And there, to avoid the horrible stench
Which the deep abyss throws out so profusely,
We withdrew behind a monumental tomb
Upon whose face I saw some writing
Which said: "I hold Pope Anastasius,
Whom Photinus lead astray from the rightful path."
"It behooves us to make a slow descent,
So our sense of smell may become accustomed
To the awful odor, then we'll not notice it."
So said my Master; and I answered him thus:
"We should find some pursuit so the time is not wasted;"
And he: "Quite so! I was thinking the same.
My son, within these crags," he began,
"Are three small circles, divided into grades,
Like those you now are leaving.
Each one is filled with spirits of the damned;
So that you later need only look,
Hear how and why they are in constraint.
Of all evil deeds abhorred in Heaven,
The end is injury; and all such ends
Cause harm to others by force or fraud.
Since fraud is man's peculiar vice,
It that much more displeases God;
The fraudulent, standing lowest, endure greatest pain.
The Violent fill all the initial circle;
But since force may be used against three categories,
It is formed into three separate divisions.
Against God, ourselves, or our neighbor may man
Bring force: on them, I say, and on
Their things, as you shall fully learn.
A death by violence, with painful wounds,
Upon his neighbor he inflicts;
And devastates his substance with pillage and arson.
Murderers and those who smite unjustly,
Marauders and robbers are here tormeted
In various herds within the first round.
Man may do violence unto himself
And to his goods; in the second round
These must do penance without relief:
Whoever deprives himself of your world,
Who wastes his talents in reckless diversions,
And weeps when he should be rejoicing.
Violence can be offered against our God,
Denying and blaspheming Him in our heart,
Cursing Nature and the bounty she gives.
For this the inner round marks with its seal
Sodom and Cahors, and all of those
Who speak contemptuously of God in their heart.
Fraud leaves a sting in every conscience,
Is practised both on him who gives his trust,
And on him who withholds full confidence.
This latter instance, seems to destroy
The bond of love which Nature establishes.
Thus within the second circle reside
Hypocrisy, flattery, and the practice of witchcraft,
Dissimulation, theft, and traffic in church office,
Seducers, traitors, and similar filth.
In the former instance, natural love
Is disregarded, along with that trust
Which it engenders and adds thereto.
In the smallest circle, which is the center
Of the Universe, where Dis is seated,
The betrayer is there forever consumed."
And I: "My Master, your discourse is clear,
And skillfully describes this hideous chasm
And all the people who are its inhabitants.
But tell me of those in the thick lagoon,
On whom the rain beats, and the wind drives about,
Who encounter one another with such bitter tongues:
Why are they not punished within
The fiery city, if God's wrath be on them?
And if not, why condemned in such a fashion?"
And he said to me: "Why wanders your mind
From that to which it has been well-acquainted?
Or, what other thoughts have now possessed it?
Don't you recall the words in The Ethics
By which are described the three dispositions
That Heaven finds adverse unto its will:
Incontinence, and malice, and insane bestiality,
And incontinence is least offensive to God?
And for that reason it incurs the least guilt.
If you regard this judgment well,
And recall to your mind those outside these walls
That are doomed to undergo vain repentance,
Clearly you will see why they are separated
From these evil spirits, and why Justice divine
Pours down its vengeance with less wrath upon them."
"O Sun, that heals all imperfect vision,
You make me content, when you resolve my doubts,
So that ignorance pleases me no less than knowing!
Yet go back a little," said I continuing,
"Where you were saying that Goodness divine
By usury is offended, and unravel this knot."
"Philosophy," he replied, "to an attentive ear,
Clearly points out in many places,
The manner by which Nature takes her course
From Intellect Divine, and from its art;
And if you carefully read The Physics,
After not many pages you shall find
That your art follows her as closely as possible,
As the disciple treads in his master's steps;
So that your art is like God's grandchild.
These two, if you recall the book
Of Genesis to mind, from the beginning
Were the source of right living and excellence to mankind;
And since the usurer takes another path,
Setting Nature herself and her follower at nought,
He vests his hope in some other place.
But follow now my steps as I journey onward,
For Pisces now twinkles above the horizon,
And the Big Dipper lies well over the northwest,
And just beyond there we descend this crag."
Copyright © 1998 by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr. All rights reserved.