Saturday, March 16, 2013

DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 14


Chapter 14: God Defiers


And then we reached a boundary between
          the second and the third ring round the edge
          where agony to come was clearly seen.                                 3

Vengance of God! O say with what dismay
          all should read here just what they might endure.
          As the moat ringed a wood, so the wood lay                         6

like wreath around a hot and sandy plain
          where nothing grew but hordes of naked men
          lamenting wretchedly their kinds of pain.                             9
 
Fire-flakes were always slowly falling down
          like Alpine snowflakes, big on windless days,
                on some who lay flat-out, or crouched down squat,        12

but most raced round in crowds. The huge sparks clung
                        till battered off. Pain-crazed they punched themselves,    
                  left, right, above, below, all hands were sent                         15

        making new room for pains none could prevent.
                  Where flakes touched sand they blazed up like a torch
          doubling the pain. The flat-out folk screamed most.            18

“Poet” said I, “ Master of all in Hell
          except the sullen gate keepers of Dis,
          please tell me who that stubborn big man is                        21

who shows disdain of fire that falls on him.”
          The man, seeing I noticed him, cried out
         “What I was living, I will always be ­ —                               24

hater of Zeus who claims sole deity!
         Zeus never can achieve his vain desire —
         his stupid aim that all adore his name!                                  27

However long he keeps me under fire ­—
         however many folk think Zeus supreme,
         my will at least can disallow that claim!”                             30
         
In contact with a citizen of Hell
        my guide had never been so cross before.
        He cried,” You do not know who you blaspheme!                33

A true faith thirteen centuries ago
        ended the reign of Zeus! Best torture for you
        is suffering the rage in which you stew.”                               36

Then with a kinder look he said to me,
       “Capaneus, once a Grecian warrior boss
        went out to conquer Thebes. The fool denied                     39

that any God could ever conquer him.
        Defiance now for him is endless loss.
        Come, we will not set foot on burning sand                       42

but keep within the coolness of the wood
        until we reach the way that leads across”.
        In silence we went on to where a stream                           45

gushed from the wood to the blasphemer’s plain.
         I shuddered, for it looked like boiling blood.
         It’s heat had baked both banks to solid stone,                  48

also a path that lay along each side —
        a long straight aqueduct. This narrow flood
        must have been very deep. It’s steam repelled                 51

fire-flakes above the stream and walkways too.
         My guide said, “ Of all I’ve shown to you,
         this stream by far is most remarkable.”                             54

“ Please tell me why, “ I begged,” What is the source?”
         what follows are the words of his discourse
         “ Crete is an island in earth’s Middle Sea,                         57                     

that mighty lake who’s shore is shaped by coasts
         where Africa, Asia and Europe meet.
        Crete, Ugly now, was once so fair a place                         60                   

some thought it near the Earthly Paradise
         God gave to parents of the human race.
         Here for a thousand years all enjoyed peace                   63

and fruitfulness. Their king was wise and just.
         This Golden Age lacked theft and war and rage.
         Mount Ida is the highest mountain there,                        66

now bare, but then enriched by splendid trees,
        blossom and bird-call, waterfall and cave.
        The inmost cave is still a lofty hall.                                    69

Erect in it a great old giant stands,
        his back to Asia, his face to Rome
        reflecting on it. He is history                                             72

with pure gold head, bright silver chest and arms,
        bronze belly, the rest iron not all way.
        The right foreleg is terra-cotta clay                                  75

on which (alas) he mainly leans today.
       Under the golden chin a straight-down wound
       splits torso through the baser metal skin,                         78
      
a fissure full of juices from the heart                         
       of history since mankind turned to sin.
       This mix of tears and blood always renewed,                  81
      
this woe of history pours to the cavern floor,                         
       slips down through rocks then floods three moats of Hell,
       moats on the way down here you’ve seen before.             84                  
      
At Charon’s ferry it is Acheron,                       
       the Styx where it surrounds the walls of Dis.
       Upon this ledge we call it Phlegathon                               87
     
 before it falls so far it must stand still                                                
       as Cocytus. There nothing is more low.”
       I said, “The floods you name are separate!                      90
       
How can they now appear as one stream here?”           
       Said he, “You know this pit is circular.                                                  
       Descending it we have been moving left                          93
           
and have not make a single circuit yet.
         Apart from passing near one waterfall
         you’ve seen no channels that connect this place.            96
           
The next will bring wonder to your face.”
         “I know that Acheron,  Styx, Phlegathon,”
          I said,” are rivers here, but will I view                           99

Lethe`?  That’s a river too.” He answered,
         “you will see Lethe, not down here in Hell,
          but where forgiven sinners are made well.                    102

Now we must leave this wood, so follow me.”                    

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