DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 9
Chapter 9: Entering Dis
On seeing him return from that shut gate
so absolutely did my courage fail
I felt my face was turning deadly pale. 3
My guide restrained his pallour at the sight,
and as no eye could see through the gray mists,
he stood a while intently listening 6
and thus I overheard him murmuring,
"We'll win through somehow, there's no doubt, unless...
But help is being sent... I wonder when..." 9
These words were meant to save me from distress
but only made me worry even more.
To change the subject, this is what I said. 12
"Master and guide, has anyone before
left Limbo to explore as deep as this?"
"I did," said he "when civil war split Rome 15
well over thirteen centuries ago.
The witch, Erichtho, keen to know who'd win,
forced me by spells too sinful to repeat, 18
straight down to Satan's lowest seat in Hell –
we used to call him Demogorgon then –
he said Caesar would gain the victory. 21
This downward path is therefore known to me
though barred to you by Hell's hostility.
We need that gate. On every other side 24
the wall stands sheer above the muddy tide of
wrathful souls, so we must wait for aid.
Some new thing frightens you?" I pointed where 27
upon the battlements of Dis
three blood-stained female figures had appeared,
bat-winged and belted with green snakes, their hair 30
writhing with smaller snakes. All glared at me
so fiercely that I cling hard to my guide
who said, "These are the furies – torturers 33
of the most guilty souls. She on the left
is Magaera; wailing on the far right
Alecti, with Tesiphone between." 36
Tearing their breasts with talons eagle-like,
they yelled, "Medusa come, change him to stone!"
"Turn round!" my guide cried. "Don't look, shut eyes tight, 39
cover your face! Gorgon Medusa's glare
can petrify you here so use both hands."
Ensuring these commands he swung me round, 42
pressed my hands to my eyes with both his hands.
Some intellects may find a lesson there.
But then a mighty thunderclap rang out, 45
a crash advancing through the muggy fen
like a tornado smashing down great trees,
and driving on dust, beasts and fleeing men. 48
My guide said, freeing my eyes, "Look hard
at who is coming where the fog's most thick."
As snake spreads panic through a pond of frogs 51
who dive deep in mud, the wrathful souls
sunk from the path of one who, dry shod, strode
across the foggy marsh of their abode, 54
fanning the fumes away before his face –
an almost absent-minded exercise
because his thoughts seemed in another place. 57
This was my helper. Unsure what to do
I watched my guide who bowed, so I did too.
The helper from on high seemed not to see. 60
He passed us, touched the gate which opened wide.
To demon janitors cowering inside
he, standing on the threshold, cried aloud 63
in a great ecstasy of indignation.
"You stupid, wretched, miserable crew
still treacherous to He who created you, 66
known again in insubordination
can alter nothing that is willed on high
and only multiplies your woe. Goodbye!" 69
Then he went back across the filthy bog
without a word to me who, fearless now,
followed my leader through the gates of Dis. 72
None stopped us as we passed the stronghold's towers
and walked into a land of different pain.
By Rhone at Arles, Pola in Italy 75
are graveyards where the ancient, plundering tombs
gape at the sky, with slabs once shutting them
lying close by. So was the plain of Dis 78
except for this: each tomb was spouting flame
being a furnace hotter than a forge,
from which, also, terrible outcries came. 81
My guide said, "see the doom of heretics
and of their followers, for every tomb
has room for many more than you can see, 84
each heated to a different degree
according to the error's magnitude."
So there we stood between high battlements 87
and all the flaming graveyard's punishments.