Canto XXVI



ARGUMENT.—Remounting by the steps, down which they have descended to the seventh gulf, they go forward to the arch that stretches over the eighth, and from thence behold numberless flames wherein are punished the evil counsellors, each flame containing a sinner, save one, in which were Diomede and Ulysses, the latter of whom relates the manner of his death.




FLORENCE, exult! for thou so mightily

Hast thriven, that o’er land and sea thy wings

Thou beatest, and thy name spreads over hell.

Among the plunderers, such the three I found

Thy citizens; whence shame to me thy son,


And no proud honour to thyself redounds.

  But if our minds, when dreaming near the dawn,

Are of the truth presageful, thou ere long

Shalt feel what Prato 1 (not to say the rest)

Would fain might come upon thee; and that chance


Were in good time, if it befell thee now.

Would so it were, since it must needs befall!

For as time wears me, I shall grieve the more.

  We from the depth departed; and my guide

Remounting scaled the flinty steps, which late


We downward traced, and drew me up the steep.

Pursuing thus our solitary way

Among the crags and splinters of the rock,

Sped not our feet without the help of hands.

  Then sorrow seized me, which e’en now revives,


As my thought turns again to what I saw,

And, more than I am wont, I rein and curb

The powers of nature in me, lest they run

Where Virtue guides not; that, if aught of good

My gentle star or something better gave me,


I envy not myself the precious boon.

  As in that season, when the sun least veils

His face that lightens all, what time the fly

Gives way to the shrill gnat, the peasant then,

Upon some cliff reclined, beneath him sees


Fire-flies innumerous spangling o’er the vale,

Vineyard or tilth, where his day-labor lies;

With flames so numberless throughout its space

Shone the eighth chasm, apparent, when the depth

Was to my view exposed. As he, whose wrongs


The bears avenged, as its departure saw

Elijah’s chariot, when the steeds erect

Raised their steep flight for heaven; his eyes meanwhile,

Straining pursued them, till the flame alone,

Upsoaring like a misty speck, he kenn’d:


E’en thus along the gulf moves every flame,

A sinner so enfolded close in each,

That none exhibits token of the theft.

  Upon the bridge I forward bent to look

And grasp’d a flinty mass, or else had fallen,


Though push’d not from the height. The guide, who mark’d

How I did gaze attentive, thus began:

“Within these ardours are the spirits; each

Swatched in confining fire.” “Master! thy word,”

I answer’d, “hath assured me; yet I deem’d


Already of the truth, already wish’d

To ask thee who is in yon fire, that comes

So parted at the summit, as it seem’d

Ascending from that funeral pile 2 where lay

The Theban brothers.” He replied: “Within,


Ulysses there and Diomede endure

Their penal tortures, thus to vengeance now

Together hasting, as erewhile to wrath

These in the flame with ceaseless groans deplore

The ambush of the horse, 3 that open’d wide


A portal for the goodly seed to pass,

Which sow’d imperial Rome; nor less the guile

Lament they, whence, of her Achilles ’reft,

Deidamia yet in death complains.

And there is rued the stratagem that Troy


Of her Palladium spoil’d.”—“If they have power

Of utterance from within these sparks,” said I,

“O master! think my prayer a thousand-fold

In repetition urged, that thou vouchsafe

To pause till here the horned flame arrive.


See, how toward it with desires I bend.”

  He thus: “Thy prayer is worthy of much praise,

And I accept it therefore; but do thou

Thy tongue refrain: to question them be mine;

For I divine thy wish: and they perchance,


For they were Greeks, 4 might shun discourse with thee.”

  When there the flame had come, where time and place

Seem’d fitting to my guide, he thus began:

“O ye, who dwell two spirits in one fire!

If, living, I of you did merit aught,


Whate’er the measure were of that desert,

When in the world my lofty strain I pour’d,

Move ye not on, till one of you unfold

In what clime death o’ertook him self-destroy’d.”

  Of the old flame forthwith the greater horn


Began to roll, murmuring, as a fire

That labors with the wind, then to and fro

Wagging the top, as a tongue uttering sounds,

Threw out its voice, and spake: “When I escaped

From Circe, who beyond a circling year


Had held me near Caieta by her charms,

Ere thus Æneas yet had named the shore;

Nor fondness for my son, nor reverence

Of my old father, nor return of love,

That should have crown’d Penelope with joy,


Could overcome in me the zeal I had

To explore the world, and search the ways of life,

Man’s evil and his virtue. Forth I sail’d

Into the deep illimitable main,

With but one bark, and the small faithful band


That yet cleaved to me. As Iberia far,

Far as Marocco, either shore I saw,

And the Sardinian and each isle beside

Which round that ocean bathes. Tardy with age

Were I and my companions, when we came


To the strait pass, 5 where Hercules ordain’d

The boundaries not to be o’erstepp’d by man.

The walls of Seville to my right I left,

On the other hand already Ceuta past.

‘O brothers!’ I began, ‘who to the west


Through perils without number now have reach’d;

To this the short remaining watch, that yet

Our senses have to wake, refuse not proof

Of the unpeopled world, following the track

Of Phœbus. Call to mind from whence ye sprang:


Ye were not form’d to live the life of brutes,

But virtue to pursue and knowledge high.’

With these few words I sharpen’d for the voyage

The mind of my associates, that I then

Could scarcely have withheld them. To the dawn


Our poop we turn’d, and for the witless flight

Made our oars wings, still gaining on the left.

Each star of the other pole night now beheld,

And ours so low, that from the ocean floor

It rose not. Five times reillumed, as oft


Vanish’d the light from underneath the moon,

Since the deep way we enter’d, when from far

Appear’d a mountain dim, 6 loftiest methought

Of all I e’er beheld. Joy seized us straight;

But soon to mourning changed. From the new land


A whirlwind sprung, and at her foremost side

Did strike the vessel. Thrice it whirl’d her round

With all the waves; the fourth time lifted up

The poop, and sank the prow: so fate decreed:

And over us the booming billow closed.” 7




Note 1. “Shalt feel what Prato.” The Poet prognosticates the calamities which were soon to befall his native city, and which, he says, even her nearest neighbor, Prato, would wish her. The calamities more particularly pointed at are said to be the fall of a wooden bridge over the Arno, in May, 1304, where a large multitude were assembled to witness a representation of hell and the infernal torments, in consequence of which accident many lives were lost; and a conflagration, that in the following month destroyed more than 1,700 houses. See G. Villani, Hist. lib. viii. c. lxx. and lxxi. [back]

Note 2. The flame is said to have divided the bodies of Eteocles and Polynices, as if conscious of the enmity that actuated them while living. [back]

Note 3. The wooden horse that caused Æneas to quit Troy and seek his fortune in Italy, where his descendants founded Rome. [back]

Note 4. Perhaps implying arrogance. [back]

Note 5. The Strait of Gibraltar. [back]

Note 6. The mountain of Purgatory.—Among various opinions respecting the situation of the terrestrial paradise, Peitro Lombardo relates, that “it was separated by a long space, either of sea or land, from the regions inhabited by men, and placed in the ocean, reaching as far as to the luner circle, so that the waters of the deluge did not reach it.”—Sent. lib. ii. dist. 17. [back]

Note 7. “Closed.” Venturi refers to Pliny and Solinus for the opinion that Ulysses was the founder of Lisbon, from whence he thinks it was easy for the fancy of a poet to send him on yet further enterprises. The story (which it is not unlikely that our author borrowed from some legend of the Middle Ages) may have taken its rise partly from the obscure oracle returned by the ghost of Tiresias to Ulysses (eleventh book of the Odyssey), and partly from the fate which there was reason to suppose had befallen some adventurous explorers of the Atlantic Ocean. [back]