This giant in his arrogance had tested
his force against the force of highest Jove,”
my guide said, “so he merits this reward.

His name is Ephialtes; and he showed
tremendous power when the giants frightened
the gods; the arms he moved now move no more.”

And I to him: “If it is possible,
I’d like my eyes to have experience
of the enormous one, Briareus.”

At which he answered: “You shall see Antaeus
nearby. He is unfettered and can speak;
he’ll take us to the bottom of all evil.

The one you wish to see lies far beyond
and is bound up and just as huge as this one,
and even more ferocious in his gaze.”

No earthquake ever was so violent
when called to shake a tower so robust,
as Ephialtes quick to shake himself.

Then I was more afraid of death than ever;
that fear would have been quite enough to kill me,
had I not seen how he was held by chains.

And we continued on until we reached
Antaeus, who, not reckoning his head,
stood out out above the rock wall full five ells.

“O you, who lived within the famous valley
(where Scipio became the heir of glory
when Hannibal retreated with his men),

who took a thousand lions as your prey—
and had you been together with your brothers
in their high war, it seems some still believe

the sons of earth would have become the victors—
do set us down below, where cold shuts in
Cocytus, and do not disdain that task.

Don’t send us on to Tityus or Typhon;
this man can give you what is longed for here;
therefore bend down and do not curl your lip.

He still can bring you fame within the world,
for he’s alive and still expects long life,
unless grace summon him before his time.”

So said my master; and in haste Antaeus
stretched out his hands, whose massive grip had once
been felt by Hercules, and grasped my guide.

And Virgil, when he felt himself caught up,
called out to me: “Come here, so l can hold you,”
then made one bundle of himself and me.

Just as the Garisenda seems when seen
beneath the leaning side, when clouds run past
and it hangs down as if about to crash,

so did Antaeus seem to me as I
watched him bend over me—a moment when
I’d have preferred to take some other road.

But gently—on the deep that swallows up
both Lucifer and Judas—he placed us;
nor did he, so bent over, stay there long,

but, like a mast above a ship, he rose.

ONE and the selfsame tongue first wounded me,
So that it tinged the one cheek and the other,
And then held out to me the medicine;

Thus do I hear that once Achilles’ spear,
His and his father’s, used to be the cause
First of a sad and then a gracious boon.

We turned our backs upon the wretched valley,
Upon the bank that girds it round about,
Going across it without any speech.

There it was less than night, and less than day,
So that my sight went little in advance;
But I could hear the blare of a loud horn,

So loud it would have made each thunder faint,
Which, counter to it following its way,
Mine eyes directed wholly to one place.

After the dolorous discomfiture
When Charlemagne the holy emprise lost,
So terribly Orlando sounded not.

Short while my head turned thitherward I held
When many lofty towers I seemed to see,
Whereat I: “Master, say, what town is this ?

And he to me: “Because thou peerest forth
Athwart the darkness at too great a distance,
It happens that thou errest in thy fancy.

Well shalt thou see, if thou arrivest there,
How much the sense deceives itself by distance;
Therefore a little faster spur thee on.”

Then tenderly he took me by the hand,
And said: “Before we farther have advanced,
That the reality may seem to thee

Less strange, know that these are not towers, but giants,
And they are in the well, around the bank,
From navel downward, one and all of them.”

As, when the fog is vanishing away,
Little by little doth the sight refigure
Whate’er the mist that crowds the air conceals,

So, piercing through the dense and darksome air,
More and more near approaching tow’rd the verge,
My error fled, and fear came over me;

Because as on its circular parapets
Montereggione crowns itself with towers,
E’en thus the margin which surrounds the well

With one half of their bodies turreted
The horrible giants, whom Jove menaces
E’en now from out the heavens when he thunders.

And I of one already saw the face,
Shoulders, and breast, and great part of the belly,
And down along his sides both of the arms.

Certainly Nature, when she left the making
Of animals like these, did well indeed,
By taking such executors from Mars;

And if of elephants and whales she doth not
Repent her, whosoever looketh subtly
More just and more discreet will hold her for it;

For where the argument of intellect
Is added unto evil will and power,
No rampart can the people make against it.

His face appeared to me as long and large
As is at Rome the pine—cone of Saint Peter’s,
And in proportion were the other bones;

So that the margin, which an apron was
Down from the middle, showed so much of him
Above it, that to reach up to his hair

Three Frieslanders in vain had vaunted them;
For I beheld thirty great palms of him
Down from the place where man his mantle buckles.

“Raphael mai amech izabi almi,”
Began to clamour the ferocious mouth,
To which were not befitting sweeter psalms.

And unto him my Guide: “Soul idiotic,
Keep to thy horn, and vent thyself with that,
When wrath or other passion touches thee.

Search round thy neck, and thou wilt find the belt
Which keeps it fastened, O bewildered soul
And see it, where it bars thy mighty breast.”

Then said to me: “He doth himself accuse;
This one is Nimrod, by whose evil thought
One language in the world is not still used.

Here let us leave him and not speak in vain;
For even such to him is every language
As his to others, which to none is known.”

Therefore a longer journey did we make,
Turned to the left, and a crossbow—shot oft
We found another far more fierce and large.

In binding him, who might the master be
I cannot say; but he had pinioned close
Behind the right arm, and in front the other,

With chains, that held him so begirt about
From the neck down, that on the part uncovered
It wound itself as far as the fifth gyre. go

“This proud one wished to make experiment
Of his own power against the Supreme Jove,”
My Leader said,”whence he has such a guerdon.

Ephialtes is his name; he showed great prowess.
What time the giants terrified the gods;
The arms he wielded never more he moves.”

And I to him: “If possible, I should wish
That of the measureless Briareus
These eyes of mine might have experience.”

Whence he replied: “Thou shalt behold Antaeus
Close by here, who can speak and is unbound,
Who at the bottom of all crime shall place us.

Much farther yon is he whom thou wouldst see,
And he is bound, and fashioned like to this one,
Save that he seems in aspect more ferocious.”

There never was an earthquake of such might
That it could shake a tower so violently,
As Ephialtes suddenly shook himself

Then was I more afraid of death than ever,
For nothing more was needful than the fear,
If I had not beheld the manacles.

Then we proceeded farther in advance,
And to Antaeus came, who, full five ells
Without the head, forth issued from the cavern.

“O thou, who in the valley fortunate,
Which Scipio the heir of glory made,
When Hannibal turned back with all his hosts,

Once brought’st a thousand lions for thy prey,
And who, hadst thou been at the mighty war
Among thy brothers, some it seems still think

The sons of Earth the victory would have gained:
Place us below, nor be disdainful of it,
There where the cold doth lock Cocytus up.

Make us not go to Tityus nor Typhoeus;
This one can give of that which here is longed for;
Therefore stoop down, and do not curl thy lip.

Still in the world can he restore thy fame;
Because he lives, and still expects long life,
If to itself Grace call him not untimely.”

So said the Master; and in haste the other
His hands extended and took up my Guide,—
Hands whose great pressure Hercules once felt.

Virgilius, when he felt himself embraced,
Said unto me: “Draw nigh, that I may take thee;”
Then of himself and me one bundle made.

As seems the Carisenda, to behold
Beneath the leaning side, when goes a cloud
Above it so that opposite it hangs;

Such did Antaeus seem to me, who stood
Watching to see him stoop, and then it was
I could have wished to go some other way.

But lightly in the abyss, which swallows up
Judas with Lucifer, he put us down;
Nor thus bowed downward made he there delay,

But, as a mast does in a ship, uprose.

The very tongue that first had wounded me,
sending the color up in both my cheeks,
was then to cure me with its medicine—

as did Achilles’ and his father’s lance,
even as I have heard, when it dispensed
a sad stroke first and then a healing one.

We turned our backs upon that dismal valley
by climbing up the bank that girdles it;
we made our way across without a word.

Here it was less than night and less than day,
so that my sight could only move ahead
slightly, but then I heard a bugle blast

so strong, it would have made a thunder clap
seem faint; at this, my eyes—which doubled back
upon their path—turned fully toward one place.

Not even Roland’s horn, which followed on
the sad defeat when Charlemagne had lost
his holy army, was as dread as this.

I’d only turned my head there briefly when
I seemed to make out many high towers; then
I asked him: “Master, tell me, what’s this city?”

And he to me: “It is because you try
to penetrate from far into these shadows
that you have formed such faulty images.

When you have reached that place, you shall see clearly
how much the distance has deceived your sense;
and, therefore, let this spur you on your way.”

Then lovingly he took me by the hand
and said: “Before we have moved farther on,
so that the fact may seem less strange to you,

I’d have you know they are not towers, but giants,
and from the navel downward, all of them
are in the central pit, at the embankment.”

Just as, whenever mists begin to thin,
when, gradually, vision finds the form
that in the vapor—thickened air was hidden,

so I pierced through the dense and darkened fog;
as I drew always nearer to the shore,
my error fled from me, my terror grew;

for as, on its round wall, Montereggioni
is crowned with towers, so there towered here,
above the bank that runs around the pit,

with half their bulk, the terrifying giants,
whom Jove still menaces from Heaven when
he sends his bolts of thunder down upon them.

And I could now make out the face of one,
his shoulders and his chest, much of his belly,
and both his arms that hung along his sides.

Surely when she gave up the art of making
such creatures, Nature acted well indeed,
depriving Mars of instruments like these.

And if she still produces elephants
and whales, whoever sees with subtlety
holds her—for this— to be more just and prudent;

for where the mind’s acutest reasoning
is joined to evil will and evil power,
there human beings can’t defend themselves.

His face appeared to me as broad and long
as Rome can claim for its St. Peter’s pine cone;
his other bones shared in that same proportion;

so that the bank, which served him as an apron
down from his middle, showed so much of him
above, that three Frieslanders would in vain

have boasted of their reaching to his hair;
for downward from the place where one would buckle
a mantle, I saw thirty spans of him.

“Raphel mai amecche zabi almi,”
began to bellow that brute mouth, for which
no sweeter psalms would be appropriate.

And my guide turned to him: “O stupid soul,
keep to your horn and use that as an outlet
when rage or other passion touches you!

Look at your neck, and you will find the strap
that holds it fast; and see, bewildered spirit,
how it lies straight across your massive chest.”

And then to me: “He is his own accuser;
for this is Nimrod, through whose wicked thought
one single language cannot serve the world.

Leave him alone—let’s not waste time in talk;
for every language is to him the same
as his to others—no one knows his tongue.”

So, turning to the left, we journeyed on
and, at the distance of a bow—shot, found
another giant, far more huge and fierce.

Who was the master who had tied him so,
I cannot say, but his left arm was bent
behind him and his right was bent in front,

both pinioned by a chain that held him tight
down from the neck; and round the part of him
that was exposed, it had been wound five times.

“This giant in his arrogance had tested
his force against the force of highest Jove,”
my guide said, “so he merits this reward.

His name is Ephialtes; and he showed
tremendous power when the giants frightened
the gods; the arms he moved now move no more.”

And I to him: “If it is possible,
I’d like my eyes to have experience
of the enormous one, Briareus.”

At which he answered: “You shall see Antaeus
nearby. He is unfettered and can speak;
he’ll take us to the bottom of all evil.

The one you wish to see lies far beyond
and is bound up and just as huge as this one,
and even more ferocious in his gaze.”

No earthquake ever was so violent
when called to shake a tower so robust,
as Ephialtes quick to shake himself.

Then I was more afraid of death than ever;
that fear would have been quite enough to kill me,
had I not seen how he was held by chains.

And we continued on until we reached
Antaeus, who, not reckoning his head,
stood out out above the rock wall full five ells.

“O you, who lived within the famous valley
(where Scipio became the heir of glory
when Hannibal retreated with his men),

who took a thousand lions as your prey—
and had you been together with your brothers
in their high war, it seems some still believe

the sons of earth would have become the victors—
do set us down below, where cold shuts in
Cocytus, and do not disdain that task.

Don’t send us on to Tityus or Typhon;
this man can give you what is longed for here;
therefore bend down and do not curl your lip.

He still can bring you fame within the world,
for he’s alive and still expects long life,
unless grace summon him before his time.”

So said my master; and in haste Antaeus
stretched out his hands, whose massive grip had once
been felt by Hercules, and grasped my guide.

And Virgil, when he felt himself caught up,
called out to me: “Come here, so l can hold you,”
then made one bundle of himself and me.

Just as the Garisenda seems when seen
beneath the leaning side, when clouds run past
and it hangs down as if about to crash,

so did Antaeus seem to me as I
watched him bend over me—a moment when
I’d have preferred to take some other road.

But gently—on the deep that swallows up
both Lucifer and Judas—he placed us;
nor did he, so bent over, stay there long,

but, like a mast above a ship, he rose.

ONE and the selfsame tongue first wounded me,
So that it tinged the one cheek and the other,
And then held out to me the medicine;

Thus do I hear that once Achilles’ spear,
His and his father’s, used to be the cause
First of a sad and then a gracious boon.

We turned our backs upon the wretched valley,
Upon the bank that girds it round about,
Going across it without any speech.

There it was less than night, and less than day,
So that my sight went little in advance;
But I could hear the blare of a loud horn,

So loud it would have made each thunder faint,
Which, counter to it following its way,
Mine eyes directed wholly to one place.

After the dolorous discomfiture
When Charlemagne the holy emprise lost,
So terribly Orlando sounded not.

Short while my head turned thitherward I held
When many lofty towers I seemed to see,
Whereat I: “Master, say, what town is this ?

And he to me: “Because thou peerest forth
Athwart the darkness at too great a distance,
It happens that thou errest in thy fancy.

Well shalt thou see, if thou arrivest there,
How much the sense deceives itself by distance;
Therefore a little faster spur thee on.”

Then tenderly he took me by the hand,
And said: “Before we farther have advanced,
That the reality may seem to thee

Less strange, know that these are not towers, but giants,
And they are in the well, around the bank,
From navel downward, one and all of them.”

As, when the fog is vanishing away,
Little by little doth the sight refigure
Whate’er the mist that crowds the air conceals,

So, piercing through the dense and darksome air,
More and more near approaching tow’rd the verge,
My error fled, and fear came over me;

Because as on its circular parapets
Montereggione crowns itself with towers,
E’en thus the margin which surrounds the well

With one half of their bodies turreted
The horrible giants, whom Jove menaces
E’en now from out the heavens when he thunders.

And I of one already saw the face,
Shoulders, and breast, and great part of the belly,
And down along his sides both of the arms.

Certainly Nature, when she left the making
Of animals like these, did well indeed,
By taking such executors from Mars;

And if of elephants and whales she doth not
Repent her, whosoever looketh subtly
More just and more discreet will hold her for it;

For where the argument of intellect
Is added unto evil will and power,
No rampart can the people make against it.

His face appeared to me as long and large
As is at Rome the pine—cone of Saint Peter’s,
And in proportion were the other bones;

So that the margin, which an apron was
Down from the middle, showed so much of him
Above it, that to reach up to his hair

Three Frieslanders in vain had vaunted them;
For I beheld thirty great palms of him
Down from the place where man his mantle buckles.

“Raphael mai amech izabi almi,”
Began to clamour the ferocious mouth,
To which were not befitting sweeter psalms.

And unto him my Guide: “Soul idiotic,
Keep to thy horn, and vent thyself with that,
When wrath or other passion touches thee.

Search round thy neck, and thou wilt find the belt
Which keeps it fastened, O bewildered soul
And see it, where it bars thy mighty breast.”

Then said to me: “He doth himself accuse;
This one is Nimrod, by whose evil thought
One language in the world is not still used.

Here let us leave him and not speak in vain;
For even such to him is every language
As his to others, which to none is known.”

Therefore a longer journey did we make,
Turned to the left, and a crossbow—shot oft
We found another far more fierce and large.

In binding him, who might the master be
I cannot say; but he had pinioned close
Behind the right arm, and in front the other,

With chains, that held him so begirt about
From the neck down, that on the part uncovered
It wound itself as far as the fifth gyre. go

“This proud one wished to make experiment
Of his own power against the Supreme Jove,”
My Leader said,”whence he has such a guerdon.

Ephialtes is his name; he showed great prowess.
What time the giants terrified the gods;
The arms he wielded never more he moves.”

And I to him: “If possible, I should wish
That of the measureless Briareus
These eyes of mine might have experience.”

Whence he replied: “Thou shalt behold Antaeus
Close by here, who can speak and is unbound,
Who at the bottom of all crime shall place us.

Much farther yon is he whom thou wouldst see,
And he is bound, and fashioned like to this one,
Save that he seems in aspect more ferocious.”

There never was an earthquake of such might
That it could shake a tower so violently,
As Ephialtes suddenly shook himself

Then was I more afraid of death than ever,
For nothing more was needful than the fear,
If I had not beheld the manacles.

Then we proceeded farther in advance,
And to Antaeus came, who, full five ells
Without the head, forth issued from the cavern.

“O thou, who in the valley fortunate,
Which Scipio the heir of glory made,
When Hannibal turned back with all his hosts,

Once brought’st a thousand lions for thy prey,
And who, hadst thou been at the mighty war
Among thy brothers, some it seems still think

The sons of Earth the victory would have gained:
Place us below, nor be disdainful of it,
There where the cold doth lock Cocytus up.

Make us not go to Tityus nor Typhoeus;
This one can give of that which here is longed for;
Therefore stoop down, and do not curl thy lip.

Still in the world can he restore thy fame;
Because he lives, and still expects long life,
If to itself Grace call him not untimely.”

So said the Master; and in haste the other
His hands extended and took up my Guide,—
Hands whose great pressure Hercules once felt.

Virgilius, when he felt himself embraced,
Said unto me: “Draw nigh, that I may take thee;”
Then of himself and me one bundle made.

As seems the Carisenda, to behold
Beneath the leaning side, when goes a cloud
Above it so that opposite it hangs;

Such did Antaeus seem to me, who stood
Watching to see him stoop, and then it was
I could have wished to go some other way.

But lightly in the abyss, which swallows up
Judas with Lucifer, he put us down;
Nor thus bowed downward made he there delay,

But, as a mast does in a ship, uprose.