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Dante's Inferno
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Canto XXVI

Eighth Circle: eighth pit fraudulent counselors.—Ulysses and Diomed.

Rejoice, Florence, since thou art so great that over sea and land thou beatest thy wings, and thy name is spread through Hell. Among the thieves I found five such, thy citizens, whereat shame comes to me, and thou unto great honor risest not thereby. But, if near the morning one dreams the truth, thou shalt feel within little time what Prato, as well as others, craves for thee.[1] And if now it were, it would not be too soon. Would that it were so! since surely it must be; for the more it will weigh on me the more I age.

[1] If that which I foresee is not a vain dream, the calamities which thine enemies crave for thee will soon be felt.

We departed thence, and up along the stairs that the bourns[1] had made for our descent before, my Leader remounted and dragged me. And pursuing the solitary way mid the splinters and rocks of the crag, the foot without the hand sped not. Then I grieved, and now I grieve again when I direct my mind to what I saw; and I curb my genius more than I am wont, that it may not run unless virtue guide it; so that if a good star, or better thing, has given me of good, I may not grudge it to myself.

[1] The projections of the rocky wall.

As the rustic who rests him on the bill in the season when he that brightens the world keepeth his face least hidden from us, what time the fly yieldeth to the gnat,[1] sees many fireflies down in the valley, perhaps there where he makes his vintage and ploughs,—with as many flames all the eighth pit was resplendent, as I perceived soon as I was there where the bottom became apparent. And as he[2] who was avenged by the bears saw the chariot of Elijah at its departure, when the horses rose erect to heaven, and could not so follow it with his eyes as to see aught save the flame alone, even as a little cloud, mounting upward: thus each[3] was moving through the gulley of the ditch, for not one shows its theft, and every flame steals away a sinner.[4]

[1] That is, in the summer twilight. Elisha.

[2] Kings ii. 9-24.

[3] Of those flames.

[4] Within each flame a sinner was concealed.

I was standing on the bridge, risen up to look, so that if I had not taken hold of a rock I should have fallen below without being pushed. And the Leader, who saw me thus attent, said, "Within these fires are the spirits; each is swathed by that wherewith he is enkindled." "My Master," I replied, "by hearing thee am I more certain, but already I deemed that it was so, and already I wished to say to thee, Who is in that fire that cometh so divided at its top that it seems to rise from the pyre on which Eteocles was put with his brother?" [1] He answered me, "There within are tormented Ulysses and Diomed, and thus together they go in punishment, as of old in wrath.[2] And within their flame they groan for the ambush of the horse that made the gate, whence the gentle seed of the Romans issued forth. Within it they lament for the artifice whereby the dead Deidamia still mourns for Achilles, and there for the Palladium they bear the penalty." "If they can speak within those sparkles," said I, "Master, much I pray thee, and repray that the prayer avail a thousand, that thou make not to me denial of waiting till the horned flame come hither; thou seest that with desire I bend me toward it." And he to me, "Thy prayer is worthy of much praise, and therefore I accept it, but take heed that thy tongue restrain itself. Leave speech to me, for I have conceived what thou wishest, for, because they are Greeks, they would be shy, perchance, of thy words."[3]

[1] Eteocles and Polynices, sons of Oedipus and Jocaste, who, contending at the siege of Thebes, slew each other. Such was their mutual hate that, when their bodies were burned on the same funeral pile, the flames divided in two.

—ezundant diviso vertice flammae Alternosque apices abrupta luce coruscant. Statius, Thebaid, xii, 431-2.

[2] Against the Trojans. It was through the stratagem of the wooden horse that Troy was destroyed, and Aeneas thus compelled to lead forth his followers who became the seed of the Romans. Deidamia was the wife of Achilles, who slew herself for grief at his desertion and departure for Troy, which had been brought about by the deceit of Ulysses and Diomed. The Palladium was the statue of Athena, on which the safety of Troy depended, stolen by the two heroes.

[3] The ancient heroes might be averse to talking with a man of the strange modern world.

When the flame had come there where it seemed to my Leader time and place, in this form I heard him speak to it: "O ye who are two within one fire, if I deserved of you while I lived, if I deserved of you much or little, when in the world I wrote the lofty verses, move not, but let one of you tell us, where, having lost himself, he went away to die." The greater horn of the ancient flame began to waver, murmuring, even as a flame that the wind wearies. Then moving its tip hither and thither, as it had been the tongue that would speak, it cast forth a voice, and said,—

"When I departed from Circe, who had retained me more than a year there near to Gaeta, before Aeneas had so named it, neither fondness for my son, nor piety for my old father, nor the due love that should have made Penelope glad, could overcome within me the ardor that I had to gain experience of the world, and of the vices of men, and of their valor. But I put forth on the deep, open sea, with one vessel only, and with that little company by which I had not been deserted. One shore and the other[1] I saw as far as Spain, far as Morocco and the island of Sardinia, and the rest which that sea bathes round about. I and my companions were old and slow when we came to that narrow strait where Hercules set up his bounds, to the end that man may not put out beyond.[2] On the right hand I left Seville, on the other already I had left Ceuta. 'O brothers,' said I, 'who through a hundred thousand perils have reached the West, to this so little vigil of your senses that remains be ye unwilling to deny, the experience, following the sun, of the world that hath no people. Consider ye your origin; ye were not made to live as brutes, but for pursuit of virtue and of knowledge.' With this little speech I made my companions so eager for the road that hardly afterwards could I have held them back. And turning our stern to the morning, with our oars we made wings for the mad flight, always gaining on the left hand side. The night saw now all the stars of the other pole, and ours so low that it rose not forth from the ocean floor. Five times rekindled and as many quenched was the light beneath the moon, since we had entered on the deep pass, when there appeared to us a mountain dim through the distance, and it appeared to me so high as I had not seen any. We rejoiced thereat, and soon it turned to lamentation, for from the strange land a whirlwind rose, and struck the fore part of the vessel. Three times it made her whirl with all the waters, the fourth it made her stern lift up, and the prow go down, as pleased Another, till the sea had closed over us."

[1] Of the Mediterranean.

[2] Piu oltre non; the famous Ne plus ultra, adopted as his motto by Charles V.

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