Canto 29

SO were mine eyes inebriate with view
Of the vast multitude, whom various wounds
Disfigur'd, that they long'd to stay and weep.

But Virgil rous'd me: "What yet gazest on?
Wherefore doth fasten yet thy sight below
Among the maim'd and miserable shades?
Thou hast not shewn in any chasm beside
This weakness.  Know, if thou wouldst number them
That two and twenty miles the valley winds
Its circuit, and already is the moon
Beneath our feet: the time permitted now
Is short, and more not seen remains to see."

"If thou," I straight replied, "hadst weigh'd the cause
For which I look'd, thou hadst perchance excus'd
The tarrying still."  My leader part pursu'd
His way, the while I follow'd, answering him,
And adding thus: "Within that cave I deem,
Whereon so fixedly I held my ken,
There is a spirit dwells, one of my blood,
Wailing the crime that costs him now so dear."

Then spake my master: "Let thy soul no more
Afflict itself for him.  Direct elsewhere
Its thought, and leave him.  At the bridge's foot
I mark'd how he did point with menacing look
At thee, and heard him by the others nam'd
Geri of Bello.  Thou so wholly then
Wert busied with his spirit, who once rul'd
The towers of Hautefort, that thou lookedst not
That way, ere he was gone."—"O guide belov'd!
His violent death yet unaveng'd," said I,
"By any, who are partners in his shame,
Made him contemptuous: therefore, as I think,
He pass'd me speechless by; and doing so
Hath made me more compassionate his fate."

So we discours'd to where the rock first show'd
The other valley, had more light been there,
E'en to the lowest depth.  Soon as we came
O'er the last cloister in the dismal rounds
Of Malebolge, and the brotherhood
Were to our view expos'd, then many a dart
Of sore lament assail'd me, headed all
With points of thrilling pity, that I clos'd
Both ears against the volley with mine hands.

As were the torment, if each lazar-house
Of Valdichiana, in the sultry time
'Twixt July and September, with the isle
Sardinia and Maremma's pestilent fen,
Had heap'd their maladies all in one foss
Together; such was here the torment: dire
The stench, as issuing steams from fester'd limbs.

We on the utmost shore of the long rock
Descended still to leftward.  Then my sight
Was livelier to explore the depth, wherein
The minister of the most mighty Lord,
All-searching Justice, dooms to punishment
The forgers noted on her dread record.

More rueful was it not methinks to see
The nation in Aegina droop, what time
Each living thing, e'en to the little worm,
All fell, so full of malice was the air
(And afterward, as bards of yore have told,
The ancient people were restor'd anew
From seed of emmets) than was here to see
The spirits, that languish'd through the murky vale
Up-pil'd on many a stack.  Confus'd they lay,
One o'er the belly, o'er the shoulders one
Roll'd of another; sideling crawl'd a third
Along the dismal pathway.  Step by step
We journey'd on, in silence looking round
And list'ning those diseas'd, who strove in vain
To lift their forms.  Then two I mark'd, that sat
Propp'd 'gainst each other, as two brazen pans
Set to retain the heat.  From head to foot,
A tetter bark'd them round. Nor saw I e'er
Groom currying so fast, for whom his lord
Impatient waited, or himself perchance
Tir'd with long watching, as of these each one
Plied quickly his keen nails, through furiousness
Of ne'er abated pruriency.  The crust
Came drawn from underneath in flakes, like scales
Scrap'd from the bream or fish of broader mail.

"O thou, who with thy fingers rendest off
Thy coat of proof," thus spake my guide to one,
"And sometimes makest tearing pincers of them,
Tell me if any born of Latian land
Be among these within: so may thy nails
Serve thee for everlasting to this toil."

"Both are of Latium," weeping he replied,
"Whom tortur'd thus thou seest: but who art thou
That hast inquir'd of us?"  To whom my guide:
"One that descend with this man, who yet lives,
From rock to rock, and show him hell's abyss."

Then started they asunder, and each turn'd
Trembling toward us, with the rest, whose ear
Those words redounding struck.  To me my liege
Address'd him: "Speak to them whate'er thou list."

And I therewith began: "So may no time
Filch your remembrance from the thoughts of men
In th' upper world, but after many suns
Survive it, as ye tell me, who ye are,
And of what race ye come.  Your punishment,
Unseemly and disgustful in its kind,
Deter you not from opening thus much to me."

"Arezzo was my dwelling," answer'd one,
"And me Albero of Sienna brought
To die by fire; but that, for which I died,
Leads me not here.  True is in sport I told him,
That I had learn'd to wing my flight in air.
And he admiring much, as he was void
Of wisdom, will'd me to declare to him
The secret of mine art: and only hence,
Because I made him not a Daedalus,
Prevail'd on one suppos'd his sire to burn me.
But Minos to this chasm last of the ten,
For that I practis'd alchemy on earth,
Has doom'd me.  Him no subterfuge eludes."

Then to the bard I spake: "Was ever race
Light as Sienna's?  Sure not France herself
Can show a tribe so frivolous and vain."

The other leprous spirit heard my words,
And thus return'd: "Be Stricca from this charge
Exempted, he who knew so temp'rately
To lay out fortune's gifts; and Niccolo
Who first the spice's costly luxury
Discover'd in that garden, where such seed
Roots deepest in the soil: and be that troop
Exempted, with whom Caccia of Asciano
Lavish'd his vineyards and wide-spreading woods,
And his rare wisdom Abbagliato show'd
A spectacle for all.  That thou mayst know
Who seconds thee against the Siennese
Thus gladly, bend this way thy sharpen'd sight,
That well my face may answer to thy ken;
So shalt thou see I am Capocchio's ghost,
Who forg'd transmuted metals by the power
Of alchemy; and if I scan thee right,
Thus needs must well remember how I aped
Creative nature by my subtle art."


  1. "Latin land" means Italy. Latian or Latium refer to Italy and the people who inhabited Italy before Roman times. In Greek and Roman mythology, the Romans were the descendants of the Trojans, who ventured to Latium in the wake of the sacking of Troy.

    — Stephen Holliday
  2. Capocchio falsai li metalli con l'alchìmia, meaning that he "falsified metals through alchemy." Alchemy was the medieval science of transmuting base metals, such as lead, into gold through a series of arcane operations. It was, by definition, a pseudoscience, for such transmutations are not possible. Capocchio describes alchemy as an attempt to "ape/Creative nature by my subtle art."

    — Stephen Holliday
  3. This is Bartolomeo dei Folcacchieri (nicknamed Abbagliato, meaning "dazed" or "bedazzled"), a Sienese political leader who was once fined for drinking where it was illegal.

    — Stephen Holliday
  4. Caccia d'Asciano was another luxurious, decadent man. He was forced to sell his major source of income, a vineyard, to pay for his spendthrift ways.

    — Stephen Holliday
  5. Dante asks Virgil if there was ever a race as stupid ("light," perhaps of brain) as those from Siena. He offers the French as another contender for the most "frivolous and vain" people.

    — Stephen Holliday
  6. Minos, the mythical Greek king, is one of three judges in Hades who determines where the dead shall spend their time. In this context, Minos works under God's supervision. Minos features prominently in Canto 5.

    — Stephen Holliday
  7. Griffolino was also known for his attempts at alchemy—changing base metal into gold—which was a pseudo-scientific means of committing fraud and tricking his customers.

    — Stephen Holliday
  8. Griffolino d'Arezzo (died 1272 CE) is in this area of the Inferno because he convinced Albero di Siena that he could fly like Daedalus. Albero paid Griffolino to teach him to fly. Later, when Albero realized that Griffolino was a fraud, Albero denounced Griffolino for heresy. Albero's friend, the Bishop of Siena, ordered Griffolino to be burned at the stake. God understood his true sin—falsifying—and put him here rather than with the heretics.

    — Stephen Holliday
  9. In other words, the scabs on the skin of the condemned came off just like the scales of large fish scraped off by a knife.

    — Stephen Holliday
  10. Dante is comparing the falsifiers and their terrible wounds and illnesses with the victims of the mythical plague at Aegina, caused by Hera.

    — Stephen Holliday
  11. This is Niccolo di Giovanni de' Salimbeni, a member of the "brigata spendereccia" ("The Spendthrifts' Club"), a group of young nobles from Sienna who spent their wealth as lavishly as possible. It is estimated that they went through their entire fortunes in just two years. There are claims that Niccolo introduced cloves, the exotic and expensive spice, to the gardens of Sienna. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  12. There have been two identifications of "Albero of Sienna." Early scholars claim that this man is "Griffolino," an Arentine who was convicted of heresy and burned at the stake in 1272. Later scholars argue that Albero was the protege, and perhaps son, of the Bishop of Sienna. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  13. This passage refers to Dante's cousin, Geri del Bello, described more fully in the next annotation. Geri is in this part of the Inferno because he is thought to be a falsifier. Commentators at the time accused him of an being an alchemist, an imposter, a counterfeiter, and a sower of discord. Geri was accused of having created dissension among the Sacchetti family of Tuscany and, as a result, may have been murdered by a Sacchetti.

    — Stephen Holliday
  14. Because the moon is at the antipodes of Jerusalem, and the Inferno is below Jerusalem, the moon has already set. Therefore, it is early afternoon roughly two days after Dante set out on his journey.

    — Stephen Holliday
  15. In Book IV of Ovid's Metamorphoses, the story of Aeacus is told. Aeacus was the son of the god Jupiter and the nymph Aegina. He was the ruler of the island Aegina, named for his mother. Juno (or "Hera") destroyed the island with a plague. Zeus repopulated the island by transforming ants into men. Aeacus was the grandfather of Achilles and the father of Peleus.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  16. At the sight of the prisoners suffering in this region of the Eighth Circle, Dante is deeply disturbed. Seeing Dante's state, Virgil remarks that Dante has not shown "this weakness" in any other "chasm" of hell so far. Virgil urges Dante to rouse himself, for they have much left to see and do.

    — Stephen Holliday
  17. Dante sees so many sinners with such indescribable wounds that his eyes are nearly "drunk" with the sight. He and Virgil are still in the Ninth Pouch of Circle Eight, among the sowers of discord and scandal.

    — Stephen Holliday
  18. Geri del Bello degli Aligheri was Dante's cousin on his father's side. Dante's son Pietro said Geri was murdered by Broaio dei Sacchetti in 1271. By the time of Dante's writing, the murder had not been avenged. Peace between the feuding families did not occur until 1342. It was completely legal at the time to avenge the murder of a family member.  

    — Jamie Wheeler