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Dante's Inferno
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Canto VIII

The Fifth Circle.—Phlegyas and his boat.—Passage of the Styx.—Filippo Argenti.—The City of Dis.—The demons refuse entrance to the poets.

I say, continuing, that, long before we were at the foot of the high tower, our eyes went upward to its top because of two flamelets that we saw set there, and another giving sigual back from so far that hardly could the eye reach it. And I turned me to the Sea of all wisdom; I said, "This one, what says it? and what answers that other fire? and who are they that make it?" And he to me, "Upon the foul waves already thou mayest discern that which is expected, if the fume of the marsh hide it not from thee."

Bowstring never sped arrow from itself that ran so swift a course through the air, as a very little boat which I saw coming through the water toward us at that instant, under the direction of a single ferryman, who was crying out, "Art thou then come, fell soul?"

"Phlegyas, Phlegyas, this time thou criest out in vain," said my Lord; "longer thou shalt not have us than only while crossing the slough." As one who listens to some great deceit that has been practiced on him, and then chafes at it, such became Phlegyas in his stifled anger.

My Leader descended into the bark and then he made me enter after him, and only when I was in did it seem laden. Soon as my Leader and I were in the boat, the antique prow goes its way, cutting more of the water than it is wont with others.

While we were running through the dead channel, before me showed himself one full of mud, and said, "Who art thou that comest before the hour?" And I to him, "If I come I stay not; but thou, who art thou that art become so foul?" He answered, "Thou seest that I am one who weeps." And I to him, "With weeping and with wailing, accursed spirit, do thou remain, for I know thee although thou art all filthy." Then he stretched to the boat both his hands, whereat the wary Master thrust him back, saying, "Begone there, with the other dogs!" Then with his arms he clasped my neck, kissed my face, and said, "Disdainful soul, blessed be she who bore thee! This one was an arrogant person in the world; no goodness is there that adorns his memory; therefore is his shade so furious here. How many now up there are held great kings who shall stand here like swine in mire, leaving of themselves horrible dispraises." And I, "Master, I should much like to see him ducked in this broth before we depart from the lake." And he to me, "Ere the shore allows thee to see it thou shalt be satisfied; it will be fitting that thou enjoy such a desire." After this a little I saw such rending of him by the muddy folk that I still praise God therefor, and thank Him for it. All cried, "At Filippo Argenti! " and the raging florentine spirit turned upon himself with his teeth. Here we left him; so that I tell no more of him.

But on my ears there smote a wailing, whereat forward intent I open wide my eye. And the good Master said, "Now, son, the city draws near that is named Dis, with its heavy citizens, with its great throng." And I, "Master, already in the valley therewithin I clearly discern its mosques vermilion, as if issuing from fire." And he said to me, "The eternal fire that blazes within them displays them red as thou seest in this nether Hell."

We at last arrived within the deep ditches that encompass that disconsolate city. The walls seemed to me to be of iron. Not without first making a great circuit did we come to a place where the ferryman loudly shouted to us, "Out with you, here is the entrance.'

Upon the gates I saw more than a thousand of those rained down from heaven who angrily were saying, "Who is this, that without death goes through the realm of the dead folk?" And my wise Master made a sign of wishing to speak secretly with them. Then they shut in a little their great scorn, and said, "Come thou alone, and let him be gone who so boldly entered on this realm. Alone let him return on the mad path: let him try if he can; for thou, who hast escorted him through so dark a region, shalt remain here."

Think, Reader, if I was discomforted at the sound of the accursed words, for I did not believe ever to return hither.[1]

[1] To this world.

"O my dear Leader, who more than seven times hast renewed assurance in me, and drawn me from deep peril that stood confronting me, leave me not," said I, "thus undone; and, if the going farther onward be denied us, let us together retrace our footprints quickly." And that Lord who had led me thither said to me, "Fear not, for no one can take from us our onward way, by Such an one it is given to us. But here await me, and comfort thy dejected spirit and feed on good hope, for I will not leave thee in the nether world."

So the sweet Father goes away, and here abandons me, and I remain in suspense; and yes and no contend within my head. I could not hear what he set forth to them, but he had not staid there long with them, when each ran vying back within. These our adversaries closed the gates on the breast of my Lord, who remained without, and returned to me with slow steps. He held his eyes upon the ground, and his brow was shorn of all hardihood, and he said in sighs, "Who hath denied to me the houses of woe?" And he said to me, "Thou, because I am wroth, be not dismayed, for I shall win the strife, whoever circle round within for the defence. This their insolence is not new, for of old they used it at a less secret gate, which still is found without a bolt. Above it thou didst see the dead inscription; and already on this side of it descends the steep, passing without escort through the circles, One such that by him the city shall be opened to us."

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