Canto 34

"THE banners of Hell's Monarch do come forth
Towards us; therefore look," so spake my guide,
"If thou discern him."  As, when breathes a cloud
Heavy and dense, or when the shades of night
Fall on our hemisphere, seems view'd from far
A windmill, which the blast stirs briskly round,
Such was the fabric then methought I saw,

To shield me from the wind, forthwith I drew
Behind my guide: no covert else was there.

Now came I (and with fear I bid my strain
Record the marvel) where the souls were all
Whelm'd underneath, transparent, as through glass
Pellucid the frail stem.  Some prone were laid,
Others stood upright, this upon the soles,
That on his head, a third with face to feet
Arch'd like a bow.  When to the point we came,
Whereat my guide was pleas'd that I should see
The creature eminent in beauty once,
He from before me stepp'd and made me pause.

"Lo!"  he exclaim'd, "lo Dis! and lo the place,
Where thou hast need to arm thy heart with strength."

How frozen and how faint I then became,
Ask me not, reader! for I write it not,
Since words would fail to tell thee of my state.
I was not dead nor living.  Think thyself
If quick conception work in thee at all,
How I did feel.  That emperor, who sways
The realm of sorrow, at mid breast from th' ice
Stood forth; and I in stature am more like
A giant, than the giants are in his arms.
Mark now how great that whole must be, which suits
With such a part.  If he were beautiful
As he is hideous now, and yet did dare
To scowl upon his Maker, well from him
May all our mis'ry flow.  Oh what a sight!
How passing strange it seem'd, when I did spy
Upon his head three faces: one in front
Of hue vermilion, th' other two with this
Midway each shoulder join'd and at the crest;
The right 'twixt wan and yellow seem'd: the left
To look on, such as come from whence old Nile
Stoops to the lowlands.  Under each shot forth
Two mighty wings, enormous as became
A bird so vast.  Sails never such I saw
Outstretch'd on the wide sea.  No plumes had they,
But were in texture like a bat, and these
He flapp'd i' th' air, that from him issued still
Three winds, wherewith Cocytus to its depth
Was frozen.  At six eyes he wept: the tears
Adown three chins distill'd with bloody foam.
At every mouth his teeth a sinner champ'd
Bruis'd as with pond'rous engine, so that three
Were in this guise tormented.  But far more
Than from that gnawing, was the foremost pang'd
By the fierce rending, whence ofttimes the back
Was stript of all its skin.  "That upper spirit,
Who hath worse punishment," so spake my guide,
"Is Judas, he that hath his head within
And plies the feet without.  Of th' other two,
Whose heads are under, from the murky jaw
Who hangs, is Brutus: lo! how he doth writhe
And speaks not!  Th' other Cassius, that appears
So large of limb.  But night now re-ascends,
And it is time for parting.  All is seen."

I clipp'd him round the neck, for so he bade;
And noting time and place, he, when the wings
Enough were op'd, caught fast the shaggy sides,
And down from pile to pile descending stepp'd
Between the thick fell and the jagged ice.

Soon as he reach'd the point, whereat the thigh
Upon the swelling of the haunches turns,
My leader there with pain and struggling hard
Turn'd round his head, where his feet stood before,
And grappled at the fell, as one who mounts,
That into hell methought we turn'd again.

"Expect that by such stairs as these," thus spake
The teacher, panting like a man forespent,
"We must depart from evil so extreme."
Then at a rocky opening issued forth,
And plac'd me on a brink to sit, next join'd
With wary step my side.  I rais'd mine eyes,
Believing that I Lucifer should see
Where he was lately left, but saw him now
With legs held upward.  Let the grosser sort,
Who see not what the point was I had pass'd,
Bethink them if sore toil oppress'd me then.

"Arise," my master cried, "upon thy feet.
The way is long, and much uncouth the road;
And now within one hour and half of noon
The sun returns."  It was no palace-hall
Lofty and luminous wherein we stood,
But natural dungeon where ill footing was
And scant supply of light.  "Ere from th' abyss
I sep'rate," thus when risen I began,
"My guide! vouchsafe few words to set me free
From error's thralldom.  Where is now the ice?
How standeth he in posture thus revers'd?
And how from eve to morn in space so brief
Hath the sun made his transit?"  He in few
Thus answering spake: "Thou deemest thou art still
On th' other side the centre, where I grasp'd
Th' abhorred worm, that boreth through the world.
Thou wast on th' other side, so long as I
Descended; when I turn'd, thou didst o'erpass
That point, to which from ev'ry part is dragg'd
All heavy substance.  Thou art now arriv'd
Under the hemisphere opposed to that,
Which the great continent doth overspread,
And underneath whose canopy expir'd
The Man, that was born sinless, and so liv'd.
Thy feet are planted on the smallest sphere,
Whose other aspect is Judecca.  Morn
Here rises, when there evening sets: and he,
Whose shaggy pile was scal'd, yet standeth fix'd,
As at the first.  On this part he fell down
From heav'n; and th' earth, here prominent before,
Through fear of him did veil her with the sea,
And to our hemisphere retir'd.  Perchance
To shun him was the vacant space left here
By what of firm land on this side appears,
That sprang aloof."  There is a place beneath,
From Belzebub as distant, as extends
The vaulted tomb, discover'd not by sight,
But by the sound of brooklet, that descends
This way along the hollow of a rock,
Which, as it winds with no precipitous course,
The wave hath eaten.  By that hidden way
My guide and I did enter, to return
To the fair world: and heedless of repose
We climbed, he first, I following his steps,
Till on our view the beautiful lights of heav'n
Dawn'd through a circular opening in the cave:
Thus issuing we again beheld the stars.


  1. In Canto 8, Dante and Virgil encounter Dis, the walled city that contains the deepest circles of hell, the 6th through the 9th. In this line, when Virgil exclaims, "'Lo Dis! and lo the place,/Where thou hast need to arm thy heart with strength,'" he is referring to Satan. In Roman mythology, Dis—often known as Dis Pater—was a subterranean god of agriculture and mineral wealth. Later, he was absorbed into Pluto and Hades, also subterranean gods. When Dante combined the Greco-Roman and Christian mythological traditions in the Inferno, he conflated Dis, Hades, Lucifer, and Satan into the same figure—the great devil at the bottom of the lowest ring of hell.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Dante and Virgil emerge from the underworld through a cave, bidden by the sounds of a stream. They climb forth from the shadowed depths to see the stars shining above them. Each of the three books of the Divine Comedy end on the word stelle, meaning "stars."

    — Stephen Holliday
  3. Virgil describes the fall of Lucifer from Heaven through the Southern Hemisphere. When Lucifer hit the earth, the displaced earth went to the Northern Hemisphere but left a mountain known as the Mount of Purgatory.

    — Stephen Holliday
  4. In this and the following lines, Virgil explains to Dante that they have passed through the middle point of the underworld, and now everything is reversed, including time. As a result, they are now twelve hours earlier than they had been before they reached Inferno's center. It is now early evening on the Saturday before Easter Sunday. It is significant that Dante exits Inferno on the eve of Easter. Just as Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, so too does Dante rise from the Underworld and return to the land of the living.

    — Stephen Holliday
  5. Dante expresses a desire to let those who are ignorant mistakenly decide how he and Virgil got out of their situation. He demurs from explaining in expansive detail.

    — Stephen Holliday
  6. The following lines describe Virgil's acrobatic postures movements as he climbs Lucifer's enormous, hirsute frame, often with his heels over his head.

    — Stephen Holliday
  7. Virgil's comment is an ironic reference to a 6th-century Christian hymn, “The Standards of the King Advance.” The hymn refers to the cross, an emblem adopted later by the Crusaders for their shields and tabards, the cloak they wore over their armor.

    Dante and Virgil have entered the Fourth Ring of the Ninth Circle, also called Judecca, where traitors to their benefactors are punished. Among them is the most notorious traitor in Christian history, Lucifer.

    The name Judecca reflects the unfortunate but prevalent anti-Semitism of 13th century. Christian Europeans viewed Jews as the assassins of Christ, a view that led most European countries to restrict Jews to living in specific areas away from the Christian majority.

    — Stephen Holliday
  8. Marcus Junius Brutus (85–42 BCE) and Gaius Cassius Longinus (85–42 BCE) were Roman statesmen from the Republican era of Rome. Both men fought with Pompey in the Roman Civil War against Julius Caesar. After Pompey's defeat at Pharsalus in 48 BCE, Caesar pardoned the two men and gave them influential positions. Cassius and Brutus later joined forces and assassinated Julius Caesar. Because Dante believed that Caesar's reign was vital to the development of Europe, he viewed the acts of Cassius and Brutus as a secular equivalent to Judas's betrayal of Jesus. For this reason, these three traitors are given the worst punishment of all by being tortured by Lucifer himself.

    — Stephen Holliday
  9. Judas Iscariot (died 33 CE), the betrayer of Jesus Christ, is depicted as having his head inside Lucifer's mouth and his legs protruding. As described in the biblical New Testament, Judas was one of Jesus's twelve disciples. He betrayed Jesus to the Romans for thirty pieces of silver, precipitating Jesus's crucifixion. Judas later regretted the decision, returned the silver, and hanged himself.

    — Stephen Holliday
  10. Lucifer (Latin for "bearer of light") stands as the opposite of God in every way. Dante depicts him as a horrific trinity, with three faces—reddish, black, and a yellowish-white. This trinity contrasts the Christian Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Some scholars speculate that Dante chose the colors to represent the three races known to him: reddish, or ruddy, to represent Europeans; black for Africans; and yellowish-white for Asians.

    — Stephen Holliday
  11. "That emperor" is Lucifer. For Dante, Lucifer is the most important traitor to his benefactor in the history of mankind, for his benefactor was God.

    — Stephen Holliday