TSAT's 19th Classic story is Canto XIII of the Inferno, the best-known book of The Divine Comedy, which is, in turn, the best-known work by Dante Alighieri (1265 - 14 Sep 1321). Dante's was an eventful life. Thanks to his involvement with political struggles of the day, he was condemned to death by burning (on a trumped-up charge of 'financial corruption'). In addition, as a member of the losing 'White Guelph' party, whose 'Black Guelph' rivals enjoyed the Pope's support, Dante was exiled from his native Florence on pain of, once again, death by burning. It should not surprise anyone that during the last two decades of his life, Dante traveled widely throughout Italy, under the patronage (and protection) of various local rulers. These years of exile were productive ones; in addition to the Divine Comedy, Dante also wrote extensively on a range of topics including physics, the ideal language (which he felt did not exist, but Italian was the closest approach to it), and world government. The Inferno is arguably the first science-fiction novel, as it incorporates the most reliable knowledge of its author's day.
The Inferno has been translated from the Italian by many people, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (27 Feb 1807-24 Mar 1882), whose rendition this is. Longfellow's facility with the English language, which may be judged by the fact that several of his phrases ("the patter of little feet", among others) are known and used even today, served him well as a poet and as a translator of Dante.
by Dante Alighieri
Not yet had Nessus reached the other side,
Not foliage green, but of a dusky colour,
Such tangled thickets have not, nor so dense,
There do the hideous Harpies make their nests,
Broad wings have they, and necks and faces human,
And the good Master: "Ere thou enter farther,
"Thou comest out upon the horrible sand;
I heard on all sides lamentations uttered,
I think he thought that I perhaps might think
Therefore the Master said: "If thou break off
Then stretched I forth my hand a little forward,
After it had become embrowned with blood,
"Men once we were, and now are changed to trees;
As out of a green brand, that is on fire
So from that splinter issued forth together
"Had he been able sooner to believe,"
"Not upon thee had he stretched forth his hand;
"But tell him who thou wast, so that by way
And the trunk said: "So thy sweet words allure me,
"I am the one who both keys had in keeping
"That from his secrets most men I withheld;
"The courtesan who never from the dwelling
"Inflamed against me all the other minds,
"My spirit, in disdainful exultation,
"I, by the roots unwonted of this wood,
"And to the world if one of you return,
Waited awhile, and then: "Since he is silent,"
Whence I to him: "Do thou again inquire
Therefore he recommenced: "So may the man
"To tell us in what way the soul is bound
Then blew the trunk amain, and afterward
"When the exasperated soul abandons
"It falls into the forest, and no part
"It springs a sapling, and a forest tree;
"Like others for our spoils shall we return;
"Here we shall drag them, and along the dismal
We were attentive still unto the trunk,
In the same way as he is who perceives
And two behold! upon our left-hand side,
He who was in advance: "Now help, Death, help!"
"Those legs of thine at joustings of the Toppo!"
Behind them was the forest full of black
On him who had crouched down they set their teeth,
Thereat my Escort took me by the hand,
"O Jacopo," it said, "of Sant' Andrea,
When near him had the Master stayed his steps,
And he to us: "O souls, that hither come
"Gather them up beneath the dismal bush;
"Forever with his art will make it sad.
"Those citizens, who afterwards rebuilt it
"Of my own house I made myself a gibbet."