"These words were of my Leader; whence I prayed him
That he would give me largess of the food, For which he had given me largess of desire. "In the mid-sea there sits a wasted land," Said he thereafterward, "whose name is Crete, Under whose king the world of old was chaste. There is a mountain there, that once was glad With waters and with leaves, which was called Ida; Now 'tis deserted, as a thing worn out. A grand old man stands in the mount erect, Who holds his shoulders turned tow'rds Damietta, And looks at Rome as if it were his mirror. His head is fashioned of refined gold, And of pure silver are the arms and breast; Then he is brass as far down as the fork. From that point downward all is chosen iron, Save that the right foot is of kiln-baked clay, And more he stands on that than on the other. Each part, except the gold, is by a fissure Asunder cleft, that dripping is with tears, Which gathered together perforate that cavern. From rock to rock they fall into this valley; Acheron, Styx, and Phlegethon they form; Then downward go along this narrow sluice Unto that point where is no more descending. They form Cocytus; what that pool may be Thou shalt behold, so here 'tis not narrated." And I to him: "If so the present runnel Doth take its rise in this way from our world, Why only on this verge appears it to us?" And he to me: "Thou knowest the place is round, And notwithstanding thou hast journeyed far, Still to the left descending to the bottom, Thou hast not yet through all the circle turned. Therefore if something new appear to us, It should not bring amazement to thy face." And I again: "Master, where shall be found Lethe and Phlegethon, for of one thou'rt silent, And sayest the other of this rain is made?" "In all thy questions truly thou dost please me," Replied he; "but the boiling of the red Water might well solve one of them thou makest. Thou shalt see Lethe, but outside this moat, There where the souls repair to lave themselves, When sin repented of has been removed."
|Virgil describes the Symbolic Figure of the course of Human History|
William Blake's Illustrations of Dante's Poetry
From UTexas Dante Studies:
"Dante invents the story of the large statue of an old man--located in Mount Ida on the Island of Crete--for both practical and symbolic purposes ( Inf. 14.94-120). Constructed of a descending hierarchy of materials--gold head, silver arms and chest, brass midsection, iron for the rest (except one clay foot)--the statue recalls the various ages of humankind (from the golden age to the iron age: Ovid, Met. 1.89-150) in a pessimistic view of history and civilization devolving from best to worst. Dante's statue also closely recalls the statue appearing in King Nebuchadnezzar's dream in the Bible; this dream is revealed in a vision to Daniel, who informs the king that the composition of the statue signifies a declining succession of kingdoms all inferior to the eternal kingdom of God (Daniel 2:31-45). That the statue is off-balance--leaning more heavily on the clay foot--and facing Rome ("as if in a mirror") probably reflects Dante's conviction that society suffers from the excessive political power of the pope and the absence of a strong secular ruler.
Although the statue is not itself found in hell, the tears that flow down the crack in its body (only the golden head is whole) represent all the suffering of humanity and thus become the river in hell that goes by different names according to region: Acheron, Styx, Phlegethon, Cocytus (Inf. 14.112-20).