THE very tongue, whose keen reproof before
Had wounded me, that either cheek was stain'd,
Now minister'd my cure. So have I heard,
Achilles and his father's javelin caus'd
Pain first, and then the boon of health restor'd.
Turning our back upon the vale of woe,
W cross'd th' encircled mound in silence. There
Was twilight dim, that far long the gloom
Mine eye advanc'd not: but I heard a horn
Sounded aloud. The peal it blew had made
The thunder feeble. Following its course
The adverse way, my strained eyes were bent
On that one spot. So terrible a blast
Orlando blew not, when that dismal rout
O'erthrew the host of Charlemagne, and quench'd
His saintly warfare. Thitherward not long
My head was rais'd, when many lofty towers
Methought I spied. "Master," said I, "what land
Is this?" He answer'd straight: "Too long a space
Of intervening darkness has thine eye
To traverse: thou hast therefore widely err'd
In thy imagining. Thither arriv'd
Thou well shalt see, how distance can delude
The sense. A little therefore urge thee on."
Then tenderly he caught me by the hand;
"Yet know," said he, "ere farther we advance,
That it less strange may seem, these are not towers,
But giants. In the pit they stand immers'd,
Each from his navel downward, round the bank."
As when a fog disperseth gradually,
Our vision traces what the mist involves
Condens'd in air; so piercing through the gross
And gloomy atmosphere, as more and more
We near'd toward the brink, mine error fled,
And fear came o'er me. As with circling round
Of turrets, Montereggion crowns his walls,
E'en thus the shore, encompassing th' abyss,
Was turreted with giants, half their length
Uprearing, horrible, whom Jove from heav'n
Yet threatens, when his mutt'ring thunder rolls.
Of one already I descried the face,
Shoulders, and breast, and of the belly huge
Great part, and both arms down along his ribs.
All-teeming nature, when her plastic hand
Left framing of these monsters, did display
Past doubt her wisdom, taking from mad War
Such slaves to do his bidding; and if she
Repent her not of th' elephant and whale,
Who ponders well confesses her therein
Wiser and more discreet; for when brute force
And evil will are back'd with subtlety,
Resistance none avails. His visage seem'd
In length and bulk, as doth the pine, that tops
Saint Peter's Roman fane; and th' other bones
Of like proportion, so that from above
The bank, which girdled him below, such height
Arose his stature, that three Friezelanders
Had striv'n in vain to reach but to his hair.
Full thirty ample palms was he expos'd
Downward from whence a man his garments loops.
"Raphel bai ameth sabi almi,"
So shouted his fierce lips, which sweeter hymns
Became not; and my guide address'd him thus:
"O senseless spirit! let thy horn for thee
Interpret: therewith vent thy rage, if rage
Or other passion wring thee. Search thy neck,
There shalt thou find the belt that binds it on.
Wild spirit! lo, upon thy mighty breast
Where hangs the baldrick!" Then to me he spake:
"He doth accuse himself. Nimrod is this,
Through whose ill counsel in the world no more
One tongue prevails. But pass we on, nor waste
Our words; for so each language is to him,
As his to others, understood by none."
Then to the leftward turning sped we forth,
And at a sling's throw found another shade
Far fiercer and more huge. I cannot say
What master hand had girt him; but he held
Behind the right arm fetter'd, and before
The other with a chain, that fasten'd him
From the neck down, and five times round his form
Apparent met the wreathed links. "This proud one
Would of his strength against almighty Jove
Make trial," said my guide; "whence he is thus
Requited: Ephialtes him they call.
"Great was his prowess, when the giants brought
Fear on the gods: those arms, which then he piled,
Now moves he never." Forthwith I return'd:
"Fain would I, if 't were possible, mine eyes
Of Briareus immeasurable gain'd
Experience next." He answer'd: "Thou shalt see
Not far from hence Antaeus, who both speaks
And is unfetter'd, who shall place us there
Where guilt is at its depth. Far onward stands
Whom thou wouldst fain behold, in chains, and made
Like to this spirit, save that in his looks
More fell he seems." By violent earthquake rock'd
Ne'er shook a tow'r, so reeling to its base,
As Ephialtes. More than ever then
I dreaded death, nor than the terror more
Had needed, if I had not seen the cords
That held him fast. We, straightway journeying on,
Came to Antaeus, who five ells complete
Without the head, forth issued from the cave.
"O thou, who in the fortunate vale, that made
Great Scipio heir of glory, when his sword
Drove back the troop of Hannibal in flight,
Who thence of old didst carry for thy spoil
An hundred lions; and if thou hadst fought
In the high conflict on thy brethren's side,
Seems as men yet believ'd, that through thine arm
The sons of earth had conquer'd, now vouchsafe
To place us down beneath, where numbing cold
Locks up Cocytus. Force not that we crave
Or Tityus' help or Typhon's. Here is one
Can give what in this realm ye covet. Stoop
Therefore, nor scornfully distort thy lip.
He in the upper world can yet bestow
Renown on thee, for he doth live, and looks
For life yet longer, if before the time
Grace call him not unto herself." Thus spake
The teacher. He in haste forth stretch'd his hands,
And caught my guide. Alcides whilom felt
That grapple straighten'd score. Soon as my guide
Had felt it, he bespake me thus: "This way
That I may clasp thee;" then so caught me up,
That we were both one burden. As appears
The tower of Carisenda, from beneath
Where it doth lean, if chance a passing cloud
So sail across, that opposite it hangs,
Such then Antaeus seem'd, as at mine ease
I mark'd him stooping. I were fain at times
T' have pass'd another way. Yet in th' abyss,
That Lucifer with Judas low ingulfs,
lightly he plac'd us; nor there leaning stay'd,
But rose as in a bark the stately mast.
Dante's Inferno eText - Canto 31
THE very tongue, whose keen reproof before
Dante and Virgil, with their time running short, finally arrive in the Ninth Circle, the central pit of the Inferno, the home the Giants who tried to overthrow the Greek/Roman gods.
Dante says, "the tongue that reproved and wounded me also brings me relief."
Achilles' spear, which was given to him by his father, Peleus, had the power to wound and to heal.
This refers to an episode in the Song of Roland when Roland (Orlando) was in charge of Charlemagne's rear guard in the fight at Roncevalles against the Moors. Roland is too late in blowing his horn for aid from Charlemagne's main forces, and Roland and all his men are slain.
Later, we will find Ganelon, the Frenchman who assisted the Moors (Saracens) and betrayed his stepson, Roland, thereby not only becoming a traitor to his family but also to his kingdom and, more important, his religion.
Dante has no conception of the size of the giants, so he thinks that the giants, who tower over the rim of the central pit of the Inferno, are actually towers.
The Giants are here because, as we shall see in the following lines, they betrayed their rightful ruler. And they are perfect symbols of once powerful beings who, in the deepest pit of the Inferno, are powerless to help themselves because God is the ultimate wielder of power.
Montereggion is a fortress near Siena whose walls are topped with sixty-feet high sentry towers all around--a very typical northern Italian fortified town in the 13thC. For an example, see pictures of San Gimingnano, not far from Florence, one of few Tuscan towns with a number of sentry towers still in place.
That is, saw, discerned, identified
That is, nature's creative hand
Mars, the god of War
That is, when strength and evil intentions are combined with intelligence or cleverness
That is, a bronze pine cone, originally designed for the Roman Emperor Hadrian's tomb
Friezelanders refers to people from Frisia, a country in the Middle Ages that roughly corresponds to modern-day Netherlands.
This, coming from a Giant, is essentially some kind of Hebrew gibberish, an indication that Dante will not allow the Giants to say anything intelligible. They are symbols of brute power, not intellectual capacity.
Virgil tells the Giant to use his rear end--"thy horn"--if he wants to communicate or vent his anger.
A baldric is a belt worn across the chest to support a sword, some other weapon, or a bugle.
Virgil identifies a Giant named Nimrod, who is thought to have created the Tower of Babel, which was an attempt to reach Heaven, and God, showing his displeasure, destroyed the tower and caused the loss of our original universal language and, in the process, created many languages.
Ephialtes is one of the Giants who led the attack against Zeus (Jove) and the other gods on Mt. Olympus by attempting, along with his twin brother, Otus, to scale Mt. Olympus by stacking Mount Pelion on Mount Ossa in Macedonia. Both brothers were killed by the arrows of the fraternal twins Apollo and Diana.
Virgil describes Briareus, another Giant, as equal to Ephialtes is size but even more terrifying. Briareus, whom Dante does not describe, perhaps to preserve the impression of the Giants as stupid and powerless, is traditionally described as one of three giants with one hundred arms who helped the gods defeat an attack by the Titans. Briareus, specifically, is credited with saving Zeus (Jove).
Unlike the other Giants, Antaeus, the brother of Briareus, is able to speak--his punishment is not quite as restrictive as the other giants' punishment because Antaeus did not participate in the attack on Mt. Olympus.
Virgil and Dante need Antaeus to place them in the deepest pit where Lucifer is chained.
An ell is an English measure equal to 45 inches, so Antaeus, without considering his head, stands above the rim of the pit almost 19 feet.
Virgil flatters Antaeus by telling him men believe that, had Antaeus been with his brothers when they attacked Mt. Olympus, the Giants (Titans) would have beaten the gods.
The final river in Hell, which is choked with ice
Tityus, who tried to rape Apollo's mother, Latona, is a Giant and was killed by Apollo. Typhon, another Giant, was killed by Zeus (Jove) at Phlegra.
Virgil refers to Dante, who, because he will return to the world above, can remind everyone of Antaeus' greatness.
In other words, Hercules once felt Antaeus' massive grip
This refers to a 150 feet high tower in Bologna.
That is, Antaeus rose like a mast of a stately barque, a sailing vessel.
This refers to the Zama Valley near Tunis in North Africa.