Canto VI

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On coming to my senses which succumbed
in face of those two kinsmen and their grief,
the piteousness of which confused my mind
and brought about my own distress, I see
new sufferers, new modes of suffering
in all directions, and surrounding me
which ever way I move or turn to look.
The circle I've just entered is the third
where endless rain monotonously falls
in changeless measure, cold, and bleak, and hard.
Enormous hailstones, inky water, snow,
pour downwards through the murky atmosphere
and foul the stinking ground that soaks them up.
Here Cerberus, a vicious mongrel beast
makes triple-throated dog-like barking sounds
toward the sunken people down below.
His eyes bright red, his beard a greasy black
his stomach baggy, talons on his hands,
he slays the spirits, flays and quarters them.
Unholy oafs, rain makes them yelp like dogs:
repeatedly they squirm from side to side
to make each flank in turn the other's shield.
When Cerberus, the monster, sighted us
his mouths gaped open to display their fangs,
and every limb shook uncontrollably.
My guide then, spreading out his hands, grabbed up
some earth, and having packed it in his fists
he hurled it straight inside the craving throats;
and as a starving dog howls, then grows calm
when given food to chew, all effort now
directed on the fight to gulp it down,
just so demonic Cerberus, who roars
at spirits with such thunder that they wish
that they were deaf, employed his grotesque heads.
On top of ghosts squashed down by pounding rain
we passed, and trod upon their emptiness
although they had the look of solid flesh.
They formed a layer spread upon the ground
except for one who suddenly arose
and as we moved in front of him sat up.
'Oh you, who are conducted through this Hell,'
he said to me, 'recall me if you can.
You started life before my life was stopped.'
And I to him, 'The torment you've endured
could well have wiped you from my memory;
I can't remember seeing you before.
But tell me what you're called, who've been dispatched
to such a dreary place and such a trial,
which, even though severer ones exist,
must be unrivalled in its loathsomeness.'
And he to me, 'Your city, so stuffed full
of envy that the sack's about to burst,
contained me in the bright life up above.
Your citizens nicknamed me Ciacco, hog.
It's through the damning sin of gluttony
you see me here, diminished by the rain:
and I am not the only saddened soul,
but all these others for the same offence
pay this same price. 'And then he said no more.
I answered him, 'Ciacco, your sick state
oppresses me and brings me close to tears,
but tell me if you can what shall become
of that divided city's citizens,
and whether there's a single one that's just;
and tell me also what the reason is
that so much discord has invaded it.'
And he to me, 'Contention will drag on
and then they'll come to blood. The rustic group
will drive the others out with brutal force.
This faction is itself condemned to fall
within three years; and, through the power
of one whose acts still seem ambiguous
the other party will, for some long time,
prevail and hold their heads high, and impose
great penalties upon their enemies
to add to their humiliation's pain.
Two men alone are just; they're both ignored.
Pride, envy, avarice; it's those three sparks
that set all hearts on fire.' And with these words
he brought his gloomy story to an end.
And I to him, 'I wish you'd carry on
in this instructive vein; please tell me more.
Farinata and Tegghiaio, such fine men,
Jacopo Rusticucci, and Arrigo too
and Mosca, and those others who had set
their hearts on doing good: what news of them?
Where are they? For I'm desperate to know
if heaven soothes or hell embitters them?'
And he, 'They're found among the blackest souls;
their different crimes have dragged them lower yet
where you can see them if you get that far.
But when you're once more back in that sweet world
I beg you to recall me to men's minds.
I'll not say more, nor answer you again.'
At this his staring eyes began to roll;
he squinted, peering out at me awhile;
his head slumped down, and then he followed it,
and fell to join the other sightless souls.
My guide remarked, 'He'll not wake up again,
not till the loud angelic trumpet sounds
the advent of the high antagonist
when each shall find his dismal tomb once more
and repossessing then both flesh and form
shall hear what echoes through eternity.'
So with slow steps we made our way across
the filthy slush composed of ghosts and rain
and talked a little of the afterlife.
I saying, "Will these torments gather strength,
or be reduced, when Doomsday's come and gone
or will the searing torture just persist?'
And he, 'Think back to your philosophy
which says that in proportion as a thing
approaches its perfection, so it feels
more pleasure; thus with sorrow it's the same.
Though these cursed people never can achieve
a true perfection, yet they may expect
to be more near it then than they are now.
We went on round, along the curving road
and talked of more than I shall speak of here
until we reached the point where it descends
and there met Plutus, man's arch enemy.