The third round of the seventh circle; the burning sand; the violent against God, Nature, Art; Capaneus; the Old Man of Crete; the rivers of Hell

canto summary and diagram

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1 Love of my native place moved me to restore Those scattered leaves to their owner, He whose throat had already grown sore. * inferno xiv 4 From here we continued to the border Between the second and the third round, Where we saw a dreadful new scheme to deliver 7 Divine justice. To make clear what might well confound, Let me say that we came to a plain Which let no plant take root in its ground. 10 The sad forest made a wreath around this bare terrain, * Just as the river of blood encircled the wood, And here at its edge we chose to remain inferno xiv 13 For a while. The wasteland before which we stood Was made of dry, compact sand, similar to That upon which the feet of Cato would * 16 Have trod. O vengeance of God! How you Should be feared by those who read here what I saw! I witnessed huge crowds of naked souls who 19 Were all weeping miserably; a different law * Seemed to regulate each crowd's action. The first lay flat on the ground, unable to draw 22 Their bodies up into a crouching position, Like those in the second crowd. Meanwhile a third Wandered about without interruption, 25 Forming by far the most extensive herd. Least numerous but deepest in pain, The cries of the prone were most loudly heard. 28 Descending slowly over that sandy plain, Broad flakes of fire settled like snow On a windless, alpine terrain. inferno xiv 31 Like those flames which Alexander long ago * Saw falling on his men in the torrid region Of India, flames which threatened to grow 34 Together into a mighty conflagration Until he had them stamp out every cinder, So this heat descended without cessation, 37 Kindling the sand like dry tinder Lit by sparking flint and causing the torment Of the shades to double. Nothing could hinder inferno xiv 40 The dance of anguished hands, one moment Slipping here, the next there, brushing aside The ubiquitous flames, ever emergent. 43 "Master," I began, "you who override All opposition, except those tough * Demons who tried to keep us outside 46 The gate of Dis, who is that big, rough Shade who seems disdainful of the flame, The one who lies there with that gruff, * inferno xiv 49 Scornful look, whom the rain can't seem to tame? And he himself, overhearing my question, Answered: "In life and death I am the same. 52 Even if Jove wears out his smith, from whose iron He seized the sharp bolt of thunder Which transfixed my last earthly action– 55 Or if one by one he drives every man under At the black forge of Mangibello, crying, * 'Good Vulcan, help me split my enemies asunder!' inferno xiv 58 As he did when the Titans were vying With him at Phlegra–or if with all his might He hurls bolts at me, even then, defying 61 His power, I'll grant his vengeance no delight." With a force I'd never heard before my guide Retorted: "Capaneus, you merely invite 64 More punishment with your arrogant pride. No torture except your own rage would be A fit pain for your fury." Turning aside inferno xiv 67 With a gentler face he explained to me: "He was one of the seven kings who Besieged Thebes; he scorned God and, as you see, * 70 Still takes him lightly. As I just got through Telling him, his verbal spites make fit Ornaments for his chest. Now whatever you do, 73 Don't touch your feet to the sand, for it Can burn you as well as it does these shades; Stay close to the wood and follow me for a bit." inferno xiv 76 In silence we came to where water cascades Out of the woods in a thin reddish band * Whose frightening memory never fades. 79 Like that stream which issues from the Bulicame and * Whose waters the prostitutes then share, This stream flowed down across the sand. 82 The bed was of stone, as were the pair Of banks and the margins running alongside, So that I perceived our way across lay there. inferno xiv 85 "Among all things I've shown you," said my guide, "Since we first entered that gate Whose threshold no one is ever denied, 88 Your eyes have witnessed nothing so great As this stream, which quenches all fire Falling upon it to a harmless state." 91 Fascinated, I begged him who could inspire Such instant hunger to provide The food with which to satisfy the desire. inferno xiv 94 "In the middle of the sea," he replied, * "Lies a desolate land known as Crete, Under whose king the world once was chaste as a bride. 97 A mountain within it, called Ida, was replete With water and rich in greenery; Now it's deserted like something old and effete. 100 Rhea once chose it for her son's nursery, * Making her servants drown his childish clamor With their own noise to guard his sanctuary. inferno xiv 103 An old man inhabits the mountain's interior, Standing with his back toward Damietta and his eyes Directed toward Rome as if into his mirror. * 106 His head is made of fine gold; below lies. * Pure silver forming his arms and breast, And from there he's brass to the fork of his thighs. 109 The highest quality iron makes up the rest Except for his right foot, which is baked clay, And upon which most of his weight is pressed. * inferno xiv 112 Aside from the gold head, a fissure winds its way Down through every part; along this crack tears Drip to the grotto's floor where they weigh 115 Heavily and push deeper; their course then steers Through this valley from rock to rock to form Acheron, Styx and Phlegethon; then through this channel it veers 118 Downward to where it can fall no further on Its descending journey, pooling in Cocytus, a place. * I won't describe, for you'll see it later on." inferno xiv 121 "But why," I asked him, "was there no trace Of this stream up above, since its flow Begins in our world?" And he explained: "The space 124 In which we journey is round, as you know, And though you've traveled far, with patience Always turning left, moving ever below, 127 You haven't yet made a full circumference; Thus your face shouldn't really show surprise At every unexpected occurrence." inferno xiv 130 And I: "Master, tell me where Phlegethon lies, And where Lethe; the second you never mention, And you say the first forms when the old man cries." 133 "I'm pleased when you ask me a question," He answered, "but when you saw the red river. * Boiling you should have grasped the solution 136 To the first demand. You'll see Lethe later; however, * It won't be in this abyss, but rather in that spot Where repentent souls gather to bathe, forever . inferno xiv 139 Cleansed of guilt." He then added: "We've got To leave this wood now; follow me with care, And don't stray from the cool margins, free of the hot 142 Flames, extinguished above them in the air."

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2–3. Dante is referring to the anonymous speaker of Canto XIII. ^
10.   The "sad forest" is the wood of the suicides. ^
15. The Libyan desert was crossed by Cato of Utica, at the head 
of the Pompeian army in 47 B.C.  See Lucan, Pharsalia, Book IX, 
for a description of the march. ^
19–24.   There are three groups in the third ring of the seventh 
circle: the blasphemers, or violent against God, are flat on 
their backs; the usurers, or violent against art, are crouched; 
the sodomites, or violent against nature, are wandering incessantly. ^
31–35. This probably comes from Albertus Magnus' De meteoris, which refers to an apocryphal letter from Alexander to Aristotle. ^
44–45.  This refers to the rebellious angels in Cantos VIII and IX. ^
48.   Capaneus, one of the Seven Against Thebes, was struck by 
a thunderbolt when he bragged that not even Jove could stop him. ^
56–59.   At Phlegra, Jove defeated the Titans, who were trying 
to storm Olympus; Vulcan and the Cyclops manufactured Jove's 
thunderbolts; Mangibello, the Sicilian name for Mt. Etna, was 
thought to be Vulcan's furnace. ^
68–69.  As part of the struggle between Oedipus' two sons, seven kings, led by the King of Argos, attacked Thebes, capital of Boeotia. ^
77. The "thin reddish band" is Phlegethon. ^
79.   The Bulicame was a hot sulphur spring which provided 
water to the prostitutes north of Viterbo. ^
94–120.   The sources of this tale are Daniel 2:31–35, and the 
first book of Ovid's Metamorphoses, which describes 
the golden age under Saturn, and the subsequent ages of silver, 
brass and iron.  Crete is presented by Dante as the source of 
Acheron, Styx, and Phlegethon, which lead to Cocytus at the bottom 
of Hell.  The geography described by Virgil is not entirely 
consistent. ^
100. Rhea chose Mt. Ida on Crete to protect her son Jupiter from his father Saturn, who devoured his sons to avert a prophecy that one of them would overthrow him. ^
104–105.   The statue, symbolizing the history of humanity, 
faces away from the ancient, pagan East, represented by Damietta 
in Egypt, and toward the modern, Christian world, represented 
by Rome. ^
106.   The head of gold is the Golden Age, before the Fall. ^
107–111.   Silver, brass, and iron represent the subsequent 
ages of decline; the leg of iron is probably the Empire, the leg 
of clay the Church, corrupted by greed and politics. ^
119. In Canto XXXI the travellers will arrive at Cocytus, the fourth river of Hell, which forms a frozen lake. ^
134–135.   Virgil says that Dante should have recognized 
Phlegethon by its extreme heat, not only because it is mentioned in the Aeneid,VI 550, but perhaps also because the name means "fire." ^
136–139. Dante puts Lethe, the River of Forgetfulness, atop the mountain of Purgatory, in the Earthly Paradise. ^

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