Dante, Inferno Canto 20 (2nd part)

Out of Vivaldi into Bruckner, canyon curved,
I saw souls solemn, a slow slow march advancing, mute,
At the pace of holy sober Easter procession
And why? On closer inspection, toes and heads were faced different.
Twisted to face the way they’d come. (Maybe it’s possible
With palsy, ataxia, dystonia up there,
But I don’t think so). So backwards
they took
their forwards,
And, when they wept,
And they wept,
not to put too fine a point on it,
The tears ran down their arses.

Of course, sympathetic to a fault, leaning against the nearest rock,
I caught the same sin,
So that Virgil enquired:-
—Your pity rather goes against the Law
Impious enough to set yourself against your God?
As foolish as the rest of them?

Raise your head! And see it all!

See Amphiaraus, sucked down into the earth, chariot and hooves flailing,
The dry earth turned into a quicksand
A giant’s mouth sucking clean and spitting out nothing,
While the Thebans watched on,
They thought he’d quit the war, the Seven against Thebes expedition
No, straight to Minos, who judges all,
Amphiaraus of Argos, like Palamedes, too clever by half,
Too skilled at seeing problems,
Failure came out too often from him and morale dropped,
But Zeus changed matters, the earth opened.

—Look at him, his back is now his chest.
Because he strained to catch a glimpse.

Look, here’s Tiresias, prophet of Apollo,
Blind soothsayer who was transformed into a woman
Then back into a man, seven years later.
He struck two entwining cobras with his wand
And became a man again.
Remember the Moses story, so struggle all soothsayers.

And Aruns of Eturia, there look, who treads on the toes of Tiresias,
Impatient, can’t just wait to find out,
Aruns, who inhabited a cave in the Carrera hills,
Lived among Luna marble, maker of David, and others.
Stars and sea envistaed him,
He is the Etruscan seer who prophesied the Civil war of Rome,
Caesar’s victory over Pompey.

Like father, like daughter, here’s Manto,
Keeping herself covered up – attempting to – with hand darts
And fan dances with tresses,
Hiding her former charms,
Who left Greece and captivity, took the road through many countries,
Then settled in the place where I was born.

On this, I’d have you hear me a little further,
It won’t take too long.

Statius writes of her, Isidore writes of her, and I write of her.
To the north, below the Alps that enclose Germania
Above the Tyrol, lies a lake known as Benaco.
A sapphire against the white,

A thousand springs and more, I think, must flow
Out of the waters of that lake to bathe
Pennino, Garda, Val Camonica.

And at its middle is a place where three –
The bishops of Verona, Brescia, Trento –
May bless if they should chance to come that way.

Peschiera, strong and handsome fortress, built
To face the Brescians and the Bergamasques
Stands where the circling shore is at its lowest.

There, as Benaco overflows in the spring rush
A river carries the waters through soft meadows.
Named the Mincio, until it reaches Govèrnolo, where it joins the Po.

It has not flowed far before it finds flat land,
And there it stretches out to form a fen,
That in the summer can at times be fetid.
And when she passed that way, the savage virgin
Saw land along the middle of the swamp,
Untilled and stripped of its inhabitants.
To escape the world, maybe a world that did not
There she halted, with her slaves to build a commune,
And there she lived on until age and death.

Then seeing the marshland surrounding,
The people gathered there,
A keep, a motte sprang up, was fortified
Until they had transformed it to Mantua, that city
Named for her, round her shrine.
Unlike (they cast no lots) they voted.

Fallen on abject times, since the weak governance
Of Alberto da Casalodi
Him ousted by Pinamonte dei Bonacolsi
Shrewd to understand the divisions and feuding,
Came through the middle and ruled.

And you might hear some disagree with that version,
But believe me, that it is the fact of it.

He finished his long speech at his home.
Certainly the best guide I could have.

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