Saturday, June 27, 2015

Dante 16

The Minotaur

In Dante  XII:
I have erewhile seen horsemen moving camp,
  Begin the storming, and their muster make,
  And sometimes starting off for their escape;

Vaunt-couriers have I seen upon your land,
  O Aretines, and foragers go forth,
  Tournaments stricken, and the joustings run,

Sometimes with trumpets and sometimes with bells,
  With kettle-drums, and signals of the castles,
  And with our own, and with outlandish things,

But never yet with bagpipe so uncouth
  Did I see horsemen move, nor infantry,
  Nor ship by any sign of land or star.

We went upon our way with the ten demons;
  Ah, savage company! but in the church
  With saints, and in the tavern with the gluttons!

Ever upon the pitch was my intent,
  To see the whole condition of that Bolgia,
  And of the people who therein were burned.

Even as the dolphins, when they make a sign
  To mariners by arching of the back,
  That they should counsel take to save their vessel,

Thus sometimes, to alleviate his pain,
  One of the sinners would display his back,
  And in less time conceal it than it lightens.

As on the brink of water in a ditch
  The frogs stand only with their muzzles out,
  So that they hide their feet and other bulk,

So upon every side the sinners stood;
  But ever as Barbariccia near them came,
  Thus underneath the boiling they withdrew.

I saw, and still my heart doth shudder at it,
  One waiting thus, even as it comes to pass
  One frog remains, and down another dives;

And Graffiacan, who most confronted him,
  Grappled him by his tresses smeared with pitch,
  And drew him up, so that he seemed an otter.

I knew, before, the names of all of them,
  So had I noted them when they were chosen,
  And when they called each other, listened how.

"O Rubicante, see that thou do lay
  Thy claws upon him, so that thou mayst flay him,"
  Cried all together the accursed ones.

And I: "My Master, see to it, if thou canst,
  That thou mayst know who is the luckless wight,
  Thus come into his adversaries' hands."

Near to the side of him my Leader drew,
  Asked of him whence he was; and he replied:
  "I in the kingdom of Navarre was born;

My mother placed me servant to a lord,
  For she had borne me to a ribald knave,
  Destroyer of himself and of his things.

Then I domestic was of good King Thibault;
  I set me there to practise barratry,
  For which I pay the reckoning in this heat."

And Ciriatto, from whose mouth projected,
  On either side, a tusk, as in a boar,
  Caused him to feel how one of them could rip.

The Malebranche ("Evil Claws"[1]) are the demons in the Inferno ofDante's Divine Comedy who guard Bolgia Five of the Eighth Circle (Malebolge). They figure in Cantos XXI, XXII, and XXIII. Vulgar and quarrelsome, their duty is to force the corrupt politicians (barrators) to stay under the surface of a boiling lake of pitch.

When Dante and Virgil meet them, the leader of the Malebranche, Malacoda ("Evil Tail"[1]), assigns a troop to escort the poets safely to the next bridge. Many of the bridges were destroyed in the earthquake that happened at the death of Christ, which Malacoda describes, enabling the time this takes place to be calculated. The troop hook and torment one of the barrators (identified by early commentators as Ciampolo), who names some Italian grafters and then tricks the Malebranche in order to escape back into the pitch. The demons are dishonest and malicious: the promise of safe conduct the poets have received turns out to have limited value (and there is no "next bridge"), so that Dante and Virgil are forced to escape from them.
Within the Inferno, the demons provide some moments of satirical black comedy. There are twelve Malebranche named in the poem:

Blake/s Illistration of Dante's Inferno Plate 23
For descritive material go here.

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