Paradiso, Canto XIX, verses 115-148
[1] Translation by John Ciardi 

There shall be seen among the works of Albert,
that deed the moving pen will soon record
by which Bohemia shall become a desert.[2]
There shall be seen the Seine’s grief for the sin
of that debaser of the currency
whose death is waiting for him in a pig’s skin.[3]
There shall be seen the pride whose greed confounds
the mad Scot and the foolish Englishman
who cannot stay within their proper bounds.[4]
There, the debaucheries and the vain show
of the Spaniard and the Bohemian who knew
nothing of valor, and chose not to know.[5]
And there, the cripple of Jerusalem:
a 1 put down to mark the good he did,
and then, to mark his villainies, an M.[6]
There, the baseness and the greedy rage
of the watchdog who patrols the burning island
on which Anchises closed his long old age;[7]
and to make clear how paltry is his case,
his entry will be signs and abbreviations
that the record may say much in little space.
And there the filthy deeds shall be set down
of his uncle and his brother, each of whom
cuckolded a great family and a crown.[8]
There shall be marked for all men to behold
Norway’s king and Portugal’s;[9] and Rascia’s,
who lost most when he saw Venetian gold.[10]
Oh happy Hungary, had she suffered all
without more griefs ahead! Happy Navarre
were she to make her peaks a fortress wall![11]
And every Navarrese may well believe
the omen of Nicosìa and Famagosta
whose citizens have present cause to grieve
the way their beast, too small for the main pack,
keeps to one side but hunts on the same track.[12]

 


[1] The following notes are based on the Commentary of David H. Higgins to the Divine Comedy’s verse translation by Charles H. Sisson, Regnery Gateway, Chicago 1981, pp.659-660.

[2] Albert of Hapsburg, king of Austria, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire 1298-1308, invaded and devastated Bohemia (“the kingdom of Prague”, 1. 117), the territory of his brother-in-law Wenceslaus II (see notes to Purgatorio VI.97 f. and VII.97-102).

[3] Philip IV, the Fair [Le Bel], king of France (see Purgatorio VII.109), financed his disastrous Flemish campaigns of 1297-1304 with debased coinage. He met an accidental death in a boar hunt in 1314 (cf. G. Villani, Cronica VIII.58, IX.66).

[4] The references are to the Scottish wars of Edward I (`Hammer of the Scots’) against William Wallace (hanged 1305) and Robert Bruce, and Edward II against Bruce (Bannockburn, 1314).

[5] Ferdinand IV, king of Castile and Leon 1295-1312. After taking Gibraltar from the Saracens in 1296 with Aragonese help, Ferdinand took little further active part in the wider events of Christen­dom; “that other of Bohemia”: Wencelaus II, whose ultimately futile resistance to the invasion of his country by Albert I of Austria in 1304 marked for Dante the height of his achievement as a monarch.

[6] The handicapped Charles II of Anjou and Provence, king of Naples 1285-1309, assumed the crown of Jerusalem from his father Charles I of Anjou. See Purgatorio VII.126 and  XX.79-81.

[7] Frederick II of the royal house of Aragon, king of Sicily 1296-1337. His marriage into the family of Charles II of Anjou and Naples, figurehead of the Guelfs in Italy, was a prelude to his final desertion of the Ghibellines after the death of Emperor Henry VII in 1313; hence Dante’s disapproval of an otherwise brave and popular monarch. See Purgatorio VII.119.  Sicily, where Anchises the father of Aeneas died, is volcanic. See Aeneid 111.708 f.

[8] “His brother”: James II, king of Aragon 1291-1327, an able and cultured monarch (he was called ‘the Just’). He perhaps earned Dante’s disapproval for waging war in 1297, at the insistence of Pope Boniface VIII, against his brother Frederick II to whom he had entrusted the rule of Sicily the year before. “His uncle”: James, king of Majorca and the Balearics 1276­-1311, brother of Peter III of Aragon, waged war in 1284 on the latter, in league with Philip III of France.

[9] Diniz ‘the Farmer’, king of Portugal 1279-1325. The grounds for Dante’s condemnation are not clear, as Diniz was an energetic monarch, promoter of farming, commerce, education and the Portuguese navy. Both his all-consuming interest in practicalities and his alleged infidelities towards his wife, St Isabel, have been adduced by commen­tators as causing Dante’s disgust.  Norway’s king: probably Haakon V, king 1299-1319, whose reign was marked by wars against Denmark; the sort of squabbles between monarchs of Christendom that Dante especially deplored.

[10] Stephen Urosh II, king of Rascia (old Serbia) 1275-1321, issued debased coin very similar in appearance to the Venetian matapan or grosso, causing problems of exchange in Venice and Bologna. However, the damage done to Stephen’s reputation was worse than that done to the Venetian economy.

[11] “0 happy Hungary”: Hungary lapsed once more into the hands of the Angevins (into the sphere of influence, therefore, of the French monarch, Philip IV, detested by Dante) in 1301, after the death of Andrew III. Charles Robert of Anjou, the monarch in question, son of Charles Martel (titular king of Hungary), was confirmed in the title in 1309 by Clement V.  “Happy Navarre”: unable in the event to protect herself with her mountains (the Pyrenees), Navarre was united with the Kingdom of France in 1305, under Louis I (later Louis X of France), when his mother Joanna of Navarre (wife of the hated Philip IV of France) died.

[12] Nicosia and Famagosta, in Cyprus, were in 1300 suffering from misgovernment by the unstable Henry II of Lusignan (d. 1324), who was related to the royal house of France, the Capetians. The troubles in Cyprus in 1300 were thus a foretaste of those that would later strike Hungary and Navarre under their French rulers.