The Pilgrim makes his way further into Hell, guided by Virgil, and sees the fourth circle, reserved for those who mismanaged or hoarded money. After a brief lecture on the phenomenon of Fortune, they move on to the Styx - a vast swamp where the countless thousands of wrathful spend the rest of eternity
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
‘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
They curse one another, and argue
One shouting, ‘Why are you hoarding the space I want to
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
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
Quagmire in which they’re forever stuck without moving.
With filthy mud in their mouths they say, “We were sullen
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.