Wednesday, July 31, 2013

DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 31


Chapter 31: Ancient Giants


After his stinging tongue reddened my face   
            it laid that soothing ointment on the place,
            just as a lance which Achilles possessed                                            3

healed by a second touch the wound it made.
            We turned our backs upon that wretched ditch,
            finding the dyke-top now a wider space                                            6

but dimly lit. Advancing with my guide
            I found the view ahead obscured by mist.
            From this a mighty trumpet blast rang out                                         9

which would have made a thunderclap seem faint.
            Not even the great horn that Roland blew,
            bursting his heart to summon Charlemagne                                        12

sounded so full of dreariness and woe,
and then I saw what seemed a row of towers
similar to the battlements of Dis,                                                       15

and asked the poet, “What city is this?”
            Said he, “The distance has confused your sight –                             
            Wait until we are near.” Changing his mind                                        18

he halted, took my hand and kindly said,
            “Remember, no danger threatens you at all                                       
            but still, prepare for what may be a fright.                                  21     
                          
These shapes are giants in Hell’s lowest pit,
            standing upon its floor and looking out.
Their waists are at the level where we stand.”                                   24

As we drew near the brink of Hell’s last sink
I saw more clearly, and my terror grew
at how these monsters towered above the land                  27
           
though half their bulk was underground. I knew
nature right to stop making men so big
when they inclined to wickedness, unlike                                  30

such gentle beasts as elephant and whale.
The nearest baleful head loomed over us,
as far above as Peter’s dome in Rome,                                               33

and from the neck I saw a huge horn hung.
The fierce mouth opened wide and, gibbering,
cried, “Agargal glubdrib geeky yak!”                                       36

“Idiot, blow your horn!” my guide yelled back,
“It toots more sense than does your senseless tongue.”
To me he said, “Nimrod, this immense fool,                                      39
           
founded the first of cities, Babylon,
            then mad with pride, employed humanity
            to build a stair so high that all could reach                                          42

Heaven without having to die. Heaven
            stopped that, depriving us of single speech.
            Now none can understand what Nimrod says,                                   45

and all they say is meaningless to him.
            Let us be gone.” We did, still going left.
            A bowshot further on there came in sight                                          48

a bigger, fiercer beast, and by what hand
            he had been pinioned there I could not think.                                         
a chain wound five times round above his waist                         51

the links so tight both arms were firmly bound.
“That is Ephialties,” my leader said,                                                 
“One of those Titans who attacked the might                               54

of pagan gods, giving them all a fright
            until he was put down by One Supreme.”
            “If you’ll permit, I’d rather see,” I said,                                             57

“Briareus, the biggest.” He replied,
            “You’ll next see Antaeus, who’s just ahead.
            He is unchained, knows speech, will lift us down                              60

to Hell’s last floor. The one you ask to see
            is further on and much like this one here,
            though far more strong.” Maybe Ephialties                                       63

grasped what these words meant. With sudden roar he,
            earthquake-like, flung his belly’s weight against
            the cliff he faced. The ground under our feet                                      66

Shuddered so much that despite that strong chain
            I, sweating with terror (suppose it broke?)
            gladly hurried away beside my guide.                            69

We came to Antaeus, who looked on us,
            his face ten yards above. Virgil spoke thus:
            “In Africa there is a famous place                                                      72

where Scipio made Hannibal retreat,
            and you once slaughtered lions for your meat.
            Some say, had you too fought the heathen gods                                75

your giant brothers had not known defeat.
            I ask you to perform a simple chore –
            set us please down upon Hell’s frozen floor.                                     78

Don’t sneer! The poet at my side can give
            what many desire here, a well-known name.
            He will return to life and write a book                                                81

to renovate the fame of all he’s met.”
            In the two hands that Hercules had gripped
            Antaeus prepared to take Virgil up                                                    84

who called, “come to me Dante,” clasped me tight
            and like a single parcel we were raised.
            Stooping to lower us the Titan seemed                                              87

like Bologna’s lofty leaning tower
            the Carisenda, seen from underneath
            when clouds pass overhead. I’d have preferred                                  90

descending by another way, but he
            put both of us down carefully at last
            where Lucifer and Judas dwell, before                                                93

springing upright again, straight as a mast.                                        
           

                                   
                       





           
            

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