Ninth Canto of Dante’s Inferno

That shade which cowardice painted me without,
when I saw my guide turn back around, made him
check his own hue more quickly from within.

Careful, he closed it up like a man who listens
well; for the eyesight’s gaze could stay on him
a while, through the black air and the thick fog.

“Winning this fight for us simply has to happen,”
he started, “& if not… Such offer presents itself
with such. Oh, how delayed I find that one

arriving!” I saw how well he covered o’er his[10
beginning to start with what came next, which
was words different from th’ original, other phrase;

but all the same, his speaking gave a fright
for it, since I was drawing out the speech cut
short perhaps for the worser sense than it held.

“Does anyone from the first circle, where severed
hope is sole for punishment, ever come down
to this depth of the dreary valley?” I asked

this question; and Vergil said, “It happens in-
frequently that someone takes the pathway for
going from us — this walk I am going on.

Truth is I was down here another time before,
enchanted by Erichtho, that uncivilized witch,
who was recalling shades back to their form.

I was newly stripped of the flesh, for which
she made me enter within that wall, to draw
a spirit along, from the circle of Judas.

That place was the furthest depth and most obscure
spot, and farthest removed from heaven, which turns
about all: I know the way well, & it secures you.[30

This marsh, which wafts the great stench, encircles
th’ area around the city of regrets, where
we cannot ever enter without wrath.”

He said more, but I keep it not in mind; however,
the gaze drew me fully toward the tall
tower flickering at the top, where there were

at that moment three furies in a line, hellacious,
stained with blood  — they had the limbs of a woman
and her demeanor, and they were tied up all

with serpents of the deepest green; they had snakes
and adders for locks of hair, by which the
beasts did their temples bind. And he that knew

so well the miserable ladies of the queen
of eternal sobbing, did say to me: “Watch
out for the wild Erinyes. That one, she

is Megæra on the lefthand side; the one which
weeps on the right is Alecto; Tisiphone
is in between.” — and he got quiet for such.

Each fury rends its breast with claws; open-palm
did they fight, and were screaming so loud that,
in suspicion, I drew close to the poet.

“Medusa’s coming: oh, we’ll turn him into cement,”
they said, all looking downward: “our bad, not to’ve
taken vengeance on Theseus for the assault.”

“Get behind me, and keep your eyesight closed;
for if the Gorgon is revealed and you see it,
you’d remember nothing to get back on earth.”

So did the master speak; and that same poet
turned me about: and content not with my
hands, he covered mine with his very own.[60

Now y’ all whose intellects are of sound mind,
marvel wondering at the rationale which is
veiled under the cover of such strange lines.

And right then there arrives a tumultuous
sound on over th’ undulating waves, loaded
with fright, at which both the shores do quiver; just

like happens when a blustery breeze, riled up
by adverse currents, keeps on battering
the branches all over helter-skelter, so

as the forest to wound, and carries them,
shorn away, off — it keeps on mounting dust-stained,
in pride, and does make the beasts and the shepherds fly.

He let go my eyes and said, “Now direct
your eyes’ nerve through that age-old scum on
over where that fuming is thicker.” Just

like the frogs before the hostile adder do
make themselves scarce throughout the waters,
so that each one may retain its plot at land, so

I saw more than a thousand distraught souls
fleeing before one in such manner, before
the path which the river Styx by-passes, with

their meager cries. He at once dismissed that acrid air,
leading, like before, on the lefthand side; and
did he appear worn out just from that anxious care.

I noticed in good manner that the path
was taken by one from heaven, & I turned
to the master; so he gave the sign to quiet

down and bow to that soul. Oh, how full of contempt did
he seem to me! He arrived at the gate, and with his
scepter dispersed the darkness, so it retained no hold.[90

“You who were banished from heaven, oh race
despisèd,” began he upon his terrifying
threshold, “whence is this haughtiness drawn in among

you? Why do you refuse the will of th’ one
whose end cannot ever be cut short, and
that has too often increased your anguish?

What use is it to clash with fated ends?
Your own Cerberus, if you remember well
enough, still keeps the bald chin and paunch there.”

Then he turned over the dirty path, uttering
not a word to us: rather, he made like a man
who is pressed and consumed by some care,

other than his concern that is before one’s own;
we directed our feet over the ground,
reassured after the holy-spoken sayings.

We entered within, without a single conflict; and
I, a man possessed by desire for reviewing
the state which such massive strength does confine,

turned my sight about, as soon as I was
inside; to the left and right I saw great-big
countryside full of grief, and the stream of torment.

Just as at Arles, where the Rhone bottoms out,
just like in Pola, close by Carnaro gulf,
which limits Italy and bathes its own

borders — where graves make all the place quite varied, —
so do the sepulchers in every direction
there, only now the means were much more harsh;

for the flames were scattered about the tombs,
by which they were so fired up in every
case, that no craftsman demands hotter iron.[120

All their lids were suspended ajar, & so dire were
the cries of pain from there, that they did seem
to come from wretched ones and downcast parties.

And said I, “Master, what people are these
that communicate sighs through agonizing
groans, buried inside of such tombs?” And to me

he states: “Here lie the heretics with their
followers, from every faction, & the graves
are much more crowded than you believe.

Like is interred with like minds down here, as[130
some of the memorials are hotter, some less.”
And as he turned about toward the right,

we passed on, between the torments and ramparts.

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