Satanic Physics and the Point of Transition

  • the anti-spiration of un-love freezes the icy core of the universe
  • Lucifer as sensate matter/animated death
  • Lucifer, once the most beautiful of created beings, betrays his Creator
  • as Dante knows, Lucifer once held the place in the hierarchy of being that is now held by “the Seraph closest unto God” (Par. 4.28)
  • Dante is focused on the transition from  highest of created beings to lowest: Lucifer is the embodiment of transition in malo
  • Satanic physics: “tu passasti ’l punto / al qual si traggon d’ogne parte i pesi” (you passed the point to which, from every part, all weights are drawn [Inf. 34.110-11])
  • Dante-poet invents a story about the creation of Purgatory
  • the emptying out of earth to create Hell reminds us that sin is precisely that which empties us: “colpa vòta” (sin empties [Par. 7.83])

[1] The travelers reach the fourth zone of Cocytus, whose name is Giudecca, dwelling-place of the traitors of masters and benefactors. This name is offered only in verse 117, after the travelers have already left Cocytus in their wake. Chiavacci Leonardi comments on the word “Giudecca” thus: “‘Giudecca’ is not a word coined by Dante, like the names of the other zones of the ninth circle, but was an existing word that refers to the quarters of cities inhabited by Jews” (“nome questo non coniato da Dante come gli altri tre, ma già esistente ad indicare i quartieri delle città abitati dagli ebrei, o giudei” [Chiavacci Leonardi commentary to Inferno 34, at verse 117, my trans.]). While Chiavacci Leonardi draws out no further implications of the name “Giudecca”, besides connecting it to the presence of Judas in one of Satan’s mouths, Sylvia Tomasch views the name as a negative characterization of Jews, an assessment that I find persuasive. (See the essay by Tomasch cited in Coordinated Reading.)

[2] The previous canti have prepared us for arrival at the pit of Hell and the sighting of Lucifer. The giants in Inferno 31 are approximations of Lucifer in their vast and hulking brute matter. Now the giants are invoked, in Inferno 34.30-1, in order to make the point that for all their bulk they are insignificant in size — in their matter — when compared to the “emperor of the despondent kingdom”: “Lo ’mperador del doloroso regno” (Inf. 34.28).

[3] Most of all, the giants differ from Lucifer in that they are not yet devoid of all cognition. To the degree that there is still a spark of cognition in the giants, they are not reduced to only matter. This reduction to matter is part of what Dante is seeking to convey about his Lucifer, a creature whom the pilgrim mistakes for a structure or edifice, an “[e]dificio”: “veder mi parve un tal dificio allotta” (then I seemed to see that sort of structure [Inf. 34.7]).

[4] In Inferno 34 Dante presses his fantasia to create the category of sensate matter, as in Inferno 33 he invents the analogous category of living dead (hence “zombie” in my title “The Wolf and the Zombie”): souls who are sent to Hell at the moment of betrayal but whose bodies are still living on earth. Inferno 33 ends with the declaration that the bodies of the traitors of Tolomea appear to be alive on earth (“in corpo par vivo ancor di sopra”), while their souls are already “bathing in Cocytus”:

trovai di voi un tal, che per sua opra  
in anima in Cocito già si bagna,
e in corpo par vivo ancor di sopra. 
(Inf. 33.155-57)
I found one of you such that, for his acts, 
in soul he bathes already in Cocytus 
and up above appears alive, in body. 

[5] While we know that Branca Doria’s soul is in Cocytus, nonetheless his body is somehow animated by the devil who inhabits him on earth, with the result that he is functional and does all the things that living humans do: “mangia e bee e dorme e veste panni” (he eats and drinks and sleeps and puts on clothes [Inf. 33.141]). Thus, we are in the presence of sensate matter, of animated death.

[6] This concept of sensate matter/animated death — neither dead nor alive — seems to be what is at stake for Dante in his idea of Lucifer. Lucifer is a giant, hulking, masticating, and undead creature. Lucifer masticates, but he does not speak: lack of speech signifies the lack of that spark of cognition preserved in the giant Antaeus in Inferno 31. The undead zombie Branca Doria “eats and drinks and sleeps and puts on clothes” (Inf. 33.141), despite his soul no longer inhabiting his body (an absence that makes him literally “inanimate”). Likewise Lucifer is animated death: sensate matter who moves, bats his wings, drools, and chews. 

[7] Lucifer as a figure of animated death marks an important moment in Dante’s long meditation on animate versus inanimate, a meditation that he begins in earnest in Vita Nuova 25, but that he already begins to explore in an early sonnet like Piangete, amanti (see Dante’s Lyric Poetry, especially pp. 75-76). In Vita Nuova 25 Dante claims that a poet can talk to inanimate things and can make inanimate things talk among each other:

Dunque, se noi vedemo che li poete hanno parlato a le cose inanimate, sì come se avessero senso e ragione, e fattele parlare insieme; e non solamente cose vere, ma cose non vere. (VN 25.8)

Therefore, if we see that poets have addressed inanimate things as if they had sense and reason, and also have made them talk — and not only real things but imaginary things as well. (Frisardi trans.)

[8] In his Lucifer, Dante embodies the Augustinian idea that evil is the absence of good. Augustine conceives the wages of sin in terms of loss and alienation: it is ‘‘to be lost out of the kingdom of God, to be an exile from the city of God, to be alienated from the life of God, to have no share in that great goodness which God hath laid up for them that fear Him, and hath wrought out for them that trust in Him’’ (Augustine, Enchiridion 112). Hell for Augustine is “[t]his perpetual death of the wicked” (Enchiridion 113; for the full citation, see “Medieval Multiculturalism and Dante’s Theology of Hell”, cited in Coordinated Reading).

[9] In Inferno 34 Dante gives shape to Augustine’s anti-Manichaeism, to the idea that there is no transcendent principle of evil. His representation of Lucifer is an attempt to make the point that evil is not something, but the lack of something: evil is the not-good. Hence all of Lucifer’s attributes are the negation of divine attributes, because his being is characterized only by what it is not. The canto begins in this spirit, via intertextual negation: the deliberate mis-citation of Venantius Fortunatus’s hymn in honor of the advance of Christ’s cross adds the word “inferni” to the original “Vexilla regis prodeunt” — so that the advancing banners of the king become the banners of the king of Hell.

[10] Lucifer breathes un-love just as God breathes the warm breath of love. The verb “spira” (from spirare, to breathe), used of the blowing wind in Inferno 34.4, echoes technical theological language. In the theology of the Trinity, the procession from the Son to the Holy Spirit is called “spiration”. Here in the pit of Hell we encounter an “anti-spiration”: the breathing forth of hate and death in place of love and life.

[11] Lucifer’s bat-wings blow a freezing wind of un-love. We are now at the frozen core: the frozen heart of the universe. As I have noted previously, Dante uses sparingly the conventional iconography for Hell, the biblical fire and brimstone, that we find in popular renditions. He is original in producing ice at the pit of hell. This icy cold is the absence of love and warmth and life. Hell, the absence of the good, is also the absence of love and warmth and life.

[12] Under each of Lucifer’s three faces sprout two large bat wings: “Sotto ciascuna uscivan due grand’ ali . . . Non avean penne, ma di vispistrello” (Beneath each face of his, two wings spread out . . . They had no feathers, but were fashioned like a bat’s [Inf. 34.46 and 49]). In physical terms, the three cold winds blowing from Lucifer’s three pairs of bat-wings (six wings in all, like his six eyes, two for each face) freeze the lake of Cocytus at the core of the earth: “sì che tre venti si movean da ello: / quindi Cocito tutto s’aggelava” (three winds made their way out from him — / and all Cocytus froze before those winds [Inf. 34.51-52]). The core of the earth is made not of hot molten lava but of frozen death.

[13] In spiritual terms, Lucifer of the three faces is the antithesis of the Divine Trinity. Lucifer spirates death where the Trinity spirates love. Dante pauses to note the marvel of Lucifer’s three faces on one head, an infernal mis-appropriation of God’s Triune but Single nature as simultaneously Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: “Oh quanto parve a me gran maraviglia / quand’io vidi tre facce a la sua testa!” (I marveled when I saw that, on his head, he had three faces [Inf. 34.37-38]).

[14] Lucifer’s three mouths chew on the three greatest traitors of human history, as Dante sees human history. Two are from Roman history (the betrayers of Caesar, namely Brutus and Cassius) and one is from biblical history (Judas, the betrayer of Christ). Once more, here at the end of Inferno, we note the interweaving of the classical with the biblical that is an absolute signature of Dante’s imaginary practice. This practice will continue into Purgatorio and Paradiso.

[15] In Dante’s conception, Lucifer is a giant hulk of vacant, vastly un-charismatic, non-cognitive matter. But most fascinating about Lucifer for Dante is not what he is, but how he became what he is. Lucifer is for Dante the embodiment of transition in malo, of negative conversion.

[16] Lucifer was the most beautiful of the angels, who aspired to be greater than his maker. His sin of overweening pride led to his fall. The angels who fell with him became devils. To this account, rooted in Isaiah 14:12-15, Dante adds the idiosyncratic idea that the angels who did not choose between God and Satan, between good and evil, are found in the vestibule of Hell with the souls of those who were neither good nor bad. See the Introduction to Inferno 3 for more on Dante’s theologically implausible idea that the insufficiently evil are not allowed into Hell.

[17] The grandeur of what Lucifer was stands in stark contrast to the monstrous vacancy of what he now is. We remember that Lucifer (the name means “light bearer”) was the highest and greatest and most beautiful of all created beings. On those occasions in Paradiso when Dante refers to the highest of created beings, he is referring to a position in the ladder of being that was once occupied by Lucifer. When Dante refers to the Seraph who is highest among the Seraphim (the highest of the high, for the Seraphim are the highest of angelic orders), he is referring to a position held by Lucifer. When, in Paradiso 4, Dante refers to the Seraph “who most in-Gods himself” — “D’i Serafin colui che più s’india” (Par. 4.28)he is thinking of a particular rung in the hierarchy of creation that he knows once belonged to Lucifer.

[18] Dante uses a similar formulation for the highest of created beings on more than one occasion in Paradiso, and it is clear that he is fascinated by the absolute nature of the fall from highest of created beings to lowest. In Inferno 34 it is this transition that Dante emphasizes. Very important in his language about Lucifer is the use of the past absolute, the tense that most underlines the absolute fissure between then and now.

[19] In verse 18 Lucifer is called “the creature who had beauty in his appearance” — “la creatura ch’ebbe il bel sembiante” — where the emphasis is on the verb “ebbe” (the past absolute of avere). The reference is to the attribute of beauty that was once possessed, and is now utterly lost (perhaps echoing Ezekiel 28:17: “Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor”).

[20] Lucifer’s irretrievably lost beauty — and the quantity of that lost beauty — provides the measure whereby we can construe his current ugliness. And his ugliness, quantified and construed as the precise inverse of his lost beauty, provides a moral compass. For if so beautiful a creature could turn pridefully against his maker (verse 35), then — Dante’s thinking proceeds here by precise steps — we can well understand how all sorrow could result from his action:

S’el fu sì bel com’elli è ora brutto,
e contra ’l suo fattore alzò le ciglia,
ben dee da lui proceder ogne lutto. 
(Inf. 34.34-36)
If he was once as handsome as he now is ugly and,
despite that, raised his brows against his Maker, one can
understand how every sorrow has its source in him! 

[21] Dante’s argument here is based on measurement. Starting with the degree of original beauty, Dante’s discourse moves startlingly from physical to moral and metaphysical. If a being created so beautiful could turn against his creator — could, despite the degree to which he was endowed, betray his creator — then any betrayal is possible, and all sadness can be accounted for.

* * *

[22] Abruptly, after naming the three sinners masticated in Satan’s three mouths, Virgilio announces that it is time to leave, for there is nothing left to see: “Ma la notte risurge, e oramai / è da partir, ché tutto avem veduto” (But night is come again, and it is time / for us to leave; we have seen everything [Inf. 34.68-69]). And, indeed, leaving is very much the subject of this canto.

[23] Accordingly, I will turn now to the issue of transition itself. Verse 34 captures Lucifer in the space of irretrievable transition: from absolute beauty to absolute ugliness. This is the space of a becoming, tellingly signified in the transition from “fu” in the past absolute to “è” in the present: “S’el fu sì bel com’elli è ora brutto” (If he was once as handsome as he is now ugly [Inf. 34.34]). He who was once the “Son of Dawn” (Isaiah 14:12) is now, in the present and for all time, only brute ugliness.

[24] Lucifer’s transition out of good and into evil is a trajectory that is crossed, in the chiasmic diegesis of Inferno 34, by Dante’s transition out of evil and into good.

[25] Dante is leaving Hell. Of his departure from Hell there is no doubt. A sinner in Inferno 16 describes the pilgrim as one who will exit the dark precincts of Hell and, in words that anticipate the last verse of Inferno 34, will see the beautiful stars above: “a riveder le belle stelle” (Inf. 16.83). These are the very stars that greet the pilgrim in this canto’s last verse: “E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle” (we emerged to see — once more — the stars [Inf. 34.139]). The same proleptic passage of Inferno 16 characterizes the pilgrim as one who will be able to say “io fui” — “I was” — about having been in Hell:

se campi d’esti luoghi bui
e torni a riveder le belle stelle, 
quando ti gioverà dicere “I’ fui” (Inf. 16.82-84)
if you can escape these lands of darkness
and see the lovely stars on your return,
when you repeat with pleasure, “I was there

[26] We know that Dante’s departure from Hell is foreordained, that Hell and Lucifer will be safely relegated to the passato remoto. Nonetheless, the pilgrim’s viewing of Lucifer provokes a fascinating response. When he considers Lucifer, and considers the violence of Lucifer’s transition from most beautiful to most ugly, the pilgrim enters briefly into a liminal space — neither dead nor alive — that in The Undivine Comedy I call “the space between the tenses” (p. 97). In Inferno 34 the narrator briefly freezes time, in order to create a nanosecond in which he imagines himself frozen, “gelato” in verse 22, a participant in the primary lexical feature of icy Cocytus. Most important, he is neither dead nor alive — “Io non mori’ e non rimasi vivo” (I did not die and did not remain alive) — in a state of pure becoming-ness:

Io non mori’ e non rimasi vivo; 
pensa oggimai per te, s’hai fior d’ingegno, 
qual io divenni, d’uno e d’altro privo. 
(Inf. 34.25-27)
I did not die, and I was not alive; 
think for yourself, if you have any wit, 
what I became, deprived of life and death. 

[27] In these canti where Dante has troped and troped again the idea of a liminal state that is neither dead nor alive, it seems that he here signals a participation whose peril is implicit in the significance of the adjective “privo” (27), “deprived”: he is deprived of both life and death. Deprivation is the very essence of Hell in Augustine’s understanding of Hell, as discussed above.

[28] But, in Dante’s case, such participation is transitory. The pilgrim is in a process of becoming, and the poet is intent on capturing pure becoming-ness, with respect to himself, as we can see in the triple use of the verb “divenni” (“I became”):

“Com’io divenni allor gelato e fioco” (how I then became frozen and faint [22])

“qual io divenni, d’uno e d’altro privo” (what I became, deprived of one and of the other [27])

“s’io divenni allora travagliato” (if I became then confused [91])

[28] The last of the three verses that contain divenire — “s’io divenni allora travagliato” (91) — addresses the pilgrim’s confusion at passing the point at the center of the earth. This point was believed to be, in physical terms, “the center / to which all weight is drawn”: “lo mezzo / al quale ogne gravezza si rauna” (Inf. 32.73-74). This concept, first stated in Inferno 32, is repeated in Inferno 34, where we learn that, as a result of passing through the center of gravity, the pilgrim has transited “the point / to which, from every part, all weights are drawn”: “tu passasti ’l punto / al qual si traggon d’ogne parte i pesi” (Inf. 34.110-11).

[29] As we have seen throughout Inferno, Dante uses an inhabitant of Hell as the vehicle of his transition through and ultimately out of Hell. Thus, in the way that he flew down to Circle 8 on Geryon’s back, and in the way that Antaeus the giant lifted him from Circle 8 to Circle 9, now Dante is instructed by Virgilio to grab hold of Lucifer’s “vellute coste” (shaggy flanks [Inf. 34.73]) and then to descend “di vello in vello” — from tuft of hair to tuft of hair (Inf. 34.74). Dante transitions by clutching onto Lucifer’s thick and matted hair.

[30] Dante and Virgilio climb first down Lucifer and then up Lucifer and so out of Hell. They cross the earth’s center of gravity and experience the great inversion: what was upside down, physically and morally, is now turned right-side up again. No longer will they — and we — be in a realm where our interpretation is based on a principle of inversion: on the principle that “here pity lives when it is truly dead” (“qui vive la pietà quand’è ben morta” [Inf. 20.28]), or the principle that “it was courteous to be rude to him” (“e cortesia fui lui esser villano” [Inf. 33.150]).

[31] This is an important point of transition in the hermeneutic voyage as well as in the literal voyage. For us as readers and interpreters, the traversing of this point signifies that we will no longer have to extrapolate the proper understanding of events from their upside-down — “sottosopra” (104) — variant. We have concluded the section of the Commedia that engages in a “backward pedagogy”. (For a fuller discussion, see “Dante, Teacher of his Reader”, in Coordinated Reading, and the last section of the Introduction to Inferno 26.)

[32] The transiting of this point, a transiting that is emphasized with the repeated phrase passare il punto — “quel punto ch’io avea passato” (that point that I had crossed [Inf. 34.93]) — recalibrates the travelers. The result of this recalibration is that Lucifer’s legs, which Dante had thought to see extending down below him back into Hell, are now viewed extending upwards:

Io levai li occhi e credetti vedere
Lucifero com’io l’avea lasciato,
e vidili le gambe in sù tenere;
e s’io divenni allora travagliato,
la gente grossa il pensi, che non vede
qual è quel punto ch’io avea passato. 
(Inf. 34.88-93)
I raised my eyes, believing I should see
the half of Lucifer that I had left;
instead I saw him with his legs turned up;
and if I then became perplexed, do let
the ignorant be judges — those who can
not understand what point I had just crossed.

[33] Dante narrates Satanic physics by splicing together the abstract “scientific” language devoted to the point at the center of the earth — “tu passasti ’l punto / al qual si traggon d’ogne parte i pesi” (you passed the point to which, from every part, all weights are drawn [Inf. 34.110-11]) — with startlingly material language devoted to the Satanic body: Satan’s furry hair, his legs, his thigh, his hip. The crossing of the center of gravity occurs on Satan’s body at “the point at which the thigh / revolves, just at the swelling of the hip” (76-7). This is the point at which Virgilio must struggle to turn his head and the pilgrim’s head to where their legs had been. He must turn himself and Dante upside down:

Quando noi fummo là dove la coscia 
si volge, a punto in sul grosso de l’anche,  
lo duca, con fatica e con angoscia, 
volse la testa ov’ elli avea le zanche,  
e aggrappossi al pel com’ om che sale,  
sì che ’n inferno i’ credea tornar anche. 
(Inf. 34.76-81)
When we had reached the point at which the thigh  
revolves, just at the swelling of the hip,  
my guide, with heavy strain and rugged work,  
reversed his head to where his legs had been  
and grappled on the hair, as one who climbs — 
I thought that we were going back to Hell. 

[34] Lucifer’s physical characteristics are narrated with great precision: the colors of his three faces (for the black face, which recalls people from the Nile valley, see the Appendix on Ethiopians to Paradiso 19), the precise physical way that the three faces are joined as one head, his wings specifically without feathers, like those of a bat (“vipistrello” in verse 49), his chewing and drooling from each of his three mouths. When the time comes for the travelers to climb onto Lucifer and up his body, and thus to pass through the point at the center of earth, the narrator details their waiting for the moment when Lucifer’s wings are open enough for them to safely attach themselves to the body (as today we wait for the right moment to approach a helicopter). Subsequently, in narrating the climb, Lucifer’s corporeality is reckoned in great detail, with a catalogue of body parts.

[35] By passing through the center of earth, and out of Hell, everything is “righted”: what was wrong is now right. The narrator makes this point in the lovely series of questions that the pilgrim puts to Virgilio:

ov’ è la ghiaccia? e questi com’ è fitto 
sì sottosopra? e come, in sì poc’ ora,  
da sera a mane ha fatto il sol tragitto? 
(Inf. 34.103-5)
Where is the ice? And how is he so placed
head downward? Tell me, too, how has the sun
in so few hours gone from night to morning?

[36] Here Dante lets us know that we have left the upside down world of Hell. It is now morning instead of evening, and what was once upside down — “sottosopra” (104) — is now turned right-side up, physically and morally: Lucifer now faces downward, and we are no longer in a world of which it must be said that “here pity lives when it is truly dead” (Inf. 20.28). The pilgrim has passed that point at the center of the earth and righted himself. Unlike Lucifer, who “is still fixed as he was before” — “fitto è ancora sì come prim’era” (Inf. 34.120) — the pilgrim moves on and transits out.

[37] Dante transitions, he keeps becoming. Lucifer stands in utter contrast to becoming-ness itself, for Lucifer is the essence of what it is to have become. We should specify that Lucifer is the essence of what it is to have become in malo, negatively: paradise too will afford the condition of having become, although the having-become of heaven is vital, never static, never fixed.

[38] The essence of Lucifer is indeed the essence of Hell itself, for Hell is the place whose denizens — because they sinned and did not repent their sins — are not afforded the opportunity to continue becoming. They are fixed, as Lucifer is fixed: “fitto è ancora sì come prim’era” (Inf. 34.120). This is what Capaneo told us, when he declares in Inferno 14“Qual io fui vivo, tal son morto” (That which I was in life, I am in death [Inf. 14.51]).

[39] Dante’s afterworld offers the possibility of non-fixity after death; it offers the possibility of continued becoming. The opportunity to continue becoming after death occurs in Purgatory, and it is to the story of the creation of Purgatory that Dante turns in the last section of Inferno 34. Here we find an account of the creation of the second realm and of the travelers’ climb up through he earth to reach Mount Purgatory. They climb along a path carved into the rock by a little stream (“ruscelletto” of verse 130) that flows down from the southern hemisphere. Chiavacci Leonardi claims that this stream is Lethe, flowing down from the Earthly Paradise at the top of Mount Purgatory, carrying back down to Hell the memories of the sins of which the souls cleanse themselves in Purgatory.

[40] Notable is Dante’s myth-making at the end of Inferno, as he explains how Lucifer’s fall creates both Hell and Purgatory. Lucifer’s fall is the sin that created Hell, but God, simultaneously, used that fall to create the remedy: Purgatory. Lucifer fell and the earth fled him, leaving an “empty space” where it had been: “per fuggir lui lasciò loco vòto” (to flee from him it left this empty space [Inf. 34.125]). Thus Lucifer excavated the earth and created the empty cone of Hell. Having fled Lucifer, the displaced earth became Mount Purgatory, a cone of earth that rises up in the middle of the southern hemisphere. Dante is the first to conceive of Purgatory as a mountain.

[41] The emptying out of earth to create Hell reminds us that sin is precisely that which empties us. As stipulated in Paradiso 7, the Augustinian canto that recounts the history of mankind’s original sin and Christ’s redemption: “colpa vòta” (sin empties [Par. 7.83]). Where sin is emptiness — literally in the form of the Hell-hole that extends under Jerusalem to the earth’s core — Purgatory is made of the earth that fled Lucifer: earth that is now reconfigured into a place of fullness, a place that is devoted to refilling that emptiness.

[42] The travelers wind their way up the narrow path carved by the stream to return to the world of light and to the stars: “E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle” (and so we emerged, to see — once more — the stars [Inf. 34.139]).

[43] And Hell, teeming with apparent life as we turn its pages in awe and wonderment, is left behind us: fixed for eternity, frozen — only animated death, after all.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy (Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 1992), Chapter 4, “Narrative and Style in Lower Hell,” pp. 97-98; "Medieval Multiculturalism and Dante's Theology of Hell", orig. 2000, rpt. Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture (New York: Fordham U. Press, 2006), pp. 102-21; "Dante, Teacher of his Reader", in Approaches to Teaching Dante’s Divine Comedy, 2nd ed., eds. Christopher Kleinhenz and Kristina M. Olson (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2020), pp. 36-44; Sylvia Tomasch, ‘‘Judecca, Dante’s Satan, and the Dis-placed Jew,’’ in Text and Territory: Geographical Imagination in the European Middle Ages, ed. Sylvia Tomasch and Sealy Gilles (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), pp. 247–67.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Inferno 34: Satanic Physics and the Point of Transition.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2018. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/inferno/inferno-34/
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Commento Table of Contents

1«Vexilla regis prodeunt inferni
2verso di noi; però dinanzi mira»,
3disse ’l maestro mio, «se tu ’l discerni».

4Come quando una grossa nebbia spira,
5o quando l’emisperio nostro annotta,
6par di lungi un molin che ’l vento gira,

7veder mi parve un tal dificio allotta;
8poi per lo vento mi ristrinsi retro
9al duca mio, ché non lì era altra grotta.

10Già era, e con paura il metto in metro,
11là dove l’ombre tutte eran coperte,
12e trasparien come festuca in vetro.

13Altre sono a giacere; altre stanno erte,
14quella col capo e quella con le piante;
15altra, com’ arco, il volto a’ piè rinverte.

16Quando noi fummo fatti tanto avante,
17ch’al mio maestro piacque di mostrarmi
18la creatura ch’ebbe il bel sembiante,

19d’innanzi mi si tolse e fé restarmi,
20«Ecco Dite», dicendo, «ed ecco il loco
21ove convien che di fortezza t’armi».

22Com’ io divenni allor gelato e fioco,
23nol dimandar, lettor, ch’i’ non lo scrivo,
24però ch’ogne parlar sarebbe poco.

25Io non mori’ e non rimasi vivo;
26pensa oggimai per te, s’hai fior d’ingegno,
27qual io divenni, d’uno e d’altro privo.

28Lo ’mperador del doloroso regno
29da mezzo ’l petto uscia fuor de la ghiaccia;
30e più con un gigante io mi convegno,

31che i giganti non fan con le sue braccia:
32vedi oggimai quant’ esser dee quel tutto
33ch’a così fatta parte si confaccia.

34S’el fu sì bel com’ elli è ora brutto,
35e contra ’l suo fattore alzò le ciglia,
36ben dee da lui procedere ogne lutto.

37Oh quanto parve a me gran maraviglia
38quand’ io vidi tre facce a la sua testa!
39L’una dinanzi, e quella era vermiglia;

40l’altr’ eran due, che s’aggiugnieno a questa
41sovresso ’l mezzo di ciascuna spalla,
42e sé giugnieno al loco de la cresta:

43e la destra parea tra bianca e gialla;
44la sinistra a vedere era tal, quali
45vegnon di là onde ’l Nilo s’avvalla.

46Sotto ciascuna uscivan due grand’ ali,
47quanto si convenia a tanto uccello:
48vele di mar non vid’ io mai cotali.

49Non avean penne, ma di vispistrello
50era lor modo; e quelle svolazzava,
51sì che tre venti si movean da ello:

52quindi Cocito tutto s’aggelava.
53Con sei occhi piangëa, e per tre menti
54gocciava ’l pianto e sanguinosa bava.

55Da ogne bocca dirompea co’ denti
56un peccatore, a guisa di maciulla,
57sì che tre ne facea così dolenti.

58A quel dinanzi il mordere era nulla
59verso ’l graffiar, che talvolta la schiena
60rimanea de la pelle tutta brulla.

61«Quell’ anima là sù c’ha maggior pena»,
62disse ’l maestro, «è Giuda Scarïotto,
63che ’l capo ha dentro e fuor le gambe mena.

64De li altri due c’hanno il capo di sotto,
65quel che pende dal nero ceffo è Bruto:
66vedi come si storce, e non fa motto!;

67e l’altro è Cassio, che par sì membruto.
68Ma la notte risurge, e oramai
69è da partir, ché tutto avem veduto».

70Com’ a lui piacque, il collo li avvinghiai;
71ed el prese di tempo e loco poste,
72e quando l’ali fuoro aperte assai,

73appigliò sé a le vellute coste;
74di vello in vello giù discese poscia
75tra ’l folto pelo e le gelate croste.

76Quando noi fummo là dove la coscia
77si volge, a punto in sul grosso de l’anche,
78lo duca, con fatica e con angoscia,

79volse la testa ov’ elli avea le zanche,
80e aggrappossi al pel com’ om che sale,
81sì che ’n inferno i’ credea tornar anche.

82«Attienti ben, ché per cotali scale»,
83disse ’l maestro, ansando com’ uom lasso,
84«conviensi dipartir da tanto male».

85Poi uscì fuor per lo fóro d’un sasso
86e puose me in su l’orlo a sedere;
87appresso porse a me l’accorto passo.

88Io levai li occhi e credetti vedere
89Lucifero com’ io l’avea lasciato,
90e vidili le gambe in sù tenere;

91e s’io divenni allora travagliato,
92la gente grossa il pensi, che non vede
93qual è quel punto ch’io avea passato.

94«Lèvati sù», disse ’l maestro, «in piede:
95la via è lunga e ’l cammino è malvagio,
96e già il sole a mezza terza riede».

97Non era camminata di palagio
98là ’v’ eravam, ma natural burella
99ch’avea mal suolo e di lume disagio.

100«Prima ch’io de l’abisso mi divella,
101maestro mio», diss’ io quando fui dritto,
102«a trarmi d’erro un poco mi favella:

103ov’ è la ghiaccia? e questi com’ è fitto
104sì sottosopra? e come, in sì poc’ ora,
105da sera a mane ha fatto il sol tragitto?».

106Ed elli a me: «Tu imagini ancora
107d’esser di là dal centro, ov’ io mi presi
108al pel del vermo reo che ’l mondo fóra.

109Di là fosti cotanto quant’ io scesi;
110quand’ io mi volsi, tu passasti ’l punto
111al qual si traggon d’ogne parte i pesi.

112E se’ or sotto l’emisperio giunto
113ch’è contraposto a quel che la gran secca
114coverchia, e sotto ’l cui colmo consunto

115fu l’uom che nacque e visse sanza pecca;
116tu haï i piedi in su picciola spera
117che l’altra faccia fa de la Giudecca.

118Qui è da man, quando di là è sera;
119e questi, che ne fé scala col pelo,
120fitto è ancora sì come prim’ era.

121Da questa parte cadde giù dal cielo;
122e la terra, che pria di qua si sporse,
123per paura di lui fé del mar velo,

124e venne a l’emisperio nostro; e forse
125per fuggir lui lasciò qui loco vòto
126quella ch’appar di qua, e sù ricorse».

127Luogo è là giù da Belzebù remoto
128tanto quanto la tomba si distende,
129che non per vista, ma per suono è noto

130d’un ruscelletto che quivi discende
131per la buca d’un sasso, ch’elli ha roso,
132col corso ch’elli avvolge, e poco pende.

133Lo duca e io per quel cammino ascoso
134intrammo a ritornar nel chiaro mondo;
135e sanza cura aver d’alcun riposo,

136salimmo sù, el primo e io secondo,
137tanto ch’i’ vidi de le cose belle
138che porta ’l ciel, per un pertugio tondo.

139E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle.

“Vexilla regis prodeunt inferni
toward us; and therefore keep your eyes ahead,”
my master said, “to see if you can spy him.”

Just as, when night falls on our hemisphere
or when a heavy fog is blowing thick,
a windmill seems to wheel when seen far off,

so then I seemed to see that sort of structure.
And next, because the wind was strong, I shrank
behind my guide; there was no other shelter.

And now—with fear I set it down in meter—
I was where all the shades were fully covered
but visible as wisps of straw in glass.

There some lie flat and others stand erect,
one on his head, and one upon his soles;
and some bend face to feet, just like a bow.

But after we had made our way ahead,
my master felt he now should have me see
that creature who was once a handsome presence;

he stepped aside and made me stop, and said:
“Look! Here is Dis, and this the place where you
will have to arm yourself with fortitude.”

O reader, do not ask of me how I
grew faint and frozen then—I cannot write it:
all words would fall far short of what it was.

I did not die, and I was not alive;
think for yourself, if you have any wit,
what I became, deprived of life and death.

The emperor of the despondent kingdom
so towered from the ice, up from midchest,
that I match better with a giant’s breadth

than giants match the measure of his arms;
now you can gauge the size of all of him
if it is in proportion to such parts.

If he was once as handsome as he now
is ugly and, despite that, raised his brows
against his Maker, one can understand

how every sorrow has its source in him!
I marveled when I saw that, on his head,
he had three faces: one—in front-bloodred;

and then another two that, just above
the midpoint of each shoulder, joined the first;
and at the crown, all three were reattached;

the right looked somewhat yellow, somewhat white;
the left in its appearance was like those
who come from where the Nile, descending, flows.

Beneath each face of his, two wings spread out,
as broad as suited so immense a bird:
I’ve never seen a ship with sails so wide.

They had no feathers, but were fashioned like
a bat’s; and he was agitating them,
so that three winds made their way out from him—

and all Cocytus froze before those winds.
He wept out of six eyes; and down three chins,
tears gushed together with a bloody froth.

Within each mouth—he used it like a grinder—
with gnashing teeth he tore to bits a sinner,
so that he brought much pain to three at once.

The forward sinner found that biting nothing
when matched against the clawing, for at times
his back was stripped completely of its hide.

“That soul up there who has to suffer most,”
my master said: “Judas Iscariot—
his head inside, he jerks his legs without.

Of those two others, with their heads beneath,
the one who hangs from that black snout is Brutus—
see how he writhes and does not say a word!

That other, who seems so robust, is Cassius.
But night is come again, and it is time
for us to leave; we have seen everything.”

Just as he asked, I clasped him round the neck;
and he watched for the chance of time and place,
and when the wings were open wide enough,

he took fast hold upon the shaggy flanks
and then descended, down from tuft to tuft,
between the tangled hair and icy crusts.

When we had reached the point at which the thigh
revolves, just at the swelling of the hip,
my guide, with heavy strain and rugged work,

reversed his head to where his legs had been
and grappled on the hair, as one who climbs—
I thought that we were going back to Hell.

“Hold tight,” my master said—he panted like
a man exhausted—”it is by such stairs
that we must take our leave of so much evil.”

Then he slipped through a crevice in a rock
and placed me on the edge of it, to sit;
that done, he climbed toward me with steady steps.

I raised my eyes, believing I should see
the half of Lucifer that I had left;
instead I saw him with his legs turned up;

and if I then became perplexed, do let
the ignorant be judges—those who can
not understand what point I had just crossed.

“Get up,” my master said, “be on your feet:
the way is long, the path is difficult;
the sun’s already back to middle tierce.”

It was no palace hall, the place in which
we found ourselves, but with its rough—hewn floor
and scanty light, a dungeon built by nature.

“Before I free myself from this abyss,
master,” I said when I had stood up straight,
“tell me enough to see I don’t mistake:

Where is the ice? And how is he so placed
head downward? Tell me, too, how has the sun
in so few hours gone from night to morning?”

And he to me: “You still believe you are
north of the center, where I grasped the hair
of the damned worm who pierces through the world.

And you were there as long as I descended;
but when I turned, that’s when you passed the point
to which, from every part, all weights are drawn.

And now you stand beneath the hemisphere
opposing that which cloaks the great dry lands
and underneath whose zenith died the Man

whose birth and life were sinless in this world.
Your feet are placed upon a little sphere
that forms the other face of the Judecca.

Here it is morning when it’s evening there;
and he whose hair has served us as a ladder
is still fixed, even as he was before.

This was the side on which he fell from Heaven;
for fear of him, the land that once loomed here
made of the sea a veil and rose into

our hemisphere; and that land which appears
upon this side—perhaps to flee from him—
left here this hollow space and hurried upward.”

There is a place below, the limit of
that cave, its farthest point from Beelzebub,
a place one cannot see: it is discovered

by ear—there is a sounding stream that flows
along the hollow of a rock eroded
by winding waters, and the slope is easy.

My guide and I came on that hidden road
to make our way back into the bright world;
and with no care for any rest, we climbed—

he first, I following—until I saw,
through a round opening, some of those things
of beauty Heaven bears. It was from there

that we emerged, to see—once more—the stars.

_”Vexilla Regis prodeunt Inferni_
Towards us; therefore look in front of thee,”
My Master said,”if thou discernest him.”

As, when there breathes a heavy fog, or when
Our hemisphere is darkening into night,
Appears far off a mill the wind is turning,

Methought that such a building then I saw;
And, for the wind, I drew myself behind
My Guide, because there was no other shelter.

Now was I, and with fear in verse I put it,
There where the shades were wholly covered up,
And glimmered through like unto straws in glass.

Some prone are Iying, others stand erect,
This with the head, and that one with the soles;
Another, bow—like, face to feet inverts.

When in advance so far we had proceeded,
That it my Master pleased to show to me
The creature who once had the beauteous semblance,

He from before me moved and made me stop,
Saying: “Behold Dis, and behold the place
Where thou with fortitude must arm thyself”

How frozen I became and powerless then,
Ask it not, Reader, for I write it not,
Because all language would be insufficient.

I did not die, and I alive remained not;
Think for thyself now, hast thou aught of wit,
What I became, being of both deprived.

The Emperor of the kingdom dolorous
From his mid—breast forth issued from the ice,
And better with a giant I compare

Than do the giants with those arms of his;
Consider now how great must be that whole,
Which unto such a part conforms itself.

Were he as fair once, as he now is foul,
And lifted up his brow against his Maker,
Well may proceed from him all tribulation.

O, what a marvel it appeared to me,
When I beheld three faces on his head !
The one in front, and that vermilion was;

Two were the others, that were joined with this
Above the middle part of either shoulder,
And they were joined together at the crest;

And the right—hand one seemed ‘twixt white and yellow
The left was such to look upon as those
Who come from where the Nile falls valley—ward.

Underneath each came forth two mighty wings,
Such as befitting were so great a bird;
Sails of the sea I never saw so large.

No feathers had they, but as of a bat
Their fashion was; and he was waving them,
So that three winds proceeded forth therefrom.

Thereby Cocytus wholly was congealed.
With six eyes did he weep, and down three chins
Trickled the tear—drops and the bloody drivel.

At every mouth he with his teeth was crunching
A sinner, in the manner of a brake,
So that he three of them tormented thus.

To him in front the biting was as naught
Unto the clawing, for sometimes the spine
Utterly stripped of all the skin remained.

“That soul up there which has the greatest pain,”
The Master said, “is Judas Iscariot;
With head inside, he plies his legs without.

Of the two others, who head downward are,
The one who hangs from the black jowl is Brutus;
See how he writhes himself, and speaks no word.

And the other, who so stalwart seems, is Cassius.
But night is reascending, and ’tis time
That we depart, for we have seen the whole.”

As seemed him good, I clasped him round the neck,
And he the vantage seized of time and place,
And when the wings were opened wide apart,

He laid fast hold upon the shaggy sides;
From fell to fell descended downward then
Between the thick hair and the frozen crust.

When we were come to where the thigh revolves
Exactly on the thickness of the haunch,
The Guide. with labour and with hard—drawn breath.

Turned round his head where he had had his legs,
And grappled to the hair, as one who mounts,
So that to Hell I thought we were returning.

“Keep fast thy hold, for by such stairs as these,”
The Master said, panting as one fatigued,
“Must we perforce depart from so much evil.”

Then through the opening of a rock he issued,
And down upon the margin seated me;
Then tow’rds me he outstretched his wary step.

I lifted up mine eyes and thought to see
Lucifer in the same way I had left him;
And I beheld him upward hold his legs.

And if I then became disquieted,
Let stolid people think who do not see
What the point is beyond which I had passed.

“Rise up,” the Master said, “upon thy feet;
The way is long, and difficult the road,
And now the sun to middle—tierce returns.”

It was not any palace corridor
There where we were, but dungeon natural,
With floor uneven and unease of light.

“Ere from the abyss I tear myself away,
My Master,” said I when I had arisen?
“To draw me from an error speak a little;

Where is the ice ?” and how is this one fixed
Thus upside down ? and how in such short time
From eve to morn has the sun made his transit?”

And he to me: “Thou still imaginest
Thou art beyond the centre, where I grasped
The hair of the fell worm, who mines the world.

That side thou wast, so long as I descended;
When round I turned me, thou didst pass the point
To which things heavy draw from every side,

And now beneath the hemisphere art come
Opposite that which overhangs the vast
Dry—land, and ‘neath whose cope was put to death

The Man who without sin was born and lived.
Thou hast thy feet upon the little sphere
Which makes the other face of the Judecca

Here it is morn when it is evening there;
And he who with his hair a stairway made us
Still fixed remaineth as he was before.

Upon this side he fell down out of heaven;
And all the land, that whilom here emerged,
For fear of him made of the sea a veil,

And came to our hemisphere; and peradventure
To flee from him, what on this side appears
Left the place vacant here, and back recoiled”

A place there is below, from Beelzebub
As far receding as the tomb extends,
Which not by sight is known, but by the sound

Of a small rivulet, that there descendeth
Through chasm within the stone, which it has gnawed
With course that winds about and slightly falls.

The Guide and I into that hidden road
Now entered, to return to the bright world;
And without care of having any rest

We mounted up, he first and I the second,
Till I beheld through a round aperture
Some of the beauteous things that Heaven doth bear;

Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars.

“Vexilla regis prodeunt inferni
toward us; and therefore keep your eyes ahead,”
my master said, “to see if you can spy him.”

Just as, when night falls on our hemisphere
or when a heavy fog is blowing thick,
a windmill seems to wheel when seen far off,

so then I seemed to see that sort of structure.
And next, because the wind was strong, I shrank
behind my guide; there was no other shelter.

And now—with fear I set it down in meter—
I was where all the shades were fully covered
but visible as wisps of straw in glass.

There some lie flat and others stand erect,
one on his head, and one upon his soles;
and some bend face to feet, just like a bow.

But after we had made our way ahead,
my master felt he now should have me see
that creature who was once a handsome presence;

he stepped aside and made me stop, and said:
“Look! Here is Dis, and this the place where you
will have to arm yourself with fortitude.”

O reader, do not ask of me how I
grew faint and frozen then—I cannot write it:
all words would fall far short of what it was.

I did not die, and I was not alive;
think for yourself, if you have any wit,
what I became, deprived of life and death.

The emperor of the despondent kingdom
so towered from the ice, up from midchest,
that I match better with a giant’s breadth

than giants match the measure of his arms;
now you can gauge the size of all of him
if it is in proportion to such parts.

If he was once as handsome as he now
is ugly and, despite that, raised his brows
against his Maker, one can understand

how every sorrow has its source in him!
I marveled when I saw that, on his head,
he had three faces: one—in front-bloodred;

and then another two that, just above
the midpoint of each shoulder, joined the first;
and at the crown, all three were reattached;

the right looked somewhat yellow, somewhat white;
the left in its appearance was like those
who come from where the Nile, descending, flows.

Beneath each face of his, two wings spread out,
as broad as suited so immense a bird:
I’ve never seen a ship with sails so wide.

They had no feathers, but were fashioned like
a bat’s; and he was agitating them,
so that three winds made their way out from him—

and all Cocytus froze before those winds.
He wept out of six eyes; and down three chins,
tears gushed together with a bloody froth.

Within each mouth—he used it like a grinder—
with gnashing teeth he tore to bits a sinner,
so that he brought much pain to three at once.

The forward sinner found that biting nothing
when matched against the clawing, for at times
his back was stripped completely of its hide.

“That soul up there who has to suffer most,”
my master said: “Judas Iscariot—
his head inside, he jerks his legs without.

Of those two others, with their heads beneath,
the one who hangs from that black snout is Brutus—
see how he writhes and does not say a word!

That other, who seems so robust, is Cassius.
But night is come again, and it is time
for us to leave; we have seen everything.”

Just as he asked, I clasped him round the neck;
and he watched for the chance of time and place,
and when the wings were open wide enough,

he took fast hold upon the shaggy flanks
and then descended, down from tuft to tuft,
between the tangled hair and icy crusts.

When we had reached the point at which the thigh
revolves, just at the swelling of the hip,
my guide, with heavy strain and rugged work,

reversed his head to where his legs had been
and grappled on the hair, as one who climbs—
I thought that we were going back to Hell.

“Hold tight,” my master said—he panted like
a man exhausted—”it is by such stairs
that we must take our leave of so much evil.”

Then he slipped through a crevice in a rock
and placed me on the edge of it, to sit;
that done, he climbed toward me with steady steps.

I raised my eyes, believing I should see
the half of Lucifer that I had left;
instead I saw him with his legs turned up;

and if I then became perplexed, do let
the ignorant be judges—those who can
not understand what point I had just crossed.

“Get up,” my master said, “be on your feet:
the way is long, the path is difficult;
the sun’s already back to middle tierce.”

It was no palace hall, the place in which
we found ourselves, but with its rough—hewn floor
and scanty light, a dungeon built by nature.

“Before I free myself from this abyss,
master,” I said when I had stood up straight,
“tell me enough to see I don’t mistake:

Where is the ice? And how is he so placed
head downward? Tell me, too, how has the sun
in so few hours gone from night to morning?”

And he to me: “You still believe you are
north of the center, where I grasped the hair
of the damned worm who pierces through the world.

And you were there as long as I descended;
but when I turned, that’s when you passed the point
to which, from every part, all weights are drawn.

And now you stand beneath the hemisphere
opposing that which cloaks the great dry lands
and underneath whose zenith died the Man

whose birth and life were sinless in this world.
Your feet are placed upon a little sphere
that forms the other face of the Judecca.

Here it is morning when it’s evening there;
and he whose hair has served us as a ladder
is still fixed, even as he was before.

This was the side on which he fell from Heaven;
for fear of him, the land that once loomed here
made of the sea a veil and rose into

our hemisphere; and that land which appears
upon this side—perhaps to flee from him—
left here this hollow space and hurried upward.”

There is a place below, the limit of
that cave, its farthest point from Beelzebub,
a place one cannot see: it is discovered

by ear—there is a sounding stream that flows
along the hollow of a rock eroded
by winding waters, and the slope is easy.

My guide and I came on that hidden road
to make our way back into the bright world;
and with no care for any rest, we climbed—

he first, I following—until I saw,
through a round opening, some of those things
of beauty Heaven bears. It was from there

that we emerged, to see—once more—the stars.

_”Vexilla Regis prodeunt Inferni_
Towards us; therefore look in front of thee,”
My Master said,”if thou discernest him.”

As, when there breathes a heavy fog, or when
Our hemisphere is darkening into night,
Appears far off a mill the wind is turning,

Methought that such a building then I saw;
And, for the wind, I drew myself behind
My Guide, because there was no other shelter.

Now was I, and with fear in verse I put it,
There where the shades were wholly covered up,
And glimmered through like unto straws in glass.

Some prone are Iying, others stand erect,
This with the head, and that one with the soles;
Another, bow—like, face to feet inverts.

When in advance so far we had proceeded,
That it my Master pleased to show to me
The creature who once had the beauteous semblance,

He from before me moved and made me stop,
Saying: “Behold Dis, and behold the place
Where thou with fortitude must arm thyself”

How frozen I became and powerless then,
Ask it not, Reader, for I write it not,
Because all language would be insufficient.

I did not die, and I alive remained not;
Think for thyself now, hast thou aught of wit,
What I became, being of both deprived.

The Emperor of the kingdom dolorous
From his mid—breast forth issued from the ice,
And better with a giant I compare

Than do the giants with those arms of his;
Consider now how great must be that whole,
Which unto such a part conforms itself.

Were he as fair once, as he now is foul,
And lifted up his brow against his Maker,
Well may proceed from him all tribulation.

O, what a marvel it appeared to me,
When I beheld three faces on his head !
The one in front, and that vermilion was;

Two were the others, that were joined with this
Above the middle part of either shoulder,
And they were joined together at the crest;

And the right—hand one seemed ‘twixt white and yellow
The left was such to look upon as those
Who come from where the Nile falls valley—ward.

Underneath each came forth two mighty wings,
Such as befitting were so great a bird;
Sails of the sea I never saw so large.

No feathers had they, but as of a bat
Their fashion was; and he was waving them,
So that three winds proceeded forth therefrom.

Thereby Cocytus wholly was congealed.
With six eyes did he weep, and down three chins
Trickled the tear—drops and the bloody drivel.

At every mouth he with his teeth was crunching
A sinner, in the manner of a brake,
So that he three of them tormented thus.

To him in front the biting was as naught
Unto the clawing, for sometimes the spine
Utterly stripped of all the skin remained.

“That soul up there which has the greatest pain,”
The Master said, “is Judas Iscariot;
With head inside, he plies his legs without.

Of the two others, who head downward are,
The one who hangs from the black jowl is Brutus;
See how he writhes himself, and speaks no word.

And the other, who so stalwart seems, is Cassius.
But night is reascending, and ’tis time
That we depart, for we have seen the whole.”

As seemed him good, I clasped him round the neck,
And he the vantage seized of time and place,
And when the wings were opened wide apart,

He laid fast hold upon the shaggy sides;
From fell to fell descended downward then
Between the thick hair and the frozen crust.

When we were come to where the thigh revolves
Exactly on the thickness of the haunch,
The Guide. with labour and with hard—drawn breath.

Turned round his head where he had had his legs,
And grappled to the hair, as one who mounts,
So that to Hell I thought we were returning.

“Keep fast thy hold, for by such stairs as these,”
The Master said, panting as one fatigued,
“Must we perforce depart from so much evil.”

Then through the opening of a rock he issued,
And down upon the margin seated me;
Then tow’rds me he outstretched his wary step.

I lifted up mine eyes and thought to see
Lucifer in the same way I had left him;
And I beheld him upward hold his legs.

And if I then became disquieted,
Let stolid people think who do not see
What the point is beyond which I had passed.

“Rise up,” the Master said, “upon thy feet;
The way is long, and difficult the road,
And now the sun to middle—tierce returns.”

It was not any palace corridor
There where we were, but dungeon natural,
With floor uneven and unease of light.

“Ere from the abyss I tear myself away,
My Master,” said I when I had arisen?
“To draw me from an error speak a little;

Where is the ice ?” and how is this one fixed
Thus upside down ? and how in such short time
From eve to morn has the sun made his transit?”

And he to me: “Thou still imaginest
Thou art beyond the centre, where I grasped
The hair of the fell worm, who mines the world.

That side thou wast, so long as I descended;
When round I turned me, thou didst pass the point
To which things heavy draw from every side,

And now beneath the hemisphere art come
Opposite that which overhangs the vast
Dry—land, and ‘neath whose cope was put to death

The Man who without sin was born and lived.
Thou hast thy feet upon the little sphere
Which makes the other face of the Judecca

Here it is morn when it is evening there;
And he who with his hair a stairway made us
Still fixed remaineth as he was before.

Upon this side he fell down out of heaven;
And all the land, that whilom here emerged,
For fear of him made of the sea a veil,

And came to our hemisphere; and peradventure
To flee from him, what on this side appears
Left the place vacant here, and back recoiled”

A place there is below, from Beelzebub
As far receding as the tomb extends,
Which not by sight is known, but by the sound

Of a small rivulet, that there descendeth
Through chasm within the stone, which it has gnawed
With course that winds about and slightly falls.

The Guide and I into that hidden road
Now entered, to return to the bright world;
And without care of having any rest

We mounted up, he first and I the second,
Till I beheld through a round aperture
Some of the beauteous things that Heaven doth bear;

Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars.