HELL XXXI

CANTO XXXI

The bank to the ninth circle; the giants Nimrod, Ephialtes, Briareus; Antaeus lowers them to the central, frozen pit.

canto summary and diagram

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1 The tongue which hurt me first, tinging with red Both my cheeks, also brought my medication. In like manner the lance of Achilles, so it's said, inferno xxxi 4 Given to him by his father, was the occasion Of sadness initially, and healing comfort later. * Turning our backs on that valley's degradation, 7 We silently climbed the bank which forms its border. Here it was less than day and less than night, So that my vision could hardly reach farther 10 Than a few yards. But if I was limited in sight I heard a high horn which made such a loud blast That the effect of thunder would have been slight inferno xxxi 13 By comparison. Immediately my eyes passed Back along the path of the sound to its place Of origin. Not even Roland's horn surpassed * 16 Its dreadful wail (after Charlemagne's disgrace On the battlefield, when the holy enterprise Was lost). Not long after I'd turned my face 19 To follow the sound there appeared to my eyes A number of high towers, or so I believed, And I asked: "Master, what is that city which lies inferno xxxi 22 Before us?" And he explained: "What you've perceived Are false images which come from trying to penetrate The shadows too deeply. You'll see how you're deceived 25 Once we get closer, so try to accelerate." Then he took my hand affectionately and said: "Before we go on, in order to dissipate 28 The strangeness of what we'll encounter ahead, Let me tell you that these objects you first Thought were towers are in fact giants, and instead inferno xxxi 31 Of standing they're actually immersed Up to the navel in the bank which runs around The well." As when a mist is slowly dispersed 34 And the vapor–clogged air can no longer confound Keen vision, so confusion fell bit by bit From my eyes as I advanced along the ground 37 Through the murky air toward the brink of the pit. But as error fled I felt an increase of fear. For just as on Montereggioni's round wall there sit inferno xxxi 40 Lofty towers in a crown, so there towered here, * Half above the well's bank and half under, The terrifying giants, whom we can still hear * 43 Threatened by Jove whenever he sends his thunder From heaven. I could now distinguish clearly The face of one of them, and see with wonder 46 His enormous shoulders and chest, and nearly Half or even more of his belly, and the two Arms which hung down at his sides. Surely inferno xxxi 49 Nature did well when she stopped producing new Creatures like these, hoping to curtail The number of Mars' henchmen. And if she can't do * 52 Without the elephant and the whale, This is indeed quite proper and cautious, If we consider it subtly, for none can prevail 55 Against a creature who combines malicious Will with power both physical and mental – Such a threat would be ferocious. * inferno xxxi 58 In length and width his face seemed to equal St Peter's cone in Rome, and in this proportion * All his bones were larger than normal. 61 Thus the bank, which served him as an apron Below the waist, still left enough visible So that three tall Frieslanders, standing one on * 64 Another fully stretched, would find it impossible To reach his hair, for downward from where a man Buckles his cloak thirty spans were perceptible. inferno xxxi 67 "Rafel mai amech zabi almi," the proud mouth began * To bellow, the savage lips unable to emit Any sweeter psalm than this. My guide's eyes ran 70 Up to his face: "You gibbering spirit! You're fit For nothing but your horn! Stick to blasting out * Your rage and passion on that! You'll find it 73 Hanging from your neck, fixed tightly on your stout, Massive chest; don't you see it, you confused Soul, girdling you in front?" My guide looked about inferno xxxi 76 At me and said: "By his own words he stands accused; This is Nimrod, because of whose evil creation A single world language is no longer used. * 79 Just leave him alone, don't waste your conversation – He's as ignorant of every other language As everyone is of his—forget communication." 82 And so we continued together on our passage, Bearing to the left, and within a bowshot's flight We found a second giant, larger and even more savage. inferno xxxi 85 I cannot imagine what clever master might Have bound him like this, but against his chest The left arm was fixed while behind him was the right. 88 Both were held tightly by a chain which pressed Around him in five great, descending coils From neck to waist. "This bighead wanted to test 91 His power against almighty Jove's, and the spoils Of his labor you see here," my guide declared. "His name is Ephialtes, and his greatest toils * inferno xxxi 94 Occurred when the giants arose and scared The gods; the arms he thrust toward the prize He no longer moves." "If time could be spared 97 And it were possible," I said, "I'd like my eyes To experience Briareus' enormity." * To which he replied: "Another of great size, 100 Antaeus, is nearby; he has the ability * To speak, and, unfettered by the disgrace Of chains, will bring us to the pit of all iniquity. inferno xxxi 103 The one you want to see is far from this place; He's bound and looks like this one here, Except that he has a fiercer face." 106 Never did an earthquake give anywhere near Such a jolt to a tower as Ephialtes that moment Gave to himself. More than ever did I fear 109 To die, and that fear would have been sufficient To kill me if I hadn't known his chains were tight. Leaving him, we continued on our urgent inferno xxxi 112 Journey until we reached Antaeus, whose height From the well up to just below the head Was a good five ells. "Oh you who could fight 115 And defeat a thousand lions," my master said, "In that famous valley where Scipio became * The heir of glory when Hannibal fled 118 With his men; you who, as many still claim, * By fighting beside your brothers in the high war Would have brought the sons of earth fame inferno xxxi 121 And victory: set us down now upon the cold floor Where the ice locks in Cocytus. * Take care—don't disdain this modest chore 124 And force us to go to Typhon or Tityus; * What you desire here this man can give you, So bend down and don't dare scowl at us. 127 He can still spread your fame through The world because he's alive and will stay Alive for years, unless, before his time is due, inferno xxxi 130 He's summoned by grace." Antaeus without delay Stretched out his hands, which once nearly surpassed * Hercules' in strength, and in a firm but gentle way 133 Grasped my guide. And when he felt himself held fast Virgil called, "I'll carry you, come here," And bundled us together. As when clouds drift out past 136 The Garisenda, making the tilted tower appear * From below to be falling (in the direction Opposite to the clouds), I felt a momentary fear inferno xxxi 139 That in bending over to offer transportation Antaeus would topple on me, and I wished our descent Had been by another route. But with great caution 142 He lowered us from the bank and together we went Into that pit which swallows both Judas and the last Great sinner, Lucifer; nor did he linger thus bent, 145 But drew himself up again like a ship's mast.

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NOTES

3–5. The lance which Peleus gave his son, Achilles, could heal any wound it had inflicted by being placed once more upon the wound. ^
15–18. In the French epic, La chanson de Roland, the Saracens attacked Charlemagne's rear guard at Roncesvalles. Roland blew his horn so fiercely that Charlemagne, eight miles away, returned to help his men, but he had waited too long to sound the call and the battle was lost. ^
39–40. Montereggioni is a fortress near Siena, whose wall contained fourteen high towers. ^
42–44. When the rebelliousTitans, or Giants, tried to attack Mount Olympus, home of the gods, Jove struck them down with thunderbolts. In Hell they are still afraid of his thunder. See Canto XIV, 58–59 and note. ^
51. These are the agents of Mars, god of war. ^
51–57. Dante distinguishes between Titans, whom Nature rightly curtailed, and brute animals without reason, who are no threat to man. ^
59. This is the seven–foot high bronze pine cone which at that time stood outside St Peter's, but today is inside the Vatican. ^
63. The northernmost province in the Netherlands is Friesland, whose inhabitants were known for their height. ^
67. Nimrod, the builder of the Tower of Babel, appropriately speaks gibberish. There is no Biblical tradition of his being a giant. ^
71. Nimrod has a horn because in Genesis 10:9 he is described as a "mighty hunter." ^
77–78. The "evil creation" is the Tower of Babel, as a punishment for which God confused the tongues of men. See Genesis 11. ^
93–95. The giant Ephialtes and his twin Otus, sons of Neptune and Iphimedia, tried to attack Mount Olympus by piling Mount Pelion and Mount Ossa together, but were slain by Apollo. ^
98. Briareus was another Titan who rebelled against the Olympian gods. Statius describes him as immense, while Virgil portrays him with fifty heads and one hundred arms. ^
100–133. Antaeus is "unfettered" because he was born too late to participate in the war against Olympus. Dante takes his details from Lucan's Pharsalia, Book IV. ^

116–118. Antaeus lived in a cave near the valley of the Bagradas River in Tunisia; it was here that in 202 B.C. Scipio defeated Hannibal in the decisive battle of the war between Rome and Carthage. ^
118–121. Had Antaeus taken part in the revolt, the Titans ( the "sons of earth") would very likely have triumphed. ^
122. Cocytus is the frozen lake which appears in the last Circle of Hell. ^
124. Tityus and Typhon were Titans whom Jove cast into the region of the underwordl called Tartarus, the former for his attempted rape of Latona, the latter for rebelling against the gods. ^
131–132. When Hercules discovered that Antaeus lost his strength when he didn't touch the earth, he lifted him in the air and crushed him. ^
136. The Garisenda, built in the twelfth century, is one of the two leaning towers in Bologna. ^

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