The eighth circle, third bolgia; the simonists; Nicholas III; the poet's invective against simoniacal popes

canto summary and diagram

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1 O Simon Magus! O followers of his falseness! * You who prostitute the Godly things you hold In trust—which should be wedded to righteousness – inferno xix 4 For some miserable tokens of silver and gold, Now will the trumpet sound for thieves like you, For we enter Malebolge's third fold. * 7 Already we'd climbed as high as we were able to In order to observe the next burial place, Standing midway on the bridge with an aerial view 10 Over the ditch. O Supreme Wisdom, how you embrace The heavens, the earth, and even Hell, with high Art, and how justly your power dispenses grace! inferno xix 13 The sides and bottom were punctured by A myriad of round holes scattered over The livid–colored rock; each was as wide as I, 16 And similar in depth and diameter * To those basins found in my cherished San Giovanni, within which the baptizer 19 Would stand. (Not many years ago I demolished One of these to save someone from drowning; Let this be my statement of truth, unembellished, inferno xix 22 For all to see.) From the mouth of every opening A sinner's legs protruded out, from the feet Up to the thigh, the rest of the sinner remaining 25 Inside the hole. Each sole squirmed with the heat Of its own flame, the joints writhing So violently that they could easily defeat 28 The toughest rope or chain; and as something Oily nourishes fire only on the surface, So from heel to toe were these soles bathing inferno xix 31 In flame. "Master, who is that shade without solace, * Who quivers and suffers most and is licked By redder flames as if in a hotter furnace?" 34 And he replied: "He himself will depict His life and sins for you, if you'd care to be Carried down these steep banks which so restrict 37 Our passage." "What pleases you also pleases me," I said, "You are my lord, and your will Is what I follow, as you well know, for you can see inferno xix 40 Into my mind." Turning at the fourth bank, we still Kept to the left as we entered the narrow, Perforated bottom of the ditch; and until 43 He'd brought me to the hole where sorrow Showed itself in fiercely flailing legs, my guide Never dropped me from his side. "You who burrow 46 Into the earth like a pole," I began, "as if to hide Your upper parts, speak if you can, Unhappy soul." I stood there like a priest beside inferno xix 49 An assassin at confession—some vile man Fixed upside down who delayed death a moment By calling me back. "This was not the plan, * 52 Boniface, this was not the plan," he gave vent To his distress. "Why do you already stand here? The book has lied to me by several years about this event. 55 Have you eaten up all your wealth—wealth you didn't fear To deceive the lovely Lady to obtain, * Violating her afterward?" I stood there unclear inferno xix 58 About what he was asking me, my brain Befuddled, feeling myself the object of fun. But then Virgil instructed me: "Quickly explain, 61 'I am not he whom you think, I am not the one.'" And I said exactly these words, which provoked Those legs to thrash about more than they'd ever done. 64 Sighing, and speaking in a voice choked With grief, the tortured spirit said to me: "So what do you want from me? I was once cloaked inferno xix 67 With the great mantle, which I'm sure you'll be * Pleased to learn, since you were seeking my name When you struggled down the bank; and surely she 70 Who bore me was the she–bear, for always my aim Was to advance the cubs, which in my greed I did so well * That while I pocketed wealth above, I did the same 73 To myself below. Beneath my head are those who fell Before me into simony, wedged into the cracks Of this rock. I too will be squeezed down into this well inferno xix 76 When that one whom I mistook you for stacks Himself up behind me in this space. But already I've endured the attacks 79 Of flame on my feet and stood here in place Upside down for longer than he'll stay Planted with glowing feet: for one of more disgrace * 82 Than either of us will shortly come this way, A lawless shepherd whose foul activities In the west make him fit to cover us. The Jason of his day inferno xix 85 Shall he be, like the one we read of in Maccabees; And just as Jason's king was pliant, So he who governs France will oblige and please 88 This one." I don't know if I was too arrogant, But I couldn't help blurting out unplanned: "Then tell me, for in this you're hardly ignorant, 91 What amount of treasure did our Lord command From Saint Peter before he let him hold The keys? Surely 'Follow me,' was the only demand. inferno xix 94 Nor did Peter and the others ask for gold Or silver from Matthias when he took the place * Which the evil one, in essence, sold. 97 So stay there, justly punished, and embrace The ill–gotten gains which made you so bold Against Charles, in an attack most bloody and base. * 100 Were it not for the reverence in which I hold The exalted keys you were entrusted to guard In the happy life above I would have told inferno xix 103 You all this in words much more severe and hard, For your avarice makes this world lament: You promote the wicked, while the good you discard. 106 It was shepherds like you the Evangelist meant * When he envisioned the disgusting picture Of her who sits upon the waters, her knees bent 109 And open for the lust of kings, a creature Born with seven heads, whose ten horns gave her Strength as long as virtue was her husband's pleasure. * inferno xix 112 You've made yourselves a god of gold and silver, And except for worshipping a hundred gods and not One alone, how are you different from the idolater? 115 Ah Constantine, what wickedness you begot, Not by your conversion, but by the dower you gave * The first rich father!" I couldn't tell what * 118 Provoked the sinner—perhaps an angry need to rave Against me, or a gnawing conscience—but while I sang these notes to him his feet continued to wave inferno xix 121 Furiously in the air. From the satisfied smile My master wore during the whole delivery I think he appreciated my true and honest style. 124 Then with both arms he gathered me Firmly against his chest and went Back up the path he'd come down previously. 127 Nor did my weight hinder his ascent, For without fatigue he carried me with him To the summit of the arch which bent inferno xix 130 Over the chasm from the fourth to the fifth rim. Here he set his burden down gently—gently Because the steep ridge would have been rough and grim 133 Even for a goat; and here before me lay another valley.

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1. In Acts 8:9–24, Simon the magician tries to buy the power of conferring the Holy Spirit. The act of simony thus refers to the sale or fraudulent acquisition of ecclesiastical offices. ^
1–6.   The traveler Dante has not yet confronted the simonists, 
so this is the poet speaking, in a unique, passionate proclamation. ^
16–22.   The font in the Baptistery of San Giovanni was surrounded 
by holes.  Dante once broke either the marble around one of these 
holes, or perhaps the font itself, to rescue a trapped boy.  He 
may be taking this opportunity to free himself from charges of 
sacrilege, or perhaps to contrast his act with the 
selfish breakage of a baptismal implement, a symbol of simony. ^
31. From afar, Dante sees Pope Nicholas III, Giovanni Orsini, elected in 1277, died in 1280. ^
51-54.   Nicholas mistakenly believes that Pope Boniface VIII, 
whom he knows will die in 1303, has already arrived to take his 
place.  The "book" is the book of fate which those in Hell can 
read beforehand. ^
56.   The "lovely Lady" is the Church. ^
67.   The "great mantle" is the mantle of the papacy. ^
70–71.   "Orsini" means "little cubs," and Pope Nicholas III was 
known for advancing the fortunes of his relatives. ^
81–89 Pope Clement V of Gascony removed the Papal See from Rome to Avignon in 1309. Because he became Pope through intrigue and negotiations with King Philip the Fair of France, he is compared to Jason, who became High Priest of the Jews by bribing King Antiochus of Syria. ^
95.   Matthias replaced Judas Iscariot.  See Acts 1:21–26. ^
97–99.   Dante accepts the charge that Nicholas took money 
to intrigue against Charles d'Anjou, King of Naples and Sicily.  
After Nicholas' death this culminated in the Sicilian Vespers, 
a bloody uprising in which the Sicilians freed themselves from 
the French. ^
106–108.   "...her who sits upon the waters" is referred to in 
Revelation 17:1–3.  According to the Church Fathers, 
this harlot is pagan Rome.  For Dante she is the Church itself, 
corrupted by the simony of papal "shepherds." ^
110–111. The seven heads represent the seven sacraments; the ten horns, the ten commandments. ^
115–116.   In 312 Constantine the Great, Emperor of Rome, was 
converted to Christianity.  Transferring his capital to 
Constantinople, he allegedly gave power over the western part 
of the empire to the Church in Rome.  Dante felt that this "Donation 
of Constantine" introduced wordly wealth to the Church and began 
its corruption; in the fifteenth century the whole story was 
shown to be based upon documents fabricated by the clergy. ^
117.   The "first rich father" was Pope Sylvester I, who 
supposedly received Constantine's gift as payment for healing 
him of leprosy.  See Canto XXVII, 94–96. ^

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