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Dante's Inferno
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Canto XXXI

The Giants around the Eighth Circle.—Nimrod.—Ephialtes.—Antaeus sets the Poets down in the Ninth Circle.

One and the same tongue first stung me, so that it tinged both my cheeks, and then supplied the medicine to me. Thus do I hear[1] that the lance of Achilles and of his father was wont to be cause first of a sad and then of a good gift. We turned our back to the wretched valley,[2] up along the bank that girds it round, crossing without any speech. Here it was less than night and less than day, so that my sight went little forward; but I heard a horn sounding so loud that it would have made every thunder faint, which directed my eyes, following its course counter to it,[3] wholly to one place.

[1] Probably from Ovid, who more than once refers to the magic power of the spear which had been given to Peleus by Chiron. Shakespeare too had heard of it, and applies it, precisely as Dante does, to one

Whose smile and frown, like to Achilles' spear,
Is able with the charge to kill and cure.
2 Henry VI. v. i.

[2] The tenth and last pit. My eyes went in the direction whence the sound came.

After the dolorous rout when Charlemagne lost the holy gest, Roland sounded not so terribly.[1] Shortwhile did I carry my head turned thitherward, when it seemed to me I saw many high towers; whereon I, "Master, say, what city is this?" And he to me, "Because too far away thou peerest through the darkness, it happens that thou dost err in thy imagining. Thou shalt see well, if thou arrivest there, how much the sense at distance is deceived; therefore somewhat more spur thyself on;" Then teiiderly he took me by the hand, and said, "Before we go further forward, in order that the fact may seem less strange to thee, know that they are not towers, but giants, and they are in the abyss[2] round about the bank, from the navel downward, one and all of them."

[1] At Roncesvalles.

Rollanz ad mis l'olifan a sa buche,
Empeint le bien, par grant vertut le sunet.
Halt sunt li pui e la voiz est mult lunge,
Granz xxx. liwes l'oirent-il respundre,
Carles l'oit e ses cumpaignes tutes.

Chanson de Roland, 1753-57.

[2] The central deep of Hell, dividing the eighth circle from the ninth,—the lowest.

As when the mist is dissipating, the look little by little shapes out what the vapor that thickens the air conceals, so, as I pierced the gross and dark air as we drew nearer and nearer to the verge, error fled from me and fear grew upon me. For as above its circular enclosure Montereggione [1] crowns itself with towers, so with half their body the horrible giants, whom Jove still threatens from heaven when he thunders, betowered the bank that surrounds the abyss.

[1] The towers of Montereggione in ruin still crown its broken wall, and may be seen from the railroad not far from Siena, on the way to Florence.

And I discerned now the face of one, his shoulders, and his breast, and great part of his belly, and down along his sides both his arms. Nature, surely, when she left the art of such like creatures, did exceeding well in taking such executers from Mars; and if she repent not of elephants and of whales, he who looks subtly holds her more just and more discreet therefor;[1] for where the faculty of the mind is added to evil will and to power, the human race can make no defense against it. His face seemed to me long and huge as the pine-cone[2] of St. Peter at Rome, and in its proportion were his other bones; so that the bank, which was an apron from his middle downward, showed of him fully so much above, that to reach to his hair three Frieslanders[3] would have made ill vaunt. For I saw of him thirty great palms down from the place where one buckles his cloak.

[1] For no longer creating giants.

[2] Of bronze, that came from the Mausoleum of Hadrian, and in Dante's time stood in the fore-court of St. Peter's, and is now in the Vatican gardens.

[3] Supposed to be tall men.

"Raphel mai amech zabi almi," the fierce mouth, to which sweeter psalms were not befitting, began to cry. And my Leader toward him, "Foolish soul! Keep to thy horn, and with that vent thyself when anger or other passion touches thee; seek at thy neck, and thou wilt find the cord that holds it tied, O soul confused! and see it lying athwart thy great breast." Then he said to me, "He himself accuses himself; this is Nimrod, because of whose evil thought the world uses not one language only. Let us leave him, and let us not speak in vain, for so is every language to him, as his to others, which to no one is known."

Then turning to the left, we pursued our way, and at a crossbow's shot we found the next, far more fierce and larger. Who the master was for binding him I cannot tell; but he had his right arm fastened behind, and the other in front, by a chain that held him entwined from the neck downward, so that upon his uncovered part it was wound as far as the fifth coil. "This proud one wished to make trial of his power against the supreme Jove," said my Leader, "wherefore he has such reward; Ephialtes[1] is his name, and he made his great endeavors when the giants made the Gods afraid; the arms which he plied he moves nevermore."

[1] Iphimedeia bore to Poseidon two sons, "but they were , godlike Otus and far-famed Ephialtes whom the fruitful Earth nourished to be the tallest and much the most beautiful of mortals except renowned Orion, for at nine years old they were nine cubits in breadth, and nine fathoms tall. They even threatened the immortais, raising the din of tumultuous war on Olympus, and strove to set Ossa upon Olympus and wood-clad Pelion upon Ossa, in order to scale heaven. But Jove destroyed them both." Odyssey, xi. 306-317.

And I to him, "If it may be, I should like my eyes to have experience of the huge Briareus." [1] Whereon he answered, "Thou shalt see Antaeus close at hand here, who speaks, and is unbound,[2] and will set us at the bottom of all sin. Him whom thou wishest to see is much farther on, and is bound and fashioned like this one, save that he seems more ferocious in his look."

[1] "Him of the hundred hands whom the Gods call Briareus." Iliad, i. 402.

[2] Because he took no part in the war of his brethren against the Gods. What Dante tells of him is derived from Lucan, Pharsalia, iv. 597 sqq.

Never was earthquake so mighty that it shook a tower as violently as Ephialtes was quick to shake himself. Then more than ever did I fear death; and there had been no need of more than the fright, if I had not seen his bonds. We then proceeded further forward, and came to Antaeus, who full five ells, besides his head, issued forth from the cavern. "O thou that, in the fateful valley which made Scipio the heir of glory when Hannibal and his followers turned their backs, didst bring of old a thousand lions for booty,—and it still seems credible that hadst thou been at the high war of thy brothers, the sons of the Earth would have conquered,—set us below, and disdain thou not to do so, where the cold locks up Cocytus. Make us not go to Tityus, nor to Typhon;[1] this one can give of that which here is longed for ;[2] therefore stoop, and curl not thy snout. He yet can restore fame to thee in the world; for he is living, and still expects long life, if Grace doth not untimely call him to itself." Thus said the Master; and he in haste stretched out those hands, whose strong grip Hercules once felt, and took my Leader. Virgil, when he felt himself taken up, said to me, "Come hither so that I take thee." Then he made one bundle of himself and me. As beneath its leaning side, the Carisenda[3] seems to look when a cloud is going over so that the tower hangs counter to it, thus seemed Antaeus to me that stood attent to see him bend; and it was a moment when I could have wished to go by another road. But lightly on the bottom that swallows Lucifer with Judas he set us down; nor, thus bent, did he there make stay, and like a mast in a ship he raised himself.

[1] Lucan (Phars. iv. 600), naming these giants, says they were less strong than Antaeus; wherefore there is subtle flattery in these words of Virgil.

[2] To be remembered on earth.

[3] The more inclined of the two famous leaning towers at Bologna. As the cloud goes over it, the tower seems to bend to meet it. So Coleridge in his Ode to Dejection:

And those thin clouds above, in flakes and bars,
That give sway their motion to the stars.
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