DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 25
Chapter 25: More Thieves
Having said that, The Brute flung up his fists,
each one with two fingers splayed in wide Vs,
and screamed, “Up your arse God! Fuck you and yours!” 3
A friendly snake, coiling round throat and head,
choked cursing short, while one between his thighs
tied hands to genitals. He could not move 6
a finger without pain so, speechless, fled.
Pestoia, Pestoia, burn yourself down
rather than breed brutes from the Fucci seed! 9
In all Hell’s halls I have met none who so
shamelessly, arrogantly hated God,
not even he struck dead on Theban walls. 12
A centaur charging past cried, “Where is he?
Where is that filthy beast?” Maremma’s swamp
along the Tuscan coast had not more snakes 15
than writhed upon his back. Behind the head
a dragon rode his shoulders, bat-wings spread
and snorting flame. “That’s Cacus,” my guide said. 18
“He was that cattle-thief Hercules slew,
so is not good enough to share the job
of keeping tyrants in the moat of blood.” 21
I heard voices below cry, “Who are you?”
and down there saw three Florentines too rude
to give their names. Not knowing them I laid 24
finger from nose to chin, suggesting that
we watch them silently. I heard one say,
“Where is Cianfa?” in a worried way. 27
Maybe you won’t believe what happened next.
It seemed incredible to me. A reptile,
six-legged, sprang and clung to the speaker’s front. 30
Mid limbs clasped belly, top claws clamped his arms,
jaws like a vice gripped cheeks. The lowest part
grasped thighs, squeezed tail between and up behind. 33
Never did ivy bind an oak so tight,
then both forms started merging like hot wax,
colours and shapes becoming interfused. 36
“Agnello, you are neither one nor two!”
the others cried. Two faces shared one head.
Torso and legs grew twice as thick. Two arms 39
stretched twice as long. Sickened, I gladly saw
that jumbled monster stumbling away.
His friends stayed put in spite of their dismay. 42
If they felt safer near us, silly they!
As in hot summers, over sunlit roads
the lizards flash from hedge to hedge, through air 45
a wee red goggle-eyed beast flung itself
like dart at belly, hit one where it stung
the part through which the unborn child is fed, 48
then fell down, crouched, gaped up at the bitten one
who, hypnotized, gaped back and even yawned.
Smoke from his navel, smoke from the beast’s snout 51
came squirting out and mingled in a cloud.
Lucan’s Pharselia tells how bite of snake
turned Sabellus into a pool of pus, and how 54
Namidius swelled spherical and burst.
Ovid’s Metamorphosis tells of how
Daphne, Arachne, Arethusa changed 57
into tree, spider and fountain. I am first
to tell how substances were interchanged
between two kinds, so Lucan, Ovid, 60
listen to me. Under that smoky veil
the lizard’s tail split while the bitten man
pressed feet, knees, thighs against each other till 63
separation vanished. The forked tail took shapes
legs lost. Meanwhile arms drew into armpits
while the beast’s fore-legs grew. Its hind claws clenched, 66
changing into those parts good men conceal –
the wretch’s private parts became wee feet.
As one sank down the other rose erect. 69
One head went bald, the other head grew hair.
Colours exchanged, yet through the misty air
they still stared eye to eye from changing heads. 72
The upright one grew brows, cheeks sprouted ears,
nose formed above and chin below his mouth
in which the cleft tongue rounded, fit for speech. 75
The croucher’s face had sharpened to a snout,
ears pulled inside as a snail retracts its horns.
The tongue thinned, forked and flickered.The smoke
The soul, now lizard, squirmed and hissed and fled.
The soul now human spat, and turning said
to he who stayed, “So now let Bosua 81
run on all fours a while as I have done.”
I thus knew how none in this robber’s den
could call their souls their own for very long. 84
As the unchanged man limped away I knew
he was crippled Puccio, followed by
Francesco, the ex-lizard, thug and thief 87
who brought the folk of Gaville such grief.