Canto XIX

O Simon Magus![534] ye his wretched crew!
The gifts of God, ordained to be the bride
Of righteousness, ye prostitute that you
With gold and silver may be satisfied;
Therefore for you let now the trumpet[535] blow,
Seeing that ye in the Third Bolgia 'bide.
Arrived at the next tomb,[536] we to the brow
Of rock ere this had finished our ascent,
Which hangs true plumb above the pit below.
What perfect art, O Thou Omniscient,
Is Thine in Heaven and earth and the bad world found!
How justly does Thy power its dooms invent!
The livid stone, on both banks and the ground,
I saw was full of holes on every side,
All of one size, and each of them was round.

No larger seemed they to me nor less wide
Than those within my beautiful St. John[537]
For the baptizers' standing-place supplied;
And one of which, not many years agone,
I broke to save one drowning; and I would
Have this for seal to undeceive men known.
Out of the mouth of each were seen protrude
A sinner's feet, and of the legs the small
Far as the calves; the rest enveloped stood.
And set on fire were both the soles of all,
Which made their ankles wriggle with such throes
As had made ropes and withes asunder fall.
And as flame fed by unctuous matter goes
Over the outer surface only spread;
So from their heels it flickered to the toes.

'Master, who is he, tortured more,' I said,
'Than are his neighbours, writhing in such woe;
And licked by flames of deeper-hearted red?'
And he: 'If thou desirest that below
I bear thee by that bank[538] which lowest lies,
Thou from himself his sins and name shalt know.'
And I: 'Thy wishes still for me suffice:
Thou art my Lord, and knowest I obey
Thy will; and dost my hidden thoughts surprise.'
To the fourth barrier then we made our way,
And, to the left hand turning, downward went
Into the narrow hole-pierced cavity;
Nor the good Master caused me make descent
From off his haunch till we his hole were nigh
Who with his shanks was making such lament.
'Whoe'er thou art, soul full of misery,
Set like a stake with lower end upcast,'
I said to him, 'Make, if thou canst, reply.'
I like a friar[539] stood who gives the last
Shrift to a vile assassin, to his side
Called back to win delay for him fixed fast.
'Art thou arrived already?' then he cried,
'Art thou arrived already, Boniface?
By several years the prophecy[540] has lied.
Art so soon wearied of the wealthy place,
For which thou didst not fear to take with guile,
Then ruin the fair Lady?'[541] Now my case
Was like to theirs who linger on, the while
They cannot comprehend what they are told,
And as befooled[542] from further speech resile.

But Virgil bade me: 'Speak out loud and bold,
"I am not he thou thinkest, no, not he!"'
And I made answer as by him controlled.
The spirit's feet then twisted violently,
And, sighing in a voice of deep distress,
He asked: 'What then requirest thou of me?
If me to know thou hast such eagerness,
That thou the cliff hast therefore ventured down,
Know, the Great Mantle sometime was my dress.
I of the Bear, in sooth, was worthy son:
As once, the Cubs to help, my purse with gain
I stuffed, myself I in this purse have stown.
Stretched out at length beneath my head remain
All the simoniacs[543] that before me went,
And flattened lie throughout the rocky vein.

I in my turn shall also make descent,
Soon as he comes who I believed thou wast,
When I asked quickly what for him was meant.
O'er me with blazing feet more time has past,
While upside down I fill the topmost room,
Than he his crimsoned feet shall upward cast;
For after him one viler still shall come,
A Pastor from the West,[544] lawless of deed:
To cover both of us his worthy doom.
A modern Jason[545] he, of whom we read
In Maccabees, whose King denied him nought:
With the French King so shall this man succeed.'
Perchance I ventured further than I ought,
But I spake to him in this measure free:
'Ah, tell me now what money was there sought
Of Peter by our Lord, when either key
He gave him in his guardianship to hold?
Sure He demanded nought save: "Follow me!"
Nor Peter, nor the others, asked for gold
Or silver when upon Matthias fell
The lot instead of him, the traitor-souled.
Keep then thy place, for thou art punished well,[546]
And clutch the pelf, dishonourably gained,
Which against Charles[547] made thee so proudly swell.

And, were it not that I am still restrained
By reverence[548] for those tremendous keys,
Borne by thee while the glad world thee contained,
I would use words even heavier than these;
Seeing your avarice makes the world deplore,
Crushing the good, filling the bad with ease.
'Twas you, O Pastors, the Evangelist bore
In mind what time he saw her on the flood
Of waters set, who played with kings the whore;
Who with seven heads was born; and as she would
By the ten horns to her was service done,
Long as her spouse[549] rejoiced in what was good.
Now gold and silver are your god alone:
What difference 'twixt the idolater and you,
Save that ye pray a hundred for his one?
Ah, Constantine,[550] how many evils grew--
Not from thy change of faith, but from the gift
Wherewith thou didst the first rich Pope endue!'
While I my voice continued to uplift
To such a tune, by rage or conscience stirred
Both of his soles he made to twist and shift.
My Guide, I well believe, with pleasure heard;
Listening he stood with lips so well content
To me propounding truthful word on word.

Then round my body both his arms he bent,
And, having raised me well upon his breast,
Climbed up the path by which he made descent.
Nor was he by his burden so oppressed
But that he bore me to the bridge's crown,
Which with the fourth joins the fifth rampart's crest.
And lightly here he set his burden down,
Found light by him upon the precipice,
Up which a goat uneasily had gone.
And thence another valley met mine eyes.


[534] _Simon Magus_: The sin of simony consists in setting a price on
the exercise of a spiritual grace or the acquisition of a spiritual
office. Dante assails it at headquarters, that is, as it was practised
by the Popes; and in their case it took, among other forms, that of
ecclesiastical nepotism.

[535] _The trumpet_: Blown at the punishment of criminals, to call
attention to their sentence.

[536] _The next tomb_: The Third Bolgia, appropriately termed a tomb,
because its manner of punishment is that of a burial, as will be seen.

[537] _St. John_: The church of St. John's, in Dante's time, as now, the
Baptistery of Florence. In _Parad._ xxv. he anticipates the day, if it
should ever come, when he shall return to Florence, and in the church
where he was baptized a Christian be crowned as a Poet. Down to the
middle of the sixteenth century all baptisms, except in cases of urgent
necessity, were celebrated in St. John's; and, even there, only on the
eves of Easter and Pentecost. For protection against the crowd, the
officiating priests were provided with standing-places, circular
cavities disposed around the great font. To these Dante compares the
holes of this Bolgia, for the sake of introducing a defence of himself
from a charge of sacrilege. Benvenuto tells that once when some boys
were playing about the church one of them, to hide himself from his
companions, squeezed himself into a baptizer's standing-place, and made
so tight a fit of it that he could not be rescued till Dante with his
own hands plied a hammer upon the marble, and so saved the child from
drowning. The presence of water in the cavity may be explained by the
fact of the church's being at that time lighted by an unglazed opening
in the roof; and as baptisms were so infrequent the standing-places,
situated as they were in the centre of the floor, may often have been
partially flooded. It is easy to understand how bitterly Dante would
resent a charge of irreverence connected with his 'beautiful St.

John's;' 'that fair sheep-fold' (_Parad._ xxv. 5).

[538] _That bank, etc._: Of each Bolgia the inner bank is lower than the
outer; the whole of Malebolge sloping towards the centre of the Inferno.

[539] _Like a friar, etc._: In those times the punishment of an assassin
was to be stuck head downward in a pit, and then to have earth slowly
shovelled in till he was suffocated. Dante bends down, the better to
hear what the sinner has to say, like a friar recalled by the felon on
the pretence that he has something to add to his confession.

[540] _The prophecy_: 'The writing.' The speaker is Nicholas III., of
the great Roman family of the Orsini, and Pope from 1277 to 1280; a man
of remarkable bodily beauty and grace of manner, as well as of great
force of character. Like many other Holy Fathers he was either a great
hypocrite while on his promotion, or else he degenerated very quickly
after getting himself well settled on the Papal Chair. He is said to
have been the first Pope who practised simony with no attempt at
concealment. Boniface VIII., whom he is waiting for to relieve him,
became Pope in 1294, and died in 1303. None of the four Popes between
1280 and 1294 were simoniacs; so that Nicholas was uppermost in the hole
for twenty-three years. Although ignorant of what is now passing on the
earth, he can refer back to his foreknowledge of some years earlier (see
_Inf._ x. 99) as if to a prophetic writing, and finds that according to
this it is still three years too soon, it being now only 1300, for the
arrival of Boniface. This is the usual explanation of the passage. To it
lies the objection that foreknowledge of the present that can be
referred back to is the same thing as knowledge of it, and with this the
spirits in Inferno are not endowed. But Dante elsewhere shows that he
finds it hard to observe the limitation. The alternative explanation,
supported by the use of _scritto_ (writing) in the text, is that
Nicholas refers to some prophecy once current about his successors in

[541] _The fair Lady_: The Church. The guile is that shown by Boniface
in getting his predecessor Celestine v. to abdicate (_Inf._ iii. 60).

[542] _As befooled_: Dante does not yet suspect that it is with a Pope
he is speaking. He is dumbfounded at being addressed as Boniface.

[543] _All the simoniacs_: All the Popes that had been guilty of the

[544] _A Pastor from the West_: Boniface died in 1303, and was succeeded
by Benedict XI., who in his turn was succeeded by Clement V., the Pastor
from the West. Benedict was not stained with simony, and so it is
Clement that is to relieve Boniface; and he is to come from the West,
that is, from Avignon, to which the Holy See was removed by him. Or the
reference may simply be to the country of his birth. Elsewhere he is
spoken of as 'the Gascon who shall cheat the noble Henry' of Luxemburg
(_Parad._ xvii. 82).--This passage has been read as throwing light on
the question of when the _Inferno_ was written. Nicholas says that from
the time Boniface arrives till Clement relieves him will be a shorter
period than that during which he has himself been in Inferno, that is to
say, a shorter time than twenty years. Clement died in 1314; and so, it
is held, we find a date before which the _Inferno_ was, at least, not
published. But Clement was known for years before his death to be ill of
a disease usually soon fatal. He became Pope in 1305, and the wonder was
that he survived so long as nine years. Dante keeps his prophecy
safe--if it is a prophecy; and there does seem internal evidence to
prove the publication of the _Inferno_ to have taken place long before
1314.--It is needless to point out how the censure of Clement gains in
force if read as having been published before his death.

[545] _Jason_: Or Joshua, who purchased the office of High Priest from
Antiochus Epiphanes, and innovated the customs of the Jews (2 Maccab.
iv. 7).

[546] _Punished well_: At line 12 Dante has admired the propriety of the
Divine distribution of penalties. He appears to regard with a special
complacency that which he invents for the simoniacs. They were
industrious in multiplying benefices for their kindred; Boniface, for
example, besides Cardinals, appointed about twenty Archbishops and
Bishops from among his own relatives. Here all the simoniacal Popes have
to be contented with one place among them. They paid no regard to
whether a post was well filled or not: here they are set upside down.

[547] _Charles_: Nicholas was accused of taking a bribe to assist Peter
of Arragon in ousting Charles of Anjou from the kingdom of Sicily.

[548] _By reverence, etc._: Dante distinguishes between the office and
the unworthy holder of it. So in Purgatory he prostrates himself before
a Pope (_Purg._ xix. 131).

[549] _Her spouse_: In the preceding lines the vision of the Woman in
the Apocalypse is applied to the corruption of the Church, represented
under the figure of the seven-hilled Rome seated in honour among the
nations and receiving observance from the kings of the earth till her
spouse, the Pope, began to prostitute her by making merchandise of her
spiritual gifts. Of the Beast there is no mention here, his qualities
being attributed to the Woman.

[550] _Ah, Constantine, etc._: In Dante's time, and for some centuries
later, it was believed that Constantine, on transferring the seat of
empire to Byzantium, had made a gift to the Pope of rights and
privileges almost equal to those of the Emperor. Rome was to be the
Pope's; and from his court in the Lateran he was to exercise supremacy
over all the West. The Donation of Constantine, that is, the instrument
conveying these rights, was a forgery of the Middle Ages.