Side by Side Translations of Dante's Inferno - Canto 13

Longfellow Translation

Inferno: Canto XIII

Not yet had Nessus reached the other side,
  When we had put ourselves within a wood,
  That was not marked by any path whatever.

Not foliage green, but of a dusky colour,
  Not branches smooth, but gnarled and intertangled,
  Not apple-trees were there, but thorns with poison.

Such tangled thickets have not, nor so dense,
  Those savage wild beasts, that in hatred hold
  'Twixt Cecina and Corneto the tilled places.

There do the hideous Harpies make their nests,
  Who chased the Trojans from the Strophades,
  With sad announcement of impending doom;

Broad wings have they, and necks and faces human,
  And feet with claws, and their great bellies fledged;
  They make laments upon the wondrous trees.

And the good Master: "Ere thou enter farther,
  Know that thou art within the second round,"
  Thus he began to say, "and shalt be, till

Thou comest out upon the horrible sand;
  Therefore look well around, and thou shalt see
  Things that will credence give unto my speech."

I heard on all sides lamentations uttered,
  And person none beheld I who might make them,
  Whence, utterly bewildered, I stood still.

I think he thought that I perhaps might think
  So many voices issued through those trunks
  From people who concealed themselves from us;

Therefore the Master said: "If thou break off
  Some little spray from any of these trees,
  The thoughts thou hast will wholly be made vain."

Then stretched I forth my hand a little forward,
  And plucked a branchlet off from a great thorn;
  And the trunk cried, "Why dost thou mangle me?"

After it had become embrowned with blood,
  It recommenced its cry: "Why dost thou rend me?
  Hast thou no spirit of pity whatsoever?

Men once we were, and now are changed to trees;
  Indeed, thy hand should be more pitiful,
  Even if the souls of serpents we had been."

As out of a green brand, that is on fire
  At one of the ends, and from the other drips
  And hisses with the wind that is escaping;

So from that splinter issued forth together
  Both words and blood; whereat I let the tip
  Fall, and stood like a man who is afraid.

"Had he been able sooner to believe,"
  My Sage made answer, "O thou wounded soul,
  What only in my verses he has seen,

Not upon thee had he stretched forth his hand;
  Whereas the thing incredible has caused me
  To put him to an act which grieveth me.

But tell him who thou wast, so that by way
  Of some amends thy fame he may refresh
  Up in the world, to which he can return."

And the trunk said: "So thy sweet words allure me,
  I cannot silent be; and you be vexed not,
  That I a little to discourse am tempted.

I am the one who both keys had in keeping
  Of Frederick's heart, and turned them to and fro
  So softly in unlocking and in locking,

That from his secrets most men I withheld;
  Fidelity I bore the glorious office
  So great, I lost thereby my sleep and pulses.

The courtesan who never from the dwelling
  Of Caesar turned aside her strumpet eyes,
  Death universal and the vice of courts,

Inflamed against me all the other minds,
  And they, inflamed, did so inflame Augustus,
  That my glad honours turned to dismal mournings.

My spirit, in disdainful exultation,
  Thinking by dying to escape disdain,
  Made me unjust against myself, the just.

I, by the roots unwonted of this wood,
  Do swear to you that never broke I faith
  Unto my lord, who was so worthy of honour;

And to the world if one of you return,
  Let him my memory comfort, which is lying
  Still prostrate from the blow that envy dealt it."

Waited awhile, and then: "Since he is silent,"
  The Poet said to me, "lose not the time,
  But speak, and question him, if more may please thee."

Whence I to him: "Do thou again inquire
  Concerning what thou thinks't will satisfy me;
  For I cannot, such pity is in my heart."

Therefore he recommenced: "So may the man
  Do for thee freely what thy speech implores,
  Spirit incarcerate, again be pleased

To tell us in what way the soul is bound
  Within these knots; and tell us, if thou canst,
  If any from such members e'er is freed."

Then blew the trunk amain, and afterward
  The wind was into such a voice converted:
  "With brevity shall be replied to you.

When the exasperated soul abandons
  The body whence it rent itself away,
  Minos consigns it to the seventh abyss.

It falls into the forest, and no part
  Is chosen for it; but where Fortune hurls it,
  There like a grain of spelt it germinates.

It springs a sapling, and a forest tree;
  The Harpies, feeding then upon its leaves,
  Do pain create, and for the pain an outlet.

Like others for our spoils shall we return;
  But not that any one may them revest,
  For 'tis not just to have what one casts off.

Here we shall drag them, and along the dismal
  Forest our bodies shall suspended be,
  Each to the thorn of his molested shade."

We were attentive still unto the trunk,
  Thinking that more it yet might wish to tell us,
  When by a tumult we were overtaken,

In the same way as he is who perceives
  The boar and chase approaching to his stand,
  Who hears the crashing of the beasts and branches;

And two behold! upon our left-hand side,
  Naked and scratched, fleeing so furiously,
  That of the forest, every fan they broke.

He who was in advance: "Now help, Death, help!"
  And the other one, who seemed to lag too much,
  Was shouting: "Lano, were not so alert

Those legs of thine at joustings of the Toppo!"
  And then, perchance because his breath was failing,
  He grouped himself together with a bush.

Behind them was the forest full of black
  She-mastiffs, ravenous, and swift of foot
  As greyhounds, who are issuing from the chain.

On him who had crouched down they set their teeth,
  And him they lacerated piece by piece,
  Thereafter bore away those aching members.

Thereat my Escort took me by the hand,
  And led me to the bush, that all in vain
  Was weeping from its bloody lacerations.

"O Jacopo," it said, "of Sant' Andrea,
  What helped it thee of me to make a screen?
  What blame have I in thy nefarious life?"

When near him had the Master stayed his steps,
  He said: "Who wast thou, that through wounds so many
  Art blowing out with blood thy dolorous speech?"

And he to us: "O souls, that hither come
  To look upon the shameful massacre
  That has so rent away from me my leaves,

Gather them up beneath the dismal bush;
  I of that city was which to the Baptist
  Changed its first patron, wherefore he for this

Forever with his art will make it sad.
  And were it not that on the pass of Arno
  Some glimpses of him are remaining still,

Those citizens, who afterwards rebuilt it
  Upon the ashes left by Attila,
  In vain had caused their labour to be done.

Of my own house I made myself a gibbet."

Cary Translation


ERE Nessus yet had reach'd the other bank,
We enter'd on a forest, where no track
Of steps had worn a way. Not verdant there
The foliage, but of dusky hue; not light
The boughs and tapering, but with knares deform'd
And matted thick: fruits there were none, but thorns
Instead, with venom fill'd. Less sharp than these,
Less intricate the brakes, wherein abide
Those animals, that hate the cultur'd fields,
Betwixt Corneto and Cecina's stream.

Here the brute Harpies make their nest, the same
Who from the Strophades the Trojan band
Drove with dire boding of their future woe.
Broad are their pennons, of the human form
Their neck and count'nance, arm'd with talons keen
The feet, and the huge belly fledge with wings
These sit and wail on the drear mystic wood.

The kind instructor in these words began:
"Ere farther thou proceed, know thou art now
I' th' second round, and shalt be, till thou come
Upon the horrid sand: look therefore well
Around thee, and such things thou shalt behold,
As would my speech discredit." On all sides
I heard sad plainings breathe, and none could see
From whom they might have issu'd. In amaze
Fast bound I stood. He, as it seem'd, believ'd,
That I had thought so many voices came
From some amid those thickets close conceal'd,
And thus his speech resum'd: "If thou lop off
A single twig from one of those ill plants,
The thought thou hast conceiv'd shall vanish quite."

Thereat a little stretching forth my hand,
From a great wilding gather'd I a branch,
And straight the trunk exclaim'd: "Why pluck'st thou me?"

Then as the dark blood trickled down its side,
These words it added: "Wherefore tear'st me thus?
Is there no touch of mercy in thy breast?
Men once were we, that now are rooted here.
Thy hand might well have spar'd us, had we been
The souls of serpents." As a brand yet green,
That burning at one end from the' other sends
A groaning sound, and hisses with the wind
That forces out its way, so burst at once,
Forth from the broken splinter words and blood.

I, letting fall the bough, remain'd as one
Assail'd by terror, and the sage replied:
"If he, O injur'd spirit! could have believ'd
What he hath seen but in my verse describ'd,
He never against thee had stretch'd his hand.
But I, because the thing surpass'd belief,
Prompted him to this deed, which even now
Myself I rue. But tell me, who thou wast;
That, for this wrong to do thee some amends,
In the upper world (for thither to return
Is granted him) thy fame he may revive."

"That pleasant word of thine," the trunk replied
"Hath so inveigled me, that I from speech
Cannot refrain, wherein if I indulge
A little longer, in the snare detain'd,
Count it not grievous. I it was, who held
Both keys to Frederick's heart, and turn'd the wards,
Opening and shutting, with a skill so sweet,
That besides me, into his inmost breast
Scarce any other could admittance find.
The faith I bore to my high charge was such,
It cost me the life-blood that warm'd my veins.
The harlot, who ne'er turn'd her gloating eyes
From Caesar's household, common vice and pest
Of courts, 'gainst me inflam'd the minds of all;
And to Augustus they so spread the flame,
That my glad honours chang'd to bitter woes.
My soul, disdainful and disgusted, sought
Refuge in death from scorn, and I became,
Just as I was, unjust toward myself.
By the new roots, which fix this stem, I swear,
That never faith I broke to my liege lord,
Who merited such honour; and of you,
If any to the world indeed return,
Clear he from wrong my memory, that lies
Yet prostrate under envy's cruel blow."

First somewhat pausing, till the mournful words
Were ended, then to me the bard began:
"Lose not the time; but speak and of him ask,
If more thou wish to learn." Whence I replied:
"Question thou him again of whatsoe'er
Will, as thou think'st, content me; for no power
Have I to ask, such pity' is at my heart."

He thus resum'd; "So may he do for thee
Freely what thou entreatest, as thou yet
Be pleas'd, imprison'd Spirit! to declare,
How in these gnarled joints the soul is tied;
And whether any ever from such frame
Be loosen'd, if thou canst, that also tell."

Thereat the trunk breath'd hard, and the wind soon
Chang'd into sounds articulate like these;

"Briefly ye shall be answer'd. When departs
The fierce soul from the body, by itself
Thence torn asunder, to the seventh gulf
By Minos doom'd, into the wood it falls,
No place assign'd, but wheresoever chance
Hurls it, there sprouting, as a grain of spelt,
It rises to a sapling, growing thence
A savage plant. The Harpies, on its leaves
Then feeding, cause both pain and for the pain
A vent to grief. We, as the rest, shall come
For our own spoils, yet not so that with them
We may again be clad; for what a man
Takes from himself it is not just he have.
Here we perforce shall drag them; and throughout
The dismal glade our bodies shall be hung,
Each on the wild thorn of his wretched shade."

Attentive yet to listen to the trunk
We stood, expecting farther speech, when us
A noise surpris'd, as when a man perceives
The wild boar and the hunt approach his place
Of station'd watch, who of the beasts and boughs
Loud rustling round him hears. And lo! there came
Two naked, torn with briers, in headlong flight,
That they before them broke each fan o' th' wood.
"Haste now," the foremost cried, "now haste thee death!"

The' other, as seem'd, impatient of delay
Exclaiming, "Lano! not so bent for speed
Thy sinews, in the lists of Toppo's field."
And then, for that perchance no longer breath
Suffic'd him, of himself and of a bush
One group he made. Behind them was the wood
Full of black female mastiffs, gaunt and fleet,
As greyhounds that have newly slipp'd the leash.
On him, who squatted down, they stuck their fangs,
And having rent him piecemeal bore away
The tortur'd limbs. My guide then seiz'd my hand,
And led me to the thicket, which in vain
Mourn'd through its bleeding wounds: "O Giacomo
Of Sant' Andrea! what avails it thee,"
It cried, "that of me thou hast made thy screen?
For thy ill life what blame on me recoils?"

When o'er it he had paus'd, my master spake:
"Say who wast thou, that at so many points
Breath'st out with blood thy lamentable speech?"

He answer'd: "Oh, ye spirits: arriv'd in time
To spy the shameful havoc, that from me
My leaves hath sever'd thus, gather them up,
And at the foot of their sad parent-tree
Carefully lay them. In that city' I dwelt,
Who for the Baptist her first patron chang'd,
Whence he for this shall cease not with his art
To work her woe: and if there still remain'd not
On Arno's passage some faint glimpse of him,
Those citizens, who rear'd once more her walls
Upon the ashes left by Attila,
Had labour'd without profit of their toil.
I slung the fatal noose from my own roof."

Norton Translation

CANTO XIII. Second round of the Seventh Circle: of those who have
done violence to themselves and to their goods.--The Wood of
Self-murderers.--The Harpies.--Pier delle Vigne.--Lano of Siena
and others.

Nessus had not yet reached the yonder bank when we set forward
through a wood which was marked by no path. Not green leaves but
of a dusky color, not smooth boughs but knotty and gnarled, not
fruits were there but thorns with poison. Those savage beasts
that hold in hate the tilled places between Cecina and Corneto
have no thickets so rough or so dense.

Here the foul Harpies make their nests, who chased the Trojans
from the Strophades with dismal announcement of future calamity.
They have broad wings, and human necks and faces, feet with
claws, and a great feathered belly. They make lament upon the
strange trees.

And the good Master, "Before thou enter farther know that thou
art in the second round," he began to say to me, "and wilt be,
till thou shalt come unto the horrible sand. Therefore look well
around, and so thou shalt see things that would take credence
from my speech."[1]

[1] Things which if told would seem incredible.

I heard wailings uttered on every side, and I saw no one who
might make them, wherefore, I, all bewildered, stopped. I believe
that he believed that I believed that all these voices issued
amid those stumps from people who because of us had hidden

Therefore said the Master, "If thou break off a twig from one of
these plants, the thoughts thou hast will all be cut short." Then
I stretched my hand a little forward and plucked a branchlet from
a great thorn-bush, and its trunk cried out, "Why dost thou rend
me?" When it had become dark with blood it began again to cry,
"Why dost thou tear me? hast thou not any spirit of pity? Men we
were, and now we are become stocks; truly thy hand ought to be
more pitiful had we been the souls of serpents."

As from a green log that is burning at one of its ends, and from
the other drips, and hisses with the air that is escaping, so
from that broken splinter came out words and blood together;
whereon I let the tip fall, and stood like a man who is afraid.

"If he had been able to believe before," replied my Sage, "O
wounded soul, what he has seen only in my verse,[1] he would not
upon thee have stretched his hand. But the incredible thing made
me prompt him to an act which grieves my very self. But tell him
who thou wast, so that, by way of some amends, he may refresh thy
fame in the world above, whereto it is allowed him to return."

[1] In the story of Polydorus, in the third book of the Aeneid.

And the trunk, "So with sweet speech dost thou allure me, that I
cannot be silent, and may it not displease you, that I am enticed
to speak a little. I am he who held both the keys of the heart of
Frederick, and who turned them, locking and unlocking so softly,
that from his confidence I kept almost every one.[1] Fidelity so
great I bore to the glorious office, that I lost slumber and
strength thereby. The harlot,[2] that never from the abode of
Caear turned her strumpet eyes,--the common death and vice of
courts,--inflamed all minds against me, and they, inflamed, did
so inflame Augustus that my glad honors turned to dismal sorrows.
My mind, in scornful temper thinking to escape scorn by death,
made me unjust toward my just self. By the strange roots of this
tree I swear to you, that I never broke faith unto my lord who
was so worthy of honor. And if one of you returneth to the world,
let him comfort my memory that yet lies prostrate from the blow
that envy gave it."

[1] The spirit who speaks is Pier delle Vigne, the Chancellor of
Frederick II.; of low birth, he rose to the first place in the
state; he was one of the earliest writers of Italian verse. Dante
has placed his master as well as him in Hell. See Canto X.

[3] Envie ys lavendere of the court alway;
For she ne parteth neither nyght ne day
Out of the house of Cesar, thus saith Daunte.
Legende of Goode Women, 358.60.

A while he paused, and then, "Since he is silent," said the Poet
to me, "lose not the hour, but speak and ask of him, if more
pleaseth thee." Whereon I to him, "Do thou ask him further of
what thou thinkest may satisfy me, for I cannot, such pity fills
my heart."

Therefore he began again, "So may this man do for thee freely
what thy speech prays, spirit incarcerate, still be pleased to
tell us how the soul is bound within these knots, and tell us, if
thou canst, if any from such limbs is ever loosed."

Then the trunk puffed strongly, and soon that wind was changed
into this voice: "Briefly shall ye be answered. When the
ferocious soul departeth from the body wherefrom itself hath torn
itself, Minos sends it to the seventh gulf. It falls into the
wood, and no part is chosen for it, but where fortune flings it,
there it takes root like a grain of spelt; it springs up in a
shoot and to a wild plant. The Harpies, feeding then upon its
leaves, give pain, and to the pain a window.[1] Like the rest
we shall go for our spoils,[2] but not, forsooth, that any one
may revest himself with them, for it is not just to have that of
which one deprives himself. Hither shall we drag them, and
through the melancholy wood shall our bodies be suspended, each
on the thorn-tree of his molested shade."

[1] The tearing of the leaves gives an outlet to the woe.

[2] Our bodies, at the Last Judgment.

We were still attentive to the trunk, believing that it might
wish to say more to us, when we were surprised by an uproar, as
one who perceives the wild boar and the chase coming toward his
stand and hears the Feasts and the branches crashing. And behold
two on the left hand, naked and scratched, flying so violently
that they broke all the limbs of the wood. The one in front was
shouting, "Now, help, help, Death!" and the other, who seemed to
himself too slow, "Lano, thy legs were not so nimble at the
jousts of the Toppo:"[1] and when perhaps his breath was
failing, of himself and of a bush he made a group. Behind them
the wood was full of black bitches, ravenous and running like
greyhounds that have been unleashed. On him that had squatted
they set their teeth and tore him to pieces, bit by bit, then
carried off his woeful limbs.

[1] Lano was slain in flight at the defeat of the Sienese by the
Aretines, near the Pieve del Toppo, in 1280. He and Jacomo were
notorious prodigals.

My Guide then took me by the hand, and led me to the bush, which
was weeping through its bleeding breaks in vain. "O Jacomo of
Sant' Andrea," it was saying, "what hath it vantaged thee to make
of me a screen? What blame have I for thy wicked life?" When the
Master had stopped beside it, he said, "Who wast thou, who
through so many wounds blowest forth with blood thy woeful
speech?" And he to us, "O souls who art arrived to see the
shameful ravage that hath thus disjoined my leaves from me,
collect them at the foot of the wretched bush. I was of the city
which for the Baptist changed her first patron;[1] wherefore will
he always make her sorrowful with his art. And were it not that
at the passage of the Arno some semblance of him yet remains,
those citizens who afterwards rebuilt it upon the ashes that were
left by Attila[2] would have labored in vain. I made a gibbet for
myself of my own dwelling."

[1] The first patron of florence was Mars; a fragment of a statue
of whom stood till 1333 on the Ponte Vecchio.

[2] It was not Attila, but Totila, who in 542 besieged Florence,
and, according to false popular tradition, burned it. The names
and personages were frequently confounded in the Dark Ages.

Browse the cantos of the Inferno:

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] [28] [29] [30] [31] [32] [33] [34]