Inferno: Canto XXI
From bridge to
bridge thus, speaking other things
which my Comedy cares not to sing,
We came along, and held the summit, when
We halted to behold
Malebolge and other vain laments;
And I beheld it marvellously dark.
As in the Arsenal
of the Venetians
in the winter the tenacious pitch
To smear their unsound vessels o'er again,
For sail they
cannot; and instead thereof
makes his vessel new, and one recaulks
The ribs of that which many a voyage has made;
One hammers at the
prow, one at the stern,
one makes oars, and that one cordage twists,
Another mends the mainsail and the mizzen;
Thus, not by fire,
but by the art divine,
boiling down below there a dense pitch
Which upon every side the bank belimed.
I saw it, but I did
not see within it
but the bubbles that the boiling raised,
And all swell up and resubside compressed.
The while below
there fixedly I gazed,
Leader, crying out: "Beware, beware!"
Drew me unto himself from where I stood.
Then I turned
round, as one who is impatient
see what it behoves him to escape,
And whom a sudden terror doth unman,
Who, while he
looks, delays not his departure;
I beheld behind us a black devil,
Running along upon the crag, approach.
Ah, how ferocious
was he in his aspect!
how he seemed to me in action ruthless,
With open wings and light upon his feet!
which sharp-pointed were and high,
sinner did encumber with both haunches,
And he held clutched the sinews of the feet.
From off our
bridge, he said: "O Malebranche,
one of the elders of Saint Zita;
Plunge him beneath, for I return for others
Unto that town,
which is well furnished with them.
there are barrators, except Bonturo;
No into Yes for money there is changed."
He hurled him down,
and over the hard crag
round, and never was a mastiff loosened
In so much hurry to pursue a thief.
The other sank, and
rose again face downward;
the demons, under cover of the bridge,
Cried: "Here the Santo Volto has no place!
Here swims one
otherwise than in the Serchio;
if for our gaffs thou wishest not,
Do not uplift thyself above the pitch."
They seized him
then with more than a hundred rakes;
said: "It here behoves thee to dance covered,
That, if thou canst, thou secretly mayest pilfer."
Not otherwise the
cooks their scullions make
into the middle of the caldron
The meat with hooks, so that it may not float.
Said the good
Master to me: "That it be not
thou art here, crouch thyself down
Behind a jag, that thou mayest have some screen;
And for no outrage
that is done to me
thou afraid, because these things I know,
For once before was I in such a scuffle."
Then he passed on
beyond the bridge's head,
as upon the sixth bank he arrived,
Need was for him to have a steadfast front.
With the same fury,
and the same uproar,
dogs leap out upon a mendicant,
Who on a sudden begs, where'er he stops,
They issued from
beneath the little bridge,
turned against him all their grappling-irons;
But he cried out: "Be none of you malignant!
Before those hooks
of yours lay hold of me,
one of you step forward, who may hear me,
And then take counsel as to grappling me."
They all cried out:
"Let Malacoda go;"
one started, and the rest stood still,
And he came to him, saying: "What avails it?"
Malacoda, to behold me
into this place," my Master said,
"Safe hitherto from all your skill of fence,
Without the will
divine, and fate auspicious?
me go on, for it in Heaven is willed
That I another show this savage road."
Then was his
arrogance so humbled in him,
he let fall his grapnel at his feet,
And to the others said: "Now strike him not."
And unto me my
Guide: "O thou, who sittest
the splinters of the bridge crouched down,
Securely now return to me again."
Wherefore I started
and came swiftly to him;
all the devils forward thrust themselves,
So that I feared they would not keep their compact.
And thus beheld I
once afraid the soldiers
issued under safeguard from Caprona,
Seeing themselves among so many foes.
Close did I press
myself with all my person
my Leader, and turned not mine eyes
From off their countenance, which was not good.
They lowered their
rakes, and "Wilt thou have me hit him,"
said to one another, "on the rump?"
And answered: "Yes; see that thou nick him with it."
But the same demon
who was holding parley
my Conductor turned him very quickly,
And said: "Be quiet, be quiet, Scarmiglione;"
Then said to us:
"You can no farther go
upon this crag, because is lying
All shattered, at the bottom, the sixth arch.
And if it still
doth please you to go onward,
your way along upon this rock;
Near is another crag that yields a path.
hours later than this hour,
thousand and two hundred sixty-six
Years were complete, that here the way was broken.
I send in that
direction some of mine
see if any one doth air himself;
Go ye with them; for they will not be vicious.
Alichino and Calcabrina,"
he to cry out, "and thou, Cagnazzo;
And Barbariccia, do thou guide the ten.
Libicocco and Draghignazzo,
tusked Ciriatto and Graffiacane,
And Farfarello and mad Rubicante;
Search ye all round
about the boiling pitch;
these be safe as far as the next crag,
That all unbroken passes o'er the dens."
"O me! what is it,
Master, that I see?
let us go," I said, "without an escort,
If thou knowest how, since for myself I ask none.
If thou art as
observant as thy wont is,
thou not see that they do gnash their teeth,
And with their brows are threatening woe to us?"
And he to me: "I
will not have thee fear;
them gnash on, according to their fancy,
Because they do it for those boiling wretches."
Along the left-hand
dike they wheeled about;
first had each one thrust his tongue between
His teeth towards their leader for a signal;
And he had made a
trumpet of his rump.