Canto 26

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."


  1. Ulysses 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.

    — Stephen Holliday
  2. Ulysses and Diomedes are here because, in Dante's eyes, they are guilty of fraudulent rhetoric. In Ulysses' case, he lured Achilles away from his mother, Thetis, by promising the warrior eternal glory on the battlefields of Troy. Diomedes is guilty of stealing the Palladium, a statue of Athene, symbol of the goddess who protected Troy. Ulysses and Diomedes are jointly punished for the Trojan horse, a stratagem they devised. Finally, Ulysses committed fraud by convincing his crew to sail across the Atlantic Ocean for one final voyage. It was this final trip, never mentioned in The Odyssey, which killed Ulysses and crew.

    — Stephen Holliday
  3. This refers to the path of the sun, represented here by the Roman sun god, Phoebus.

    — Stephen Holliday
  4. Virgil and Dante are still in the Seventh Pouch of the Eighth Circle, among the thieves. These opening lines are Dante's ironic congratulations to Florence for having sinners from Florence represented in every circle of the Inferno.

    — Stephen Holliday
  5. Ulysses describes his crossing of the equator into the Southern Hemisphere. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  6. Ulysses describes how he and his crew sailed southwest, aiming to arrive at the point on the globe precisely opposite to Jerusalem. Dante identifies this as the location of Mount Purgatory, which forms the setting of the next following volume of the Divine Comedy.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  7. This I a reference to the Strait of Gibraltar, which separates Spain to the North from Morocco to the South, and connects the Atlantic Ocean to the west with the Mediterranean Sea to the east. On either side of the strait are two mountains known as the "Pillars of Hercules": Calpe on the Spanish side and Abyla on the Moroccan side. Legend has it that the two were originally a single mountain until Hercules, with his mighty strength, ripped them into two. Because of how unknown the Atlantic was to classical-era Greeks, the strait was considered the edge of the world, the point beyond which no sailor can pass and hope to survive. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  8. Circe is an enchantress who tries entrap Ulysses, seduces him, and transforms his crew into swine. Circe appears in Book X of The Odyssey.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  9. v"Caieta" is often translated to "Gaeta." This is a town on Italy's southern Coast. Aeneas named the town after his nurse, who died there. The event is described in Book VII of the Aenied.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  10. Tennyson's masterpiece "Ulysses" was modeled after Ulysses's speech here. Both Dante and Tennyson describe the actions of Ulysses after he returns home to Ithaca at the end of The Odyssey. The aged captain sets out again for a final adventure, only to lead his crew to ruin on the Atlantic. Scholars are unsure whether Dante devised this epilogue for Ulysses. Tennyson and Dante tell episode in different ways. In Dante's estimation, Ulysses is a failure, primarily because he shirks his duties as a father and husband. He is also guilty of hubris, and of not recognizing the limitations imposed by the gods. Tennyson, however, lauds the bravery of the quest and argues that human progress is made possible by those who, like Ulysses, dare to push limits.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  11. The "Theban brothers" are Etecoles and Polynices, the warring sons of Oedipus who killed one another. The divided flame rising from their mutual funeral pyre is a testament to their eternal hatred. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  12. In the Old Testament Book of Kings, Elijah is a prophet and miracle worker who encourages worship of the Hebrew God. This passage of Inferno describes his final miracle. As detailed in 2 Kings 2:3–9, Elijah is assumed into heaven when a chariot of fire wheels down through the sky, drawing Elijah upward in a spiraling whirlwind.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  13. 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 Prato's rival factions in 1304. But other scholars argue that the reference is to Prato itself, a Tuscan city which expelled the Black Guelphs in 1309. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  14. These lines express the common belief in Dante's time that dreams which occur shortly before waking are prophetic. 

    — Jamie Wheeler