Comforted me thus: "Let not your fear
Possess you; for no power of his
Shall prevent your descent down this craggy path."
Then turning to face that odious mouth,
He said: "Be Silent, you damnable wolf!
Consume yourself with your diabolic rage!
It is not without cause he enters this abyss;
It is willed on high, where Archangel Michael
Poured out vengeance on that proud idolater."
Then as sails that are billowing in the wind
Suddenly collapse when the mast is snapped,
So fell that cruel monster to the ground.
And thus we descended to the fourth steep ledge,
Approaching still closer that dismal region
Which encloses all the woe of the entire universe.
What Almighty Justice! that amasses such a stock
Of new pains and sufferings as now I see!
Why do we sin and sink down to this?
As the ocean surf upon Charybdis,
That dashes itself on all it encounters,
Such is the dance these wretches must tread.
Even more than elsewhere, so many I saw,
On one side and the other, accompanied with great howls,
Pushing weights forward with the force of their chest.
They clashed together, and then from that point
Each one turned around, and rolled it back,
Crying, "Why keep still?" answering, "Why turn away?"
And thus they returned on this horrid circle
On either hand to the opposite point,
Chanting their hateful cadence forever.
Then each, when he arrived there, wheeled about
Along the same path to another joust;
And I, at the sight was stung with grief,
And exclaimed: "My Master, now declare to me
What people are these, those on our left
Whose heads are shaved as though they're monks?"
He straightway replied: "In their first life
These all were so unsound of mind,
They made no use of the wealth they had.
Clearly enough their shouts betray it,
When they reach the furthest point of the circle,
Where their contrary efforts again divide them.
Those without hair were priests of the Church
Together with Popes and Cardinals, too,
Over whom their Avarice did reign supreme."
Said I: "Surely Master, among such as these
There must be many I should recognise
Who were possessed by these foul sins."
Said he to me: "It is vain to think it.
That sordid life which made them so vile
Now makes them unknowable to all observers.
Forever they shall smash themselves together;
And these from their tombs shall rise again
The one with clenched fists, the other, shaved heads.
Ill giving and ill grabbing has deprived them of
The world of beauty, and left them in conflict;
It needs no words of mine to describe it.
Now see, my Son, how brief, how vain,
Are things committed to Fortune's hands,
For which the human race ever struggles;
Not all the gold beneath the moon
That ever was owned by striving souls
Could purchase rest for one of these."
"Master," I said, "Pray tell me this:
What is this Fortune of which you speak,
That clutches in its grasp the goods of the world?"
Said he: "O creatures, so unseeing!
What ignorance is this which now possesses you?
Listen now and learn the judgment I pronounce.
He whose wisdom surpasses all
Created the heavens, and established their powers,
That each might shine upon all others,
Dispensing their light in equal measure;
And in like manner He also ordained
That earthly things should likewise be governed,
Changing at times the possession of vanities
From nation to nation, and family to family,
Beyond control by human wisdom.
Hence one people rises, and another declines,
According to the dictates of her judgment,
Which works unseen, like a serpent in the grass.
Your prudence cannot prevail against her;
She plans, and judges, and enacts her decisions
Like the other divinely ordained powers.
Her changes reach no time of ceasing;
Necessity makes her quickly move,
So often comes a new occasion.
And this is she who is oft maligned
By those who rightly owe her thanks,
But blame her instead with evil curses.
But she serenely pays no heed;
And amongst the other primal forces
Extends her sphere in blissful exuberance.
But now we descend to greater woe;
Each star that was ascending when we set out,
Is falling now, and tarrying is forbidden."
We crossed the circle to the other descent,
Beside a fountain that boils, and empties
Into a moat that flows on downwards.
This water was darker than dying grain;
And we, alongside the murky flow,
Made entrance below through a different path.
Into a marsh, called Styx by name,
This dismal stream then empties down
Against the foot of malign gray cliffs.
And here I stood, intently gazing,
And saw a people, naked and mud-splattered,
Stuck in this ooze, and filled with rage.
They smote each other, not using hands,
But with their head and breast and feet,
Ripping each other with gnashing teeth.
Then spoke the good Master: "Son, now you see
The souls of those whom anger overcame;
And more I would also have you know:
Beneath the waters are those whose sighs
Make bubbles arise up to the surface,
As your eye can see wherever you look.
Mired in the slime, they sadly moan,
'In that sweet air, gladdened by the sun,
We carried within a sluggish reek;
Now we stay sadly in this murky ooze.'
This refrain keeps gurgling in their throats,
For none can utter words distinctly."
Thus we circled round this filthy sty
Along the dry bank beside the swamp,
With eyes turned on those who gorged the mire;
Until we came to the base of a tower.
Copyright © 1998 by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr. All rights reserved.