Canto XX

Now of new torment must my verses tell,
And matter for the Twentieth Canto win
Of Lay the First,[551] which treats of souls in Hell.

Already was I eager to begin
To peer into the visible profound,[552]
Which tears of agony was bathèd in:
And I saw people in the valley round;
Like that of penitents on earth the pace
At which they weeping came, nor uttering[553] sound.
When I beheld them with more downcast gaze,[554]
That each was strangely screwed about I learned,
Where chest is joined to chin. And thus the face
Of every one round to his loins was turned;
And stepping backward[555] all were forced to go,
For nought in front could be by them discerned.
Smitten by palsy although one might show
Perhaps a shape thus twisted all awry,
I never saw, and am to think it slow.
As, Reader,[556] God may grant thou profit by
Thy reading, for thyself consider well
If I could then preserve my visage dry
When close at hand to me was visible
Our human form so wrenched that tears, rained down
Out of the eyes, between the buttocks fell.

In very sooth I wept, leaning upon
A boss of the hard cliff, till on this wise
My Escort asked: 'Of the other fools[557] art one?
Here piety revives as pity dies;
For who more irreligious is than he
In whom God's judgments to regret give rise?
Lift up, lift up thy head, and thou shalt see
Him for whom earth yawned as the Thebans saw,
All shouting meanwhile: "Whither dost thou flee,
Amphiaraüs?[558] Wherefore thus withdraw
From battle?" But he sinking found no rest
Till Minos clutched him with all-grasping claw.
Lo, how his shoulders serve him for a breast!
Because he wished to see too far before
Backward he looks, to backward course addressed.
Behold Tiresias,[559] who was changed all o'er,
Till for a man a woman met the sight,
And not a limb its former semblance bore;
And he behoved a second time to smite
The same two twisted serpents with his wand,
Ere he again in manly plumes was dight.
With back to him, see Aruns next at hand,
Who up among the hills of Luni, where
Peasants of near Carrara till the land,
Among the dazzling marbles[560] held his lair
Within a cavern, whence could be descried
The sea and stars of all obstruction bare.

The other one, whose flowing tresses hide
Her bosom, of the which thou seest nought,
And all whose hair falls on the further side,
Was Manto;[561] who through many regions sought:
Where I was born, at last her foot she stayed.
It likes me well thou shouldst of this be taught.
When from this life her father exit made,
And Bacchus' city had become enthralled,
She for long time through many countries strayed.
'Neath mountains by which Germany is walled
And bounded at Tirol, a lake there lies
High in fair Italy, Benacus[562] called.

The waters of a thousand springs that rise
'Twixt Val Camonica and Garda flow
Down Pennine; and their flood this lake supplies.
And from a spot midway, if they should go
Thither, the Pastors[563] of Verona, Trent,
And Brescia might their blessings all bestow.
Peschiera,[564] with its strength for ornament,
Facing the Brescians and the Bergamese
Lies where the bank to lower curve is bent.
And there the waters, seeking more of ease,
For in Benacus is not room for all,
Forming a river, lapse by green degrees.

The river, from its very source, men call
No more Benacus--'tis as Mincio known,
Which into Po does at Governo fall.
A flat it reaches ere it far has run,
Spreading o'er which it feeds a marshy fen,
Whence oft in summer pestilence has grown.
Wayfaring here the cruel virgin, when
She found land girdled by the marshy flood,
Untilled and uninhabited of men,
That she might 'scape all human neighbourhood
Stayed on it with her slaves, her arts to ply;
And there her empty body was bestowed.
On this the people from the country nigh
Into that place came crowding, for the spot,
Girt by the swamp, could all attack defy,
And for the town built o'er her body sought
A name from her who made it first her seat,
Calling it Mantua, without casting lot.[565]
The dwellers in it were in number great,
Till stupid Casalodi[566] was befooled
And victimised by Pinamonte's cheat.

Hence, shouldst thou ever hear (now be thou schooled!)
Another story to my town assigned,
Let by no fraud the truth be overruled.'
And I: 'Thy reasonings, Master, to my mind
So cogent are, and win my faith so well,
What others say I shall black embers find.
But of this people passing onward tell,
If thou, of any, something canst declare,
For all my thoughts[567] on that intently dwell.'
And then he said: 'The one whose bearded hair
Falls from his cheeks upon his shoulders dun,
Was, when the land of Greece[568] of males so bare
Was grown the very cradles scarce held one,
An augur;[569] he with Calchas gave the sign
In Aulis through the first rope knife to run.
Eurypylus was he called, and in some line
Of my high Tragedy[570] is sung the same,
As thou know'st well, who mad'st it wholly thine.
That other, thin of flank, was known to fame
As Michael Scott;[571] and of a verity
He knew right well the black art's inmost game.

Guido Bonatti,[572] and Asdente see
Who mourns he ever should have parted from
His thread and leather; but too late mourns he.
Lo the unhappy women who left loom,
Spindle, and needle that they might divine;
With herb and image[573] hastening men's doom.
But come; for where the hemispheres confine
Cain and the Thorns[574] is falling, to alight
Underneath Seville on the ocean line.
The moon was full already yesternight;
Which to recall thou shouldst be well content,
For in the wood she somewhat helped thy plight.'
Thus spake he to me while we forward went.


[551] _Lay the First_: The _Inferno_.

[552] _The visible profound_: The Fourth Bolgia, where soothsayers of
every kind are punished. Their sin is that of seeking to find out what
God has made secret. That such discoveries of the future could be made
by men, Dante seems to have had no doubt; but he regards the exercise of
the power as a fraud on Providence, and also credits the adepts in the
black art with ruining others by their spells (line 123).

[553] _Nor uttering, etc._: They who on earth told too much are now
condemned to be for ever dumb. It will be noticed that with none of them
does Dante converse.

[554] _More downcast gaze_: Standing as he does on the crown of the
arch, the nearer they come to him the more he has to decline his eyes.

[555] _Stepping backward_: Once they peered far into the future; now
they cannot see a step before them.

[556]_ As, Reader, etc._: Some light may be thrown on this unusual, and,
at first sight, inexplicable display of pity, by the comment of
Benvenuto da Imola:--'It is the wisest and most virtuous of men that are
most subject to this mania of divination; and of this Dante is himself
an instance, as is well proved by this book of his.' Dante reminds the
reader how often since the journey began he has sought to have the veil
of the future lifted; and would have it understood that he was seized by
a sudden misgiving as to whether he too had not overstepped the bounds
of what, in that respect, is allowed and right.

[557] _Of the other fools_: Dante, weeping like the sinners in the
Bolgia, is asked by Virgil: 'What, art thou then one of them?' He had
been suffered, without reproof, to show pity for Francesca and Ciacco.
The terrors of the Lord grow more cogent as they descend, and even pity
is now forbidden.

[558] _Amphiaraüs_: One of the Seven Kings who besieged Thebes. He
foresaw his own death, and sought by hiding to evade it; but his wife
revealed his hiding-place, and he was forced to join in the siege. As he
fought, a thunderbolt opened a chasm in the earth, into which he fell.

[559] _Tiresias_: A Theban soothsayer whose change of sex is described
by Ovid (_Metam._ iii.).

[560] _The dazzling marbles_: Aruns, a Tuscan diviner, is introduced by
Lucan as prophesying great events to come to pass in Rome--the Civil War
and the victories of Cæsar. His haunt was the deserted city of Luna,
situated on the Gulf of Spezia, and under the Carrara mountains
(_Phars._ i. 586).

[561] _Manto_: A prophetess, a native of Thebes the city of Bacchus, and
daughter of Tiresias.--Here begins a digression on the early history of
Mantua, the native city of Virgil. In his account of the foundation of
it Dante does not agree with Virgil, attributing to a Greek Manto what
his master attributes to an Italian one (_Æn._ x. 199).

[562] _Benacus_: The ancient Benacus, now known as the Lake of Garda.

[563] _The Pastors, etc._: About half-way down the western side of the
lake a stream falls into it, one of whose banks, at its mouth, is in the
diocese of Trent, and the other in that of Brescia, while the waters of
the lake are in that of Verona. The three Bishops, standing together,
could give a blessing each to his own diocese.

[564] _Peschiera_: Where the lake drains into the Mincio. It is still a
great fortress.

[565] _Without casting lot_; Without consulting the omens, as was usual
when a city was to be named.

[566] _Casalodi_: Some time in the second half of the thirteenth century
Alberto Casalodi was befooled out of the lordship of Mantua by Pinamonte
Buonacolsi. Benvenuto tells the tale as follows:--Pinamonte was a bold,
ambitious man, with a great troop of armed followers; and, the nobility
being at that time in bad odour with the people at large, he persuaded
the Count Albert that it would be a popular measure to banish the
suspected nobles for a time. Hardly was this done when he usurped the
lordship; and by expelling some of the citizens and putting others of
them to death he greatly thinned the population of the city.

[567] _All my thoughts, etc._: The reader's patience is certainly abused
by this digression of Virgil's, and Dante himself seems conscious that
it is somewhat ill-timed.

[568] _The land of Greece, etc._: All the Greeks able to bear arms being
engaged in the Trojan expedition.

[569] _An augur_: Eurypylus, mentioned in the Second _Æneid_ as being
employed by the Greeks to consult the oracle of Apollo regarding their
return to Greece. From the auspices Calchas had found at what hour they
should set sail for Troy. Eurypylus can be said only figuratively to
have had to do with cutting the cable.

[570] _Tragedy_: The _Æneid_. Dante defines Comedy as being written in a
style inferior to that of Tragedy, and as having a sad beginning and a
happy ending (Epistle to Can Grande, 10). Elsewhere he allows the comic
poet great licence in the use of common language (_Vulg. El._ ii. 4). By
calling his own poem a Comedy he, as it were, disarms criticism.

[571] _Michael Scott_: Of Balwearie in Scotland, familiar to English
readers through the _Lay of the Last Minstrel_. He flourished in the
course of the thirteenth century, and made contributions to the
sciences, as they were then deemed, of astrology, alchemy, and
physiognomy. He acted for some time as astrologer to the Emperor
Frederick II., and the tradition of his accomplishments powerfully
affected the Italian imagination for a century after his death. It was
remembered that the terrible Frederick, after being warned by him to
beware of Florence, had died at a place called Firenzuola; and more than
one Italian city preserved with fear and trembling his dark sayings
regarding their fate. Villani frequently quotes his prophecies; and
Boccaccio speaks of him as a great necromancer who had been in Florence.
A commentary of his on Aristotle was printed at Venice in 1496. The
thinness of his flanks may refer to a belief that he could make himself
invisible at will.

[572] _Guido Bonatti_: Was a Florentine, a tiler by trade, and was
living in 1282. When banished from his own city he took refuge at Forlì
and became astrologer to Guido of Montefeltro (_Inf._ xxvii.), and was
credited with helping his master to a great victory.--_Asdente_: A
cobbler of Parma, whose prophecies were long renowned, lived in the
twelfth century. He is given in the _Convito_ (iv. 16) as an instance
that a man may be very notorious without being truly noble.

[573] _Herb and image_: Part of the witch's stock in trade. All that was
done to a waxen image of him was suffered by the witch's victim.

[574] _Cain and the Thorns_: The moon. The belief that the spots in the
moon are caused by Cain standing in it with a bundle of thorns is
referred to at _Parad._ ii. 51. Although it is now the morning of the
Saturday, the 'yesternight' refers to the night of Thursday, when Dante
found some use of the moon in the Forest. The moon is now setting on the
line dividing the hemisphere of Jerusalem, in which they are, from that
of the Mount of Purgatory. According to Dante's scheme of the world,
Purgatory is the true opposite of Jerusalem; and Seville is ninety
degrees from Jerusalem. As it was full moon the night before last, and
the moon is now setting, it is now fully an hour after sunrise. But, as
has already been said, it is not possible to reconcile the astronomical
indications thoroughly with one another.--Virgil serves as clock to
Dante, for they can see nothing of the skies.