Canto 28

WHO, e'en in words unfetter'd, might at full
Tell of the wounds and blood that now I saw,
Though he repeated oft the tale? No tongue
So vast a theme could equal, speech and thought
Both impotent alike.  If in one band
Collected, stood the people all, who e'er
Pour'd on Apulia's happy soil their blood,
Slain by the Trojans, and in that long war
When of the rings the measur'd booty made
A pile so high, as Rome's historian writes
Who errs not, with the multitude, that felt
The grinding force of Guiscard's Norman steel,
And those the rest, whose bones are gather'd yet
At Ceperano, there where treachery
Branded th' Apulian name, or where beyond
Thy walls, O Tagliacozzo, without arms
The old Alardo conquer'd; and his limbs
One were to show transpierc'd, another his
Clean lopt away; a spectacle like this
Were but a thing of nought, to the' hideous sight
Of the ninth chasm.  A rundlet, that hath lost
Its middle or side stave, gapes not so wide,
As one I mark'd, torn from the chin throughout
Down to the hinder passage: 'twixt the legs
Dangling his entrails hung, the midriff lay
Open to view, and wretched ventricle,
That turns th' englutted aliment to dross.

Whilst eagerly I fix on him my gaze,
He ey'd me, with his hands laid his breast bare,
And cried; "Now mark how I do rip me! lo!
"How is Mohammed mangled! before me
Walks Ali weeping, from the chin his face
Cleft to the forelock; and the others all
Whom here thou seest, while they liv'd, did sow
Scandal and schism, and therefore thus are rent.
A fiend is here behind, who with his sword
Hacks us thus cruelly, slivering again
Each of this ream, when we have compast round
The dismal way, for first our gashes close
Ere we repass before him.  But say who
Art thou, that standest musing on the rock,
Haply so lingering to delay the pain
Sentenc'd upon thy crimes?"—"Him death not yet,"
My guide rejoin'd, "hath overta'en, nor sin
Conducts to torment; but, that he may make
Full trial of your state, I who am dead
Must through the depths of hell, from orb to orb,
Conduct him.  Trust my words, for they are true."

More than a hundred spirits, when that they heard,
Stood in the foss to mark me, through amazed,
Forgetful of their pangs.  "Thou, who perchance
Shalt shortly view the sun, this warning thou
Bear to Dolcino: bid him, if he wish not
Here soon to follow me, that with good store
Of food he arm him, lest impris'ning snows
Yield him a victim to Novara's power,
No easy conquest else."  With foot uprais'd
For stepping, spake Mohammed, on the ground
Then fix'd it to depart.  Another shade,
Pierc'd in the throat, his nostrils mutilate
E'en from beneath the eyebrows, and one ear
Lopt off, who with the rest through wonder stood
Gazing, before the rest advanc'd, and bar'd
His wind-pipe, that without was all o'ersmear'd
With crimson stain.  "O thou!" said 'he, "whom sin
Condemns not, and whom erst (unless too near
Resemblance do deceive me) I aloft
Have seen on Latian ground, call thou to mind
Piero of Medicina, if again
Returning, thou behold'st the pleasant land
That from Vercelli slopes to Mercabo;
"And there instruct the twain, whom Fano boasts
Her worthiest sons, Guido and Angelo,
That if 't is giv'n us here to scan aright
The future, they out of life's tenement
Shall be cast forth, and whelm'd under the waves
Near to Cattolica, through perfidy
Of a fell tyrant.  'Twixt the Cyprian isle
And Balearic, ne'er hath Neptune seen
An injury so foul, by pirates done
Or Argive crew of old.  That one-ey'd traitor
(Whose realm there is a spirit here were fain
His eye had still lack'd sight of) them shall bring
To conf'rence with him, then so shape his end,
That they shall need not 'gainst Focara's wind
Offer up vow nor pray'r."  I answering thus:

"Declare, as thou dost wish that I above
May carry tidings of thee, who is he,
In whom that sight doth wake such sad remembrance?"

Forthwith he laid his hand on the cheek-bone
Of one, his fellow-spirit, and his jaws
Expanding, cried: "Lo! this is he I wot of;
He speaks not for himself: the outcast this
Who overwhelm'd the doubt in Caesar's mind,
Affirming that delay to men prepar'd
Was ever harmful.  "Oh  how terrified
Methought was Curio, from whose throat was cut
The tongue, which spake that hardy word.  Then one
Maim'd of each hand, uplifted in the gloom
The bleeding stumps, that they with gory spots
Sullied his face, and cried: 'Remember thee
Of Mosca, too, I who, alas! exclaim'd,
"The deed once done there is an end," that prov'd
A seed of sorrow to the Tuscan race."

I added: "Ay, and death to thine own tribe."

Whence heaping woe on woe he hurried off,
As one grief stung to madness.  But I there
Still linger'd to behold the troop, and saw
Things, such as I may fear without more proof
To tell of, but that conscience makes me firm,
The boon companion, who her strong breast-plate
Buckles on him, that feels no guilt within
And bids him on and fear not.  Without doubt
I saw, and yet it seems to pass before me,
A headless trunk, that even as the rest
Of the sad flock pac'd onward.  By the hair
It bore the sever'd member, lantern-wise
Pendent in hand, which look'd at us and said,
"Woe's me!"  The spirit lighted thus himself,
And two there were in one, and one in two.
How that may be he knows who ordereth so.

When at the bridge's foot direct he stood,
His arm aloft he rear'd, thrusting the head
Full in our view, that nearer we might hear
The words, which thus it utter'd: "Now behold
This grievous torment, thou, who breathing go'st
To spy the dead; behold if any else
Be terrible as this.  And that on earth
Thou mayst bear tidings of me, know that I
Am Bertrand, he of Born, who gave King John
The counsel mischievous.  Father and son
I set at mutual war.  For Absalom
And David more did not Ahitophel,
Spurring them on maliciously to strife.
For parting those so closely knit, my brain
Parted, alas! I carry from its source,
That in this trunk inhabits.  Thus the law
Of retribution fiercely works in me."


  1. Pope Clement V (1264–1314) recruited troops from Novara and nearby towns to capture and execute heretics in the area.

    — Stephen Holliday
  2. This refers to Robert Guiscard of Normandy (1015–1085 CE), the Norman king who conquered southern Italy in the 11th century.

    — Stephen Holliday
  3. This refers to the biblical figure Ahitophel, a trusted counselor to King David. Ahitophel urged King David's son Absalom to rebel against his father by sleeping with his concubines and then attacking him. Absalom was eventually defeated. The entire episode is described in 2 Samuel:15-17.

    — Stephen Holliday
  4. Dante has encountered Bertran de Born (1140-1215 A. D.), a well-known troubadour-poet from Provence. He is among the divisive because he is thought to have urged Prince Henry, son of King Henry II of England, to rebel against his father. Bertran is thus guilty of creating a rift not only between father and son but also between a subject and his king, thereby threatening the stability of a kingdom.

    — Stephen Holliday
  5. Dante describes a headless man who carries his severed head by the hair as if it were a lantern. The head looks at Dante and says "Woe is me."

    — Stephen Holliday
  6. This is the advice Mosca gave to the Amadei family after Buondelmonte de' Buondelmonti jilted a young woman of the Amadei family. Mosca's advice, which was interpreted to mean that the Amadei should revenge themselves upon the Buondelmonti, led the Amadei family to murder Buondelmonte in 1215. This event triggered the larger struggle between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, who went to war with each other.

    — Stephen Holliday
  7. Mosca de' Lamberti (died 1243 CE), a Florentine Ghibelline, is blamed for inciting the struggles between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, which devastated Florence and resulted in Dante's permanent exile.  

    — Stephen Holliday
  8. This is a reference to the Roman statesman Gaius Scribonius Curio (died 53 BCE). When Julius Caesar deliberated in Gaul, trying to determine whether to cross the Rubicon river into Roman territory, it was Curio who urged him to carry on. Caesar's act of crossing the Rubicon with his forces sparked the civil war that resulted in Caesar's ascension to the throne of Rome and its territories. Dante viewed Curio's act as sowing discord.

    — Stephen Holliday
  9. Here Dante refers to the Argonauts, the crew of the Argos, led by the Greek hero Jason. The Argonauts serve as an example of a fraudulent group: they stole the Golden Fleece from Colchis under false pretenses.

    — Stephen Holliday
  10. This passage describes the story of a man from Rimini named Malatestino who wanted to acquire Fano, an area on the Adriatic Sea near the mouth of the Metauro River. Malatestino invited Guido del Cassero and Angiobello de Carignano, chief citizens of the town of Fano, to a meeting at a a cape known as La Cattolica, only to have them thrown into the sea to drown.

    — Stephen Holliday
  11. Piero da Medicina (little about whom is known) is guilty of sowing discord by falsely telling two families, one from Ravenna, the other from Rimini, that each had malicious intentions against the other.

    — Stephen Holliday
  12. Mohammed refers to Dolcino de' Tornielli of Novara (1250–1307 CE), who became the leader of a group known as the Apostolic Brothers, also known as the Dulcinians. They formed a heretical sect that believed in the sharing of belongings and wives, as well as violence against their opponents. According to some accounts, Dolcino and his wife, Margaret of Trent, were burned at the stake in 1307. Others claim Dolcino was torn limb from limb.

    — Stephen Holliday
  13. Medieval Christian, such as Dante, viewed the succession of Mohammed (570–632 CE), the founder of Islam, as the primary cause of one of the greatest and most harmful divisions in religious history. Walking near him is his successor, Ali (601–661 CE), who became the Imam of the Shia sect of Islam. The Shia and Sunni sects have clashed ever since Mohammed's death. In Dante's vision of hell, Mohammed and Ali suffer horrific punishment not because they are sinners per se but because they founded a religion that Dante believed was a sin itself.

    — Stephen Holliday
  14. "Alardo" is Erard de Valery, who helped Charles win by holding reserve troops in the rear at Tagliacozzo.

    — Stephen Holliday
  15. This is a reference to the Battle of Tagliacozzo, in which Charles defeated the emperor's troops for the second time in 1268.

    — Stephen Holliday
  16. Dante describes a catalog of wars fought by the Romans and their successors in the southern half of Italy. These include the war against the Samnites (343–290 BCE), a warrior tribe from the area of Abruzzo; the war against Tarentum (280–275 BCE), in which the Tarentines had help from King Pyrrhus of Epirus, who defeated the Romans in two major struggles; the Punic Wars against Hannibal and Carthage (264–146 BCE); Robert Guiscard's struggles against the Saracens and Sicilians (1061–1091 CE); the struggles between Charles of Anjou against Manfred, son of Frederick II, including the betrayal of Apulian barons at Ceprano Pass in 1266, which allowed Charles's forces to win.

    — Stephen Holliday
  17. Dante and Virgil are now in the Ninth Pouch of the Eighth Circle, in which scandal mongers and those who incite sedition are punished.

    — Stephen Holliday