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Dante's Inferno
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Canto XX

Eighth Circle: fourth pit: diviners, soothsayers, and magicians.—Amphiaraus.—Tiresias.—Aruns.—Manto.—Eurypylus.—Michael Scott.—Asdente.

Of a new punishment needs must I make verses, and give matetial to the twentieth canto of the first lay, which is of the submerged.[1]

[1] Plunged into the misery of Hell.

I was now wholly set on looking into the disclosed depth that was bathed with tears of anguish, and I saw folk coming, silent and weeping, through the circular valley, at the pace at which lltanies go in this world. As my sight descended deeper among them, each appeared marvelously distorted from the chin to the beginning of the chest; for toward their reins their face was turned, and they must needs go backwards, because they were deprived of looking forward. Perchance sometimes by force of palsy one has been thus completely twisted, but I never saw it, nor do I think it can be.

So may God let thee, Reader, gather fruit from thy reading, now think for thyself how I could keep my face dry, when near by I saw our image so contorted that the weeping of the eyes bathed the buttocks along the cleft. Truly I wept, leaning on one of the rocks of the hard crag, so that my Guide said to me, "Art thou also one of the fools? Here pity liveth when it is quite dead.[1]

Who is more wicked than he who feels compassion at the Divine Judgment? Lift up thy head, lift up, and see him [2] for whom the earth opened before the eyes of the Thebans, whereon they shouted all, 'Whither art thou rushing, Amphiaraus? Why dost thou leave the war?' And he stopped not from falling headlong down far as Minos, who seizes hold of every one. Look, how he has made a breast of his shoulders! Because he wished to see too far before him, he looks behind and makes a backward path.

[1] It is impossible to give the full significance of Dante's words in a literal translation, owing to the double meaning of pieta in the original. Qui viva la pieta quando e ben morta. That is: "Here liveth piety when pity is quite dead."

[2] One of the seven kings who besieged Thebes, augur and prophet. Dante found his story in Statius, Thebais, viii. 84.

"See Tiresias,[1] who changed his semblance, when from a male he became a female, his members all of them being transformed; and afterwards was obliged to strike once more the two entwined serpents with his rod, ere he could regain his masculine plumage. Aruns[2] is he that to this one's belly has his back, who on the mountains of Luni (where grubs the Carrarese who dwells beneath), amid white marbles, had a cave for his abode, whence for looking at the stars and the sea his view was not cut off.

[1] The Theban soothsayer. Dante had learned of him from Ovid., Metam., iii. 320 sqq., as well as from Statius.

[2] An Etruscan haruspex of whom Lucan tells,—Arens incoluit desertae moenia Lanae. Phars. i. 556.

"And she who with her loose tresses covers her breasts, which thou dost not see, and has on that side all her hairy skin, was Manto,[1] who sought through many lands, then settled there where I was born; whereof it pleases me that thou listen a little to me. After her father had departed from life, and the city of Bacchus had become enslaved, long while she wandered through the world. Up in fair Italy lies a lake, at foot of the alp that shuts in Germany above Tyrol, and it is called Benaco.[2] Through a thousand founts, I think, and more, between Garda and Val Camonica, the Apennine is bathed by the water which settles in that lake. Midway is a place where the Trentine Pastor and he of Brescia and the Veronese might each give his blessing if he took that road.[3] Peschiera, fortress fair and strong, sits to confront the Brescians and Bergamasques, where the shore round about is lowest. Thither needs must fall all that which in the lap of Benaco cannot stay, and it becomes a river down through the verdant pastures. Soon as the water gathers head to run, no longer is it called Benaco, but Mincio, far as Governo, where it falls into the Po. No long course it hath before it finds a plain, on which it spreads, and makes a marsh, and is wont in summer sometimes to be noisome. Passing that way, the cruel virgin saw a land in the middle of the fen without culture and bare of inhabitants. There, to avoid all human fellowship, she stayed with her servants to practice her arts, and lived, and left there her empty body. Afterward the men who were scattered round about gathered to that place, which was strong because of the fen which surrounded it. They built the city over those dead hones, and for her, who first had chosen the place, they called it Mantua, without other augury. Of old its people were more thick within it, before the stupidity of Casalodi had been tricked by Pinamonte.[4] Therefore I warn thee, that if thou ever hearest otherwise the origin of my town, no falsehood may defraud the truth."

[1] The daughter of Tiresias, of whom Statius, Ovid, and Virgil all tell.

[2] Now Lago di Garda.

[3] Where the three dioceses meet.

[4] The Count of Casalodi, being lord of Mantua about 1276, gave ear to the treacherous counsels of Messer Pinamonte de Buonacorsi, and was driven, with his friends, from the city.

And I, "Master, thy discourses are so certain to me, and so lay hold on my faith, that the others would be to me as dead embers. But tell me of the people who are passing, if thou seest any one of them worthy of note; for only unto that my mind reverts."

Then he said to me, "That one, who from his cheek stretches his beard upon his dusky shoulders, was an augur when Greece was so emptied of males that they scarce remained for the cradles, and with Calchas at Aulis he gave the moment for cutting the first cable. Eurypylus was his name, and thus my lofty Tragedy sings him in some place;[1] well knowest thou this, who knowest the whole of it. That other who is so small in the flanks was Michael Scott,[2] who verily knew the game of magical deceptions. See Guido Bonatti,[3] see Asdente,[4] who now would wish he had attended to his leather and his thread, but late repents. See the forlorn women who left the needle, the spool, and the spindle, and became fortune-tellers; they wrought spells with herb and with image.

[1] Suspensi Eurypylum scitantem oracula Phoebi Mittimus. Aeneid, ii. 112.

[2] A wizard of such dreaded fame
That, when in Salamanca's cave
Him listed his magic wand to wave,
The bells would ring in Notre Dame.
Lay of the Lost Minstrel, Canto ii.

[3] A famous astrologer of Forli, in the thirteenth century.

[4] Dante, in the Canvito, trattato iv. c. 16, says that if NOBLE meant being widely known, then "Asdente, the shoemaker of Parma, would be more noble than any of his fellow-citizens."

"But come on now, for already Cain with his thorns [1] holds the confines of both the hemispheres, and touches the wave below Seville. And already yesternight was the moon round; well shouldst thou remember it, for it did thee no harm sometimes in the deep wood." Thus he spoke to me, and we went on the while.

[1] The Man in the Moon, according to an old popular legend.

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