Canto XII


The place where to descend the bank we came

  Was alpine, and from what was there, moreover,

  Of such a kind that every eye would shun it.


Such as that ruin is which in the flank

5  Smote, on this side of Trent, the Adige,

  Either by earthquake or by failing stay,


For from the mountain's top, from which it moved,

  Unto the plain the cliff is shattered so,

  Some path 'twould give to him who was above;


10Even such was the descent of that ravine,

  And on the border of the broken chasm

  The infamy of Crete was stretched along,


Who was conceived in the fictitious cow;

  And when he us beheld, he bit himself,

15  Even as one whom anger racks within.


My Sage towards him shouted: "Peradventure

  Thou think'st that here may be the Duke of Athens,

  Who in the world above brought death to thee?


Get thee gone, beast, for this one cometh not

20  Instructed by thy sister, but he comes

  In order to behold your punishments."


As is that bull who breaks loose at the moment

  In which he has received the mortal blow,

  Who cannot walk, but staggers here and there,


25The Minotaur beheld I do the like;

  And he, the wary, cried: "Run to the passage;

  While he wroth, 'tis well thou shouldst descend."


Thus down we took our way o'er that discharge

  Of stones, which oftentimes did move themselves

30  Beneath my feet, from the unwonted burden.


Thoughtful I went; and he said: "Thou art thinking

  Perhaps upon this ruin, which is guarded

  By that brute anger which just now I quenched.


Now will I have thee know, the other time

35  I here descended to the nether Hell,

  This precipice had not yet fallen down.


But truly, if I well discern, a little

  Before His coming who the mighty spoil

  Bore off from Dis, in the supernal circle,


40Upon all sides the deep and loathsome valley

  Trembled so, that I thought the Universe

  Was thrilled with love, by which there are who think


The world ofttimes converted into chaos;

  And at that moment this primeval crag

45  Both here and elsewhere made such overthrow.


But fix thine eyes below; for draweth near

  The river of blood, within which boiling is

  Whoe'er by violence doth injure others."


O blind cupidity, O wrath insane,

50  That spurs us onward so in our short life,

  And in the eternal then so badly steeps us!


I saw an ample moat bent like a bow,

  As one which all the plain encompasses,

  Conformable to what my Guide had said.


55And between this and the embankment's foot

  Centaurs in file were running, armed with arrows,

  As in the world they used the chase to follow.


Beholding us descend, each one stood still,

  And from the squadron three detached themselves,

60  With bows and arrows in advance selected;


And from afar one cried: "Unto what torment

  Come ye, who down the hillside are descending?

  Tell us from there; if not, I draw the bow."


My Master said: "Our answer will we make

65  To Chiron, near you there; in evil hour,

  That will of thine was evermore so hasty."


Then touched he me, and said: "This one is Nessus,

  Who perished for the lovely Dejanira,

  And for himself, himself did vengeance take.


70And he in the midst, who at his breast is gazing,

  Is the great Chiron, who brought up Achilles;

  That other Pholus is, who was so wrathful.


Thousands and thousands go about the moat

  Shooting with shafts whatever soul emerges

75  Out of the blood, more than his crime allots."


Near we approached unto those monsters fleet;

  Chiron an arrow took, and with the notch

  Backward upon his jaws he put his beard.


After he had uncovered his great mouth,

80  He said to his companions: "Are you ware

  That he behind moveth whate'er he touches?


Thus are not wont to do the feet of dead men."

  And my good Guide, who now was at his breast,

  Where the two natures are together joined,


85Replied: "Indeed he lives, and thus alone

  Me it behoves to show him the dark valley;

  Necessity, and not delight, impels us.


Some one withdrew from singing Halleluja,

  Who unto me committed this new office;

90  No thief is he, nor I a thievish spirit.


But by that virtue through which I am moving

  My steps along this savage thoroughfare,

  Give us some one of thine, to be with us,


And who may show us where to pass the ford,

95  And who may carry this one on his back;

  For 'tis no spirit that can walk the air."


Upon his right breast Chiron wheeled about,

  And said to Nessus: "Turn and do thou guide them,

  And warn aside, if other band may meet you."


100We with our faithful escort onward moved

  Along the brink of the vermilion boiling,

  Wherein the boiled were uttering loud laments.


People I saw within up to the eyebrows,

  And the great Centaur said: "Tyrants are these,

105  Who dealt in bloodshed and in pillaging.


Here they lament their pitiless mischiefs; here

  Is Alexander, and fierce Dionysius

  Who upon Sicily brought dolorous years.


That forehead there which has the hair so black

110  Is Azzolin; and the other who is blond,

  Obizzo is of Esti, who, in truth,


Up in the world was by his stepson slain."

  Then turned I to the Poet; and he said,

  "Now he be first to thee, and second I."


115A little farther on the Centaur stopped

  Above a folk, who far down as the throat

  Seemed from that boiling stream to issue forth.


A shade he showed us on one side alone,

  Saying: "He cleft asunder in God's bosom

120  The heart that still upon the Thames is honoured."


Then people saw I, who from out the river

  Lifted their heads and also all the chest;

  And many among these I recognised.


Thus ever more and more grew shallower

125  That blood, so that the feet alone it covered;

  And there across the moat our passage was.


"Even as thou here upon this side beholdest

  The boiling stream, that aye diminishes,"

  The Centaur said, "I wish thee to believe


130That on this other more and more declines

  Its bed, until it reunites itself

  Where it behoveth tyranny to groan.


Justice divine, upon this side, is goading

  That Attila, who was a scourge on earth,

135  And Pyrrhus, and Sextus; and for ever milks


The tears which with the boiling it unseals

  In Rinier da Corneto and Rinier Pazzo,

  Who made upon the highways so much war."


Then back he turned, and passed again the ford.