Canto XI

We at the margin of a lofty steep
Made of great shattered stones in circle bent,
Arrived where worser torments crowd the deep.
So horrible a stench and violent
Was upward wafted from the vast abyss,[375]
Behind the cover we for shelter went
Of a great tomb where I saw written this:
'Pope Anastasius[376] is within me thrust,
Whom the straight way Photinus made to miss.'
'Now on our course a while we linger must,'
The Master said, 'be but our sense resigned
A little to it, and the filthy gust
We shall not heed.' Then I: 'Do thou but find
Some compensation lest our time should run
Wasted.' And he: 'Behold, 'twas in my mind.
Girt by the rocks before us, O my son,
Lie three small circles,'[377] he began to tell,
'Graded like those with which thou now hast done,
All of them filled with spirits miserable.
That sight[378] of them may thee henceforth suffice.

Hear how and wherefore in these groups they dwell.
Whate'er in Heaven's abhorred as wickedness
Has injury[379] for its end; in others' bane
By fraud resulting or in violent wise.
Since fraud to man alone[380] doth appertain,
God hates it most; and hence the fraudulent band,
Set lowest down, endure a fiercer pain.
Of the violent is the circle next at hand
To us; and since three ways is violence shown,
'Tis in three several circuits built and planned.

To God, ourselves, or neighbours may be done
Violence, or on the things by them possessed;
As reasoning clear shall unto thee make known.
Our neighbour may by violence be distressed
With grievous wounds, or slain; his goods and lands
By havoc, fire, and plunder be oppressed.
Hence those who wound and slay with violent hands,
Robbers, and spoilers, in the nearest round
Are all tormented in their various bands.
Violent against himself may man be found,
And 'gainst his goods; therefore without avail
They in the next are in repentance drowned
Who on themselves loss of your world entail,
Who gamble[381] and their substance madly spend,
And who when called to joy lament and wail.

And even to God may violence extend
By heart denial and by blasphemy,
Scorning what nature doth in bounty lend.
Sodom and Cahors[382] hence are doomed to lie
Within the narrowest circlet surely sealed;
And such as God within their hearts defy.
Fraud,[383] 'gainst whose bite no conscience findeth shield,
A man may use with one who in him lays
Trust, or with those who no such credence yield.
Beneath this latter kind of it decays
The bond of love which out of nature grew;
Hence, in the second circle[384] herd the race
To feigning given and flattery, who pursue
Magic, false coining, theft, and simony,
Pimps, barrators, and suchlike residue.

The other form of fraud makes nullity
Of natural bonds; and, what is more than those,
The special trust whence men on men rely.
Hence in the place whereon all things repose,
The narrowest circle and the seat of Dis,[385]
Each traitor's gulfed in everlasting woes.'
'Thy explanation, Master, as to this
Is clear,' I said, 'and thou hast plainly told
Who are the people stowed in the abyss.
But tell why those the muddy marshes hold,
The tempest-driven, those beaten by the rain,
And such as, meeting, virulently scold,
Are not within the crimson city ta'en
For punishment, if hateful unto God;
And, if not hateful, wherefore doomed to pain?'
And he to me: 'Why wander thus abroad,
More than is wont, thy wits? or how engrossed
Is now thy mind, and on what things bestowed?
Hast thou the memory of the passage lost
In which thy Ethics[386] for their subject treat
Of the three moods by Heaven abhorred the most--
Malice and bestiality complete;
And how, compared with these, incontinence
Offends God less, and lesser blame doth meet?
If of this doctrine thou extract the sense,
And call to memory what people are
Above, outside, in endless penitence,
Why from these guilty they are sundered far
Thou shalt discern, and why on them alight
The strokes of justice in less angry war.'
'O Sun that clearest every troubled sight,
So charmed am I by thy resolving speech,
Doubt yields me joy no less than knowing right.
Therefore, I pray, a little backward reach,'
I asked, 'to where thou say'st that usury
Sins 'gainst God's bounty; and this mystery teach.'
He said: 'Who gives ear to Philosophy
Is taught by her, nor in one place alone,
What nature in her course is governed by,
Even Mind Divine, and art which thence hath grown;
And if thy Physics[387] thou wilt search within,
Thou'lt find ere many leaves are open thrown,
This art by yours, far as your art can win,
Is followed close--the teacher by the taught;
As grandchild then to God your art is kin.

And from these two--do thou recall to thought
How Genesis[388] begins--should come supplies
Of food for man, and other wealth be sought.
And, since another plan the usurer plies,
Nature and nature's child have his disdain;[389]
Because on other ground his hope relies.
But come,[390] for to advance I now am fain:
The Fishes[391] over the horizon line
Quiver; o'er Caurus now stands all the Wain;
And further yonder does the cliff decline.'


[375] _Vast abyss_: They are now at the inner side of the Sixth Circle,
and upon the verge of the rocky steep which slopes down from it into the
Seventh. All the lower Hell lies beneath them, and it is from that
rather than from the next circle in particular that the stench arises,
symbolical of the foulness of the sins which are punished there. The
noisome smells which make part of the horror of Inferno are after this
sometimes mentioned, but never dwelt upon (_Inf._ xviii. 106, and xxix.

[376] _Pope Anastasius_: The second of the name, elected Pope in 496.
Photinus, bishop of Sirenium, was infected with the Sabellian heresy,
but he was deposed more than a century before the time of Anastasius.
Dante follows some obscure legend in charging Anastasius with heresy.
The important point is that the one heretic, in the sense usually
attached to the term, named as being in the city of unbelief, is a Pope.

[377] _Three small circles_: The Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth; small in
circumference compared with those above. The pilgrims are now deep in
the hollow cone.

[378] _That sight, etc._: After hearing the following explanation Dante
no longer asks to what classes the sinners met with belong, but only as
to the guilt of individual shades.

[379] _Injury_: They have left above them the circles of those whose sin
consists in the exaggeration or misdirection of a wholesome natural
instinct. Below them lie the circles filled with such as have been
guilty of malicious wickedness. This manifests itself in two ways: by
violence or by fraud. After first mentioning in a general way that the
fraudulent are set lowest in Inferno, Virgil proceeds to define
violence, and to tell how the violent occupy the circle immediately
beneath them--the Seventh. For division of the maliciously wicked into
two classes Dante is supposed to be indebted to Cicero: 'Injury may be
wrought by force or by fraud.... Both are unnatural for man, but fraud
is the more hateful.'--_De Officiis_, i. 13. It is remarkable that
Virgil says nothing of those in the Sixth Circle in this account of the
classes of sinners.

[380] _To man alone, etc._: Fraud involves the corrupt use of the powers
that distinguish us from the brutes.

[381] _Who gamble, etc._: A different sin from the lavish spending
punished in the Fourth Circle (_Inf._ vii.). The distinction is that
between thriftlessness and the prodigality which, stripping a man of the
means of living, disgusts him with life, as described in the following
line. It is from among prodigals that the ranks of suicides are greatly
filled, and here they are appropriately placed together. It may seem
strange that in his classification of guilt Dante should rank violence
to one's self as a more heinous sin than that committed against one's
neighbour. He may have in view the fact that none harm their neighbours
so much as they who are oblivious of their own true interest.

[382] _Sodom and Cahors_: Sins against nature are reckoned sins against
God, as explained lower down in this Canto. Cahors in Languedoc had in
the Middle Ages the reputation of being a nest of usurers. These in old
English Chronicles are termed Caorsins. With the sins of Sodom and
Cahors are ranked the denial of God and blasphemy against Him--deeper
sins than the erroneous conceptions of the Divine nature and government
punished in the Sixth Circle. The three concentric rings composing the
Seventh Circle are all on the same level, as we shall find.

[383] _Fraud, etc._: Fraud is of such a nature that conscience never
fails to give due warning against the sin. This is an aggravation of the
guilt of it.

[384] _The second circle_: The second now beneath them; that is, the

[385] _Seat of Dis_: The Ninth and last Circle.

[386] _Thy Ethics_: The Ethics of Aristotle, in which it is said: 'With
regard to manners, these three things are to be eschewed: incontinence,
vice, and bestiality.' Aristotle holds incontinence to consist in the
immoderate indulgence of propensities which under right guidance are
adapted to promote lawful pleasure. It is, generally speaking, the sin
of which those about whom Dante has inquired were guilty.--It has been
ingeniously sought by Philalethes (_Gött. Com._) to show that Virgil's
disquisition is founded on this threefold classification of
Aristotle's--violence being taken to be the same as bestiality, and
malice as vice. But the reference to Aristotle is made with the limited
purpose of justifying the lenient treatment of incontinence; in the same
way as a few lines further on Genesis is referred to in support of the
harsh treatment of usury.

[387] _Physics_: The Physics of Aristotle, in which it is said: 'Art
imitates nature.' Art includes handicrafts.

[388] _Genesis_: 'And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the
garden to dress it and to keep it.' 'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou
eat bread.'

[389] _His disdain_: The usurer seeks to get wealth independently of
honest labour or reliance on the processes of nature. This far-fetched
argument against usury closes one of the most arid passages of the
_Comedy_. The shortness of the Canto almost suggests that Dante had
himself got weary of it.

[390] _But come, etc._: They have been all this time resting behind the
lid of the tomb.

[391] _The Fishes, etc._: The sun being now in Aries the stars of Pisces
begin to rise about a couple of hours before sunrise. The Great Bear
lies above Caurus, the quarter of the N.N.W. wind. It seems impossible
to harmonise the astronomical indications scattered throughout the
_Comedy_, there being traces of Dante's having sometimes used details
belonging rather to the day on which Good Friday fell in 1300, the 8th
of April, than to the (supposed) true anniversary of the crucifixion.
That this, the 25th of March, is the day he intended to conform to
appears from _Inf._ xxi. 112.--The time is now near dawn on the Saturday
morning. It is almost needless to say that Virgil speaks of the stars as
he knows they are placed, but without seeing them. By what light they
see in Inferno is nowhere explained. We have been told that it was dark
as night (_Inf._ iv. 10, v. 28).