Canto XXIV

In season of the new year, when the sun
Beneath Aquarius[630] warms again his hair,
And somewhat on the nights the days have won;
When on the ground the hoar-frost painteth fair
A mimic image of her sister white--
But soon her brush of colour is all bare--
The clown, whose fodder is consumed outright,
Rises and looks abroad, and, all the plain
Beholding glisten, on his thigh doth smite.
Returned indoors, like wretch that seeks in vain
What he should do, restless he mourns his case;
But hope revives when, looking forth again,
He sees the earth anew has changed its face.
Then with his crook he doth himself provide,
And straightway doth his sheep to pasture chase:
So at my Master was I terrified,
His brows beholding troubled; nor more slow
To where I ailed[631] the plaster was applied.
For when the broken bridge[632] we stood below
My Guide turned to me with the expression sweet
Which I beneath the mountain learned to know.

His arms he opened, after counsel meet
Held with himself, and, scanning closely o'er
The fragments first, he raised me from my feet;
And like a man who, working, looks before,
With foresight still on that in front bestowed,
Me to the summit of a block he bore
And then to me another fragment showed,
Saying: 'By this thou now must clamber on;
But try it first if it will bear thy load.'
The heavy cowled[633] this way could ne'er have gone,
For hardly we, I holpen, he so light,
Could clamber up from shattered stone to stone.
And but that on the inner bank the height
Of wall is not so great, I say not he,
But for myself I had been vanquished quite.
But Malebolge[634] to the cavity
Of the deep central pit is planned to fall;
Hence every Bolgia in its turn must be
High on the out, low on the inner wall;
So to the summit we attained at last,
Whence breaks away the topmost stone[635] of all.
My lungs were so with breathlessness harassed,
The summit won, I could no further go;
And, hardly there, me on the ground I cast
'Well it befits that thou shouldst from thee throw
All sloth,' the Master said; 'for stretched in down
Or under awnings none can glory know.

And he who spends his life nor wins renown
Leaves in the world no more enduring trace
Than smoke in air, or foam on water blown.
Therefore arise; o'ercome thy breathlessness
By force of will, victor in every fight
When not subservient to the body base.
Of stairs thou yet must climb a loftier flight:[636]
'Tis not enough to have ascended these.
Up then and profit if thou hear'st aright.'
Rising I feigned to breathe with greater ease
Than what I felt, and spake: 'Now forward plod,
For with my courage now my strength agrees.'
Up o'er the rocky rib we held our road;
And rough it was and difficult and strait,
And steeper far[637] than that we earlier trod.

Speaking I went, to hide my wearied state,
When from the neighbouring moat a voice we heard
Which seemed ill fitted to articulate.
Of what it said I knew not any word,
Though on the arch[638] that vaults the moat set high;
But he who spake appeared by anger stirred.
Though I bent downward yet my eager eye,
So dim the depth, explored it all in vain;
I then: 'O Master, to that bank draw nigh,
And let us by the wall descent obtain,
Because I hear and do not understand,
And looking down distinguish nothing plain.'
'My sole reply to thee,' he answered bland,
'Is to perform; for it behoves,' he said,
'With silent act to answer just demand.'
Then we descended from the bridge's head,[639]
Where with the eighth bank is its junction wrought;
And full beneath me was the Bolgia spread.
And I perceived that hideously 'twas fraught
With serpents; and such monstrous forms they bore,
Even now my blood is curdled at the thought.

Henceforth let sandy Libya boast no more!
Though she breed hydra, snake that crawls or flies,
Twy-headed, or fine-speckled, no such store
Of plagues, nor near so cruel, she supplies,
Though joined to all the land of Ethiop,
And that which by the Red Sea waters lies.
'Midst this fell throng and dismal, without hope
A naked people ran, aghast with fear--
No covert for them and no heliotrope.[640]
Their hands[641] were bound by serpents at their rear,
Which in their reins for head and tail did get
A holding-place: in front they knotted were.
And lo! to one who on our side was set
A serpent darted forward, him to bite
At where the neck is by the shoulders met.
Nor _O_ nor _I_ did any ever write
More quickly than he kindled, burst in flame,
And crumbled all to ashes. And when quite
He on the earth a wasted heap became,
The ashes[642] of themselves together rolled,
Resuming suddenly their former frame.

Thus, as by mighty sages we are told,
The Phoenix[643] dies, and then is born again,
When it is close upon five centuries old.
In all its life it eats not herb nor grain,
But only tears that from frankincense flow;
It, for a shroud, sweet nard and myrrh contain.
And as the man who falls and knows not how,
By force of demons stretched upon the ground,
Or by obstruction that makes life run low,
When risen up straight gazes all around
In deep confusion through the anguish keen
He suffered from, and stares with sighs profound:
So was the sinner, when arisen, seen.
Justice of God, how are thy terrors piled,
Showering in vengeance blows thus big with teen!
My Guide then asked of him how he was styled.

Whereon he said: 'From Tuscany I rained,
Not long ago, into this gullet wild.
From bestial life, not human, joy I gained,
Mule that I was; me, Vanni Fucci,[644] brute,
Pistoia, fitting den, in life contained.'
I to my Guide: 'Bid him not budge a foot,
And ask[645] what crime has plunged him here below.
In rage and blood I knew him dissolute.'
The sinner heard, nor insincere did show,
But towards me turned his face and eke his mind,
With spiteful shame his features all aglow;
Then said: 'It pains me more thou shouldst me find
And catch me steeped in all this misery,
Than when the other life I left behind.
What thou demandest I can not deny:
I'm plunged[646] thus low because the thief I played
Within the fairly furnished sacristy;
And falsely to another's charge 'twas laid.

Lest thou shouldst joy[647] such sight has met thy view
If e'er these dreary regions thou evade,
Give ear and hearken to my utterance true:
The Neri first out of Pistoia fail,
Her laws and parties Florence shapes anew;
Mars draws a vapour out of Magra's vale,
Which black and threatening clouds accompany:
Then bursting in a tempest terrible
Upon Piceno shall the war run high;
The mist by it shall suddenly be rent,
And every Bianco[648] smitten be thereby:
And I have told thee that thou mayst lament.'


[630] _Aquarius_: The sun is in the constellation of Aquarius from the
end of January till the end of February; and already, say in the middle
of February, the day is nearly as long as the night.

[631] _Where I ailed, etc._: As the peasant is in despair at seeing the
earth white with what he thinks is snow, so was Dante at the signs of
trouble on Virgil's face. He has mistaken anger at the cheat for
perplexity as to how they are to escape from the Bolgia; and his
Master's smile is grateful and reassuring to him as the spectacle of the
green earth to the despairing shepherd.

[632] _The broken bridge_: They are about to escape from the bottom of
the Sixth Bolgia by climbing the wall between it and the Seventh, at the
point where the confused fragments of the bridge Friar Catalano told
them of (_Inf._ xxiii. 133) lie piled up against the wall, and yield
something of a practicable way.

[633] _The heavy cowled_: He finds his illustration on the spot, his
mind being still full of the grievously burdened hypocrites.

[634] _But Malebolge, etc._: Each Bolgia in turn lies at a lower level
than the one before it, and consequently the inner side of each dividing
ridge or wall is higher than the outer; or, to put it otherwise, in each
Bolgia the wall they come to last--that nearest the centre of the
Inferno, is lower than that they first reach--the one enclosing the

[635] _The topmost stone_: The stone that had formed the beginning of
the arch at this end of it.

[636] _A loftier flight_: When he ascends the Mount of Purgatory.

[637] _Steeper far, etc._: Rougher and steeper than the rib of rock they
followed till they had crossed the Fifth Bolgia. They are now travelling
along a different spoke of the wheel.

[638] _The arch, etc._: He has gone on hiding his weariness till he is
on the top of the arch that overhangs the Seventh Bolgia--that in which
thieves are punished.

[639] _Front the bridge's head_: Further on they climb up again (_Inf._
xxvi. 13) by the projecting stones which now supply them with the means
of descent. It is a disputed point how far they do descend. Clearly it
is further than merely from the bridge to the lower level of the wall
dividing the Seventh from the Eighth Bolgia; but not so far as to the
ground of the moat. Most likely the stones jut forth at the angle formed
by the junction of the bridge and the rocky wall. On one of the lowest
of these they find a standing-place whence they can see clearly what is
in the Bolgia.

[640] _Heliotrope_: A stone supposed to make the bearer of it invisible.

[641] _Their hands, etc._: The sinners in this Bolgia are the thieves,
not the violent robbers and highwaymen but those crime involves a
betrayal of trust. After all their cunning thefts they are naked now;
and, though here is nothing to steal, hands are firmly bound behind

[642] _The ashes, etc._: The sufferings of the thieves, if looked
closely into, will be found appropriate to their sins. They would fain
but cannot steal themselves away, and in addition to the constant terror
of being found out they are subject to pains the essence of which
consists in the deprivation--the theft from them--of their unsubstantial
bodies, which are all that they now have to lose. In the case of this
victim the deprivation is only temporary.

[643] _The Phoenix_: Dante here borrows very directly from Ovid
(_Metam._ xv.).

[644] _Vanni Fucci_: Natural son of a Pistoiese noble and a poet of some
merit, who bore a leading part in the ruthless feuds of Blacks and
Whites which distracted Pistoia towards the close of the thirteenth

[645] _And ask, etc._: Dante wishes to find out why Fucci is placed
among the thieves, and not in the circle of the violent. The question is
framed so as to compel confession of a crime for which the sinner had
not been condemned in life; and he flushes with rage at being found
among the cowardly thieves.

[646] _I'm plunged, etc._: Fucci was concerned in the theft of treasure
from the Cathedral Church of St. James at Pistoia. Accounts vary as to
the circumstances under which the crime was committed, and as to who
suffered for it. Neither is it certainly known when Fucci died, though
his recent arrival in the Bolgia agrees with the view that he was still
active on the side of the Blacks in the last year of the century. In the
fierceness of his retort to Dante we have evidence of their old
acquaintance and old enmity.

[647] _Lest thou shouldst joy_: Vanni, a _Nero_ or Black, takes his
revenge for being found here by Dante, who was, as he knew, associated
with the _Bianchi_ or Whites, by prophesying an event full of disaster
to these.

[648] _Every Bianco, etc._: The Blacks, according to Villani (viii. 45),
were driven from Pistoia in May 1301. They took refuge in Florence,
where their party, in the following November under the protection of
Charles of Valois, finally gained the upper hand, and began to persecute
and expel the Whites, among whom was Dante. Mars, the god of war, or,
more probably, the planet of war, draws a vapour from the valley of the
Magra, a small stream which flows into the Mediterranean on the northern
confine of Tuscany. This vapour is said to signify Moroello Malaspina, a
noble of that district and an active leader of the Blacks, who here
figure as murky clouds. The Campo Piceno is the country west of Pistoia.
There Moroello bursts on his foes like a lightning-flash out of its
cloud. This seems to refer to a pitched battle that should have happened
soon after the Blacks recovered their strength; but the chroniclers tell
of none such, though some of the commentators do. The fortress of
Seravalle was taken from the Pistoiese, it is true, in 1302, and
Moroello is said to have been the leader of the force which starved it
into submission. He was certainly present at the great siege of Pistoia
in 1305, when the citizens suffered the last rigours of famine.--This
prophecy by Fucci recalls those by Farinata and Ciacco.