...it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there...

September 28, 2005

Wednesday Is Poetry Day

cerb.gifi had a nightmare last night in which monsters and evil things were featured. i half woke up and thought to myself "why am i dreaming in horror?" Then i rolled over on my other side, which allowed my unconscious to switch genres.

i was always fascinated by monsters as a kid. When i was in fourth grade i did a school report on mythological beasts. i made a chart on poster board with drawings of each monster and little descriptions, written by me. The chart included the hydra, basilisk, chimaera, kappa, phoenix, griffon, manticore, medusa and cerberus. i wish i had saved those drawings; i was so precocious back then.

Maybe i'm thinking about monsters because Halloween is coming up. Or maybe because the radio guys i listen to in the morning were talking about hell. Or maybe i'm just going crazy.

Cerberus is a pretty scary beast. He inhabits the Third Circle of Hell, where gluttons are punished. Here is how Dante Alighieri describes him in Canto VI of The Inferno.

In the third circle I arrive, of showers
Ceaseless, accursed, heavy and cold, unchanged
For ever, both in kind and in degree.
Large hail, discolor’d water, sleety flaw
Through the dun midnight air stream’d down amain:
Stank all the land whereon that tempest fell.
Cerberus, cruel monster, fierce and strange,
Through his wide threefold throat, barks as a dog
Over the multitude immersed beneath.
His eyes glare crimson, black his unctuous beard,
His belly large, and claw’d the hands, with which
He tears the spirits, flays them, and their limbs
Piecemeal disparts. Howling there spread, as curs,
Under the rainy deluge, with one side
The other screening, oft they roll them round,
A wretched, godless crew. When that great worm
Descried us, savage Cerberus, he oped
His jaws, and the fangs show’d us; not a limb
Of him but trembled. Then my guide, his palms
Expanding on the ground, thence fill’d with earth
Raised them, and cast it in his ravenous maw.
E’en as a dog, that yelling bays for food
His keeper, when the morsel comes, lets fall
His fury, bent alone with eager haste
To swallow it; so dropp’d the loathsome cheeks
Of demon Cerberus, who thundering stuns
The spirits, that they for deafness wish in vain.

It's interesting that Dante describes Cerberus as "trembling." You'd think it would be Dante who was trembling more during the encounter. Another translation says the monster's "body was one mass of twitching muscles." What a frightening image! i also like how Virgil distracts the monster by throwing a glob of mud into its "ravenous maw." That's a great descriptive term. The stuff of nightmares.

Here's another, perhaps easier, translation of the scene:

In the third circle am I of the rain
Eternal, maledict, and cold, and heavy;
Its law and quality are never new.
Huge hail, and water sombre-hued, and snow,
Athwart the tenebrous air pour down amain;
Noisome the earth is, that receiveth this.
Cerberus, monster cruel and uncouth,
With his three gullets like a dog is barking
Over the people that are there submerged.
Red eyes he has, and unctuous beard and black,
And belly large, and armed with claws his hands;
He rends the spirits, flays, and quarters them.
Howl the rain maketh them like unto dogs;
One side they make a shelter for the other;
Oft turn themselves the wretched reprobates.
When Cerberus perceived us, the great worm!
His mouths he opened, and displayed his tusks;
Not a limb had he that was motionless.
And my Conductor, with his spans extended,
Took of the earth, and with his fists well filled,
He threw it into those rapacious gullets.
Such as that dog is, who by barking craves,
And quiet grows soon as his food he gnaws,
For to devour it he but thinks and struggles,
The like became those muzzles filth-begrimed
Of Cerberus the demon, who so thunders
Over the souls that they would fain be deaf.

i like that translation because the image in lines 14-15 is clearer: the damned souls using their own backs as shields from the horrid rain. They keep rolling over in vain, but unlike me, they can't end their nightmare.

Posted by annika, Sep. 28, 2005 | TrackBack (1)
Rubric: Poetry


Hmmmm, a stereo dog, or is that quadraphonic?

Posted by: Casca on Sep. 28, 2005

a subwoofer, hehe!

Posted by: annika on Sep. 28, 2005

Which translations are those? If you'd like a really, really good translation, get the one by John Ciardi.

Posted by: Victor on Sep. 29, 2005

Victor, this is an unexplored side of you.

Posted by: Casca on Sep. 29, 2005

My copy is the Musa translation, very similar to Ciardi's

Posted by: annika on Sep. 29, 2005