Dante, Inferno Canto 29 (3rd part)

The prop snapped, and each turned in my direction,
As did others who’d overheard.
The good master drew up close to me,

—Ask anything of them and take your fill.

And I began, nervous again, but he had okayed it:

—Let me document your suffering,
Hard I know, but if I present a snapshot, it will help those others.
No need for reticence, it should all be told,
Even though you may be ashamed for your present condition.

The first said:

Italian, yes, I am Griffolino, given the birth of Arezzo.
Not so much later, Albero of Siena had me burned at the stake,
It so happens, not for the crime that has brought me here.
An occupational hazard…
—Yes, I can, I told him, having been challenged in open court,
And instantly regretting,
I do know the secrets of flight, how a man can rise up and fly,
Here! Now! Make me rise off the ground, he came back with,
And I was thinking more metaphorically, more scientifically,
Really, he didn’t have a great deal of imagination,
And, being in with the bosses, could get me clapped in chains,
Then it was the fire.

I overreached my audience, slipped up, fair enough,
The gullible wanted it, they could demand it,
Down here, my true sin, in the Minos verdict, was alchemy,
I believed in this, more I promoted it and ended here

And I said to the poet, thinking of those from Sienna:

—Was there ever a people quite so asinine?
Not even the French reach their heights.

The other leper had something to say then:

Brigata Spendereccia, the Spendthrift Brigade, they called them in Sienna
With Stricca who found ever more ingenious ways to part with his inherited fortune,
And Niccolò with the expensive dishes, full of Cathay spices,
Which didn’t actually taste that great – all for the show,
Caccia d’Asciano, with the vineyards, who managed to drink himself to debt,
Bartolommeo the Foolish – he got the name quickly enough/

So who is culpable, the hunter or the prey?
The rabbits or the dogs
They convinced them with stories of gold,
They sold remedies, diet pills and the phentermine and hoodia,
In natural remedies in the receptive fertile ground for growing…
But the deluded people,
The other one hadn’t finished:

I’m on your side against the Siennese,
– for reasons that might be obvious,
I would have thought you could see who I am,
Go on, use your perception,
I am the shade of Capocchio the alchemist,
You will recall how effortlessly I fooled the people.

You can see who I am…
If metal is hard to transmute, why not change the people’s minds,
The reverse will work as well for quackery,
Since a left hand will be a right hand in the mirror,
Alchemists, they do not turn metal, they turn the people,
A softer, simpler, material to work.

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