by Dante Alighieri

Canto XII

The place where to descend the bank we came
    Was alpine, and from what was there, moreover,
    Of such a kind that every eye would shun it.

Such as that ruin is which in the flank
    Smote, on this side of Trent, the Adige,
    Either by earthquake or by failing stay,

For from the mountain's top, from which it moved,
    Unto the plain the cliff is shattered so,
    Some path 'twould give to him who was above;

Even such was the descent of that ravine,
    And on the border of the broken chasm
    The infamy of Crete was stretched along,

Who was conceived in the fictitious cow;
    And when he us beheld, he bit himself,
    Even as one whom anger racks within.

My Sage towards him shouted: "Peradventure
    Thou think'st that here may be the Duke of Athens,
    Who in the world above brought death to thee?

Get thee gone, beast, for this one cometh not
    Instructed by thy sister, but he comes
    In order to behold your punishments."

As is that bull who breaks loose at the moment
    In which he has received the mortal blow,
    Who cannot walk, but staggers here and there,

The Minotaur beheld I do the like;
    And he, the wary, cried: "Run to the passage;
    While he wroth, 'tis well thou shouldst descend."

Thus down we took our way o'er that discharge
    Of stones, which oftentimes did move themselves
    Beneath my feet, from the unwonted burden.

Thoughtful I went; and he said: "Thou art thinking
    Perhaps upon this ruin, which is guarded
    By that brute anger which just now I quenched.

Now will I have thee know, the other time
    I here descended to the nether Hell,
    This precipice had not yet fallen down.

But truly, if I well discern, a little
    Before His coming who the mighty spoil
    Bore off from Dis, in the supernal circle,

Upon all sides the deep and loathsome valley
    Trembled so, that I thought the Universe
    Was thrilled with love, by which there are who think

The world ofttimes converted into chaos;
    And at that moment this primeval crag
    Both here and elsewhere made such overthrow.

But fix thine eyes below; for draweth near
    The river of blood, within which boiling is
    Whoe'er by violence doth injure others."

O blind cupidity, O wrath insane,
    That spurs us onward so in our short life,
    And in the eternal then so badly steeps us!

I saw an ample moat bent like a bow,
    As one which all the plain encompasses,
    Conformable to what my Guide had said.

And between this and the embankment's foot
    Centaurs in file were running, armed with arrows,
    As in the world they used the chase to follow.

Beholding us descend, each one stood still,
    And from the squadron three detached themselves,
    With bows and arrows in advance selected;

And from afar one cried: "Unto what torment
    Come ye, who down the hillside are descending?
    Tell us from there; if not, I draw the bow."

My Master said: "Our answer will we make
    To Chiron, near you there; in evil hour,
    That will of thine was evermore so hasty."

Then touched he me, and said: "This one is Nessus,
    Who perished for the lovely Dejanira,
    And for himself, himself did vengeance take.

And he in the midst, who at his breast is gazing,
    Is the great Chiron, who brought up Achilles;
    That other Pholus is, who was so wrathful.

Thousands and thousands go about the moat
    Shooting with shafts whatever soul emerges
    Out of the blood, more than his crime allots."

Near we approached unto those monsters fleet;
    Chiron an arrow took, and with the notch
    Backward upon his jaws he put his beard.

After he had uncovered his great mouth,
    He said to his companions: "Are you ware
    That he behind moveth whate'er he touches?

Thus are not wont to do the feet of dead men."
    And my good Guide, who now was at his breast,
    Where the two natures are together joined,

Replied: "Indeed he lives, and thus alone
    Me it behoves to show him the dark valley;
    Necessity, and not delight, impels us.

Some one withdrew from singing Halleluja,
    Who unto me committed this new office;
    No thief is he, nor I a thievish spirit.

But by that virtue through which I am moving
    My steps along this savage thoroughfare,
    Give us some one of thine, to be with us,

And who may show us where to pass the ford,
    And who may carry this one on his back;
    For 'tis no spirit that can walk the air."

Upon his right breast Chiron wheeled about,
    And said to Nessus: "Turn and do thou guide them,
    And warn aside, if other band may meet you."

We with our faithful escort onward moved
    Along the brink of the vermilion boiling,
    Wherein the boiled were uttering loud laments.

People I saw within up to the eyebrows,
    And the great Centaur said: "Tyrants are these,
    Who dealt in bloodshed and in pillaging.

Here they lament their pitiless mischiefs; here
    Is Alexander, and fierce Dionysius
    Who upon Sicily brought dolorous years.

That forehead there which has the hair so black
    Is Azzolin; and the other who is blond,
    Obizzo is of Esti, who, in truth,

Up in the world was by his stepson slain."
    Then turned I to the Poet; and he said,
    "Now he be first to thee, and second I."

A little farther on the Centaur stopped
    Above a folk, who far down as the throat
    Seemed from that boiling stream to issue forth.

A shade he showed us on one side alone,
    Saying: "He cleft asunder in God's bosom
    The heart that still upon the Thames is honoured."

Then people saw I, who from out the river
    Lifted their heads and also all the chest;
    And many among these I recognised.

Thus ever more and more grew shallower
    That blood, so that the feet alone it covered;
    And there across the moat our passage was.

"Even as thou here upon this side beholdest
    The boiling stream, that aye diminishes,"
    The Centaur said, "I wish thee to believe

That on this other more and more declines
    Its bed, until it reunites itself
    Where it behoveth tyranny to groan.

Justice divine, upon this side, is goading
    That Attila, who was a scourge on earth,
    And Pyrrhus, and Sextus; and for ever milks

The tears which with the boiling it unseals
    In Rinier da Corneto and Rinier Pazzo,
    Who made upon the highways so much war."

Then back he turned, and passed again the ford.

Next: Canto XIII

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