Dante, Inferno Canto 24 (3rd part)

We had to go almost as far as where the bridge joins the eighth embankment,
Where there was a side-trail, rough staircase-like down,

And now it was plain to see,
Snakes – adders, vipers, asps,
Cobras, kraits, mambas,
Copperheads, bushmasters,
More than the Libyan desert, more than the Australian ranges, the Amazon jungle,

In the Libyan taxonomy:
Chelydri, jaculi, phareae, cenchres, and amphisbaena,
Amphisbaena, mythical, I think, a snake with a head at both ends,
So many, such malignant, pestilences.

Forced into the middle of this storm, people who were naked again,
Nowhere to go, they might try to fight them off,
But hands constricted by the serpents,
Their legs mixed up, spiralled round the legs, around
had thrust their head and tail right through the loins,
Serpents drilled through them, and tied elegant knots,
Serpents ready to strike, lithe and so violent,
The quickest strike, a flick of the divine pen, a tick in his column,
No antivenom, the heliotrope, to find in this godforsaken ditch.

More than that, into the realm of fantastic,
I saw one sinner, clearly, on the run as others were,
But straight into the trap of a cobra,
Super swift, the serpent reared out, set fang into his neck,
vena jugularis, the poison must have been injected
Sped round the shade,
And the frail soul caught fire, a brilliant magnesium flash,
Burned for an instant and fell, the form dissolved to soft rain of ashes,

That was it for a few seconds, but then, a shake and a shiver,
The dust crept into itself,
An organisation, collecting, rebuilding, raising, reanimation,
And the shape began to appear, crudely to finely detailed,
A shake of the head, and off again,
As the sinner had to be returned to his torment.

Like a phoenix, after five hundred years, the cycle obeyed,
The phoenix which never feeds on solid food, lifelong never grass or grain,
Only on drops of incense and frankinense,
Its final winding sheets are nard and myrrh,
Remade for another go at this death.

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