Inferno: 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.
THE place where to descend the precipice
We came, was rough as Alp, and on its verge
Such object lay, as every eye would shun.
As is that ruin, which Adice's stream
On this side Trento struck, should'ring the wave,
Or loos'd by earthquake or for lack of prop;
For from the mountain's summit, whence it mov'd
To the low level, so the headlong rock
Is shiver'd, that some passage it might give
To him who from above would pass; e'en such
Into the chasm was that descent: and there
At point of the disparted ridge lay stretch'd
The infamy of Crete, detested brood
Of the feign'd heifer: and at sight of us
It gnaw'd itself, as one with rage distract.
To him my guide exclaim'd: "Perchance thou deem'st
The King of Athens here, who, in the world
Above, thy death contriv'd. Monster! avaunt!
He comes not tutor'd by thy sister's art,
But to behold your torments is he come."
Like to a bull, that with impetuous spring
Darts, at the moment when the fatal blow
Hath struck him, but unable to proceed
Plunges on either side; so saw I plunge
The Minotaur; whereat the sage exclaim'd:
"Run to the passage! while he storms, 't is well
That thou descend." Thus down our road we took
Through those dilapidated crags, that oft
Mov'd underneath my feet, to weight like theirs
Unus'd. I pond'ring went, and thus he spake:
"Perhaps thy thoughts are of this ruin'd steep,
Guarded by the brute violence, which I
Have vanquish'd now. Know then, that when I erst
Hither descended to the nether hell,
This rock was not yet fallen. But past doubt
(If well I mark) not long ere He arrived,
Who carried off from Dis the mighty spoil
Of the highest circle, then through all its bounds
Such trembling seiz'd the deep concave and foul,
I thought the universe was thrill'd with love,
Whereby, there are who deem, the world hath oft
Been into chaos turn'd: and in that point,
Here, and elsewhere, that old rock toppled down.
But fix thine eyes beneath: the river of blood
Approaches, in the which all those are steep'd,
Who have by violence injur'd." O blind lust!
O foolish wrath! who so dost goad us on
In the brief life, and in the eternal then
Thus miserably o'erwhelm us. I beheld
An ample foss, that in a bow was bent,
As circling all the plain; for so my guide
Had told. Between it and the rampart's base
On trail ran Centaurs, with keen arrows arm'd,
As to the chase they on the earth were wont.
At seeing us descend they each one stood;
And issuing from the troop, three sped with bows
And missile weapons chosen first; of whom
One cried from far: "Say to what pain ye come
Condemn'd, who down this steep have journied? Speak
From whence ye stand, or else the bow I draw."
To whom my guide: "Our answer shall be made
To Chiron, there, when nearer him we come.
Ill was thy mind, thus ever quick and rash."
Then me he touch'd, and spake: "Nessus is this,
Who for the fair Deianira died,
And wrought himself revenge for his own fate.
He in the midst, that on his breast looks down,
Is the great Chiron who Achilles nurs'd;
That other Pholus, prone to wrath." Around
The foss these go by thousands, aiming shafts
At whatsoever spirit dares emerge
From out the blood, more than his guilt allows.
We to those beasts, that rapid strode along,
Drew near, when Chiron took an arrow forth,
And with the notch push'd back his shaggy beard
To the cheek-bone, then his great mouth to view
Exposing, to his fellows thus exclaim'd:
"Are ye aware, that he who comes behind
Moves what he touches? The feet of the dead
Are not so wont." My trusty guide, who now
Stood near his breast, where the two natures join,
Thus made reply: "He is indeed alive,
And solitary so must needs by me
Be shown the gloomy vale, thereto induc'd
By strict necessity, not by delight.
She left her joyful harpings in the sky,
Who this new office to my care consign'd.
He is no robber, no dark spirit I.
But by that virtue, which empowers my step
To treat so wild a path, grant us, I pray,
One of thy band, whom we may trust secure,
Who to the ford may lead us, and convey
Across, him mounted on his back; for he
Is not a spirit that may walk the air."
Then on his right breast turning, Chiron thus
To Nessus spake: "Return, and be their guide.
And if ye chance to cross another troop,
Command them keep aloof." Onward we mov'd,
The faithful escort by our side, along
The border of the crimson-seething flood,
Whence from those steep'd within loud shrieks arose.
Some there I mark'd, as high as to their brow
Immers'd, of whom the mighty Centaur thus:
"These are the souls of tyrants, who were given
To blood and rapine. Here they wail aloud
Their merciless wrongs. Here Alexander dwells,
And Dionysius fell, who many a year
Of woe wrought for fair Sicily. That brow
Whereon the hair so jetty clust'ring hangs,
Is Azzolino; that with flaxen locks
Obizzo' of Este, in the world destroy'd
By his foul step-son." To the bard rever'd
I turned me round, and thus he spake; "Let him
Be to thee now first leader, me but next
To him in rank." Then farther on a space
The Centaur paus'd, near some, who at the throat
Were extant from the wave; and showing us
A spirit by itself apart retir'd,
Exclaim'd: "He in God's bosom smote the heart,
Which yet is honour'd on the bank of Thames."
A race I next espied, who held the head,
And even all the bust above the stream.
'Midst these I many a face remember'd well.
Thus shallow more and more the blood became,
So that at last it but imbru'd the feet;
And there our passage lay athwart the foss.
"As ever on this side the boiling wave
Thou seest diminishing," the Centaur said,
"So on the other, be thou well assur'd,
It lower still and lower sinks its bed,
Till in that part it reuniting join,
Where 't is the lot of tyranny to mourn.
There Heav'n's stern justice lays chastising hand
On Attila, who was the scourge of earth,
On Sextus, and on Pyrrhus, and extracts
Tears ever by the seething flood unlock'd
From the Rinieri, of Corneto this,
Pazzo the other nam'd, who fill'd the ways
With violence and war." This said, he turn'd,
And quitting us, alone repass'd the ford.
CANTO XII. First round of the Seventh Circle; those who do
violence to others; Tyrants and Homicides.--The Minotaur.--The
Centaurs.--Chiron.--Nessus.--The River of Boiling Blood, and the
Sinners in it.
The place where we came to descend the bank was rugged, and,
because of what was there besides, such that every eye would be
shy of it.
As is that ruin which, on this side of Trent, struck the Adige on
its flank, either by earthquake or by failure of support,--for
from the top of the mountain whence it moved, to the plain, the
cliff has so fallen down that it might give a path to one who was
above,--so was the descent of that ravine. And on the edge of the
broken chasm lay stretched out the infamy of Crete, that was
conceived in the false cow. And when he saw us he bit himself
even as one whom wrath rends inwardly. My Sage cried out toward
him, "Perchance thou believest that here is the Duke of Athens
who up in the world brought death to thee? Get thee gone, beast,
for this one comes not instructed by thy sister, but he goes to
behold your punishments."
As a bull that breaks away at the instant he has now received his
mortal stroke, and cannot go, but plunges hither and thither, the
Minotaur I saw do the like.
And that wary one cried out, "Run to the pass; while he is raging
it is well that thou descend." So we took our way down over the
discharge of those stones, which often moved under my feet
because of the novel burden.
I was going along thinking, and he said, "Thou thinkest perhaps
on this ruin which is guarded by that bestial with which I just
now quenched. Now would I have thee know that the other time when
I descended hither into the nether hell, this cliff had not yet
fallen. But in truth, if I discern clearly, a little ere He came,
who levied the great spoil on Dis from the supernal circle, in
all its parts the deep foul valley trembled so that I thought the
universe had felt the love by which, as some believe, oft times
the world has been converted into chaos: and, at that moment,
this ancient cliff here and elsewhere made this downfall. But fix
thine eyes below, for the river of blood is near, in which boils
whoso doth harm to others by violence."
 Empedocles taught, as Dante may have learned from Aristotle,
that Love and Hate were the forces by which the elements of which
the world is composed were united and dissociated. The effort of
Love was to draw all things into a simple perfect sphere, by
which the common order of the world would be brought to chaos.
Oh blind cupidity, both guilty and mad, that so spurs us in the
brief life, and then, in the eternal, steeps us so ill!
I saw a broad ditch, bent in an arc, like one that embraces all
the plain; according as my Guide had said. And between the foot
of the bank and it, in a file were running Centaurs armed with
arrows, as they were wont in the world to go to the chase. Seeing
us descending, all stopped, and from the troop three detached
themselves, with bows and arrows first selected. And one shouted
from afar, "To what torment are ye coming, ye who descend the
slope? Tell it from there; if not, I draw the bow." My Master
said, "We will make answer unto Chiron near you there: ill was it
that thy will was ever thus hasty."
Then he touched me, and said, "That is Nessus, who died for the
beautiful Dejanira, and he himself wrought vengeance for himself;
and that one in the middle, who is gazing on his breast, is the
great Chiron who nurtured Achilles. That other is Pholus, who was
so full of wrath. Round about the ditch they go by thousands
shooting with their arrows what soul lifts itself from the blood
more than its guilt has allotted it."
We drew near to those fleet wild beasts. Chiron took a shaft, and
with the notch put his beard backward upon his jaw. When he had
uncovered his great mouth he said to his companions, "Are ye
aware that the one behind moves what he touches? so are not wont
to do the feet of the dead." And my good Leader, who was now at
his breast, where the two natures are conjoined, replied, "Truly
he is alive, and thus all alone it behoves me to show him the
dark valley: necessity brings him hither and not delight. One
withdrew from singing alleluiah who committed unto me this new
office; he is no robber, nor I a thievish spirit. But, by that
power through which I move my steps along so savage a road, give
to us one of thine, to whom we may be close, that he may show us
where the ford is, and may carry this one on his back, for he is
not a spirit who can go through the air."
Chiron turned upon his right breast, and said to Nessus, "Turn,
and guide them thus, and if another troop encounter you, make it
We moved on with the trusty escort along the edge of the crimson
boiling, in which the boiled were making loud shrieks. I saw folk
under it up to the brow, and the great Centaur said, "These are
tyrants who gave themselves to blood and pillage. Here they weep
their pitiless offenses: here is Alexander, and cruel Dionysius
who caused Sicily to have woeful years. And that front which hath
such black hair is Azzolino, and that other who is blond is
Opizzo of Esti, who in truth was slain by his stepson up there in
Then I turned me to the Poet, and he said, "Let him now be
first, and I second." A little further on the Centaur stopped
above some folk who far as the throat were seen to issue from
that boiling stream. He showed to us at one side a solitary
shade, and said, "He cleft, in the bosom of God, the heart that
still is honored on the Thames." Then I saw folk, who out of
the stream held their head, and even all their chest; and of
these I recognized many. Thus ever more and more shallow became
that blood, until it cooked only the feet: and here was our
passage of the foss.
 In 1271, Prince Henry, son of Richard of Cornwall, was
stabbed during the mass, in a church at Viterbo, by Guy of
Montfort, to avenge the death of his father, Simon, Earl of
Leicester, in 1261. The heart of the young Prince was placed in a
golden cup, as Villani (vii. 39) reports, on a column, at the
head of a bridge in London.
"Even as on this side, thou seest that the boiling stream ever
diminishes," said the Centaur, "I would have thee believe that on
this other its bed sinks more and more, until it comes round
again where it behoves that tyranny should groan. The divine
justice here pierces that Attila who was a scourge on earth, and
Pyrrhus and Sextus; and forever milks the tears that with the
boiling it unlocks from Rinier of Corneto, and from Rinier Pazzo,
who upon the highways made such warfare."
Then he turned back and repassed the ford.