HELL XIII

CANTO XIII

The second round of the seventh circle; the wood of the violent against themselves; the harpies; Pier delle Vigne; Lano; Jacome da Sant Andrea; Florence

canto summary and diagram

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1 Nessus hadn't yet reached the other side When we entered a forest With no visible path for guide. inferno xiii 4 The leaves here were not green, but of the darkest Color; the branches not smooth, but twisted around And rough; no fruit, but only the hardest, 7 Most poisonous thorns. Not even the beasts who abound In the wilds between Cecina and Corneto, and hate * Tilled land, would call this their kind of ground. 10 Here the disgusting Harpies nest in a state * Of filth, those who from the Strophades chased The Trojans with forecasts of their disastrous fate. * inferno xiii 13 They have broad wings, but they're human–faced; Their feet are clawed, their bellies feathered and wide, And they moan from the strange trees in which they're placed. 16 "You're in the second ring now," said my true guide, My master. "You should clearly understand This before you take another step inside. 19 You'll be in it until we reach the dreadful sand, * So observe carefully and you'll witness events Which, if described, you'd dismiss out of hand." inferno xiii 22 From every direction I could hear sad laments, Yet I saw no one capable of crying or speaking; I stopped, confused, and waited for my master's comments. 25 I think he had the thought that I was thinking That all these voices from the trunks came From people hiding from us, this thought provoking 28 Him to say to me: "If you maim One of these plants by breaking off a piece of it Your train of thought will do the same, inferno xiii 31 I mean break off." I reached out and snapped a bit From a great thornbush. "Why do you tear me? Why?" Cried the trunk. And when blood darkened the pit 34 Around the wound it again began to cry: "Why do you tear me? Are you so mean And without pity? We were human in years gone by, 37 But now we're turned to trees. Had we been The souls of serpents, your hand Even then should have shown mercy." As from a green inferno xiii 40 Log burning fiercely at one end and Dripping sap at the other, Hissing with escaped air rushing to expand, 43 So from that broken trunk gushed forth together Words and blood; I dropped my bit of foliage And stood there quivering like a feather. 46 "O wounded spirit," replied my sage, "If only he'd been able to believe What he'd read in my verse, then this damage * inferno xiii 49 Would never have happened; but to achieve A dramatic display of this phenomenon I urged him to do what makes me grieve. 52 So that he can make amends for what he's done, Tell him who you were, for he can refresh your fame When he returns to the world lit by the sun, 55 As he's permitted to." And the trunk: "What you claim * Is so appealing that I cannot keep silent; please Pardon me if I talk too much. The imperial name inferno xiii 58 Frederick is linked with mine, for I held both keys To his heart, turning both the yes and the no, Locking and unlocking with such ease 61 That on no one else did he bestow Such confidence; so faithful to my office Was I that I would often forego 64 Sleep and sacrifice health in its service. That harlot who from Caesar's house never turned * Her whorish eyes, that vehicle of malice inferno xiii 67 In every court, fired all hearts until they burned Against me, and in burning, so inflamed the heart Of Augustus that I lost the honors I had earned. * 70 My soul, moved by disdain, thinking to depart From others' disdain by death, made me unjust Against my own just self. By the roots which start 73 To grow now in this tree, I swear that the trust Of my worthy lord I never once betrayed. And if one of you returns to the world you must, inferno xiii 76 Come to my memory's aid, For it still lies prone from the blow Which envy gave it." For a while the poet stayed 79 Silent, then said to me: "Don't be slow To speak; while he's quiet, sieze the moment If there's anything else you want to know." 82 And I said: "You ask him, would you? Use your judgment, Ask whatever you think best; I can't do it, My heart is too full of pity at present." * inferno xiii 85 And thus he resumed: "Imprisoned spirit, So that this man may satisfy your petition More readily, please be more explicit 88 About how a soul in perdition Gets bound into a knot, and if it's possible To escape this pitiful condition." 91 At this the trunk's breathing became audible, Emerging finally into this message: "To answer you briefly, at the terrible inferno xiii 94 Rupture between the body and the savage Spirit, Minos flings that spirit down to pit Number seven like a loose piece of carnage. 97 Falling randomly into the wood, it's fit For no specific place but takes root Wherever fortune happens to toss it. 100 Like a grain of spelt it sprouts to a shoot, A sapling, and then into wild vegetation; The Harpies, eating its leaves, give it acute inferno xiii 103 Pain, but also an outlet for its irritation. Like other souls we'll try to regain Our flesh, but we're surely doomed to frustration, 106 For it's not right that a man retain What he once threw away. We'll drag our bodies inside This pitiful forest and here they'll remain, 109 Hanging on the stumps in which their souls reside." We were still listening intently in case More was revealed by the wretched suicide, inferno xiii 112 When suddenly, like hunters at the approach of the chase Who hear branches crashing everywhere And dogs in pursuit at a frantic pace, 115 We were roused by hectic sounds. A pair turned * Of bloodied, naked shades ran to the left in a burst, Uprooting every bush and plant along their 118 Path of escape. "Come now death," cried the first, "Come quickly." And the other, too slow To keep up the pace, screamed and cursed: inferno xiii 121 "At the jousts of Toppo your legs were not so Nimble, Lano." And perhaps because he'd begun * To lose breath he wrapped himself above and below 124 In the thorns of a bush until he seemed one With the plant. Behind them the wood contained Packs of swift black bitches, as eager to run 127 And hunt as greyhounds freshly unchained. They sank their teeth into the squatting soul, Dismembering limb by limb his pained inferno xiii 130 Body and running off with the pieces they stole. My escort now led me by the hand alongside The mutilated plant, which from every bleeding hole 133 Wept its vain laments. "O Jacopo," it cried, * "Da Santo Andrea, have you no shame To make me your screen? Why try to hide 136 Your sinful life under me, a plant without blame?" And my master asked: "You who breathe verbal sadness And blood through so many wounds, what was your name? " inferno xiii 139 "O spirits, who come just in time to witness The leaves and branches being torn From me in a vicious act of unfairness, 142 Collect them at the foot of this dismal thorn. I came from that city which chose to relinquish Its first patron for the Baptist, for which scorn 145 He'll forever wield his art to diminish And sadden it. And those who on the level plain * Of ashes left by Attila worked to replenish * inferno xiii 148 Their city would have labored in vain, If on the bridge across the Arno some image Of Mars had not been allowed to remain. 151 I made my house a gallows for my final passage."

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NOTES

8. The town and river of Cecina mark the northern boundary of the Maremma, a wild, marshy coastal area, and the town of Corneto its southern. ^
10. The Harpies, daughters of Thaumas and Electra, had the shape of birds with long claws, and the heads of women. ^
12.   In the third book of the Aeneid Virgil describes how one 
of the harpies, Celaeno, prophesies the misfortunes of the Trojans. ^
  19.   The "dreadful sand" is in the next ring of the seventh 
circle. ^
48. Virgil refers to that part of the Aeneid, book III, in which Aeneas breaks a branch, causing black blood to drip and a voice to issue from the ground. ^
55–78.   The speaker is Pier della Vigna, who in the thirteenth 
century was minister, private secretary, and chief counselor to 
the Emperor Frederick II at Palermo.  About 1248 he fell into 
disfavor, was blinded, imprisoned, and committed suicide. His 
somewhat complex language here is appropriate to the Sicilian 
school of poets, of which he was a noted member. ^
65. The "harlot" is envy. "Caesar's house" is the court of Frederick II. ^
69.   "Augustus" is pier's term for Frederick II. ^
84.   Dante feels pity that Pier was brought down by the false 
accusation of plotting against Frederick; he certainly does not 
feel pity at his being punished for suicide. ^
115. The second group of souls punished here are the profligates, who did violence to their possessions just as the suicides did to their bodies. Among them are Lano, who was probably of the wealthy Maconi family of Siena and a member of the "Spendthrift Club," and Jacopo da Santo Andrea, a squanderer and arsonist from Padua. ^
121–122.   This refers to the battle on the river Toppo near 
Arezzo, where the Aretines defeated the Sienese in 1287.  
Lano, having squandered his fortune, allegedly chose to die 
in this battle rather than face poverty.  In fighting rather 
than fleeing, his "legs were not so nimble." ^ 
133. The soul which is speaking has not been identified. ^
143–146.   "That city" is Florence, whose pagan patron was Mars, 
but which later adopted John the Baptist. The passage perhaps points to Florence's transformation into a center of commerce, relinquishing martial attitudes for commercial ones. A fragment of what was supposed to be Mars' statue was set on the Ponte Vecchio until it was washed away in 1333. This allegedly offered protection to the city. ^
147.   Dante confuses Attila, king of the Huns, with Totila, 
king of the Ostrogoths, who rased Florence in the sixth century. ^


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