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Canto XXV

Eighth Circle: seventh pit: fraudulent thieves.—Cacus.—Agnel Brunelleschi and others.

At the end of his words the thief raised his hands with both the figs,[1] crying, "Take that, God! for at thee I square them." Thenceforth the serpents were my friends, for then one coiled around his neck, as if it said, "I will not that thou say more," and another round his arms and bound them up anew, clinching itself so in front that he could not give a shake with them. Ah Pistoia! Pistoia! why dost thou not decree to make ashes of thyself, so that thou mayest last no longer, since in evil-doing thou surpassest thine own seed?[2] Through all the dark circles of Hell I saw no spirit against God so proud, not he who fell at Thebes down from the walls.[3] He fled away and spake no word more.

[1] A vulgar mode of contemptuous defiance, thrusting out the fist with the thumb between the first and middle finger.

[2] According to tradition, Pistoia was settled by the followers of Catiline who escaped after his defeat.

[3] Capaneus; see Canto xiv.

And I saw a Centaur full of rage come crying out, "Where is, where is that obdurate one?" I do not think Maremma has so many snakes as he had upon his croup up to where our semblance begins. On his shoulders behind the nape a dragon with open wings was lying upon him, and it sets on fire whomsoever it encounters. My Master said, "This is Cacus, who beneath the rock of Mount Aventine made oftentimes a lake of blood. He goes not on one road with his brothers because of the fraudulent theft he committed of the great herd that was in his neighborhood; wherefor his crooked deeds ceased under the club of Hercules, who perhaps dealt him a hundred blows with it, and he felt not ten."

While he was so speaking, and that one had run by, lo! three spirits came below us, of whom neither I nor my Leader was aware till when they cried out, "Who are ye?" whereon our story stopped, and we then attended only unto them. I did not recognize them, but it happened, as it is wont to happen by chance, that one must needs name the other, saying, "Cianfa, where can he have stayed?" Whereupon I, in order that the Leader should attend, put my finger upward from my chin to my nose.

If thou art now, Reader, slow to credit that which I shall tell, it will not be a marvel, for I who saw it hardly admit it to myself. As I was holding my brow raised upon them, lo! a serpent with six feet darts in front of one, and grapples close to him. With his middle feet he clasped his paunch, and with his forward took his arms, then struck his fangs in one and the other cheek. His hinder feet he stretched upon the thighs, and put his tail between the two, and behind bent it up along the reins. Ivy was never so bearded to a tree, as the horrible beast through the other's limbs entwined his own. Then they stuck together as if they had been of hot wax, and mingled their color; nor one nor the other seemed now that which it was; even as before the flame, up along the paper a dark color proceeds which is not yet black, and the white dies away. The other two were looking on, and each cried, "O me! Agnello, how thou changest! Lo, now thou art neither two nor one! Now were the two heads become one, when there appeared to us two countenances mixed in one face wherein the two were lost. Of four [1] strips the two arms were made; the thighs with the legs, the belly and the chest became members that were never seen before. Each original aspect there was cancelled; both and neither the perverse image appeared, and such it went away with slow step.

[1] The two fore feet of the dragon and the two arms of the man were melted into two strange arms.

As the lizard under the great scourge of the dog days, changing from hedge to hedge, seems a flash, if it crosses the way, so seemed, coming toward the belly of the two others, a little fiery serpent, livid, and black as a grain of pepper. And that part whereby our nourishment is first taken it transfixed in one of them, then fell down stretched out before him. The transfixed one gazed at it, but said nothing; nay rather, with feet fixed, he yawned even as if sleep or fever had assailed him. He looked at the serpent, and that at him; one through his wound, the other through his mouth, smoked violently, and their smoke met. Let Lucan henceforth be silent, where he tells of the wretched Sabellus, and of Nasidius, and wait to hear that which now is uttered. Let Ovid be silent concerning Cadmus and Arethusa, for if, poetizing, he converts him into a serpent and her into a fountain, I envy him not; for two natures front to front never did he transmute, so that both the forms were prompt to exchange their matter. To one another they responded by such rules, that the serpent made his tail into a fork, and the wounded one drew together his feet. The legs and the very thighs with them so stuck together, that in short while the juncture made no sign that was apparent. The cleft tail took on the shape that was lost there, and its skin became soft, and that of the other hard. I saw the arms draw in through the armpits, and the two feet of the beast which were short lengthen out in proportion as those shortened. Then the hinder feet, twisted together, became the member that man conceals, and the wretched one from his had two[1] stretched forth.

[1] Hinder feet.

While the smoke is veiling both with a new color, and generates hair on the one, and from the other strips it, one rose up, and the other fell down, not however turning aside their pitiless lights,[1] beneath which each was changing his visage. He who was erect drew his in toward the temples, and, from the excess of material that came in there, issued the ears on the smooth cheeks; that which did not run backwards but was retained, of its superfluity made a nose for the face, and thickened the lips so far as was needful. He who was lying down drives his muzzle forward, and draws in his ears through his skull, as the snail doth his horns. And his tongue, which erst was united and fit for speech, cleaves itself, and the forked one of the other closes up; and the smoke stops. The soul that had become a brute fled hissing along the valley, and behind him the other speaking spits. Then he turned upon him his new shoulders, and said to the other,[2] "I will that Buoso[3] run, as I have done, groveling along this path."

[1] Glaring steadily at each other.

[2] The third of the three spirits, the only one unchanged.

[3] Buoso is he who has become a snake.

Thus I saw the seventh ballast[1] change and rechange, and here let the novelty be my excuse, if my pen straggle[2] a little. And although my eyes were somewhat confused, and my mind bewildered, those could not flee away so covertly but that I clearly distinguished Puccio Sciancato, and he it was who alone, of the three companions that had first come, was not changed; the other[3] was he whom thou, Gaville, weepest.

[1] The ballast,—the sinners in the seventh bolgia.

[2] Run into unusual detail.

[3] One Francesco Guerelo de' Cavalcanti, who was slain by men of the little Florentine town of Gaville, and for whose death cruel vengeance was taken. The three who had first come were the three Florentine thieves, Agnello, Buoso, and Puccio. Cianfa Donati had then appeared as the serpent with six feet, and had been incorporated with Agnello. Lastly came Guercio Cavalcanti as a little snake, and changed form with Buoso.

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