1265-1321 Dante Alighieri.

The Comedy of Dante Allighieri online

. (page 2 of 14)
Online Library1265-1321 Dante AlighieriThe Comedy of Dante Allighieri → online text (page 2 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

hearers to the first

" This poet, then, was of marvellous capacity, and of
firmest memory, and of perspicuous intellect ; in so much
that he, being in Paris, and here taking part in a question
de quolibet which was held in a school of theologians,
recited fourteen questions of different men of worth and
on different matters, with their arguments pro and contra
held by the proponents, without leaving any interval,
collected and in order as they had been put. Then,
following that same order, subtly solving and answering
the contrary arguments ; which thing was reputed almost
a miracle by all the bystanders. He was likewise of

itized by Google


highest genius and subtle invention, as his works manifest
to the intelligent far more than my writing could do. He
was most fond of honour and of pomp, — perad venture more
than would have been desired of his distinguished virtue ;
but what life is so humble as not to be touched by the
sweetness of glory? And through this fondness, I think,
he loved poetry above every other study; seeing how,
though philosophy surpasses all other in nobility, the excel-
lence thereof can be imparted to few, and there are in the
worli men famous by it, and how poetry is more apparent
and delightful to every one, and poets most rare. And
therefore, hoping to be able, by poetry, to arrive at the
unwonted and pompous honour of the crowning with
laurel, he gave himself wholly thereto, studying and com-
posing. And certes his desire would have come fulfilled,
if meanwhile fortune had been gracious to him so that
he could ever have returned to Florence ; in which city
alone, at the fonts of San Giovanni, he had imagined to
be crowned, so that here, where he had taken his first
name in baptism, here also he might take the second by
crowning. But so it happened that, although his sufficiency
was great, and by that he could, in any place he might have
chosen, have received the honour of the laurel (which
increases not knowledge, but is surest witness and orna-
ment of the knowledge acquired), yet, waiting for that
return which was never to be, he would not receive it
elsewhere, and so died without the much-desired honour.

*< Our poet, besides the things aforesaid, was of spirit
lofty and very disdainful ; insomuch that, when it was

itized by Google


sought by one of his friends, who did this at the instance of
his prayers, that he might be able to return to Florence
(which he beyond all other things supremely desired),
and when no means hereto were found with those who
then had in their hands the government of the republic,
unless one, — ^which was this, that he for a certain space
should stay in prison, and, after that, should in some
public solemnity be held to mercy in our principal
church, and consequently be free, and out of aU condem-
nation theretofore passed upon him, — ^this thing seeming
to him to befit and apply to one that is depressed, and to
infamous men, and not others, he therefore elected rather
to be in exile of his greatest desire than by such a way to
return to his home. Oh praiseworthy disdain of the
magnanimous ! how manfully didst thou work, nurtured in
the bosom of such a philosopher, repressing the ardent
desire of returning by a way less than worthy of a man f
Very similarly, he was proud of himself, nor thought,
according as his 'contemporaries report, that he was worth
less than he was ; which thing appeared on one noteworthy
occasion among others, while he, with his party, was at
the sunmiit of the government of the Republic. And,
since by those who were depressed a brother or kinsman
of Philip, then King of France, whose name was Charles,
was called by means of Pope Boniface VIII. to reform
the state of our city, all the chiefs of the party wherewith
he held assembled in council to provide for this fact.
And here, among other things, they provided that an
embassy should be sent to the Pope, who was then in
Rome, whereby the said Pope should be induced to

itized by Google


oppose the coming of the said Charles, or to make him
come in understanding with the said party which wa$
ruling. And, coming to deliberate who should be chief
of such legation, it was said by all that Dante was the
man. To which request Dante, upon being waited on,
said : ^ If I go, who remains ? and, if I remain, who goes ? '
As if he alone was the strong man among all, and in
whom all the others were strong. . . . This worthy
gentleman was above all these things in all his adversities.
Only in one thing — shall I say it ? — he was impatient and
resentful, that is, in matter pertaining to party ; because
in exile he was a partizan much more than belonged to
his worthiness, and than he wished to be believed by
others. , , . The ancestors of Dante were twice, as
Guelphs, expelled from home by the Ghibellines, and he
in like wise held the reins of the republic in Florence under
the title of Guelph ; whence being expelled, as has been
shown, not by the Ghibellines, but by the Guelphs, and
seeing that he could not return, he so changed his mind
that no one was a more fierce Ghibelline and adversary
of the Guelphs than he. And what I am most ashamed
of for the sake of his memory is that it is a most public
thing in Romagna that any wench, any little child, speak-
ing of parties, and condemning the Ghibelline, would
have moved him to such madness as would have * led him

(i) I translate this sentence literally, with its cacophonous double "would
have" Dante's name is not to be trifled with ; and the sentence, as it stands,
seems to imply that he nvould have done a particular thing if another par-
ticular thing had happened— which, for aught that appears, did not happen.
I have gone through the Hell with the view of ascertaining what Dante
shows for himself in the matter of partizanship, and find, according to my
reckoning, twenty-eight Guelphs condemned to eternal torment, and twcnty-

itized by Google


to cast stones had they not left off talking ; and with this
animosity he lived until his death.

**Certes I shame to have to stain with some defect the
fame of so great a man. But the adopted order of things
requires it in some points ; because, should I be silent as
to the things less than praiseworthy in him, I should
much lessen belief in those praiseworthy already shown
concerning himself. Therefore I make my excuse to him,
who p«:adventure, from high in heaven, oftentimes looks
upon me with disdainful eye. Amid so much virtue,
amid so much knowledge, as have been above shown
existing in this wondrous poet, lustfulness found most
ample place, and not only in his youthful, but in his
mature, years; which vice, although it is natural, and
common, and almost of necessity, of a truth cannot be
rightly excused, much less conmiended. But who among
mortals shall be the just judge to condenm him? Not I.''

Dante's works, besides the Conmiedia, are the **Vita
Nova** (New Life), being the history of his love for
Beatrice, — a work of which, according to Boccaccio, he
was much ashamed in later years, but wherein most
readers of feeling find an inexpressible beauty and pathos ; ^
**De Monarchifij" a Latin treatise, aiming to show the
secular power's independence of the spiritual ; the " Con-
vito" (Banquet), written in the form of a comment, often

four Ghibellines, which looks tolerably impartial. Ot personal impartiality
the instances are too frequent and too salient to need pointing out.

(z) English readers vrill find this lovely book included in "The Early
Italian Poets, translated by D. G. Rossetti," x86z ; a specimen of translation
with which I critically (not alone fraternally) wish this of mine might be found
in some degree worthy to pair.

C a

itized by Google


abstruse, upon some of his own poems ; " De Vulgari
Eloquio" (On the Vernacular Speech), a Latin essay left
incomplete, showing the condition of the Italian language
and literature in his time ; and various minor poems and

He began the Commedia in his thirty-fifth year, and
had written the first seven cantos of the Hell before
the proceedings taken against him, and the pillage of
his house. These cantos being providentially saved, and
forwarded to him in exile, he proceeded with the mighty
work, which continued to engage him till the last It is
narrated that he was in the habit of sending it, by instal*
ments of seven or eight cantos at a time, to Can Grande
della Scala; but that the final thirteen cantos of the
Paradise remained unsent at the time of his death, and
could not, for several months, be discovered. At last his
son Jacopo had a vision^ of his dead father; who told
him that he now lived " the true life, not ours,'* and, on
being questioned, pointed out, in his bed-chamber wall,
a window covered over by matting and previously un-
known in a recess of which the missing cantos were

(i) I am not quite certain whether Boccaccio, who relates this anecdote
circumstantially, means to say that the vision appeared direct to Jacopo, or
was communicated to him by Piero Giardino, a disciple of Dante ; but I think
the foimer.

itized by Google



u Dante, towards the close of his 35th year, on Good
Friday of the year 1300, being bewildered in a wood,
which may symbolize the confused entanglement and
depressing cares of public life, and the wickedness of the
times, and attempting to mount a hill (to rise into a nobler
scope of life), is obstructed by a panther,' a lion, and a
she-wolf ; supposed to figure, in mor^, Lust, Pride, and
Avarice, — in historic analogy, Florence, France, and Papal
Rome. He descries the ghost of Virgil, who promises to
lead him aright, through Hell and Purgatory, to Heaven.

2. Dante and Virgil proceed on their way; and Virgil
relates how it was Beatrice who came from Heaven to
send him to Dante's aid.

3. They arrive at the gate of Hell, and enter its Vesti-
bule. Here are those who lived without infamy or
excellence in the world, together with the angels who, in
the rebellion of Satan against God, declared for neither,
but only looked after themselves. Pope Celestin V. (or
Torregiano d^ Cerchif) They are stung and persecuted
by. wasps and flies, and run after a rapidly revolving
flag. The former may be emblems of contemptible cares,
motives, and buzz of gossip ;. the latter may punish by
putting these sluggards in the cause of virtue to object-

itized by Google


less exertion, Charon ferries the poets over Acheron into
Hell proper.

4. First Circle of Hell, or Limbo ; containmg the souls
of all who, without baptism, have lived honourable lives,
or died before the commission of actual sin, — ^those only
being excepted whom Christ saved on His descent into
HelL Their sole pang is longing, bereaved of hope.
Homer ^ Horace^ Ovid, and Lucan, greet Virgil as fellow-
poet. In a place conspicuous for light (intellect, and the
fame thence resulting ?), and in a noble castle with
seven walls (the seven virtues ?), seven gates (the seven
sciences ?), and a moat (education ?), live the most emi-
nent spirits of this circle. Electra {mother ofDardanus)y
Hector y jEneas^ Julius Ccesar, Camilla^ Penthesilea, LaM-
nusy Lavinia^ Junius Brutus, Lucretia, Julia (daughter
of Julius CcBsar), Marcia, Cornelia, Saladin, Aristotle^
Socrates, Plato, Democritus, Diogenes, A naxagoras, Thales,
Empedocles,Heraclitus,Zeno,Dioscorides, Orpheus, Cicero,
Livy (or Linus), Seneca, Euclid, Ptolemy the astro-
nomer, Hippocrates, Avicenna, Galen, Averroes,

5. At the entrance of the Second Circle, Minos, the
Infernal Judge (rather Demon than spirit). The general
scheme of Hell is this. After the Vestibule and the Limbo,
the sins are punished in three great divisions, ever in-
creasing in heinousness and in chastisement, — sins of
Incontinence, of Bestialism, and of Malice. The Second,
Third, Fourth, and Fifth Circles punish Incontinence, —
ill-regulated passion and appetite of various kinds. T*he
Sixth Circle punishes Bestialism, — ^the likening of oneself
to the beasts that perish, or what modems call mate-

itized by Google


rialism. The Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Circles punish
Malice, — ^wickedness by Violence in the first ; wickedness
complicated with Fraud in the last two. Second Circle :
the Lustful, blown hither and thither by furious winds, as
on earth by shifting gusts of passion. Semiramis, Dido^
Cleopatra^ Helen^ Achilles^ Paris, Tristram, Francesca da
Rimini, Paolo Malatesta,

6. Third Circle: Gluttons or Epicures, battered by
rain and hail, drenched in slush, and skinned and stunned
by the Demon of the Circle, greedy Cerberus, "Not
where you eat, but where you are eaten " (or little short
of it). Beyond excessive discomfort in other respects to
those whose guilt was the pampering of the body, the
further special appropriateness of the punishment is
difficult to trace. Ciacco,

7. Fourth Circle. Demon : Plutus, the God of Riches
The Avaricious and Prodigal, unrecognizable, turning
eternally round and round the circle, rating each other,
and rolling and knocking against each other with huge
weights. The reciprocal punishment and animosity need
no conmient. The weights may remind us of the mass
of metal which was the matter of the sin of both classes.
They are unrecognizable in eternity, because, engrossed
by an appetite utterly mundane and temporary, they
had been uncognizant of any eternal interest. Fifth
Circle : The Rageful, and the Sullen or Moping, swamped
in a pool of mud, the former fighting and tearing one
another, — the latter wholly smothered underneath. The
turbid element in which both had lived may be sym-
bolized : the Sullen especially are sunk in it.

itized by Google


8. The poets are ferried over by Phlegyas, He, like
Minos, belongs to a class whom Dante, whether through
following Virgil or through whatever other motive, treats
rather as demons than as condenmed spirits, although, in .
strictness, spirits of human beings. Filippo Argenti
de^li Adimari, The poets arrive at the City of Dis, the
entrance of the Icfwer Hell, wherein Bestialism and
Malice are 'punished ; a city of which devils are the

" grave citizens."

9. Demons : the Three Furies^ with the Gorgon-head,
Sixth Circle, punishing the sin of Bestialism. Heretics
and Unbelievers in flaming graves, hotter or less hot
according to the degree of the sin. They who thought
there was nothing in or beyond the grave, or who rejected
the faith of the Church concerning it, find it filled with
flaming torment. After the last judgment these graves
will all be closed : the sinners will be extinguished to
sight, but not, as they had imagined, to consciousness.

10. Epicurus^ Farinata degli Uberti, Cavalcante
d^ Cavalcantiy the Emperor Frederick IL, Cardinal Otta-
viano degli Ubaldini,

1 1. Pope Anastasius,

12. Entrance to the Seventh Circle, or Hell of the
Violent, itself a violently shattered chasm of rock.
Demon : the tearing and devouring Minotaur, This
circle is in three rings or divisions, containing — A. Those
who committed violence against their neighbour ; B.
violence against themselves; C. violence against God.
Division i {A): Tyrants, assassins, freebooters, &c., sunk
in a river of boiling blood to a depth greater or less,

itized by Google


according to the gravity of their crime. Alexander the
Great (or of Pherce /), Dionysius of Syracuse ^ Azzolino
di Romano^ Obizzo d^Este^ Guy de Montfortj Attila^
Pyrrhus^ Sextus Tarquinius {or Ponipeius f), Rinier da
CornetOj Rinier Pazzo. Demons : the savage Centaurs,
who keep the sinners at their prescribed depth by
shooting at them {Nessus, Chiron, Pholus).

13. Division 2 {J3)\ Those who committed violence
against themselves, in two subdivisions, — a, Suicides, or
Destroyers of their own Lives ; b. Destroyers of their own
Property, Gamesters, &c. — Subdivision a: the Suicides,
incorporated in poisonous trees, — souls aptly abolished,
as it were, in punishment of their deed, from individual
existence, and faster imprisoned within the vile trunks
than heretofore in the hirnian body from which they
audaciously escaped. Even after the Resurrection of the
Body, soul and body shall continue divorced. Demons
of the subdivision ; the Harpies, paining the spirits by
feeding on the incorporating trees. The souls are, by
their own act, become as carrion, and degraded from the
animal to the vegetable life. Pier delle Vigne, Rocco
d^ Mozzi{f). Subdivision b: Destroyers of their own
goods, hunted and rent piecemeal by Hell-hounds^
Analogy not very evident; unless it be that the sin of
these ghosts is one which, in the world, hunts them down
to ruin and misery, and makes them the/r<y of their own
hangers-on, creditors, parasites, &c. Neither is there a
strong essential distinction between these sinners and the
Prodigals of Canto 7, except that, according to the scheme
of the poem, these do in malice and perversity what those

itized by Google


fall into through mere want of self-restraint. Lano^ Jacopo
da Sanf Andrea,

14. Division 3 {€) : Those who committed Violence
against God, directly or indirectly, in three subdivisions.
Dante contemplates as next to the First Cause, God, His
primary derivative, Nature, and His secondary derivative,
Art Violence against God is thus, in the first degree,
blasphemy ; in the second, unnatural lust ; in the third,
any departure from that "Art,** or method of human
society, which is consonant with Nature, and imposed by
divine precept (viz.: "In the sweat of thy brow shalt
thou eat bread")? or the direct use of the productive
forces of Nature ; and the particular form of such de-
parture from ** Art" which Dante notes is Usury. As, by
this classification, Dante brings together sins widely
different in their apparent form, so he gives a single
punishment to alL The spirits of the three subdivisions
equally are scathed by a rain of fire from heaven. The
special appropriateness of this punishment seems to
depend little, or not at all, on a theory, but essentially on
the Bible narrative of the sin of Sodom (Dante's Violence
against Nature, or Second Subdivision) having verily
been punished by fire from heaven. Dante follows this
precedent in the punishment of that sin ; and applies the
same, with some variation of detail, to the other sins
which he has assigned to a cognate source. — Subdivision
a : The Violent against God, or Blasphemers, who are
walkings crouching^ or lying prone, under the flames. In
this case, the punishment seems to come with full appro-
priateness. The direct blasphemer is answered direct

itized by Google


from heaven with tormenting fire ; and (in some cases)
he who was made in the image of the God whom he
blasphemes has now lost the distinctive glory of the
human form, the erect stature. Cafaneus,

15. Subdivision bi The Violent against Nature, or
committers of imnatural sin, all walking under the flames.
Brunetto Latiniy Prisciafij Francesco d* Accorso^ Bishop
Andrea d^ Mozzi.

16. Guidoguerra^ Teggkiajo Aldohrandi^ Jacopo Rusti*
cucci, Guglielmo Borsiere,

17. Subdivision c: The Violent against Art, or Usurers,
secUed imder the flames. As already implied, what Dante
sets forth as the essential wickedness of usury is not any
hard-heartedness involved in the practice, but its being an
unnatural, sophisticated, and inactive social arrangement
In a certain sense, therefore, its being a sedentary employ-
ment is its condemnation ; and perhaps it is on this
accoimt that the usurers are seated. As in the case of
the other sinners whose guilt was concerned with money,
the Misers and Prodigals, Dante fails to recognise by the
visage any of the Usurers ; but he does not expressly say
that they were in the nature of things unrecognizable.
He knows them only by the armorial bearings on bags
(quasi money-bags) whereon their eyes are fixed. Gian -

Jiglicuszi, Ubbriachi, Rinaldo Scrovignoj to whom time
is to add Vitaliano del Dente and Giovanni Buiamonte,
Here ends the Circle of the Violent Geryon, the Demon
of the remaining section of Hell, that of sin by Fraud,
arrives, and carries the poets down.

1 8. From this point, all the rest of Hell is occupied by the

itized by Google


Fraudulent Sinners, in two Circles ; in the Eighth, those
whose fraud has broken the natural bond of confidence
between man and man ; and, in the Ninth, those whose
fraud has broken, beyond this, the bond of special trust,
or the Traitors. The Eighth Circle is named Evilpits,
on account of its being laid out in ten pits or fosses,
where sinners of divers kinds are punished. First Pit :
Pandars and Seducers of Women, in two distinct bands,
driven round and round by the lashing of ^^r«^^ demons.
The pimishment is an ignominious one for a base offence,
and the punishers are appropriate ; beyond this, the
analogy is not readily traceable, unless the offence was so
punished judicially in Dante's time. It may perhaps be
questioned whether the Seducers would not rightly belong
to the lowest Circle, as having broken the bond of special
trust. Pandar : Venedico Caccianimico, Seducer : Jason*
Second Pit : Flatterers, in a sink of human excrement, —
choked, as it were, in their own filth. " Not that which
goeth into the mouth defileth a man ; but that which
cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man." Alessio
Intermineiy Thais.

19. Third Pit : Simoniacs, stuck one by one in round
holes within the rock, head down, as their base desires
had been earthward; feet out, kicking, as it were, at
heaven and heavenly things ; and flames, more or less
intense according to the degree of the sin, flickering from
heel to toes. They are "burning and shining lights"
inversely; and, to repeat Dante's own illustration of their
posture, have made these rock-holes of hell a purse for
themselves. When one Simoniac Pope is followed into

itized by Google


hell by Lis successor, the latter takes his place, and he
himself falls down wholly within the rock : probably (if
that plan was extant in Dante^s time as now) a sarcastic
application of the peculiarity of papal burials, according
to which the body of one Pope is set aside in a niche until
the next dead Pope succeeds, when the former one is finally
interred. Pope Nicholas II L^ who is to be relieved by
Boniface VIII^ and he by Clement V.

20.. Fourth Pit : Diviners, Sorcerers, &c., walking with
their heads wrenched round from front to back.

*• Because tkey willed to see too much before
They look behind, and make their walking back."

Dante manifests more emotion at witnessing this punish-
ment than any other ; which is somewhat noticeable, as, of
all punishments in hell, this seems to be the least terrible
in point of actual suffering. The reason of Dante's
emotion seems to be that he feels more acutely what is
degrading to the dignity of human nature than what is
physically painful to it ; and, in a certain sense, this is an
eminently degrading punishment Amphiaraiis, l^iresias,
Aruns, Manto, EuryPylus^ Michael Scott ^ Guido Bonatti,
Asdente. We are to remember that Dante punishes these
sinners ^s fraudulent j and so, notwithstanding the pur-
port of the lines above quoted, and his defining their sin
as "a passion for God's judgeship" (or, according to
another interpretation, resentment against God*s decrees),
we must conclude that he deems them more than half
impostors — ^adepts in "the game of magic ^^«^."
2U Fifth Pit : The Barterers of office, justice, &c., for

itized by Google


lucre, sunk in a lake of boiling pitch. They have not
only "dirty hands," but dirty bodies all over. If they
show themselves above the pitch, they are seized upon
and rent piecemeal by the Demons of the pit, named Evil-
claws, Martino Bottajo. Demons : Bad-tail^ Droopwing^
Tramplebrinej Dogtooth^ Bristlebeard^ Play'the-Trick,
Grinning-mouthy Wriggle-eely Tearing-dogy Coltsfooty

22. Ciampolo, Friar GomitOy Don Michael Zanche.

23. Sixth Pit : Hypocrites, mantled in heaviest cloaks
of lead, with a fair outside of gilding. Catalano di
Malavolti^ Loderingo degli Andalo. The distinct punish-

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online Library1265-1321 Dante AlighieriThe Comedy of Dante Allighieri → online text (page 2 of 14)