Canto VI

When I regained my senses, which had fled
At my compassion for the kindred two,
Which for pure sorrow quite had turned my head,
New torments and a crowd of sufferers new
I see around me as I move again,[274]
Where'er I turn, where'er I bend my view.
In the Third Circle am I of the rain
Which, heavy, cold, eternal, big with woe,
Doth always of one kind and force remain.
Large hail and turbid water, mixed with snow,
Keep pouring down athwart the murky air;
And from the ground they fall on, stenches grow.

The savage Cerberus,[275] a monster drear,
Howls from his threefold throat with canine cries
Above the people who are whelmèd there.
Oily and black his beard, and red his eyes,
His belly huge: claws from his fingers sprout.
The shades he flays, hooks, rends in cruel wise.
Beat by the rain these, dog-like, yelp and shout,
And shield themselves in turn with either side;
And oft[276] the wretched sinners turn about.
When we by Cerberus, great worm,[277] were spied,
He oped his mouths and all his fangs he showed,
While not a limb did motionless abide.
My Leader having spread his hands abroad,
Filled both his fists with earth ta'en from the ground,
And down the ravening gullets flung the load.

Then, as sharp set with hunger barks the hound,
But is appeased when at his meat he gnaws,
And, worrying it, forgets all else around;
So with those filthy faces there it was
Of the fiend Cerberus, who deafs the crowd
Of souls till they from hearing fain would pause.
We, travelling o'er the spirits who lay cowed
And sorely by the grievous showers harassed,
Upon their semblances[278] of bodies trod.
Prone on the ground the whole of them were cast,
Save one of them who sat upright with speed
When he beheld that near to him we passed.
'O thou who art through this Inferno led,[279]
Me if thou canst,' he asked me, 'recognise;
For ere I was dismantled thou wast made.'
And I to him: 'Thy present tortured guise
Perchance hath blurred my memory of thy face,
Until it seems I ne'er on thee set eyes.

But tell me who thou art, within this place
So cruel set, exposed to such a pain,
Than which, if greater, none has more disgrace.'
And he: 'Thy city, swelling with the bane
Of envy till the sack is running o'er,
Me in the life serene did once contain.
As Ciacco[280] me your citizens named of yore;
And for the damning sin of gluttony
I, as thou seest, am beaten by this shower.
No solitary woful soul am I,
For all of these endure the selfsame doom
For the same fault.' Here ended his reply.
I answered him, 'O Ciacco, with such gloom
Thy misery weighs me, I to weep am prone;
But, if thou canst, declare to what shall come
The citizens[281] of the divided town.

Holds it one just man? And declare the cause
Why 'tis of discord such a victim grown.'
Then he to me: 'After[282] contentious pause
Blood will be spilt; the boorish party[283] then
Will chase the others forth with grievous loss.
The former it behoves to fall again
Within three suns, the others to ascend,
Holpen[284] by him whose wiles ere now are plain.
Long time, with heads held high, they'll make to bend
The other party under burdens dire,
Howe'er themselves in tears and rage they spend.
There are two just[285] men, at whom none inquire.

Envy, and pride, and avarice, even these
Are the three sparks have set all hearts on fire.'
With this the tearful sound he made to cease:
And I to him, 'Yet would I have thee tell--
And of thy speech do thou the gift increase--
Tegghiaio[286] and Farinata, honourable,
James Rusticucci,[287] Mosca, Arrigo,
With all the rest so studious to excel
In good; where are they? Help me this to know;
Great hunger for the news hath seizèd me;
Delights them Heaven, or tortures Hell below?'
He said: 'Among the blackest souls they be;
Them to the bottom weighs another sin.
Shouldst thou so far descend, thou mayst them see.
But when[288] the sweet world thou again dost win,
I pray thee bring me among men to mind;
No more I tell, nor new reply begin.'
Then his straightforward eyes askance declined;
He looked at me a moment ere his head
He bowed; then fell flat 'mong the other blind.
'Henceforth he waketh not,' my Leader said,
'Till he shall hear the angel's trumpet sound,
Ushering the hostile Judge. By every shade
Its dismal sepulchre shall then be found,
Its flesh and ancient form it shall resume,
And list[289] what echoes in eternal round.'
So passed we where the shades and rainy spume
Made filthy mixture, with steps taken slow;
Touching a little on the world to come.[290]
Wherefore I said: 'Master, shall torments grow
After the awful sentence hath been heard,
Or lesser prove and not so fiercely glow?'
'Repair unto thy Science,'[291] was his word;
'Which tells, as things approach a perfect state
To keener joy or suffering they are stirred.

Therefore although this people cursed by fate
Ne'er find perfection in its full extent,
To it they then shall more approximate
Than now.'[292] Our course we round the circle bent,
Still holding speech, of which I nothing say,
Until we came where down the pathway went:
There found we Plutus, the great enemy.


[274] _As I move again_: In his swoon he has been conveyed from the
Second Circle down to the Third.

[275] _Cerberus_: In the Greek mythology Cerberus is the watch-dog of
the under world. By Dante he is converted into a demon, and with his
three throats, canine voracity, and ugly inflamed bulk, is appropriately
set to guard the entrance to the circle of the gluttonous and

[276] _And oft, etc._: On entering the circle the shades are seized and
torn by Cerberus; once over-nice in how they fed, they are now treated
as if they were food for dogs. But their enduring pain is to be
subjected to every kind of physical discomfort. Their senses of hearing,
touch, and smell are assailed by the opposite of what they were most
used to enjoy at their luxurious feasts.

[277] _Great worm_: Though human in a monstrous form, Cerberus is so
called as being a disgusting brute.

[278] _Semblances, etc._: 'Emptiness which seems to be a person.' To
this conception of the shades as only seeming to have bodies, Dante has
difficulty in remaining true. For instance, at line 101 they mix with
the sleet to make a sludgy mass; and cannot therefore be impalpable.

[279] Ciacco at once perceives by the weight of Dante's tread that he is
a living man.

[280] _Ciacco_: The name or nickname of a Florentine wit, and, in his
day, a great diner-out. Boccaccio, in his commentary, says that, though
poor, Ciacco associated with men of birth and wealth, especially such as
ate and drank delicately. In the _Decameron_, ix. 8, he is introduced as
being on such terms with the great Corso Donati as to be able to propose
himself to dinner with him. Clearly he was not a bad fellow, and his
pitiful case, perhaps contrasted with the high spirits and jovial
surroundings in which he was last met by Dante, almost, though not
quite, win a tear from the stern pilgrim.

[281] _The citizens, etc._: Dante eagerly confers on Florentine politics
with the first Florentine he encounters in Inferno.

[282] _After, etc._: In the following nine lines the party history of
Florence for two years after the period of the poem (March 1300) is
roughly indicated. The city was divided into two factions--the Whites,
led by the great merchant Vieri dei Cerchi, and the Blacks, led by Corso
Donati, a poor and turbulent noble. At the close of 1300 there was a
bloody encounter between the more violent members of the two parties. In
May 1301 the Blacks were banished. In the autumn of that year they
returned in triumph to the city in the train of Charles of Valois, and
got the Whites banished in April 1302, within three years, that is, of
the poet's talk with Ciacco. Dante himself was associated with the
Whites, but not as a violent partisan; for though he was a strong
politician no party quite answered his views. From the middle of June
till the middle of August 1300 he was one of the Priors. In the course
of 1301 he is believed to have gone on an embassy to Rome to persuade
the Pope to abstain from meddling in Florentine affairs. He never
entered Florence again, being condemned virtually to banishment in
January 1302.

[283] _The boorish party_: _la parte selvaggia_. The Whites; but what is
exactly meant by _selvaggia_ is not clear. Literally it is 'woodland,'
and some say it refers to the Cerchi having originally come from a
well-wooded district; which is absurd. Nor, taking the word in its
secondary meaning of savage, does it apply better to one party than
another--not so well, perhaps, to the Whites as to the Blacks. Villani
also terms the Cerchi _salvatichi_ (viii. 39), and in a connection where
it may mean rude, ill-mannered. I take it that Dante here indulges in a
gibe at the party to which he once belonged, but which, ere he began the
_Comedy_, he had quite broken with. In _Parad._ xvii. 62 he terms the
members of it 'wicked and stupid.' The sneer in the text would come well
enough from the witty and soft-living Ciacco.

[284] _Holpen, etc._: Pope Boniface, already intriguing to gain the
preponderance in Florence, which for a time he enjoyed, with the greedy
and faithless Charles of Valois for his agent.

[285] _Two just_: Dante and another, unknown. He thus distinctly puts
from himself any blame for the evil turn things had taken in Florence.
How thoroughly he had broken with his party ere he wrote this is proved
by his exclusion of the irresolute but respectable Vieri dei Cerchi from
the number of the just men. He, in Dante's judgment, was only too much
listened to.--It will be borne in mind that, at the time assigned to the
action of the _Comedy_, Dante was still resident in Florence.

[286] _Tegghiaio_: See _Inf._ xvi. 42. _Farinata_: _Inf._ x. 32.

[287] _Rusticucci_: _Inf._ xvi. 44. _Mosca_: _Inf._ xxviii. 106.
_Arrigo_: Cannot be identified. All these distinguished Florentines we
may assume to have been hospitable patrons of Ciacco's.

[288] _But when, etc._: In the Inferno many such prayers are addressed
to Dante. The shades in Purgatory ask to have their friends on earth
stirred to offer up petitions for their speedy purification and
deliverance; but the only alleviation possible for the doomed spirits is
to know that they are not yet forgotten up in the 'sweet world.' A
double artistic purpose is served by representing them as feeling thus.
It relieves the mind to think that in such misery there is any source of
comfort at all. And by making them be still interested on their own
account in the thoughts of men, the eager colloquies in which they
engage with Dante on such unequal terms gain in verisimilitude.

[289] _And list, etc._: The final sentence against them is to echo, in
its results, through all eternity.

[290] _The world to come_: The life after doomsday.

[291] _Thy Science_: To Aristotle. In the _Convito_, iv. 16, he quotes
'the Philosopher' as teaching that 'everything is then at its full
perfection when it thoroughly fulfils its special functions.'

[292] _Than now_: Augustine says that 'after the resurrection of the
flesh the joys of the blessed and the sufferings of the wicked will be
enhanced.' And, according to Thomas Aquinas, 'the soul, without the
body, is wanting in the perfection designed for it by Nature.'