Canto XXXI

The very tongue that first had caused me pain,
Biting till both my cheeks were crimsoned o'er,
With healing medicine me restored again.
So have I heard, the lance Achilles[781] bore,
Which earlier was his father's, first would wound
And then to health the wounded part restore.
From that sad valley[782] we our backs turned round,
Up the encircling rampart making way
Nor uttering, as we crossed it, any sound.
Here was it less than night and less than day,
And scarce I saw at all what lay ahead;
But of a trumpet the sonorous bray--
No thunder-peal were heard beside it--led
Mine eyes along the line by which it passed,
Till on one spot their gaze concentrated.

When by the dolorous rout was overcast
The sacred enterprise of Charlemagne
Roland[783] blew not so terrible a blast.
Short time my head was that way turned, when plain
I many lofty towers appeared to see.
'Master, what town is this?' I asked. 'Since fain
Thou art,' he said, 'to pierce the obscurity
While yet through distance 'tis inscrutable,
Thou must of error needs the victim be.
Arriving there thou shalt distinguish well
How much by distance was thy sense betrayed;
Therefore to swifter course thyself compel.'
Then tenderly[784] he took my hand, and said:
'Ere we pass further I would have thee know,
That at the fact thou mayst be less dismayed,
These are not towers but giants; in a row
Set round the brink each in the pit abides,
His navel hidden and the parts below.'
And even as when the veil of mist divides
Little by little dawns upon the sight
What the obscuring vapour earlier hides;
So, piercing the gross air uncheered by light,
As I step after step drew near the bound
My error fled, but I was filled with fright.

As Montereggion[785] with towers is crowned
Which from the walls encircling it arise;
So, rising from the pit's encircling mound,
Half of their bodies towered before mine eyes--
Dread giants, still by Jupiter defied
From Heaven whene'er it thunders in the skies.
The face of one already I descried,
His shoulders, breast, and down his belly far,
And both his arms dependent by his side.
When Nature ceased such creatures as these are
To form, she of a surety wisely wrought
Wresting from Mars such ministers of war.
And though she rue not that to life she brought
The whale and elephant, who deep shall read
Will justify her wisdom in his thought;
For when the powers of intellect are wed
To strength and evil will, with them made one,
The race of man is helpless left indeed.

As large and long as is St. Peter's cone[786]
At Rome, the face appeared; of every limb
On scale like this was fashioned every bone.
So that the bank, which covered half of him
As might a tunic, left uncovered yet
So much that if to his hair they sought to climb
Three Frisians[787] end on end their match had met;
For thirty great palms I of him could see,
Counting from where a man's cloak-clasp is set.
_Rafel[788] mai amech zabi almi!_
Out of the bestial mouth began to roll,
Which scarce would suit more dulcet psalmody.
And then my Leader charged him: 'Stupid soul,
Stick to thy horn. With it relieve thy mind
When rage or other passions pass control.

Feel at thy neck, round which the thong is twined
O puzzle-headed wretch! from which 'tis slung;
Clipping thy monstrous breast thou shalt it find.'
And then to me: 'From his own mouth is wrung
Proof of his guilt. 'Tis Nimrod, whose insane
Whim hindered men from speaking in one tongue.
Leave we him here nor spend our speech in vain;
For words to him in any language said,
As unto others his, no sense contain.'
Turned to the left, we on our journey sped,
And at the distance of an arrow's flight
We found another huger and more dread.
By what artificer thus pinioned tight
I cannot tell, but his left arm was bound
In front, as at his back was bound the right,
By a chain which girt him firmly round and round;
About what of his frame there was displayed
Below the neck, in fivefold gyre 'twas wound.
'Incited by ambition this one made
Trial of prowess 'gainst Almighty Jove,'
My Leader told, 'and he is thus repaid.

'Tis Ephialtes,[789] mightily who strove
What time the giants to the gods caused fright:
The arms he wielded then no more will move.'
And I to him: 'Fain would I, if I might,
On the enormous Briareus set eye,
And know the truth by holding him in sight.'
'Antæus[790] thou shalt see,' he made reply,
'Ere long, and he can speak, nor is in chains.
Us to the depth of all iniquity
He shall let down. The one thou'dst see[791] remains
Far off, like this one bound and like in make,
But in his face far more of fierceness reigns.'
Never when earth most terribly did quake
Shook any tower so much as what all o'er
And suddenly did Ephialtes shake.
Terror of death possessed me more and more;
The fear alone had served my turn indeed,
But that I marked the ligatures he wore.
Then did we somewhat further on proceed,
Reaching Antæus who for good five ell,[792]
His head not counted, from the pit was freed.

'O thou who from the fortune-haunted dell[793]--
Where Scipio of glory was made heir
When with his host to flight turned Hannibal--
A thousand lions didst for booty bear
Away, and who, hadst thou but joined the host
And like thy brethren fought, some even aver
The victory to earth's sons had not been lost,
Lower us now, nor disobliging show,
To where Cocytus[794] fettered is by frost.
To Tityus[795] nor to Typhon make us go.
To grant what here is longed for he hath power,
Cease them to curl thy snout, but bend thee low.
He can for wage thy name on earth restore;
He lives, and still expecteth to live long,
If Grace recall him not before his hour.'
So spake my Master. Then his hands he swung
Downward and seized my Leader in all haste--
Hands in whose grip even Hercules once was wrung.

And Virgil when he felt them round him cast
Said: 'That I may embrace thee, hither tend,'
And in one bundle with him made me fast.
And as to him that under Carisend[796]
Stands on the side it leans to, while clouds fly
Counter its slope, the tower appears to bend;
Even so to me who stood attentive by
Antæus seemed to stoop, and I, dismayed,
Had gladly sought another road to try.
But us in the abyss he gently laid,
Where Lucifer and Judas gulfed remain;
Nor to it thus bent downward long time stayed,
But like a ship's mast raised himself again.


[781] _Achilles_: The rust upon his lance had virtue to heal the wound.

[782] _From that sad valley_: Leaving the Tenth and last Bolgia they
climb the inner bank of it and approach the Ninth and last Circle, which
consists of the pit of the Inferno.

[783] _Roland_: Charles the Great, on his march north after defeating
the Saracens at Saragossa, left Roland to bring up his rear-guard. The
enemy fell on this in superior strength, and slew the Christians almost
to a man. Then Roland, mortally wounded, sat down under a tree in
Roncesvalles and blew upon his famous horn a blast so loud that it was
heard by Charles at a distance of several miles.--The _Chansons de
Geste_ were familiarly known to Italians of all classes.

[784] _Then tenderly, etc._: The wound inflicted by his reproof has been
already healed, but Virgil still behaves to Dante with more than his
wonted gentleness. He will have him assured of his sympathy now that
they are about to descend into the 'lowest depth of all wickedness.'

[785] _Montereggioni_: A fortress about six miles from Siena, of which
ample ruins still exist. It had no central keep, but twelve towers rose
from its circular wall like spikes from the rim of a coronet. They had
been added by the Sienese in 1260, and so were comparatively new in
Dante's time.--As the towers stood round Montereggioni so the giants at
regular intervals stand round the central pit. They have their foothold
within the enclosing mound; and thus, to one looking at them from
without, they are hidden by it up to their middle. As the embodiment of
superhuman impious strength and pride they stand for warders of the
utmost reach of Hell.

[786] _St. Peter's cone_: The great pine cone of bronze, supposed to
have originally crowned the mausoleum of Hadrian, lay in Dante's time in
the forecourt of St Peter's. When the new church was built it was
removed to the gardens of the Vatican, where it still remains. Its size,
it will be seen, is of importance as helping us to a notion of the
stature of the giants; and, though the accounts of its height are
strangely at variance with one another, I think the measurement made
specially for Philalethes may be accepted as substantially correct.

According to that, the cone is ten palms long--about six feet. Allowing
something for the neck, down to 'where a man clasps his cloak' (line
66), and taking the thirty palms as eighteen feet, we get twenty-six
feet or so for half his height. The giants vary in bulk; whether they do
so in height is not clear. We cannot be far mistaken if we assume them
to stand from fifty to sixty feet high. Virgil and Dante must throw
their heads well back to look up into the giant's face; and Virgil must
raise his voice as he speaks.--With regard to the height of the cone it
may be remarked that Murray's Handbook for Rome makes it eleven feet
high; Gsell-Fels two and a half metres, or eight feet and three inches.
It is so placed as to be difficult of measurement.

[787] _Three Frisians_: Three very tall men, as Dante took Frisians to
be, if standing one on the head of the other would not have reached his

[788] _Rafel, etc._: These words, like the opening line of the Seventh
Canto, have, to no result, greatly exercised the ingenuity of scholars.

From what follows it is clear that Dante meant them to be meaningless.
Part of Nimrod's punishment is that he who brought about the confusion
of tongues is now left with a language all to himself. It seems strange
that commentators should have exhausted themselves in searching for a
sense in words specially invented to have none.--In his _De Vulg. El._,
i. 7, Dante enlarges upon the confusion of tongues, and speaks of the
tower of Babel as having been begun by men on the persuasion of a giant.

[789] _Ephialtes_: One of the giants who in the war with the gods piled
Ossa on Pelion.

[790] _Antæus_: Is to be asked to lift them over the wall, because,
unlike Nimrod, he can understand what is said to him, and, unlike
Ephialtes, is not bound. Antæus is free-handed because he took no part
in the war with the gods.

[791] _The one thou'dst see_: Briareus. Virgil here gives Dante to know
what is the truth about Briareus (see line 97, etc.). He is not, as he
was fabled, a monster with a hundred hands, but is like Ephialtes, only
fiercer to see. Hearing himself thus made light of Ephialtes trembles
with anger, like a tower rocking in an earthquake.

[792] _Five ell_: Five ells make about thirty palms, so that Antæus is
of the same stature as that assigned to Nimrod at line 65. This supports
the view that the 'huger' of line 84 may apply to breadth rather than to

[793] _The fortune-haunted dell_: The valley of the Bagrada near Utica,
where Scipio defeated Hannibal and won the surname of Africanus. The
giant Antæus had, according to the legend, lived in that neighbourhood,
with the flesh of lions for his food and his dwelling in a cave. He was
son of the Earth, and could not be vanquished so long as he was able to
touch the ground; and thus ere Hercules could give him a mortal hug he
needed to swing him aloft. In the _Monarchia_, ii. 10, Dante refers to
the combat between Hercules and Antæus as an instance of the wager of
battle corresponding to that between David and Goliath. Lucan's
_Pharsalia_, a favourite authority with Dante, supplies him with these
references to Scipio and Antæus.

[794] _Cocytus_: The frozen lake fed by the waters of Phlegethon. See
Canto xiv. at the end.

[795] _Tityus, etc._: These were other giants, stated by Lucan to be
less strong than Antæus. This introduction of their names is therefore a
piece of flattery to the monster. A light contemptuous turn is given by
Virgil to his flattery when in the following sentence he bids Antæus not
curl his snout, but at once comply with the demand for aid. There is
something genuinely Italian in the picture given of the giants in this
Canto, as of creatures whose intellect bears no proportion to their bulk
and brute strength. Mighty hunters like Nimrod, skilled in sounding the
horn but feeble in reasoned speech, Frisians with great thews and long
of limb, and German men-at-arms who traded in their rude valour, to the
subtle Florentine in whom the ferment of the Renaissance was beginning
to work were all specimens of Nature's handicraft that had better have
been left unmade, were it not that wiser people could use them as tools.

[796] _Carisenda_: A tower still standing in Bologna, built at the
beginning of the twelfth century, and, like many others of its kind in
the city, erected not for strength but merely in order to dignify the
family to whom it belonged. By way of further distinction to their
owners, some of these towers were so constructed as to lean from the
perpendicular. Carisenda, like its taller neighbour the Asinelli, still
supplies a striking feature to the near and distant views of Bologna.
What is left of it hangs for more than two yards off the plumb. In the
half-century after Dante's time it had, according to Benvenuto, lost
something of its height. It would therefore as the poet saw it seem to
be bending down even more than it now does to any one standing under it
on the side it slopes to, when a cloud is drifting over it in the other