Saturday, March 16, 2013

DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 11


 Chapter 11: A Lecture on Hell


Huge boulders fenced the clifftop round the ledge
            but did not block the stench from lower hell.
            Retreating from that edge we went behind                   3

a monument inscribed, I hold Pope
            Anastasius who Photinus led
astray. My Master said, “Here let us stay                   6

until accustomed to the evil smell.”
             “Agreed!” I said, “but please use the delay
            to tell me something of what lies ahead.”                      9

Said he, “I mean to. Know this cliff, my son,
surrounds three circles, each diminishing
as do the upper circles we’ve passed through.                    12

Each circle has been built to satisfy
God’s justice, I will say who occupy
the rings of punishment, and tell you why.                15

Evil is justice wronged by force or fraud.
           in the next circle down you’ll meet the souls
           who violently crushed justice openly:                    18

homicides, tyrants, plunderers who took                                               
           their neighbour’s lives and properties and lands;
            suicides too, destroyed by their own hands;            21

blasphemers who were violent to God;                                           
           and last, perverters of His greatest gifts –
           bad buggers, and bad bankers rich through loans.         24
                                 
Each sort receives a different punishment
          that splits their circle into several zones.
          Fraudsters are in the second circle down.           27

Fraud is the wickedness that God hates most
            since fraud kills love,  that bond between the just
            which could unite us all. Untied by fraud               30                                  

this bond becomes mistrust or changed to hate,
           that worst of sins against the Holy Ghost.
           Hence in the circle further down you’ll see            33

seducers, pimps, flatterers, rotten popes,
          sorcerers, bribed judges, hypocrites,
          thieves, scandal-mongers, lying experts who        36

twist people, money, words to help the liars
          who dominate each unjust government.
          Last, lowest, smallest circle of the pit               39

is centre of our world and universe
          where our descent concludes. There you will see
          a lake of solid ice where traitors freeze,                      42

traitors to kin and homeland, guest and these
         to whom they own profoundest gratitude,
         frozen around the hugest fraud of all.”             45

 “My thanks dear guide,” said I, “ for making clear
         the ranks of sinners down in the abyss,
         but think of those outside the walls of Dis –        48    
                            
racing through fog, tempest- tossed, clawed by dog
         in rain, battering together boulders,
        gurgling in slime and fighting all the time -       51          
                      
surely they suffer less than those below,
         and if so, why?” “Stop talking like a fool,”
        was his reply. “ Aristotle’s Ethics                   54

define three kinds of sin. Incontinence,
         caused by an excesive natural lust,
         is first and commonest and not the worst.        57
                         
Violent malice vexes God much more,
         and fraud’s mad beastliness is most accursed.
         You know this well, yet sit there asking why        60
                                               

all sinners do not go to Hell’s deepest pit!”
            Master,” I told him,” hearing you untie
            that knot of doubt is truly a delight.                63
                                               
Untie my last. The loan of wealth for gain -
            capitalism which priests call usury -  
            why is it judged as foul as sodomy       66

and so deserving of as great a pain?”
            “true wisdom and philosophy,” said he,
            “give reasons you will find in Genesis          69

and Aristotle’s Physics. These explain 
             natural things are all God’s handiwork                     
             and human kind should live by daily toil         72
                                   
through honest use of His materials
             as all good farmers, tradesmen, housewives do
             and poets too who show realities.         75               

Despite the endless labour God commanded
            on sending Adam out of paradise
            money itself is not against Gods law     78
           
when it helps people share the goods we need.
            But those who make money their merchandize
            breed money out of money in their greed         81

until their banks of it leave others poor,
            impeding flow of goods and common sense.
            Foul unearned incomes are the consequence.                 84

They worship Mammon, Midas, Mercury -
           false golden gods. Let us go hence from this.
           Somewhere above day is about to dawn              87

and soon we must climb down a precipice.

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