Canto XII

The place of our descent[392] before us lay
Precipitous, and there was something more
From sight of which all eyes had turned away.

As at the ruin which upon the shore
Of Adige[393] fell upon this side of Trent--
Through earthquake or by slip of what before
Upheld it--from the summit whence it went
Far as the plain, the shattered rocks supply
Some sort of foothold to who makes descent;
Such was the passage down the precipice high.
And on the riven gully's very brow
Lay spread at large the Cretan Infamy[394]
Which was conceived in the pretended cow.
Us when he saw, he bit himself for rage
Like one whose anger gnaws him through and through.
'Perhaps thou deemest,' called to him the Sage,
'This is the Duke of Athens[395] drawing nigh,
Who war to the death with thee on earth did wage.

Begone, thou brute, for this one passing by
Untutored by thy sister has thee found,
And only comes thy sufferings to spy,'
And as the bull which snaps what held it bound
On being smitten by the fatal blow,
Halts in its course, and reels upon the ground,
The Minotaur I saw reel to and fro;
And he, the alert, cried: 'To the passage haste;
While yet he chafes 'twere well thou down shouldst go.'
So we descended by the slippery waste[396]
Of shivered stones which many a time gave way
'Neath the new weight[397] my feet upon them placed.
I musing went; and he began to say:
'Perchance this ruined slope thou thinkest on,
Watched by the brute rage I did now allay.
But I would have thee know, when I came down
The former time[398] into this lower Hell,
The cliff had not this ruin undergone.
It was not long, if I distinguish well,
Ere He appeared who wrenched great prey from Dis[399]
From out the upmost circle. Trembling fell
Through all its parts the nauseous abyss
With such a violence, the world, I thought,
Was stirred by love; for, as they say, by this
She back to Chaos[400] has been often brought.

And then it was this ancient rampart strong
Was shattered here and at another spot.[401]
But toward the valley look. We come ere long
Down to the river of blood[402] where boiling lie
All who by violence work others wrong.'
O insane rage! O blind cupidity!
By which in our brief life we are so spurred,
Ere downward plunged in evil case for aye!
An ample ditch I now beheld engird
And sweep in circle all around the plain,
As from my Escort I had lately heard.
Between this and the rock in single train
Centaurs[403] were running who were armed with bows,
As if they hunted on the earth again.
Observing us descend they all stood close,
Save three of them who parted from the band
With bow, and arrows they in coming chose.
'What torment,' from afar one made demand,
'Come ye to share, who now descend the hill?
I shoot unless ye answer whence ye stand.'
My Master said: 'We yield no answer till
We come to Chiron[404] standing at thy side;
But thy quick temper always served thee ill.'
Then touching me: ''Tis Nessus;[405] he who died
With love for beauteous Dejanire possessed,
And who himself his own vendetta plied.

He in the middle, staring on his breast,
Is mighty Chiron, who Achilles bred;
And next the wrathful Pholus. They invest
The fosse and in their thousands round it tread,
Shooting whoever from the blood shall lift,
More than his crime allows, his guilty head.'
As we moved nearer to those creatures swift
Chiron drew forth a shaft and dressed his beard
Back on his jaws, using the arrow's cleft.
And when his ample mouth of hair was cleared,
He said to his companions: 'Have ye seen
The things the second touches straight are stirred,
As they by feet of shades could ne'er have been?'
And my good Guide, who to his breast had gone--
The part where join the natures,[406] 'Well I ween
He lives,' made answer; 'and if, thus alone,
He seeks the valley dim 'neath my control,
Necessity, not pleasure, leads him on.
One came from where the alleluiahs roll,
Who charged me with this office strange and new:
No robber he, nor mine a felon soul.
But, by that Power which makes me to pursue
The rugged journey whereupon I fare,
Accord us one of thine to keep in view,
That he may show where lies the ford, and bear
This other on his back to yonder strand;
No spirit he, that he should cleave the air.'
Wheeled to the right then Chiron gave command
To Nessus: 'Turn, and lead them, and take tent
They be not touched by any other band.'[407]
We with our trusty Escort forward went,
Threading the margin of the boiling blood
Where they who seethed were raising loud lament.

People I saw up to the chin imbrued,
'These all are tyrants,' the great Centaur said,
'Who blood and plunder for their trade pursued.
Here for their pitiless deeds tears now are shed
By Alexander,[408] and Dionysius fell,
Through whom in Sicily dolorous years were led.
The forehead with black hair so terrible
Is Ezzelino;[409] that one blond of hue,
Obizzo[410] d'Este, whom, as rumours tell,
His stepson murdered, and report speaks true.'
I to the Poet turned, who gave command:
'Regard thou chiefly him. I follow you.'
Ere long the Centaur halted on the strand,
Close to a people who, far as the throat,
Forth of that bulicamë[411] seemed to stand.
Thence a lone shade to us he pointed out
Saying: 'In God's house[412] ran he weapon through
The heart which still on Thames wins cult devout.'
Then I saw people, some with heads in view,
And some their chests above the river bore;
And many of them I, beholding, knew.

And thus the blood went dwindling more and more,
Until at last it covered but the feet:
Here took we passage[413] to the other shore.
'As on this hand thou seest still abate
In depth the volume of the boiling stream,'
The Centaur said, 'so grows its depth more great,
Believe me, towards the opposite extreme,
Until again its circling course attains
The place where tyrants must lament. Supreme
Justice upon that side involves in pains,
With Attila,[414] once of the world the pest,
Pyrrhus[415] and Sextus: and for ever drains
Tears out of Rinier of Corneto[416] pressed
And Rinier Pazzo[417] in that boiling mass,
Whose brigandage did so the roads infest.'
Then turned he back alone, the ford to pass.


[392] _Our descent_: To the Seventh Circle.

[393] _Adige_: Different localities in the valley of the Adige have been
fixed on as the scene of this landslip. The Lavini di Marco, about
twenty miles south of Trent, seem best to answer to the description.

They 'consist of black blocks of stone and fragments of a landslip
which, according to the Chronicle of Fulda, fell in the year 883 and
overwhelmed the valley for four Italian miles' (Gsell-Fels, _Ober.
Ital._ i. 35).

[394] _The Cretan Infamy_: The Minotaur, the offspring of Pasiphaë; a
half-bovine monster who inhabited the Cretan labyrinth, and to whom a
human victim was offered once a year. He lies as guard upon the Seventh
Circle--that of the violent (_Inf._ xi. 23, _note_)--and is set at the
top of the rugged slope, itself the scene of a violent convulsion.

[395] _Duke of Athens_: Theseus, instructed by Ariadne, daughter of
Pasiphaë and Minos, how to outwit the Minotaur, entered the labyrinth in
the character of a victim, slew the monster, and then made his way out,
guided by a thread he had unwound as he went in.

[396] _The slippery waste_: The word used here, _scarco_, means in
modern Tuscan a place where earth or stones have been carelessly shot
into a heap.

[397] _The new weight_: The slope had never before been trodden by
mortal foot.

[398] _The former time_: When Virgil descended to evoke a shade from the
Ninth Circle (_Inf._ ix. 22).

[399] _Prey from Dis_: The shades delivered from Limbo by Christ (_Inf._
iv. 53). The expression in the text is probably suggested by the words
of the hymn _Vexilla: Prædamque tulit Tartaris_.

[400] _To Chaos_: The reference is to the theory of Empedocles, known to
Dante through the refutation of it by Aristotle. The theory was one of
periods of unity and division in nature, according as love or hatred

[401] _Another spot_: See _Inf._ xxi. 112. The earthquake at the
Crucifixion shook even Inferno to its base.

[402] _The river of blood_: Phlegethon, the 'boiling river.' Styx and
Acheron have been already passed. Lethe, the fourth infernal river, is
placed by Dante in Purgatory. The first round or circlet of the Seventh
Circle is filled by Phlegethon.

[403] _Centaurs_: As this round is the abode of such as are guilty of
violence against their neighbours, it is guarded by these brutal
monsters, half-man and half-horse.

[404] _Chiron_: Called the most just of the Centaurs.

[405] _Nessus_: Slain by Hercules with a poisoned arrow. When dying he
gave Dejanira his blood-stained shirt, telling her it would insure the
faithfulness to her of any whom she loved. Hercules wore it and died of
the venom; and thus Nessus avenged himself.

[406] The natures: The part of the Centaur where the equine body is
joined on to the human neck and head.

[407] _Other band_: Of Centaurs.

[408] _Alexander_: It is not known whether Alexander the Great or a
petty Thessalian tyrant is here meant. _Dionysius_: The cruel tyrant of

[409] _Ezzelino_: Or Azzolino of Romano, the greatest Lombard Ghibeline
of his time. He was son-in-law of Frederick II., and was Imperial Vicar
of the Trevisian Mark. Towards the close of Fredrick's life, and for
some years after, he exercised almost independent power in Vicenza,
Padua, and Verona. Cruelty, erected into a system, was his chief
instrument of government, and 'in his dungeons men found something worse
than death.' For Italians, says Burckhardt, he was the most impressive
political personage of the thirteenth century; and around his memory, as
around Frederick's, there gathered strange legends. He died in 1259, of
a wound received in battle. When urged to confess his sins by the monk
who came to shrive him, he declared that the only sin on his conscience
was negligence in revenge. But this may be mythical, as may also be the
long black hair between his eyebrows, which rose up stiff and terrible
as his anger waxed.

[410] _Obizzo_: The second Marquis of Este of that name. He was lord of
Ferrara. There seems little, if any, evidence extant of his being
specially cruel. As a strong Guelf he took sides with Charles of Anjou
against Manfred. He died in 1293, smothered, it was believed, by a son,
here called a stepson for his unnatural conduct. But though Dante
vouches for the truth of the rumour it seems to have been an invention.

[411] _That bulicamë_: The stream of boiling blood is probably named
from the bulicamë, or hot spring, best known to Dante--that near Viterbo
(see _Inf._ xiv. 79). And it may be that the mention of the bulicamë
suggests the reference at line 119.

[412] _In God's house_: Literally, 'In the bosom of God.' The shade is
that of Guy, son of Simon of Montfort and Vicar in Tuscany of Charles of
Anjou. In 1271 he stabbed, in the Cathedral of Viterbo, Henry, son of
Richard of Cornwall and cousin of Edward I. of England. The motive of
the murder was to revenge the death of his father, Simon, at Evesham.
The body of the young prince was conveyed to England, and the heart was
placed in a vase upon the tomb of the Confessor. The shade of Guy stands
up to the chin in blood among the worst of the tyrants, and alone,
because of the enormity of his crime.

[413] _Here took we passage_: Dante on Nessus' back. Virgil has fallen
behind to allow the Centaur to act as guide; and how he crosses the
stream Dante does not see.

[414] _Attila_: King of the Huns, who invaded part of Italy in the fifth
century; and who, according to the mistaken belief of Dante's age, was
the devastator of Florence.

[415] _Pyrrhus_: King of Epirus. _Sextus_: Son of Pompey; a great
sea-captain who fought against the Triumvirs. The crime of the first, in
Dante's eyes, is that he fought with Rome; of the second, that he
opposed Augustus.

[416] _Rinier of Corneto_: Who in Dante's time disturbed the coast of
the States of the Church by his robberies and violence.

[417] _Rinier Pazzo_: Of the great family of the Pazzi of Val d'Arno,
was excommunicated in 1269 for robbing ecclesiastics.