HELL XII

CANTO XII

The seventh circle; the Minotaur; the violent; the centaurs; Chiron; the tyrants; the murderers

canto summary and diagram

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1 The place to which we now came, so that we might Descend the bank, was a rough, wooded terrain Containing a truly frightening sight. inferno xii 4 Like the shattered rocks which still remain From the avalanche on the Adige, this side of Trent, * (The result of erosion, earthquake, or some other strain), 7 Which form a natural path of descent From the mountain's top, where the landslide Began, right down to the plain—such was the bent, 10 Torturous path we'd have to take down the side Of the abyss; and stretched out along its rim, The infamy of Crete, conceived in the falsified inferno xii 13 Cow, gnawed his own flesh in grim * Fury when he saw how threateningly near We'd come. "Perhaps," my sage cried out to him, 16 "You think this is the Duke of Athens here, The man who rid the world of you. Begone, monster! This man doesn't appear 19 Here because your sister told him to; * He's come to witness your pain and punishment." Exactly as my shrewd master knew 22 He would, the Minotaur immediately went Berserk, thrashing wildly all over the place Like a wounded bull plunged into torment 25 By the fatal stroke. "Quickly now, race To the pass while he's still furious," Cried my guide, "before he can give chase!" 28 And so we picked our way down the precarious Heap of stones, which often shifted under My strange weight. "Are you perhaps curious," inferno xii 31 Asked my guide, noticing my look of wonder, "About the fallen mass, protected By that beast I just drowned in its own thunder? 34 I would have you know that when I last inspected This region, on my previous visit to lower Hell, These boulders were still solidly connected. * 37 But prior to that, if I remember well, Before He came down here to Dis And took the spoils from its outer shell, * inferno xii 40 On every side this foul abyss Shook so fiercely that the universe appeared * To feel love, by which, many times before this, 43 As some believe, the world has been steered Back to chaos. And at that moment * The ancient rock splintered and careered 46 Downward, here and elsewhere. But for the present Watch the valley, for we're in the vicinity Of the river of blood, which boils those violent * inferno xii 49 Souls who injured others." (Oh blind cupidity And fanatic wrath, spurring us through our earthly bit Of life, then steeping us for eternity 52 In such bitter grief!) I saw a broad, curving pit Which seemed to hold the whole plain in its embrace, Exactly as my guide had foretold it. 55 Between the river and the embankment's base Centaurs were running in a single file, * Armed with arrows, just as in their worldly chase. inferno xii 58 On seeing us descend, they stood still while Three of them approached with bows in hand. "You there," cried one from afar, "what vile 61 Torment brings you to this wretched land? Take care, I'm quite prepared to draw this bow, So answer us from where you stand." 64 And my master replied: "Clearly you grow Impatient as quickly as ever, I see. It's to Chiron, right there at your elbow, * inferno xii 67 We'll deliver our answer." And nudging me, He said: "That one's Nessus, who died * For fair Dejanira, and let his own blood be 70 The instrument of his vengeance; by his side Is mighty Chiron, contemplating his chest; and last Is Pholus, who in bestial frenzy tried to rape a bride. 73 These Centaurs circle the ditch in vast Numbers, piercing with their arrows any soul who Raises himself out of the blood past inferno xii 76 The level that suits his guilt." When we were nearer to These agile beasts, Chiron parted his beard on his jaw With the notch of an arrow, bringing into view 79 His enormous mouth. "I suppose both of you saw How the one in back moved things with his feet; The dead, according to physical law, 82 Can't do that." And my good guide, ever fleet Of mind and action, already standing at The Centaur's chest, where the two natures meet, inferno xii 85 Replied: "Indeed he is alive, and so alone that It's left to me to conduct him through This dismal valley. Necessity is what 88 Brings him here, not pleasure. For she who * Assigned me this mission, just before speaking, came From singing halleluiah, and you can be sure we two 91 Are no rogues or criminals. Therefore, in the name Of that power by which my steps dare Such a savage journey, lend us one who can tame inferno xii 94 Our passage; let him lead us to where The ford is, and bear this man across the river, For he is not a spirit who can fly through the air." 97 "You will guide them," said Chiron, looking back over His left breast at Nessus, "and if you meet resistance From another troop, scare them off." Thus, under cover 100 Of our escort's shield, we made our advance Along the bank of blood–splattered mud. Loud shrieks accompanied the writhing dance inferno xii 103 Of souls boiling up to their eyebrows in the flood Of crimson. "These," the huge Centaur began to explain, "Were tyrants who all their lives were sunk in blood 106 And plunder. Now they lament their ruthless reign Of terror; behold Alexander, and look where * Fierce Dionysus stands, who brought Sicily years of pain; * 109 And that forehead with the pitch black hair * Is Azzolino; and that other, the blonde one, Is Opizzo d'Esti, who in your world up there * inferno xii 112 Was actually killed by his own stepson." At this I turned to the poet, who said: "He, not I, Should be your chief guide, until this stretch is done." 115 A bit farther on the Centaur paused by A group who seemed to emerge from the boiling flow As far as their throats. He directed my eye 118 To a shade set apart, saying, "That one, you know, In God's own bosom, pierced the heart which as yet Drips blood upon the Thames below." * inferno xii 121 I then saw some whose heads and even chests weren't wet, And I recognized many of these. As we walked ahead the blood continued to get 124 Lower and lower until it barely warmed the knees * Or cooked the feet, and here we found the narrow Ford where we could cross. "Just as one sees 127 The river growing increasingly shallow On this side," the Centaur said, "So over on this other, as we follow inferno xii 130 Along the bank, we'll see it lower its bed Little by little until it reaches the height Which tyranny has good reason to dread. 133 There divine justice turns its righteous might On Attila, that earthly scourge, and exacts * Payment from Pyrrhyus and Sextus; through eternal night * 136 It milks the tears which the boiling surge extracts From Rinier da Corneto and Rinier Pazzo, highwaymen Who plagued the roads with such violent acts." * inferno xii 139 Then he turned around and crossed the ford again. *

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NOTES

4–5. The Slavini de Marco, an avalanche south of Trento, diverted the Adige in about 883. ^
12–13.   When Pasiphaë, wife of King Minos of Crete, became 
enamoured of a bull, Daedalus built a wooden cow for her to enter; 
the offspring of this union was  the Minotaur, part man, part beast.  
The product of an act of violence against nature (see Canto XIV), 
the Minotaur is an appropriate guardian for this seventh circle. ^ 
19. "Your sister" refers to Ariadne, human daughter of Pasiphaë and thus half–sister to the Minotaur. ^
35–36.   Because Virgil's previous visit was before Christ's death, 
the  boulders were still intact. ^ 
39. The "spoils" are the just souls of the Old Testament, whom Christ took from Satan on his descent into Hell. ^
40–41.   An earthquake occurred at the moment of Christ's death; 
see Matthew 27:51. ^ 
42–44. According to Empedocles, if the universe were ruled only by love, without the separating influence of hate, it would crunch together to produce chaos. ^
48.   Phlegethon, river of boiling blood. ^ 
56.   Mythical creatures, half–man, half–horse. ^ 
66.   Chiron, chief of the Centaurs, was noted for his wisdom, 
and was said to have tutored Achilles, Aesculapius, Hercules 
and others. ^ 
68–70. The centaur Nessus tried to rape Hercules' wife Dejanira and consequently was killed by Hercules with a poisoned arrow. Dying, Nessus gave Dejanira his own robe, dipped in his blood, pretending it was a love charm. When she brought it to Hercules he died a painful death, and she hanged herself. ^
88.   " She" refers to Beatrice. ^ 
107. Either Alexander the Great, or Alexander of Pherae, tyrant of Thessaly. 
^
108.   Either Dionysus the Elder or Dionysus the Younger, both 
tyrants of Syracuse. ^
109.   Azzolino da Romano (1194–1259), chief of the Ghibellines 
in northern Italy, was noted for his cruel massacre of the Paduans. ^
111–112. Opizzo d'Esti, Marquis of Ferrara, was a cruel tyrant who was said to have been murdered by his son. "Stepson" is used to point to the unnaturalness of the crime, or perhaps to imply that he was illegitimate. ^
118–120. In an act of revenge, Guy de Montfort murdered the nephew 
of Henry III of England.  According to Villani's Chronicles, 
a statue of the victim, holding a golden casket containing his 
heart, was placed on London Bridge. ^
134.   Attila was King of the Huns in the fifth century. ^
135. Pyrrhus is either the son of Achilles, whose cruelty Virgil particularly notes in the Aeneid, or the King of Epirus in early Roman times. Sextus was the son of Pompey. ^
138.   These were famous highwaymen.  The latter was excommunicated 
in 1268 by Pope Clement IV. ^
139.   There has in fact been no mention of the first crossing 
of the river. ^

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