The eighth circle; prophecy against Florence; view of the eighth bolgia; the deceivers in flames; Ulysses

canto summary and diagram

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1 Rejoice, Florence, for you are so great that you fan Your wings over sea and land, and your fame Spreads through Hell's depth and span! * inferno xxvi 4 Among the thieves—to my great shame – I found five of your citizens, who do Eternal damage to the honor of your name. 7 But if dreams near dawn are true, * Then before much longer you'll surely Feel what Prato and others crave for you. * 10 And if this happened now, it wouldn't be too early; Indeed, since it must come, let it come today, For as I age, it will just grieve me more severely. inferno xxvi 13 We now struggled back on our solitary way, Up the same stone stairs we'd used on our recent Climb down; the sharp, jagged rock which lay 16 Along our path forced our hands to supplement Our feet, and my guide, dragging me behind, Set a steady pace upward. Now must I curb my talent 19 More than usual, while I direct my mind Toward those sad things I saw which grieve me still; Otherwise my genius might run a course not designed inferno xxvi 22 Or ruled by virtue; for if my gift be the will Of some lucky star, or even of something Higher, I must take care never to use it for ill. 25 Imagine a peasant who is resting On a hillside, in the season when he Who lights the world is most revealing 28 Of his face, at the hour when one can barely see * The firefly but the mosquito is on the rise. Picture how many fireflies there might be inferno xxvi 31 Glimmering in that valley beneath his eyes, Where perhaps he gathers grapes, or tills the land. The eighth chasm had just as many flames as these flies, 34 As I perceived once I could command A view of its gleaming depths. Just as he who * Was avenged by bears witnessed Elijah's chariot and 37 Its rearing horses on their departure to Heaven, yet saw only a flame—like a cloud afloat – Once they were too far off to get a clear view, inferno xxvi 40 So each flame streaked through that ditch's throat, None revealing its theft, but each surreptitiously Carrying off a sinner under its fiery coat. 43 I stood on the bridge and leaned out cautiously, Observing, and if my grip hadn't been so tight About a rock I would have fallen disastrously. 46 My guide, seeing how taken I was with the sight, Informed me: "A soul resides within each fire, Swathed in the scorching punishment that's right 49 For it." "Master," I replied, "your words inspire Confidence in me, for I'd already suspected This was the case and meant to inquire: 52 Who inhabits that flame whose top is so bisected That it might well rise from the pyre containing Eteocles and his brother?" "Eternally connected * 55 In punishment, as once in wrath," he began explaining, "Ulysses and Diomed are together tortured. * Within their flame, groaning and complaining, inferno xxvi 58 They lament the ambush of the horse which punctured * The wall so that the noble Roman seed fled; * Within their flame they mourn the guile which procured 61 Deidama's grief for Achilles, even when she's dead; * And within it, for the Palladium, they're made to pay." * "If they can speak inside those flames," I said, 64 "Then let me pray you, master, and then repray – So that the value of my single prayer is the same As a thousand—that you don't forbid me to stay inferno xxvi 67 Here until the approach of the two–horned flame; For you see how I lean toward it with desire." "Your request," he replied, "has a worthy aim, 70 And deserves much praise; we'll wait for the fire, Just as you wish, but be sure to restrain Your tongue—that's the only thing I require. 73 Let me do the talking, for I know the train Of your thought; since in life this pair Was Greek, they might treat your words with disdain." * inferno xxvi 76 When the time was right, and the flame was where My guide felt sufficiently near it, He addressed the sinners with particular care: 79 "Oh you who mix more than one spirit In a single flame, if I had merit for you when I was alive, if on earth I had any merit, 82 Great or small, when there flowed from my pen The noble verses, don't leave now, stay a moment. Let one of you describe how he went astray and then inferno xxvi 85 Met his death." The larger horn of that ancient * Flame began to quiver, murmuring like a fire Battling the wind; then, as if generated by the movement 88 Of the tip to and fro—so that the entire Horn seemed like one great tongue—a voice said: "Circe held me near Gaëta, against my desire, 91 Beguiling me for more than a year until I fled, * (Before Aeneas called the place by this name). Neither reverence for my father, then nearly dead, * inferno xxvi 94 Nor fondness for my son, nor the well–earned claim Which Penelope had upon my love and affection, (With which I might have made her happy), could tame * 97 My ardor for experience and exploration, That burning need to touch and feel and see The world of human virtue and human degradation. 100 Thus I set out on the deep and open sea * With a single ship and that small core Of companions who'd never deserted me. inferno xxvi 103 I saw as far as Spain on the northern shore And Morocco on the southern, having passed by Sardinia and other sea–bathed isles long before. 106 When we reached the straits my companions and I Were old and slow; towering on either Side were the pillars Hercules had placed on high * 109 To warn men against venturing any farther; We sailed by Seville on the right hand, While Ceuta we'd already passed on the other. * inferno xxvi 112 'Brothers,' I said, 'you who through a hundred thousand Perils have reached the west, do not deny To the brief vigil of your senses this final errand: 115 Before the time remaining to you goes by, Seek out the uninhabited world beyond the sun; Make it your last experience before you die. 118 Think of your origins: you're not just anyone – You weren't born to live like brutes; To pursue knowledge and virtue is your mission!' inferno xxvi 121 Reminding my companions of their Greek roots, This brief speech made them as keen to begin The journey as young, fired up recruits, 124 So that I couldn't possibly have reined them in. Turning our stern to morning, we made of each oar A wing for our mad flight; the slow spin 127 Of southern stars filled the night sky as we bore * Down more heavily on the left and submerged Our own pole deep beneath the ocean floor. inferno xxvi 130 Five times the light of the moon had surged And then diminished since we'd entered by That narrow pass; before us there emerged 133 A great mountain, dim in the distance, and so high * That among all those I'd seen it seemed the tallest. My companions and I were elated, but as if to deny 136 Our joy there rose a violent, swirling tempest From the new land, battering the bow Of our boat while in despair we witnessed inferno xxvi 139 Our doom at Another's pleasure. Three times now * Our vessel was whirled around in a watery spin; And the fourth time the stern lurched up, the prow 142 Plunged down, and above us the sea closed in."

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1–3. That this proclamation is ironic becomes evident from lines 4–12, but its irony is even more effective if one knows that it mimics the inscription on the facade of the city hall. ^
7.   According to ancient and medieval tradition, dreams in the 
early morning come true. ^
9. Prato and other small towns may have desired misfortune for the larger, grander Florence. Or the line might predict that Prato will turn from friend to foe. Some commentators take "Prato" to signify Cardinal Niccolò da Prato, who laid a curse on Florence after he had failed in a peace mission in 1304. ^
26–28.   The season is summer and the hour is dusk. ^
35–38.   The prophet Elisha saw Elijah transported to Heaven in 
a fiery chariot.  Another time he cursed a group of children who 
were mocking him and two bears came out of the forest and ate them.  
See II Kings, 2: 11–12; 23–24. ^
54. Eteocles and Polynices, twin sons of Oedipus and Jocasta, forced their father to abdicate and received his curse—that they would always be enemies. Their feuding precipitated the war of the Seven against Thebes. They killed each other, were placed on the same pyre, but the flame divided in two. ^
56.   Ulysses and Diomed were two famous Greek heroes of the 
Trojan War. ^
58. The Greeks won the war by concealing themselves in a wooden horse which the Trojans brought in through the gates, believing it to signify Greek capitulation. ^
59.   The "Roman seed" is Aeneas and his followers. ^
61.   Achilles abandoned Deïdema and their son to go to war 
against Troy; as a result she died of grief. ^
62.   The Palladium was a sacred statue of Pallas Athena which 
protected Troy; Ulysses and Diomedes stole it, thus guaranteeing 
the victory of the Greeks. ^
73–75. This may refer to the popular idea that the Greeks were disdainful of "barbaric" cultures, or it may signify that Virgil was ancient while Dante was modern. ^
85.   The larger horn is Ulysses. ^
90–91.   The enchantress Circe, daughter of the sun, lived near 
the Gulf of Gaëta; Returning from Troy, Ulysses and his men 
were changed by her into swine. Although Ulysses forced her 
to transform them back into men, they stayed with her for more 
than a year.  See Ovid's Metamorphoses Book XIV. ^
93. Gaëta, above Naples, was named by Aeneas after his nurse, who had died there. See the Aeneid Book VII. ^
96.   Penelope, Ulysses' wife, remained faithful to him during 
his years away. ^
100–142.   This voyage is not from Homer's Odyssey, but is of 
Dante's invention. ^
108.   The Strait of Gibraltar.   Mt. Abyla in Africa and Mt. Calpe 
in Europe, formed when Hercules split a mountain in two, mark 
the western limits of the inhabited world, beyond which Ulysses 
ventures. ^
110–111. Ulysses had sailed westward through the Strait into the Atlantic Ocean. "Seville" may represent the entire peninsula to the north; Ceuta is a town on the coast of Morocco, opposite Gibraltar. ^
127.   The ship had crossed the equator going southward. ^
133.   The Mount of Purgatory, rising from the sea opposite Jerusalem.
Except for this island, the southern hemisphere was believed to be 
all water. ^
139.   "Another" is God. ^

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