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Dante's Inferno
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Canto XI

The Sixth Circle: Heretics.—Tomb of Pope Anastasins.- -Discourse of Virgil on the divisions of the lower Hell.

Upon the edge of a high bank formed by great rocks broken in a circle, we came above a more cruel pen. And here, because of the horrible excess of the stench that the deep abyss throws out, we drew aside behind the lid of a great tomb, whereon I saw an inscription which said, "Pope Anastasius I hold, he whom Photinus drew from the right way."

"Our descent must needs be slow so that the sense may first accustom itself a little to the dismal blast, and then will be no heed of it." Thus the Master, and I said to him, "Some compensation do thou find that the time pass not lost." And be, "Behold, I am thinking of that. My son, within these rocks," he began to say, "are three circlets from grade to grade like those thou leavest. All are full of accursed spirits; but, in order that hereafter sight only may suffice thee, hear how and wherefore they are in constraint.

"Of every malice that wins hate in heaven injury is the end, and every such end afflicts others either by force or by fraud. But because fraud is the peculiar sin of man, it most displeaseth God; and therefore the fraudulent are the lower, and more woe assails them.

"The first circle[1] is wholly of the violent; but because violence can be done to three persons, in three rounds it is divided and constructed. Unto God, unto one's self, unto one's neighbor may violence be done; I mean unto them and unto their belongings, as thou shalt hear in plain discourse. By violence death and grievous wounds are inflicted on one's neighbor; and on his substance ruins, burnings, and harmful robberies. Wherefore homicides, and every one who smites wrongfully, devastators and freebooters, all of them the first round torments, in various troops.

[1] The first circle below, the seventh in the order of Hell.

"Man may lay violent hands upon himself and on his goods; and, therefore, in the second round must needs repent without avail whoever deprives himself of your world, gambles away and squanders his property, and laments there where he ought to be joyous.[2]

[2] Laments on earth because of violence done to what should have made him happy.

"Violence may be done to the Deity, by denying and blaspheming Him in heart, and despising nature and His bounty: and therefore the smallest round seals with its signet both Sodom and Cahors, and him who despising God speaks from his heart.

"Fraud, by which every conscience is bitten, man may practice on one that confides in him, or on one that owns no confidence. This latter mode seemeth to destroy only the bond of love that nature makes; wherefore in the second circle[1] nestle hypocrisy, flatteries, and sorcerers, falsity, robbery, and simony, panders, barrators, and such like filth.

[1] The second circle below, the eighth in the order of Hell.

"By the other mode that love is forgotten which nature makes, and also that which is thereafter added, whereby special confidence is created. Hence, in the smallest circle, where is the centre of the universe, on which Dis sits, whoso betrays is consumed forever."

And I, "Master, full clearly doth thy discourse proceed, and full well divides this pit, and the people that possess it; but, tell me, they of the fat marsh, and they whom the wind drives, and they whom the rain beats, and they who encounter with such sharp tongues, why are they not punished within the ruddy city if God be wroth with them? and if he be not so, why are they in such plight?"

And he said to me, "Wherefore so wanders thine understanding beyond its wont? or thy mind, where else is it gazing? Dost thou not remember those words with which thine Ethics treats in full of the three dispositions that Heaven abides not; in continence, malice, and mad bestiality, and how incontinence less offends God, and incurs less blame? [1] If thou considerest well this doctrine, and bringest to mind who are those that up above, outside,[2] suffer punishment, thou wilt see clearly why from these felons they are divided, and why less wroth the divine vengeance hammers them."

[1] Aristotle, Ethics, vii. 1.

[2] Outside the walls of the city of Dis.

"O Sun that healest every troubled vision, thou dost content me so, when thou explainest, that doubt, not less than knowledge, pleaseth me; yet return a little back," said I, "there where thou saidst that usury offends the Divine Goodness, and loose the knot."

"Philosophy," he said to me, "points out to him who understands it, not only in one part alone, how Nature takes her course from the Divine Intellect and from its art. And if thou note thy Physics [1] well thou wilt find after not many pages that your art follows her so far as it can, as the disciple does the master, so that your art is as it were grandchild of God. By means of these two, if thou bringest to mind Genesis at its beginning, it behoves mankind to obtain their livelihood and to thrive. But because the usurer takes another course, he despises Nature in herself, and in her follower, since upon other thing he sets his hope. But follow me now, for to go on pleaseth me; for the Fishes are gliding on the horizon, and the Wain lies quite over Corus,[2] and far yonder is the way down the cliff."

[1] Aristotle, Physics, ii. 2.

[2] The time indicated is about 4, or from 4 to 5 A.M. Corus, the name of the north-west wind, here stands for that quarter of the heavens.

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