Canto XIII

Ere Nessus landed on the other shore
We for our part within a forest[418] drew,
Which of no pathway any traces bore.

Not green the foliage, but of dusky hue;
Not smooth the boughs, but gnarled and twisted round;
For apples, poisonous thorns upon them grew.
No rougher brakes or matted worse are found
Where savage beasts betwixt Corneto[419] roam
And Cecina,[419] abhorring cultured ground.
The loathsome Harpies[420] nestle here at home,
Who from the Strophades the Trojans chased
With dire predictions of a woe to come.
Great winged are they, but human necked and faced,
With feathered belly, and with claw for toe;
They shriek upon the bushes wild and waste.

'Ere passing further, I would have thee know,'
The worthy Master thus began to say,
'Thou'rt in the second round, nor hence shalt go
Till by the horrid sand thy footsteps stay.
Give then good heed, and things thou'lt recognise
That of my words will prove[421] the verity.'
Wailings on every side I heard arise:
Of who might raise them I distinguished nought;
Whereon I halted, smitten with surprise.
I think he thought that haply 'twas my thought
The voices came from people 'mong the trees,
Who, to escape us, hiding-places sought;
Wherefore the Master said: 'From one of these
Snap thou a twig, and thou shalt understand
How little with thy thought the fact agrees.'
Thereon a little I stretched forth my hand
And plucked a tiny branch from a great thorn.
'Why dost thou tear me?' made the trunk demand.

When dark with blood it had begun to turn,
It cried a second time: 'Why wound me thus?
Doth not a spark of pity in thee burn?
Though trees we be, once men were all of us;
Yet had our souls the souls of serpents been
Thy hand might well have proved more piteous.'
As when the fire hath seized a fagot green
At one extremity, the other sighs,
And wind, escaping, hisses; so was seen,
At where the branch was broken, blood to rise
And words were mixed with it. I dropped the spray
And stood like one whom terror doth surprise.
The Sage replied: 'Soul vexed with injury,
Had he been only able to give trust
To what he read narrated in my lay,[422]
His hand toward thee would never have been thrust.
'Tis hard for faith; and I, to make it plain,
Urged him to trial, mourn it though I must.
But tell him who thou wast; so shall remain
This for amends to thee, thy fame shall blow
Afresh on earth, where he returns again.'
And then the trunk: 'Thy sweet words charm me so,
I cannot dumb remain; nor count it hard
If I some pains upon my speech bestow.

For I am he[423] who held both keys in ward
Of Frederick's heart, and turned them how I would,
And softly oped it, and as softly barred,
Till scarce another in his counsel stood.
To my high office I such loyalty bore,
It cost me sleep and haleness of my blood.
The harlot[424] who removeth nevermore
From Cæsar's house eyes ignorant of shame--
A common curse, of courts the special sore--
Set against me the minds of all aflame,
And these in turn Augustus set on fire,
Till my glad honours bitter woes became.
My soul, filled full with a disdainful ire,
Thinking by means of death disdain to flee,
'Gainst my just self unjustly did conspire.

I swear even by the new roots of this tree
My fealty to my lord I never broke,
For worthy of all honour sure was he.
If one of you return 'mong living folk,
Let him restore my memory, overthrown
And suffering yet because of envy's stroke.'
Still for a while the poet listened on,
Then said: 'Now he is dumb, lose not the hour,
But make request if more thou'dst have made known.'
And I replied: 'Do thou inquire once more
Of what thou thinkest[425] I would gladly know;
I cannot ask; ruth wrings me to the core.'
On this he spake: 'Even as the man shall do,
And liberally, what thou of him hast prayed,
Imprisoned spirit, do thou further show
How with these knots the spirits have been made
Incorporate; and, if thou canst, declare
If from such members e'er is loosed a shade.'
Then from the trunk came vehement puffs of air;
Next, to these words converted was the wind:
'My answer to you shall be short and clear.
When the fierce soul no longer is confined
In flesh, torn thence by action of its own,
To the Seventh Depth by Minos 'tis consigned.
No choice is made of where it shall be thrown
Within the wood; but where by chance 'tis flung
It germinates like seed of spelt that's sown.

A forest tree it grows from sapling young;
Eating its leaves, the Harpies cause it pain,
And open loopholes whence its sighs are wrung.
We for our vestments shall return again
Like others, but in them shall ne'er be clad:[426]
Men justly lose what from themselves they've ta'en.
Dragged hither by us, all throughout the sad
Forest our bodies shall be hung on high;
Each on the thorn of its destructive shade.'
While to the trunk we listening lingered nigh,
Thinking he might proceed to tell us more,
A sudden uproar we were startled by
Like him who, that the huntsman and the boar
To where he stands are sweeping in the chase,
Knows by the crashing trees and brutish roar.
Upon our left we saw a couple race
Naked[427] and scratched; and they so quickly fled
The forest barriers burst before their face.

'Speed to my rescue, death!' the foremost pled.
The next, as wishing he could use more haste;
'Not thus, O Lano,[428] thee thy legs bested
When one at Toppo's tournament thou wast.'
Then, haply wanting breath, aside he stepped,
Merged with a bush on which himself he cast.
Behind them through the forest onward swept
A pack of dogs, black, ravenous, and fleet,
Like greyhounds from their leashes newly slipped.
In him who crouched they made their teeth to meet,
And, having piecemeal all his members rent,
Haled them away enduring anguish great.

Grasping my hand, my Escort forward went
And led me to the bush which, all in vain,
Through its ensanguined openings made lament.
'James of St. Andrews,'[429] it we heard complain;
'What profit hadst thou making me thy shield?
For thy bad life doth blame to me pertain?'
Then, halting there, this speech my Master held:
'Who wast thou that through many wounds dost sigh,
Mingled with blood, words big with sorrow swelled?'
'O souls that hither come,' was his reply,
'To witness shameful outrage by me borne,
Whence all my leaves torn off around me lie,
Gather them to the root of this drear thorn.
My city[430] for the Baptist changed of yore
Her former patron; wherefore, in return,
He with his art will make her aye deplore;
And were it not some image doth remain
Of him where Arno's crossed from shore to shore,
Those citizens who founded her again
On ashes left by Attila,[431] had spent
Their labour of a surety all in vain.
In my own house[432] I up a gibbet went.'


[418] _A forest_: The second round of the Seventh Circle consists of a
belt of tangled forest, enclosed by the river of blood, and devoted to
suicides and prodigals.

[419] _Corneto and Cecina_: Corneto is a town on the coast of what used
to be the States of the Church; Cecina a stream not far south of
Leghorn. Between them lies the Maremma, a district of great natural
fertility, now being restored again to cultivation, but for ages a
neglected and poisonous wilderness.

[420] _Harpies_: Monsters with the bodies of birds and the heads of
women. In the _Æneid_ iii., they are described as defiling the feast of
which the Trojans were about to partake on one of the
Strophades--islands of the Ægean; and on that occasion the prophecy was
made that Æneas and his followers should be reduced to eat their tables
ere they acquired a settlement in Italy. Here the Harpies symbolise
shameful waste and disgust with life.

[421] _Will prove, etc._: The things seen by Dante are to make credible
what Virgil tells (_Æn._ iii.) of the blood and piteous voice that
issued from the torn bushes on the tomb of Polydorus.

[422] _My lay_: See previous note. Dante thus indirectly acknowledges
his debt to Virgil; and, perhaps, at the same time puts in his claim to
an imaginative licence equal to that taken by his master. On a modern
reader the effect of the reference is to weaken the verisimilitude of
the incident.

[423] _For I am he, etc._: The speaker is Pier delle Vigne, who from
being a begging student of Bologna rose to be the Chancellor of the
Emperor Frederick II., the chief councillor of that monarch, and one of
the brightest ornaments of his intellectual court. Peter was perhaps the
more endeared to his master because, like him, he was a poet of no mean
order. There are two accounts of what caused his disgrace. According to
one of these he was found to have betrayed Frederick's interests in
favour of the Pope's; and according to the other he tried to poison him.
Neither is it known whether he committed suicide; though he is said to
have done so after being disgraced, by dashing his brains out against a
church wall in Pisa. Dante clearly follows this legend. The whole
episode is eloquent of the esteem in which Peter's memory was held by
Dante. His name is not mentioned in Inferno, but yet the promise is
amply kept that it shall flourish on earth again, freed from unmerited
disgrace. He died about 1249.

[424] _The harlot_: Envy.

[425] _Of what thou thinkest, etc._: Virgil never asks a question for
his own satisfaction. He knows who the spirits are, what brought them
there, and which of them will speak honestly out on the promise of
having his fame refreshed in the world. It should be noted how, by a
hint, he has made Peter aware of who he is (line 48); a delicate
attention yielded to no other shade in the Inferno, except Ulysses
(_Inf._ xxvi. 79), and, perhaps, Brunetto Latini (_Inf._ xv. 99).

[426] _In them shall ne'er be clad_: Boccaccio is here at great pains to
save Dante from a charge of contradicting the tenet of the resurrection
of the flesh.

[427] _Naked_: These are the prodigals; their nakedness representing the
state to which in life they had reduced themselves.

[428] _Lano_: Who made one of a club of prodigals in Siena (_Inf._ xxix.
130) and soon ran through his fortune. Joining in a Florentine
expedition in 1288 against Arezzo, he refused to escape from a defeat
encountered by his side at Pieve del Toppo, preferring, as was supposed,
to end his life at once rather than drag it out in poverty.

[429] _James of St. Andrews_: Jacopo da Sant' Andrea, a Paduan who
inherited enormous wealth which did not last him for long. He literally
threw money away, and would burn a house for the sake of the blaze. His
death has been placed in 1239.

[430] _My city, etc._: According to tradition the original patron of
Florence was Mars. In Dante's time an ancient statue, supposed to be of
that god, stood upon the Old Bridge of Florence. It is referred to in
_Parad._ xvi. 47 and 145. Benvenuto says that he had heard from
Boccaccio, who had frequently heard it from old people, that the statue
was regarded with great awe. If a boy flung stones or mud at it, the
bystanders would say of him that he would make a bad end. It was lost in
the great flood of 1333. Here the Florentine shade represents Mars as
troubling Florence with wars in revenge for being cast off as a patron.

[431] _Attila_: A confusion with Totila. Attila was never so far south
as Tuscany. Neither is there reason to believe that when Totila took the
city he destroyed it. But the legend was that it was rebuilt in the time
of Charles the Great.

[432] _My own house, etc._: It is not settled who this was who hanged
himself from the beams of his own roof. One of the Agli, say some;
others, one of the Mozzi. Boccaccio and Peter Dante remark that suicide
by hanging was common in Florence. But Dante's text seems pretty often
to have suggested the invention of details in support or illustration of