Saturday, March 23, 2013

DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 18




Chapter 18: Procurers, Seducers, Flatterers

Places in Hell are known as Malebolge,
            of iron-coloured stone as is the cliff
            enclosing them. Bang in the centre gapes                        3                     

a deeper pit. The ledge around is split
            into ten round ravines with dykes between,
            like ten successive moats around a fort.                                 9

Just as such forts have bridges to their gates,
            so from the base of the enclosing cliff
            arched bridges span ravines from dyke to dyke                     12

toward that pit of which I wont speak yet,
            but every ravine, dyke and bridge slopes down
            quite gradually lower toward it.                                              15

We stood upon the outer dyke when dropped
            from Geryon’s back. My poet led me left,
            so on our right I saw new sufferers                                        18

and torturers, because within that moat
            two naked streams of sinners trudged around,
 nearest toward us, others going away.                                   21

Horned demons with great whips were lashing them –
            O how they raised their heels at every stroke!
            None waited for a second or a third.                                       24

Then suddenly I saw someone I knew.
            When my guide granted leave to speak, the ghost
            tried hard to hide his face till I cried out,                                27

“Venedico Cachianemico!
            Why do you stare so hard upon the ground?
            What got you in this mess?” He sighed and said,                   30       

“I don’t like answering, but still, your speech
            recalls old times and so I must reply.
            I sold my sister Ghisalabella                                                   33

to Marquis Este. I’m not the only one
            this ditch holds from Bologna. If you need
            proof of this, recall our greed for gold.”                                  36       

At this a scourging demon lashed him well
            shouting, “Gee up, pander! No girls here to sell!”
            I joined my leader. We walked on until                                  39

a bridge was reached and crossed. Halfway we paused
            to watch those coming from the other side.
            “Heartless seducers all,” explained my guide.                        42

“That kingly pair, Jason and Theseus,
despising pain, display no sign of grief.
Jason was thief who stole the Golden Fleece,                                    45

aided by Medea who he betrayed,
            and earlier had left Hypsipyle
            with child among more women he’d beguiled.                        48       
           
 Ariadne helped Theseus to slay
            the Minotaur. He sailed from her next day.
Aye, all who so deceive deserve this fate.                              51

Let’s go to the next ditch.” Crossing the ground
            between two bridges, I could hear a sound
of gurgled groans, snuffling and smacking hands.                   54

The bank ahead was filthy with a slime
            dropped from thick fumes which rose above the ditch,
hurtful to eyes, appalling to the nose.                                                57

I could see nothing underneath these fumes
            until I reached the bridge’s greatest height
and glimpsed below some heads in so much filth                   60       

it seemed Earth’s privies filled that ditch with shite.
            So badly smeared with ordure were these heads
that tonsures and long hair looked much the same,                63

and yet I heard one shout, “Why stare at me?”
            I said, “Unless I’m seeing wrong, you were
Alessio of Lucca who I knew                                                66

when his head was dry.  If you’re he, why here?”
            He sobbed and punched his head and cried aloud,
“By sordid flatteries, to further my career                             69       

I damned my soul.” My master called,
            “Come, look upon this slut straining to lift
her head above the shit while scratching it.                            72

She’s Thais, the famous whore. When clients
            wanted more and asked how she’d liked it last,
always, Stupendously! Thais replied.                                 75       

With that bad end let us be satisfied.”

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