Canto XXVI

Rejoice, O Florence, in thy widening fame!
Thy wings thou beatest over land and sea,
And even through Inferno spreads thy name.

Burghers of thine, five such were found by me
Among the thieves; whence I ashamed[668] grew,
Nor shall great glory thence redound to thee.
But if 'tis toward the morning[669] dreams are true,
Thou shalt experience ere long time be gone
The doom even Prato[670] prays for as thy due.
And came it now, it would not come too soon.
Would it were come as come it must with time:
'Twill crush me more the older I am grown.

Departing thence, my Guide began to climb
The jutting rocks by which we made descent
Some while ago,[671] and pulled me after him.
And as upon our lonely way we went
'Mong splinters[672] of the cliff, the feet in vain,
Without the hand to help, had labour spent.
I sorrowed, and am sorrow-smit again,
Recalling what before mine eyes there lay,
And, more than I am wont, my genius rein
From running save where virtue leads the way;
So that if happy star[673] or holier might
Have gifted me I never mourn it may.
At time of year when he who gives earth light
His face shows to us longest visible,
When gnats replace the fly at fall of night,
Not by the peasant resting on the hill
Are seen more fire-flies in the vale below,
Where he perchance doth field and vineyard[674] till,
Than flamelets I beheld resplendent glow
Throughout the whole Eighth Bolgia, when at last
I stood whence I the bottom plain could know.

And as he whom the bears avenged, when passed
From the earth Elijah, saw the chariot rise
With horses heavenward reared and mounting fast,
And no long time had traced it with his eyes
Till but a flash of light it all became,
Which like a rack of cloud swept to the skies:
Deep in the valley's gorge, in mode the same,
These flitted; what it held by none was shown,
And yet a sinner[675] lurked in every flame.
To see them well I from the bridge peered down,
And if a jutting crag I had not caught
I must have fallen, though neither thrust nor thrown.
My Leader me beholding lost in thought:
'In all the fires are spirits,' said to me;
'His flame round each is for a garment wrought.'
'O Master!' I replied, 'by hearing thee
I grow assured, but yet I knew before
That thus indeed it was, and longed to be
Told who is in the flame which there doth soar,
Cloven, as if ascending from the pyre
Where with Eteocles[676] there burned of yore
His brother.' He: 'Ulysses in that fire
And Diomedes[677] burn; in punishment
Thus held together, as they held in ire.
And, wrapped within their flame, they now repent
The ambush of the horse, which oped the door
Through which the Romans' noble seed[678] forth went.

For guile Deïdamia[679] makes deplore
In death her lost Achilles, tears they shed,
And bear for the Palladium[680] vengeance sore.'
'Master, I pray thee fervently,' I said,
'If from those flames they still can utter speech--
Give ear as if a thousand times I pled!
Refuse not here to linger, I beseech,
Until the cloven fire shall hither gain:
Thou seest how toward it eagerly I reach.'
And he: 'Thy prayers are worthy to obtain
Exceeding praise; thou hast what thou dost seek:
But see that thou from speech thy tongue refrain.
I know what thou wouldst have; leave me to speak,
For they perchance would hear contemptuously
Shouldst thou address them, seeing they were Greek.'[681]
Soon as the flame toward us had come so nigh
That to my Leader time and place seemed met,
I heard him thus adjure it to reply:
'O ye who twain within one fire are set,
If what I did your guerdon meriteth,
If much or little ye are in my debt
For the great verse I built while I had breath,
By one of you be openly confessed
Where, lost to men, at last he met with death.'
Of the ancient flame the more conspicuous crest
Murmuring began to waver up and down
Like flame that flickers, by the wind distressed.
At length by it was measured motion shown,
Like tongue that moves in speech; and by the flame
Was language uttered thus: 'When I had gone
From Circe[682] who a long year kept me tame
Beside her, ere the near Gaeta had
Receivèd from Æneas that new name;
No softness for my son, nor reverence sad
For my old father, nor the love I owed
Penelope with which to make her glad,
Could quench the ardour that within me glowed
A full experience of the world to gain--
Of human vice and worth. But I abroad
Launched out upon the high and open main[683]
With but one bark and but the little band
Which ne'er deserted me.[684] As far as Spain
I saw the sea-shore upon either hand,
And as Morocco; saw Sardinia's isle,
And all of which those waters wash the strand.
I and my comrades were grown old the while
And sluggish, ere we to the narrows came
Where Hercules of old did landmarks pile
For sign to men they should no further aim;
And Seville lay behind me on the right,
As on the left lay Ceuta. Then to them
I spake: "O Brothers, who through such a fight
Of hundred thousand dangers West have won,
In this short watch that ushers in the night
Of all your senses, ere your day be done,
Refuse not to obtain experience new
Of worlds unpeopled, yonder, past the sun.

Consider whence the seed of life ye drew;
Ye were not born to live like brutish herd,
But righteousness and wisdom to ensue."
My comrades to such eagerness were stirred
By this short speech the course to enter on,
They had no longer brooked restraining word.
Turning our poop to where the morning shone
We of the oars made wings for our mad flight,
Still tending left the further we had gone.
And of the other pole I saw at night
Now all the stars; and 'neath the watery plain
Our own familiar heavens were lost to sight.
Five times afresh had kindled, and again
The moon's face earthward was illumed no more,
Since out we sailed upon the mighty main;[685]
Then we beheld a lofty mountain[686] soar,
Dim in the distance; higher, as I thought,
By far than any I had seen before.

We joyed; but with despair were soon distraught
When burst a whirlwind from the new-found world
And the forequarter of the vessel caught.
With all the waters thrice it round was swirled;
At the fourth time the poop, heaved upward, rose,
The prow, as pleased Another,[687] down was hurled;
And then above us did the ocean close.'


[668] _Whence I ashamed, etc._: There is here a sudden change from irony
to earnest. 'Five members of great Florentine families, eternally
engaged among themselves in their shameful metamorphoses--nay, but it is
too sad!'

[669] _Toward the morning, etc._: There was a widespread belief in the
greater truthfulness of dreams dreamed as the night wears away. See
_Purg._ ix. 13. The dream is Dante's foreboding of what is to happen to
Florence. Of its truth he has no doubt, and the only question is how
soon will it be answered by the fact. Soon, he says, if it is near to
the morning that we dream true dreams--morning being the season of
waking reality in which dreams are accomplished.

[670] _Even Prato_: A small neighbouring city, much under the influence
of Florence, and somewhat oppressed by it. The commentators reckon up
the disasters that afflicted Florence in the first years of the
fourteenth century, between the date of Dante's journey and the time he
wrote--fires, falls of bridges, and civil strife. But such misfortunes
were too much in keeping with the usual course of Florentine history to
move Dante thus deeply in the retrospect; and as he speaks here in his
own person the 'soon' is more naturally counted from the time at which
he writes than from the date assigned by him to his pilgrimage. He is
looking forward to the period when his own return in triumph to Florence
was to be prepared by grievous national reverses; and, as a patriot, he
feels that he cannot be wholly reconciled by his private advantage to
the public misfortune. But it was all only a dream.

[671] _Some while ago_: See note, _Inf._ xxiv. 79.

[672] _'Mong splinters, etc._: They cross the wall or barrier between
the Seventh and Eighth Bolgias. From _Inf._ xxiv. 63 we have learned
that the rib of rock, on the line of which they are now proceeding, with
its arches which overhang the various Bolgias, is rougher and worse to
follow than that by which they began their passage towards the centre of

[673] _Happy star_: See note, _Inf._ xv. 55. Dante seems to have been
uncertain what credence to give to the claims of astrology. In a passage
of the _Purgatorio_ (xvi. 67) he tries to establish that whatever
influence the stars may possess over us we can never, except with our
own consent, be influenced by them to evil.--His sorrow here, as
elsewhere, is not wholly a feeling of pity for the suffering shades, but
is largely mingled with misgivings for himself. The punishment of those
to whose sins he feels no inclination he always beholds with equanimity.
Here, as he looks down upon the false counsellors and considers what
temptations there are to misapply intellectual gifts, he is smitten with
dread lest his lot should one day be cast in that dismal valley and he
find cause to regret that the talent of genius was ever committed to
him. The memory even of what he saw makes him recollect himself and
resolve to be wary. Then, as if to justify the claim to superior powers
thus clearly implied, there comes a passage which in the original is of
uncommon beauty.

[674] _Field and vineyard_: These lines, redolent of the sweet Tuscan
midsummer gloaming, give us amid the horrors of Malebolge something like
the breath of fresh air the peasant lingers to enjoy. It may be noted
that in Italy the village is often found perched above the more fertile
land, on a site originally chosen with a view to security from attack.

So that here the peasant is at home from his labour.

[675] _And yet a sinner, etc._: The false counsellors who for selfish
ends hid their true minds and misused their intellectual light to lead
others astray are for ever hidden each in his own wandering flame.

[676] _Eteocles_: Son of Oedipus and twin brother of Polynices. The
brothers slew one another, and were placed on the same funeral pile, the
flame of which clove into two as if to image the discord that had
existed between them (_Theb._ xii.).

[677] _And Diomedes_: The two are associated in deeds of blood and guile
at the siege of Troy.

[678] _The Romans' noble seed_: The trick of the wooden horse led to the
capture of Troy, and that led Æneas to wander forth on the adventures
that ended in the settlement of the Trojans in Italy.

[679] _Deïdamia_: That Achilles might be kept from joining the Greek
expedition to Troy he was sent by his mother to the court of Lycomedes,
father of Deïdamia. Ulysses lured him away from his hiding-place and
from Deïdamia, whom he had made a mother.

[680] _The Palladium_: The Trojan sacred image of Pallas, stolen by
Ulysses and Diomed (_Æn._ ii.). Ulysses is here upon his own ground.

[681] _They were Greek_: Some find here an allusion to Dante's ignorance
of the Greek language and literature. But Virgil addresses them in the
Lombard dialect of Italian (_Inf._ xxvii. 21). He acts as spokesman
because those ancient Greeks were all so haughty that to a common modern
mortal they would have nothing to say. He, as the author of the _Æneid_,
has a special claim on their good-nature. It is but seldom that the
shades are told who Virgil is, and never directly. Here Ulysses may
infer it from the mention of the 'lofty verse.'

[682] _From Circe_: It is Ulysses that speaks.

[683] _The open main_: The Mediterranean as distinguished from the

[684] _Which ne'er deserted me_: There seems no reason for supposing,
with Philalethes, that Ulysses is here represented as sailing on his
last voyage from the island of Circe and not from Ithaca. Ulysses, on
the contrary, represents himself as breaking away afresh from all the
ties of home. According to Homer, Ulysses had lost all his companions
ere he returned to Ithaca; and in the _Odyssey_ Tiresias prophesies to
him that his last wanderings are to be inland. But any acquaintance that
Dante had with Homer can only have been vague and fragmentary. He may
have founded his narrative of how Ulysses ended his days upon some
floating legend; or, eager to fill up what he took to be a blank in the
world of imagination, he may have drawn wholly on his own creative
power. In any case it is his Ulysses who, through the version of him
given by a living poet, is most familiar to the English reader.

[685] _The mighty main_: The Atlantic Ocean. They bear to the left as
they sail, till their course is due south, and crossing the Equator,
they find themselves under the strange skies of the southern hemisphere.
For months they have seen no land.

[686] _A lofty mountain_: This is the Mountain of Purgatory, according
to Dante's geography antipodal to Jerusalem, and the only land in the
southern hemisphere.

[687] _As pleased Another_: Ulysses is proudly resigned to the failure
of his enterprise, 'for he was Greek.'