Dante: Inferno XIX
<I>Dante (1265-1321) was a fervent Catholic, but not
a friend of the popes. In his Inferno, Canto XIX, he comes
to the Third Circle of Hell and finds those guilty of simony -
buying and selling the grace of God. These he find hateful..
Dante is taken to the he to the bottom of the chasm; and there
finds Pope Nicholas III, who explains his own sins, and then finds
Nicholas papal successors Boniface VIII and Clement V [now Catholic
O -SIMON-MAGUS! O wretched followers of his and robbers ye,
who prostitute the things of God, that should be wedded unto righteousness,
for gold and, silver! now must the trump sound for you: for ye
are in the third chasm.
Already we had mounted to the following grave, on that part of
the cliff which hangs right over the middle of the fosse.
O Wisdom Supreme, what art thou showest in heaven, on earth and
in the evil world, and how justly thy Goodness dispenses!
I saw the livid stone, on the sides and on the bottom, full of
holes, all of one breadth; and each was round.
Not less wide they seemed to me, nor larger, than those that are
in my beauteous San Giovanni made for stands to the baptizers;
one of which, not many years ago, I broke to save one that was
drowning in it: and be this o, seal to undeceive all men.
From the mouth of each emerged a sinner's feet, and legs up to
the calf; and the rest remained within.
The soles .of all were both on fire: wherefore the joints quivered
so strongly, that they would have snapped in pieces withes and
As the flaming of things oiled moves only on their outer surface:
so was it there, from the heels to the points.
"Master! who is that who writhes himself,3 quivering more
than all his fellows," I said, "and sucked by ruddier
And he to me: "If thou wilt have me carry thee down there,
by that lower bank, thou shalt learn from him about himself and
about his wrongs."
And 1: "Whatever pleases thee, to me is grateful: thou art
my lord, and knowest that I depart, not from thy will; also thou
knowest what is not spoken.
Then we came upon the fourth bulwark; we turned and descended,
on the left hand, down there into the perforated and narrow bottom.
The kind Master did not yet depose me from his side, till he brought
me to the cleft of him who so lamented with his legs.
"O whoe'er thou be that hast thy upper part beneath, unhappy
spirit, planted like a stake!" I began to say; "if thou
art able, speak."
I stood, like the friar who is confessing a treacherous assassin
that, after being fixed, recalls him and thus delays the death;
and he cried: "Art thou thee already standing, Boniface?
art thou there already standing? By several years the writ has
lied to me.
Art thou so quickly sated with that wealth, for which thou didst
not fear to seize the comely Lady- by deceit, and then make havoc
of her? "
I became like those who stand as if bemocked, not comprehending
what is answered to them, and unable to reply.
Then Virgil said: "Say to him quickly, 'I am not he, I am
not he whom thou thinkest."' And I replied as was enjoined
Whereat the spirit quite wrenched his feet; thereafter, sighing
and with voice of weeping, he said to me: "Then what askest
thou of me?
If to know who I am concerneth thee so much, that thou hast therefore
passed the bank, learn that I was clothed with the Great Mantle;
and verily I was a son of the She-bear, so eager to advance the
Whelps, that I pursed wealth above, and here myself.
Beneath my head are dragged the others who preceded me in simony,
cowering within the fissures of the stone.
I too shall fall down thither, when he comes for whom I took thee
when I put the sudden question.
But longer is the time already, that I have baked my feet and
stood inverted thus, than heT shall stand planted with glowing
for after him, from westward, there shall come a lawless Shepherd,
of uglier deeds, fit to cover him and me.
A new Jason" will it be, of whom we read in Maccabees; and as to that high priest his king was pliant, so to this
shall be lie who governs France."
I know not if here I was too hardy, for I answered him in this
strain: "Ahi! now tell me how much treasure
Our Lord required of St. Peter, before he put the keys into his
keeping? Surely he demanded nought but 'Follow me!"
Nor did Peter, nor the others, ask of Matthias gold or silver,
when he was chosen for the office which the guilty soul had lost.
Therefore stay thou here, for thou art justly punished; and keep
well the ill--ot money, which against Charles made thee be bold."
And were it not that reverence for the Great Keys thou wieldest
in the glad life yet hinders me,
I should use still heavier words: for your avarice grieves the
world, trampling on the good, and raising up the wicked.
Shepherds such as ye the Evangelist perceived, when she, that
sitteth on the waters, was seen by him committing fornication
with the kings;
she that was born with seven heads, and in her ten horns had a
witness so long as virtue pleased her spouse.
Ye have made you a god of gold and silver; and wherein do ye differ
from the idolater, save that he worships one, and ye a hundred?
Ah Constantine! to how much ill gave birth, not thy conversion,
but that dower which the first rich Father took from thee!
And whilst I sung these notes to him, whether it was rage or conscience
gnawed him, he violently sprawled with both his feet.
And indeed I think it pleased my Guide, with so satisfied a look
did he keep listening to the sound of the true words uttered.
Therefore with both his arms he took me; and, when he had me quite
upon his breast, remounted by the path where he had descended.
Nor did he weary in holding me clasped to him, till he bore me
away to the summit of the arch which is a crossway from the fourth
to the fifth rampart.
Here he placidly set down the burden, pleasing to him on the rough
steep cliff, which to the goats would be a painful passage; thence
another valley was discovered to me.
Dante, Inferno XIX, (Carlyle-Wicksteed Translation)
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(c)Paul Halsall Feb 1996