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Dante's Inferno
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Canto XIV

Third round of the Seventh Circle of those who have done violence to God.—The Burning Sand.—Capaneus.—Figure of the Old Man in Crete.—The Rivers of Hell.

Because the charity of my native place constrained me, I gathered up the scattered leaves and gave them back to him who was already hoarse.

Then we came to the confine, where the second round is divided from the third, and where is seen a horrible mode of justice.

To make clearly manifest the new things, I say that we had reached a plain which from its bed removeth every plant. The woeful wood is a garland round about it, even as the dismal foss to that. Here, on the very edge, we stayed our steps. The floor was a dry and dense sand, not made in other fashion than that which of old was trodden by the feet of Cato.

O vengeance of God, how much thou oughtest to be feared by every one who readeth that which was manifest unto mine eyes!

Of naked souls I saw many flocks, that were all weeping very miserably, and diverse law seemed imposed upon them. Some folk were lying supine on the ground, some were seated all crouched up, and others were going about continually. Those who were going around were far the more, and those the fewer who were lying down under the torment, but they had their tongues more loose for wailing.

Over all the sand, with a slow falling, were raining down dilated flakes of fire, as of snow on alps without a wind. As the flames which Alexander in those hot parts of India saw falling upon his host, solid to the ground, wherefore he took care to trample the soil by his troops, because the vapor was better extinguished while it was single; so was descending the eternal glow whereby the sand was kindled, like tinder beneath the steel, for doubling of the dole. Without repose was ever the dance of the wretched hands, now there, now here, brushing from them the fresh burning.

I began, "Master, thou that overcomest everything, except the obdurate demons, who at the entrance of the gate came out against us, who is that great one that seemeth not to heed the fire, and lies scornful and contorted, so that the rain seems not to ripen him?" And that same one who had perceived that I was asking my Leader about him, cried out, "Such as I was alive, such am I dead. Though Jove weary his smith, from whom in wrath he took the sharp thunderbolt wherewith on my last day I was smitten, or though he weary the others, turn by turn, in Mongibello at the black forge, crying, 'Good Vulcan, help, help!' even as he did at the fight of Phlegra, and should hurl on me with all his might, thereby he should not have glad vengeance."

Then my Leader spoke with force so great that I had not heard him so loud, "O Capaneus, in that thy pride is not quenched, art thou the more punished; no torture save thine own rage would be a pain adequate to thy fury."

Then he turned round to me with better look, saying, "He was one of the Seven Kings that besieged Thebes, and he held, and it appears that he holds God in disdain, and little it appears that he prizes Him; but as I said to him, his own despites are very due adornments for his breast. Now come on behind me, and take heed withal, not to set thy feet upon the burning sand, but keep them always close unto the wood."

Silent we came to where spirts forth from the wood a little streamlet, the redness of which still makes me shudder. As from the Bulicame issues a brooklet, which then the sinful women share among them, so this down across the sand went along.[1] Its bed and both its sloping banks were made of stone, and the margins on the side, whereby I perceived that the crossing[2] was there.

[1] The Bulicame, a hot spring near Viterbo, much frequented as a bath, the use of a portion of which was assigned to "sinful women."

[2] The crossing of the breadth of the round of burning sand, on the way inward toward the next circle.

"Among all else that I have shown to thee, since we entered through the gate whose threshold is barred to no one, nothing has been discerned by thine eyes so notable as is the present stream which deadens all the flamelets upon it." These words were of my Leader, wherefore I prayed him, that he should give me largess of the food for which he had given me largess of desire.

"In mid sea sits a wasted land," said he then, "which is named Crete, under whose king the world of old was chaste. A mountain is there that of old was glad with waters and with leaves, which is called Ida; now it is desert, like a thing outworn. Rhea chose it of old for the trusty cradle of her little son, and to conceal him better when he cried had shoutings made there. Within the mountain stands erect a great old man, who holds his shoulders turned towards Damietta, and looks at Rome as if his mirror. His head is formed of fine gold, and pure silver are his arms and breast; then he is of brass far as to the fork. From there downward he is all of chosen iron, save that his right foot is of baked clay, and he stands erect on that more than on the other.[1] Every part except the gold is cleft with a fissure that trickles tears, which collected perforate that cavern. Their course falls from rock to rock into this valley; they form Acheron, Styx, and Phlegethon; then it goes down through this narrow channel far as where there is no more descending. They form Cocytus, and what that pool is, thou shalt see; therefore here is it not told."

[1] This image is taken directly from the dream of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel ii. 31-33). It is the type of the ages of tradition and history, with its back to the past, its face toward Rome,—the seat of the Empire and of the Church. The tears of the sin and suffering of the generations of man form the rivers of Hell.

And I to him, "If the present rill floweth down thus from our world, why doth it appear to us only at this rim?"

And he to me, "Thou knowest that the place is round, and though thou art come far, ever to the left descending toward the bottom, not yet hast thou turned through the whole circle; wherefore if a new thing appears to us, it ought not to bring wonder to thy face."

And I again, "Master, where are Phlegethon and Lethe found, for of the one thou art silent, and of the other thou sayest that it is formed by this rain?"

"In all thy questions surely thou pleasest me," he answered, "but the boiling of the red water ought truly to solve one that thou askest. Lethe thou shalt see, but outside of this ditch, there where souls go to lave themselves when sin repented of is taken away." Then he said, "Now it is time to depart from the wood; take heed that thou come behind me; the margins afford way, for they are not burning, and above them all the vapor is extinguished."

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