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Dante's Inferno
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Canto XXI

Eighth Circle: fifth pit: barrators.—A magistrate of Lucca.—The Malebranche.—Parley with them.

So from bridge to bridge we went, speaking other things, which my Comedy careth not to sing, and held the suffimit, when we stopped to see the next cleft of Malebolge and the next vain lamentations; and I saw it wonderfully dark.

As in the Arsenal of the Venetians, in winter, the sticky pitch for smearing their unsound vessels is boiling, because they cannot go to sea, and, instead thereof, one builds him a new bark, and one caulks the sides of that which hath made many a voyage; one hammers at the prow, and one at the stern; another makes oars, and another twists the cordage; and one the foresail and the mainsail patches,—so, not by fire, but by divine art, a thick pitch was boiling there below, which belimed the bank on every side. I saw it, but saw not in it aught but the bubbles which the boiling raised, and all of it swelling up and again sinking compressed.

While I was gazing down there fixedly, my Leader, saying, "Take heed! take heed!" drew me to himself from the place where I was standing. Then I turned as one who is slow to see what it behoves him to fly, and whom a sudden fear unnerves, and delays not to depart in order to see. And I saw behind us a black devil come running up along the crag. Ah! how fell he was in aspect, and how rough he seemed to me in action, with wings open, and light upon his feet! His shoulder, which was sharp and high, was laden by a sinner with both haunches, the sinew of whose feet he held clutched. "O Malebranche[1] of our bridge," he said, "lo, one of the Ancients of Saint Zita[2] put him under, for I return again to that city, which I have furnished well with them; every man there is a barrator,[3] except Bonturo:[4] there, for money, of No they make Ay." He hurled him down, and along the hard crag he turned, and never mastiff loosed was in such haste to follow a thief.

[1] Malebranche means Evil-claws.

[2] One of the chief magistrates of Lucca, whose special protectress was Santa Zita.

[3] A corrupt official, selling justice or office f or bribes; in

general, a peculator or cheat.

[4] Ironical.

That one sank under, and came up back uppermost, but the demons that had shelter of the bridge cried out, "Here the Holy Face[1] avails not; here one swims otherwise than in the Serchio;[2] therefore, if thou dost not want our grapples, make no show above the pitch." Then they struck him with more than a hundred prongs, and said, "Covered must thou dance here, so that, if thou canst, thou mayst swindle secretly." Not otherwise cooks make their scullions plunge the meat with their hooks into the middle of the cauldron, so that it may not float.

[1] An image of Christ upon the cross, ascribed to Nicodemus, still venerated at Lucca.

[2] The river that runs not far from Lucca.

The good Master said to me, "In order that it be not apparent that thou art here, crouch down behind a splinter, that may afford some screen to thee, and at any offense that may be done to me be not afraid, for I have knowledge of these things, because another time I was at such a fray."

Then he passed on beyond the head of the bridge, and when he arrived upon the sixth bank, he had need of a steadfast front. With such fury and with such storm, as dogs run out upon the poor wretch, who of a sudden begs where he stops, they came forth from under the little bridge, and turned against him all their forks. But he cried out, "Be no one of you savage; ere your hook take hold of me, let one of you come forward that he may hear me, and then take counsel as to grappling me." All cried out, "Let Malacoda[1] go!" Whereon one moved, and the rest stood still; and he came toward him, saying, "What doth this avail him?" "Thinkest thou, Malacoda, to see me come here," said my Master, "safe hitherto from all your hindrances, except by Will Divine and fate propitious? Let us go on, for in Heaven it is willed that I show another this savage road." Then was his arrogance so fallen that he let the hook drop at his feet, and said to the rest, "Now let him not be struck."

[1] Wicked tail.

And my Leader to me, "O thou that sittest cowering among the splinters of the bridge, securely now return to me." Whereat I moved and came swiftly to him. And the devils all pressed forward, so that I feared they would not keep their compact. And thus I once saw the foot-soldiers afraid, who came out under pledge from Caprona,[1] seeing themselves among so many enemies. I drew with my whole body alongside my Leader, and turned not mine eyes from their look, which was not good. They lowered their forks, and, "Wilt thou that I touch him on the rump?" said one to the other, and they answered, "Yes, see thou nick it for him." But that demon who was holding speech with my Leader turned very quickly and said, "Stay, stay, Scarmiglione!"

[1] In August, 1290, the town of Caprona, on the Arno, surrendered to the Florentine troops, with whom Dante was serving.

Then he said to us, "Further advance along this crag there cannot be, because the sixth arch lies all shattered at the bottom. And if to go forward still is your pleasure, go on along this rocky bank; near by is another crag that affords a way. Yesterday, five hours later than this hour, one thousand two hundred and sixty-six years were complete since the way was broken here.[1] I am sending thitherward some of these of mine, to see if any one is airing himself; go ye with them, for they will not be wicked. Come forward, Alichino and Calcabrina," began he to say, "and thou, Cagnazzo; and do thou, Barbariccia, guide the ten. Let Libicocco come also, and Draghignazzo, tusked Ciriatto, and Graffiacane, and Farfarello, and mad Rubicante. Search round about the boiling pitch; let these be safe far as the next crag, that all unbroken goes over these dens."

[1] By the earthquake at the death of the Saviour.

"O me! Master, what is it that I see?" said I; "pray let us go alone without escort, if thou knowest the way, for I desire it not for myself. If thou art as wary as thou art wont to be, dost thou not see that they show their teeth, and threatcn harm to us with their brows?" And he to me, "I would not have thee afraid. Let them grin on at their will, for they are doing it at the boiled wretches."

Upon the left bank they wheeled round, but first each had pressed his tongue with his teeth toward their leader for a signal, and he had made a trumpet of his rump.

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