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Dante's Inferno
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Canto XXXIV

Ninth Circle: traitors. Fourth ring: Judecca.—Lucifer.—Judas, Brutus and Cassius.—Centre of the universe.—Passage from Hell.—Ascent to the surface of the Southern Hemisphere.

"Vexilla regis prodeunt inferni,[1] toward us; therefore look in front," said my Master; "if thou discernest him." As a mill that the wind turns seems from afar when a thick fog breathes, or when our hemisphere grows dark with night, such a structure then it seemed to me I saw.

[1] "The banners of the King of Hell advance." Vexilla Regis prodeunt are the first words of a hymn in honor of the Cross, sung at vespers on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and on Monday of Holy Week.

Then, because of the wind, I drew me behind my Leader; for there was no other shelter. I was now, and with fear I put it in verse, there[1] where the shades were wholly covered, and showed through like a straw in glass. Some are lying; some stand erect, this on his head, and that on his soles; another like a bow inverts his face to his feet.

[1] In the fourth, innermost ring of ice of the ninth circle, the Judecca.

When we had gone so far forward that it pleased my Master to show me the creature that had the fair semblance, from before me he took himself and made me stop, saying, "Behold Dis, and behold the place where it is needful that with fortitude thou arm thee." How I became then chilled and hoarse, ask it not, Reader, for I write it not, because all speech would be little. I did not die, and I did not remain alive. Think now for thyself, if thou hast grain of wit, what I became, deprived of one and the other.

The emperor of the woeful realm from his midbreast issued forth from the ice; and I match better with a giant, than the giants do with his arms. See now how great must be that whole which corresponds to such parts. If he was as fair as he now is foul, and against his Maker lifted up his brow, surely may all tribulation proceed from him. Oh how great a marvel it seemed to me, when I saw three faces on his head! one in front, and that was red; the others were two that were joined to this above the very middle of each shoulder, and they were joined together at the place of the crest; and the right seemed between white and yellow, the left was such to sight as those who come from where the Nile flows valleyward. Beneath each came forth two great wings, of size befitting so huge a bird. Sails of the sea never saw I such. They had no feathers, but their fashion was of a bat; and he was flapping them so that three winds went forth from him, whereby Cocytus was all congealed. With six eyes he was weeping, and over three chins trickled the tears and bloody drivel. With each mouth he was crushing a sinner with his teeth, in manner of a brake, so that he thus was making three of them woeful. To the one in front the biting was nothing to the clawing, so that sometimes his spine remained all stripped of skin.

"That soul up there which has the greatest punishment," said the Master, "is Judas Iscariot, who has his head within, and plies his legs outside. Of the other two who have their heads down, he who hangs from the black muzzle is Brutus; see how he writhes and says no word; and the other is Cassius, who seems so large-limbed. But the night is rising again, and now we must depart, for we have seen the whole."

As was his pleasure, I clasped his neck, and he took opportunity of time and place, and when the wings were opened wide he caught hold on the shaggy flanks; from shag to shag he then descended between the bushy hair and the frozen crusts. When we were just where the thigh turns on the thick of the haunch, my Leader, with effort and stress of breath, turned his head where he had his shanks, and clambered by the hair as a man that ascends, so that I thought to return again to hell.

"Cling fast hold," said the Master, panting like one weary, "for by such stairs it behoves to depart from so much evil." Then he came forth through the opening of a rock, and placed me upon its edge to sit; then stretched toward me his cautious step.

I raised my eyes, and thought to see Lucifer as I had left him, and I saw him holding his legs upward. And if I then became perplexed, let the dull folk think it that see not what that point is that I had passed.[1]

[1] This point is the centre of the universe; when Virgil had turned upon the haunch of Lucifer, the passage had been made from one hemisphere of the earth—the inhabited and known hemisphere—to the other where no living men dwell, and where the only land is the mountain of Purgatory. In changing one hemisphere for the other there is a change of time of twelve hours. A second Saturday morning begins for the poets, and they pass nearly as long a time as they have been in Hell, that is, twenty-four hours, in traversing the long and hard way that leads through the new hemisphere on which they have just entered.

"Rise up," said the Master, "on thy feet; the way is long and the road is difficult, and already the sun unto mid-tierce[1] returns."

[2] Tierce is the church office sung at the third hour of the day, and the name is given to the first three hours after sunrise. Midtierce consequently here means about half-past seven o'clock. In Hell Dante never mentions the sun to mark division of time, but now, having issued from Hell, Virgil marks the hour by a reference to the sun.

It was no hallway of a palace where we were, but a natural dungeon that had a bad floor, and lack of light. "Before I tear me from the abyss," said I when I had risen up, "my Master, speak a little to me to draw me out of error. Where is the ice? and this one, how is he fixed thus upside down? and how in such short while has the sun from eve to morn made transit?" And he to me, "Thou imaginest that thou still art on the other side of the centre where I laid hold on the hair of the guilty Worm that pierces the world. On that side wast thou so long as I descended; when I turned thou didst pass the point to which from all parts whatever has weight is drawn; and thou art now arrived beneath the hemisphere opposite to that which the great dry land covers, and beneath whose zenith the Man was slain who was born and lived without sin. Thou hast thy feet upon the little sphere which forms the other face of the Judecca. Here it is morning when there it is evening; and he who made for us a stairway with his hair is still fixed even as he was before. Upon this side he fell down from heaven, and the earth, which before was spread out here, through fear of him made of the sea a veil, and came to your hemisphere; and perchance to flee from him that land[1] which on this side appears left here this empty space and upward ran back."

[1] The Mount of Purgatory.

A place is there below, stretching as far from Beelzebub as his tomb extends,[1] which not by sight is known, but by the sound of a rivulet that here descends along the hollow of a rock that it has gnawed with its course that winds and little falls. My Leader and I entered through that hidden way, to return to the bright world. And without care, to have any repose, we mounted up, he first and I second, till through a round opening I saw of those beauteous things which heaven bears, and thence we came forth to see again the stars.

[1] Hell is his tomb; this vacant dark passage through the opposite hemisphere is, of course, of the same depth as Hell from surface to centre.

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