Canto 18

THERE is a place within the depths of hell
Call'd Malebolge, all of rock dark-stain'd
With hue ferruginous, e'en as the steep
That round it circling winds.  Right in the midst
Of that abominable region, yawns
A spacious gulf profound, whereof the frame
Due time shall tell.  The circle, that remains,
Throughout its round, between the gulf and base
Of the high craggy banks, successive forms
Ten trenches, in its hollow bottom sunk.

As where to guard the walls, full many a foss
Begirds some stately castle, sure defence
Affording to the space within, so here
Were model'd these; and as like fortresses
E'en from their threshold to the brink without,
Are flank'd with bridges; from the rock's low base
Thus flinty paths advanc'd, that 'cross the moles
And dikes, struck onward far as to the gulf,
That in one bound collected cuts them off.
Such was the place, wherein we found ourselves
From Geryon's back dislodg'd. The bard to left
Held on his way, and I behind him mov'd.

On our right hand new misery I saw,
New pains, new executioners of wrath,
That swarming peopled the first chasm.  Below
Were naked sinners.  Hitherward they came,
Meeting our faces from the middle point,
With us beyond but with a larger stride.
E'en thus the Romans, when the year returns
Of Jubilee, with better speed to rid
The thronging multitudes, their means devise
For such as pass the bridge; that on one side
All front toward the castle, and approach
Saint Peter's fane, on th' other towards the mount.

Each divers way along the grisly rock,
Horn'd demons I beheld, with lashes huge,
That on their back unmercifully smote.
Ah! how they made them bound at the first stripe!
None for the second waited nor the third.

Meantime as on I pass'd, one met my sight
Whom soon as view'd; "Of him," cried I, "not yet
Mine eye hath had his fill."  With fixed gaze
I therefore scann'd him.  Straight the teacher kind
Paus'd with me, and consented I should walk
Backward a space, and the tormented spirit,
Who thought to hide him, bent his visage down.
But it avail'd him nought; for I exclaim'd:
"Thou who dost cast thy eye upon the ground,
Unless thy features do belie thee much,
Venedico art thou.  But what brings thee
Into this bitter seas'ning?"  He replied:
"Unwillingly I answer to thy words.
But thy clear speech, that to my mind recalls
The world I once inhabited, constrains me.
Know then 'twas I who led fair Ghisola
To do the Marquis' will, however fame
The shameful tale have bruited.  Nor alone
Bologna hither sendeth me to mourn
Rather with us the place is so o'erthrong'd
That not so many tongues this day are taught,
Betwixt the Reno and Savena's stream,
To answer SIPA in their country's phrase.
And if of that securer proof thou need,
Remember but our craving thirst for gold."

Him speaking thus, a demon with his thong
Struck, and exclaim'd, "Away! corrupter! here
Women are none for sale."  Forthwith I join'd
My escort, and few paces thence we came
To where a rock forth issued from the bank.
That easily ascended, to the right
Upon its splinter turning, we depart
From those eternal barriers. When arriv'd,
Where underneath the gaping arch lets pass
The scourged souls: "Pause here," the teacher said,
"And let these others miserable, now
Strike on thy ken, faces not yet beheld,
For that together they with us have walk'd."

From the old bridge we ey'd the pack, who came
From th' other side towards us, like the rest,
Excoriate from the lash.  My gentle guide,
By me unquestion'd, thus his speech resum'd:
"Behold that lofty shade, who this way tends,
And seems too woe-begone to drop a tear.
How yet the regal aspect he retains!
Jason is he, whose skill and prowess won
The ram from Colchos. To the Lemnian isle
His passage thither led him, when those bold
And pitiless women had slain all their males.
There he with tokens and fair witching words
Hypsipyle beguil'd, a virgin young,
Who first had all the rest herself beguil'd.
Impregnated he left her there forlorn.
Such is the guilt condemns him to this pain.
Here too Medea's inj'ries are avenged.
All bear him company, who like deceit
To his have practis'd.  And thus much to know
Of the first vale suffice thee, and of those
Whom its keen torments urge."  Now had we come
Where, crossing the next pier, the straighten'd path
Bestrides its shoulders to another arch.

Hence in the second chasm we heard the ghosts,
Who jibber in low melancholy sounds,
With wide-stretch'd nostrils snort, and on themselves
Smite with their palms.  Upon the banks a scurf
From the foul steam condens'd, encrusting hung,
That held sharp combat with the sight and smell.

So hollow is the depth, that from no part,
Save on the summit of the rocky span,
Could I distinguish aught.  Thus far we came;
And thence I saw, within the foss below,
A crowd immers'd in ordure, that appear'd
Draff of the human body.  There beneath
Searching with eye inquisitive, I mark'd
One with his head so grim'd, 't were hard to deem,
If he were clerk or layman.  Loud he cried:
"Why greedily thus bendest more on me,
Than on these other filthy ones, thy ken?"

"Because if true my mem'ry," I replied,
"I heretofore have seen thee with dry locks,
And thou Alessio art of Lucca sprung.
Therefore than all the rest I scan thee more."

Then beating on his brain these words he spake:
"Me thus low down my flatteries have sunk,
Wherewith I ne'er enough could glut my tongue."

My leader thus: "A little further stretch
Thy face, that thou the visage well mayst note
Of that besotted, sluttish courtezan,
Who there doth rend her with defiled nails,
Now crouching down, now risen on her feet.
"Thais is this, the harlot, whose false lip
Answer'd her doting paramour that ask'd,
'Thankest me much!'—'Say rather wondrously,'
And seeing this here satiate be our view."


  1. Virgil draws Dante's attention to Thais, a Greek prostitute who was a well-known flatterer. When her lover sends Thais a slave and then asks her how she likes the gift, she answers with an unseemly amount of gratitude. Therefore she is considered a false flatterer, a reputation which lands her in this pouch.

    — Stephen Holliday
  2. Dante refers to Alessio Interminei, a White Guelph from Lucca, Italy. According to other commentators, Alessio is a consummate flatterer who "oozed flattery... reeked of it." For this reason Dante depicts him as covered in excrement.

    — Stephen Holliday
  3. When Jason and the Argonauts landed on Lemnos, they spent a year on the island. Jason married the Queen of Lemnos, Hypsipyle, and fathered twin sons, Euneos and Thoas (named after Hypsipyle's father). True to his character, Jason later abandoned them to continue his search for the golden fleece.

    — Stephen Holliday
  4. The Greek mythical hero Jason is the leader of the Argonauts. He is in this circle of Hell because his chief sin is seducing women to help him and then abandoning them. Dante refers to Jason's voyage to Colchis to steal the magical golden fleece. He convinces Medea, the king's daughter, to help him. First, Medea puts to sleep a dragon protecting the fleece; second, she yokes powerful oxen in order to pull the fleece from the tree on which it hangs. After successfully acquiring the fleece, Jason leaves Medea and his two children by her to marry another woman.

    — Stephen Holliday
  5. The original Italian implies not that this spirit is too troubled to cry but that he is too proud to cry.

    — Stephen Holliday
  6. Virgil asks Dante to stop and look at the sinners whose faces he has not seen because they have been walking alongside him in the same direction.

    — Stephen Holliday
  7. In the Bolognese dialect, sipa means "yes." In this context, Dante is reinforcing the trend of Bolognese men being willing to prostitute their relatives by signifying, "yes, go right ahead." In modern Italy, the word sipa is synonymous with the city of Bologna.

    — Stephen Holliday
  8. Caccianemico claims that in this "pouch" of Hell he has a lot of company from men of Bologna, who are, apparently, well known for prostituting family and friends. One commentator argues that this vice is the result of both the greed of Bolognese men and the number of young men who travel to Bologna to study at its university.

    — Stephen Holliday
  9. Dante sees a Bolognese, Venedico Caccianemico (1228–1302), a Guelph leader best known for having prostituted his own sister, Ghisolabella, to the Marquis d'Este, Obizzo II or his son, Azzo VIII, in order to win favor with royalty.

    — Stephen Holliday
  10. Dante and Virgil have reached the Inferno's eighth circle, which, instead of rings, has ten concentric "pouches," and is where different categories of "ordinary" fraud are punished.  Malebolge means "Evil pouches."

    — Stephen Holliday