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Canto XXVI, The Lustful
Dante Alighieri

Charles Eliot Norton prose translation

English translations in notes windowDante's original Italian
C.E. Norton prose translationIn NOTES frame
H.F. Cary poetic translationIn DEFINTIONS frame
H.W. Longfellow poetic translationIn AUXILARY window
Sources for text

CANTO XXVI. Seventh Ledge: the Lustful.--Sinners in the fire, going in opposite directions.--Guido Guinicelli.--Arnaut Daniel.

     While we were going on thus along the edge, one before the other, and the good Master was often saying, "Take heed! let it avail that I warn thee," the sun was striking me on the right shoulder, and now, raying out, was changing all the west from azure to a white aspect; and with my shadow I was making the flame appear more ruddy, and only at such an indication[1] I saw many shades, as they went on, give attention. This was the occasion which gave them a beginning to speak of me, and they began to say, "He seems not a fictitious body;" then toward me, so far as they could do so, certain of them canine, always with regard not to come out where they would not be burned.

[1] At this sign that Dante's body was that of a living man.

     "O thou! who goest, not from being slower, but perhaps from reverence, behind the others, reply to me who in thirst and fire am burning. Nor to me only is thy reply of need, for all these have a greater thirst for it than Indian or Ethiop of cold water. Tell us how it is that thou makest of thyself a wall to the sun, as if thou hadst not yet entered within the net of death." Thus spoke to me one of them; and I should now have disclosed myself, if I had not been intent on another new thing which then appeared; for through the middle of the burning road were coming people with their faces opposite to these, who made me gaze in suspense. There I see, on every side, all the shades making haste and kissing each other, without stopping, content with brief greeting. Thus within their brown band one ant touches muzzle with another, perchance to enquire their way and their fortune.

     Soon as they end the friendly salutation, before the first step runs on beyond, each strives to outcry the other; the new-come folk: "Sodom and Gomorrah," and the other, "Into the cow enters Pasiphae, that the bull may run to her lust." Then like cranes, of whom part should fly to the Riphaean mountains,[1] and part toward the sands,[2] these shunning the frost and those the sun, one folk goes, the other comes on, and weeping they return to their first chants, and to the cry which most befits them.

[1] Mountains vaguely placed by the early geographers in the far North.

[2] The deserts of the South.

And those same who had prayed me drew near to me as before, intent in their looks to listen. I, who twice had seen their desire, began, "O souls secure of having, whenever it may he, a state of peace, neither unripe nor mature have my limbs remained yonder, but they are here with me with their blood, and with their joints. I go up in order to be no longer blind. A Lady is on high who winneth grace for us, whereby I bring my mortal part through your world. But so may your greater will soon become satisfied, in such wise that the heaven may harbor you which is full of love, and most amply spreads, tell me, in order that I may yet rule the paper for it, who are ye, and who are that crowd which goes its way behind your backs."

     Not otherwise stupefied, the mountaineer is confused, and gazing round is dumb, when rough and savage he enters the town, than each shade became in his appearance; but, after they were unburdened of their bewilderment, which in high hearts is quickly assuaged, "Blessed thou," began again that one who first had asked me, "who of our regions dost ship experience for dying better. The people who do not come with us offended in that for which once Caesar in his triumph heard 'Queen' cried out against him; therefore they go off shouting 'Sodom,' reproving themselves as thou hast heard, and aid the burning by their shame. Our sin was hermaphrodite; but because we observed not human law, following our appetite like beasts, when we part from them, the name of her who bestialized herself in the beast-shaped planks is uttered by us, in opprobrium of ourselves. Now thou knowest our deeds, and of what we were guilty; if, perchance, thou wishest to know by name who we are, there is not time to tell, and I could not do it. I will indeed make thee short of wish about myself; I am Guido Guinicelli;[1] and now I purify myself, because I truly repented before my last hour."

[1] Of Bologna; he was living after the middle of the thirteenth century. Of his life little is known, but some of his verses survive and justify Dante's words concerning them.

     Such as in the sorrow of Lycurgus her two sons became at seeing again their mother,[1] such I became, but I rise not so far,[2] when I heard name himself the father of me, and of my betters who ever used sweet and gracious rhymes of love; and without hearing or speaking, full of thought I went on, gazing a long time upon him; nor, for the fire, did I draw nearer to him. After I was fed with looking, I offered myself wholly ready for his service, with the affirmation that makes another believe. And he to me, "By what I hear thou leavest such trace in me, and so bright, that Lethe cannot take it away nor make it dim. But if thy words have now sworn truth, tell me what is time cause why in speech and look thou showest that thou dost hold me dear?" And I to him, "The sweet ditties of yours, which, so long as the modern fashion shall endure, will still make dear their ink." "O brother," said he, "this one whom I distinguish for thee with my finger," and he pointed to a spirit in advance,[3] "was a better smith of the maternal speech. In verses of love, and prose of romances, he excelled all, and let the foolish talk who think that he of Limoges[4] surpasses him; to rumor more than to truth they turn their faces, and thus confirm their own opinion, before art or reason is listened to by them. Thus did many of old concerning Guittone,[5] from cry to cry only to him giving the prize, until the truth has prevailed with more persons. Now if thou hast such ample privilege that it he permitted thee to go unto the cloister in which Christ is abbot of the college, say for me to him one paternoster, so far as needs for us in this world where power to sin is no longer ours."[6]

[1] "Lycurgus, King of Nemaea, enraged with Hypsipyle for leaving his infant child, who was killed by a serpent, while she was showing the river Langia to the Argives (see Canto XXII.), was about to kill her, when she was found and rescued by her own suns."--Statius, Thebaid, v. 721 (Pollock).

[2] I was more restrained than they.

[3] Arnaut Daniel, a famous troubadour.

[4] Gerault de Berneil.

[5] Guittone d' Arezzo (see Canto XXIV.).

[6] The words in the Lord's Prayer, "Deliver us from temptation," are not needed for the spirits in Purgatory.

     Then, perhaps to give place to the other who was near behind him, he disappeared through the fire, even as through the water a fish going to the bottom. I moved forward a little to him who had been pointed out to me, and said, that for his name my desire was making ready a gracious place. He began graciously to say,[1] "So pleaseth me your courteous demand that I cannot, and I will not, hide me from you. I am Arnaut who weep and go singing; contrite I see my past folly, and joyful I see before me the day I hope for. Now I pray you by that virtue which guides you to the summit of the stair, at times he mindful of my pain." Then he hid himself in the fire that refines them.

[1] The words of Daniel are in the Provencal tongue.

Exploring The Waste Land - [Home] [E-mail] File date: Sunday, September 29, 2002