Canto XXIX

The many folk and wounds of divers kind
Had flushed mine eyes and set them on the flow,
Till I to weep and linger had a mind;
But Virgil said to me: 'Why gazing so?
Why still thy vision fastening on the crew
Of dismal shades dismembered there below?
Thou didst not[735] thus the other Bolgias view:
Think, if to count them be thine enterprise,
The valley circles twenty miles and two.[736]
Beneath our feet the moon[737] already lies;
The time[738] wears fast away to us decreed;
And greater things than these await thine eyes.'
I answered swift: 'Hadst thou but given heed
To why it was my looks were downward bent,
To yet more stay thou mightest have agreed.'
My Guide meanwhile was moving, and I went
Behind him and continued to reply,
Adding: 'Within the moat on which intent
I now was gazing with such eager eye
I trow a spirit weeps, one of my kin,
The crime whose guilt is rated there so high.'
Then said the Master: 'Henceforth hold thou in
Thy thoughts from wandering to him: new things claim
Attention now, so leave him with his sin.

Him saw I at thee from the bridge-foot aim
A threatening finger, while he made thee known;
Geri del Bello[739] heard I named his name.
But, at the time, thou wast with him alone
Engrossed who once held Hautefort,[740] nor the place
Didst look at where he was; so passed he on.'
'O Leader mine! death violent and base,
And not avenged as yet,' I made reply,
'By any of his partners in disgrace,
Made him disdainful; therefore went he by
And spake not with me, if I judge aright;
Which does the more my ruth[741] intensify.'
So we conversed till from the cliff we might
Of the next valley have had prospect good
Down to the bottom, with but clearer light.[742]
When we above the inmost Cloister stood
Of Malebolge, and discerned the crew
Of such as there compose the Brotherhood,[743]
So many lamentations pierced me through--
And barbed with pity all the shafts were sped--
My open palms across my ears I drew.
From Valdichiana's[744] every spital bed
All ailments to September from July,
With all in Maremma and Sardinia[745] bred,
Heaped in one pit a sickness might supply
Like what was here; and from it rose a stink
Like that which comes from limbs that putrefy.
Then we descended by the utmost brink
Of the long ridge[746]--leftward once more we fell--
Until my vision, quickened now, could sink
Deeper to where Justice infallible,
The minister of the Almighty Lord,
Chastises forgers doomed on earth[747] to Hell.

Ægina[748] could no sadder sight afford,
As I believe (when all the people ailed
And all the air was so with sickness stored,
Down to the very worms creation failed
And died, whereon the pristine folk once more,
As by the poets is for certain held,
From seed of ants their family did restore),
Than what was offered by that valley black
With plague-struck spirits heaped upon the floor.
Supine some lay, each on the other's back
Or stomach; and some crawled with crouching gait
For change of place along the doleful track.
Speechless we moved with step deliberate,
With eyes and ears on those disease crushed down
Nor left them power to lift their bodies straight.
I saw two sit, shoulder to shoulder thrown
As plate holds plate up to be warmed, from head
Down to the feet with scurf and scab o'ergrown.

Nor ever saw I curry-comb so plied
By varlet with his master standing by,
Or by one kept unwillingly from bed,
As I saw each of these his scratchers ply
Upon himself; for nought else now avails
Against the itch which plagues them furiously.
The scab[749] they tore and loosened with their nails,
As with a knife men use the bream to strip,
Or any other fish with larger scales.
'Thou, that thy mail dost with thy fingers rip,'
My Guide to one of them began to say,
'And sometimes dost with them as pincers nip,
Tell, is there any here from Italy
Among you all, so may thy nails suffice
For this their work to all eternity.'[750]
'Latians are both of us in this disguise
Of wretchedness,' weeping said one of those;
'But who art thou, demanding on this wise?'
My Guide made answer: 'I am one who goes
Down with this living man from steep to steep
That I to him Inferno may disclose.'
Then broke their mutual prop; trembling with deep
Amazement each turned to me, with the rest
To whom his words had echoed in the heap.
Me the good Master cordially addressed:
'Whate'er thou hast a mind to ask them, say.'
And since he wished it, thus I made request:
'So may remembrance of you not decay
Within the upper world out of the mind
Of men, but flourish still for many a day,
As ye shall tell your names and what your kind:
Let not your vile, disgusting punishment
To full confession make you disinclined.'
'An Aretine,[751] I to the stake was sent
By Albert of Siena,' one confessed,
'But came not here through that for which I went
To death. 'Tis true I told him all in jest,
I through the air could float in upward gyre;
And he, inquisitive and dull at best,
Did full instruction in the art require:
I could not make him Dædalus,[752] so then
His second father sent me to the fire.

But to the deepest Bolgia of the ten,
For alchemy which in the world I wrought,
The unerring Minos doomed me.' 'Now were men
E'er found,' I of the Poet asked, 'so fraught
With vanity as are the Sienese?[753]
French vanity to theirs is surely nought.'
The other leper hearing me, to these
My words: 'Omit the Stricca,'[754] swift did shout,
'Who knew his tastes with temperance to please;
And Nicholas,[755] who earliest found out
The lavish custom of the clove-stuffed roast
Within the garden where such seed doth sprout.
Nor count the club[756] where Caccia d' Ascian lost
Vineyards and woods; 'mid whom away did throw
His wit the Abbagliato.[757] But whose ghost
It is, that thou mayst weet, that backs thee so
Against the Sienese, make sharp thine eyes
That thou my countenance mayst surely know.
In me Capocchio's[758] shade thou'lt recognise,
Who forged false coin by means of alchemy:
Thou must remember, if I well surmise,
How I of nature very ape could be.'


[735] _Thou didst not, etc._: It is a noteworthy feature in the conduct
of the Poem that when Dante has once gained sufficient knowledge of any
group in the Inferno he at once detaches his mind from it, and, carrying
on as little arrear of pity as he can, gives his thoughts to further
progress on the journey. The departure here made from his usual
behaviour is presently accounted for. Virgil knows why he lingers, but
will not seem to approve of the cause.

[736] _Twenty miles and two_: The Ninth Bolgia has a circumference of
twenty-two miles, and as the procession of the shades is slow it would
indeed involve a protracted halt to wait till all had passed beneath the
bridge. Virgil asks ironically if he wishes to count them all. This
precise detail, taken along with one of the same kind in the following
Canto (line 86), has suggested the attempt to construct the Inferno to a
scale. Dante wisely suffers us to forget, if we will, that--taking the
diameter of the earth at 6500 miles, as given by him in the
_Convito_--he travels from the surface of the globe to the centre at the
rate of more than two miles a minute, counting downward motion alone. It
is only when he has come to the lowest rings that he allows himself to
give details of size; and probably the mention of the extent of the
Ninth Bolgia, which comes on the reader as a surprise, is thrown out in
order to impress on the imagination some sense of the enormous extent of
the regions through which the pilgrim has already passed. Henceforth he
deals in exact measurement.

[737] _The moon_: It is now some time after noon on the Saturday. The
last indication of time was at Canto xxi. 112.

[738] _The time, etc._: Before nightfall they are to complete their
exploration of the Inferno, and they will have spent twenty-four hours
in it.

[739] _Geri del Bello_: One of the Alighieri, a full cousin of Dante's
father. He was guilty of encouraging dissension, say the commentators;
which is to be clearly inferred from the place assigned him in Inferno:
but they do not agree as to how he met his death, nor do they mention
the date of it. 'Not avenged till thirty years after,' says Landino; but
does not say if this was after his death or the time at which Dante

[740] _Hautefort_: Bertrand de Born's castle in Gascony.

[741] _My ruth_: Enlightened moralist though Dante is, he yet shows
himself man of his age enough to be keenly alive to the extremest claims
of kindred; and while he condemns the _vendetta_ by the words put into
Virgil's mouth, he confesses to a feeling of meanness not to have
practised it on behoof of a distant relative. There is a high art in
this introduction of Geri del Bello. Had they conferred together Dante
must have seemed either cruel or pusillanimous, reproaching or being
reproached. As it is, all the poetry of the situation comes out the
stronger that they do not meet face to face: the threatening finger, the
questions hastily put to Geri by the astonished shades, and his
disappearance under the dark vault when by the law of his punishment the
sinner can no longer tarry.

[742] _With but clearer light_: They have crossed the rampart dividing
the Ninth Bolgia from the Tenth, of which they would now command a view,
were it not so dark.

[743] _The Brotherhood_: The word used properly describes the Lay
Brothers of a monastery. Philalethes suggests that Dante may regard the
devils as the true monks of the monastery of Malebolge. The simile
involves no contempt for the monastic life, but is naturally used with
reference to those who live secluded and under a fixed rule. He
elsewhere speaks of the College of the Hypocrites (_Inf._ xxiii. 91) and
of Paradise as the Cloister where Christ is Abbot (_Purg._ xxvi.129).

[744] _Valdichiana_: The district lying between Arezzo and Chiusi; in
Dante's time a hotbed of malaria, but now, owing to drainage works
promoted by the enlightened Tuscan minister Fossombroni (1823), one of
the most fertile and healthy regions of Italy.

[745] _Sardinia_: Had in the middle ages an evil reputation for its
fever-stricken air. The Maremma has been already mentioned (_Inf._
xxv.19). In Dante's time it was almost unpeopled.

[746] _The long ridge_: One of the ribs of rock which, like the spokes
of a wheel, ran from the periphery to the centre of Malebolge, rising
into arches as they crossed each successive Bolgia. The utmost brink is
the inner bank of the Tenth and last Bolgia. To the edge of this moat
they descend, bearing as usual to the left hand.

[747] _Doomed on earth, etc._: 'Whom she here registers.' While they are
still on earth their doom is fixed by Divine justice.

[748] _Ægina_: The description is taken from Ovid (_Metam._ vii.).

[749] _The scab, etc._: As if by an infernal alchemy the matter of the
shadowy bodies of these sinners is changed into one loathsome form or

[750] _To all eternity_: This may seem a stroke of sarcasm, but is not.
Himself a shade, Virgil cannot, like Dante, promise to refresh the
memory of the shades on earth, and can only wish for them some slight
alleviation of their suffering.

[751] _An Aretine_: Called Griffolino, and burned at Florence or Siena
on a charge of heresy. Albert of Siena is said to have been a relative,
some say the natural son, of the Bishop of Siena. A man of the name
figures as hero in some of Sacchetti's novels, always in a ridiculous
light. There seems to be no authentic testimony regarding the incident
in the text.

[752] _Dædalus_: Who escaped on wings of his invention from the Cretan
Labyrinth he had made and lost himself in.

[753] _The Sienese_: The comparison of these to the French would have
the more cogency as Siena boasted of having been founded by the Gauls.
'That vain people,' says Dante of the Sienese in the _Purgatory_ (xiii.
151). Among their neighbours they still bear the reputation of
light-headedness; also, it ought to be added, of great urbanity.

[754] _The Stricca_: The exception in his favour is ironical, as is that
of all the others mentioned.

[755] _Nicholas_: 'The lavish custom of the clove' which he invented is
variously described. I have chosen the version which makes it consist of
stuffing pheasants with cloves, then very costly.

[756] _The club_: The commentators tell that the two young Sienese
nobles above mentioned were members of a society formed for the purpose
of living luxuriously together. Twelve of them contributed a fund of
above two hundred thousand gold florins; they built a great palace and
furnished it magnificently, and launched out into every other sort of
extravagance with such assiduity that in a few months their capital was
gone. As that amounted to more than a hundred thousand pounds of our
money, equal in those days to a million or two, the story must be held
to savour of romance. That Dante refers to a prodigal's club that
actually existed some time before he wrote we cannot doubt. But it seems
uncertain, to say the least, whether the sonnets addressed by the Tuscan
poet Folgore da Gemignano to a jovial crew in Siena can be taken as
having been inspired by the club Dante speaks of. A translation of them
is given by Mr. Rossetti in his _Circle of Dante_. (See Mr. Symonds's
_Renaissance_, vol. iv. page 54, _note_, for doubts as to the date of
Folgore.)--_Caccia d' Ascian_: Whose short and merry club life cost him
his estates near Siena.

[757] _The Abbagliato_: Nothing is known, though a great deal is
guessed, about this member of the club. It is enough to know that,
having a scant supply of wit, he spent it freely.

[758] _Capocchio_: Some one whom Dante knew. Whether he was a Florentine
or a Sienese is not ascertained, but from the strain of his mention of
the Sienese we may guess Florentine. He was burned in Siena in
1293.--(Scartazzini.) They had studied together, says the _Anonimo_.
Benvenuto tells of him that one Good Friday, while in a cloister, he
painted on his nail with marvellous completeness a picture of the
crucifixion. Dante came up, and was lost in wonder, when Capocchio
suddenly licked his nail clean--which may be taken for what it is worth.