HELL IX

CANTO IX

The three furies; Medusa; the angel; the sixth circle; the heretics

canto summary and diagram

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1 When my guide saw the cowardly pallor Of my face as I realized he was turning around He quickly changed his own color. inferno ix 4 He stood alert, straining to hear the slightest sound, For the eye could hardly penetrate That foggy air, black and profound. 7 "Surely we were meant to triumph at the gate," He said, "or if not...but no, we were offered Extraordinary help—oh why is he so late!" 10 I was aware of how he covered His initial words with ones more soothing, So contrary to what he'd first uttered. inferno ix 13 Altogether his broken speech was worrying, Perhaps because I attributed to it a sense Much worse than his intended meaning. 16 "Does anyone from the first circumference, * Where the only punishment is hope denied, Ever descend to this sad hollow of putrescence? " * 19 I asked this question, and he replied: "It's rare for one of us to make the journey Which I've undertaken as your guide. inferno ix 22 Yet in truth, once before now I entered this city, * When that vulgar witch Erichtho, who was Able to recall shades to their bodies, summoned me. 25 She sent me—almost as soon as My flesh was stripped—within that wall, To bring back a spirit from the circle of Judas. * 28 That is the lowest and darkest place of all, Farthest from the heaven which encircles everything; Be assured, every inch of that descent I can well recall. inferno ix 31 This abominable, stinking marsh forms a ring Around that sorrowful city, into whose precinct * We cannot enter now without struggling." 34 And he said other things which are indistinct In my memory, because my eyes had drawn me Completely to the tower's gleaming peak; here my instinct 37 Recoiled at the sudden appearance of three * Hellish furies, blood–stained and obscene, Female in gesture and anatomy. inferno ix 40 For belts they wore snakes of deepest green; Little serpents and horned vipers formed their hair, Binding their temples. Of these handmaids to the queen * 43 Of everlasting woe my master was well aware, And he warned, as we stared at the sight: "Of these ferocious Erinyes you must beware! 46 Alecto is the one who weeps on the right; Megaera is on the left, and in the middle you see Tisiphone." With this he shut his lips tight. inferno ix 49 With clawed hands each of these three Tore her breast and shrieked so loudly that I pressed close to the poet so he could protect me. 52 "Let Medusa come," they said, looking down at * The master and me, "so we can turn him quite * "Solid; our revenge upon Theseus was inadequate." 55 "Turn around and shut your eyes tight, For you'll never return to a higher station If you ever let the Gorgon into your sight." inferno ix 58 Thus advised the master, reversing my direction And placing his hands over my eyes, As if mine were not sufficient protection. 61 Oh you whose intellects are sensible and wise, Be alert to the teaching buried Within this strange poetic enterprise! * 64 Then, over the filthy waves there hurried Toward us a ferocious blast whose might Trembled both shores and made me even more worried. inferno ix 67 It sounded like a wind erupting from the fight Between conflicting banks of heat, a quake In the air, ripping through a wood in mad flight, 70 Shattering branches, strewing them in its wake, Proudly whipping up clouds of dust ahead And making animals flee and shepherds shake 73 With fright. The master freed my eyes and said: "Now turn your sight on that scum most ancient, There—where the thickest marsh is spread." inferno ix 76 As frogs, facing their enemy the serpent, Scatter through the water until each sits Hunched on the bottom, safe in its descent, 79 So more than a thousand worn out spirits Fled before one who passed the Styx with shoes Still dry, a passage only heaven permits. 82 From time to time he had to use His left hand to wave away the foul air, And in this action alone did he choose inferno ix 85 To show weariness. I was perfectly aware That he was heaven's messenger, and in compliance With my master's signal I bowed down and remained there. 88 How full of disdain was his countenance! He waved a wand when he came to the gate And it opened, for there was no resistance. 91 "Oh outcasts of heaven, objects of hate," He began, standing on that horrible sill, "Your insolence is too much to tolerate. inferno ix 94 Why do you stubbornly reject that will Whose goal you can never frustrate, And which has so often done you ill? 97 What good is it to wrestle with fate? If you'll recall, your Cerberus * Had his chin and throat peeled for being so obstinate." 100 Then he turned without uttering a word to us And took that filthy path in the reverse sense, Looking like someone pressed by cares more serious inferno ix 103 Than those of the beings in his presence. And we moved our feet securely toward the city, His sacred words giving us confidence. 106 We entered without struggle or adversity, And I, eager to observe the state Of things in a fortess of such immensity, 109 Looked everywhere as soon as I was through the gate. An enormous plain stretched away to every side, Upon which pain and anguish seemed to dominate. inferno ix 112 As at Arles, where the Rhône slackens its glide, Or as at Pola, where Italy bathes its shore * In Quarnaro gulf, the sepulchers divide 115 And chop up the land, creating an uneven floor, So the chaos they produced here was the same, Except that the harshness was much more; 118 For not far from each tomb was a flame Which made it glow with an intensity That put the iron used by any craft to shame. inferno ix 121 Each tomb was an open cavity With raised lid, and each gave forth a moan Which signaled wounds of the greatest severity. 124 "Master, who are these, buried in chests of stone, So miserable and pained That their sole communication is a groan? " 127 "These are the arch–heretics," he explained, "With their followers, from different sects. Many more than you think are contained inferno ix 130 Within these tombs; each sepulcher collects A group of like spirits; and each of the monuments Is heated to the degree propriety directs." 133 Turning right, we passed between the tombs and battlements *

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NOTES

16. The "first circumference" is Limbo. ^
16–18. The question attempts to sound out Virgil's knowledge 
without offending him. ^
22.   Dante either invented this, or assumed a medieval legend 
concerning Virgil.  According to Lucan, Erichtho summoned the spirit 
of a dead soldier to reveal the outcome of the battle of Pharsalia. ^
27.   The ninth and lowest circle of Hell is where Judas is punished.  
See Cantos XXXI–XXXIV. ^
32.   The city of Dis. ^
37. In Greek mythology the three Furies or Erinyes are Tisiphone, Megaera, and Alecto. ^
42. "The queen of everlasting woe" is Hecate, or Proserpina, wife of Pluto and thus the queen of Hell. ^
52.   Medusa was one of the three Gorgons, whose hair Minerva 
turned into serpents, thus making her so terrible to look upon 
that anyone who did so turned to stone. ^
53.   When Theseus descended to Hades with Pirithous, to kidnap 
Proserpina, Pluto destroyed Pirithous but merely imprisoned Theseus.  
In the more common version, Theseus sits on the Chair of 
Forgetfulness in Hell forever; in the version chosen by Dante, 
he is freed by Hercules.  The Furies regret that they didn't 
have him killed as a warning to others. ^
61–63.   Interpretations disagree.  This may refer to the lines 
preceding or following.  Perhaps the buried teaching is that 
Reason (Virgil) requires Divine aid (the Angel) to convey Dante 
through to the end. ^
98. Hercules' twelfth labor was to bring Cerberus up from the underworld, during which he dragged him by a chain and severely scraped the skin of his neck. ^
112–113.   Arles, in Provence, is the site of a Roman 
(later Christian) cemetery.  Pola, on the Adriatic, then 
in Italy, now in Croatia, is also known for its Roman cemetary. ^
133.   Normally they move left in Hell; here, and in Canto XVIII, 
they move right. ^


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