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Dante's Inferno
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Canto XII

First round of the Seventh Circle; those who do violence to others; Tyrants and Homicides.—The Minotaur.—The Centaurs.—Chiron.—Nessus.—The River of Boiling Blood, and the Sinners in it.

The place where we came to descend the bank was rugged, and, because of what was there besides, such that every eye would be shy of it.

As is that ruin which, on this side of Trent, struck the Adige on its flank, either by earthquake or by failure of support,—for from the top of the mountam whence it moved, to the plain, the cliff has so fallen down that it might give a path to one who was above,—so was the descent of that ravine. And on the edge of the broken chasm lay stretched out the infamy of Crete, that was conceived in the false cow. And when he saw us he bit himself even as one whom wrath rends inwardly. My Sage cried out toward him, "Perchance thou believest that here is the Duke of Athens who up in the world brought death to thee? Get thee gone, beast, for this one comes not instructed by thy sister, but he goes to behold your punishments."

As a bull that breaks away at the instant he has now received his mortal stroke, and cannot go, but plunges hither and thither, the Minotaur I saw do the like.

And that wary one cried out, "Run to the pass; while he is raging it is well that thou descend." So we took our way down over the discharge of those stones, which often moved under my feet because of the novel burden.

I was going along thinking, and he said, "Thou thinkest perhaps on this ruin which is guarded by that bestial with which I just now quenched. Now would I have thee know that the other time when I descended hither into the nether hell, this cliff had not yet fallen. But in truth, if I discern clearly, a little ere He came, who levied the great spoil on Dis from the supernal circle, in all its parts the deep foul valley trembled so that I thought the universe had felt the love by which, as some believe, oft times the world has been converted into chaos:[1] and, at that moment, this ancient cliff here and elsewhere made this downfall. But fix thine eyes below, for the river of blood is near, in which boils whoso doth harm to others by violence."

[1] Empedocles taught, as Dante may have learned from Aristotle, that Love and Hate were the forces by which the elements of which the world is composed were united and dissociated. The effort of Love was to draw all things into a simple perfect sphere, by which the common order of the world would be brought to chaos.

Oh blind cupidity, both guilty and mad, that so spurs us in the brief life, and then, in the eternal, steeps us so ill!

I saw a broad ditch, bent in an arc, like one that embraces all the plain; according as my Guide had said. And between the foot of the bank and it, in a file were running Centaurs armed with arrows, as they were wont in the world to go to the chase. Seeing us descending, all stopped, and from the troop three detached themselves, with bows and arrows first selected. And one shouted from afar, "To what torment are ye coming, ye who descend the slope? Tell it from there; if not, I draw the bow." My Master said, "We will make answer unto Chiron near you there: ill was it that thy will was ever thus hasty."

Then he touched me, and said, "That is Nessus, who died for the beautiful Dejanira, and he himself wrought vengeance for himself; and that one in the middle, who is gazing on his breast, is the great Chiron who nurtured Achilles. That other is Pholus, who was so full of wrath. Round about the ditch they go by thousands shooting with their arrows what soul lifts itself from the blood more than its guilt has allotted it."

We drew near to those fleet wild beasts. Chiron took a shaft, and with the notch put his beard backward upon his jaw. When he had uncovered his great mouth he said to his companions, "Are ye aware that the one behind moves what he touches? so are not wont to do the feet of the dead." And my good Leader, who was now at his breast, where the two natures are conjoined, replied, "Truly he is alive, and thus all alone it behoves me to show him the dark valley: necessity brings him hither and not delight. One withdrew from singing alleluiah who committed unto me this new office; he is no robber, nor I a thievish spirit. But, by that power through which I move my steps along so savage a road, give to us one of thine, to whom we may be close, that he may show us where the ford is, and may carry this one on his back, for he is not a spirit who can go through the air."

Chiron turned upon his right breast, and said to Nessus, "Turn, and guide them thus, and if another troop encounter you, make it give way."

We moved on with the trusty escort along the edge of the crimson boiling, in which the boiled were making loud shrieks. I saw folk under it up to the brow, and the great Centaur said, "These are tyrants who gave themselves to blood and pillage. Here they weep their pitiless offenses: here is Alexander, and cruel Dionysius who caused Sicily to have woeful years. And that front which hath such black hair is Azzolino, and that other who is blond is Opizzo of Esti, who in truth was slain by his stepson up there in the world."

Then I turned me to the Poet, and he said, " Let him now be first, and I second." A little further on the Centaur stopped above some folk who far as the throat were seen to issue from that boiling stream. He showed to us at one side a solitary shade, and said, "He cleft, in the bosom of God, the heart that still is honored on the Thames."[1] Then I saw folk, who out of the stream held their head, and even all their chest; and of these I recognized many. Thus ever more and more shallow became that blood, until it cooked only the feet: and here was our passage of the foss.

[1] In 1271, Prince Henry, son of Richard of Cornwall, was stabbed during the mass, in a church at Viterbo, by Guy of Montfort, to avenge the death of his father, Simon, Earl of Leicester, in 1261. The heart of the young Prince was placed in a golden cup, as Villani (vii. 39) reports, on a column, at the head of a bridge in London.

"Even as on this side, thou seest that the boiling stream ever diminishes," said the Centaur, "I would have thee believe that on this other its bed sinks more and more, until it comes round again where it behoves that tyranny should groan. The divine justice here pierces that Attila who was a scourge on earth, and Pyrrhus and Sextus; and forever milks the tears that with the boiling it unlocks from Rinier of Corneto, and from Rinier Pazzo, who upon the highways made such warfare."

Then he turned back and repassed the ford.

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