The eighth circle, sixth bolgia; climb to the seventh bolgia; the thieves; Vanni Fucci; the prediction

canto summary and diagram

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1 In that part of the young year when the sun's rays Begin to warm under Aquarius, when nights wane * And endure hardly longer than days, inferno xxiv 4 When the hoarfrost copies on the ground in vain The image of his snow–white sister, (For no product of his pen will long remain), * 7 Then the peasant who is short of fodder Wakes and goes out to see the fields all white, At which he slaps his thigh in anger 10 And returns inside his house, pacing left and right Like some miserable wretch who hasn't a clue What to do—until, outside again, the sight inferno xxiv 13 Of how the world has changed its face in just a few Short hours revives his hope, and taking his crook, He drives his sheep out into the fields to graze anew. 16 Just so, when I saw my master's troubled look I became utterly sick at heart, But just as quickly the healing balm took 19 Away my ache, for as we were about to depart From the ditch, on the shattered bridge, my guide Gave me that gentle look I'd seen at the very start inferno xxiv 22 Of my quest, at the foot of the mountain. Having eyed The ruin carefully and picked out a path which led Up the rocks, he approached me with arms open wide. 25 And like one who, while he works, thinks ahead, So he's always ready for the next thing to do, He'd hoist me up one great boulder while he said 28 Of another above: " There's the one you have to get to, But before you grab onto it, test it, it might Not hold your weight." This was no climb for those who inferno xxiv 31 Wore cloaks of lead, for even we—he so light, I with his support—could hardly inch our way From crag to crag. And if this bank's height 34 Hadn't been lower than the other, while I can't say Anything about my guide, I myself would have quit For certain. But since in Malebolge the lay 37 Of the land is down toward the mouth of the lowest pit, Each valley has one bank which rises while The other falls. And thus we came to that last bit inferno xxiv 40 Of rubble, jutting out in a jagged, rocky file At just the point where the bridge had sheared From the cliff. When I reached the top of the pile 43 The breath was so squeezed from my lungs that I feared I could go no farther, and I sat down, worn out. "Oh no," said my master. "I haven't steered 46 You all the way up here so you could lounge about; Anyone who lies in bed or on a down cushion Will forfeit all claim to fame, have no doubt; inferno xxiv 49 He who wastes his life in such a fashion Will leave on earth no more trace Than smoke in wind or foam upon the ocean. 52 So stand up! Look this weariness in the face And conquer it with your spirit, which can beat Every challenge it confronts, except for the case 55 Where the body's weight drags it down to defeat. We still have a longer set of stairs to ascend; * What we've done so far is hardly complete; inferno xxiv 58 Act now in your own interests, if you comprehend What I've said." Then I stood up and showed A vitality of breath which served to lend 61 My spirit confidence. "Go on," I glowed, "For now I feel strong and courageous." The way we took now was far steeper than any road 64 We'd climbed before—rugged, narrow and treacherous. I spoke as I climbed, so as not to seem weak, And at this, from the next ditch, a curious, inferno xxiv 67 Inarticulate voice began to speak, With an obscure meaning I couldn't discover Even though I'd already reached the peak 70 Of the bridge across that chasm; but whoever Spoke seemed moved by anger—I could sense it. My living eyes could see nothing whatsoever 73 When they stared down into that darkened pit. "Master," I said, "can we get down from this wall Onto the next curving bank? Below us it's so poorly lit inferno xxiv 76 That when I look down I distinguish nothing at all, Just as when I listen I have no real comprehension." "So proper a request," he said, "can only call 79 From me a responsive act, not further discussion; We'll descend in silence." From this great height We came down the bridge until it made a connection 82 With the eighth bank, and here, in plain sight, Was the chasm. Below me was a vast, swarming host Of serpents, so hideous that my blood freezes in fright inferno xxiv 85 At the memory. Oh monstrous! Let Libya no longer boast Of her sand, for though chelydri, jaculi, and phareae breed Here, cenchres and amphisbaena too, still, the entire coast * 88 Along the Red Sea, plus all of Ethiopia, would need To be included in the search for as foul a swarm As this pit's,—and even then the search wouldn't succeed. 91 There were naked people running about in alarm * In the midst of this cruel and dismal ferment, With no hope of hiding place or heliotrope's charm. * inferno xxiv 94 The hands of each were tied behind with a serpent, Which through the loins coiled its tail and head To form a knot in front. At just that moment 97 A snake took aim at a nearby shade and sped Its venom toward that point where the shoulder Joins the neck. Bursting into flame, the sinner shed 100 His existence faster than 'o' or 'i' was ever Scribbled down, burning and collapsing to a mound Of ash; this scattered dust then began to gather inferno xxiv 103 Together on its own, rising from the ground To resume its former shape. In just such a way * Does the phoenix, after five hundred years, rebound 106 From death to birth, or so great sages say; Only on drops of incense and balm will it feed While alive, never herb or grain, and then array 109 Itself in nard and myrrh for its final deed. As one who swoons to the ground mysteriously, (Perhaps because some demon has decreed * inferno xxiv 112 His fall, or some other force is viciously Hindering him), and, rising to his feet again, Looks around in bewilderment and sighs anxiously 115 Because of all his distress and mental pain, So did this sinner stare about when he arose. O how severe is the power of God, which can rain 118 Down upon a sinner such terrible, vengeful blows! My guide asked who he was, and he gave this reply: "I am Vanni Fucci, the beast, whose sin goes inferno xxiv 121 Far deeper than the bestiality you know me by; Not long ago I was washed down from Tuscany Into this ferocious throat. A real bastard was I 124 Up there, a mule who preferred the company * Of brutes to humans; and a fit den Was Pistoia for my savage kind of villainy." 127 "Tell him not to sneak off," I told my guide then, "And ask him what sin thrust him down to this place, For he was a man of blood and anger at the time when * inferno xxiv 130 I knew him." The sinner turned his mind and face Toward me when he heard this, without pretense, And blushed with a look of shame and disgrace. 133 "This," he said, "is a more painful occurrence Than the loss of my former life—being seen By you in the midst of this miserable existence. 136 But I can't avoid answering you: I've been Thrust so far below for stealing the treasure From the sacristy, which was especially mean inferno xxiv 139 Because another took the blame. But so no pleasure * Comes to you from the memory of this moment, (If you ever escape the dark pits of this fissure), 142 Open your ears and listen to my announcement: * I see Pistoia first ridding herself of Blacks; Then I see Florence suffering a rearrangement 145 Of people and laws; from Valdimagra Mars then cracks A thunderbolt, which thick clouds try to subdue; More angry and impetuous grow the attacks inferno xxiv 148 On the fields of Picino, until, bursting through, The bolt splits apart the clouds to leave Lasting wounds in every White. And I've told you 151 All this just to make sure that you grieve."

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2. The sun is in Aquarius from January 21 to February 18. ^
4–6.   Hoarfrost is the "sister" of snow, but melts away more 
rapidly. ^
56.   "Stairs" may refer to the ascent which Virgil calls by this 
name in line 83 of Canto XXXIV, or it may refer to the larger ascent 
of Purgatory after that. ^
86–87.   The reptiles are described in Lucan's Pharsalia, IX, 708-727 Chelydri leave paths of smoke, jaculi dart through the air,
phareae furrow the ground, chenchres follow a wavering path, amphisbaena
have two heads. ^
91. These are the thieves. ^
93.   The heliotrope was a stone believed to have miraculous 
attributes such as making its wearer invisible.  Boccaccio used 
this property in a famous tale (see  Decameron, VIII, 3). ^
104–109. The phoenix was believed to live for five hundred years, then die in flames and be reborn from its own ashes. Dante's source was Ovid (Metamorphoses XV). ^
111.   It was popularly believed that someone undergoing an 
epileptic fit was possessed by the  devil. ^
124. "Mule" means bastard, and the speaker, Vanni Fucci, a militant leader of the Blacks in Pistoia, was the illegitimate son of Fuccio de' Lazzari. ^
129.   Dante is surprised that the sinner, known for being a 
"man of blood and anger," is here, and not back in Phlegethon 
with the Violent of Canto XII. ^
136–139.   In 1293 Vanni Fucci and others stole the treasury 
of San Jacopo from the sacristy of the Cathedral of Pistoia.  
Unjustly accused, Rampino Foresi was nearly executed.  The 
conspiritors were captured but Fucci escaped and committed other 
crimes of violence, remaining at large until his death in 1300. ^
142–150. The prophecy is best deciphered like this: Whites forced the Blacks to leave Pistoia after May 1301. These Blacks fled to Florence, and with support from Charles of Valois, joined the Florentine Blacks in taking over the government of Florence in November 1301. They then banished the Whites from the city. Valdimagra was the territory of Moroello Malaspina, the "thunderbolt" who led a force of Florentines and Lucchesi against Pistoia in 1302. The Whites surrounded him like "thick clouds," but he rallied to defeat them in the battle of Serravalle on the fields of Picino. ^

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