FLORENCE exult! for thou so mightily
Hast thriven, that o'er land and sea thy wings
Thou beatest, and thy name spreads over hell!
Among the plund'rers such the three I found
Thy citizens, whence shame to me thy son,
And no proud honour to thyself redounds.
But if our minds, when dreaming near the dawn,
Are of the truth presageful, thou ere long
Shalt feel what Prato, (not to say the rest)
Would fain might come upon thee; and that chance
Were in good time, if it befell thee now.
Would so it were, since it must needs befall!
For as time wears me, I shall grieve the more.
We from the depth departed; and my guide
Remounting scal'd the flinty steps, which late
We downward trac'd, and drew me up the steep.
Pursuing thus our solitary way
Among the crags and splinters of the rock,
Sped not our feet without the help of hands.
Then sorrow seiz'd me, which e'en now revives,
As my thought turns again to what I saw,
And, more than I am wont, I rein and curb
The powers of nature in me, lest they run
Where Virtue guides not; that if aught of good
My gentle star, or something better gave me,
I envy not myself the precious boon.
As in that season, when the sun least veils
His face that lightens all, what time the fly
Gives way to the shrill gnat, the peasant then
Upon some cliff reclin'd, beneath him sees
Fire-flies innumerous spangling o'er the vale,
Vineyard or tilth, where his day-labour lies:
With flames so numberless throughout its space
Shone the eighth chasm, apparent, when the depth
Was to my view expos'd. As he, whose wrongs
The bears aveng'd, at its departure saw
Elijah's chariot, when the steeds erect
Rais'd their steep flight for heav'n; his eyes meanwhile,
Straining pursu'd them, till the flame alone
Upsoaring like a misty speck he kenn'd;
E'en thus along the gulf moves every flame,
A sinner so enfolded close in each,
That none exhibits token of the theft.
Upon the bridge I forward bent to look,
And grasp'd a flinty mass, or else had fall'n,
Though push'd not from the height. The guide, who mark'd
How I did gaze attentive, thus began:
"Within these ardours are the spirits, each
Swath'd in confining fire."—"Master, thy word,"
I answer'd, "hath assur'd me; yet I deem'd
Already of the truth, already wish'd
To ask thee, who is in yon fire, that comes
So parted at the summit, as it seem'd
Ascending from that funeral pile, where lay
The Theban brothers?" He replied: "Within
Ulysses there and Diomede endure
Their penal tortures, thus to vengeance now
Together hasting, as erewhile to wrath.
These in the flame with ceaseless groans deplore
The ambush of the horse, that open'd wide
A portal for that goodly seed to pass,
Which sow'd imperial Rome; nor less the guile
Lament they, whence of her Achilles 'reft
Deidamia yet in death complains.
And there is rued the stratagem, that Troy
Of her Palladium spoil'd."—"If they have power
Of utt'rance from within these sparks," said I,
"O master! think my prayer a thousand fold
In repetition urg'd, that thou vouchsafe
To pause, till here the horned flame arrive.
See, how toward it with desire I bend."
He thus: "Thy prayer is worthy of much praise,
And I accept it therefore: but do thou
Thy tongue refrain: to question them be mine,
For I divine thy wish: and they perchance,
For they were Greeks, might shun discourse with thee."
When there the flame had come, where time and place
Seem'd fitting to my guide, he thus began:
"O ye, who dwell two spirits in one fire!
If living I of you did merit aught,
Whate'er the measure were of that desert,
When in the world my lofty strain I pour'd,
Move ye not on, till one of you unfold
In what clime death o'ertook him self-destroy'd."
Of the old flame forthwith the greater horn
Began to roll, murmuring, as a fire
That labours with the wind, then to and fro
Wagging the top, as a tongue uttering sounds,
Threw out its voice, and spake: "When I escap'd
From Circe, who beyond a circling year
Had held me near Caieta, by her charms,
Ere thus Aeneas yet had nam'd the shore,
Nor fondness for my son, nor reverence
Of my old father, nor return of love,
That should have crown'd Penelope with joy,
Could overcome in me the zeal I had
T' explore the world, and search the ways of life,
Man's evil and his virtue. Forth I sail'd
Into the deep illimitable main,
With but one bark, and the small faithful band
That yet cleav'd to me. As Iberia far,
Far as Morocco either shore I saw,
And the Sardinian and each isle beside
Which round that ocean bathes. Tardy with age
Were I and my companions, when we came
To the strait pass, where Hercules ordain'd
The bound'ries not to be o'erstepp'd by man.
The walls of Seville to my right I left,
On the' other hand already Ceuta past.
"O brothers!" I began, "who to the west
Through perils without number now have reach'd,
To this the short remaining watch, that yet
Our senses have to wake, refuse not proof
Of the unpeopled world, following the track
Of Phoebus. Call to mind from whence we sprang:
Ye were not form'd to live the life of brutes
But virtue to pursue and knowledge high."
With these few words I sharpen'd for the voyage
The mind of my associates, that I then
Could scarcely have withheld them. To the dawn
Our poop we turn'd, and for the witless flight
Made our oars wings, still gaining on the left.
Each star of the' other pole night now beheld,
And ours so low, that from the ocean-floor
It rose not. Five times re-illum'd, as oft
Vanish'd the light from underneath the moon
Since the deep way we enter'd, when from far
Appear'd a mountain dim, loftiest methought
Of all I e'er beheld. Joy seiz'd us straight,
But soon to mourning changed. From the new land
A whirlwind sprung, and at her foremost side
Did strike the vessel. Thrice it whirl'd her round
With all the waves, the fourth time lifted up
The poop, and sank the prow: so fate decreed:
And over us the booming billow clos'd."
Dante's Inferno eText - Canto 26
FLORENCE exult! for thou so mightily
A common belief in Dante's time was that dreams shortly before waking were prophetic.
There is some controversy over the identity of "Prato." Some scholars claim that that "Prato" is Cardinal Niccolo da Prato, who unsuccessfully attempted to reconcile his city's rival factions in 1304. But other scholars argue that the reference is to the city of Prato which expelled the Black Guelphs in 1309.
In 2 Kings 2:23-24, forty-two boys were torn apart by bears when they mocked the biblical prophet Elijah for being bald.
23 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.
24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
In 2 Kings 2: 7-14, Elisha sees the prophet Elijah whisked to heaven in a whirlwind by fiery horses pulling a fiery chariot:
7 And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view afar off: and they two stood by Jordan.
8 And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground.
9 And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.
10 And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.
11 And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
12 And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.
13 He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan;
14 And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is theLord God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over.
The "Thebian brothers" are Etecoles and Polynices, the warring sons of Oedipus who killed one another. Their divided flame on their mutual funeral pyre is a testament to their eternal hatred.
Greek heroes Ulysses (or "Odysseus") and Diomedes are counted among the fraudulent based on three incidents. The first and third are found in Book II of the Aeneid; the second comes from the unfinished work by Statius, Achilleid:
1) The creation of the Trojan horse
2) They went to Scyros, where the pair lured the beardless Achilles out of hiding. Achilles had been ensconced with women, placed among them by his mother, the goddess Thetis, who wished to protect him until the siege of Troy. Achilles was killed in battle in Troy. His wife, and mother of his son, Diedamia, died of grief.
3) They stole the statue of Pallas Athena, said to be the guardian and protector of Troy.
Tennyson's masterpiece "Ulysses" was modeled after Ulysses' speech here. However, Tennyson has a diametrically opposed interpretation than Dante. In Dante's estimation, Ulysses is a failure, primarily to his duties as a father and husband. He is also guilty of hubris, and of not recognizing limitations imposed by the gods. Tennyson, however, lauds the bravery of the quest and argues that human progress is made possible by Ulysses daring to push limits.
In some translations, "Gaeta." This is a town on Italy's southern Coast. Aeneas named the town after his nurse, who died there. (See Book VII of the Aenied).
Circe is an enchantress who tries to entrap Ulysses. Circe appears in Book XIV of Ovid's Metamorphoses.
This narrow channel is the Straight of Gibraltar.
This is the Pillars of Hercules, which are known as Calpe in Spain and Abyla in Africa. Legend has it that these were originally a single mountain until Hercules, which his mighty strength, ripped it in two. It is the point which no sailor will pass alive.
They are sailing southwest, aiming to arrive at the point on the globe that is precisely opposite of Jerusalem. Dante identifies this as the location of Mount Purgatory.
They have now crossed the equator and are in the Southern Hemisphere.
Virgil and Dante are still in the Seventh Pouch of the Eighth Circle, among the thieves.
These beginning lines are Dante's ironic congratulations to Florence for having sinners from Florence represented in every circle of the Inferno.
Refers to the track of the sun, represented here by the Roman sun god, Phoebus
In other words, if my lucky star, or someone better, gave me the gift (of understanding), I will not abuse it.
Ulysses and Diomedes are here because, in Dante's eyes, they are guilty of a kind of thievery. In Ulysses' case, he "stole" Achilles from his mother, Thetis, when he convinced Achilles to go to the Trojan War. Diomedes is guilty of stealing the Palladium, a statue of Athene, symbol of the goddess who protected Troy.
He is acknowledging that nothing they could do would save the ship--once Fate decreed that the ship would sink, man is powerless to change that end.