Canto 30

WHAT time resentment burn'd in Juno's breast
For Semele against the Theban blood,
As more than once in dire mischance was rued,
Such fatal frenzy seiz'd on Athamas,
That he his spouse beholding with a babe
Laden on either arm, "Spread out," he cried,
"The meshes, that I take the lioness
And the young lions at the pass:" then forth
Stretch'd he his merciless talons, grasping one,
One helpless innocent, Learchus nam'd,
Whom swinging down he dash'd upon a rock,
And with her other burden self-destroy'd
The hapless mother plung'd: and when the pride
Of all-presuming Troy fell from its height,
By fortune overwhelm'd, and the old king
With his realm perish'd, then did Hecuba,
A wretch forlorn and captive, when she saw
Polyxena first slaughter'd, and her son,
Her Polydorus, on the wild sea-beach
Next met the mourner's view, then reft of sense
Did she run barking even as a dog;
Such mighty power had grief to wrench her soul.
Bet ne'er the Furies or of Thebes or Troy
With such fell cruelty were seen, their goads
Infixing in the limbs of man or beast,
As now two pale and naked ghost I saw
That gnarling wildly scamper'd, like the swine
Excluded from his stye.  One reach'd Capocchio,
And in the neck-joint sticking deep his fangs,
Dragg'd him, that o'er the solid pavement rubb'd
His belly stretch'd out prone.  The other shape,
He of Arezzo, there left trembling, spake;
"That sprite of air is Schicchi; in like mood
Of random mischief vent he still his spite."

To whom I answ'ring: "Oh! as thou dost hope,
The other may not flesh its jaws on thee,
Be patient to inform us, who it is,
Ere it speed hence."—"That is the ancient soul
Of wretched Myrrha," he replied, "who burn'd
With most unholy flame for her own sire,
"And a false shape assuming, so perform'd
The deed of sin; e'en as the other there,
That onward passes, dar'd to counterfeit
Donati's features, to feign'd testament
The seal affixing, that himself might gain,
For his own share, the lady of the herd."

When vanish'd the two furious shades, on whom
Mine eye was held, I turn'd it back to view
The other cursed spirits.  One I saw
In fashion like a lute, had but the groin
Been sever'd, where it meets the forked part.
Swoln dropsy, disproportioning the limbs
With ill-converted moisture, that the paunch
Suits not the visage, open'd wide his lips
Gasping as in the hectic man for drought,
One towards the chin, the other upward curl'd.

"O ye, who in this world of misery,
Wherefore I know not, are exempt from pain,"
Thus he began, "attentively regard
Adamo's woe.  When living, full supply
Ne'er lack'd me of what most I coveted;
One drop of water now, alas! I crave.
The rills, that glitter down the grassy slopes
Of Casentino, making fresh and soft
The banks whereby they glide to Arno's stream,
Stand ever in my view; and not in vain;
For more the pictur'd semblance dries me up,
Much more than the disease, which makes the flesh
Desert these shrivel'd cheeks.  So from the place,
Where I transgress'd, stern justice urging me,
Takes means to quicken more my lab'ring sighs.
There is Romena, where I falsified
The metal with the Baptist's form imprest,
For which on earth I left my body burnt.
But if I here might see the sorrowing soul
Of Guido, Alessandro, or their brother,
For Branda's limpid spring I would not change
The welcome sight.  One is e'en now within,
If truly the mad spirits tell, that round
Are wand'ring.  But wherein besteads me that?
My limbs are fetter'd.  Were I but so light,
That I each hundred years might move one inch,
I had set forth already on this path,
Seeking him out amidst the shapeless crew,
Although eleven miles it wind, not more
Than half of one across.  They brought me down
Among this tribe; induc'd by them I stamp'd
The florens with three carats of alloy."

"Who are that abject pair," I next inquir'd,
"That closely bounding thee upon thy right
Lie smoking, like a band in winter steep'd
In the chill stream?"—"When to this gulf I dropt,"
He answer'd, "here I found them; since that hour
They have not turn'd, nor ever shall, I ween,
Till time hath run his course.  One is that dame
The false accuser of the Hebrew youth;
Sinon the other, that false Greek from Troy.
Sharp fever drains the reeky moistness out,
In such a cloud upsteam'd."  When that he heard,
One, gall'd perchance to be so darkly nam'd,
With clench'd hand smote him on the braced paunch,
That like a drum resounded: but forthwith
Adamo smote him on the face, the blow
Returning with his arm, that seem'd as hard.

"Though my o'erweighty limbs have ta'en from me
The power to move," said he, "I have an arm
At liberty for such employ."  To whom
Was answer'd: "When thou wentest to the fire,
Thou hadst it not so ready at command,
Then readier when it coin'd th' impostor gold."

And thus the dropsied: "Ay, now speak'st thou true.
But there thou gav'st not such true testimony,
When thou wast question'd of the truth, at Troy."

"If I spake false, thou falsely stamp'dst the coin,"
Said Sinon; "I am here but for one fault,
And thou for more than any imp beside."

"Remember," he replied, "O perjur'd one,
The horse remember, that did teem with death,
And all the world be witness to thy guilt."

"To thine," return'd the Greek, "witness the thirst
Whence thy tongue cracks, witness the fluid mound,
Rear'd by thy belly up before thine eyes,
A mass corrupt."  To whom the coiner thus:
"Thy mouth gapes wide as ever to let pass
Its evil saying.  Me if thirst assails,
Yet I am stuff'd with moisture.  Thou art parch'd,
Pains rack thy head, no urging would'st thou need
To make thee lap Narcissus' mirror up."

I was all fix'd to listen, when my guide
Admonish'd: "Now beware: a little more.
And I do quarrel with thee."  I perceiv'd
How angrily he spake, and towards him turn'd
With shame so poignant, as remember'd yet
Confounds me.  As a man that dreams of harm
Befall'n him, dreaming wishes it a dream,
And that which is, desires as if it were not,
Such then was I, who wanting power to speak
Wish'd to excuse myself, and all the while
Excus'd me, though unweeting that I did.

"More grievous fault than thine has been, less shame,"
My master cried, "might expiate.  Therefore cast
All sorrow from thy soul; and if again
Chance bring thee, where like conference is held,
Think I am ever at thy side.  To hear
Such wrangling is a joy for vulgar minds."


  1. Virgil commands Dante to ignore Sinon's and Adam's arguing, explaining that a man like Dante (who does not have a "vulgar mind") has no business finding joy in "such wrangling." Virgil chastises Dante for willful disobedience. Dante repents and quickly earns Virgil's forgiveness.

    — Sarah, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Master Adam admits to debasing coinage by claiming that the coins were forged from metal worth three additional carats—24 rather than the actual 21. This was a serious threat to the monetary system. As soon as the market loses confidence that the coins contain the proper amount of precious metal—silver and gold—the economic system collapses.

    — Stephen Holliday
  3. "Swoln dropsy" refers to what we know as edema, swelling of the body and limbs. The food and water one takes in simply causes more swelling.

    — Stephen Holliday
  4. Adam (Adamo) was in the service of the Guidi Counts—Guido, Alessandro, and Aghinolfo—whose base of operation was their castle in the Tuscan town of Romena.

    — Stephen Holliday
  5. The "disease, which makes the flesh/Desert these shrivel'd cheeks" is most likely a reference to leprosy, a disease that eats away the flesh. Leprosy was very common in Europe in the Middle Ages.

    — Stephen Holliday
  6. This refers to King Athamas, the mythical Greek king of Boeotia. At Juno's command, the Fury Tisiphone altered Athamas's. Deluded, he believed that his wife, Ino, and their two sons were actually a lioness and her cubs. Athamas attacked them, killing his infant son, Learchus. In a frenzy, Ino jumped into the sea with her remaining child. Both were drowned.

    — Stephen Holliday
  7. Dante and Virgil are in the Tenth Pouch of the Eighth Circle, still among the falsifiers.

    — Stephen Holliday
  8. In the myth of Narcissus, the handsome young man sees his reflection in the water and becomes so enamored of his own image that he dies in despair because he cannot possess it. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  9. In the legend of the Trojan War, Sinon was an Greek soldier who allowed himself to be captured by the Trojans. He falsely said that he had escaped from becoming a sacrifice of the Greeks. He claimed that the Trojan horse was an offering of atonement to Athena for stealing the Palladium (See Canto 26). He told the Trojans that if they succeeded in bringing the enormous horse into the city, they would be safe from future Greek attacks. In reality, Sinon intended to lure the Trojans into accepting the horse so that the Greek soldiers within could open the gates of Troy. Because of Sinon's lies, the Trojans took the horse into their city and were subsequently conquered. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  10. This biblical story is told in Genesis 39:6-20. The "dame" is the wife of Potiphar, one of the Pharaoh's officers. She repeatedly tried to seduce Joseph, but he spurned her advances. Joseph was Potiphar's overseer. In revenge for his rejection, she claimed that he tried to rape her. Joseph was imprisoned due to the charges. For her lies, she is punished in hell as a falsifier.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  11. "Adamo" is a figure from a late-13th-century scandal. In 1277, a document identified a "Master Adam," an Englishman who was a member of the Guidi household in Romena. In 1281, someone who worked for the Guidis, most likely Master Adam, was burned alive for coining underweight gold, passing off twenty-one carat florins for twenty-four carat florins.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  12. This Greek myth is told in Book X of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

    Because of her refusal to honor the goddess Aphrodite, Myrrha was beset with an incestuous passion for her own father, King Cinyras of Cypress. Myrrha seduced Cinyras by impersonating her mother. When Cinyras discovered the ruse, he threatened to kill her. Myrrha ran away and was turned into a myrtle (or "myrrh" tree). The god Adonis was later born from her trunk.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  13. According to early scholars, Buoso Donati died intestate—without a will. His nephew Gianni Schicchi impersonated Donati and created a will in order to bequeath himself Donati's property. This elaborate scam, plucked from the pages of Dante, inspired Puccini's 1918 opera Gianni Schicchi.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  14. Hecuba was the widow of the Priam, the king of Troy. Hecuba and her daughter, Polyxena, were enslaved by the Greeks who had conquered Troy. Polyxena was sacrificed on Achilles' tomb. Polyxena's murder, as well as the discovery of Polydorus's body on the shore, drove Hecuba insane.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  15. This story is told in Book IV of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

    One of Zeus's many loves was Semele, whom Zeus impregnated. She was the daughter of the founder of the city of Thebes, Cadmus. Zeus accidentally killed her with a strike of lightening when he appeared to her in his godly form. Their unborn child somehow survived and was placed in Zeus's right thigh, where he was eventually born. The baby was given to Semele's sister, Ino. Hera, Zeus's wife, discovered the bastard child and was livid. In revenge for her husband's treachery, Hera angered Ino's husband, Athamas, to the point that he killed his and Ino's son, Learchus. In her grief, Ino jumped into the sea with their other son, Melicertes. The child of Zeus and Semele turned out to be Dionysus.

    — Jamie Wheeler