Geryon; the usurers; descent to the eighth circle

canto summary and diagram

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1 "Behold the beast whose tail is pointed and curled, * Who crosses mountains and overcomes walls and Weapons; behold him who fouls the whole world." inferno xvii 4 Thus my guide spoke to me, while with his hand He signaled the beast to come ashore Where our rocky path ended. Up onto the land 7 That filthy image of fraud drew no more Than his head and torso, allowing His tail to extend behind him. He wore 10 The face of an honest man, showing An aspect outwardly mild, while the rest Of him was like a serpent; two clawing inferno xvii 13 Paws were hairy to the arpits; the chest, Back and flanks were painted everywhere With knots and curls; not even the best 16 Turkish or Tartar fabric could compare * With it in colorful background and weave, Nor has Arachne ever spun a cloth so rare. * 19 As boats which fishermen sometimes leave Half in water, half on land, and as Beavers who among the drunken Germans achieve * inferno xvii 22 The stance of hunter by squatting, just so was That most squalid of beasts, stretched Across the margin of stone which the sand has 25 For a border. In the void behind him he twitched His tail, turning up the sharp end, Whose twisting, venomed fork exactly matched 28 A scorpion's. "Now," said my guide, "we must bend Our path a bit toward that malicious beast who Crouches over there." We began to descend inferno xvii 31 Toward the right, and in order to * Avoid the sand and the flames we advanced Ten paces along the stony edge; just a few 34 Meters away from the beast we glanced Beyond to where some sinners sat on the sand Near the void. "That you may be enhanced 37 In your experience and better understand This ring," said my guide, "go and see The condition of these sinners first hand. inferno xvii 40 But keep your conversation brief; as for me, Until you return I'll have a friendly chat With this creature, so that he'll agree 43 To lend us his strong shoulders." And with that I continued alone along the outer strand Of the seventh circle to where the sad shades sat. 46 Pain was bursting from their eyes; with one hand And then the other they brushed away First the flames and then the burning sand. inferno xvii 49 They were just like dogs on a summer's day, Using first the paw and then the snout To keep the fleas or flies or gnats at bay. 52 Surveying the faces of the group, I could make out No one I knew in that fiery rain, But I did perceive that hanging about 55 The neck of each was a pouch whose stain And emblem were unique, and everyone's vision Seemed to feast on these as a relief from pain. inferno xvii 58 And as I looked about the group my attention Fell upon a yellow purse with a blue figure Whose face and bearing were that of a lion. * 61 Then glancing on, I saw another creature, A goose whiter than butter, set * Upon a blood–red purse. Then someone whose azure, 64 Pregnant sow was on his white pouch met * My eyes and said, "What are you doing here * In this pit? Be off! And since you're not dead yet, inferno xvii 67 Know that my neighbor, Vitaliano, will appear * Here at my left side one day. I am the solitary Paduan, I fear, 70 Among all these Florentines, and they Often fill my ears with their thunderous shout: 'Send the sovereign knight whose pouch will display * 73 The three goats!'" Then he thrust his tongue out Through his distorted mouth, rather Like an ox licking his nose. And I, in doubt inferno xvii 76 About how my guide would take any further Delay, (since he'd told me to make haste,) Turned and left these souls to their own bother 79 And frustration. I found my guide already placed High upon the back of that fierce animal. "This kind of stairs is surely not to your taste," 82 He acknowledged, "but be strong in this trial, For henceforth this is how we descend; have courage, Mount in front of me so the chance is minimal inferno xvii 85 That his vicious tail will do you damage." As one who, sensing fever, begins shivering, Whose nails are pale and for whom the mere image 88 Of shade is enough to set him shuddering, So I felt at these words; but the threat Of shame also worked upon me, engendering 91 Bravery like that of a servant who won't let His noble master down. "Please hold me tight," I tried to cry as I climbed those huge shoulders, yet inferno xvii 94 My voice wouldn't come. But he who'd set me right In so many troubles clasped me now with no Need to be asked, in preparation for flight. 97 "Now Geryon," he commanded, "go! Keep in mind the extra weight you bear: Make your circles broad and your descent slow." 100 Like a boat reversing slowly away from where It's docked, the beast backed out bit by bit Until he felt completely free in the air; inferno xvii 103 Then he swung his tail about and placed it Where his chest had been, moving it like an eel And gathering the air to himself with the mitt 106 Of his paws. I'm sure Phaethon didn't feel More frightened than I did when he let the reins loose And scorched the sky (as yet to heal). * 109 Nor did poor Icarus when he lost the use Of his waxed feathers and his father cried, "You're going wrong!" Neither event could produce * inferno xvii 112 Greater fear than mine when I saw on every side Empty space with nothing in view But the beast's back. He swam ahead in a slow glide, 115 Wheeling and descending, which I sensed only through The wind on my face from below. Already on our right The whirlpool roared hideously as we flew 118 Closer to the ground, and to catch the sight I stretched out my neck and peered down with care. This provoked in me an even greater fright, inferno xvii 121 That of leaving the beast, for everywhere I saw fire and heard great lament, Which made me tremble. And then I saw in the air 124 The pattern I'd missed before, our spiral of descent, Showing itself in the way the torments drew Nearer to us on all sides as we went 127 Down in tighter circles. Like a falcon who Cruises for hours with no sign of prey, (Causing his falconer to moan, "Do you inferno xvii 130 "Drop already?") who makes his sluggish way Down in tired circles instead of swooping rapidly, And who, settling in sullen anger, tries to stay 133 Far from his master, so Geryon disgruntedly Set us down near the rugged cliff's base, freeing Himself of our weight, then vanished hurriedly 136 Like an arrow sprung full speed from the bowstring. *

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1–15. In classical mythology Geryon was a three–bodied giant, slain by Hercules as one of his labors. Here he is the guardian of the eighth circle, and a symbol of fraud. His three–fold aspect places him with so many other perversions of the Trinity represented in the Inferno. ^
16.   In the Middle Ages the Turks and Tartars were renowned for 
their weaving. ^
18.   The Lydian maiden Arachne challenged the goddess of fine 
arts, Minerva (Pallas Athena), to a weaving contest.  Minerva tore 
up Arachne's perfect cloth and changed her to a spider. ^
21–28. In medieval times the beaver was supposed to angle for fish with its tail. Beavers existed in southern Europe at that time. ^
31. Other than Canto IX, line 133, this is the only turn to the right in Hell. ^
59–60.   The arms of the Gianfigliazzi, a family belonging to the 
Blacks. ^
62–63.   The arms of the Ubbriachi, a Ghibelline family. ^
63–64. The arms of the Scrovegni family of Padua. ^
65–73.   The speaker is Rinaldo de' Scrovegni. ^
67.   Vitaliano's identity  is uncertain, but he is almost surely 
from Padua. ^
72.   The "sovereign knight" is the prominent Florentine banker, 
Giovanni Buiamonte of the wealthy Becchi family.  Honored with the 
title of "knight" in 1298, he went bankrupt and died impoverished 
in 1310. ^
106–108. Phaethon, Son of Apollo, lost control of the chariot of the sun, "scorching the sky" with the Milky Way. When the burning chariot threatened to set fire to the earth, Zeus killed him with a thunderbolt. See Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book II. ^
109–111. Icarus tried to escape from Crete on wings crafted by his father, Daedalus. When he flew too close to the sun, the wax melted and he drowned in the Aegean Sea. Both Phaethon and Icarus were prime examples of pride in the Middle Ages. ^
136.   Compare this with the previous metaphorical use of the 
arrow at the approach of Phlegyas (VIII 13–16). ^

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