AND now the verse proceeds to torments new,
Fit argument of this the twentieth strain
Of the first song, whose awful theme records
The spirits whelm'd in woe. Earnest I look'd
Into the depth, that open'd to my view,
Moisten'd with tears of anguish, and beheld
A tribe, that came along the hollow vale,
In silence weeping: such their step as walk
Quires chanting solemn litanies on earth.
As on them more direct mine eye descends,
Each wondrously seem'd to be revers'd
At the neck-bone, so that the countenance
Was from the reins averted: and because
None might before him look, they were compell'd
To' advance with backward gait. Thus one perhaps
Hath been by force of palsy clean transpos'd,
But I ne'er saw it nor believe it so.
Now, reader! think within thyself, so God
Fruit of thy reading give thee! how I long
Could keep my visage dry, when I beheld
Near me our form distorted in such guise,
That on the hinder parts fall'n from the face
The tears down-streaming roll'd. Against a rock
I leant and wept, so that my guide exclaim'd:
"What, and art thou too witless as the rest?
Here pity most doth show herself alive,
When she is dead. What guilt exceedeth his,
Who with Heaven's judgment in his passion strives?
Raise up thy head, raise up, and see the man,
Before whose eyes earth gap'd in Thebes, when all
Cried out, 'Amphiaraus, whither rushest?
'Why leavest thou the war?' He not the less
Fell ruining far as to Minos down,
Whose grapple none eludes. Lo! how he makes
The breast his shoulders, and who once too far
Before him wish'd to see, now backward looks,
And treads reverse his path. Tiresias note,
Who semblance chang'd, when woman he became
Of male, through every limb transform'd, and then
Once more behov'd him with his rod to strike
The two entwining serpents, ere the plumes,
That mark'd the better sex, might shoot again.
"Aruns, with more his belly facing, comes.
On Luni's mountains 'midst the marbles white,
Where delves Carrara's hind, who wons beneath,
A cavern was his dwelling, whence the stars
And main-sea wide in boundless view he held.
"The next, whose loosen'd tresses overspread
Her bosom, which thou seest not (for each hair
On that side grows) was Manto, she who search'd
Through many regions, and at length her seat
Fix'd in my native land, whence a short space
My words detain thy audience. When her sire
From life departed, and in servitude
The city dedicate to Bacchus mourn'd,
Long time she went a wand'rer through the world.
Aloft in Italy's delightful land
A lake there lies, at foot of that proud Alp,
That o'er the Tyrol locks Germania in,
Its name Benacus, which a thousand rills,
Methinks, and more, water between the vale
Camonica and Garda and the height
Of Apennine remote. There is a spot
At midway of that lake, where he who bears
Of Trento's flock the past'ral staff, with him
Of Brescia, and the Veronese, might each
Passing that way his benediction give.
A garrison of goodly site and strong
Peschiera stands, to awe with front oppos'd
The Bergamese and Brescian, whence the shore
More slope each way descends. There, whatsoev'er
Benacus' bosom holds not, tumbling o'er
Down falls, and winds a river flood beneath
Through the green pastures. Soon as in his course
The steam makes head, Benacus then no more
They call the name, but Mincius, till at last
Reaching Governo into Po he falls.
Not far his course hath run, when a wide flat
It finds, which overstretchmg as a marsh
It covers, pestilent in summer oft.
Hence journeying, the savage maiden saw
'Midst of the fen a territory waste
And naked of inhabitants. To shun
All human converse, here she with her slaves
Plying her arts remain'd, and liv'd, and left
Her body tenantless. Thenceforth the tribes,
Who round were scatter'd, gath'ring to that place
Assembled; for its strength was great, enclos'd
On all parts by the fen. On those dead bones
They rear'd themselves a city, for her sake,
Calling it Mantua, who first chose the spot,
Nor ask'd another omen for the name,
Wherein more numerous the people dwelt,
Ere Casalodi's madness by deceit
Was wrong'd of Pinamonte. If thou hear
Henceforth another origin assign'd
Of that my country, I forewarn thee now,
That falsehood none beguile thee of the truth."
I answer'd: "Teacher, I conclude thy words
So certain, that all else shall be to me
As embers lacking life. But now of these,
Who here proceed, instruct me, if thou see
Any that merit more especial note.
For thereon is my mind alone intent."
He straight replied: "That spirit, from whose cheek
The beard sweeps o'er his shoulders brown, what time
Graecia was emptied of her males, that scarce
The cradles were supplied, the seer was he
In Aulis, who with Calchas gave the sign
When first to cut the cable. Him they nam'd
Eurypilus: so sings my tragic strain,
In which majestic measure well thou know'st,
Who know'st it all. That other, round the loins
So slender of his shape, was Michael Scot,
Practis'd in ev'ry slight of magic wile.
"Guido Bonatti see: Asdente mark,
Who now were willing, he had tended still
The thread and cordwain; and too late repents.
"See next the wretches, who the needle left,
The shuttle and the spindle, and became
Diviners: baneful witcheries they wrought
With images and herbs. But onward now:
For now doth Cain with fork of thorns confine
On either hemisphere, touching the wave
Beneath the towers of Seville. Yesternight
The moon was round. Thou mayst remember well:
For she good service did thee in the gloom
Of the deep wood." This said, both onward mov'd.
Dante's Inferno eText - Canto 20
AND now the verse proceeds to torments new,
This is the Fourth "Pouch" of the Eighth Circle, in which those who claim to know God's intentions, magicians, astrologers are punished, all of whom have their heads turned backwards.
In other words, they walk as slowly as those who are walking in religious processions.
The reins is an archaic word for the area of the heart and stomach, which was thought to be the area of the body in which passion and emotion originates.
In other words, perhaps palsy (a disease of the nerves) has forced some to become so distorted.
In other words, may God let you fully understand what you have read.
Virgil, clearly not sympathetic to these sinners, rebukes Dante for his feelings of pity.
Virgil refers to Amphiaraus, a prophet from Argos, who was persuaded by his wife, Eriphyle, to join the expedition against Thebes, known in Greek mythology as "The Seven Against Thebes" (named for seven kings who led the army). Amphiaraus, who foresaw that none of the Seven except Adrastus would survive, knew he was doomed, so he asked his son to avenge his death by killing Eriphyle should he not return. During the retreat from Thebes, Amphiaraus was swallowed by the earth and fell into the underworld.
Amphiaraus fell deep enough to reach one of the three judges in Hades, Minos, who determines sinners' punishments.
That is, he now walks a backward path.
Next, Virgil points out Tiresias, a prophet from Thebes who spent part of his life as a woman as punishment for having struck the female of a pair of snakes and, then, seven years later, was changed back into a man after he struck the same two snakes again. Later, Jupiter (Zeus) and Juno (Hera) asked him whether a man or woman enjoys the act of love more, and Tiresias supported Zeus' view that women get more pleasure from lovemaking. Juno in anger then blinded him, and Jupiter, to compensate for his blindness, granted him the power of prophecy.
That is, before he had his "manly" plumes restored
Aruns is an Etruscan prophet who foretold the disastrous Roman Civil War between Caesar and Pompey.
This refers to the area of Carrara in northern Italy, Tuscany, to be specific. Carrara is known for producing very pure white marble.
Manto is the daughter of Tiresias and is, like her father, capable of seeing future events. After Tiresias' death, she travels to Italy and, according to legend, is the founder of Mantua (in Tuscany), important to Virgil because he was born in a village near Mantua.
This refers to Benaco, also known as Lake Garda, where she is thought to have founded Mantua.
Virgil is referring to the bishops of Verona, Brescia and Trento.
That is, Peschiera, an awesome fortress, stands against the Brescians and Bergamesques where the shore is most exposed by the lake.
That is, when the stream begins to flow it is called Mincio, not Benaco (the lake), until it reaches Governo (Governolo), where it joins the Po River.
It seems important to Virgil that everyone understand that Manto, the founder of Mantua, was in the area before it had any permanent inhabitants. Because this "pouch" of the underworld punishes false prophets like Manto, Virgil does not want to connect the city close to his birthplace with Manto, so he places her, along the timeline of Mantua's founding, before the city existed.
Virgil wants to emphasize the fact that the city's founders did not engage in any divination in the establishing of the city.
Virgil refers to the Guelph political leader of Mantua, Alberto de Casalodi, who was, through false representations of safety, convinced by the Ghibelline leader, Pinamonte de Bonaccorsi, into surrendering Mantua to the Ghibelline party in 1272. Dante is a member of the Guelph party of Florence and has no reason to speak kindly of the Ghibellines.
Virgil clearly wants his version of Mantua's founding and history to be considered the only true version, primarily because it denies the legendary close connection with the pagan soothsayer, Manto.
Aulis is the embarcation point of the Greek fleet on its way to Troy to begin the Trojan War.
Refers to the Greek prophet who determined when the Greek fleet should cut its cables at Aulis and sail for Troy.
This is a confusing reference. Eurypilus, a character in Virgil's Aenied, is not a prophet (like Calchas), but a Greek soldier who is sent to Apollo's temple to determine when the Greeks should sail back to Greece at the conclusion of the Trojan War. Here, Dante considers him a prophet, indicating that Dante may have misunderstood, or mis-remembered, his role in the Aenied.
Michael Scot is a Scot and widely known for his scholarship in the Middle Ages--he not only translated the works of Aristotle into Latin but was also employed by Frederick II as his court astrologer and, according to legend, predicted his own death from being hit on the head with a rock, which turned out to be true.
Guido Bonatti is a well-known astrologer who became court astrologer of several political leaders, including Frederick II, Guido Novello de Polenta, and Guido da Montefeltro. As a supporter of the Ghibellines, enemies of Dante's party, Bonatti claimed that the key Ghibelline victory at Montaperti resulted in part from his astrological calculations.
Asdente, which means toothless, refers to Benvenuto of Parma, a shoemaker and prophet, whose prophecies seem to have been accurate. He successfully predicted, for example, the defeat in 1248 of Frederick II at Parma.
Virgil is pointing to a group of archetypal witches, women who stopped the rightful (in the perspective of the 13thC.) work of women, weaving, and became soothsayers and magicians.
Virgil reminds Dante of the full moon which, when he was lost in the forest, aided him with some light.
Virgil refers to the medieval belief that God adorned Cain's head with thorns for having murdered his brother Abel and exiled him to the moon. Cain became, therefore, a kind of medieval "man in the moon."