DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 27
Chapter 27: More Liars
The flame now burned erect and silently
till my sweet poet said that it might go
and so it did, but then another came 3
that clearly also wished to speak with him.
The noise it made was first a roaring din
like uttered by that red-hot roaring bull 6
when its inventor baked to death therein.
Breaths in each flame were cries of agony
till they articulated at the tip. 9
We heard it say, “I aim my words at you
who in my dialect, dismissed that Greek.
Though scorching in this ditch I crave the speech 12
of lovely Italy, and my ears know
that you, like me, come from high lands between
Urbino and the Tiber’s upper flow. 15
Romagna is where I committed crimes
for which I burn. If newly come from there,
please tell me if its states are still at war.” 18
My guide, nudging my side said, “You reply.”
Having leaned down to hear I quickly said,
“You, hidden in flame below, should know 21
your Romagna never will lack warfare
in many scheming hearts of tyrants there.
None were openly fighting when I left. 24
Ravenna stands as it has done for years.
Speaking heraldically, I will say
the Eagle of Polenta’s pinions still 27
guard it and Cervia. Forli, once saved
by Guido Montefeltro from the French,
is under the Green Lion’s claws. The jaws 30
of dogs – Mastiff and Whelp – chew Rimini.
Blue Lion, switching politics each year
holds onto Faenza and Imola. 33
Casena, between mountains and the plain,
is torn between freedom and tyranny.
Having replied, I beg to know your name, 36
and make it spoken in the world again.”
The flame roared louder, waved its point about
more wildly, longer, before words came out. 39
“If you could make my name spoken again
by living men I would be dumb, but since
only the dead come here I need not fear 42
to say how damnable I’ve been. I, Guido
Montefeltro, am he who beat the French,
as you have said – a thorough man of war 45
who, in the flesh my mother bore, was more
a fox than lion, skillful to mislead
my many enemies in word and deed. 48
Thus I earned fame and praise, yet knew of One
on high who forbids bloodshed, lying too.
Time came when evil ways no longer pleased. 51
I hauled in sails and punted to the shore.
Confession and repentance made me friar
wearing the slender cord St Francis wore. 54
Alas, that did not save my soul from Hell.
The highest priest of all Pope Boniface,
that princely Pharisee, asked me to help 57
destroy – not Saracens or Jews – his foes
were a Christian family, and those
had signed with him a pact to keep the peace. 60
Emperor Constantine sent for a Pope
to cure his leprosy. Pride infected
Pope Boniface. ‘You, only you,’ he said, 63
‘Can cure the burning fever of my rage!’
He sounded drunk. I was afraid to speak.
Forgetting all he knew to keep us right – 66
his supreme office, holy vows, himself,
the cord I wore to make me meek – he said,
‘Trust me, my son! I hold those keys the Pope 69
who held them last and did not use, the keys
of Heaven and Hell where my will is done,
as it is not on earth without a fight. 72
Show me how to defeat the Colonna and you
need not fear Hell. I absolve you of sin
if here and now you tell me how to beat 75
their stronghold down and absolutely win.’
He ceased talking, waited for a reply
until silence must give offence. I said, 78
‘Holy father, if you have saved my soul
before I counsel you to act a lie,
you must now break your vow to keep peace.’ 81
He did. I sickened. To my deathbed came
Saint Francis and a coal-black cherubim
who roared, ‘No cheating! Penitence alone 84
lets sinners dodge Hell. None can repent sin
while willing it – that is contradiction.
Amazed, are you, to find fiends logical?’ 87
He dragged my wretched soul down to Minos
who, enraged, wrapped his tail eight times around
then bit it, howling, ‘Send him to where frauds 90
wear the scorching gown that truly teaches
penitence,’ and it does! It does! It does!”
Waving and twisting, the flame moved away, 93
roaring aloud in wordless agony.
We left that ridge by climbing the next bridge
over the ninth malebolge, which was full 96
of vile souls who divide humanity.