Poetry of Dante Alighieri
The Divine Comedy - Inferno

Inferno: Canto XXV

At the conclusion of his words, the thief
  Lifted his hands aloft with both the figs,
  Crying: "Take that, God, for at thee I aim them."

From that time forth the serpents were my friends;
  For one entwined itself about his neck
  As if it said: "I will not thou speak more;"

And round his arms another, and rebound him,
  Clinching itself together so in front,
  That with them he could not a motion make.

Pistoia, ah, Pistoia! why resolve not
  To burn thyself to ashes and so perish,
  Since in ill-doing thou thy seed excellest?

Through all the sombre circles of this Hell,
  Spirit I saw not against God so proud,
  Not he who fell at Thebes down from the walls!

He fled away, and spake no further word;
  And I beheld a Centaur full of rage
  Come crying out: "Where is, where is the scoffer?"

I do not think Maremma has so many
  Serpents as he had all along his back,
  As far as where our countenance begins.

Upon the shoulders, just behind the nape,
  With wings wide open was a dragon lying,
  And he sets fire to all that he encounters.

My Master said: "That one is Cacus, who
  Beneath the rock upon Mount Aventine
  Created oftentimes a lake of blood.

He goes not on the same road with his brothers,
  By reason of the fraudulent theft he made
  Of the great herd, which he had near to him;

Whereat his tortuous actions ceased beneath
  The mace of Hercules, who peradventure
  Gave him a hundred, and he felt not ten."

While he was speaking thus, he had passed by,
  And spirits three had underneath us come,
  Of which nor I aware was, nor my Leader,

Until what time they shouted: "Who are you?"
  On which account our story made a halt,
  And then we were intent on them alone.

I did not know them; but it came to pass,
  As it is wont to happen by some chance,
  That one to name the other was compelled,

Exclaiming: "Where can Cianfa have remained?"
  Whence I, so that the Leader might attend,
  Upward from chin to nose my finger laid.

If thou art, Reader, slow now to believe
  What I shall say, it will no marvel be,
  For I who saw it hardly can admit it.

As I was holding raised on them my brows,
  Behold! a serpent with six feet darts forth
  In front of one, and fastens wholly on him.

With middle feet it bound him round the paunch,
  And with the forward ones his arms it seized;
  Then thrust its teeth through one cheek and the other;

The hindermost it stretched upon his thighs,
  And put its tail through in between the two,
  And up behind along the reins outspread it.

Ivy was never fastened by its barbs
  Unto a tree so, as this horrible reptile
  Upon the other's limbs entwined its own.

Then they stuck close, as if of heated wax
  They had been made, and intermixed their colour;
  Nor one nor other seemed now what he was;

E'en as proceedeth on before the flame
  Upward along the paper a brown colour,
  Which is not black as yet, and the white dies.

The other two looked on, and each of them
  Cried out: "O me, Agnello, how thou changest!
  Behold, thou now art neither two nor one."

Already the two heads had one become,
  When there appeared to us two figures mingled
  Into one face, wherein the two were lost.

Of the four lists were fashioned the two arms,
  The thighs and legs, the belly and the chest
  Members became that never yet were seen.

Every original aspect there was cancelled;
  Two and yet none did the perverted image
  Appear, and such departed with slow pace.

Even as a lizard, under the great scourge
  Of days canicular, exchanging hedge,
  Lightning appeareth if the road it cross;

Thus did appear, coming towards the bellies
  Of the two others, a small fiery serpent,
  Livid and black as is a peppercorn.

And in that part whereat is first received
  Our aliment, it one of them transfixed;
  Then downward fell in front of him extended.

The one transfixed looked at it, but said naught;
  Nay, rather with feet motionless he yawned,
  Just as if sleep or fever had assailed him.

He at the serpent gazed, and it at him;
  One through the wound, the other through the mouth
  Smoked violently, and the smoke commingled.

Henceforth be silent Lucan, where he mentions
  Wretched Sabellus and Nassidius,
  And wait to hear what now shall be shot forth.

Be silent Ovid, of Cadmus and Arethusa;
  For if him to a snake, her to fountain,
  Converts he fabling, that I grudge him not;

Because two natures never front to front
  Has he transmuted, so that both the forms
  To interchange their matter ready were.

Together they responded in such wise,
  That to a fork the serpent cleft his tail,
  And eke the wounded drew his feet together.

The legs together with the thighs themselves
  Adhered so, that in little time the juncture
  No sign whatever made that was apparent.

He with the cloven tail assumed the figure
  The other one was losing, and his skin
  Became elastic, and the other's hard.

I saw the arms draw inward at the armpits,
  And both feet of the reptile, that were short,
  Lengthen as much as those contracted were.

Thereafter the hind feet, together twisted,
  Became the member that a man conceals,
  And of his own the wretch had two created.

While both of them the exhalation veils
  With a new colour, and engenders hair
  On one of them and depilates the other,

The one uprose and down the other fell,
  Though turning not away their impious lamps,
  Underneath which each one his muzzle changed.

He who was standing drew it tow'rds the temples,
  And from excess of matter, which came thither,
  Issued the ears from out the hollow cheeks;

What did not backward run and was retained
  Of that excess made to the face a nose,
  And the lips thickened far as was befitting.

He who lay prostrate thrusts his muzzle forward,
  And backward draws the ears into his head,
  In the same manner as the snail its horns;

And so the tongue, which was entire and apt
  For speech before, is cleft, and the bi-forked
  In the other closes up, and the smoke ceases.

The soul, which to a reptile had been changed,
  Along the valley hissing takes to flight,
  And after him the other speaking sputters.

Then did he turn upon him his new shoulders,
  And said to the other: "I'll have Buoso run,
  Crawling as I have done, along this road."

In this way I beheld the seventh ballast
  Shift and reshift, and here be my excuse
  The novelty, if aught my pen transgress.

And notwithstanding that mine eyes might be
  Somewhat bewildered, and my mind dismayed,
  They could not flee away so secretly

But that I plainly saw Puccio Sciancato;
  And he it was who sole of three companions,
  Which came in the beginning, was not changed;

The other was he whom thou, Gaville, weepest.