Inferno: Canto XXII

The following is an excerpt from my translation of Dante's Inferno in terza rima, the rhyme scheme of the original Italian poem.


Doré, Alichino
Alichino Attacking Ciampolo, by Gustave Doré

            I have seen horsemen move their camp away,
            and launch a strike and muster up a crowd,
            and sometimes draw away for their escape;

4          throughout your homeland I’ve seen mounted scouts,
            o Aretines, and I’ve seen raiders roam,
            the clash of contests and the rush of jousts;

7          with trumpets now, and now with bells, with drums
            and signals from the castles and alarms,
            with strange and foreign things and with our own;

10        but never with an oboe so bizarre
            have I seen horsemen move nor men, nor ships
            at any sign so strange from land or star.

13        We went with the ten demons along the cliff.
            Ah savage company! but in the church
            with saints, and in the tavern with the pigs.

16        Only upon the tar was I alert,
            to witness every feature of the pouch
            and all the people in it as they burned.

19        Like dolphins, when they make a signal out
            to mariners with the arching of their backs,
            that they might keep their craft from going down,

22        so now and then, some sinner shows his back
            in order to alleviate the torture,
            and hides it faster than a lightning flash.

25        And as, at the ditch’s edge, within the water
            the frogs crouch down with just their muzzles out,
            to hide their feet and bodies underwater,

28        so here on every side the sinners crouched;
            but thus they ducked beneath the boiling tar,
            whenever Barbariccia came around.

31        I saw, and still it shudders through my heart,
            one waiting thus, as one frog in the water
            happens to stay while the rest disperse and dart;

34        and Graffiacane, closer than the others,
            hooked him up by his tar-entangled hair
            and yanked him out, and he looked like an otter.

37        I knew the names of all the demons there,
            for I took note of them when they were picked,
            and as they called each other, I was there.

40        “O Rubicante, make sure that you stick
            your claws into his back, and skin the man!”
            cried out together all the maledict.

43        And I: “My master, make sure, if you can,
            that you know who he is—the luckless wight
            who’s come into his adversaries’ hands.”

46        My guide approached him then; and at his side,
            he asked him where he came from.  —“I was born
            in the kingdom of Navarre,” the wretch replied.

49        “My mother, from a deadbeat, bred me forth—
            a destroyer of himself and of his things—
            so she put me in the service of a lord.

52        Then I was in the house of the good king
            Theobald; there I practiced barratry,
            and in this heat I pay a reckoning.”

55        And Ciriatto, with a tusk at each
            side of his mouth protruding like a boar,
            made him feel how one would rip him at the seams.

58        The mouse was caught between bad cats for sport;
            but Barbariccia, with his arms, encased him,
            and said: “Stay there, while I can keep him forked.”

61        And to my master, turning round to face him:
            “Ask on,” he said, “if there’s more you’d request
            to know from him, before the rest unmake him.”

64        And so my guide: “Now tell us: of the rest
            of the guilty ones, do you know any Latins
            beneath the pitch?”  And he: “Just now, I left

67        someone who came from near there, as it happens.
            If I were still with him and covered up,
            then I would have no fear of hooks and talons!”

70        And Libicocco said: “We’ve had enough;”
            and seized him by the forearm with his lance,
            and ripped a muscle out by wrenching up.

73        Draghignazzo too wished to lay his hands
            upon his legs; at which their chieftain’s eyes
            turned round and round at them with a mean glance.

76        When they had all been somewhat pacified,
            the one, who still was looking at his gash,
            without delay was questioned by my guide:

79        “Who was the one you say you left—a bad
            parting—to come ashore here and get caught?”
            “It was Friar Gomita,” he answered back,

82        “from Gallura, a vessel of all fraud,
            who had in hand his master’s enemies,
            and handled each of them to their applause.

85        He took money, and slyly set them free,
            as he admits; in other roles as well,
            he was no petty barrator, but supreme.

88        Usually there with him is Don Michel
            Zanche di Logudoro; and what passes
            in Sardinia, their tongues don’t tire to tell.

91        O me, you see the other one who gnashes
            his teeth; I would say more, but I am scared
            that he prepares himself to scrape my rashes.”

94        And, turned toward Farfarello who had flared
            his eyes to strike, the great commander jeered:
            “You wicked bird, you get away from there!”

97        “If one of you would like to see or hear,”
            began the sinner then, still terrified,
            “Tuscans or Lombards, I will bring them here;

100      but let the Malebranche stand aside
            a little, so their vengeance won’t be feared,
            and, sitting here myself in this place, I,

103      though I am one, I will bring seven here
            when I shall whistle, as we often now
            will do whenever one of us gets clear.”

106      Cagnazzo, at these words, raised up his snout,
            shaking his head, and said: “You hear this malice
            he’s thought of just to throw himself back down!”

109      And he, who had a wealth of snares to trap with,
            responded: “I am too malicious then,
            when I procure for mine a greater sadness.”

112      Alichino couldn’t take it, and against
            the others, said: “If you dive in that ditch,
            I won’t come galloping after you then,

115      but I will beat my wings above the pitch.
            The slope abandoned, shielded by the shore,
            we’ll see if you alone, or we, shall win.”

118      O you who read, will hear of this new sport:
            each one now turned his eyes from the far shelf,
            that one first, who was most opposed before.

121      The Navarrese had picked his timing well;
            he planted both his feet, and with a vault
            from their commander’s grip, he freed himself.

124      Then each of them was troubled by their fault,
            but him the most who caused it; so he leapt
            off after him and cried out: “You are caught!”

127      But since his wings could not outstrip the dread,
            he did not win: the sinner went beneath,
            and, flying up, he lifted back his chest;

130      no differently do ducks plunge underneath,
            in a snap, when the falcon presses close,
            and then he goes back up, thwarted and aggrieved.

133      And Calcabrina, livid at the joke,
            came flying on behind them—wanting him
            to make it, so that they could come to blows;

136      and as the barrator had vanished, then
            he turned against his comrade with his claws,
            and so was clinched with him above the trench.

139      But the other was a seasoned sparrowhawk
            and clawed him just as well, and both of them
            fell in the middle of the boiling froth.

142      The heat unclinched them in an instant then;
            and yet there was no rising out of it,
            so thickly had their wings been glued within.

145      Barbariccia, while he lamented with
            the rest, made four fly up to the far coast
            with all their prodding hooks, and very swift

148      from here and there they circled to their post;
            they reached their forks out to the two enmeshed,
            who were, within the crust, already roast.

151      And so we left them tangled in that mess.

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