The Divine Comedy: Hell, by Dante Alighieri

Canto IV

BROKE the deep slumber in my brain a crash

Of heavy thunder, that I shook myself,

As one by main force rous’d.  Risen upright,

My rested eyes I mov’d around, and search’d

With fixed ken to know what place it was,

Wherein I stood.  For certain on the brink

I found me of the lamentable vale,

The dread abyss, that joins a thund’rous sound

Of plaints innumerable.  Dark and deep,

And thick with clouds o’erspread, mine eye in vain

Explor’d its bottom, nor could aught discern.

“Now let us to the blind world there beneath

Descend;” the bard began all pale of look:

“I go the first, and thou shalt follow next.”

Then I his alter’d hue perceiving, thus:

“How may I speed, if thou yieldest to dread,

Who still art wont to comfort me in doubt?”

He then:  “The anguish of that race below

With pity stains my cheek, which thou for fear

Mistakest.  Let us on.  Our length of way

Urges to haste.”  Onward, this said, he mov’d;

And ent’ring led me with him on the bounds

Of the first circle, that surrounds th’ abyss.

Here, as mine ear could note, no plaint was heard

Except of sighs, that made th’ eternal air

Tremble, not caus’d by tortures, but from grief

Felt by those multitudes, many and vast,

Of men, women, and infants.  Then to me

The gentle guide:  “Inquir’st thou not what spirits

Are these, which thou beholdest?  Ere thou pass

Farther, I would thou know, that these of sin

Were blameless; and if aught they merited,

It profits not, since baptism was not theirs,

The portal to thy faith.  If they before

The Gospel liv’d, they serv’d not God aright;

And among such am I. For these defects,

And for no other evil, we are lost;

Only so far afflicted, that we live

Desiring without hope.”  So grief assail’d

My heart at hearing this, for well I knew

Suspended in that Limbo many a soul

Of mighty worth.  “O tell me, sire rever’d!

Tell me, my master!”  I began through wish

Of full assurance in that holy faith,

Which vanquishes all error; “say, did e’er

Any, or through his own or other’s merit,

Come forth from thence, whom afterward was blest?”

Piercing the secret purport of my speech,

He answer’d: “I was new to that estate,

When I beheld a puissant one arrive

Amongst us, with victorious trophy crown’d.

He forth the shade of our first parent drew,

Abel his child, and Noah righteous man,

Of Moses lawgiver for faith approv’d,

Of patriarch Abraham, and David king,

Israel with his sire and with his sons,

Nor without Rachel whom so hard he won,

And others many more, whom he to bliss

Exalted.  Before these, be thou assur’d,

No spirit of human kind was ever sav’d.”

We, while he spake, ceas’d not our onward road,

Still passing through the wood; for so I name

Those spirits thick beset.  We were not far

On this side from the summit, when I kenn’d

A flame, that o’er the darken’d hemisphere

Prevailing shin’d.  Yet we a little space

Were distant, not so far but I in part

Discover’d, that a tribe in honour high

That place possess’d.  “O thou, who every art

And science valu’st!  who are these, that boast

Such honour, separate from all the rest?”

He answer’d: “The renown of their great names

That echoes through your world above, acquires

Favour in heaven, which holds them thus advanc’d.”

Meantime a voice I heard: “Honour the bard

Sublime!  his shade returns that left us late!”

No sooner ceas’d the sound, than I beheld

Four mighty spirits toward us bend their steps,

Of semblance neither sorrowful nor glad.

When thus my master kind began: “Mark him,

Who in his right hand bears that falchion keen,

The other three preceding, as their lord.

This is that Homer, of all bards supreme:

Flaccus the next in satire’s vein excelling;

The third is Naso; Lucan is the last.

Because they all that appellation own,

With which the voice singly accosted me,

Honouring they greet me thus, and well they judge.”

So I beheld united the bright school

Of him the monarch of sublimest song,

That o’er the others like an eagle soars.

When they together short discourse had held,

They turn’d to me, with salutation kind

Beck’ning me; at the which my master smil’d:

Nor was this all; but greater honour still

They gave me, for they made me of their tribe;

And I was sixth amid so learn’d a band.

Far as the luminous beacon on we pass’d

Speaking of matters, then befitting well

To speak, now fitter left untold.  At foot

Of a magnificent castle we arriv’d,

Seven times with lofty walls begirt, and round

Defended by a pleasant stream.  O’er this

As o’er dry land we pass’d.  Next through seven gates

I with those sages enter’d, and we came

Into a mead with lively verdure fresh.

There dwelt a race, who slow their eyes around

Majestically mov’d, and in their port

Bore eminent authority; they spake

Seldom, but all their words were tuneful sweet.

We to one side retir’d, into a place

Open and bright and lofty, whence each one

Stood manifest to view.  Incontinent

There on the green enamel of the plain

Were shown me the great spirits, by whose sight

I am exalted in my own esteem.

Electra there I saw accompanied

By many, among whom Hector I knew,

Anchises’ pious son, and with hawk’s eye

Caesar all arm’d, and by Camilla there

Penthesilea.  On the other side

Old King Latinus, seated by his child

Lavinia, and that Brutus I beheld,

Who Tarquin chas’d, Lucretia, Cato’s wife

Marcia, with Julia and Cornelia there;

And sole apart retir’d, the Soldan fierce.

Then when a little more I rais’d my brow,

I spied the master of the sapient throng,

Seated amid the philosophic train.

Him all admire, all pay him rev’rence due.

There Socrates and Plato both I mark’d,

Nearest to him in rank; Democritus,

Who sets the world at chance, Diogenes,

With Heraclitus, and Empedocles,

And Anaxagoras, and Thales sage,

Zeno, and Dioscorides well read

In nature’s secret lore.  Orpheus I mark’d

And Linus, Tully and moral Seneca,

Euclid and Ptolemy, Hippocrates,

Galenus, Avicen, and him who made

That commentary vast, Averroes.

Of all to speak at full were vain attempt;

For my wide theme so urges, that ofttimes

My words fall short of what bechanc’d.  In two

The six associates part.  Another way

My sage guide leads me, from that air serene,

Into a climate ever vex’d with storms:

And to a part I come where no light shines.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:53