DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 30
Chapter 30: More Falsifiers
The pagan gods were moved by earthy lust.
Spite against women who her husband raped
made Juno far, far crueler than most. 3
Juno annoyed the Theban Semele
by bringing madness to her family.
One, thinking wife and children were wild beasts 6
slaughtered his son and drove the rest to drown.
Enslaved after her city was destroyed,
Hecuba, wife of Priam, king of Troy, 9
was also maddened by the same false gods.
Seeing her daughter slain upon the tomb
of Achilles, her son’s corpse on a beach, 12
she did not weep but barked like rabid dog.
No madness out of Thebes or Troy was worse
than two I saw now – bare white hungry ghosts 15
who quickly crawled on hands and knees around,
goring the helpless invalids like hogs.
From behind one bit Capocchio’s neck 18
and dragged him, thus gripped, painfully away
face down and belly ripped by the rough ground.
Griffolino, shuddering with dismay, 21
said, “That ghoul was Giano Schicchi,
mimic and forger of a dead man’s will,
thus mutilating his identity 24
so he is damned to mangle dead souls still.”
“As you are not tormented by the other,”
said I, “please tell me who that other was.” 27
“Myrrha, a Greek who broke two moral laws,”
said he, “for in disguise she fucked her father.
In stolen shapes that pair indulged their greed. 30
Now they must gnaw at us like starving apes
though that was not how they preferred to feed.”
As the two furies vanished from my sight 33
a sinner close at hand said, “Look at me –
pity poor Adam’s miserable plight.”
So dropsically swollen up was he 36
at first a belly like a giant lute
was all that I could see, then saw attached
his shrunken head with raw cracked lips that said, 39
“Once I owned all a man could want, but now
water, just one wee sip, is what I need.
The land I love, the place of my misdeed 42
has cool wells, small refreshing streams that slip
between green hills down Casentino’s vale
into the Arno. Stern justice decrees 45
these memories hurt more than my disease.
A master goldsmith in Romena, I
forged the bright florins for Romena’s counts 48
thus helping them pay off outstanding debts.
To know my fakes required uncommon sense –
twenty one parts were gold and three pretence – 51
but forgery was proved. I burned for that,
being a workman and an employee.
Aristocratic folk employing me 54
suffered no loss of life or liberty.
O, how I long to see the wretches here –
Guido, Allesandro and their brother. 57
I’ve heard that one is here. My spite is such,
I’d gladly go (did weight not tie me down)
a hundred miles to gloat upon the sight 60
though I could only crawl an inch each year.”
I said, “A couple on your right hand coast
are reeking like roast meat. Have you their name?” 63
He said, “They were here ages before I came.
They neither speak nor stir and never will,
I think. The wife of Potiphar is one, 66
who falsely blamed Joseph. The other is
Sinon, the Greek liar who ruined Troy.
Their fevers make them smoke.” This short reply 69
annoyed the Greek. With sudden fist he smote
the big belly which boomed just like a drum.
The goldsmith punched the other’s face as fast. 72
“Feel how my arm has strength my body lacks!”
he yelled: came the reply, “you loved the fire
while your strong arms had many coins to fake, 75
but liked it less with arms chained to the stake.”
Cried coiner: “Since the wooden horse disgorged,
Sinon is now a name for treachery.” 78
The Greek cried out, “Enjoy forever now
the thirst that cracks your tongue, that rotten bung
that can’t let out the foulness in your paunch, 81
swelling it to a hedge that hides your face.”
The coiner sneered, “Again your tongue has wagged
in vain. You crave cool water more than me. 84
The scorching fever makes your thirst the worst.”
Then suddenly my master said to me,
“Listen much longer to this sorry stuff 87
and we will start to have a quarrel too.”
He spoke so angrily I blushed with shame,
knowing I was to blame. Seeking an excuse 90
I longed for words and found that no words came.
The fun I’d found in their vile argument
seemed a bad dream from which I could not wake, 93
The memory of this upsets me still.
I stood there dumb with my head bowed until
he smiled and said, “Cheer up. Do not regret 96
faults you will not forget so won’t repeat.
Remember me reminding you of this.
Less shame would clean your soul of harsher sin 99
but joy in spiteful talk is always mean.”