HELL XVIII

CANTO XVIII

The eighth circle, Malebolge, first bolgia; the pimps and seducers; Jason; the second bolgia; the flatterers; Alessio Interminei; Thaïs

canto summary and diagram

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1 There is a place called Malebolge in Hell, * Made of the same iron–colored stone * As the cliff which encircles it like a well. inferno xviii 4 Precisely at the focus of this evil cone, At the center of this malignant place, Is a broad, deep pit whose structure I'll postpone 7 Describing until we reach there; the surrounding space Is divided into ten valleys which descend To the pit from the steep wall's base. 10 Like concentric moats designed to defend A castle, such was the arrangement Of these valleys; and as fortresses send inferno xviii 13 Out bridges to their farthest embankment, So similar ridges of rock sliced Inward from the circumference and went 16 Across banks and ditches until they spliced Together at the pit which blocked their direction. One shake from Geryon's back had sufficed 19 To land us in this forbidding location. The poet turned left, and I did the same. On our right we saw new aggravation, inferno xviii 22 New torturers, and new means to hurt and maim. All of this was packed into the first ditch, along Whose bottom one group of sinners came 25 Toward us while another naked throng Moved along with us, but with greater stride. Thus did the Romans establish order among * 28 Those crowds in the Jubilee year, when on one side Of the bridge half the people pressed In the direction of the castle as they tried inferno xviii 31 To reach Saint Peter's, while all the rest Went toward the mount. Horned demons lined The bleak rock on both sides, and with cruel zest 34 Lashed their great whips on the sinners from behind. Ah, how they made them lift their heels high With the very first stroke! None was inclined 37 To risk a second or a third. And my eye Was met, as I continued ahead, By the glance of a spirit going by, inferno xviii 40 And without hesitation I said, "I'm sure this face is not new to me." So I slowed down to follow the thread 43 Of this thought and figure out who he could be. I halted and went back a bit, for my guide Was kind enough to wait while I went to see 46 If I could recognize him. That whipped soul tried To conceal himself by looking at the ground, But it was useless. "You who try to hide inferno xviii 49 By lowering your eyes, if your features are sound, And not false upon your face, then you're Venedico Caccianimico; but why have you found * 52 Yourself in such a pickle?" "You can be sure," * He replied, "that I'm reluctant to reveal why, But I'm drawn by your plain speech, which has the lure 55 Of the old world and its memories. It was I, If you must know, who led Ghisolabella to do what The Marquis desired, however one might deny inferno xviii 58 This by twisting the sordid tale. I'm not The only Bolognese who weeps here below; Indeed, there are so many of us in this one spot 61 That we outnumber those whose tongues know How to say sipa between Savena and Revo; and for confirmation, you needn't go 64 Beyond your own memory of our greedy land." As he spoke a demon lashed him and cried: "Get going, pimp, there are no women on hand inferno xviii 67 For you to sell." I returned to my guide, And in a few steps we'd arrived at the site Of a rocky bridge, jutting off the bank to the side. 70 We climbed up easily, and turning right Along the jagged ridge at the top, Left those shades to circle in eternal night. 73 A bit farther on my guide asked me to stop; Below us was an opening which allowed through The whipped spirits. "Now," said my guide, "drop inferno xviii 76 Your eyes so the misbegotten souls whose faces you Couldn't see when they were traveling In our direction come into your view." 79 From the old bridge we watched the crowds trailing Toward us on the other side, kept on their toes, Like the earlier ones, by the constant flailing. 82 And my good master, before the question even arose, Said to me, "Look at that impressive shade Who seems to shed no tears of pain; what a pose inferno xviii 85 Of majesty he retains! This is Jason, who displayed * Such courage and shrewdness when he won The ram from the Colchians. He then stayed 88 On the isle of Lemnos, where every son Had been slaughtered by the island's bold, Heartless women, and where he spun 91 A deceitful web of fine words and tokens to hold The young Hypsipyle, who herself had deceived The other women earlier when she told inferno xviii 94 Them her father was dead. When she conceived He left her there, pregnant and alone: Such guilt justifies the torment he's received, 97 And takes revenge for Medea. All those prone To similar deceit are also down there; And this is enough to know about those who moan 100 In the jaws of the first valley." We'd come to where The path crossed the second bank and made it a support For a further arch over the foul, steamy air inferno xviii 103 Rising from the next ditch. We heard the shades snort And grunt, use their open palms to slap, And make other sounds of a whining, whimpering sort. 106 As a result of the vapor the banks had a cap Of crusted mold, disgusting to both eye And nose. The bottom of this second gap 109 Was so deep that only by climbing high On the arch could we see all the way down; And from this perspective we could spy 112 Souls in the ditch who were plunged in brown Excrement, very likely flushed out From human latrines. I could see a crown 115 So smeared with shit that I was in doubt Whether it was the head of a priest Or a layman. "You up there!" came a shout 118 From below. "Why are you so eager to feast Your eyes on me? Am I really the best Example in this ditch of a filthy beast?" inferno xviii 121 "I've seen you with your hair dry and not so messed; If I remember rightly, you're from Lucca," I said, "Alessio Interminei; I watch you more than the rest * 124 Because I recognize you." And he beat his head As he spoke: "Those flatteries which always Slid so easily off my tongue before I was dead 127 Have plunged me down here." "Lean forward and gaze," Said my guide, "at that filthy, disheveled slut, The one who squats and stands and never stays inferno xviii 130 Still while she scratches her butt With her shitty fingernails. That whore you See there is Thaïs, who like an animal in rut 133 Once listened to her lover's question: 'Do you * Thank me very much?' and agreed: 'Yes, enormously.' But I think our view 136 Of this pocket is as full as we need.

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NOTES

1. Malebolge, "evil–pouches," is the name of the Eighth Circle. In each of its ten ditches (pouches, pockets or valleys) one of the ten types of fraud is punished. ^
2–17.   This is an aerial view of the eighth circle as seen on 
Dante's descent. ^
27–32.   Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed a Jubilee or Holy Year 
in 1300.  Crowds flocked to Rome, not the least reason for which 
was that indulgences (reductions in penance) were granted for 
visits to certain churches in Rome.  Half the people crossed the 
bridge toward Castel Sant'Angelo and St. Peter's, the other half 
toward Monte Giordano across the Tiber River. ^
51–58. Venèdico Caccianemico, head of the Guelphs in Bologna, was said to have been a procurer for his own sister, Ghisolabella, although there were many versions of the story. ^
52.   "Pickle," appropriate to the tortures in this bolgia, is the 
translation for "salse," which was the name of a ravine near 
Bologna, into which the bodies of criminals were thrown.  "Sipa" 
is the Bolognese equivalent of si; the Savena and Reno rivers 
border Bologna to the west and east. ^
85–97. Jason was the leader of the Argonauts in their pursuit of the golden fleece. On the way to Colchis he seduced Hypsipyle, who had previously saved the life of her father, the King of Lemnos, when the women of Lemnos killed all their men. He also married Medea, daughter of the King of Colchis, as a reward for helping him obtain the golden fleece, but deserted her to marry Creusa, daughter of the King of Corinth. Interestingly, Jason is mentioned in Paradiso II, and his ship, the Argo, in Paradiso XXXIII. Hypsipyle, unnamed, returns in a metaphor in Purgatorio XXVI. ^
123.   Alessio Interminei's family were prominent Whites in Lucca. ^
133.   Thaïs is a character in Terence's Eunuchus.  In his 
De amicitia, Cicero cites her reply to her lover as an example 
of the exaggeration of flatterers, but since in the play itself it 
is not she who exaggerates, Dante probably knew her only through 
Cicero's ambiguous commentary. ^

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