DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 20
Chapter 20: Magicians
This, the twentieth chapter of my book,
first section of my triple enterprise
must put new matter here before your eyes. 3
Along that circling valley I could see
a wailing crowd of folk approaching me
at pace of priests chanting the litany. 6
I saw their nakedness from feet to necks
but higher they were faceless – there appeared
the backs of heads. No epileptic fit 9
could twist a human head so wholly round.
I turned, saw grieving faces move away
with tears flooding each spine to buttock cleft, 12
and these distortions of our human shape
made me weep too until my guide said, “Stop!
To pity those God damns is impious, 15
so lift your head. See Amphiareus.
An earthquake swallowed him because he hid
from death he had foretold. His chest is now 18
his shoulder-blades. He goes backward with the rest
who used black arts to see too far ahead
so can’t see forward now. See Tiresias. 21
His belly is in front of Aruns’ bum,
prophet who read the stars from his high home,
the cave of marble in Carrara’s cliff. 24
See her with breasts concealed by flowing hair,
Manto, the daughter of Tiresias
and virgin witch who founded Mantua, 27
my birthplace, of which I will tell you more.
Forced out of Thebes, Manto first roamed afar
in search of a new home. In Italy 30
among the mountain ramparts of the North
she saw Lake Garda fed by Alpine snow.
The overflow led her to Mincio, 33
a sluggish stream spreading in marshes round
a plot of firm ground, uninhabited.
On this she lived secure until she died. 36
Over her bones the scattered folk nearby
built, fortified the town of Mantua.
Tell all you know the truth of my account 39
which some misguided fools deny.” “O yes!”
cried I, “but please, first tell me more about
the sinners trudging in this dreary ditch. 42
Which is that brown old man with the white beard?”
“Eurypylus,” my guide explained, “the priest
who chose when Greeks should sail to Trojan war. 45
I’ve written of him in my Aeneid.
On his lean shanks see stalking Michael Scott,
the Caledonian astrologer – 48
Guido Bonatti, another sly cheat
who told the Montefeltro when to fight –
Asdente, Parma’s toothless shoemaker 51
sorry he’d not stuck to his former trade –
with many wretched women who betrayed
their sex and sold to neighbours magic drinks, 54
curses, revengeful hocusses and worse.
But let us leave this place, for high above
moon sets and day dawns. It is Saturday, 57
a golden morning before Easter day.
Completed 30th March 2013.