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Dante's Inferno
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Eighth Circle: the first pit: panders and seducers.- -Venedico Caccianimico.—Jason.—Second pit: false flatterers.—Alessio Interminei.—Thais.

There is a place in Hell called Malebolge, all of stone of the color of iron, as is the encircling wall that surrounds it. Right in the middle of this field malign yawns an abyss exceeding wide and deep, the structure of which I will tell of in its place. That belt, therefore, which remains between the abyss and the foot of the high bank is circular, and it has its ground divided into ten valleys. Such an aspect as where, for guard of the walls, many moats encircle castles, the place where they are presents, such image did these make here. And as in such strongholds from their thresholds to the outer bank are little bridges, so from the base of the precipitous wall started crags which traversed the dykes and the moats far as the abyss that collects and cuts them off.

In this place, shaken off from the back of Geryon, we found ourselves; and the Poet held to the left, and I moved on behind. On the right hand I saw new sorrow, new torments, and new scourgers, with which the first pit [1] was replete. At its bottom were the sinners naked. This side the middle they came facing us; on the farther side with us, but with swifter pace. As the Romans, because of the great host in the year of Jubilee,[2] have taken means upon the bridge for the passage of the people, who on one side all have their front toward the Castle,[3] and go to Saint Peter's, and on the other toward the Mount.[4]

[1] Bolgia, literally, budget, purse, sack, here used for circular valley, or pit.

[2] The year 1299-1300, from Christmas to Easter.

[3] Of Sant' Angelo.

[4] The Capitoline.

Along the gloomy rock, on this side and on that, I saw horned demons with great scourges, who were beating them cruelly from behind. Ah! how they made them lift their heels at the first blows; truly not one waited for the second, or the third.

While I was going on, my eyes encountered one, and I said straightway, "Ere now for sight of him I have not fasted;" wherefore to shape him out I stayed my feet, and the sweet Leader stopped with ire, and assented to my going somewhat back. And that scourged one thought to conceal himself by lowering his face, but little it availed him, for I said: "O thou that castest thine eye upon the ground, if the features that thou bearest are not false, thou art Venedico Caccianimico; but what brings thee unto such pungent sauces?"

And he to me, "Unwillingly I tell it, but thy clear speech compels me, which makes me recollect. the olden world. I was he who brought the beautiful Ghisola[1] to do the will of the Marquis, how ever the shameful tale may be reported. And not the only Bolognese do I weep here, nay, this place is so full of them, that so many tongues are not now taught between Savena and the Reno to say sipa; [2] and if of this thou wishest pledge or testimony, bring to mind our avaricious heart." As he spoke thus a demon struck him with his scourge and said, "Begone, pandar, here are no women for coining."

[1] His own sister; the unseemly tale is known only through Dante and his fourteenth-century commentators, and the latter, while agreeing that the Marquis was one of the Esti of Ferrara, do not agree as to which of them he was.

[2] Bologna lies between the Savena and the Reno; sipa is the Bolognese form of sia, or si.

I rejoined my Escort; then with few steps we came to where a crag jutted from the bank.[1] Easily enough we ascended it, and turning to the right[2] upon its ridge, from those eternal circles we departed.

[1] Forming a bridge, thrown like an arch across the pit.

[2] The course of the Poets, which has mostly been to the left through the upper Circles, is now generally to proceed straight across the lower Circles where Fraud is punished. They had been going to the left at the foot of the precipice, and consequently turn to the right to ascend the bridge. The allegorical intention in the direction of their course is evident.

When we were there where it opens below to give passage to the scourged, the Leader said, "Stop, and let the sight strike on thee of these other miscreants, of whom thou hast not yet seen the face, because they have gone along in the same direction with us."

From the ancient bridge we looked at the train that was coining toward us from the other side, and which the whip in like manner drives on. The good Master, without my asking, said to me, "Look at that great one who is coming, and seems not to shed a tear for pain. What royal aspect he still retains! He is Jason, who by courage and by wit despoiled the Colchians of their ram. He passed by the isle of Lemnos, after the undaunted women pitiless had given all their males to death. There with tokens and with ornate words he deceived Hypsipyle, the maiden, who first had deceived all the rest. There he left her pregnant, and alone; such sin condemns him to such torment; and also for Medea is vengeance done. With him goes whoso in such wise deceives. And let this suffice to know of the first valley, and of those that it holds in its fangs."

Now we were where the narrow path sets across the second dyke, and makes of it shoulders for another arch. Here we heard people moaning in the next pit, and snorting with their muzzles, and with their palms beating themselves. The banks were encrusted with a mould because of the breath from below that sticks on them, and was making quarrel with the eyes and with the nose. The bottom is so hollowed out that no place sufficeth us for seeing it, without mounting on the crest of the arch where the crag rises highest. Hither we came, and thence, down in the ditch, I saw people plunged in an excrement that seemed as if it proceeded from human privies.

And while I am searching down there with my eye, I saw one with his head so foul with ordure that it was not apparent whether he were layman or clerk. He shouted to me, "Why art so greedy to look more at me than at the other filthy ones?" And I to him, "Because, if I remember rightly, ere now I have seen thee with dry hair, and thou art Alessio Interminei of Lucca[1]; therefore I eye thee more than all the rest." And he then, beating his pate, "Down here those flatteries wherewith my tongue was never cloyed have submerged me."

[1] Of him nothing is known but what these words tell.

Hereupon my Leader, "Mind thou push thy sight a little farther forward so that with thine eyes thou mayest quite reach the face of that dirty and disheveled creature, who is scratching herself there with her nasty nails, and now is crouching down and now standing on foot. She is Thais the prostitute, who answered her paramour when he said, 'Have I great thanks from thee?'—'Nay, marvelous.'" [1] And herewith let our sight be satisfied.

[1] These words are derived from Terence, Eunuchus, act iii. sc. 1.

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