Suspended . . . at the Gate of Dis

  • a textual environment of dense semiosis, in which all infernal denizens are equipped with signs and are sophisticated semiotic players: the sinners have sign-systems that they use to communicate, as do the devils, as of course do the travelers
  • an unusually complex narrative line: the over-arching story-line of the travelers who try to enter the city of Dis and are rebuffed by devils; this story-line begins in the last verse of Inferno 7 and concludes with the arrival of the angel in Inferno 9
  • this over-arching narrative accommodates an interpolated shorter narrative in which the pilgrim, while traversing the Styx, is accosted by a wrathful soul: the Florentine magnate Filippo Argenti
  • an Aristotelian template with respect to wrath, begun with the tristi at the end of Inferno 7, is completed by the rabid Filippo Argenti in Inferno 8
  • the over-arching story-line of the travelers trying to enter the city of Dis is also an important installment in the ongoing story of Virgilio in the Commedia: the encounter with the devils at the gates of Dis is the first occasion in which Dante-author scripts a fallible role for the guide who thus far has been the “mar di tutto ’l senno” (sea of all wisdom [Inf. 8.7])

In the last verse of Inferno 7 the travelers come to the foot of a tower: “Venimmo al piè d’una torre al da sezzo” (We came at last upon a tower’s base [Inf. 7.130]). At the beginning of Inferno 8 we learn of an infernal system of communication: we receive the disquieting information that signals have been exchanged between the tower of canto 7 and another watchtower, further off. These are fortified towers of the sort found in Italian cities of the period, and the signals mark the onset of hostilities: those engaged in communicating through signals are hostile to Dante and his guide, and consider the travelers to be trespassers without license to pass through their territory. We do not yet know who the signalers are. They will turn out to be the devils who guard the city of Dis, keeping watch from their fortified towers on the River Styx, which surrounds Dis like a moat.

The narrative movement of Inferno 8 is complex: it is part of a story-arc that begins with the watchtower at the end of Inferno 7 and is not completed until the arrival of the heavenly intercessor toward the end of Inferno 9. Inferno 8 contains the encounter with Filippo Argenti, which is a story enfolded within the longer story.

The narrator comes to the fore in Inferno 8-9, canti that feature a “display of the author’s narrative prowess” (The Undivine Comedy, p. 69). Dante introduces assertively self-conscious narrative techniques into Inferno 8:

  1.  the narrator’s assertive incipit to Inferno 8—“Io dico, seguitando” (I say, continuing [Inf. 8.1])—whose forceful and interruptive presence is such that it gave rise among early commentators to a biographical theory of this canto’s authorship, whereby Dante here resumed writing the Inferno after a long pause. (This fanciful ancient theory, without empirical foundation, has recently been exhumed in order to advance equally fanciful modern biographical theories regarding the composition of Inferno);
  2. the self-conscious insertion of the flashback that informs us that signals had been exchanged “long before” between the tower registered in the last verse of Inferno 7 and another tower posited in the opening verses of Inferno 8: “assai prima / che noi fossimo al piè de l’alta torre, / li occhi nostri n’andar suso a la cima / per due fiammette che i vedemmo porre / e un’altra da lungi render cenno” (long before / we two had reached the foot of that tall tower, / our eyes had risen upward, toward its summit, / because of two small flames that flickered there, /  while still another flame returned their signal [Inf. 8.1-5]);
  3. the author’s re-assertion of narrative control in verse 64: “Quivi il lasciammo, che più non ne narro” (We left him there; I tell no more of him [Inf. 8.64]);
  4.  the narrator’s first address to the reader: “Pensa, lettor, se io mi sconfortai / nel suon de le parole maladette, / ché non credetti ritornarci mai” (Consider, reader, my dismay before / the sound of those abominable words: / returning here seemed so impossible [Inf. 8.94-6]).

Filippo Argenti, from the magnate Florentine family of the Adimari, is one of the wrathful souls whom Dante sees in Inferno 8. The wrathful belong to the fifth circle, and are in the River Styx. Dante traverses the Styx in the boat of Phlegiàs (as earlier he had traversed Acheron in Charon’s boat). The result is a nautical sequence that functions as anticipation of the more extended nautical sequence that involves Geryon: Inferno 8-9 echoes the original transition of Inferno 1-2 while anticipating the more critical transition of Inferno 16-17.

While in Phlegiàs’ boat, Dante participates in a bitterly wrathful exchange of insults with Filippo Argenti, provoking the question as to whether the pilgrim in some way participates in or mirrors the sin that he is witnessing. The bitter altercation between Dante and Filippo Argenti anticipates other moments of heightened dialogue in the Inferno.

According to the Aristotelian template that I suggest at the end of the Introduction to Inferno 7, the pilgrim here models righteous anger, the virtuous midpoint between the sad melancholics and the rabid wrathful:

melancholic tristitia ⇤⇤   righteous anger   ⇥⇥⇥⇥ rabid wrath

Other examples of righteous anger may be found in the Commedia. For instance, in Purgatorio 8 the narrator refers to the measured and righteous anger that inflames Nino Visconti: “quel dritto zelo / che misuratamente in core avvampa” (that forthright zeal which, / in measured fashion flames within the heart [Purg. 8.83-4]). So too the beatitude that signals the pilgrim’s departure from Purgatorio’s terrace of wrath is rewritten by Dante to include the idea of “ira mala”: “Beati / pacifici, che son sanz’ ira mala!” (Beati / pacifici, who are without evil wrath [Purg. 17.68–69]).

The idea of “evil wrath” invokes a spectrum on which ira mala is an extreme and ira bona is the virtuous midpoint.

Virgilio’s strong endorsement of the pilgrim’s punitive behavior toward Filippo Argenti includes his praising the pilgrim for his disdain, addressing Dante as “Alma sdegnosa” (“Indignant soul” [Inf. 8.44]). This approbation, and the association of disdain with the angel who will arrive in Inferno 9 and of whom Dante writes “Ahi quanto mi parea pien di disdegno!” (How full of high disdain he seemed to me! [Inf. 9.88]), underscores that the pilgrim is here performing righteous anger.

Virgilio’s somewhat over-the-top performance of approbation for Dante’s behavior, which includes his inflated evangelical language “benedetta colei che ’n te s’incinse” (blessed is she who bore you in her womb [Inf. 8.45]), suggests that the pagan poet is carefully aligning himself with Christian values, showing his distance from the sinners and his endorsement of divine judgment. By the same token, however, Virgilio’s performance of Christian values in this episode only highlights his subsequent pagan failure in Inferno 9.

After Filippo Argenti is attacked by other sinners, Dante and Virgilio approach the city of Dis, whose skyline is notable for its fiery mosques:

E io: “Maestro, già le sue meschite
là entro certe ne la valle cerno,
vermiglie come se di foco uscite
fossero”.
(Inf. 8.70-73)
I said: “I can already see distinctly—
master—the mosques that gleam within the valley,
as crimson as if they had just been drawn
out of the fire”.

The reference to the mosques—“meschite” of Inf. 8.70—of the diabolic city constitute one of the most negative characterizations of Islam in the Commedia: the characteristics of the infernal city of Dis are the characteristics of a Muslim city. Here is the note of a 14th century commentator, Francesco da Buti, on the word “meschita”, which he describes as “a Saracen word”:

S’intende: Maestro; cioè Virgilio, lo quale 
chiama in più nomi simili e convenienti a lui, come appare nel 
processo del libro. già le sue meschite; cioè torri, o campanili della 
città predetta. Meschita è vocabolo sarainesco, et è luogo ove li 
Saracini vanno ad adorare; e perché quelli luoghi ànno torri a modo 
di campanili ove montano li sacerdoti loro a chiamare lo popolo 
che vada ad adorare Idio, però l’autore chiama le torre di Dite meschite. (Francesco da Buti, Commento all’Inferno, cited from the Dartmouth Dante Project)

Meschita is a Saracen word, and it refers to the place where Saracens go to pray; and because those places have towers (similar to our bell-towers) where their priests climb to call the people to prayer, therefore the author calls the towers of Dis meschite.

Inferno 8’s association of mosques with devils should be compared to the positive treatment, for instance, of Saladin, Averroes, and Avicenna, who reside in Limbo (Inf. 4.129 and 134-144), and whose presence there is discussed in the Introduction to Inferno 4.

The entire episode between Dante and Filippo Argenti takes place within the ongoing story, which extends into Inferno 9, about the travelers’ attempts, initially thwarted, to enter the city of Dis. To that story Dante now turns his attention.

When Dante and Virgilio disembark in front of the gates of Dis, Virgilio for the first time deals with infernal guardians whom he cannot dominate. The mythological creatures whom he had encountered thus far were easily subdued. They are from his own, pagan, world, and his knowledge has been sufficient to allow him to control them.

But now, faced with the determined resistance of Christian devils, Virgilio shows his limits and is unable to get license to pass. This encounter with the devils is the first such encounter in the poem and it is an important installment in another, even longer, story-arc: the unfolding story that tells of Virgilio’s strengths and limitations in the role of Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.

In the episode at the gates of Dis, Dante-poet for the first time underscores the limitations of Virgilio as a guide.

Chapter 3 of Dante’s Poets analyzes in great detail how Dante constructs a plot for Virgilio that undercuts the Latin poet’s intellectual authority while simultaneously causing the affective ties between Virgilio and himself to become ever stronger. By the time Virgilio leaves Dante in Purgatorio 30 he has become “Virgilio dolcissimo patre” (Virgilio, sweetest father [Purg. 30.50]). In this way, Dante-poet creates a poignant, dynamic, and tension-filled plot-line at the heart of the Commedia, one that will culminate in the pilgrim’s experience of profound loss.

Dante describes the guardians of the walls of Dis as “da ciel piovuti”—“rained from heaven” (Inf. 8.83)—thus reminding us that devils were once angels. They fell from heaven when they followed the rebellious Lucifer. This history was evoked in Inferno 3, for the vestibule of hell houses the cowardly angels who did not take sides during Lucifer’s rebellion: “quel cattivo coro / de li angeli che non furon ribelli / né fur fedeli a Dio, ma per sé fuoro” (the coward angels, / the company of those who were not rebels /nor faithful to their God, but for themselves [Inf. 3.37-9]). In the language of Inferno 3, then, the pilgrim and Virgilio are negotiating with angeli che furon ribelli a Dio: angels who were rebels to God. This is a class of being utterly alien to Virgilio.

The devils challenge the pilgrim’s right to undertake this journey. He, as a living man, should not be in the realm of the dead: “Chi è costui che sanza morte / va per lo regno de la morta gente?” (Who is this that without death / goes through the kingdom of the people dead? [Inf. 8.84-5]). The devils seem not to know that the pilgrim has been issued a passport by the Highest Authority. After all, they have not had the advantage of reading Inferno 2!

Their speech, however, is very attuned to the lexicon and thematics of Inferno 2. The devils seem to know all the buttons to push to reawaken the fear that the pilgrim experienced in that preliminary canto. They seek to separate the pilgrim from his guide, instructing Virgilio to remain with them while the pilgrim returns back alone along the path by which they have come, which they call the “folle strada”: “Sol si ritorni per la folle strada: / pruovi, se sa; ché tu qui rimarrai” (Let him return alone by his mad road; Try, if he can; for thou shalt remain here [Inf. 8.91]). Here the devils echo the pilgrim’s own fear of illegitimacy and trespass, as expressed in Inferno 2: “temo che la venuta non sia folle” (I fear my venture may be wild and mad [Inf. 2.35]).

The dilemma of being blocked by the devils, unable to proceed on his voyage through Hell, provokes the poet’s first address to the reader, in which he articulates his fear at never returning to the world of the living:

Pensa, lettor, se io mi sconfortai
nel suon de le parole maladette,
ché non credetti ritornarci mai. 
(Inf. 8.94-96)
Consider, reader, my dismay before
the sound of those abominable words:
returning here seemed so impossible.

The author’s first-person and present-tense intervention signals a moment of unusual significance. And, indeed, the pilgrim, who has lost his bearings altogether, begs Virgilio to give up on their journey so that they can retrace their steps together: “ritroviam l’orme nostre insieme ratto” (let us retrace our steps together, quickly [Inf. 8.102]). However, Virgilio insists, correctly, that their journey has been vouchsafed by such a one that it cannot be resisted: “ché ’l nostro passo / non ci può tòrre alcun: da tal n’è dato” (no one can hinder / our passage; One so great has granted it [Inf. 8.104-5]).

The drama continues to play out: Virgilio goes off to negotiate with the devils, but they shut the gate in his face, causing him to return to Dante with his confidence depleted. Virgilio however reminds himself and his charge of the conquest that he witnessed first-hand as an inhabitant of Limbo. The devils are as insolent now, he says, as they were once before when they attempted to block the entrance to “a less secret gate” (“men segreta porta” [Inf. 8.125]), a gate that still now remains wide open as sign of their impotence: “la qual sanza serrame ancor si trova” (a gate that is still without its bolts [Inf. 8.126]).

Virgilio is here recalling the time when he saw the gate of Hell itself (“less secret”, because less internal, than the gate of Dis, at which the travelers now find themselves), swung open by an omnipotent Christ at His Harrowing of Hell. We in turn recall that Virgilio had referenced this event already in Inferno 4: “ci vidi venire un possente, / con segno di vittoria coronato” (I saw hither come a Mighty One, / with sign of victory incoronate [Inf. 4.53-54]).

Inferno 8 ends by signalling a transition that does not occur immediately, leaving the canto suspended. From Virgilio’s memory of the arrival in Hell of the “powerful one, crowned with sign of victory” (Inf. 4.53-54), Who flung open the gate of Hell, we move to Virgilio’s assertion of the arrival of a being who will open the gate of Dis, an event to take place in the immediate future: “tal che per lui ne fia la terra aperta” (the one who will lay open this realm for us [Inf. 8.130]).

Virgilio and Dante now wait, an unprecedented activity in the unfolding diegesis of the Inferno. In Inferno 8’s final verses, Virgilio’s words are projected forward, as he uses the future tense and the telling adverb “già” (see the discussion of già in the Introduction to Inferno 23). In this way Virgilio forecasts the imminent arrival of the being who will unlock the gate:

e già di qua da lei discende l’erta,
passando per li cerchi sanza scorta,
tal che per lui ne fia la terra aperta.
(Inf. 8.128-30)
and now, already well within that gate,
down the steep path and across the circles without escort
the one who will unlock this realm for us.

The one who comes down the steep path to help the travelers needs no guide or escort: he passes “per li cerchi sanza scorta” (across the circles without escort [Inf. 8.129]). In Virgilio’s conjuring, this being moves unimpeded; no one can stop him. The next canto will reveal this being to be “sent from heaven”: “da ciel messo” (Inf. 9.85). In other words, the travelers now await the arrival of an angel.

But where is he? In a narrative first, and in another sign of the narratological complexity of an episode whose beginning looks backward (via flashback) and whose ending looks forward (via suspense), Inferno 8 concludes in medias res: suspended, in the middle of a plot development that is not yet near resolution.

Coordinated Reading

The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 3, “Ulysses, Geryon, and the Aeronautics of Narrative Transition,” pp. 68-71; Dante’s Poets (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), pp. 201-8; “Aristotle’s Mezzo, Courtly Misura, and Dante’s Canzone Le dolci rime: Humanism, Ethics, and Social Anxiety,” in Dante and the Greeks, ed. Jan Ziolkowski (Cambridge: Harvard U. Press, 2014), pp. 163-79.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Inferno 8: Suspended . . . at the Gate of Dis.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/inferno/inferno-8/

About the Commento

1 Io dico, seguitando, ch’assai prima
2 che noi fossimo al piè de l’alta torre,
3 li occhi nostri n’andar suso a la cima

4 per due fiammette che i vedemmo porre
5 e un’altra da lungi render cenno,
6 tanto ch’a pena il potea l’occhio tòrre.

7 E io mi volsi al mar di tutto ’l senno;
8 dissi: «Questo che dice? e che risponde
9 quell’ altro foco? e chi son quei che ’l fenno?».

10 Ed elli a me: «Su per le sucide onde
11 già scorgere puoi quello che s’aspetta,
12 se ’l fummo del pantan nol ti nasconde».

13 Corda non pinse mai da sé saetta
14 che sì corresse via per l’aere snella,
15 com’ io vidi una nave piccioletta

16 venir per l’acqua verso noi in quella,
17 sotto ’l governo d’un sol galeoto,
18 che gridava: «Or se’ giunta, anima fella!».

19 «Flegïàs, Flegïàs, tu gridi a vòto»,
20 disse lo mio segnore «a questa volta:
21 più non ci avrai che sol passando il loto».

22 Qual è colui che grande inganno ascolta
23 che li sia fatto, e poi se ne rammarca,
24 fecesi Flegïàs ne l’ira accolta.

25 Lo duca mio discese ne la barca,
26 e poi mi fece intrare appresso lui;
27 e sol quand’ io fui dentro parve carca.

28 Tosto che ’l duca e io nel legno fui,
29 segando se ne va l’antica prora
30 de l’acqua più che non suol con altrui.

31 Mentre noi corravam la morta gora,
32 dinanzi mi si fece un pien di fango,
33 e disse: «Chi se’ tu che vieni anzi ora?».

34 E io a lui: «S’i’ vegno, non rimango;
35 ma tu chi se’, che sì se’ fatto brutto?».
36 Rispuose: «Vedi che son un che piango».

37 E io a lui: «Con piangere e con lutto,
38 spirito maladetto, ti rimani;
39 ch’i’ ti conosco, ancor sie lordo tutto».

40 Allor distese al legno ambo le mani;
41 per che ’l maestro accorto lo sospinse,
42 dicendo: «Via costà con li altri cani!».

43 Lo collo poi con le braccia mi cinse;
44 basciommi ’l volto, e disse: «Alma sdegnosa,
45 benedetta colei che ’n te s’incinse!

46 Quei fu al mondo persona orgogliosa;
47 bontà non è che sua memoria fregi:
48 così s’è l’ombra sua qui furïosa.

49 Quanti si tegnon or là sù gran regi
50 che qui staranno come porci in brago,
51 di sé lasciando orribili dispregi!».

52 E io: «Maestro, molto sarei vago
53 di vederlo attuffare in questa broda
54 prima che noi uscissimo del lago».

55 Ed elli a me: «Avante che la proda
56 ti si lasci veder, tu sarai sazio:
57 di tal disïo convien che tu goda».

58 Dopo ciò poco vid’ io quello strazio
59 far di costui a le fangose genti,
60 che Dio ancor ne lodo e ne ringrazio.

61 Tutti gridavano: «A Filippo Argenti!»;
62 e ’l fiorentino spirito bizzarro
63 in sé medesmo si volvea co’ denti.

64 Quivi il lasciammo, che più non ne narro;
65 ma ne l’orecchie mi percosse un duolo,
66 per ch’ io avante l’occhio intento sbarro.

67 Lo buon maestro disse: «Omai, figliuolo,
68 s’appressa la città c’ha nome Dite,
69 coi gravi cittadin, col grande stuolo».

70 E io: «Maestro, già le sue meschite
71 là entro certe ne la valle cerno,
72 vermiglie come se di foco uscite

73 fossero». Ed ei mi disse: «Il foco etterno
74 ch’entro l’affoca le dimostra rosse,
75 come tu vedi in questo basso inferno».

76 Noi pur giugnemmo dentro a l’alte fosse
77 che vallan quella terra sconsolata:
78 le mura mi parean che ferro fosse.

79 Non sanza prima far grande aggirata,
80 venimmo in parte dove il nocchier forte
81 «Usciteci», gridò: «qui è l’intrata».

82 Io vidi più di mille in su le porte
83 da ciel piovuti, che stizzosamente
84 dicean: «Chi è costui che sanza morte

85 va per lo regno de la morta gente?».
86 E ’l savio mio maestro fece segno
87 di voler lor parlar segretamente.

88 Allor chiusero un poco il gran disdegno,
89 e disser: «Vien tu solo, e quei sen vada,
90 che sì ardito intrò per questo regno.

91 Sol si ritorni per la folle strada:
92 pruovi, se sa; ché tu qui rimarrai
93 che li ha’ iscorta sì buia contrada».

94 Pensa, lettor, se io mi sconfortai
95 nel suon de le parole maladette,
96 ché non credetti ritornarci mai.

97 «O caro duca mio, che più di sette
98 volte m’hai sicurtà renduta e tratto
99 d’alto periglio che ’ncontra mi stette,

100 non mi lasciar», diss’ io, «così disfatto;
101 e se ’l passar più oltre ci è negato,
102 ritroviam l’orme nostre insieme ratto».

103 E quel segnor che lì m’avea menato,
104 mi disse: «Non temer; ché ’l nostro passo
105 non ci può tòrre alcun: da tal n’è dato.

106 Ma qui m’attendi, e lo spirito lasso
107 conforta e ciba di speranza buona,
108 ch’i’ non ti lascerò nel mondo basso».

109 Così sen va, e quivi m’abbandona
110 lo dolce padre, e io rimagno in forse,
111 che sì e no nel capo mi tenciona.

112 Udir non potti quello ch’a lor porse;
113 ma ei non stette là con essi guari,
114 che ciascun dentro a pruova si ricorse.

115 Chiuser le porte que’ nostri avversari
116 nel petto al mio segnor, che fuor rimase,
117 e rivolsesi a me con passi rari.

118 Li occhi a la terra e le ciglia avea rase
119 d’ogne baldanza, e dicea ne’ sospiri:
120 «Chi m’ha negate le dolenti case!».

121 E a me disse: «Tu, perch’ io m’adiri,
122 non sbigottir, ch’io vincerò la prova,
123 qual ch’a la difension dentro s’aggiri.

124 Questa lor tracotanza non è nova;
125 ché già l’usaro a men segreta porta,
126 la qual sanza serrame ancor si trova.

127 Sovr’ essa vedestù la scritta morta:
128 e già di qua da lei discende l’erta,
129 passando per li cerchi sanza scorta,

130 tal che per lui ne fia la terra aperta».

I say, continuing, that long before
we two had reached the foot of that tall tower,
our eyes had risen upward, toward its summit,

because of two small flames that flickered there,
while still another flame returned their signal,
so far off it was scarcely visible.

And I turned toward the sea of all good sense;
I said: “What does this mean? And what reply
comes from that other fire? Who kindled it?”

And he to me: “Above the filthy waters
you can already see what waits for us,
if it’s not hid by vapors from the marsh.”

Bowstring has not thrust from itself an arrow
that ever rushed as swiftly through the air
as did the little bark that at that moment

I saw as it skimmed toward us on the water,
a solitary boatman at its helm.
I heard him howl: “Now you are caught, foul soul!”

“O Phlegyas, Phlegyas, such a shout is useless
this time,” my master said; “we’re yours no longer
than it will take to cross the muddy sluice.”

And just as one who hears some great deception
was done to him, and then resents it, so
was Phlegyas when he had to store his anger.

My guide preceded me into the boat.
Once he was in, he had me follow him;
there seemed to be no weight until I boarded.

No sooner were my guide and I embarked
than off that ancient prow went, cutting water
more deeply than it does when bearing others.

And while we steered across the stagnant channel,
before me stood a sinner thick with mud,
saying: “Who are you, come before your time?”

And I to him: “I’ve come, but I don’t stay;
but who are you, who have become so ugly?”
He answered: “You can see—I’m one who weeps.”

And I to him: “In weeping and in grieving,
accursed spirit, may you long remain;
though you’re disguised by filth, I know your name.”

Then he stretched both his hands out toward the boat,
at which my master quickly shoved him back,
saying: “Be off there with the other dogs!”

That done, he threw his arms around my neck
and kissed my face and said: “Indignant soul,
blessed is she who bore you in her womb!

When in the world, he was presumptuous;
there is no good to gild his memory,
and so his shade down here is hot with fury.

How many up above now count themselves
great kings, who’ll wallow here like pigs in slime,
leaving behind foul memories of their crimes!”

And I: “O master, I am very eager
to see that spirit soused within this broth
before we’ve made our way across the lake.”

And he to me: “Before the other shore
comes into view, you shall be satisfied;
to gratify so fine a wish is right.”

Soon after I had heard these words, I saw
the muddy sinners so dismember him
that even now I praise and thank God for it.

They all were shouting: “At Filippo Argenti!”
At this, the Florentine, gone wild with spleen,
began to turn his teeth against himself.

We left him there; I tell no more of him.
But in my ears so loud a wailing pounded
that I lean forward, all intent to see.

The kindly master said: “My son, the city
that bears the name of Dis is drawing near,
with its grave citizens, its great battalions.”

I said: “I can already see distinctly—
master—the mosques that gleam within the valley,
as crimson as if they had just been drawn

out of the fire.” He told me: “The eternal
flame burning there appears to make them red,
as you can see, within this lower Hell.”

So we arrived inside the deep—cut trenches
that are the moats of this despondent land:
the ramparts seemed to me to be of iron.

But not before we’d ranged in a wide circuit
did we approach a place where that shrill pilot
shouted: “Get out; the entrance way is here.”

About the gates I saw more than a thousand—
who once had rained from Heaven—and they cried
in anger: “Who is this who, without death,

can journey through the kingdom of the dead?”
And my wise master made a sign that said
he wanted to speak secretly to them.

Then they suppressed-somewhat-their great disdain
and said: “You come alone; let him be gone—
for he was reckless, entering this realm.

Let him return alone on his mad road—
or try to, if he can, since you, his guide
across so dark a land, you are to stay.”

Consider, reader, my dismay before
the sound of those abominable words:
returning here seemed so impossible.

“O my dear guide, who more than seven times
has given back to me my confidence
and snatched me from deep danger that had menaced,

do not desert me when I’m so undone;
and if they will not let us pass beyond,
let us retrace our steps together, quickly.”

These were my words; the lord who’d led me there
replied: “Forget your fear, no one can hinder
our passage; One so great has granted it.

But you wait here for me, and feed and comfort
your tired spirit with good hope, for I
will not abandon you in this low world.”

So he goes on his way; that gentle father
has left me there to wait and hesitate,
for yes and no contend within my head.

I could not hear what he was telling them;
but he had not been long with them when each
ran back into the city, scrambling fast.

And these, our adversaries, slammed the gates
in my lord’s face; and he remained outside,
then, with slow steps, turned back again to me.

His eyes turned to the ground, his brows deprived
of every confidence, he said with sighs:
“See who has kept me from the house of sorrow!’

To me he added: “You—though I am vexed—
must not be daunted; I shall win this contest,
whoever tries—within—to block our way.

This insolence of theirs is nothing new;
they used it once before and at a gate
less secret—it is still without its bolts—

the place where you made out the fatal text;
and now, already well within that gate,
across the circles—and alone—descends

the one who will unlock this realm for us.”

I SAY, continuing, that long before
We to the foot of that high tower had come,
Our eyes went upward to the summit of it,

By reason of two flamelets we saw placed there,
And from afar another answer them,
So far, that hardly could the eye attain it.

And, to the sea of all discernment turned,
I said: “What sayeth this, and what respondeth
That other fire ? and who are they that made it?”

And he to me: “Across the turbid waves
What is expected thou canst now discern,
If reek of the morass conceal it not.”

Cord never shot an arrow from itself
That sped away athwart the air so swift,
As I beheld a very little boat

Come o’er the water tow’rds us at that moment,
Under the guidance of a single pilot,
Who shouted, “Now art thou arrived, fell soul ?”

“Phlegyas, Phlegyas, thou criest out in vain
For this once,” said my Lord; “thou shalt not have
Longer than in the passing of the slough.”

As he who listens to some great deceit
That has been done to him, and then resents it,
Such became Phlegyas, in his gathered wrath.

My Guide descended down into the boat,
And then he made me enter after him,
And only when I entered seemed it laden.

Soon as the Guide and I were in the boat,
The antique prow goes on its way, dividing
More of the water than ’tis wont with others.

While we were running through the dead canal,
Uprose in front of me one full of mire,
And said, “Who ‘rt thou that comest ere the hour ?”

And I to him: “Although I come, I stay not;
But who art thou that hast become so squalid ?”
“Thou seest that I am one who weeps,” he answered.

And I to him: “With weeping and with wailing,
Thou spirit maledict, do thou remain;
For thee I know, though thou art all defiled.”

Then stretched he both his hands unto the boat;
Whereat my wary Master thrust him back,
Saying, “Away there with the other dogs !”

Thereafter with his arms he clasped my neck;
He kissed my face, and said: “Disdainful soul,
Blessed be she who bore thee in her bosom.

That was an arrogant person in the world;
Goodness is none, that decks his memory;
So likewise here his shade is furious.

How many are esteemed great kings up there,
Who here shall be like unto swine in mire,
Leaving behind them horrible dispraises !”

And I: “My Master, much should I be pleased,
If I could see him soused into this broth,
Before we issue forth out of the lake.”

And he to me: “Ere unto thee the shore
Reveal itself, thou shalt be satisfied;
Such a desire ’tis meet thou shouldst enjoy.”

A little after that, I saw such havoc
Made of him by the people of the mire,
That still I praise and thank my God for it.

They all were shouting, “At Philippo Argenti !”
And that exasperate spirit Florentine
Turned round upon himself with his own teeth.

We left him there, and more of him I tell not;
But on mine ears there smote a lamentation,
Whence forward I intent unbar mine eyes.

And the good Master said: “Even now, my Son,
The city draweth near whose name is Dis,
With the grave citizens, with the great throng.”

And I: “Its mosques already, Master, clearly
Within there in the valley I discern
Vermilion, as if issuing from the fire

They were.” And he to me: “The fire eternal
That kindles them within makes them look red,
As thou beholdest in this nether Hell.”

Then we arrived within the moats profound,
That circumvallate that disconsolate city;
The walls appeared to me to be of iron.

Not without making first a circuit wide,
We came unto a place where loud the pilot
Cried out to us, “Debark, here is the entrance.”

More than a thousand at the gates I saw
Out of the Heavens rained down, who angrily
Were saying, “Who is this that without death

Goes through the kingdom of the people dead ?”
And my sagacious Master made a sign
Of wishing secretly to speak with them.

A little then they quelled their great disdain,
And said: “Come thou alone, and he begone
Who has so boldly entered these dominions.

Let him return alone by his mad road;
Try, if he can; for thou shalt here remain,
Who hast escorted him through such dark regions.”

Think, Reader, if I was discomforted
At utterance of the accursed words;
For never to return here I believed.

“O my dear Guide, who more than seven times
Hast rendered me security, and drawn me
From imminent peril that before me stood,

Do not desert me,” said I, “thus undone;
And if the going farther be denied us,
Let us retrace our steps together swiftly.”

And that Lord, who had led me thitherward,
Said unto me: “Fear not; because our passage
None can take from us, it by Such is given.

But here await me, and thy weary spirit
Comfort and nourish with a better hope;
For in this nether world I will not leave thee.”

So onward goes and there abandons me
My Father sweet, and I remain in doubt,
For No and Yes within my head contend.

I could not hear what he proposed to them;
But with them there he did not linger long,
Ere each within in rivalry ran back.

They closed the portals, those our adversaries,
On my Lord’s breast, who had remained without
And turned to me with footsteps far between.

His eyes cast down, his forehead shorn had he
Of all its boldness, and he said, with sighs,
“Who has denied to me the dolesome houses ?”

And unto me: “Thou, because I am angry,
Fear not, for I will conquer in the trial,
Whatever for defence within be planned.

This arrogance of theirs is nothing new;
For once they used it at less secret gate,
Which finds itself without a fastening still.

O’er it didst thou behold the dead inscription;
And now this side of it descends the steep,
Passing across the circles without escort,

One by whose means the city shall be opened.”

I say, continuing, that long before
we two had reached the foot of that tall tower,
our eyes had risen upward, toward its summit,

because of two small flames that flickered there,
while still another flame returned their signal,
so far off it was scarcely visible.

And I turned toward the sea of all good sense;
I said: “What does this mean? And what reply
comes from that other fire? Who kindled it?”

And he to me: “Above the filthy waters
you can already see what waits for us,
if it’s not hid by vapors from the marsh.”

Bowstring has not thrust from itself an arrow
that ever rushed as swiftly through the air
as did the little bark that at that moment

I saw as it skimmed toward us on the water,
a solitary boatman at its helm.
I heard him howl: “Now you are caught, foul soul!”

“O Phlegyas, Phlegyas, such a shout is useless
this time,” my master said; “we’re yours no longer
than it will take to cross the muddy sluice.”

And just as one who hears some great deception
was done to him, and then resents it, so
was Phlegyas when he had to store his anger.

My guide preceded me into the boat.
Once he was in, he had me follow him;
there seemed to be no weight until I boarded.

No sooner were my guide and I embarked
than off that ancient prow went, cutting water
more deeply than it does when bearing others.

And while we steered across the stagnant channel,
before me stood a sinner thick with mud,
saying: “Who are you, come before your time?”

And I to him: “I’ve come, but I don’t stay;
but who are you, who have become so ugly?”
He answered: “You can see—I’m one who weeps.”

And I to him: “In weeping and in grieving,
accursed spirit, may you long remain;
though you’re disguised by filth, I know your name.”

Then he stretched both his hands out toward the boat,
at which my master quickly shoved him back,
saying: “Be off there with the other dogs!”

That done, he threw his arms around my neck
and kissed my face and said: “Indignant soul,
blessed is she who bore you in her womb!

When in the world, he was presumptuous;
there is no good to gild his memory,
and so his shade down here is hot with fury.

How many up above now count themselves
great kings, who’ll wallow here like pigs in slime,
leaving behind foul memories of their crimes!”

And I: “O master, I am very eager
to see that spirit soused within this broth
before we’ve made our way across the lake.”

And he to me: “Before the other shore
comes into view, you shall be satisfied;
to gratify so fine a wish is right.”

Soon after I had heard these words, I saw
the muddy sinners so dismember him
that even now I praise and thank God for it.

They all were shouting: “At Filippo Argenti!”
At this, the Florentine, gone wild with spleen,
began to turn his teeth against himself.

We left him there; I tell no more of him.
But in my ears so loud a wailing pounded
that I lean forward, all intent to see.

The kindly master said: “My son, the city
that bears the name of Dis is drawing near,
with its grave citizens, its great battalions.”

I said: “I can already see distinctly—
master—the mosques that gleam within the valley,
as crimson as if they had just been drawn

out of the fire.” He told me: “The eternal
flame burning there appears to make them red,
as you can see, within this lower Hell.”

So we arrived inside the deep—cut trenches
that are the moats of this despondent land:
the ramparts seemed to me to be of iron.

But not before we’d ranged in a wide circuit
did we approach a place where that shrill pilot
shouted: “Get out; the entrance way is here.”

About the gates I saw more than a thousand—
who once had rained from Heaven—and they cried
in anger: “Who is this who, without death,

can journey through the kingdom of the dead?”
And my wise master made a sign that said
he wanted to speak secretly to them.

Then they suppressed-somewhat-their great disdain
and said: “You come alone; let him be gone—
for he was reckless, entering this realm.

Let him return alone on his mad road—
or try to, if he can, since you, his guide
across so dark a land, you are to stay.”

Consider, reader, my dismay before
the sound of those abominable words:
returning here seemed so impossible.

“O my dear guide, who more than seven times
has given back to me my confidence
and snatched me from deep danger that had menaced,

do not desert me when I’m so undone;
and if they will not let us pass beyond,
let us retrace our steps together, quickly.”

These were my words; the lord who’d led me there
replied: “Forget your fear, no one can hinder
our passage; One so great has granted it.

But you wait here for me, and feed and comfort
your tired spirit with good hope, for I
will not abandon you in this low world.”

So he goes on his way; that gentle father
has left me there to wait and hesitate,
for yes and no contend within my head.

I could not hear what he was telling them;
but he had not been long with them when each
ran back into the city, scrambling fast.

And these, our adversaries, slammed the gates
in my lord’s face; and he remained outside,
then, with slow steps, turned back again to me.

His eyes turned to the ground, his brows deprived
of every confidence, he said with sighs:
“See who has kept me from the house of sorrow!’

To me he added: “You—though I am vexed—
must not be daunted; I shall win this contest,
whoever tries—within—to block our way.

This insolence of theirs is nothing new;
they used it once before and at a gate
less secret—it is still without its bolts—

the place where you made out the fatal text;
and now, already well within that gate,
across the circles—and alone—descends

the one who will unlock this realm for us.”

I SAY, continuing, that long before
We to the foot of that high tower had come,
Our eyes went upward to the summit of it,

By reason of two flamelets we saw placed there,
And from afar another answer them,
So far, that hardly could the eye attain it.

And, to the sea of all discernment turned,
I said: “What sayeth this, and what respondeth
That other fire ? and who are they that made it?”

And he to me: “Across the turbid waves
What is expected thou canst now discern,
If reek of the morass conceal it not.”

Cord never shot an arrow from itself
That sped away athwart the air so swift,
As I beheld a very little boat

Come o’er the water tow’rds us at that moment,
Under the guidance of a single pilot,
Who shouted, “Now art thou arrived, fell soul ?”

“Phlegyas, Phlegyas, thou criest out in vain
For this once,” said my Lord; “thou shalt not have
Longer than in the passing of the slough.”

As he who listens to some great deceit
That has been done to him, and then resents it,
Such became Phlegyas, in his gathered wrath.

My Guide descended down into the boat,
And then he made me enter after him,
And only when I entered seemed it laden.

Soon as the Guide and I were in the boat,
The antique prow goes on its way, dividing
More of the water than ’tis wont with others.

While we were running through the dead canal,
Uprose in front of me one full of mire,
And said, “Who ‘rt thou that comest ere the hour ?”

And I to him: “Although I come, I stay not;
But who art thou that hast become so squalid ?”
“Thou seest that I am one who weeps,” he answered.

And I to him: “With weeping and with wailing,
Thou spirit maledict, do thou remain;
For thee I know, though thou art all defiled.”

Then stretched he both his hands unto the boat;
Whereat my wary Master thrust him back,
Saying, “Away there with the other dogs !”

Thereafter with his arms he clasped my neck;
He kissed my face, and said: “Disdainful soul,
Blessed be she who bore thee in her bosom.

That was an arrogant person in the world;
Goodness is none, that decks his memory;
So likewise here his shade is furious.

How many are esteemed great kings up there,
Who here shall be like unto swine in mire,
Leaving behind them horrible dispraises !”

And I: “My Master, much should I be pleased,
If I could see him soused into this broth,
Before we issue forth out of the lake.”

And he to me: “Ere unto thee the shore
Reveal itself, thou shalt be satisfied;
Such a desire ’tis meet thou shouldst enjoy.”

A little after that, I saw such havoc
Made of him by the people of the mire,
That still I praise and thank my God for it.

They all were shouting, “At Philippo Argenti !”
And that exasperate spirit Florentine
Turned round upon himself with his own teeth.

We left him there, and more of him I tell not;
But on mine ears there smote a lamentation,
Whence forward I intent unbar mine eyes.

And the good Master said: “Even now, my Son,
The city draweth near whose name is Dis,
With the grave citizens, with the great throng.”

And I: “Its mosques already, Master, clearly
Within there in the valley I discern
Vermilion, as if issuing from the fire

They were.” And he to me: “The fire eternal
That kindles them within makes them look red,
As thou beholdest in this nether Hell.”

Then we arrived within the moats profound,
That circumvallate that disconsolate city;
The walls appeared to me to be of iron.

Not without making first a circuit wide,
We came unto a place where loud the pilot
Cried out to us, “Debark, here is the entrance.”

More than a thousand at the gates I saw
Out of the Heavens rained down, who angrily
Were saying, “Who is this that without death

Goes through the kingdom of the people dead ?”
And my sagacious Master made a sign
Of wishing secretly to speak with them.

A little then they quelled their great disdain,
And said: “Come thou alone, and he begone
Who has so boldly entered these dominions.

Let him return alone by his mad road;
Try, if he can; for thou shalt here remain,
Who hast escorted him through such dark regions.”

Think, Reader, if I was discomforted
At utterance of the accursed words;
For never to return here I believed.

“O my dear Guide, who more than seven times
Hast rendered me security, and drawn me
From imminent peril that before me stood,

Do not desert me,” said I, “thus undone;
And if the going farther be denied us,
Let us retrace our steps together swiftly.”

And that Lord, who had led me thitherward,
Said unto me: “Fear not; because our passage
None can take from us, it by Such is given.

But here await me, and thy weary spirit
Comfort and nourish with a better hope;
For in this nether world I will not leave thee.”

So onward goes and there abandons me
My Father sweet, and I remain in doubt,
For No and Yes within my head contend.

I could not hear what he proposed to them;
But with them there he did not linger long,
Ere each within in rivalry ran back.

They closed the portals, those our adversaries,
On my Lord’s breast, who had remained without
And turned to me with footsteps far between.

His eyes cast down, his forehead shorn had he
Of all its boldness, and he said, with sighs,
“Who has denied to me the dolesome houses ?”

And unto me: “Thou, because I am angry,
Fear not, for I will conquer in the trial,
Whatever for defence within be planned.

This arrogance of theirs is nothing new;
For once they used it at less secret gate,
Which finds itself without a fastening still.

O’er it didst thou behold the dead inscription;
And now this side of it descends the steep,
Passing across the circles without escort,

One by whose means the city shall be opened.”

Reading by Francesco Bausi: Inferno 8

For more readings by Francesco Bausi, see the Bausi Readings page.