DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 12
Chapter 12: The Violent
I saw, as from an Alpine mountain’s height
a rockfall sloping down between dark walls 3
so steep and far I shuddered at the sight.
Think of that avalanche of ruined stones
near Trent, that people call The Slides of Mark, 6
which spills from lofty summit to the plain.
Such was our stairway down through the ravine,
while sprawling across the top I saw 9
that monstrous and bull-headed shame of Crete,
the bastard of depraved Queen Pasiphae
whom only a bulls prick could satisfy, 12
and crouching in a hollow wooden cow
got what she craved. On seeing us her child
bellowed and bit his dewlaps, wild with rage, 15
at which my master cried, “No, this is not
Duke Theseus who slew you long ago.
This man must see the violently wrong 18
you guard below, so beast, out of our way!”
as bull fataly stabbed by butchers knife
before death strikes, has breath to plunge and kick, 21
so did the Minotaur. My guide said, “Quick!
let us slip past while fury blinds the brute.”
We did, both stepping down the scree of stones 24
that shifted under my more weighty foot.
I pondered this until he said, “Perhaps
you contemplate these rockfalls which permit 27
your easier descent into the pit.
They were not here when last I came this way
before that Hero from the world above 30
rescued so many souls from sin and shame.
In Limbo then I heard a joyful shout
as if our universe was cleft by love, 33
and certainly an earthquake split these cliffs
when he came here to fetch his people out.
Now look below. You will begin to see 36
a flood of boiling blood devised to pain
those who by force hurt other folk for gain.”
Between the cliff foot and a wide red moat 39
that curved around that level’s inner ring
I saw a troop of Centaurs gallopingall armed like bowman out to hunt for deer. 42
They stopped as we came down. Three left the troop,
put arrows in their bows and, drawing near,one called,” Halt, you from above! Stand there and say 45
what torture you deserve – speak or I’ll shoot!”
my guide called back, “What I am here to sayis for the ears of Chiron – not for you,” 48
and leading me toward that well drilled band
murmured, “The speaker tried to steal the brideof Hercules, who shot him dead for it. 51
Chiron the centaur chief, once kept a school
for heroes where Hercules, Achillesand others trained. His troops patrol the shore 54
of this hot moat, ensuring damned souls don’t rise
more than they should above the scalding flood.”
We stood before this chief, our heads below 57
the line at which the horse and man combine.
From his great height Chiron regarded us,then took a dart and with the feathered end 60
parted his beard, exposing his wide mouth
and said to the companions at his side,“Look at the one behind – the follower 63
whose feet imprint the soil. He is not dead.”
“Not in the least!” swiftly declared my guide.“ He has been sent by one on high to view 66
the depths controlled by you, the wisest beast.
I pray you, by the Power that led us here,let one you trust escort us to the ford 69
and carry this man over on his back –
he is no spirit who can fly through air.”Chiron addressed the centaur on his right: 72
“Nessus, do what he asks. Take care of them.
Make sure no other troops cause them delay.”We and our new guide paced along the bank 75
amid the steam that rose from the canal
of bubbling blood, with many a piercing screamThose sunk to eyebrows in the hellish stew 78
could make no outcry, though they suffered most.
“And should!” our centaur cried. “These plunderersgloried in slaughter, spilling blood like water, 81
seizing by force nations not rightly theirs.
That bald dome was the boss of Sicily,
Dionysious, poisoned at last, 84
That scalp is Alexander’s, called The Great,for grabbing states from Greece to India, 87
dying when thirty-three. He over ate.
Those black hairs in the soup reveal the placeof tyrant Azzolino who brought woe 90
to Padua, Verona, Brescia.
The fairer hair nearby belongs to grim
Obizzo of Ferara, rich with loot – 93
vile gains for which his own son murdered him.”
Wondering how my master liked this guide
I looked at him and, smiling, he replied 96
“Let me be dumb a while and learn with you.”
As we advanced, above the simmering gore.
wild shrieking heads emerged and we saw more 99
of bodies as the moat grew shallower.
One waist-deep soul a little way apart,
our Centaur said, was Simon Montford’s son 103
who had avenged in church hid father’s death
by stabbing England’s crown prince to the heart.
Screaming among those grand aristocrats 106
were pirates, highway robbers, human dregs,
though now the moat boiled only lower legs.
Where feet alone were stewed I recognized 109
faces I knew. Not wanting more tête-a-têtes,
I looked aside and so we did not meet.
“Now we can cross,” the Centaur Nessus said, 112
“Beyond the bed sinks to the other side
where Attila and such as he abide
so deep that none will see them any more.” 115
So on his back I reached the further shore.