DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 19
Chapter 19: Simoniacs
O Simon Magus, first of phoney priests
to sniff for money in the wounds of Christ,
and you simoniacs who coin it there, 3
wearing Christ’s garments, stripping bare the poor
who gladly serve Christ well without rich feasts,
now is the time to see your doom in Hell. 6
At the third malebolge we climbed the bridge
and saw strict justice underneath, supreme
in Heaven, earth and also in that ditch. 9
Bottom and sides were pierced by same-size holes,
round like the font in Saint John’s baptistery
I broke to save a boy who would have drowned 12
had I not, a fact which several doubt.
From each stuck out a sinner’s feet and legs
up to the knees – the rest was underground – 15
and every foot-sole was on vivid fire,
the legs writhing so madly that I thought
the joints were bound to snap like broken strings. 18
Like flames on surfaces of oily things
so moved these flames about on toes and heels.
“Who is that kicking harder than the rest, 21
in redder flames?” I asked. My master said,
“Ask him yourself.” On the fourth dyke he turned,
lifted me down the bank and at the base 24
deposited me in a narrow space
by he complaining wildly with his feet.
“Though you are planted downward on your head 27
unhappy soul, tell me your name,” I said.
A muffled voice cried, “Is that Boniface?
They lied who said many more years would pass 30
before you came. Are you dead so soon from
gluttonising on the Church you raped?”
Speechless I gaped until my guide murmured, 33
“Tell him you are not who he thinks.” I did.
The ghost, twisting his feet together, groaned,
said, “Since you ask, I was Pope Nicholas. 36
who cared less for my flock than for my kin.
I pursed gold for them. Pursing is the sin
that pens me in this fissure. Under me 39
are former popes guilty of simony.
I must be driven further in when he
I took you for arrives. Longer than I 42
he’ll lie within this trench with roasting feet
before the papacy, sold to the French,
is torn in two by greedier deceit.” 45
In rage I cried, “What was Saint Peter’s fee
when Christ said follow me? Briefly the Jews
worshipped one golden calf with just one head. 48
Your thousand golden gods have each a head,
tail too. Are coins the Christ that popes should preach?
When Constantine made Christianity 51
the Roman Empire’s one official creed
he acted well, but pensioning the popes —
his great donation — stimulated greed. 54
Forgiveness for their sins can now be bought
by the kings of every wealthy nation.
This fornication between Church and State 57
brings endless warfare and profanity
foretold to us in St. John’s Revelation.”
I chanted all this to the holy cheat 60
as, moved by anger or by conscience,
he kicked hard with both feet. This pleased my guide.
Carrying me back up the ditch’s side 63
he did not stop until he put me down
upon the highest point of the next bridge
from which the dreadful fate was clearly seen 66
of those who walked around the next ravine.