Canto 27

NOW upward rose the flame, and still'd its light
To speak no more, and now pass'd on with leave
From the mild poet gain'd, when following came
Another, from whose top a sound confus'd,
Forth issuing, drew our eyes that way to look.

As the Sicilian bull, that rightfully
His cries first echoed, who had shap'd its mould,
Did so rebellow, with the voice of him
Tormented, that the brazen monster seem'd
Pierc'd through with pain; thus while no way they found
Nor avenue immediate through the flame,
Into its language turn'd the dismal words:
But soon as they had won their passage forth,
Up from the point, which vibrating obey'd
Their motion at the tongue, these sounds we heard:
"O thou! to whom I now direct my voice!
That lately didst exclaim in Lombard phrase,

'Depart thou, I solicit thee no more,'
Though somewhat tardy I perchance arrive
Let it not irk thee here to pause awhile,
And with me parley: lo! it irks not me
And yet I burn.  If but e'en now thou fall
into this blind world, from that pleasant land
Of Latium, whence I draw my sum of guilt,
Tell me if those, who in Romagna dwell,
Have peace or war.  For of the mountains there
Was I, betwixt Urbino and the height,
Whence Tyber first unlocks his mighty flood."

Leaning I listen'd yet with heedful ear,
When, as he touch'd my side, the leader thus:
"Speak thou: he is a Latian."  My reply
Was ready, and I spake without delay:

"O spirit! who art hidden here below!
Never was thy Romagna without war
In her proud tyrants' bosoms, nor is now:
But open war there left I none.  The state,
Ravenna hath maintain'd this many a year,
Is steadfast.  There Polenta's eagle broods,
And in his broad circumference of plume
O'ershadows Cervia. The green talons grasp
The land, that stood erewhile the proof so long,
And pil'd in bloody heap the host of France.

"The' old mastiff of Verruchio and the young,
That tore Montagna in their wrath, still make,
Where they are wont, an augre of their fangs.

"Lamone's city and Santerno's range
Under the lion of the snowy lair.
Inconstant partisan! that changeth sides,
Or ever summer yields to winter's frost.
And she, whose flank is wash'd of Savio's wave,
As 'twixt the level and the steep she lies,
Lives so 'twixt tyrant power and liberty.

"Now tell us, I entreat thee, who art thou?
Be not more hard than others.  In the world,
So may thy name still rear its forehead high."

Then roar'd awhile the fire, its sharpen'd point
On either side wav'd, and thus breath'd at last:
"If I did think, my answer were to one,
Who ever could return unto the world,
This flame should rest unshaken.  But since ne'er,
If true be told me, any from this depth
Has found his upward way, I answer thee,
Nor fear lest infamy record the words.

"A man of arms at first, I cloth'd me then
In good Saint Francis' girdle, hoping so
T' have made amends.  And certainly my hope
Had fail'd not, but that he, whom curses light on,
The' high priest again seduc'd me into sin.
And how and wherefore listen while I tell.
Long as this spirit mov'd the bones and pulp
My mother gave me, less my deeds bespake
The nature of the lion than the fox.
All ways of winding subtlety I knew,
And with such art conducted, that the sound
Reach'd the world's limit.  Soon as to that part
Of life I found me come, when each behoves
To lower sails and gather in the lines;
That which before had pleased me then I rued,
And to repentance and confession turn'd;
Wretch that I was! and well it had bested me!
The chief of the new Pharisees meantime,
Waging his warfare near the Lateran,
Not with the Saracens or Jews (his foes
All Christians were, nor against Acre one
Had fought, nor traffic'd in the Soldan's land),
He his great charge nor sacred ministry
In himself, rev'renc'd, nor in me that cord,
Which us'd to mark with leanness whom it girded.
As in Socrate, Constantine besought
To cure his leprosy Sylvester's aid,
So me to cure the fever of his pride
This man besought: my counsel to that end
He ask'd: and I was silent: for his words
Seem'd drunken: but forthwith he thus resum'd:
"From thy heart banish fear: of all offence
I hitherto absolve thee.  In return,
Teach me my purpose so to execute,
That Penestrino cumber earth no more.
Heav'n, as thou knowest, I have power to shut
And open: and the keys are therefore twain,
The which my predecessor meanly priz'd."

Then, yielding to the forceful arguments,
Of silence as more perilous I deem'd,
And answer'd: "Father! since thou washest me
Clear of that guilt wherein I now must fall,
Large promise with performance scant, be sure,
Shall make thee triumph in thy lofty seat."

"When I was number'd with the dead, then came
Saint Francis for me; but a cherub dark
He met, who cried: "'Wrong me not; he is mine,
And must below to join the wretched crew,
For the deceitful counsel which he gave.
E'er since I watch'd him, hov'ring at his hair,
No power can the impenitent absolve;
Nor to repent and will at once consist,
By contradiction absolute forbid."
Oh mis'ry! how I shook myself, when he
Seiz'd me, and cried, "Thou haply thought'st me not
A disputant in logic so exact."
To Minos down he bore me, and the judge
Twin'd eight times round his callous back the tail,
Which biting with excess of rage, he spake:
'This is a guilty soul, that in the fire
Must vanish.'  Hence perdition-doom'd I rove
A prey to rankling sorrow in this garb."

When he had thus fulfill'd his words, the flame
In dolour parted, beating to and fro,
And writhing its sharp horn.  We onward went,
I and my leader, up along the rock,
Far as another arch, that overhangs
The foss, wherein the penalty is paid
Of those, who load them with committed sin.


  1. Dante and Virgil are still in the Eighth Circle, but now in the Eight Pouch where false counselors are punished, including Guido da Montefeltro.

    — Stephen Holliday
  2. Minos is one of three judges in the underworld who determines where sinners will be punished. Minos is depicted in detail in Canto 5.

    — Stephen Holliday
  3. Guido did actually die in 1298, the same month that Boniface deceived the Colonna. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  4. There is no additional evidence that Guido gave Boniface this advice. Later scholars have only been able to cite Dante as their source for such an event. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  5. This is Pope Sylvester I (died 335 CE), who had been in hiding in a cave on Mount Socrate, until summoned by Constantine to come and baptize him. Allegedly, Constantine was instantly cured of his leprosy upon Sylvester's baptism. Constantine then gave the Papacy temporary power over the western portion of the Roman Empire (See Canto 19). This controversial event has come to be known as the "Donation of Constantine."

    — Jamie Wheeler
  6. Constantine (277–337 CE), who served as Roman Emperor for three decades, was infected with leprosy. His fate was deserved, in the opinion of many during the Middle Ages, for his persecution of Christians.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  7. Penestrino ("Palestrina" in some translations) is a city approximately twenty miles east of Rome. Here, the Colonna resisted Boniface's siege until 1298. They surrendered under the promise of amnesty. Although they were allowed to live, their city was destroyed, their family ruined. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  8. This is a reference to the cord traditionally worn around the waists of Franciscan friars. When the cord had been worn thin, it symbolized the friar's persistent adherence to his vows of poverty and abstinence. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  9. Pope Boniface and the powerful Colonna family were in constant odds until actual warfare broke out in 1297. When Celestine V adbicated, the Colonna refused to accept it, which led them to deny the legitimacy of Boniface. Here Dante attacks Boniface for crusading against fellow Christians, yet doing nothing to oppose the Sacracens who had conquered Acre in 1291. Acre was the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land. Boniface also did not punish those who defied the order which criminalized trade with Muslims. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  10. T.S. Eliot used these lines, untranslated and unidentified, as the epigraph of his 1915 poem "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock"

    — Jamie Wheeler
  11. Guido's cousin, the relatively begnin Galasso da Montefeltro, ruled Cesena, a city in Romagna that lies near the Savio river. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  12. Faenza is located on the Lamone River. Imola is located on the Santerno. Maghinardo Pagani da Susinana, who ruled both in 1300, is called the "lion" because of his coat of arms. Maghinardo was known for his political inconsistency.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  13. Malatesta da Verruchio (1212–1312 CE) defeated the Ghibellines of Rimini in 1295. The leader of the Ghibellines, Montagne de' Parcitati, was captured and killed by Malatesta's son, Malatestino. Maletesta ruled until his death at age 100, in 1312. He was succeeded by Malestestino, who ruled until 1317. His brother, Pandolfo, then became the ruler. Malatesta had two other children, Gianciotto, the husband of Francesca, mentioned in Canto 5, and Paolo, her lover.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  14. The "green talons" mentioned here (in some translations, "green paws") form the emblem of the coat-of-arms of the Ordelaffi family. The Ordelaffis were despots who ruled Forli—a city southwest of Ravenna—at the end of the 13th century.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  15. This is a reference to Guido da Polenta, who ruled over Ravenna from 1275 to 1297. As Dante suggests, his coat of arms featured an eagle. Guido's grandfather, Guido Novello, was Dante's host in Ravenna in 1231. He was also the father of Francesca da Ramini, who was mentioned in Canto 5. Cervia, located on the Adriatic, lies southeast of Ravenna.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  16. Romagna is a region located in northeastern Italy, extending from the Po River in the south, to the Appennines in the east. The range includes Mount Oranato, from which the Tiber originates. The speaker here, although not identified, is Guido da Montefeltro (1220–1298). He is considered the greatest of the Ghibelline commanders. He kept Romagna under Ghibelline rule when the majority of Italy, including the papacy, was controlled by the Guelphs. Montefeltro was excommunicated in 1289, although he was later reconciled with the Church and became a Franciscan in 1296. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  17. There are many classical tales about a bronze bull constructed by Phalaris, the tyrant of the Sicilian city-state of Akragas in the 6th century BCE. The "Sicilian bull" was a torture device. Victims were placed inside the hollow interior and roasted alive. Their cries of pain would pass through pipes in the neck of the bull, making a grotesque sound resembling the bellowing of a bull. The creator of the bull, the Athenian Perillos, expected to be handsomely rewarded for completing the device. Instead, Phalaris forced Perillos into the bull, scorching him close to death before ordering him to be thrown from a cliff.

    — Jamie Wheeler