DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 6
Hell: Chapter 6
Returning to my senses once again
from sorrow that confused them utterly
I saw a different multitude in pain, 3
not reeling, writhing, spirits spinning round
but corpulences stuck in muddy ground
under a freezing hard unending rain 6
of filthy water, hailstones, blasts of snow
descending through a murkiness of fog
to make the earth below a stinking bog 9
from which the sunken souls half-way protrude.
Across this mire prowls a rude vicious beast
three-headed, each head howling like a dog. 12
His name is Cerberus, his eyes blood-red,
black hair and beards befouled by greasy phlegm,
his belly gross, each paw with knife-like claws 15
that stab and rip sinners they prance upon,
who also howl like dogs. They cannot stop
squirming to turn their downside up again 18
to shield their upside from the dreadful rain.
Cerberus, glaring on us, snarled and showed
three pair of open jaws with dragon fangs, 21
his body twitching, bristling to attack.
My guide stooped swiftly, scooped up blood-rich mud,
then accurately flung a handful down 24
each throat. The tongues were stopped – the beast’s snarls ceased.
Like hungry hound gorging on juicy bone
he left the damned alone as we moved on 27
across the swamp where footsteps often sank
down through a groaning ghost to mud below.
Then one, twisting half up beside our way 30
cried out, “O Dante, surely you know me?
We met in Florence years before I died.”
“To me you seem a stranger,” I replied, 33
“but hellish woe has maybe altered you.
Please tell me who you were, the thing you did
that brings such suffering. Worse punishments 36
no doubt exist, but few so sickening.”
Said he, “Within our sunlit native town
the citizens once knew me as The Hog. 39
I thought good food the best thing life could give,
so rot in rain here like a sodden log,
but not alone, the others that you see 42
are also damned for selfish gluttony.”
I said to him, “Poor Hog, I pity you!
but ghosts can know much more than living men 45
of what time has in store. Please tell
if Florence which engendered us will come
in course of time to rule her people well. 48
Must party politics divide our state?
No just men lead us to co-operate?”
He told me, “Old disputes will never end. 51
Divided still by envy, pride and greed
our government will come to civil wars,
bloodshed and banishment. Our councillors 54
will fight for who pays most, changing their side
to any that pay more. A few will fight for
civil rights, justice for those in need 57
and be ignored by envy, pride and greed.”
I wept at that, begging “Tell me about
good men I knew who wanted to do well – 60
Arrigo, Mosca and Tegghiaio,
Jack Rusticucci and Farinata, –
Where are they now?” “Go deeper in this pit,” 63
said he. “You’ll find them there. All I ask now
is this: when you return to Italy
remind folk that the Hog lives on in Hell 66
I’ll say no more.” His eyes went squint. He fell
down flat and blind and speechless as before.
My leader said, “ He’ll hear no other word 69
until the last trumpet summons bodies up
to reunite with souls. Then will resound
the judges final word of doom, that word 72
that locks the damned forever in their tomb.”
We waded slowly onward through the scum
of muddy shadows, stinking fog and rain, 75
talking a little of the life to come.
I asked him, “ master, will these feel their pain
harder or lesser or with out much change 78
after that judgment’s passed upon the dead?”
“Think scientifically,“ my guide said.
“when things are more complete the more they show 81
and feel, if sensitive, delight or pain.
No perfect joy can live inside this pit.
body plus soul must feel the opposite.” 84
We spoke of other things I don't recall
upon that path which gradually bent
round in a circle to the next descent. 87
Here we found Plutus, enemy of all