Inferno: Canto XXI
From bridge to bridge thus, speaking other things
Of which my Comedy cares not to sing,
We came along, and held the summit, when
We halted to behold another fissure
Of Malebolge and other vain laments;
And I beheld it marvellously dark.
As in the Arsenal of the Venetians
Boils in the winter the tenacious pitch
To smear their unsound vessels o'er again,
For sail they cannot; and instead thereof
One makes his vessel new, and one recaulks
The ribs of that which many a voyage has made;
One hammers at the prow, one at the stern,
This one makes oars, and that one cordage twists,
Another mends the mainsail and the mizzen;
Thus, not by fire, but by the art divine,
Was boiling down below there a dense pitch
Which upon every side the bank belimed.
I saw it, but I did not see within it
Aught but the bubbles that the boiling raised,
And all swell up and resubside compressed.
The while below there fixedly I gazed,
My Leader, crying out: "Beware, beware!"
Drew me unto himself from where I stood.
Then I turned round, as one who is impatient
To see what it behoves him to escape,
And whom a sudden terror doth unman,
Who, while he looks, delays not his departure;
And I beheld behind us a black devil,
Running along upon the crag, approach.
Ah, how ferocious was he in his aspect!
And how he seemed to me in action ruthless,
With open wings and light upon his feet!
His shoulders, which sharp-pointed were and high,
A sinner did encumber with both haunches,
And he held clutched the sinews of the feet.
From off our bridge, he said: "O Malebranche,
Behold one of the elders of Saint Zita;
Plunge him beneath, for I return for others
Unto that town, which is well furnished with them.
All there are barrators, except Bonturo;
No into Yes for money there is changed."
He hurled him down, and over the hard crag
Turned round, and never was a mastiff loosened
In so much hurry to pursue a thief.
The other sank, and rose again face downward;
But the demons, under cover of the bridge,
Cried: "Here the Santo Volto has no place!
Here swims one otherwise than in the Serchio;
Therefore, if for our gaffs thou wishest not,
Do not uplift thyself above the pitch."
They seized him then with more than a hundred rakes;
They said: "It here behoves thee to dance covered,
That, if thou canst, thou secretly mayest pilfer."
Not otherwise the cooks their scullions make
Immerse into the middle of the caldron
The meat with hooks, so that it may not float.
Said the good Master to me: "That it be not
Apparent thou art here, crouch thyself down
Behind a jag, that thou mayest have some screen;
And for no outrage that is done to me
Be thou afraid, because these things I know,
For once before was I in such a scuffle."
Then he passed on beyond the bridge's head,
And as upon the sixth bank he arrived,
Need was for him to have a steadfast front.
With the same fury, and the same uproar,
As dogs leap out upon a mendicant,
Who on a sudden begs, where'er he stops,
They issued from beneath the little bridge,
And turned against him all their grappling-irons;
But he cried out: "Be none of you malignant!
Before those hooks of yours lay hold of me,
Let one of you step forward, who may hear me,
And then take counsel as to grappling me."
They all cried out: "Let Malacoda go;"
Whereat one started, and the rest stood still,
And he came to him, saying: "What avails it?"
"Thinkest thou, Malacoda, to behold me
Advanced into this place," my Master said,
"Safe hitherto from all your skill of fence,
Without the will divine, and fate auspicious?
Let me go on, for it in Heaven is willed
That I another show this savage road."
Then was his arrogance so humbled in him,
That he let fall his grapnel at his feet,
And to the others said: "Now strike him not."
And unto me my Guide: "O thou, who sittest
Among the splinters of the bridge crouched down,
Securely now return to me again."
Wherefore I started and came swiftly to him;
And all the devils forward thrust themselves,
So that I feared they would not keep their compact.
And thus beheld I once afraid the soldiers
Who issued under safeguard from Caprona,
Seeing themselves among so many foes.
Close did I press myself with all my person
Beside my Leader, and turned not mine eyes
From off their countenance, which was not good.
They lowered their rakes, and "Wilt thou have me hit him,"
They said to one another, "on the rump?"
And answered: "Yes; see that thou nick him with it."
But the same demon who was holding parley
With my Conductor turned him very quickly,
And said: "Be quiet, be quiet, Scarmiglione;"
Then said to us: "You can no farther go
Forward upon this crag, because is lying
All shattered, at the bottom, the sixth arch.
And if it still doth please you to go onward,
Pursue your way along upon this rock;
Near is another crag that yields a path.
Yesterday, five hours later than this hour,
One thousand and two hundred sixty-six
Years were complete, that here the way was broken.
I send in that direction some of mine
To see if any one doth air himself;
Go ye with them; for they will not be vicious.
Step forward, Alichino and Calcabrina,"
Began he to cry out, "and thou, Cagnazzo;
And Barbariccia, do thou guide the ten.
Come forward, Libicocco and Draghignazzo,
And tusked Ciriatto and Graffiacane,
And Farfarello and mad Rubicante;
Search ye all round about the boiling pitch;
Let these be safe as far as the next crag,
That all unbroken passes o'er the dens."
"O me! what is it, Master, that I see?
Pray let us go," I said, "without an escort,
If thou knowest how, since for myself I ask none.
If thou art as observant as thy wont is,
Dost thou not see that they do gnash their teeth,
And with their brows are threatening woe to us?"
And he to me: "I will not have thee fear;
Let them gnash on, according to their fancy,
Because they do it for those boiling wretches."
Along the left-hand dike they wheeled about;
But first had each one thrust his tongue between
His teeth towards their leader for a signal;
And he had made a trumpet of his rump.
THUS we from bridge to bridge, with other talk,
The which my drama cares not to rehearse,
Pass'd on; and to the summit reaching, stood
To view another gap, within the round
Of Malebolge, other bootless pangs.
Marvelous darkness shadow'd o'er the place.
In the Venetians' arsenal as boils
Through wintry months tenacious pitch, to smear
Their unsound vessels; for th' inclement time
Sea-faring men restrains, and in that while
His bark one builds anew, another stops
The ribs of his, that hath made many a voyage;
One hammers at the prow, one at the poop;
This shapeth oars, that other cables twirls,
The mizen one repairs and main-sail rent
So not by force of fire but art divine
Boil'd here a glutinous thick mass, that round
Lim'd all the shore beneath. I that beheld,
But therein nought distinguish'd, save the surge,
Rais'd by the boiling, in one mighty swell
Heave, and by turns subsiding and fall. While there
I fix'd my ken below, "Mark! mark!" my guide
Exclaiming, drew me towards him from the place,
Wherein I stood. I turn'd myself as one,
Impatient to behold that which beheld
He needs must shun, whom sudden fear unmans,
That he his flight delays not for the view.
Behind me I discern'd a devil black,
That running, up advanc'd along the rock.
Ah! what fierce cruelty his look bespake!
In act how bitter did he seem, with wings
Buoyant outstretch'd and feet of nimblest tread!
His shoulder proudly eminent and sharp
Was with a sinner charg'd; by either haunch
He held him, the foot's sinew griping fast.
"Ye of our bridge!" he cried, "keen-talon'd fiends!
Lo! one of Santa Zita's elders! Him
Whelm ye beneath, while I return for more.
That land hath store of such. All men are there,
Except Bonturo, barterers: of 'no'
For lucre there an 'aye' is quickly made."
Him dashing down, o'er the rough rock he turn'd,
Nor ever after thief a mastiff loos'd
Sped with like eager haste. That other sank
And forthwith writing to the surface rose.
But those dark demons, shrouded by the bridge,
Cried "Here the hallow'd visage saves not: here
Is other swimming than in Serchio's wave.
Wherefore if thou desire we rend thee not,
Take heed thou mount not o'er the pitch." This said,
They grappled him with more than hundred hooks,
And shouted: "Cover'd thou must sport thee here;
So, if thou canst, in secret mayst thou filch."
E'en thus the cook bestirs him, with his grooms,
To thrust the flesh into the caldron down
With flesh-hooks, that it float not on the top.
Me then my guide bespake: "Lest they descry,
That thou art here, behind a craggy rock
Bend low and screen thee; and whate'er of force
Be offer'd me, or insult, fear thou not:
For I am well advis'd, who have been erst
In the like fray." Beyond the bridge's head
Therewith he pass'd, and reaching the sixth pier,
Behov'd him then a forehead terror-proof.
With storm and fury, as when dogs rush forth
Upon the poor man's back, who suddenly
From whence he standeth makes his suit; so rush'd
Those from beneath the arch, and against him
Their weapons all they pointed. He aloud:
"Be none of you outrageous: ere your time
Dare seize me, come forth from amongst you one,
"Who having heard my words, decide he then
If he shall tear these limbs." They shouted loud,
"Go, Malacoda!" Whereat one advanc'd,
The others standing firm, and as he came,
"What may this turn avail him?" he exclaim'd.
"Believ'st thou, Malacoda! I had come
Thus far from all your skirmishing secure,"
My teacher answered, "without will divine
And destiny propitious? Pass we then
For so Heaven's pleasure is, that I should lead
Another through this savage wilderness."
Forthwith so fell his pride, that he let drop
The instrument of torture at his feet,
And to the rest exclaim'd: "We have no power
To strike him." Then to me my guide: "O thou!
Who on the bridge among the crags dost sit
Low crouching, safely now to me return."
I rose, and towards him moved with speed: the fiends
Meantime all forward drew: me terror seiz'd
Lest they should break the compact they had made.
Thus issuing from Caprona, once I saw
Th' infantry dreading, lest his covenant
The foe should break; so close he hemm'd them round.
I to my leader's side adher'd, mine eyes
With fixt and motionless observance bent
On their unkindly visage. They their hooks
Protruding, one the other thus bespake:
"Wilt thou I touch him on the hip?" To whom
Was answer'd: "Even so; nor miss thy aim."
But he, who was in conf'rence with my guide,
Turn'd rapid round, and thus the demon spake:
"Stay, stay thee, Scarmiglione!" Then to us
He added: "Further footing to your step
This rock affords not, shiver'd to the base
Of the sixth arch. But would you still proceed,
Up by this cavern go: not distant far,
Another rock will yield you passage safe.
Yesterday, later by five hours than now,
Twelve hundred threescore years and six had fill'd
The circuit of their course, since here the way
Was broken. Thitherward I straight dispatch
Certain of these my scouts, who shall espy
If any on the surface bask. With them
Go ye: for ye shall find them nothing fell.
Come Alichino forth," with that he cried,
"And Calcabrina, and Cagnazzo thou!
The troop of ten let Barbariccia lead.
With Libicocco Draghinazzo haste,
Fang'd Ciriatto, Grafflacane fierce,
And Farfarello, and mad Rubicant.
Search ye around the bubbling tar. For these,
In safety lead them, where the other crag
Uninterrupted traverses the dens."
I then: "O master! what a sight is there!
Ah! without escort, journey we alone,
Which, if thou know the way, I covet not.
Unless thy prudence fail thee, dost not mark
How they do gnarl upon us, and their scowl
Threatens us present tortures?" He replied:
"I charge thee fear not: let them, as they will,
Gnarl on: 't is but in token of their spite
Against the souls, who mourn in torment steep'd."
To leftward o'er the pier they turn'd; but each
Had first between his teeth prest close the tongue,
Toward their leader for a signal looking,
Which he with sound obscene triumphant gave.
CANTO XXI. Eighth Circle: fifth pit: barrators.--A magistrate of
Lucca.--The Malebranche.--Parley with them.
So from bridge to bridge we went, speaking other things, which my
Comedy careth not to sing, and held the suffimit, when we stopped
to see the next cleft of Malebolge and the next vain
lamentations; and I saw it wonderfully dark.
As in the Arsenal of the Venetians, in winter, the sticky pitch
for smearing their unsound vessels is boiling, because they
cannot go to sea, and, instead thereof, one builds him a new
bark, and one caulks the sides of that which hath made many a
voyage; one hammers at the prow, and one at the stern; another
makes oars, and another twists the cordage; and one the foresail
and the mainsail patches,--so, not by fire, but by divine art, a
thick pitch was boiling there below, which belimed the bank on
every side. I saw it, but saw not in it aught but the bubbles
which the boiling raised, and all of it swelling up and again
While I was gazing down there fixedly, my Leader, saying, "Take
heed! take heed!" drew me to himself from the place where I was
standing. Then I turned as one who is slow to see what it behoves
him to fly, and whom a sudden fear unnerves, and delays not to
depart in order to see. And I saw behind us a black devil come
running up along the crag. Ah! how fell he was in aspect, and how
rough he seemed to me in action, with wings open, and light upon
his feet! His shoulder, which was sharp and high, was laden by a
sinner with both haunches, the sinew of whose feet he held
clutched. "O Malebranche of our bridge," he said, "lo, one of
the Ancients of Saint Zita put him under, for I return again
to that city, which I have furnished well with them; every man
there is a barrator, except Bonturo: there, for money, of
No they make Ay." He hurled him down, and along the hard crag he
turned, and never mastiff loosed was in such haste to follow a
 Malebranche means Evil-claws.
 One of the chief magistrates of Lucca, whose special
protectress was Santa Zita.
 A corrupt official, selling justice or office for bribes; in
general, a peculator or cheat.
That one sank under, and came up back uppermost, but the demons
that had shelter of the bridge cried out, "Here the Holy Face
avails not; here one swims otherwise than in the Serchio;
therefore, if thou dost not want our grapples, make no show above
the pitch." Then they struck him with more than a hundred prongs,
and said, "Covered must thou dance here, so that, if thou canst,
thou mayst swindle secretly." Not otherwise cooks make their
scullions plunge the meat with their hooks into the middle of the
cauldron, so that it may not float.
 An image of Christ upon the cross, ascribed to Nicodemus,
still venerated at Lucca.
 The river that runs not far from Lucca.
The good Master said to me, "In order that it be not apparent
that thou art here, crouch down behind a splinter, that may
afford some screen to thee, and at any offense that may be done
to me be not afraid, for I have knowledge of these things,
because another time I was at such a fray."
Then he passed on beyond the head of the bridge, and when he
arrived upon the sixth bank, he had need of a steadfast front.
With such fury and with such storm, as dogs run out upon the poor
wretch, who of a sudden begs where he stops, they came forth from
under the little bridge, and turned against him all their forks.
But he cried out, "Be no one of you savage; ere your hook take
hold of me, let one of you come forward that he may hear me, and
then take counsel as to grappling me." All cried out, "Let
Malacoda go!" Whereon one moved, and the rest stood still; and
he came toward him, saying, "What doth this avail him?"
"Thinkest thou, Malacoda, to see me come here," said my Master,
"safe hitherto from all your hindrances, except by Will Divine
and fate propitious? Let us go on, for in Heaven it is willed
that I show another this savage road." Then was his arrogance so
fallen that he let the hook drop at his feet, and said to the
rest, "Now let him not be struck."
 Wicked tail.
And my Leader to me, "O thou that sittest cowering among the
splinters of the bridge, securely now return to me." Whereat I
moved and came swiftly to him. And the devils all pressed
forward, so that I feared they would not keep their compact. And
thus I once saw the foot-soldiers afraid, who came out under
pledge from Caprona, seeing themselves among so many enemies.
I drew with my whole body alongside my Leader, and turned not
mine eyes from their look, which was not good. They lowered their
forks, and, "Wilt thou that I touch him on the rump?" said one to
the other, and they answered, "Yes, see thou nick it for him."
But that demon who was holding speech with my Leader turned very
quickly and said, "Stay, stay, Scarmiglione!"
 In August, 1290, the town of Caprona, on the Arno,
surrendered to the Florentine troops, with whom Dante was
Then he said to us, "Further advance along this crag there cannot
be, because the sixth arch lies all shattered at the bottom. And
if to go forward still is your pleasure, go on along this rocky
bank; near by is another crag that affords a way. Yesterday, five
hours later than this hour, one thousand two hundred and
sixty-six years were complete since the way was broken here. I
am sending thitherward some of these of mine, to see if any one
is airing himself; go ye with them, for they will not be wicked.
Come forward, Alichino and Calcabrina," began he to say, "and
thou, Cagnazzo; and do thou, Barbariccia, guide the ten. Let
Libicocco come also, and Draghignazzo, tusked Ciriatto, and
Graffiacane, and Farfarello, and mad Rubicante. Search round
about the boiling pitch; let these be safe far as the next crag,
that all unbroken goes over these dens."
 By the earthquake at the death of the Saviour.
"O me! Master, what is it that I see?" said I; "pray let us go
alone without escort, if thou knowest the way, for I desire it
not for myself. If thou art as wary as thou art wont to be, dost
thou not see that they show their teeth, and threaten harm to us
with their brows?" And he to me, "I would not have thee afraid.
Let them grin on at their will, for they are doing it at the
Upon the left bank they wheeled round, but first each had pressed
his tongue with his teeth toward their leader for a signal, and
he had made a trumpet of his rump.