Side by Side Translations of Dante's Inferno - Canto 16

Inferno: Canto XVI

Now was I where was heard the reverberation
  Of water falling into the next round,
  Like to that humming which the beehives make,

When shadows three together started forth,
  Running, from out a company that passed
  Beneath the rain of the sharp martyrdom.

Towards us came they, and each one cried out:
  "Stop, thou; for by thy garb to us thou seemest
  To be some one of our depraved city."

Ah me! what wounds I saw upon their limbs,
  Recent and ancient by the flames burnt in!
  It pains me still but to remember it.

Unto their cries my Teacher paused attentive;
  He turned his face towards me, and "Now wait,"
  He said; "to these we should be courteous.

And if it were not for the fire that darts
  The nature of this region, I should say
  That haste were more becoming thee than them."

As soon as we stood still, they recommenced
  The old refrain, and when they overtook us,
  Formed of themselves a wheel, all three of them.

As champions stripped and oiled are wont to do,
  Watching for their advantage and their hold,
  Before they come to blows and thrusts between them,

Thus, wheeling round, did every one his visage
  Direct to me, so that in opposite wise
  His neck and feet continual journey made.

And, "If the misery of this soft place
  Bring in disdain ourselves and our entreaties,"
  Began one, "and our aspect black and blistered,

Let the renown of us thy mind incline
  To tell us who thou art, who thus securely
  Thy living feet dost move along through Hell.

He in whose footprints thou dost see me treading,
  Naked and skinless though he now may go,
  Was of a greater rank than thou dost think;

He was the grandson of the good Gualdrada;
  His name was Guidoguerra, and in life
  Much did he with his wisdom and his sword.

The other, who close by me treads the sand,
  Tegghiaio Aldobrandi is, whose fame
  Above there in the world should welcome be.

And I, who with them on the cross am placed,
  Jacopo Rusticucci was; and truly
  My savage wife, more than aught else, doth harm me."

Could I have been protected from the fire,
  Below I should have thrown myself among them,
  And think the Teacher would have suffered it;

But as I should have burned and baked myself,
  My terror overmastered my good will,
  Which made me greedy of embracing them.

Then I began: "Sorrow and not disdain
  Did your condition fix within me so,
  That tardily it wholly is stripped off,

As soon as this my Lord said unto me
  Words, on account of which I thought within me
  That people such as you are were approaching.

I of your city am; and evermore
  Your labours and your honourable names
  I with affection have retraced and heard.

I leave the gall, and go for the sweet fruits
  Promised to me by the veracious Leader;
  But to the centre first I needs must plunge."

"So may the soul for a long while conduct
  Those limbs of thine," did he make answer then,
  "And so may thy renown shine after thee,

Valour and courtesy, say if they dwell
  Within our city, as they used to do,
  Or if they wholly have gone out of it;

For Guglielmo Borsier, who is in torment
  With us of late, and goes there with his comrades,
  Doth greatly mortify us with his words."

"The new inhabitants and the sudden gains,
  Pride and extravagance have in thee engendered,
  Florence, so that thou weep'st thereat already!"

In this wise I exclaimed with face uplifted;
  And the three, taking that for my reply,
  Looked at each other, as one looks at truth.

"If other times so little it doth cost thee,"
  Replied they all, "to satisfy another,
  Happy art thou, thus speaking at thy will!

Therefore, if thou escape from these dark places,
  And come to rebehold the beauteous stars,
  When it shall pleasure thee to say, 'I was,'

See that thou speak of us unto the people."
  Then they broke up the wheel, and in their flight
  It seemed as if their agile legs were wings.

Not an Amen could possibly be said
  So rapidly as they had disappeared;
  Wherefore the Master deemed best to depart.

I followed him, and little had we gone,
  Before the sound of water was so near us,
  That speaking we should hardly have been heard.

Even as that stream which holdeth its own course
  The first from Monte Veso tow'rds the East,
  Upon the left-hand slope of Apennine,

Which is above called Acquacheta, ere
  It down descendeth into its low bed,
  And at Forli is vacant of that name,

Reverberates there above San Benedetto
  From Alps, by falling at a single leap,
  Where for a thousand there were room enough;

Thus downward from a bank precipitate,
  We found resounding that dark-tinted water,
  So that it soon the ear would have offended.

I had a cord around about me girt,
  And therewithal I whilom had designed
  To take the panther with the painted skin.

After I this had all from me unloosed,
  As my Conductor had commanded me,
  I reached it to him, gathered up and coiled,

Whereat he turned himself to the right side,
  And at a little distance from the verge,
  He cast it down into that deep abyss.

"It must needs be some novelty respond,"
  I said within myself, "to the new signal
  The Master with his eye is following so."

Ah me! how very cautious men should be
  With those who not alone behold the act,
  But with their wisdom look into the thoughts!

He said to me: "Soon there will upward come
  What I await; and what thy thought is dreaming
  Must soon reveal itself unto thy sight."

Aye to that truth which has the face of falsehood,
  A man should close his lips as far as may be,
  Because without his fault it causes shame;

But here I cannot; and, Reader, by the notes
  Of this my Comedy to thee I swear,
  So may they not be void of lasting favour,

Athwart that dense and darksome atmosphere
  I saw a figure swimming upward come,
  Marvellous unto every steadfast heart,

Even as he returns who goeth down
  Sometimes to clear an anchor, which has grappled
  Reef, or aught else that in the sea is hidden,

Who upward stretches, and draws in his feet.

Cary Translation


NOW came I where the water's din was heard,
As down it fell into the other round,
Resounding like the hum of swarming bees:
When forth together issu'd from a troop,
That pass'd beneath the fierce tormenting storm,
Three spirits, running swift. They towards us came,
And each one cried aloud, "Oh do thou stay!
Whom by the fashion of thy garb we deem
To be some inmate of our evil land."

Ah me! what wounds I mark'd upon their limbs,
Recent and old, inflicted by the flames!
E'en the remembrance of them grieves me yet.

Attentive to their cry my teacher paus'd,
And turn'd to me his visage, and then spake;
"Wait now! our courtesy these merit well:
And were 't not for the nature of the place,
Whence glide the fiery darts, I should have said,
That haste had better suited thee than them."

They, when we stopp'd, resum'd their ancient wail,
And soon as they had reach'd us, all the three
Whirl'd round together in one restless wheel.
As naked champions, smear'd with slippery oil,
Are wont intent to watch their place of hold
And vantage, ere in closer strife they meet;
Thus each one, as he wheel'd, his countenance
At me directed, so that opposite
The neck mov'd ever to the twinkling feet.

"If misery of this drear wilderness,"
Thus one began, "added to our sad cheer
And destitute, do call forth scorn on us
And our entreaties, let our great renown
Incline thee to inform us who thou art,
That dost imprint with living feet unharm'd
The soil of Hell. He, in whose track thou see'st
My steps pursuing, naked though he be
And reft of all, was of more high estate
Than thou believest; grandchild of the chaste
Gualdrada, him they Guidoguerra call'd,
Who in his lifetime many a noble act
Achiev'd, both by his wisdom and his sword.
The other, next to me that beats the sand,
Is Aldobrandi, name deserving well,
In the' upper world, of honour; and myself
Who in this torment do partake with them,
Am Rusticucci, whom, past doubt, my wife
Of savage temper, more than aught beside
Hath to this evil brought." If from the fire
I had been shelter'd, down amidst them straight
I then had cast me, nor my guide, I deem,
Would have restrain'd my going; but that fear
Of the dire burning vanquish'd the desire,
Which made me eager of their wish'd embrace.

I then began: "Not scorn, but grief much more,
Such as long time alone can cure, your doom
Fix'd deep within me, soon as this my lord
Spake words, whose tenour taught me to expect
That such a race, as ye are, was at hand.
I am a countryman of yours, who still
Affectionate have utter'd, and have heard
Your deeds and names renown'd. Leaving the gall
For the sweet fruit I go, that a sure guide
Hath promis'd to me. But behooves, that far
As to the centre first I downward tend."

"So may long space thy spirit guide thy limbs,"
He answer straight return'd; "and so thy fame
Shine bright, when thou art gone; as thou shalt tell,
If courtesy and valour, as they wont,
Dwell in our city, or have vanish'd clean?
For one amidst us late condemn'd to wail,
Borsiere, yonder walking with his peers,
Grieves us no little by the news he brings."

"An upstart multitude and sudden gains,
Pride and excess, O Florence! have in thee
Engender'd, so that now in tears thou mourn'st!"
Thus cried I with my face uprais'd, and they
All three, who for an answer took my words,
Look'd at each other, as men look when truth
Comes to their ear. "If thou at other times,"
They all at once rejoin'd, "so easily
Satisfy those, who question, happy thou,
Gifted with words, so apt to speak thy thought!
Wherefore if thou escape this darksome clime,
Returning to behold the radiant stars,
When thou with pleasure shalt retrace the past,
See that of us thou speak among mankind."

This said, they broke the circle, and so swift
Fled, that as pinions seem'd their nimble feet.

Not in so short a time might one have said
"Amen," as they had vanish'd. Straight my guide
Pursu'd his track. I follow'd; and small space
Had we pass'd onward, when the water's sound
Was now so near at hand, that we had scarce
Heard one another's speech for the loud din.

E'en as the river, that holds on its course
Unmingled, from the mount of Vesulo,
On the left side of Apennine, toward
The east, which Acquacheta higher up
They call, ere it descend into the vale,
At Forli by that name no longer known,
Rebellows o'er Saint Benedict, roll'd on
From the' Alpine summit down a precipice,
Where space enough to lodge a thousand spreads;
Thus downward from a craggy steep we found,
That this dark wave resounded, roaring loud,
So that the ear its clamour soon had stunn'd.

I had a cord that brac'd my girdle round,
Wherewith I erst had thought fast bound to take
The painted leopard. This when I had all
Unloosen'd from me (so my master bade)
I gather'd up, and stretch'd it forth to him.
Then to the right he turn'd, and from the brink
Standing few paces distant, cast it down
Into the deep abyss. "And somewhat strange,"
Thus to myself I spake, "signal so strange
Betokens, which my guide with earnest eye
Thus follows." Ah! what caution must men use
With those who look not at the deed alone,
But spy into the thoughts with subtle skill!

"Quickly shall come," he said, "what I expect,
Thine eye discover quickly, that whereof
Thy thought is dreaming." Ever to that truth,
Which but the semblance of a falsehood wears,
A man, if possible, should bar his lip;
Since, although blameless, he incurs reproach.
But silence here were vain; and by these notes
Which now I sing, reader! I swear to thee,
So may they favour find to latest times!
That through the gross and murky air I spied
A shape come swimming up, that might have quell'd
The stoutest heart with wonder, in such guise
As one returns, who hath been down to loose
An anchor grappled fast against some rock,
Or to aught else that in the salt wave lies,
Who upward springing close draws in his feet.

Norton Translation

CANTO XVI. Third round of the Seventh Circle: of those who have
done violence to Nature.--Guido Guerra, Tegghiaio Aldobrandi and
Jacopo Rusticucci.--The roar of Phlegethon as it pours downward.--
The cord thrown into the abyss.

Now was I in a place where the resounding of the water that was
falling into the next circle was heard, like that hum which the
beehives make, when three shades together separated themselves,
running, from a troop that was passing under the rain of the
bitter torment. They came toward us, and each cried out, "Stop
thou, that by thy garb seemest to us to be one from our wicked

Ah me! what wounds I saw upon their limbs, recent and old, burnt
in by the flames. Still it grieves me for them but to remember

To their cries my Teacher gave heed; he turned his face toward
me, and "Now wait," he said; "to these one should be courteous,
and were it not for the fire that the nature of the place shoots
out, I should say that haste better befitted thee than them."

They began again, when we stopped, the old verse, and when they
had reached us they made a wheel of themselves all three. As
champions naked and oiled are wont to do, watching their hold and
their vantage, before they come to blows and thrusts, thus,
wheeling, each directed his face on me, so that his neck in
contrary direction to his feet was making continuous journey.

"Ah! if the misery of this shifting sand bring us and our prayers
into contempt," began one, "and our darkened and blistered
aspect, let our fame incline thy mind to tell us who thou art,
that so securely plantest thy living feet in Hell. He whose
tracks thou seest me trample, though he go naked and singed, was
of greater state than thou thinkest. Grandson he was of the good
Gualdrada; his name was Guidoguerra, and in his life he did much
with counsel, and with the sword. The other who treads the sand
behind me is Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, whose fame should be welcome
in the world above. And I, who am set with them on the cross, was
Jacopo Rusticucci,[1] and surely my savage wife more than aught
else injures.

[1] Concerning Tegghiaio and Rusticucci Dante had enquired of
Ciacco, Canto vi. They and Guido Guerra were illustrious citizens
of Florence in the thirteenth century. Their deeds are recorded
by Villani and Ricordano Malespini. The good Gualdrada, famed for
her beauty and her modesty, was the daughter of Messer
Bellincione Berti, referred to in Cantos w. and wi. of Paradise
as one of the early worthies of the city. See O. Villani,
Cronica. V. xxxvii.

If I could have been sheltered from the fire I would have cast
myself below among them, and I think that the Teacher would have
permitted it; but because I should have been scorched and baked,
fear overcame my good will that made me greedy to embrace them.
Then I began: "Not contempt, but grief, did your condition fix
within me, so that slowly will it be all divested, soon as this
my Lord said words to me by which I understood that such folk as
ye are might be coming. Of your city I am; and always your deeds
and honored names have I retraced and heard with affection. I
leave the gall and go for the sweet fruits promised me by my
veracious Leader; but far as the centre needs must I first

"So may thy soul long direct thy limbs," replied he then, "and so
may thy fame shine after thee, say if courtesy and valor abide in
our city as they were wont, or if they have quite gone forth from
it? For Guglielmo Borsiere,[1] who is in torment with us but
short while, and goes yonder with our companions, afflicts us
greatly with his words."

[1] Nothing is known from contemporary record of Borsiere, but
Boccaccio tells a story of him in the Decameron, giorn. i. nov.

"The new people and the sudden gains [1] have generated pride and
excess, Florence, in thee, so that already thou weepest thereat."
Thus cried I with face uplifted. And the three, who understood
that for answer, looked one at the other, as men look at hearing

[1] Florence had grown rapidly in population and in wealth during
the last years of the thirteenth century.

"If other times it costeth thee so little," replied they all, "to
satisfy others, happy thou that thus speakest at thy pleasure.
Therefore, if thou escapest from these dark places, and returnest
to see again the beautiful stars, when it shall rejoice thee to
say, 'I have been,' mind thou speak of us unto the people." Then
they broke the wheel, and in flying their swift legs seemed

Not an amen could have been said so quickly as they had
disappeared; wherefore it seemed good to my Master to depart. I
followed him, and we had gone little way before the sound of the
water was so near to us, that had we spoken we scarce had heard.
As that river on the left slope of the Apennine, which, the first
from Monte Veso toward the east, has its proper course,--which is
called Acquacheta up above, before it sinks valleyward into its
low bed, and at Forli no longer has that name,[1] --reverberates
from the alp in falling with a single leap there above San
Benedetto, where there ought to be shelter for a thousand;[2]
thus down from a precipitous bank we found that dark-tinted water
resounding, so that in short while it would have hurt the ears.

[1] At Forli the river is called the Montone; it was the first of
the rivers on the left of the Apennines that had its course to
the sea; the others before it being tributaries of the Po, which
rises on Monte Veso.

[2] These last words are obscure, and none of the commentators
explain them satisfactorily.

I had a cord girt around me, and with it I had once thought to
take the leopard of the dappled skin.[1] After I had loosed it
wholly from me, even as my Leader had commanded me, I reached it
to him wound up and coiled. Whereon he turned toward the right,
and somewhat far from the edge threw it down into that deep
abyss. "And surely some strange thing must needs respond," said I
to myself, "to the strange signal which the Master so follows
with his eye."

[2] The leopard of the dappled skin, which had often turned
back Dante from the Mountain to the Dark Wood (see Canto i.); the
type of sensual sin. The cord is the type of religions
asceticism, of which the poet no longer has need. The meaning of
its use as a signal is not apparent.

Ah! how cautious men ought to be near those who see not only the
act, but with their wisdom look within the thoughts. He said to
me: "Soon will come up that which I await, and what thy thought
is dreaming must soon discover itself unto thy sight."

To that truth which has the aspect of falsehood ought one always
to close his lips so far as he can, because without fault it
causes shame;[1] but here I cannot be silent, and by the notes of
this comedy, Reader, I swear to thee,--so may they not be void of
lasting grace,--that I saw through that thick and dark air a
shape come swimming upwards marvelous to every steadfast heart;
like as he returns who goes down sometimes to loose an anchor
that grapples either a rock or other thing that in the sea is
hid, who stretches upward, and draws in his feet.

[1] Because the narrator is falsely taxed with falsehood.

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]