Canto XXV

The robber,[649] when his words were ended so,
Made both the figs and lifted either fist,
Shouting: 'There, God! for them at thee I throw.'
Then were the snakes my friends; for one 'gan twist
And coiled itself around the sinner's throat,
As if to say: 'Now would I have thee whist.'
Another seized his arms and made a knot,
Clinching itself upon them in such wise
He had no power to move them by a jot.
Pistoia![650] thou, Pistoia, shouldst devise
To burn thyself to ashes, since thou hast
Outrun thy founders in iniquities.
The blackest depths of Hell through which I passed
Showed me no soul 'gainst God so filled with spite,
No, not even he who down Thebes' wall[651] was cast.
He spake no further word, but turned to flight;
And I beheld a Centaur raging sore
Come shouting: 'Of the ribald give me sight!'
I scarce believe Maremma[652] yieldeth more
Snakes of all kinds than what composed the load
Which on his back, far as our form, he bore.

Behind his nape, with pinions spread abroad,
A dragon couchant on his shoulders lay
To set on fire whoever bars his road.
'This one is Cacus,'[653] did my Master say,
'Who underneath the rock of Aventine
Watered a pool with blood day after day.
Not with his brethren[654] runs he in the line,
Because of yore the treacherous theft he wrought
Upon the neighbouring wealthy herd of kine:
Whence to his crooked course an end was brought
'Neath Hercules' club, which on him might shower down
A hundred blows; ere ten he suffered nought.'
While this he said, the other had passed on;
And under us three spirits forward pressed
Of whom my Guide and I had nothing known
But that: 'Who are ye?' they made loud request.
Whereon our tale[655] no further could proceed;
And toward them wholly we our wits addressed.

I recognised them not, but gave good heed;
Till, as it often haps in such a case,
To name another, one discovered need,
Saying: 'Now where stopped Cianfa[656] in the race?'
Then, that my Guide might halt and hearken well,
On chin[657] and nose I did my finger place.
If, Reader, to believe what now I tell
Thou shouldst be slow, I wonder not, for I
Who saw it all scarce find it credible.
While I on them my brows kept lifted high
A serpent, which had six feet, suddenly flew
At one of them and held him bodily.
Its middle feet about his paunch it drew,
And with the two in front his arms clutched fast,
And bit one cheek and the other through and through.

Its hinder feet upon his thighs it cast,
Thrusting its tail between them till behind,
Distended o'er his reins, it upward passed.
The ivy to a tree could never bind
Itself so firmly as this dreadful beast
Its members with the other's intertwined.
Each lost the colour that it once possessed,
And closely they, like heated wax, unite,
The former hue of neither manifest:
Even so up o'er papyrus,[658] when alight,
Before the flame there spreads a colour dun,
Not black as yet, though from it dies the white.
The other two meanwhile were looking on,
Crying: 'Agnello, how art thou made new!
Thou art not twain, and yet no longer one.'
A single head was moulded out of two;
And on our sight a single face arose,
Which out of both lost countenances grew.

Four separate limbs did but two arms compose;
Belly with chest, and legs with thighs did grow
To members such as nought created shows.
Their former fashion was all perished now:
The perverse shape did both, yet neither seem;
And, thus transformed, departed moving slow.
And as the lizard, which at fierce extreme
Of dog-day heat another hedge would gain,
Flits 'cross the path swift as the lightning's gleam;
Right for the bellies of the other twain
A little snake[659] quivering with anger sped,
Livid and black as is a pepper grain,
And on the part by which we first are fed
Pierced one of them; and then upon the ground
It fell before him, and remained outspread.
The wounded gazed on it, but made no sound.

Rooted he stood[660] and yawning, scarce awake,
As seized by fever or by sleep profound.
It closely watched him and he watched the snake,
While from its mouth and from his wound 'gan swell
Volumes of smoke which joined one cloud to make.
Be Lucan henceforth dumb, nor longer tell
Of plagued Sabellus and Nassidius,[661]
But, hearkening to what follows, mark it well.
Silent be Ovid: of him telling us
How Cadmus[662] to a snake, and to a fount
Changed Arethuse,[663] I am not envious;
For never of two natures front to front
In metamorphosis, while mutually
The forms[664] their matter changed, he gives account.

'Twas thus that each to the other made reply:
Its tail into a fork the serpent split;
Bracing his feet the other pulled them nigh:
And then in one so thoroughly were knit
His legs and thighs, no searching could divine
At where the junction had been wrought in it.
The shape, of which the one lost every sign,
The cloven tail was taking; then the skin
Of one grew rough, the other's soft and fine.
I by the armpits saw the arms drawn in;
And now the monster's feet, which had been small,
What the other's lost in length appeared to win.
Together twisted, its hind feet did fall
And grew the member men are used to hide:
For his the wretch gained feet with which to crawl.

Dyed in the smoke they took on either side
A novel colour: hair unwonted grew
On one; the hair upon the other died.
The one fell prone, erect the other drew,
With cruel eyes continuing to glare,
'Neath which their muzzles metamorphose knew.
The erect to his brows drew his. Of stuff to spare
Of what he upward pulled, there was no lack;
So ears were formed on cheeks that erst were bare.
Of that which clung in front nor was drawn back,
Superfluous, on the face was formed a nose,
And lips absorbed the skin that still was slack.

His muzzle who lay prone now forward goes;
Backward into his head his ears he draws
Even as a snail appears its horns to lose.
The tongue, which had been whole and ready was
For speech, cleaves now; the forked tongue of the snake
Joins in the other: and the smoke has pause.[665]
The soul which thus a brutish form did take,
Along the valley, hissing, swiftly fled;
The other close behind it spluttering spake,
Then, toward it turning his new shoulders, said
Unto the third: 'Now Buoso down the way
May hasten crawling, as I earlier sped.'
Ballast which in the Seventh Bolgia lay
Thus saw I shift and change. Be my excuse
The novel theme,[666] if swerves my pen astray.
And though these things mine eyesight might confuse
A little, and my mind with fear divide,
Such secrecy they fleeing could not use
But that Puccio Sciancatto plain I spied;
And he alone of the companions three
Who came at first, was left unmodified.
For the other, tears, Gaville,[667] are shed by thee.


[649] _The robber, etc._: By means of his prophecy Fucci has, after a
fashion, taken revenge on Dante for being found by him among the
cheating thieves instead of among the nobler sinners guilty of blood and
violence. But in the rage of his wounded pride he must insult even
Heaven, and this he does by using the most contemptuous gesture in an
Italian's repertory. The fig is made by thrusting the thumb between the
next two fingers. In the English 'A fig for him!' we have a reference to
the gesture.

[650] _Pistoia_: The Pistoiese bore the reputation of being hard and
pitiless. The tradition was that their city had been founded by such of
Catiline's followers as survived his defeat on the Campo Piceno. 'It is
no wonder,' says Villani (i. 32) 'that, being the descendants as they
are of Catiline and his followers, the Pistoiese have always been
ruthless and cruel to strangers and to one another.'

[651] _Who down Thebes' wall_: Capaneus (_Inf._ xiv. 63).

[652] _Maremma_: See note, _Inf._ xiii. 8.

[653] _Cacus_: Dante makes him a Centaur, but Virgil (_Æn._ viii.) only
describes him as half human. The pool was fed with the blood of his
human victims. The herd was the spoil Hercules took from Geryon. In the
_Æneid_ Cacus defends himself from Hercules by vomiting a fiery smoke;
and this doubtless suggested the dragon of the text.

[654] _His brethren_: The Centaurs who guard the river of blood (_Inf._
xii. 56). In Fucci, as a sinner guilty of blood and violence above most
of the thieves, the Centaur Cacus takes a special malign interest.

[655] _Our tale_: Of Cacus. It is interrupted by the arrival of three
sinners whom Dante does not at first recognise as he gazes down on them,
but only when they begin to speak among themselves. They are three noble
citizens of Florence: Agnello Brunelleschi, Buoso degli Abati, and
Puccio Sciancatto de' Galigai--all said to have pilfered in private
life, or to have abused their tenure of high office by plundering the
Commonwealth. What is certainly known of them is that they were
Florentine thieves of quality.

[656] _Cianfa_: Another Florentine gentleman, one of the Donati. Since
his companions lost sight of him he has been transformed into a
six-footed serpent. Immediately appearing, he darts upon Agnello.

[657] _On chin, etc._: A gesture by which silence is requested. The
mention of Cianfa shows Dante that he is among Florentines.

[658] _Papyrus_: The original is _papiro_, the word used in Dante's time
for a wick made out of a reed like the papyrus; _papér_ being still the
name for a wick in some dialects.--(Scartazzini.) It cannot be shown
that _papiro_ was ever employed for paper in Italian. This, however,
does not prove that Dante may not so use it in this instance, adopting
it from the Latin _papyrus_. Besides, he says that the brown colour
travels up over the _papiro_; while it goes downward on a burning wick.
Nor would the simile, if drawn from a slowly burning lamp-wick, agree
with the speed of the change described in the text.

[659] _A little snake_: As transpires from the last line of the Canto,
this is Francesco, of the Florentine family of the Cavalcanti, to which
Dante's friend Guido belonged. He wounds Buoso in the navel, and then,
instead of growing into one new monster as was the case with Cianfa and
Agnello, they exchange shapes, and when the transformation is complete
Buoso is the serpent and Francesco is the human shade.

[660] _Rooted he stood, etc._: The description agrees with the symptoms
of snake-bite, one of which is extreme drowsiness.

[661] _Sabellus and Nassidius_: Were soldiers of Cato's army whose death
by snake-bite in the Libyan desert is described by Lucan, _Pharsal._ ix.
Sabbellus was burned up by the poison, bones and all; Nassidius swelled
up and burst.

[662] _Cadmus_: _Metam._ iv.

[663] _Arethusa_: _Metam._ v.

[664] _The forms, etc._: The word _form_ is here to be taken in its
scholastic sense of _virtus formativa_, the inherited power of modifying
matter into an organised body. 'This, united to the divinely implanted
spark of reason,' says Philalethes, 'constitutes, on Dante's system, a
human soul. Even after death this power continues to be an essential
constituent of the soul, and constructs out of the elements what seems
to be a body. Here the sinners exchange the matter they have thus made
their own, each retaining, however, his proper plastic energy as part of
his soul.' Dante in his _Convito_ (iii. 2) says that 'the human soul is
the noblest form of all that are made under the heavens, receiving more
of the Divine nature than any other.'

[665] _The smoke has pause_: The sinners have robbed one another of all
they can lose. In the punishment is mirrored the sin that plunged them

[666] _The novel theme_: He has lingered longer than usual on this
Bolgia, and pleads wonder of what he saw in excuse either of his
prolixity or of some of the details of his description. The expression
is perhaps one of feigned humility, to balance his recent boast of
excelling Ovid and Lucan in inventive power.

[667] _Gaville_: The other, and the only one of those five Florentine
thieves not yet named in the text, is he who came at first in the form
of a little black snake, and who has now assumed the shape of Buoso. In
reality he is Francesco Cavalcanti, who was slain by the people of
Gaville in the upper Valdarno. Many of them were in their turn
slaughtered in revenge by the Cavalcanti and their associates. It should
be remarked that some of these five Florentines were of one party, some
of the other. It is also noteworthy that Dante recruits his thieves as
he did his usurers from the great Florentine families.--As the 'shifting
and changing' of this rubbish is apt to be found confusing, the
following may be useful to some readers:--There first came on the scene
Agnello, Buoso, and Puccio. Cianfa, in the shape of a six-footed
serpent, comes and throws himself on Agnello, and then, grown
incorporate in a new strange monster, two in one, they disappear. Buoso
is next wounded by Francesco, and they exchange members and bodies. Only
Puccio remains unchanged.