Canto XVI

Now could I hear the water as it fell
To the next circle[479] with a murmuring sound
Like what is heard from swarming hives to swell;
When three shades all together with a bound
Burst from a troop met by us pressing on
'Neath rain of that sharp torment. O'er the ground
Toward us approaching, they exclaimed each one:
'Halt thou, whom from thy garb[480] we judge to be
A citizen of our corrupted town.'
Alas, what scars I on their limbs did see,
Both old and recent, which the flames had made:
Even now my ruth is fed by memory.

My Teacher halted at their cry, and said:
'Await a while:' and looked me in the face;
'Some courtesy to these were well displayed.
And but that fire--the manner of the place--
Descends for ever, fitting 'twere to find
Rather than them, thee quickening thy pace.'
When we had halted, they again combined
In their old song; and, reaching where we stood,
Into a wheel all three were intertwined.
And as the athletes used, well oiled and nude,
To feel their grip and, wary, watch their chance,
Ere they to purpose strike and wrestle could;
So each of them kept fixed on me his glance
As he wheeled round,[481] and in opposing ways
His neck and feet seemed ever to advance.
'Ah, if the misery of this sand-strewn place
Bring us and our petitions in despite,'
One then began, 'and flayed and grimy face;
Let at the least our fame goodwill incite
To tell us who thou art, whose living feet
Thus through Inferno wander without fright.

For he whose footprints, as thou see'st, I beat,
Though now he goes with body peeled and nude,
More than thou thinkest, in the world was great.
The grandson was he of Gualdrada good;
He, Guidoguerra,[482] with his armèd hand
Did mighty things, and by his counsel shrewd.
The other who behind me treads the sand
Is one whose name should on the earth be dear;
For he is Tegghiaio[483] Aldobrand.
And I, who am tormented with them here,
James Rusticucci[484] was; my fierce and proud
Wife of my ruin was chief minister.'
If from the fire there had been any shroud
I should have leaped down 'mong them, nor have earned
Blame, for my Teacher sure had this allowed.

But since I should have been all baked and burned,
Terror prevailed the goodwill to restrain
With which to clasp them in my arms I yearned.
Then I began: ''Twas not contempt but pain
Which your condition in my breast awoke,
Where deeply rooted it will long remain,
When this my Master words unto me spoke,
By which expectancy was in me stirred
That ye who came were honourable folk.
I of your city[485] am, and with my word
Your deeds and honoured names oft to recall
Delighted, and with joy of them I heard.
To the sweet fruits I go, and leave the gall,
As promised to me by my Escort true;
But first I to the centre down must fall.'
'So may thy soul thy members long endue
With vital power,' the other made reply,
'And after thee thy fame[486] its light renew;
As thou shalt tell if worth and courtesy
Within our city as of yore remain,
Or from it have been wholly forced to fly.

For William Borsier,[487] one of yonder train,
And but of late joined with us in this woe,
Causeth us with his words exceeding pain.'
'Upstarts, and fortunes suddenly that grow,
Have bred in thee pride and extravagance,[488]
Whence tears, O Florence! thou art shedding now.'
Thus cried I with uplifted countenance.
The three, accepting it for a reply,
Glanced each at each as hearing truth men glance.
And all: 'If others thou shalt satisfy
As well at other times[489] at no more cost,
Happy thus at thine ease the truth to cry!
Therefore if thou escap'st these regions lost,
Returning to behold the starlight fair,
Then when "There was I,"[490] thou shalt make thy boast,
Something of us do thou 'mong men declare.'
Then broken was the wheel, and as they fled
Their nimble legs like pinions beat the air.
So much as one _Amen!_ had scarce been said
Quicker than what they vanished from our view.

On this once more the way my Master led.
I followed, and ere long so near we drew
To where the water fell, that for its roar
Speech scarcely had been heard between us two.
And as the stream which of all those which pour
East (from Mount Viso counting) by its own
Course falls the first from Apennine to shore--
As Acquacheta[491] in the uplands known
By name, ere plunging to its bed profound;
Name lost ere by Forlì its waters run--
Above St. Benedict with one long bound,
Where for a thousand[492] would be ample room,
Falls from the mountain to the lower ground;
Down the steep cliff that water dyed in gloom
We found to fall echoing from side to side,
Stunning the ear with its tremendous boom.
There was a cord about my middle tied,
With which I once had thought that I might hold
Secure the leopard with the painted hide.

When this from round me I had quite unrolled
To him I handed it, all coiled and tight;
As by my Leader I had first been told.
Himself then bending somewhat toward the right,[493]
He just beyond the edge of the abyss
Threw down the cord,[494] which disappeared from sight.
'That some strange thing will follow upon this
Unwonted signal which my Master's eye
Thus follows,' so I thought, 'can hardly miss.'
Ah, what great caution need we standing by
Those who behold not only what is done,
But who have wit our hidden thoughts to spy!
He said to me: 'There shall emerge, and soon,
What I await; and quickly to thy view
That which thou dream'st of shall be clearly known.'[495]
From utterance of truth which seems untrue
A man, whene'er he can, should guard his tongue;
Lest he win blame to no transgression due.
Yet now I must speak out, and by the song
Of this my Comedy, Reader, I swear--
So in good liking may it last full long!--
I saw a shape swim upward through that air.

All indistinct with gross obscurity,
Enough to fill the stoutest heart with fear:
Like one who rises having dived to free
An anchor grappled on a jagged stone,
Or something else deep hidden in the sea;
With feet drawn in and arms all open thrown.


[479] _The next circle_: The Eighth.

[480] _Thy garb_: 'Almost every city,' says Boccaccio, 'had in those
times its peculiar fashion of dress distinct from that of neighboring

[481] _As he wheeled round_: Virgil and Dante have come to a halt upon
the embankment. The three shades, to whom it is forbidden to be at rest
for a moment, clasping one another as in a dance, keep wheeling round in
circle upon the sand.

[482] _Guidoguerra_: A descendant of the Counts Guidi of Modigliana.

Gualdrada was the daughter of Bellincion Berti de' Ravignani, praised
for his simple habits in the _Paradiso_, xv. 112. Guidoguerra was a
Guelf leader, and after the defeat of Montaperti acted as Captain of his
party, in this capacity lending valuable aid to Charles of Anjou at the
battle of Benevento, 1266, when Manfred was overthrown. He had no
children, and left the Commonwealth of Florence his heir.

[483] _Tegghiaio_: Son of Aldobrando of the Adimari. His name should be
dear in Florence, because he did all he could to dissuade the citizens
from the campaign which ended so disastrously at Montaperti.

[484] _James Rusticucci_: An accomplished cavalier of humble birth, said
to have been a retainer of Dante's friends the Cavalcanti. The
commentators have little to tell of him except that he made an unhappy
marriage, which is evident from the text. Of the sins of him and his
companions there is nothing known beyond what is to be inferred from the
poet's words, and nothing to say, except that when Dante consigned men
of their stamp, frank and amiable, to the Infernal Circles, we may be
sure that he only executed a verdict already accepted as just by the
whole of Florence. And when we find him impartially damning Guelf and
Ghibeline we may be equally sure that he looked for the aid of neither
party, and of no family however powerful in the State, to bring his
banishment to a close. He would even seem to be careful to stop any hole
by which he might creep back to Florence. When he did return, it was to
be in the train of the Emperor, so he hoped, and as one who gives rather
than seeks forgiveness.

[485] _Of your city, etc._: At line 32 Rusticucci begs Dante to tell who
he is. He tells that he is of their city, which they have already
gathered from his _berretta_ and the fashion of his gown; but he tells
nothing, almost, of himself. Unless to Farinata, indeed, he never makes
an open breast to any one met in Inferno. But here he does all that
courtesy requires.

[486] _Thy fame_: Dante has implied in his answer that he is gifted with
oratorical powers and is the object of a special Divine care; and the
illustrious Florentine, frankly acknowledging the claim he makes,
adjures him by the fame which is his in store to appease an eager
curiosity about the Florence which even in Inferno is the first thought
of every not ignoble Florentine.

[487] _William Borsiere_: A Florentine, witty and well bred, according
to Boccaccio. Being once at Genoa he was shown a fine new palace by its
miserly owner, and was asked to suggest a subject for a painting with
which to adorn the hall. The subject was to be something that nobody had
ever seen. Borsiere proposed liberality as something that the miser at
any rate had never yet got a good sight of; an answer of which it is not
easy to detect either the wit or the courtesy, but which is said to have
converted the churl to liberal ways (_Decam._ i. 8). He is here
introduced as an authority on the noble style of manners.

[488] _Pride and extravagance_: In place of the nobility of mind that
leads to great actions, and the gentle manners that prevail in a society
where there is a due subordination of rank to rank and well-defined
duties for every man. This, the aristocratic in a noble sense, was
Dante's ideal of a social state; for all his instincts were those of a
Florentine aristocrat, corrected though they were by his good sense and
his thirst for a reign of perfect justice. During his own time he had
seen Florence grow more and more democratic; and he was
irritated--unreasonably, considering that it was only a sign of the
general prosperity--at the spectacle of the amazing growth of wealth in
the hands of low-born traders, who every year were coming more to the
front and monopolising influence at home and abroad at the cost of their
neighbours and rivals with longer pedigrees and shorter purses. In
_Paradiso_ xvi. Dante dwells at length on the degeneracy of the

[489] _At other times_: It is hinted that his outspokenness will not in
the future always give equal satisfaction to those who hear.

[490] _There was I, etc._: _Forsan et hæc olim meminisse
juvabit._--_Æn._ i. 203.

[491] _Acquacheta_: The fall of the water of the brook over the lofty
cliff that sinks from the Seventh to the Eighth Circle is compared to
the waterfall upon the Montone at the monastery of St. Benedict, in the
mountains above Forlì. The Po rises in Monte Viso. Dante here travels in
imagination from Monte Viso down through Italy, and finds that all the
rivers which rise on the left hand, that is, on the north-east of the
Apennine, fall into the Po, till the Montone is reached, that river
falling into the Adriatic by a course of its own. Above Forlì it was
called Acquacheta. The Lamone, north of the Montone, now follows an
independent course to the sea, having cut a new bed for itself since
Dante's time.

[492] _Where for a thousand, etc._: In the monastery there was room for
many more monks, say most of the commentators; or something to the like
effect. Mr. Longfellow's interpretation seems better: Where the height
of the fall is so great that it would divide into a thousand falls.

[493] _Toward the right_: The attitude of one about to throw.

[494] _The cord_: The services of Geryon are wanted to convey them down
the next reach of the pit; and as no voice could be heard for the noise
of the waterfall, and no signal be made to catch the eye amid the gloom,
Virgil is obliged to call the attention of the monster by casting some
object into the depth where he lies concealed. But, since they are
surrounded by solid masonry and slack sand, one or other of them must
supply something fit to throw down; and the cord worn by Dante is fixed
on as what can best be done without. There may be a reference to the
cord of Saint Francis, which Dante, according to one of his
commentators, wore when he was a young man, following in this a fashion
common enough among pious laymen who had no thought of ever becoming
friars. But the simile of the cord, as representing sobriety and
virtuous purpose, is not strange to Dante. In _Purg._ vii. 114 he
describes Pedro of Arragon as being girt with the cord of every virtue;
and Pedro was no Franciscan. Dante's cord may therefore be taken as
standing for vigilance or self-control. With it he had hoped to get the
better of the leopard (_Inf._ i. 32), and may have trusted in it for
support as against the terrors of Inferno. But although he has been girt
with it ever since he entered by the gate, it has not saved him from a
single fear, far less from a single danger; and now it is cast away as
useless. Henceforth, more than ever, he is to confide wholly in Virgil
and have no confidence in himself. Nor is he to be girt again till he
reaches the coast of Purgatory, and then it is to be with a reed, the
emblem of humility.--But, however explained, the incident will always be
somewhat of a puzzle.

[495] Dante attributes to Virgil full knowledge of all that is in his
own mind. He thus heightens our conception of his dependence on his
guide, with whose will his will is blent, and whose thoughts are always
found to be anticipating his own. Few readers will care to be constantly
recalling to mind that Virgil represents enlightened human reason. But
even if we confine ourselves to the easiest sense of the narrative, the
study of the relations between him and Dante will be found one of the
most interesting suggested by the poem--perhaps only less so than that
of Dante's moods of wonder, anger, and pity.