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Canto XXVII

Eighth Circle: eighth pit fraudulent counselors.—Guido da Montefeltro.

Now was the flame erect and quiet, through not speaking more, and now was going from us, with the permission of the sweet poet, when another that was coming behind it made us turn our eyes to its tip, by a confused sound that issued forth therefrom. As the Sicilian bull [1]—that bellowed first with the plaint of him (and that was right) who had shaped it with his file—was wont to bellow with the voice of the sufferer, so that, although it was of brass, yet it appeared transfixed with pain, thus, through not at first having way or outlet from the fire, the disconsolate words were converted into its language. But when they had taken their course up through the point, giving it that vibration which the tongue had given in their passage, we heard say, "O thou, to whom I direct my voice, thou that wast just speaking Lombard,[2] saying, 'Now go thy way, no more I urge thee,' although I may have arrived perchance somewhat late, let it not irk thee to stop to speak with me, behold, it irks not me, and I am burning. If thou but now into this blind world art fallen from that sweet Italian land whence I bring all my sin, tell me if the Romagnuoli have peace or war; for I was from the mountains there between Urbino and the chain from which Tiber is unlocked."[3]

[1] The brazen bull of Phalaris, tyrant of Agrigentum, made to hold criminals to be burned within it. Perillus, its inventor, was the first to suffer. So these sinners are wrapped in the flames which their fraudulent counsels had prepared for them.

[2] Lombard, because the words were those of Virgil, whose "parents were Lombards," and in speaking he had used a form peculiar to the Lombard dialect.

[3] It is the spirit of the Ghibelline count, Guido da Montefeltro, a famous freebootiug captain, who speaks.

I was still downward attent and leaning over when my Leader touched me on the side, saying, "Speak thou, this is an Italian." And I, who even now had my answer ready, without delay began to speak, "O soul, that art hidden there below, thy Romagna is not, and never was, without war in the hearts of her tyrants, but open war none have I left there now. Ravenna is as it hath been for many years; the eagle of Polenta[1] is brooding there, so that he covers Cervia with his wings. The city[2] that made erewhile the long struggle, and of the French a bloody heap, finds itself again beneath the green paws. And the old mastiff and the new of Verrucchio,[3] who made the ill disposal of Montagna, make an anger of their teeth there where they are wont. The little lion of the white lair[4] governs the city of Lamone and of Santerno, and changes side from summer to winter. And she[5] whose flank the Savio bathes, even as she sits between the plain and the mountain, lives between tyranny and a free state. Now who thou art, I pray thee that thou tell us; be not harder than another hath been,[6] so may thy name in the world hold front."

[1] Guido Novello da Polenta had been lord of Ravenna since 1275. He was father of Francesca da Rimini, and a friend of Dante. His shield bore an eagle, gules, on a field, or. Cervia is a small town on the coast, not far from Ravenna.

[2] Forli, where in 1282 Guido da Montefeltro had defeated, with great slaughter, a troop, largely of French soldiers, sent against him by Pope Martin III. It was now ruled by the Ordelaffi, whose shield, party per fess, bore on its upper half, or, a demilion, vert.

[3] Malatesta, father and son, rulers of Rimini; father and brother of the husband and of the lover of Francesca da Rimim. They had cruelly put to death Montagna di Parcitade, the head of the Ghibellines of Rimini; and they ruled as tyrants, sucking the blood of their subjects.

[4] This is Maghinardo da Susinana, who bore a lion azure on a field argent.

[5] The city of Cesena.

[6] Refuse not to answer me as I have answered thee.

After the fire had somewhat roared according to its fashion, the sharp point moved this way and that, and then gave forth this breath: "If I could believe that my answer might be to a person who should ever return unto the world, this flame would stand without more quiverings; but inasmuch as, if I hear truth, never from this depth did any living man return, without fear of infamy I answer thee.

"I was a man of arms, and then became a cordelier, trusting, thus girt, to make amends; and surely my trust had been fulfilled but for the Great Priest,[1] whom may ill betide! who set me back into my first sins; and how and wherefore, I will that thou hear from me. While I was that form of bone and flesh that my mother gave me, my works were not leonine, but of the fox. The wily practices, and the covert ways, I knew them all, and I so plied their art that to the earth's end the sound went forth. When I saw me arrived at that part of my age where every one ought to strike the sails and to coil up the ropes, what erst was pleasing to me then gave me pain, and I yielded me repentant and confessed. Alas me wretched! and it would have availed. The Prince of the new Pharisees having war near the Lateran,[2]—and not with Saracens nor with Jews, for every enemy of his was Christian, and none of them had been to conquer Acre,[3] nor a trafficker in the land of the Soldan,—regarded in himself neither his supreme office, nor the holy orders, nor in me that cord which is wont to make those girt with it more lean; but as Constantine besought Sylvester within Soracte to cure his leprosy,[4] so this one besought me as master to cure his proud fever. He asked counsel of me, and I kept silence, because his words seemed drunken. And then he said to me, 'Let not thy heart mistrust; from now I absolve thee, and do thou teach me to act so that I may throw Palestrina to the ground. Heaven can I lock and unlock, as thou knowest; for two are the keys that my predecessor held not dear.' Then his grave arguments pushed me to where silence seemed to me the worst, and I said, 'Father, since thou washest me of that sin wherein I now must fall, long promise with short keeping will make thee triumph on the High Seat.' Francis[5] came for me afterwards, when I was dead, but one of the Black Cherubim said to him, 'Bear him not away; do me not wrong; he must come down among my drudges because he gave the fraudulent counsel, since which till now I have been at his hair; for he who repents not cannot be absolved, nor can repentance and will exist together, because of the contradiction that allows it not.' O woeful me! how I shuddered when he took me, saying to me, 'Perhaps thou didst not think that I was a logician.' To Minos he bore me; and he twined his tail eight times round his hard back, and, after he had bitten it in great rage, he said, 'This is one of the sinners of the thievish fire.' Therefore I, where thou seest, am lost, and going thus robed I rankle." When he had thus completed his speech the flame, sorrowing, departed, twisting and flapping its sharp horn.

[1] Boniface VIII.

[2] With the Colonna family, whose stronghold was Palestrina.

[3] Not one had been a renegade, to help the Saracens at the siege of Acre in 1291.

[4] It was for this service that Constantine was supposed to have made Sylvester "the first rich Father." See Canto xiv. His predecessor, Celestine V., had renounced the papacy.

[5] St. Francis came for his soul, as that of one of the brethren of his Order.

We passed onward, I and my Leader, along the crag, far as upon the next arch that covers the ditch in which the fee is paid by those who, sowing discord, win their burden.

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