Thursday, March 28, 2013


Chapter 19: Simoniacs

O Simon Magus, first of phoney priests
            to sniff for money in the wounds of Christ,  
            and you simoniacs who coin it there,                                                 3

wearing Christ’s garments, stripping bare the poor
            who gladly serve Christ well without rich feasts,
            now is the time to see your doom in Hell.                                          6         

At the third malebolge we climbed the bridge
            and saw strict justice underneath, supreme
            in Heaven, earth and also in that ditch.                                               9

Bottom and sides were pierced by same-size holes,
            round like the font in Saint John’s baptistery
            I broke to save a boy who would have drowned                                12

had I not, a fact which several doubt.
            From each stuck out a sinner’s feet and legs
            up to the knees – the rest was underground –                                                15       
and every foot-sole was on vivid fire,
            the legs writhing so madly that I thought
            the joints were bound to snap like broken strings.                             18

Like flames on surfaces of oily things           
            so moved these flames about on toes and heels.
            “Who is that kicking harder than the rest,                                       21

in redder flames?” I asked.  My master said,
            “Ask him yourself.” On the fourth dyke he turned,
            lifted me down the bank and at the base                                             24

deposited me in a narrow space
            by he complaining wildly with his feet.
            “Though you are planted downward on your head                            27

unhappy soul, tell me your name,” I said.
            A muffled voice cried, “Is that Boniface?
            They lied who said many more years would pass                             30

before you came.  Are you dead so soon from
            gluttonising on the Church you raped?”
            Speechless I gaped until my guide murmured,                                    33

“Tell him you are not who he thinks.” I did.
            The ghost, twisting his feet together, groaned,
            said, “Since you ask, I was Pope Nicholas.                                        36

who cared less for my flock than for my kin.
            I pursed gold for them. Pursing is the sin
            that pens me in this fissure. Under me                                               39

are former popes guilty of simony.
            I must be driven further in when he
            I took you for arrives.  Longer than I                                                 42

he’ll lie within this trench with roasting feet
            before the papacy, sold to the French,
            is torn in two by greedier deceit.”                                                       45

In rage I cried, “What was Saint Peter’s fee
            when Christ said follow me? Briefly the Jews
            worshipped one golden calf with just one head.                                     48

Your thousand golden gods have each a head,
            tail too. Are coins the Christ that popes should preach?
            When Constantine made Christianity                                                 51       

the Roman Empire’s one official creed
            he acted well, but pensioning the popes ­—
            his great donation — stimulated greed.                                               54

Forgiveness for their sins can now be bought
            by the kings of every wealthy nation.
            This fornication between Church and State                                        57

brings endless warfare and profanity
            foretold to us in St. John’s Revelation.”                                
            I chanted all this to the holy cheat                                                      60

as, moved by anger or by conscience,
           he kicked hard with both feet. This pleased my guide.
           Carrying me back up the ditch’s side                                                  63

he did not stop until he put me down
           upon the highest point of the next bridge
           from which the dreadful fate was clearly seen                                     66
of those who walked around the next ravine.




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