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translation ) capable of two interpretations: for it may mean , either that each wretch had a stone, like Sisyphus, to roll with his breast; or that the weights in question were simply those of each ghost's own form, as well as that of his antagonist's, which, on the shocking of their mutual breasts, spun round. The former of these is the received solution and in many editions there is an engraving to elucidate it: but I myself prefer the latter; for, besides that tilting, waltzing and spinning like a whirl-pool make quite images enough for one passage, these ideas of speed and lightness are not aided, but rather enfeebled by that of rolling huge stones. To talk of the weight of the spirits implies no more incongruity than to talk of their turning weights; of the suffering of their breasts when striking together, no more than when striking against the stones. Poets are permitted to attribute corporeal functions to spiritual creatures, as well as to strip them of them when they please; for it were otherwise very hard to give a detailed picture of the joys or sorrows of spirits. Thus we find Atrides, in the self-same sentence, represented as an empty shade endeavouring vainly to embrace Ulysses, and as letting fall a shower of tears like one still incarnate (0. The introduction of Charibdis into the present Canto, as a simile, is recognised as still more apposite,
if we remember, that some commentators of the Aeneid affirm that Virgil intended that whirlpool as allegorical of avarice:
Iatus licvum implacata Charibdis
Obsiilft, atque imo barathri ter gurgite vastos
1 Why keep your hands so clenched ?' cry the prodigals to the misers : 'Why yours so carelessly open?' reply the misers to the prodigals. This is the literal signification of the text. For as to the first question: though'why keep?' (perche tieni?) is all that is actually expressed, I am entirely of M. Biagioli's opinion that the 'clenched hand' (pugno chiuso) of verse Lvii is to be understood. It gives precision to the picture. Those who explain it,'why keep fast your riches?' retain the substance of the meaning certainly , but without any metaphor ; and besides they give something of looseness to the phrase, for as the misers have no 'riches' in hell, the present tense must thus be put for the past. Such as render it ' why keep back my weight?' throw'( to borrow an expression from M. Biagioli) a mortal coldness over the whole composition (*): and I may add, they make it necessarily
(i) Aeneid. Lib. iII. v. 4?0.
(») ..Sparge in ditto it quadro ii11 gbiaceio mortale . Biagioli, Comeuto, Vol. i. p. i .'■ J.
imply that the shades were rolling stones, which, as I have already observed, the original does not absolutely oblige us to understand, and which it is simpler not to understand. With regard to the second question (perche burli?): it is proper to remark that both the etymology and metaphorical meaning of the verb burlare are contested. The Vocabulary gives neither; but contents itself with the literal explanation 'to squander prodigally (0.' Velutello derives it from burella, which in the Lombard dialect means a little ball usually tied to the tail of a monkey to prevent its running away; whence the proverb ' wherever the monkey goes there goes also the burella. ' Hence burlare signifies to let any thing slip from your fingers; as the small, round burella would from a careless hand. Landino seeks for it in another provincialism, butare, by which the people of Arezzo mean gettare or ' throw away '. Some interpret it roll; but the signification they give is the dullest of any making it' why roll your weight? ' in reply to 'why keep back my weight?'The exact history of burlare is certainly to be looked for in the East (a). My idea of the whole passage is then , that Dante intended to represent those mad ghosts as jolting at each other with unspeakable fury, one party
(x) Gittarvia, usar prodigalmente § i. Thus Mr. Cary translates: but though his " why castest thou away ?" preserves the tease, it does not the imagery—the poetry of the text.
(?) Ab. M A. Lanci, Dissertazione, ec. p. 39.
having their hands extended rigidly and the other nervously contracted, so that the force with which their breasts struck, sent each of them spinning back to his pristine post. This is clearer and simpler and ( at least it seems so to me) more in the style of my Author, than to diversify ( may I not say, clog?) the sketch with the introduction of huge stones. I repeat, ' turning weights * is all that is in the original. I may suppose them what weights I please: and in making my choice recollect simplicity is one of Dante's characteristics .
Spinning their weights around, around,
While breasts strike breasts with pangs condign.
Ho! foe to foe, and line to line!
Each cursing each, and madly crying
"Why closed thy palm? " " why open thine?"
Then thwart the sooty cavern flying
And face about and form engaging
For ever in that rude, unvaried l/ilt.
The ontoso metro of the Italian means the contumelious language which they directed against each other; and which the poet does not condescend to specify. All he repeats is the burthen of their mutual reproaches, perche tteni? ec. Virgil
is next asked whether ' all those tonsured things' ( questi chercuti) which are seen were clergymen?
Virgil's reply is twofold. The first part is not an answer to Dante's question: but tells him that all the occupants of this circle, whether misers or prodigals, were alike ' mentally blind (')' on earth ( in la vita primaja); and that the opposite nature of their guilt is plainly expressed by their ' rival howl' as to their clench'd and open hands. I may add (what I seldom do) a grammatical observation on the word ferci in v. Xlii; because to understand the last syllable ci as a mere expletive particle, is a slur upon the writer. The commentators are too fond of making him distort words for the sake of rhyme. This ci is an adverb meaning there, and is almost necessary to render the syntax plain ; it refers to vita primaja (a): ' they were so blind of the mind on earth, that they kept no order in their expenses there.'This there renders the whole passage clearer, by showing they had no riches either to hold or cast away here below in hell;
(i) Mr. Cary does not even attempt preserving this fine expression— gnerci della mente. Shakespere's example might bare emboldened hire to do »o —
Ham Methinks, I see my father.
Hor. O where, my lord? Ham. In my mind-, eye, Horatio . Hamlet. Act. I. Sc«n«. » (a) Biagioli, Comento, Vol. i. p. U4.