Inferno: Canto IX
That hue which cowardice brought out on me,
Beholding my Conductor backward turn,
Sooner repressed within him his new colour.
He stopped attentive, like a man who listens,
Because the eye could not conduct him far
Through the black air, and through the heavy fog.
"Still it behoveth us to win the fight,"
Began he; "Else. . .Such offered us herself. . .
O how I long that some one here arrive!"
Well I perceived, as soon as the beginning
He covered up with what came afterward,
That they were words quite different from the first;
But none the less his saying gave me fear,
Because I carried out the broken phrase,
Perhaps to a worse meaning than he had.
"Into this bottom of the doleful conch
Doth any e'er descend from the first grade,
Which for its pain has only hope cut off?"
This question put I; and he answered me:
"Seldom it comes to pass that one of us
Maketh the journey upon which I go.
True is it, once before I here below
Was conjured by that pitiless Erictho,
Who summoned back the shades unto their bodies.
Naked of me short while the flesh had been,
Before within that wall she made me enter,
To bring a spirit from the circle of Judas;
That is the lowest region and the darkest,
And farthest from the heaven which circles all.
Well know I the way; therefore be reassured.
This fen, which a prodigious stench exhales,
Encompasses about the city dolent,
Where now we cannot enter without anger."
And more he said, but not in mind I have it;
Because mine eye had altogether drawn me
Tow'rds the high tower with the red-flaming summit,
Where in a moment saw I swift uprisen
The three infernal Furies stained with blood,
Who had the limbs of women and their mien,
And with the greenest hydras were begirt;
Small serpents and cerastes were their tresses,
Wherewith their horrid temples were entwined.
And he who well the handmaids of the Queen
Of everlasting lamentation knew,
Said unto me: "Behold the fierce Erinnys.
This is Megaera, on the left-hand side;
She who is weeping on the right, Alecto;
Tisiphone is between;" and then was silent.
Each one her breast was rending with her nails;
They beat them with their palms, and cried so loud,
That I for dread pressed close unto the Poet.
"Medusa come, so we to stone will change him!"
All shouted looking down; "in evil hour
Avenged we not on Theseus his assault!"
"Turn thyself round, and keep thine eyes close shut,
For if the Gorgon appear, and thou shouldst see it,
No more returning upward would there be."
Thus said the Master; and he turned me round
Himself, and trusted not unto my hands
So far as not to blind me with his own.
O ye who have undistempered intellects,
Observe the doctrine that conceals itself
Beneath the veil of the mysterious verses!
And now there came across the turbid waves
The clangour of a sound with terror fraught,
Because of which both of the margins trembled;
Not otherwise it was than of a wind
Impetuous on account of adverse heats,
That smites the forest, and, without restraint,
The branches rends, beats down, and bears away;
Right onward, laden with dust, it goes superb,
And puts to flight the wild beasts and the shepherds.
Mine eyes he loosed, and said: "Direct the nerve
Of vision now along that ancient foam,
There yonder where that smoke is most intense."
Even as the frogs before the hostile serpent
Across the water scatter all abroad,
Until each one is huddled in the earth.
More than a thousand ruined souls I saw,
Thus fleeing from before one who on foot
Was passing o'er the Styx with soles unwet.
From off his face he fanned that unctuous air,
Waving his left hand oft in front of him,
And only with that anguish seemed he weary.
Well I perceived one sent from Heaven was he,
And to the Master turned; and he made sign
That I should quiet stand, and bow before him.
Ah! how disdainful he appeared to me!
He reached the gate, and with a little rod
He opened it, for there was no resistance.
"O banished out of Heaven, people despised!"
Thus he began upon the horrid threshold;
"Whence is this arrogance within you couched?
Wherefore recalcitrate against that will,
From which the end can never be cut off,
And which has many times increased your pain?
What helpeth it to butt against the fates?
Your Cerberus, if you remember well,
For that still bears his chin and gullet peeled."
Then he returned along the miry road,
And spake no word to us, but had the look
Of one whom other care constrains and goads
Than that of him who in his presence is;
And we our feet directed tow'rds the city,
After those holy words all confident.
Within we entered without any contest;
And I, who inclination had to see
What the condition such a fortress holds,
Soon as I was within, cast round mine eye,
And see on every hand an ample plain,
Full of distress and torment terrible.
Even as at Arles, where stagnant grows the Rhone,
Even as at Pola near to the Quarnaro,
That shuts in Italy and bathes its borders,
The sepulchres make all the place uneven;
So likewise did they there on every side,
Saving that there the manner was more bitter;
For flames between the sepulchres were scattered,
By which they so intensely heated were,
That iron more so asks not any art.
All of their coverings uplifted were,
And from them issued forth such dire laments,
Sooth seemed they of the wretched and tormented.
And I: "My Master, what are all those people
Who, having sepulture within those tombs,
Make themselves audible by doleful sighs?"
And he to me: "Here are the Heresiarchs,
With their disciples of all sects, and much
More than thou thinkest laden are the tombs.
Here like together with its like is buried;
And more and less the monuments are heated."
And when he to the right had turned, we passed
Between the torments and high parapets.
THE hue, which coward dread on my pale cheeks
Imprinted, when I saw my guide turn back,
Chas'd that from his which newly they had worn,
And inwardly restrain'd it. He, as one
Who listens, stood attentive: for his eye
Not far could lead him through the sable air,
And the thick-gath'ring cloud. "It yet behooves
We win this fight"--thus he began--"if not--
Such aid to us is offer'd.--Oh, how long
Me seems it, ere the promis'd help arrive!"
I noted, how the sequel of his words
Clok'd their beginning; for the last he spake
Agreed not with the first. But not the less
My fear was at his saying; sith I drew
To import worse perchance, than that he held,
His mutilated speech. "Doth ever any
Into this rueful concave's extreme depth
Descend, out of the first degree, whose pain
Is deprivation merely of sweet hope?"
Thus I inquiring. "Rarely," he replied,
"It chances, that among us any makes
This journey, which I wend. Erewhile 'tis true
Once came I here beneath, conjur'd by fell
Erictho, sorceress, who compell'd the shades
Back to their bodies. No long space my flesh
Was naked of me, when within these walls
She made me enter, to draw forth a spirit
From out of Judas' circle. Lowest place
Is that of all, obscurest, and remov'd
Farthest from heav'n's all-circling orb. The road
Full well I know: thou therefore rest secure.
That lake, the noisome stench exhaling, round
The city' of grief encompasses, which now
We may not enter without rage." Yet more
He added: but I hold it not in mind,
For that mine eye toward the lofty tower
Had drawn me wholly, to its burning top.
Where in an instant I beheld uprisen
At once three hellish furies stain'd with blood:
In limb and motion feminine they seem'd;
Around them greenest hydras twisting roll'd
Their volumes; adders and cerastes crept
Instead of hair, and their fierce temples bound.
He knowing well the miserable hags
Who tend the queen of endless woe, thus spake:
"Mark thou each dire Erinnys. To the left
This is Megaera; on the right hand she,
Who wails, Alecto; and Tisiphone
I' th' midst." This said, in silence he remain'd
Their breast they each one clawing tore; themselves
Smote with their palms, and such shrill clamour rais'd,
That to the bard I clung, suspicion-bound.
"Hasten Medusa: so to adamant
Him shall we change;" all looking down exclaim'd.
"E'en when by Theseus' might assail'd, we took
No ill revenge." "Turn thyself round, and keep
Thy count'nance hid; for if the Gorgon dire
Be shown, and thou shouldst view it, thy return
Upwards would be for ever lost." This said,
Himself my gentle master turn'd me round,
Nor trusted he my hands, but with his own
He also hid me. Ye of intellect
Sound and entire, mark well the lore conceal'd
Under close texture of the mystic strain!
And now there came o'er the perturbed waves
Loud-crashing, terrible, a sound that made
Either shore tremble, as if of a wind
Impetuous, from conflicting vapours sprung,
That 'gainst some forest driving all its might,
Plucks off the branches, beats them down and hurls
Afar; then onward passing proudly sweeps
Its whirlwind rage, while beasts and shepherds fly.
Mine eyes he loos'd, and spake: "And now direct
Thy visual nerve along that ancient foam,
There, thickest where the smoke ascends." As frogs
Before their foe the serpent, through the wave
Ply swiftly all, till at the ground each one
Lies on a heap; more than a thousand spirits
Destroy'd, so saw I fleeing before one
Who pass'd with unwet feet the Stygian sound.
He, from his face removing the gross air,
Oft his left hand forth stretch'd, and seem'd alone
By that annoyance wearied. I perceiv'd
That he was sent from heav'n, and to my guide
Turn'd me, who signal made that I should stand
Quiet, and bend to him. Ah me! how full
Of noble anger seem'd he! To the gate
He came, and with his wand touch'd it, whereat
Open without impediment it flew.
"Outcasts of heav'n! O abject race and scorn'd!"
Began he on the horrid grunsel standing,
"Whence doth this wild excess of insolence
Lodge in you? wherefore kick you 'gainst that will
Ne'er frustrate of its end, and which so oft
Hath laid on you enforcement of your pangs?
What profits at the fays to but the horn?
Your Cerberus, if ye remember, hence
Bears still, peel'd of their hair, his throat and maw."
This said, he turn'd back o'er the filthy way,
And syllable to us spake none, but wore
The semblance of a man by other care
Beset, and keenly press'd, than thought of him
Who in his presence stands. Then we our steps
Toward that territory mov'd, secure
After the hallow'd words. We unoppos'd
There enter'd; and my mind eager to learn
What state a fortress like to that might hold,
I soon as enter'd throw mine eye around,
And see on every part wide-stretching space
Replete with bitter pain and torment ill.
As where Rhone stagnates on the plains of Arles,
Or as at Pola, near Quarnaro's gulf,
That closes Italy and laves her bounds,
The place is all thick spread with sepulchres;
So was it here, save what in horror here
Excell'd: for 'midst the graves were scattered flames,
Wherewith intensely all throughout they burn'd,
That iron for no craft there hotter needs.
Their lids all hung suspended, and beneath
From them forth issu'd lamentable moans,
Such as the sad and tortur'd well might raise.
I thus: "Master! say who are these, interr'd
Within these vaults, of whom distinct we hear
The dolorous sighs?" He answer thus return'd:
"The arch-heretics are here, accompanied
By every sect their followers; and much more,
Than thou believest, tombs are freighted: like
With like is buried; and the monuments
Are different in degrees of heat." This said,
He to the right hand turning, on we pass'd
Betwixt the afflicted and the ramparts high.
CANTO IX. The City of Dis.--Erichtho.--The Three Furies.--The
Heavenly Messenger.--The Sixth Circle, that of the Heresiarchs.
That color which cowardice painted outwardly on me when I saw my
Guide turn back, repressed more speedily his own new color. He
stopped attentive, like a man that listens, for the eye could not
lead him far through the black air, and through the dense fog.
"Yet it must be for us to win the fight," began he, "unless--Such
an one offered herself to us. Oh how slow it seems till Some
one here arrive!"
 The messenger from Heaven, referred to in the last verses of
the last canto.
I saw well how he covered up the beginning with the rest that
came after, which were words different from the first. But
nevertheless his speech gave me fear, because I drew his broken
phrase perchance to a worse meaning than it held.
"Into this depth of the dismal shell does any one ever descend
from the first grade who has for penalty only hope cut off?"
This question I put, and he answered me, "Seldom it happens that
any one of us maketh the journey on which I am going. It is true
that another time I was conjured down here by that cruel Erichtho
who was wont to call back shades into their bodies. Short while
had my flesh been bare of me, when she made me enter within that
wall in order to drag out for her a spirit from the circle of
Judas. That is the lowest place, and the darkest, and the
farthest from the Heaven that encircles all. Well do I know the
road: therefore assure thyself. This marsh which breathes out the
great stench girds round about the woeful city wherein now we
cannot enter without anger."
 Dante asks for assurance that Virgil, whose station is in
Limbo, "the first grade," knows the way.
And more he said, but I hold it not in mind because my eye had
wholly attracted me toward the high tower with the ruddy summit,
where in an instant were uprisen suddenly three infernal furies,
stained with blood, who had the limbs of women and their action,
and were girt with greenest hydras. Little serpents and cerastes
they had for hair, wherewith their savage brows were bound.
And he, who well knew the handmaids of the queen of the eternal
lamentation, said to me, "Behold the fell Erinnyes; this is
Megaera on the left side, she who weeps on the right is Alecto,
Tisiphone is in the middle," and therewith he was silent.
With her nails each was tearing her breast, they beat themselves
with their hands, and cried out so loud that I pressed close to
the Poet through dread. "Let Medusa come, so we will make him of
stone," they all said, looking down. "Ill was it we avenged not
on Theseus his assault."
"Turn thy back, and keep thy sight closed, for if the Gorgon show
herself, and thou shouldest see her, no return upward would there
ever be." Thus said the Master, and he himself turned me, and did
not so trust to my hands that with his own he did not also
O ye who have sound understanding, regard the doctrine that is
hidden under the veil of the strange verses.
And already was coming across the turbid waves a tumult of a
sound full of terror at which both the shores trembled. Not
otherwise it was than of a wind, impetuous through the opposing
heats, that strikes the forest, and without any stay shatters the
branches, beats down and carries them away; forward, laden with
dust, it goes superb, and makes the wild beasts and the shepherds
My eyes he loosed, and said, "Now direct the nerve of sight
across the ancient scum, there yonder where that fume is most
As frogs before the hostile snake all scatter through the water,
till each huddles on the ground, I saw more than a thousand
destroyed souls flying thus before one, who at the ford was
passing over the Styx with dry feet. From his face he removed
that thick air, waving his left hand oft before him, and only
with that trouble seemed he weary. Well I perceived that he was
sent from Heaven, and I turned me to the Master, and he made sign
that I should stand quiet and bow down unto him. Ah, how full of
disdain he seemed to me! He reached the gate and with a little
rod he opened it, for there was no withstanding.
"O outcasts from Heaven, folk despised," began he upon the
horrible threshold, "wherefore is this overweening harbored in
you? Why do ye kick against that will from which its end can
never be cut short, and which many a time hath increased your
grief? What avails it to butt against the fates? Your Cerberus,
if ye remember well, still bears his chin and his throat peeled
for that." Then he turned back upon the filthy road and said no
word to us, but wore the semblance of a man whom other care
constrains and stings, than that of him who is before him.
And we moved our feet toward the city, confident after his holy
words. Within we entered without any strife, and I, who had
desire to observe the condition which such a stronghold locks in,
when I was within, sent my eyes round about; and I see on every
hand a great plain full of woe and of cruel torment.
As at Arles, where the Rhone stagnates, as at Pola, near the
Quarnaro that shuts in Italy and bathes its borders, sepulchres
make all the place uneven; so did they here on every side, saving
that the manner was more bitter here; for among the tombs flames
were scattered, by which they were so intensely kindled that no
art requires iron more so. All their lids were lifted; and such
dire laments were issuing forth from them as truly seemed of
wretches and of sufferers.
And I, "Master, who are these folk that, buried within those
coffers, make themselves heard with their woeful sighs?" And he
to me, "Here are the heresiarchs with their followers of every
sect, and the tombs are much more laden than thou thinkest. Like
with like is buried here, and the monuments are more and less
And when he to the right hand had turned, we passed between the
torments and the high battlements.