Dante, Inferno Canto 25 (4th part)

Others have spoken of metamorphosis,
Lucan – when some of Cato’s army were bitten by poisonous snakes in the Libyan desert,
Nassidius, swelling until he popped his coat of mail and burst,
Sabellus: melted into a putrid mass,
Ovid – the story of Cadmus, who became a serpent
Or Arethusa, who become a fountain – many stories by Ovid.
Middleton, the Changeling – Here’s beauty chang’d
To ugly whoredom, here servant obedience
To a master sin,
Kafka, the beetle, the house will hold the terrors,
Protean, metamorphosis, so quickly done,
But this is something else, reciprocal change.

First, as the reptile split at the tail to a fork, the human drew its legs together,
The thighs melding, they could not else, the calves joined,
And his skin was turning soft, while the other’s hardened.
His arms shrivelled, but the hands grew longer into paws,

Then the hind-paws, twisting together,
Became the privates,
And from his own the wretch had grown two paws.

Where was hair and skin knobbled, now to smoother,
The seesaw, the flow was smooth, a drift,
While the smoke veils one
And then the other,
Growing hair here, elsewhere stripping it off,

One of them climbed to his feet, the other dropped to the ground,
But still they were locked in the stare.

Each jaw, or muzzle, changed,
In the one standing, was-reptile, it drew back into the temples,
And, using the excess, two ears were extruded.

Flesh does not simply disappear, to reappear in a new form,
But rather is made a malleable substance, like wax or clay.
Sent to comminuted mush,

The one prone on the ground, was-human, elongates at the jaw,
His ears sink away into the skull, like a snail draws in its horns,
And his tongue, up to now fit for speech, splits,
The other’s forked tongue fuses, and the smoke stops….

The soul was-human, now-beast, takes flight,
Skitters off with the pain.
While the human flexes its new-made shoulders,
And spits after it:

—That’s it, Buoso,
You run on all fours, just like I’ve had to!

These of the seventh bolgia, the thieves,
I had seen them change and change about, jostle each other out of their body,
Holding nothing for long, the cheapness of their existence,
Holding a few hours to one shape, only to lose it, have it ripped from them.
Puccio Sciancato (the lame) was from a noble Ghibelline family in Galigai
The only one of the original three to escape being usurped,
The rending and the pain of it,
The second sinner was Francesco dei Cavalcanti,
He was killed by the people of Gaville.
And is called Gaville’s reason to mourn
Because the Cavalcanti avenged him by the death of many more.

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