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The tiercet literally is: ' Ah! heavenly Justice, who can put together all the new labours and sufferings which I beheld? Why dolh a mortal
error produce such ruin? The first part refers
to the impossibility of describing in a few verses the various horrors that presented themselves. Some make who refer to the Dispenser of those torments: but it could not have been meant to ask who he is, since the exdamation itself begins
by telling us 'heavenly Justice,' giustizia di
Dio (0. The second part of the tiercet embraces a
far more momentous question the doctrine
of future rewards and punishments; a discussion so awful and complex, that it is a consolation to defer, if not entirely escape it. Recollecting Dante's own words, it is the primary, allegorical scope of the entire poem to elucidate it (»). Waving for the present the main subject conceding the exis
(i) The verse it printed as an interrogation in the Cuminiaua and all the most esteemed editions ; as indeed, the particle chi requires. Yet M. Cary translates it like a mere exclamation, adducing Landino as his authority, who makes chi the same is ehe . Landino'« words are not very clear. The two contested interpretations are as I hare given: chi potrehbe ristringere in pochi versi, ec.? or chi raduna in qnesto luogo dell' inferno tanti traragli ec ? This second is subject to the objectiou adduced by me — that of putting a question which the very first words of the tiercet precludes, as well at the context of the entire poem : quasi cbe Dante, o non sapesse, o negasse essere la divina Tindice Giustizia che m aduna tutti qnei guai. Poggiali, Ed. Livorn. iS07, Toi. 3. p. 93.
(») HeU, Comment, Canlo t. p. 61.
tence of the eterual castigations of Tartarus — I descend to a corollary from it. The text heing iu the singular number 'a mortal error' (nostra colpa ) appears to some to be a demand, whether it be possible that a single error can merit such varieties of ever-lasting torment? Infinite woe can only be made for infinite crime. This is certain. After this, it is superfluous to distinguish between singular and plural. Of degrees in infinitude we can have no idea. According to human comprehension , we can scarcely avoid assenting to the position of the Stoics, thai all crimes are equal; except by doing, what seems to me much wiser,
confessing we know nothing of the matter. It
may be practically useful to pronounce on the extent of any guilt from what we see of it; on
such appearances the legislator must act the
temporal by the infliction of temporal punishments, the spiritual by the threat of future ones; but theoretically, few things lead to greater confusion in reasoning. It is the invisible mind that makes the sin, not the visible act. But since the act of the mind precedes the visible act, the entire guilt is equally incurred, whether it be indicated by any act visible to us, or not: still mqre does it follow, that if the entire guilt may exist previous to any visible act, it may previous to several. The eye of Him who is to judge immaterial creatures has no need of material acts. It reads the spirit, and may or may not permit good or evil to be re':»^rro vrr.
vealed by otie or many overt. corporeal actions. In every case the merit or demerit of the spirit (which is truly the only merit or demerit^) remains precisely the same. The law, that is the will of an eternal infinite Being must be infinite and eternal. Its prescriptions may vary, but they are only its form . Its substance can kuow no change. As long as those prescriptions exist, they partake of the infinitude that prescribes them . To contravene them then is infinitely wrong; nor in that infinitude can I have a notion of any gradations. These may, perhaps, exist; but my finite powers cannot conceive them. If an infinite Being ordains a statute ( whatever'it seem in our eyes, great or small) it must be infinite, and any breach of it be infinite too; nor can I have any conception of its deserving more Or less than infinite punishment; in which I can recognise no degrees either of alleviation or severity'. Such degrees may be; but they are not within the grasp of mortal perception . The only question then is whether an infinite Being has given a law , or not. If he has , it is a line in the 'over-stepping of which ( and in it alone) guilt consists; and however you advance after, this advance' (Cicero avers) 'has nothing to do with your over-stepping of the line. In this consists guilt, in the infraction of the law ( without a reference to its apparent importance or unimportance ); and when once this infraction takes place, the guilt is completed. Every sin V.4HTO Til.
overturns reason and order: but as soon as order and reason are overturned, I cannot imagine the addition of any greater sin (')•' I only speak of what seems; and indeed so does Cicero. But it seems as if one crime should incur infinite punishment, just as much as many; and as if the plucking of a blade of grass, or of an apple were quite as criminal when prohibited by the Creator, as any enormity whatever. This is the sublime verity shadowed forth by the catastrophe of Eve: and such a reflection ( independent of every other ) might suffice to secure veneration for the magnificent simplicity of the Genius , who put the whole world and an apple in one and the same balance , and found them of equal weight in the estimate of Omnipotence .
Not wild Charibdis, when the wildest masses
The misers and the prodigals drawn up face to face, one party on the interior circumference of the Circle ( that is, round its central orifice) and the other on its exterior circumference ( or under
(i) Quam longe progrediare , cum semel transieris, ad augendum transeundi culpam nihil pertinet.... In eo est peccatura , quod non licuit. Cum quidquid peccatur, perlurbatione peccatur ordinis atque rationis. PerturbatA autem srmel rations et ordine, nihil potest addi quo magis peccare poase vidtatur. Par. v.
its wall), they ever and anon charge at each other with furious cries, and, meeting mid-way, strike hreasts and rebound back to their former lines; where they prepare for similar encounters to be followed by similar discomfitures. Such, in substance, is the meaning of the present and following tiercets. During this eternal tilting (giostra) the shades also eternally move, or whirl like Charibdis during that violent concussion of its tides called by seamen its rintoppo (0, or rather ivaltze, ( as I translate it) that is, perform the ridda round the entire Circle. For the riddi of the text' is from the verb riddare, 'to dance the ridda;' and the ridda was ' a
dance of many persons turning round' which
is about the same thing as a waltze. (»).
'Turning weights by force of hreasts ' is the original, verbatim; and it is indeed ( as is also my
(i) Mr. Cary in translating onda not a mass of billows, bnt " a billow,"diminishes much the propriety of the metaphor: and the more so, because Dante by onda s'intoppa alluded to a characteristic phenomenon of the straits of Messina, which he must hare observed when he was Ambassador in Sicily. Not always, but frequently when I be wind blows freshly from either the South or North-east, the currents meet with perilous but transient violence and are then said to intoppan . So, to warn ships nut to approach while the danger lasts, these is (or at least was) a tall signal-tower where pilots are employed to keep a good look out. These being experienced, always can predict the rintoppo a little before it happens. E in questo mndo sienro e il passaggio. Dauiello, Comento, p. 49.
(a) Ballo di molte persone fatto in giro. (Vocabolario). tt teems to have been a lascivious dance, which was at last left to the peasantrv, and is now no onger in use.