Inferno Canto XIII

Inferno 13

Then I stretched out my hand
and plucked a twig from a tall thorn-bush,
and its stem cried out: ‘Why do you break me?’

vv. 31-33

Second round of the Seventh Circle: those who have done violence to themselves and to their goods. – The Wood of Self-murderers. – The Harpies. – Pier della Vigne. – Lano of Siena and others.

Across the bloody river, in the second ring of the seventh circle, Dante and Virgil came to a strange and sad forest. The leaves were black and all the trunks were gnarled; there were no flowers. The Harpies (foul birdlike creatures with human faces) nested there. Virgil instructed Dante to look around carefully. Dante could not see anyone, but heard sighing voices all around. Virgil told him that he would understand if he broke off a twig, so Dante did so. A voice from that thornbush cried out and the wound bled, frightening Dante. Virgil apologized to the tree and asked him to tell his story so that Dante could honor his memory in the world of the living. The spirit said that it had been Frederick’s faithful confidant, but that jealous courtiers had turned Frederick against him, and he had committed suicide in despair. He told Dante that he had always been loyal to Frederick, and asked him to tell people this. Dante was too overcome by pity to speak, and asked Virgil to ask the spirit questions in his place. The spirit explained how suicides came to be sad trees: Minos sent them to the seventh circle as seeds, to sprout wherever they fell. After the last judgement they would bring their bodies down, but would not inhabit them, since as suicide’s they had no right to take them again: instead they would hang their bodies on their trees.

Suddenly they were interrupted by two souls who were hunted through the forest by black bitches. One was referred to as Lano; the other, who could not run fast enough, fell into a bush and was torn to pieces by the dogs. Virgil led Dante to the bush that had been wounded by the struggle; it lamented its fate and said that it was not responsible for the indecent life led by Jacopo da Santo Andrea (the spirit who had been dismembered). Virgil asked the bush who it had been; it replied that it was from Florence (the city whose first patron gave way to John the Baptist), and that it had made a gallows place of its own home.

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Canto adopted by Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Ravenna

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