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Dante's Inferno
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Canto XVI

Third round of the Seventh Circle: of those who have done violence to Nature.—Guido Guerra, Tegghiaio Aldobrandi and Jacopo Rusticucci.—The roar of Phlegethon as it pours downward.- -The cord thrown into the abyss.

Now was I in a place where the resounding of the water that was falling into the next circle was heard, like that hum which the beehives make, when three shades together separated themselves, running, from a troop that was passing under the rain of the bitter torment. They came toward us, and each cried out, "Stop thou, that by thy garb seemest to us to be one from our wicked city!"

Ah me! what wounds I saw upon their limbs, recent and old, burnt in by the flames. Still it grieves me for them but to remember it.

To their cries my Teacher gave heed; he turned his face toward me, and "Now wait," he said; "to these one should be courteous, and were it not for the fire that the nature of the place shoots out, I should say that haste better befitted thee than them."

They began again, when we stopped, the old verse, and when they had reached us they made a wheel of themselves all three. As champions naked and oiled are wont to do, watching their hold and their vantage, before they come to blows and thrusts, thus, wheeling, each directed his face on me, so that his neck in contrary direction to his feet was making continuous journey.

"Ah! if the misery of this shifting sand bring us and our prayers into contempt," began one, "and our darkened and blistered aspect, let our fame incline thy mind to tell us who thou art, that so securely plantest thy living feet in Hell. He whose tracks thou seest me trample, though he go naked and singed, was of greater state than thou thinkest. Grandson he was of the good Gualdrada; his name was Guidoguerra, and in his life he did much with counsel, and with the sword. The other who treads the sand behind me is Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, whose fame should be welcome in the world above. And I, who am set with them on the cross, was Jacopo Rusticucci,[1] and surely my savage wife more than aught else injures

[1] Concerning Tegghiaio and Rusticucci Dante had enquired of Ciacco, Canto vi. They and Guido Guerra were illustrious citizens of Florence in the thirteenth century. Their deeds are recorded by Villani and Ricordano Malespini. The good Gualdrada, famed for her beauty and her modesty, was the daughter of Messer Bellincione Berti, referred to in Cantos w. and wi. of Paradise as one of the early worthies of the city. See O. Villani, Cronica. V. xxxvii.

If I could have been sheltered from the fire I would have cast myself below among them, and I think that the Teacher would have permitted it; but because I should have been scorched and baked, fear overcame my good will that made me greedy to embrace them. Then I began: "Not contempt, but grief, did your condition fix within me, so that slowly will it be all divested, soon as this my Lord said words to me by which I understood that such folk as ye are might be coming. Of your city I am; and always your deeds and honored names have I retraced and heard with affection. I leave the gall and go for the sweet fruits promised me by my veracious Leader; but far as the centre needs must I first descend."

"So may thy soul long direct thy limbs," replied he then, "and so may thy fame shine after thee, say if courtesy and valor abide in our city as they were wont, or if they have quite gone forth from it? For Guglielmo Borsiere,[1] who is in torment with us but short while, and goes yonder with our companions, afflicts us greatly with his words."

[1] Nothing is known from contemporary record of Borsiere, bnt Boccaccio tells a story of him in the Decameron, giorn. i. nov. 8.

"The new people and the sudden gains [1] have generated pride and excess, Florence, in thee, so that already thou weepest thereat." Thus cried I with face uplifted. And the three, who understood that for answer, looked one at the other, as men look at hearing truth.

[1] Florence had grown rapidly in population and in wealth during the last years of the thirteenth century.

"If other times it costeth thee so little," replied they all, "to satisfy others, happy thou that thus speakest at thy pleasure. Therefore, if thou escapest from these dark places, and returnest to see again the beautiful stars, when it shall rejoice thee to say, 'I have been,' mind thou speak of us unto the people." Then they broke the wheel, and in flying their swift legs seemed wings.

Not an amen could have been said so quickly as they had disappeared; wherefore it seemed good to my Master to depart. I followed him, and we had gone little way before the sound of the water was so near to us, that had we spoken we scarce had heard. As that river on the left slope of the Apennine, which, the first from Monte Veso toward the east, has its proper course,—which is called Acquacheta up above, before it sinks valleyward into its low bed, and at Forli no longer has that name,[1]—reverberates from the alp in falling with a single leap there above San Benedetto, where there ought to be shelter for a thousand;[2] thus down from a precipitous bank we found that dark-tinted water resounding, so that in short while it would have hurt the ears.

[1] At Forli the river is called the Montone; it was the first of the rivers on the left of the Apennines that had its course to the sea; the others before it being tributaries of the Po, which rises on Monte Veso.

[2] These last words are obscure, and none of the commentators explain them satisfactorily.

I had a cord girt around me, and with it I had once thought to take the leopard of the dappled skin.[1] After I had loosed it wholly from me, even as my Leader had commanded me, I reached it to him wound up and coiled. Whereon he turned toward the right, and somewhat far from the edge threw it down into that deep abyss. "And surely some strange thing must needs respond," said I to myself, "to the strange signal which the Master so follows with his eye."

[2] The leopard of the dappled skin, which had often turned back Dante from the Mountain to the Dark Wood (see Canto i.); the type of sensual sin. The cord is the type of religions asceticism, of which the poet no longer has need. The meaning of its use as a signal is not apparent.

Ah! how cautious men ought to be near those who see not only the act, but with their wisdom look within the thoughts. He said to me: "Soon will come up that which I await, and what thy thought is dreaming must soon discover itself unto thy sight."

To that truth which has the aspect of falsehood ought one always to close his lips so far as he can, because without fault it causes shame;[1] but here I cannot be silent, and by the notes of this comedy, Reader, I swear to thee,—so may they not be void of lasting grace,—that I saw through that thick and dark air a shape come swimming upwards marvelous to every steadfast heart; like as he returns who goes down sometimes to loose an anchor that grapples either a rock or other thing that in the sea is hid, who stretches upward, and draws in his feet.

[1] Because the narrator is falsely taxed with falsehood.

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