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Dante's Inferno
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Canto XVII

Third round of the Seventh Circle: of those who have done violence to Art.—Geryon.—The Usurers.—Descent to the Eighth Circle.

"Behold the wild beast with the pointed tail, that passes mountains, and breaks walls and weapons; behold him that infects all the world."[1] Thus began my Leader to speak to me; and he beckoned to him that he should come to shore near the end of the trodden marbles.[2] And that loathsome image of fraud came onward, and landed his head and his body, but drew not his tail upon the bank. His face was the face of a just man (so benignant was its skin outwardly), and of a serpent all the trunk beside; he had two paws, hairy to the armpits; his back and breast and both his sides were painted with nooses and circles. With more colors of woof and warp Tartars or Turks never made cloth, nor were such webs woven by Arachne.

[1] Dante makes Geryon the type and image of Fraud, thus allegorizing the triple form (forma tricorperis umbrae: Aeneid vi. 289; tergemini Geryonae; Id. viii. 292) ascribed to him by the ancient poets.

[2] The stony margin of Phlegethon, on which Virgil and Dante have crossed the sand.

As sometimes boats lie on the shore, so that they are partly in water and partly on the ground, and as yonder, among the gluttonous Germans, the beaver settles himself to make his war,[1] so lay that worst of beasts upon the rim that closes in the sand with stone. In the void all his tail was quivering, twisting upwards its venomous fork, which like a scorpion's armed the point.

[1] With his tail in the water to catch his prey, as was popularly believed.

The Leader said: "Now needs must our way bend a little toward that wicked beast that is couching there." Therefore we descended on the right hand and took ten steps upon the verge quite to avoid the sand and flame. And when we had come to it, I see, a little farther on, people sitting upon the sand near to the void place.[1]

[1] These people are the third class of sinners punished in this round of the Seventh Circle, those who have done violence to Art, the usurers. (See Canto xi.)

Here the Master said to me: "In order that thou mayst bear away complete experience of this round, now go and see their condition. Let thy discourse there be brief. Till thou returnest I will speak with this one, that he may concede to us his strong shoulders."

Thus, still up by the extreme head of that seventh circle, all alone, I went where the sad people were sitting. Through the eyes their woe was bursting forth. This way and that they helped with their hands, sometimes against the vapors,[1] and sometimes against the hot soil. Not otherwise do the dogs in summer, now with muzzle, now with paw, when they are bitten either by fleas, or flies, or gadflies. When I set my eyes on the face of some on whom the woeful fire falls, not one of them I recognized;[2] but I perceived that from the neck of each was hanging a pouch, that had a certain color and a certain device,[3] and thereupon it seems their eyes feed. And as I looking come among them, I saw upon a yellow purse azure that had the face and bearing of a lion.[4] Then as the current of my look proceeded I saw another, red as blood, display a goose whiter than butter. And one, who had his little white bag marked with an azure and pregnant sow,[5] said to me, "What art thou doing in this ditch? Now get thee gone, and since thou art still alive, know that my neighbor, Vitaliano, will sit here at my left side. With these Florentines am I, a Paduan; often they stun my ears shouting, 'Let the sovereign cavalier come who will bring the pouch with the three goats."[1] Then he twisted his mouth, and stuck out his tongue, like an ox that licks his nose.

[1] The falling flames.

[2] Dante thus indicates that they were not worthy to be known.

[3] The blazon of their arms, by which Dante learns who they are.

[4] This was the device of the Gianfigliazzi, a Guelph family of Florence; the next was that of the Ubriachi, Ghibellines, also of Florence.

[5] Arms of the Scrovigni of Padua.

[6] One Giovanni Buiamonte of Florence, "who surpassed all others of the time in usury," says Benvenuto da Imola.

And I, fearing lest longer stay might vex him who had admonished me to stay but little, turned back from these weary souls. I found my Leader, who had already mounted upon the croup of the fierce animal, and he said to me, "Now be strong and courageous; henceforth the descent is by such stairs; [1] mount thou in front, for I wish to be between, so that the tail cannot do thee harm."

[1] Not by foot, nor by boat as heretofore, but carried by living ministers of Hell.

As is he who hath the shivering fit of the quartan so near that his nails are already pallid, and he is all of a tremble only looking at the shade, such I became at these words uttered. But his reproaches wrought shame in me, which in presence of a good lord makes a servant strong.

I seated myself on those huge shoulders. I wished to speak thus, "Take heed that thou embrace me," but the voice came not as I had thought. But he who other time had succored me, in other peril, soon as I mounted, clasped and sustained me with his arms: and he said, "Geryon, move on now; let the circles be wide, and the descending slow; consider the strange burden that thou hast."

As a little vessel goeth from its place, backward, backward, so he thence withdrew; and when he felt himself quite at play, he turned his tail to where his breast had been, and moved it, stretched out like an eel, and with his paws gathered the air to himself. Greater fear I do not think there was when Phaethon abandoned the reins, whereby heaven, as is still apparent, was scorched; nor when the wretched Icarus felt his flanks unfeathering through the melting of the wax, his father shouting to him, "Ill way thou holdest," than mine was, when I saw that I was in the air on every side, and saw every sight vanished, except that of the beast. He goes along swimming very slowly, wheels and descends, but I perceive it not, save by the wind upon my face, and from below.

I heard now on the right hand the gorge making beneath us a horrible roar; wherefore I stretch out my head, with my eyes downward. Then I became more afraid to lean over, because I saw fires and heard laments; whereat I, trembling, wholly cowered back. And I saw then, what I had not seen before, the descending and the wheeling, by the great evils that were drawing near on diverse sides.

As the falcon which has been long on wing, that, without sight of lure or bird, makes the falconer say, "Ah me, thou stoopest! descends weary, there whence he had set forth swiftly, through a hundred circles, and lights far from his master, disdainful and sullen; so Geryon set us at the bottom, at the very foot of the scarped rock, and, disburdened of our persons, darted away as arrow from the bowstring.

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