The sight of that parade of broken dead
had left my eyes so sotted with their tears
I longed to stay and weep, but Virgil said:
What are you waiting for? Why do you stare
as if you could not tear your eyes away
from the mutilated shadows passing there?
You did not act so in the other pits.
Consider — if you mean perhaps to count them —
this valley and its train of dismal spirits
winds twenty-two miles round. The moon already
is under our feet; the time we have is short,
and there is much that you have yet to see.
Had you known what I was seeking, I replied,
you might perhaps have given me permission
to stay longer. (As I spoke, my Guide
had started off already, and I in turn
had moved along behind him; thus, I answered
as we moved along the cliff.) Within that cavern
upon whose brim I stood so long to stare,
I think a spirit of my own blood mourns
the guilt that sinners find so costly there.
And the Master then: Hereafter let your mind
turn its attention to more worthy matters
and leave him to his fate among the blind;
for by the bridge and among that shapeless crew
I saw him point to you with threatening gestures
and I heard him called Geri del Bello. You
were occupied at the time with that headless one
who in his life was master of Altaforte,
and did not look that way; so he moved on.
O my sweet Guide, I answered, his death came
by violence and is not yet avenged
by those who share his blood, and, thus, his shame.
For this he surely hates his kin, and, therefore,
as I suppose, he would not speak to me;
and in that he makes me pity him the more.
We spoke of this until we reached the edge
from which, had there been light, we could have seen
the floor of the next pit. Out from that ledge
Malebolge’s final cloister lay outspread,
and all of its lay brethren might have been
in sight for for the murk; and from those dead
such shrieks and strangled agonies shrilled through me
like shafts, but barbed with pity, that my hands
flew to my ears. If all the misery
that crams the hospitals of pestilence
in Maremma, Valdichiano, and Sardinia
in the summer months when death sits like a presence
on the marsh air, were dumped into one trench —
that might suggest their pain. And through the screams
putrid flesh spread up its sickening stench.
Still bearing left we passed from the long sill
to the last bridge of Malebolge. There
the reekong bottom was more visible.
There, High Justice, sacred ministress
of the First Father, reigns eternally
over the falsifiers in their distress.
I doubt it could have been such pain to bear
the sight of the Aeginian people dying
that time when such malignance rode the air
that every beast down to the smallest worm
shriveled and died (it was after that great plague
that the Ancient People, as the poets affirm,
were reborn from the ants) — as it was to see
the spirits lying heaped on one another
in the dank bottom of that fetid valley.
One lay gaping on another’s shoulder,
one on another’s belly; and some were crawling
on hands and knees among the broken boulders.
Silent, slow step by step, we moved ahead
looking at and listening to those souls
too weak to raise themselves from their stone bed.
I saw two there like two pans that are put
one against the other to hold their warmth
They were covered with great scabs from head to foot.
No stable boy in a hurry to go home,
or for whom his master waits impatiently,
ever scrubbed harder with his currycomb
than those two spirits of the stinking ditch
scrubbed at themselves with their own blood claws
to ease the furious burning of the itch.
And as they scrubbed and clawed themselves, their nails
drew down the scabs the way a knife scrapes bream
or some other fish with even larger scales.
O you, my Guide called out to one, you there
who rip your scabby mail as if your fingers
were claws and pincers; tell us if this lair
counts any Italians among those who lurk
in its dark depths; so may your busy nails
eternally suffice you for your work.
We both are Italian whose unending loss
you see before you, he replied in tears.
But who are you who come to question us?
I am a shade, my Guide and Master said,
who leads this living man from pit to pit
to show him Hell as I have been commanded.
The sinners broke apart as he replied
and turned convulsively to look at me,
as others did who overheard my Guide.
My Master, then, ever concerned for me,
turned and said: Ask them whatever you wish.
And I said to those two wraiths of misery:
So may the memory of your names and actions
not die forever from the minds of men
in that first world, but live for many suns,
tell me who you are and of what city;
do not be shamed by your nauseous punishment
into concealing your identity.
I was a man of Arezzo, one replied,
and Albert of Siena had me burned;
but I am not here for the deed for which I died.
It is true that jokingly I said to him once:
I know how to raise myself and fly through air;
and he — with all the eagerness of a dunce —
wanted to learn. Because I could not make
a Daedalus of him — for no other reason —
he had his father burn me at the stake.
But Minos, the infallible, had me hurled
here to the final bolgia of the ten
for the alchemy I practiced in the world.
And to the Poet: Was there ever a race
more vain than the Sienese? Even the French,
compared to them, seem full of modest grace.
And the other leper answered mockingly:
Excepting Stricca, who by careful planning
managed to live and spend so moderately;
and Nicolo, who in his time above
was first of all the shoots in that rank garden
to discover the costly uses of the clove;
and excepting the brilliant company of talents
in which Caccia squandered his vineyards and his woods,
and Abbagliato displayed his intelligence.
But if you wish to know who joins your cry
against the Sienese, study my face
with care and let it make its own reply.
So you will see I am the suffering shadow
of Capocchio, who, by practicing alchemy,
falsified the metals, and you must know,
unless my mortal recollection strays
how good an ape I was of Nature’s ways.