"'Vexilla Regis prodeunt Inferni' Towards us; therefore look in front of thee," My Master said, "if thou discernest him." As, when there breathes a heavy fog, or when Our hemisphere is darkening into night, Appears far off a mill the wind is turning, Methought that such a building then I saw; And, for the wind, I drew myself behind My Guide, because there was no other shelter. Now was I, and with fear in verse I put it, There where the shades were wholly covered up, And glimmered through like unto straws in glass. Some prone are lying, others stand erect, This with the head, and that one with the soles; Another, bow-like, face to feet inverts. When in advance so far we had proceeded, That it my Master pleased to show to me The creature who once had the beauteous semblance, He from before me moved and made me stop, Saying: "Behold Dis, and behold the place Where thou with fortitude must arm thyself." How frozen I became and powerless then, Ask it not, Reader, for I write it not, Because all language would be insufficient. I did not die, and I alive remained not; Think for thyself now, hast thou aught of wit, What I became, being of both deprived. The Emperor of the kingdom dolorous From his mid-breast forth issued from the ice; And better with a giant I compare Than do the giants with those arms of his; Consider now how great must be that whole, Which unto such a part conforms itself. Were he as fair once, as he now is foul, And lifted up his brow against his Maker, Well may proceed from him all tribulation. O, what a marvel it appeared to me, When I beheld three faces on his head! The one in front, and that vermilion was; Two were the others, that were joined with this Above the middle part of either shoulder, And they were joined together at the crest; And the right-hand one seemed 'twixt white and yellow; The left was such to look upon as those Who come from where the Nile falls valley-ward. Underneath each came forth two mighty wings, Such as befitting were so great a bird; Sails of the sea I never saw so large. No feathers had they, but as of a bat Their fashion was; and he was waving them, So that three winds proceeded forth therefrom. Thereby Cocytus wholly was congealed. With six eyes did he weep, and down three chins Trickled the tear-drops and the bloody drivel. At every mouth he with his teeth was crunching A sinner, in the manner of a brake, So that he three of them tormented thus. To him in front the biting was as naught Unto the clawing, for sometimes the spine Utterly stripped of all the skin remained. "That soul up there which has the greatest pain," The Master said, "is Judas Iscariot; With head inside, he plies his legs without. Of the two others, who head downward are, The one who hangs from the black jowl is Brutus; See how he writhes himself, and speaks no word. And the other, who so stalwart seems, is Cassius. But night is reascending, and 'tis time That we depart, for we have seen the whole." As seemed him good, I clasped him round the neck, And he the vantage seized of time and place, And when the wings were opened wide apart, He laid fast hold upon the shaggy sides; From fell to fell descended downward then Between the thick hair and the frozen crust. When we were come to where the thigh revolves Exactly on the thickness of the haunch, The Guide, with labour and with hard-drawn breath, Turned round his head where he had had his legs, And grappled to the hair, as one who mounts, So that to Hell I thought we were returning. "Keep fast thy hold, for by such stairs as these," The Master said, panting as one fatigued, "Must we perforce depart from so much evil." Then through the opening of a rock he issued, And down upon the margin seated me; Then tow'rds me he outstretched his wary step. I lifted up mine eyes and thought to see Lucifer in the same way I had left him; And I beheld him upward hold his legs. And if I then became disquieted, Let stolid people think who do not see What the point is beyond which I had passed. "Rise up," the Master said, "upon thy feet; The way is long, and difficult the road, And now the sun to middle-tierce returns." It was not any palace corridor There where we were, but dungeon natural, With floor uneven and unease of light. "Ere from the abyss I tear myself away, My Master," said I when I had arisen, "To draw me from an error speak a little; Where is the ice? and how is this one fixed Thus upside down? and how in such short time From eve to morn has the sun made his transit?" And he to me: "Thou still imaginest Thou art beyond the centre, where I grasped The hair of the fell worm, who mines the world. That side thou wast, so long as I descended; When round I turned me, thou didst pass the point To which things heavy draw from every side, And now beneath the hemisphere art come Opposite that which overhangs the vast Dry-land, and 'neath whose cope was put to death The Man who without sin was born and lived. Thou hast thy feet upon the little sphere Which makes the other face of the Judecca. Here it is morn when it is evening there; And he who with his hair a stairway made us Still fixed remaineth as he was before. Upon this side he fell down out of heaven; And all the land, that whilom here emerged, For fear of him made of the sea a veil, And came to our hemisphere; and peradventure To flee from him, what on this side appears Left the place vacant here, and back recoiled." A place there is below, from Beelzebub As far receding as the tomb extends, Which not by sight is known, but by the sound Of a small rivulet, that there descendeth Through chasm within the stone, which it has gnawed With course that winds about and slightly falls. The Guide and I into that hidden road Now entered, to return to the bright world; And without care of having any rest We mounted up, he first and I the second, Till I beheld through a round aperture Some of the beauteous things that Heaven doth bear; Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars.
Dante Alighieri - 1265-1321
Purgatorio, Canto X
When we had crossed the threshold of the door Which the perverted love of souls disuses, Because it makes the crooked way seem straight, Re-echoing I heard it closed again; And if I had turned back mine eyes upon it, What for my failing had been fit excuse? We mounted upward through a rifted rock, Which undulated to this side and that, Even as a wave receding and advancing. "Here it behoves us use a little art," Began my Leader, "to adapt ourselves Now here, now there, to the receding side." And this our footsteps so infrequent made, That sooner had the moon's decreasing disk Regained its bed to sink again to rest, Than we were forth from out that needle's eye; But when we free and in the open were, There where the mountain backward piles itself, I wearied out, and both of us uncertain About our way, we stopped upon a plain More desolate than roads across the deserts. From where its margin borders on the void, To foot of the high bank that ever rises, A human body three times told would measure; And far as eye of mine could wing its flight, Now on the left, and on the right flank now, The same this cornice did appear to me. Thereon our feet had not been moved as yet, When I perceived the embankment round about, Which all right of ascent had interdicted, To be of marble white, and so adorned With sculptures, that not only Polycletus, But Nature's self, had there been put to shame. The Angel, who came down to earth with tidings Of peace, that had been wept for many a year, And opened Heaven from its long interdict, In front of us appeared so truthfully There sculptured in a gracious attitude, He did not seem an image that is silent. One would have sworn that he was saying, "Ave;" For she was there in effigy portrayed Who turned the key to ope the exalted love, And in her mien this language had impressed, "Ecce ancilla Dei," as distinctly As any figure stamps itself in wax. "Keep not thy mind upon one place alone," The gentle Master said, who had me standing Upon that side where people have their hearts; Whereat I moved mine eyes, and I beheld In rear of Mary, and upon that side Where he was standing who conducted me, Another story on the rock imposed; Wherefore I passed Virgilius and drew near, So that before mine eyes it might be set. There sculptured in the self-same marble were The cart and oxen, drawing the holy ark, Wherefore one dreads an office not appointed. People appeared in front, and all of them In seven choirs divided, of two senses Made one say "No," the other, "Yes, they sing." Likewise unto the smoke of the frankincense, Which there was imaged forth, the eyes and nose Were in the yes and no discordant made. Preceded there the vessel benedight, Dancing with girded loins, the humble Psalmist, And more and less than King was he in this. Opposite, represented at the window Of a great palace, Michal looked upon him, Even as a woman scornful and afflicted. I moved my feet from where I had been standing, To examine near at hand another story, Which after Michal glimmered white upon me. There the high glory of the Roman Prince Was chronicled, whose great beneficence Moved Gregory to his great victory; 'Tis of the Emperor Trajan I am speaking; And a poor widow at his bridle stood, In attitude of weeping and of grief. Around about him seemed it thronged and full Of cavaliers, and the eagles in the gold Above them visibly in the wind were moving. The wretched woman in the midst of these Seemed to be saying: "Give me vengeance, Lord, For my dead son, for whom my heart is breaking." And he to answer her: "Now wait until I shall return." And she: "My Lord," like one In whom grief is impatient, "shouldst thou not Return?" And he: "Who shall be where I am Will give it thee." And she: "Good deed of others What boots it thee, if thou neglect thine own?" Whence he: "Now comfort thee, for it behoves me That I discharge my duty ere I move; Justice so wills, and pity doth retain me." He who on no new thing has ever looked Was the creator of this visible language, Novel to us, for here it is not found. While I delighted me in contemplating The images of such humility, And dear to look on for their Maker's sake, "Behold, upon this side, but rare they make Their steps," the Poet murmured, "many people; These will direct us to the lofty stairs." Mine eyes, that in beholding were intent To see new things, of which they curious are, In turning round towards him were not slow. But still I wish not, Reader, thou shouldst swerve From thy good purposes, because thou hearest How God ordaineth that the debt be paid; Attend not to the fashion of the torment, Think of what follows; think that at the worst It cannot reach beyond the mighty sentence. "Master," began I, "that which I behold Moving towards us seems to me not persons, And what I know not, so in sight I waver." And he to me: "The grievous quality Of this their torment bows them so to earth, That my own eyes at first contended with it; But look there fixedly, and disentangle By sight what cometh underneath those stones; Already canst thou see how each is stricken." O ye proud Christians! wretched, weary ones! Who, in the vision of the mind infirm Confidence have in your backsliding steps, Do ye not comprehend that we are worms, Born to bring forth the angelic butterfly That flieth unto judgment without screen? Why floats aloft your spirit high in air? Like are ye unto insects undeveloped, Even as the worm in whom formation fails! As to sustain a ceiling or a roof, In place of corbel, oftentimes a figure Is seen to join its knees unto its breast, Which makes of the unreal real anguish Arise in him who sees it, fashioned thus Beheld I those, when I had ta'en good heed. True is it, they were more or less bent down, According as they more or less were laden; And he who had most patience in his looks Weeping did seem to say, "I can no more!"