Tofteh ‘arukh (Hell Arranged)

Moses Zacuto

Mid–17th Century

What is this sound of tumult that I hear—
Roaring of the sea, not burbling of the brook
Like the roar of a lion or a tiger?
I am in great danger and do not know
If my time approaches when I must perish!
My heart pounds, I fear and tremble
What I hear renders me desolate
And what I see makes me shudder and quake
I am shocked by the sight I behold
I must get far away from it—quickly!
But I am in a cramped space.
Woe to me that I cannot flee
For my soul is faint and I have no strength
My legs collapse and my knees give way
My whole frame is weak and shaking.
When did my friends bring me here?
How was I brought to such a narrow spot?
How was my body thrust here and left for dead?
My heart is desolate and fails me
And my eyes recoil from this sight before them!
I see clefts deep as the abyss
I see valleys like the netherworld beneath
I see caverns opening up to pits
I see caves with fiery flames
I see crevices carved out like blazes.
I behold the terrain, spreading out
With sulphur and salt mingled as pitch
Refuse and mud, mire and dung
Whoever tries walking in it will sink,
His legs immobile until it reaches his head!
I survey the walls around each house
Ovens and stoves belching heat
Emitting strong vapors
And flames outside and in
Tar and oil caught in the thorns and thistles
I behold oceanic depths and gushing waters
Congealing like clefts opposing cliffs
With surrounding walls like snow mountains
Ice and hail like frost from heaven
Surpassing anything seen in Egypt!
My heart is moved to trembling
By the sight of the strangest creatures
Beyond anything conceived or imagined
Their image shatters my soul
The ugliest goat does not compare with them.
They are like the giants of Ashteroth-karnayim1
Their height is vast as a ship’s mast
With razors in place of claws
The horns proceeding from their foreheads are
As mountains, and their whole body full of eyes.
Their faces shoot fiery flames
Like one wielding a sword or raising a bow
They are girded in net-like scales
With loathesome, arrogant countenance they boast
Each standing firm on his spot.
I gaze at a fiery river whose waves
And breakers rise in a gushing stream
Similar in appearance to flashing fire
So they burn, so they stream and flow
So they thunder and roar and moan.
I see there a snake and fearful serpents
Swarming from the depths of the conflagration
Burning and piercing forth from their source
Large as well as small together
Their teeth and claws sharp as iron.
They descend from there to the depths of the abyss
And from there arise, dredging up boiling foam
In blazing anger and furious rage
They gather together in council
Then go their separate ways.
From there all the fiery streams divide
To their respective caves or wells
The observers of nature will not believe
The power of the tongues of flame and piercing fire
For the devisors of theories could not imagine it.
When my heart and eyes behold this,
They are amazed, astounded, astonished
They cry out in moaning commotion
For they are being cruelly tortured and oppressed
Tossed back and forth from cold to heat and vice versa.
They are tossed about as a stone in a slingshot
Bounced around from mishap to mishap
Stricken on the cheek by the raging torrent
Shredded among the rocky crevices
All the while contemplating their wounds.
If they cry out that their pain is endless,
And there is no answering voice or listener,
Indeed, they are dragged like sheep
To the slaughter to be murdered,
Their flesh ground up like coriander seed.
Those who persecute them will claim they are in the right
Time and again they do not let them rest
They have no quiet or recuperation
One leaves, the other comes, continually
Destroying them by cruel vengeful decree.
They bite the one with tooth sharp as flint
The other’s flesh they rake and lacerate
The hair of a third they brazenly pluck
A fourth they trample underfoot like a wolf,
Pounding and crushing them with hand and foot.
Like the cattle of the fields and beasts of the forest
Cruel strangers will show them no mercy
The downtrodden will suffer their pain
Whether man or woman, old or young
Whether rich or poor, wise, ignorant, or foolish.
Some are hunted as a bird in a snare
Some fell into a trap and were broken
Some bound as in a prisoner’s chains
Some flung down into a dark cavern
Some snared and captured in ambush.
Some crushed their teeth on a stone
Some are sated with gall and bitters
Some, their bones are infested with worms
Some are suspended from their feet
Some from their breasts or their tongue.
Some sucked their gall as from the breast
Some swallow their blood as cloth by the loom
Some are sated with their excrement and vomit
Some are crushed into crumbs
Some are scattered like dung and refuse.
Some gnaw at their own flesh
Some subsist on hot coals
Some are hung from their nostrils
Some from fire are withered and wretched.
Hear, O children of men, and be dismayed!
I tremble from all that I see here
My heart melts and turns to water
Shudder, O earth, be astonished, O heavens!
I know not whether it is to this2 that I have been brought
This camp that I have encountered.

Translated by
Leonard S.


[Ashteroth-karnayim is a place-name (Genesis 14:5) but the words mean “two-horned flocks.”—Trans.]

[“To this” is a homograph of Eden, the wordplay emphasizing the narrator’s perplexity—has he come to hell when he expected to arrive in heaven?—Trans.]


Moses Zacuto, Tofteh ‘arukh (Hell Arranged) (Venice: Bi-defus Bragadin, 1715), 5a-6b

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 5.

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