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.