by Dante Alighieri
Inferno Time Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto.Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.
[Capaneus]: "That which I was in life, I am in death.
Though Jove wear out the smith from whom he took
in wrath, the keen-edged thunderbolt with which
on my last day I was to be transfixed;
or if he tire the others, one by one,
in Mongibello, at the sooty forge,
while bellowing: ‘O help, good Vulcan, help!’ –
just as he did when there was war at Phlegra –
and casts his shafts at me with all his force,
not even then would he have happy vengeance."
Then did my guide speak with such vehemence
as I had never heard him use before:
"O Capaneus, for your arrogance
that is not quenched, you’re punished all the more:
no torture other than your own madness
could offer pain enough to match your wrath."
But then, with gentler face he turned to me
and said: "That man was one of seven kings
besieging Thebes; he held – and still, it seems,
holds – God in great disdain, disprizing Him…" (Inf. XIV, 51-70)
Capaneus’ sin lies primarily in his inability to change. What "I was in life, I am in death," he announces and, in so doing, damns himself for eternity. As long as he remains eternally unrepentant, nothing can change for him. Neither can time move forward for him, nor can his punishment be alleviated.
As I inclined my head still more, I saw
that each, amazingly, appeared contorted
between the chin and where the chest begins;
they had their faces twisted towards their haunches
and found it necessary to walk backward,
because they could not see ahead of them. (Inf. XX, 10-15)
The magicians, for their crime of claiming power over the future, must live forever in the past, with their heads turned backwards on their shoulders. Like the heretics, they cannot experience time in the forward-moving manner most souls do, but are stuck in a single time period for all eternity.
No o or i has ever been transcribed
so quickly as that soul caught fire and burned
and, as he fell, completely turned to ashes;
and when he lay, undone, upon the ground,
the dust of him collected by itself
and instantly returned to what it was:
just so, it is asserted by great sages,
that, when it reaches its five-hundredth year,
the phoenix dies and then is born again;
lifelong it never feeds on grass or grain,
only on drops of incense and amomum;
its final winding sheets are nard and myrrh. (Inf. XXIV, 100-111)
The sheer endlessness of the thieves’ eternal punishment is conveyed by comparison to the phoenix, who dies only to be born again.