DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 22
Chapter 22: More Swindlers
I have heard cavalry and infantry
march off to bang of rocket and of gun,
drum ratatat, trumpet tantantara, 3
bell clang, bagpipe yell and hornpipe hoot.None
disconcerted me like that rude salute
which sent us on our march along the dyke 6
with ten fiends guarding us. But why? From what?
Not able to imagine a reply
I stared hard at the moat where sometimes gleamed 9
the backs of souls, daring to ease their pain
like dolphins, before sinking down again.
Folk say, do as the Romans do in Rome. 12
Walking among this crew so eased my fear
I learned their names and almost felt at home,
within their ghastly camaraderie. 15
Most souls I saw clung froglike to the shore,
nose above tar, but dipped as we came near.
One clung so long that Snatcher leapt ahead, 18
speared hair with pitchfork, yanked him into air,
threw him onto the ground and briskly said,
“Right, pussies – here’s your mouse. Who wants first bite?” 21
I shuddered, shouted, “Please first ask his name!”
“Tarface,” snarled Dogspew, “spit your old name out.”
The wretch moaned, “Ciampollo of Navarre, 24
King Tybalt’s chancellor, then barrator
distorting laws for all who paid me well,
damning my soul to everlasting Hell.” 27
“Hooray!” howled Scratcher, ripping a wide strip
of skin away, but Clartyclaw cried, “Halt,
a guest has more to say.” My master asked, 30
“Are there Italians underneath that tar?”
“Many,” whimpered the native of Navarre.
“I’ve just been dragged from one who is my pal, 33
a very famous magistrate indeed –
no bigger swindler sat upon a bench –”
“You talk too much!” yelled Gasher. With a hook 36
he wrenched a muscle from the speaker’s arm.
Clartyclaw told my guide, “Talk fast before
they mangle him some more.” My master asked, 39
“Who was your friend?” Staring upon his wound
the Navarese groaned, “Great Fra Gomita,
deputy governor and magistrate, 42
so kind to gangsters in Sardinia
they all spoke well of him, also his mate
Zanche of Logodoro, chief swindler 45
of the lot. O how the fiends gnash teeth and
roll their eyes at me! If you want to see
Tuscans and Lombards let me whistle, then 48
at least seven will appear. By that sign
we tell each other that the coast is clear.
I’ll do that for you, though of course at first 51
you must stay out of sight.” Ratsnout snorted,
“I smell a trick,” The swindler said, “You do.
I am so much a trickster that from spite 54
I’ll fool my pals because I can’t fool you.”
Then Pigshit cried, “If managed well this lad
will be our tool, our bait. He sits on dyke, 57
we wait behind. He whistles like a lark.
When enough are lured ashore, we charge out
slashing, goring, buggering how we like!” 60
“While he escapes?” sneered Ratsnout, “Daft idea.
One bird in hand is worth flocks in the air.”
“My arms are long,” Snatcher said. “Crouched behind, 63
I’ll keep him in my reach, and if he leaps
I have wings, will swoop. Before he hits tar
I’ll grab his balls, we’ll remove balls, tongue, skin, 66
teeth, nails and hair. Trickster, will you like that?”
“Escape? I would not dare,” the swindler swore.
Now even Ratsnout thought the plan was good. 69
The demons placed the bait where they thought best
and crouched down low behind, we with the rest,
till Snotbeard whispered, “Whistle!” and the bait 72
drew a deep breath, paused, jumped and Snatcher grabbed
for him shouting, “Got you!” but too late. Fear
outleapt wings. Snatcher’s downward swoop did not 75
carry him up because Ratsnout, enraged,
had also taken flight. Mad for a fight
he tackled Snatcher in mid air. Both plunged 78
in scalding tar where the Navarese sank.
Pain disentangled them, but pitch-clogged wings
stuck them screaming, struggling in the ditch till 81
Clartyclaw sent four fiends to the far bank.
By hooks from each side Snatcher and Ratsnout
were dragged up, pulled out raving and laid down, 84
each one well cooked inside his crusted hide.
This uproar, pandemonium, stramash
was not our business so we did not wait, 87
but left both fiends and swindlers in that state.