DANTE - INFERNO Rap Translation - Cantos 7​-​10

by Hugo The Poet



The Inferno Rap Translation:
It's seven hundred years since Dante Alighieri penned his epic poem, Commedia, in which he describes in breathtaking detail a journey into three realms of the Catholic afterlife. So insanely inspired was this poetic undertaking, that swiftly after its completion, giddy readers added the epithet Divine to it, and 'La Divina Commedia' has never been surpassed in scope or style in seven centuries of poetry in any language.

Dante made use of a poetic form described as the 'Dolce Stil Novo' which translates as The Sweet New Style. He was determined to prove that the collection of unrefined dialects of the peninsula that we now know as Italy were just as appropriate for writing poetry as the Latin which all other writers of the time felt obliged to favour. He called this principle 'De Vulgari Eloquentia' - the Eloquence of Vulgar Languages (i.e. the eloquence of the vernacular). In exile from his beloved Florence, he set about writing the Commedia, and over the course of 100 canti, not only proved that the disparate dialects were up to the task, but effectively created the Italian language in the process, and immortalised himself to boot.

Over the epic journey, in effortlessly flowing and ingenious rhyme form, he shows the language's ability to run the gamut of tones from the brutal and disgusting tortures of Hell to high flown and awe-inspiring visions of Paradise. So great was his prowess with rhyme, that he effectively placed himself at the top of the all-time great rhymers that humanity has produced for seven centuries.

However, when in the latter half of the 20th Century, in New York, an upstart group of young musical innovators gave birth to a style of music and a subculture called Hip Hop, all of a sudden, in the form of Rap, there arrived poets who took the art of rhyming to obsessive extremes, finally presenting a poetic form that, in terms of rhyming at least, could hold its own alongside and perhaps even surpass that of history's greatest.

Immortal innovators of the artform such as Rakim, Talib Kweli, Eminem, KRS One, Mos Def, Nas, Notorious BIG, Tupac Shakur, Sage Francis and Pharoahe Monch, took this rap rhyming to incredible depths, exploring all angles of their own vernacular, spitting intricate multi-syllable rhymed verses over irresistible hip hop beats and delivering their version of the Dolce Stil Novo to an insatiable world, and in the process proving, like Dante, that their Vulgar Vernacular could have global relevance in its eloquence.

So, to this project. The basic agenda being simply to retranslate the Inferno using some of the forms of Rap - Multi-syllabic rhyme patterns, driving beats - to reengage with this epic medieval poem, and maybe contribute to garnering it a new audience. Of course, being a mere beginner in this art form myself, I have done my best to do justice to both the form and the source material. Any seeming deficiencies in either are in fact mine, and I apologise in advance.

As references to the original poem, I have used the following editions

The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri Volume I Inferno, edited and translated by Robert M. Durling (Oxford University Press, 1996) - an excellent side by side translation with great commentary

The website Danteinferno.info which places the translations of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), Henry Francis Cary (December 6, 1772 - August 14, 1844) and Charles Eliot Norton (November 16, 1827 - October 21, 1908) alongside each other for easy comparison. I have to admit I favour the Longfellow translation, and have made liberal use of his ideas for this piece. www.danteinferno.info/translations/index.html

Finally, the superlative performance/lecture series 'Tutto Dante' from Roberto Benigni, in which he appeared night after sell-out night in the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence to deliver a commentary and reading (from memory) of the entire Inferno. It has been an indispensable resource, and is available on dvd www.amazon.co.uk/Tutto-Dante-01-I-II-III-Inferno/dp/B00170IRXE/ref=pd_sim_d_h__3


released January 28, 2016




Hugo The Poet Melbourne, Australia

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Track Name: Canto 7
‘Curse us in perpetuis, Emperor Satan, who rules us
Satan god, first among the ruthless, bar the way of these
This fearsome invocation was beginning to spill from the
clicking lips of Plutus.
But my benign wise guide who all things knew said

Suddenly to encourage me: ‘Do not allow your fear to grow in
The face of this disgraceful despicable opponent.
For any power that he may have won't be
Sufficient to prevent you descending this slope,’ then

He turned to face Plutus whose face was coated
With pustullating sores and bloated,
And intoned this: ‘Silence, you wretched wolf.
Be consumed by the violence of your infected soul!

This journey into the abyss is not causeless;
It has the highest authority in heaven's fortress,
Whence the archangel Michael wrought his
Vengeance upon the rebellious angels he fought with.’

And then, just like when a ship’s sails,
Inflated and taut in the winds of the gales,
Collapse and fall when the mast splinters and fails
On hearing Virgil unveil that pagan god withered and fell

And so we were able to continue advancing,
Descending into the fourth level of the chasm,
And exploring further into the span of
This woeful land that attracts in all bad that ever happens.

Ah! divine justice of God!
Who is it that piles such sufferings on
As those which at that moment I did behold?
And why do our sins lay such waste to our souls?

These thoughts rolled in my mind as I witnessed
Moving round the circle limitless woeful spirits;
A churning as vicious as the maelstrom of Charybdis,
That sucks in and spits out anything that floats near it.

Two equally enormous groups of people are there,
Trudging in opposite directions around their hemisphere
Each spirit crying and howling in despair,
Forced to push a huge boulder, much heavier than they are.

When two of them crash head on, the weights clash and they
can't move
They curse one another, and argue
One shouting, ‘Why are you hoarding the space I want to
pass through?’
The other replying, ‘Why do you squander this part too?’

Then they each turn around, and commence with
Pushing their jagged boulder in the other direction,
On their way to the opposite section,
Still shouting about the other’s transgression, while the boulder
rips their flesh,

Until they would have met again many years hencewith,
And repeated the same routine of invective,
And then flipped again to repeat the whole repetitive process
and I, with heart pierced at this sight couldn't help but

Exclaim: ‘My master, could you explain
Who these people are that we see in this frame.
For example, those ones on the left with heads all shaved
Were they all clergy when on the earthly plain?’

And Virgil explained, nodding his head quick,
‘While living they held such a twisted perspective
That any money they were blessed with
They wastefully mismanaged and spent it

And the profligate nature they possessed is
Evidenced in the invective that they yell whenever
They eventally get to the end of their section
And crash into those spirits with the opposite affliction.

You’re correct, many clergy are found
In that group with shaven crowns
And cardinals and popes also abound
For avarice afflicts them in astounding amounts.

And I replied: ‘My master, I am surprised:
Given who I've known in my time, I’d have surmised
That I’d recognise many of those here arrived
Due to them being guilty of these precise evil crimes.’

And he replied, ‘Well, you thought wrong in this.
For whether they were parsimonious or profligate
they were undiscerning, and because of this,
The rock scrapes off their skin making them faceless and

These two groups will grind against each other forever
Until at the end of days they’ll rise from the grave and
This group will have their fist tight closed whereas
These other ones there will be shaved hairless.

Divine fairness has taken their ability to be careless,
to either hoard or waste, to be avaricious or misers.
Their mutual punishment is timeless,
I can barely find words to describe it

Behold, son! Now if you observe with caution,
You can plainly discern this farce that absorbs them
Is broadly that of committing goods to fortune,
For which the human race has perpetually fought then.

And now, all the gold that has existed ever,
Under the moon or in the stars beneath the heavens
Couldn't make a single one of these weary spirits
Stop their unpleasant toil and rest for a second.'

‘Master,’ I asked him, ‘You also talked of
Some entity called Fortune, but I couldn't comprehend.
What is this Fortune of which you caution,
That it grips the world's riches so in its claws then?’

Virgil began to talk, and say, ‘These creatures. Idiots, still.
All you humans are just a pack of imbeciles.
What wilful ignorance is this that afflicts you out of all
Now I will make you drink my judgement of her - this Fortune...

The Awesome Being whose omniscience
Transcends all things, brought into existence
The heavens, and created angelic entities to govern them well,
So that every part shines on every other part as well.

Distributing the divine light in equal measure;
He did the exact same thing for earthly treasures,
Which are the equivalent on earth of heaven's splendors
He made and ordained this Fortune as the minister.

And she was given the charge of a system
By which, she deals and shifts the pointless wealth and
From race to race, from those that have, to those who missed it
Randomly, no matter how much humanity craves or resists it.

This means that one people triumphs, with wealth to brandish,
While others perpetually languish,
Seeking at last for Fortune’s judgment to pass,
But it is hidden, just like a serpent in grass.

All your savvy and smarts, or plans that you enter
Are for naught, for your knowledge cannot stand against her.
She foresees, judges, and executes her rule at the helm
Just as those angelic entities do in their realms.

In truth, Fortune cannot be reasoned with, there’s really no use
There’s no placating her sentence, no treaty, no truce.
By necessity, she must be swift to discern and to deal,
So many multitudes must have their turn on the wheel.

And this is she who is so condemned, and crucified,
Even by those who owe much to her in life,
And should be grateful to her by right,
Which gives her unfair blame, and ill repute but in spite

Of this, she is in a state of bliss and doesn't listen
To the critics’ complaints and whispers.
For like the other first created entities,
She just gladly spins her sphere and rejoices in her blessed

But we can wait no longer to go:
We must descend now to even greater woe.
The stars that were ascending when I set out are sinking low,
And resting too long a time is forbidden, you know.’

At that moment we crossed the circle,
And reached the other bank near to a fount that gurgles
And boils out of the ground hurling water that curdles
Into a gully along which it hurtles.

The water pouring is far darker than a purple bruise
And forms violent dark waves in turgid flumes.
That’s where we entered onto a rough path that emerges to
Take us over the body of water, bursting through

The harsh mud where it turns into a sickly bog of stench
in the midst.
And this depressing sadistic stream, where it descends to mix
With the mad broiling water that mixed with thick sludge
that slicks
Around those malignant gray shores is known as... the Styx.

And I stood on the bank and rubbed my eyes in disbelief
For all around sprawled in the water I could see
People lying writhing and fighting in the mud filled sea
All naked and with facial expressions twisted aggressively.

They struck at each other with every limb they possessed.
Not only the fist, but with head butts, and vicious kicks.
They choked necks and broke each other's bones with their feet
And gripped each other's flesh and tore it apart with their teeth.

At that point my good and calm guide expounded,
‘Son, now you behold the souls of those overcome by anger
Condemned to lie in this shallow cesspool and fight forever
But if you look in the depths I would have you be aware that

Underneath them, deeper, where you can see no persons,
There are a multitude of other vermin squirming beneath the
They are down there drowning, gurgling and worthless,
And it’s they who are spurting these million bubbles that
churn this

Quagmire in which they’re forever stuck without moving.
With filthy mud in their mouths they say, “We were sullen
and gloomy!
When we could breathe the sweet air which the sun blessed
We were depressed carrying a stagnant stench in our chests!

Thus we condemned ourselves to fester in this slurry
And they keep groaning this in a droning melody
Broken by fits of choking, and they wretchedly weep
For the mud keeps filling their mouths and preventing speech.’

When we’d been following this fetid creek for an hour
Between the dry bank and the swamp around it,
watching these pathetic mud eating sinners fight like brutes
or just cower,
We eventually reached the foot of a tower.
Track Name: Canto 8
Inferno: Canto VIII

But wait a second cause I'm getting way ahead of myself
Long before arriving where the edifice dwelt
- This high tower - before reaching that turret
Our eyes had been summoned upward to its black summit

Due to, all of a sudden, seeing two bright sparks lit
at the top and flash, catching the eye in the darkness
And way in the distance another flame signal answered this
So far away, it was hard to target

so I turned quick to that ocean of discernment
My guide and master, the noble Virgil, and said
'what messages are those first two flames sending
What did the other fire answer, and who set them?'

And so Virgil in turn turned to say
"If you fix you gaze out over the murky waves
The thing which is beckoned will be coming that way
As you'll see, if the foul gas of this morass doesn't get in the way."

The string of a bow never unleashed and flicked
a deadly arrow from its fearsome grip
To slip through the air with a speed so swift
As the speed I then witnessed a sciff possess

As it sped over the water towards us
with no evidence of how it was being propelled forward
And it was being guided by a single oarsman
Who hollered "finally, wicked soul, you have been caught then!"

"Phlegyas! Son of Mars, We hear you yell at us.
But for once your fiery cries are not relevant"
my lord said to him "our time in your custody is temporary
Only as long as necessary to get us across this estuary."

Phlegyas reacted like he'd just realised the fact
that he'd been knifed in the back,
And we glimpsed the fires of that rage that would have followed
When he learnt his daughter had been raped by the god Apollo

And he burned down that deity’s temple at Delphi
But my guide ignored it, and walked to the boat to board it
Then he signaled for me to follow him off the shore
And it was only when I got on board that the boat sank into the waters at all

At the exact instant that we had left the banks and stepped
on the deck of the boat it commenced travelling
The ancient prow of the boat splashing up
More water than it normally does with any of its usual cargo of passengers.

I felt nervous. My rage like a furnace,
As the boat ploughed through the sewage surface.
Then a mud caked muscular person, jumped up grabbed the boat and cried
'who are you that comes to this place before your time?'

though I was shocked, I angrily spat back in his face
"I might be here now, but I'll not remain trapped in this place;
Unlike you... Look at how you have become so disgusting?"
He answered, "Do you not pity me now that I am suffering?"

And I yelled at him, "no amount of suffering, weeping And wailing
can change the fact that you remain A disgraceful
wicked despised individual
For in spite of your being hideously disfigured, I recognise you still”

Then, like he did once in Florence, he tried to dive at me
Into the boat, to attack, bite and fight with me
But Virgil grabbed that bastard's wrists and threw him into the bogs
Yelling 'Get back down in the broth with the other dogs!'

And then Virgil passionately hugged me round the neck
He held me close, kissed my face and said
"Disdainful soul, you are correct to have contempt
Blessed be the woman who fed you from her breast.

That spirit, when living was riddled with arrogance
he attacked you and prevented you returning to Florence
and numberless other callous deeds accompany his name
So down here, he remains afflicted with malice the same.

There are so many exalted leaders alive now
Who will find that when they die will drown
Down here in the swamp, like swines in the slough
Leaving only horrible stains on their titles and crowns'

And I spoke out, ‘Master, my hate for him is so much
but it would assuage my wrath If I could only watch
that loathsome grot choke and cough,
consumed in gross broth, before we go forth.’

And he thus replied to me once more
'worry not, for well before you see the shore
This exact desire that you have expressed will manifest
For to want to have your revenge, is totally correct.'

And I watched a mass of naked souls getting charged and ready
to charge and fling themselves on Philip Argenti,
I'll never forget the gloriously gory bloodletting
and will thank God forever that I got to witness it all happen

A huge horde surrounded him and was yelling in a frenzy
'kill Philip Argenti! kill Philip Argenti!'
And even before they tore him apart to a bloody mess
he was biting his arms to shreds, ripping his own flesh

The boat left that mayhem behind
So no more will I talk of him, or bring him to mind
Because at that time, a horrid cry filled these ears of mine
And into the darkness ahead, I fixed my eyes

And my master said, 'listen to this
Right now we're drawing near to the city of Dis
The city in which every citizen lives in perpetual eclipse
In multitudes of a magnitude that defies estimates.

And I said to this: 'i can already dimly detect
And discern in the darkness some minarets
And domes Of mosques, looking vermilion red
As if from a giant fire they were being fed.'

And he said, 'Yes, for in this place flames do dwell
Kindled and lit for eternity, to burn and swell
This makes it all look red, and gives a sulphurous smell
For now you behold the nether Hell.'

After a spell, as we sped forth on that boat
We reached the zone of the deep set of moats
Which surround that dark woeful city entire
Whose high walls appear to be made of iron

But before our arrival, our pilot made a wider Circuit,
And we took in the heights of this furnace
filled city, then with curses he yelled at us
'get off the boat, you wretches. This is the entrance.'

Then commenced a deafening sound like a tornado
Of shouts and wails of more than a thousand fallen angels
Who were stationed guarding the gates of that prison
And were livid, spitting 'who is this still living

Without death, who dares to enter and step
Into the depths of this kingdom of the dead?'
And just then, my wise guide who was leading me
gave a signal that he wished to parlay with them secretly

And these former angels who all still
Evi dently felt in a state of war against heaven
Became slightly calmer and did say 'you come alone,
Send him home, who has so boldly entered our zone

Let him return back along his mad road
If he survives, he will be permitted to go
But you shall remain here below,
You who have escorted him through such dark abodes'

Think a while, reader, how I felt at that time
When i heard these threats to myself and my guide
For if I were to lose Virgil next to my side
I'd never return to this dimension of life

'o my dear guide who until now in this ride
More than seven times have rescued my hide
And kept me safe, pulling me back from the brink
Of Many myriad dangers in which I was about to sink

Please, I beg of you, do not leave me here
for if the way forward is no longer clear
And we are prevented from continuing our mission
Let's retrace our steps together back to the beginning'

And Virgil, my great poetic hero I had joined with
Who had led me this far with no disappointment
Said, 'have no fear, attempting to stop our journey is pointless
None can stand in our way, or void it, for it has been anointed

But I have an appointment to parlay with those demons
so wait for me right here - don’t worry, I’m not leaving
Nourish and comfort your weary spirit and be undeterred
for I will never abandon you here in this underworld”

at that point he goes ahead, and in spite of what he said
I feel a sense of abandonment, doubt and dread.
A sense of loneliness to be left by my adopted father
while in my head, no and yes each vie to be the master

I couldn't hear the words that passed between them
Or what he proposed to these dastardly demons
But he wasn't speaking with them a long time
Before they all turned tail and gruffly ran back inside

The battlement gates, which when behind
These enemies as if preparing to fight, slammed tight
Right on my Lord's face, who was still outside
And who returned to me with an uneasy stride

With downcast eyes, furrowed his brow became
and with all of his confidence and pride erased
And he said with a sigh, 'who has barred now the way
And denied me entry into the house of pain?'

And now he did say back to me 'look, just because I'm angry
Doesn't mean you need fear calamity
For I will conquer this challenge that stands in the way
Whatever efforts for defense they have planned within

The arrogance that they currently display
Is nothing new, for they used it also one momentous day
At that previous less secret gate, trying in vain to defend it
When the son of God walked this way, and it still hangs off its hinges

That gate over which you read that dreadful inscription
And right now on this side of it is descending
And passing across the circles without assistance
One whose mere presence will rip open this city in an instant."