From The Bibliophile Library of Literature, Art, & Rare Manuscripts, Vol. IV, compiled and arranged by Nathan Haskell Dole, Forrest Morgan, and Caroline Ticknor; The International Bibliophile Society, New York-London; 1904; pp. 1098-1104.
[“DANTE ALIGHIERI: The greatest of Italian poets; born at Florence, May, 1265. In 1300 he was elected one of the six priors of Florence; January 27, 1302, he was fined and banished for offenses in office, by his political enemies, the Neri. The rest of his life he was an exile; his last years were passed in Ravenna, where he died September 14, 1321. His works are the “Vita Nuova” or “New Life,” written about 1295; the “Convito” or “Banquet,” probably 1307 to 1310; “The Divine Comedy,” his masterpiece.]
WHILST I was rushing downwards, there appeared before my eyes one who seemed hoarse from long silence. When I saw him in the great deserts, I cried: “Have pity on me, whate’er thou be, whether shade or veritable man!”
He answered me: “Not man, — a man I once was; and my parents were Lombards, and both of Mantua by country, I was born sub Julio, though it was late, and lived at Rome under the good Augustus, in the time of the false and lying gods. A Poet I was; and sang of that just son of Anchises, who came from Troy after proud Ilium was burnt. But thou, why returnest thou to such disquiet? why ascendest not the 1099 delectable mountain, which is the beginning and the cause of all gladness?”
“Art thou then that Virgil, and that fountain which pours abroad so rich a stream of speech?” I answered him, with bashful front. “O glory, and light of other poets! May the long zeal avail me, and the great love, that made me search thy volume. Thou art my master and my author. Thou alone are he from whom I took the good style that hath done me honor. See the beast from which I turned back. Help me from her, thou famous sage; for she makes my veins and pulses tremble.”
“Thou must take another road,” he answered, when he saw me weeping, “if thou desirest to escape from this wild place; because this beast, for which thou criest, lets not men pass her way, but so entangles that she slays them; and has a nature so perverse and vicious, that she never satiates her craving appetite; and after feeding, she is hungrier than before. The animals to which she weds herself are many; and will yet be more, until the Greyhound comes, that will make her die with pain. He will not feed on land or pelf, but on wisdom, and love, and manfulness; and his nations shall be between Feltro and Feltro. He shall be the salvation of that low Italy, for which Camilla the virgin, Euryalus, and Turnus, and Nisus, died of wounds. He shall chase her through every city, till he have put her into Hell again; from which envy first set her loose. Wherefore I think and discern this for thy best, that thou follow me. And I will be thy guide, and lead thee hence through an eternal place, where thou shalt hear the hopeless shrieks, shalt see the ancient spirits in pain; so that each calls for a second death. And thou shalt see those who are contented in the fire; for they hope to come, whensoever it be, amongst the blessed. Then to these, if thou desirest to ascend, there shall be a Spirit worthier than I to guide thee. With her will I leave thee at my parting. For that Emperor who reigns above, because I was rebellious to his law, wills not that I come into his city. In all parts he rules, and there he dwells. There is his city, and his high seat. O happy whom he chooses for it!”
And I to him: “Poet, I beseech thee by that God whom thou knewest not: in order that I may escape this ill and worse, lead me where thou now hast said, so that I may see the Gate of St. Peter, and those whom thou makest so sad.”
Then he moved; and I kept on behind him. . . .1100
Through me is the way into this doleful city;
Through me the way into eternal pain;
Through me the way among the people lost.
Justice moved my High Maker:
Divine Power made me,
Wisdom Supreme, and Primal Love.
Before me were no things created,
But eternal; and eternal I endure.
Leave all hope, ye that enter.
These words, of color obscure, saw I written above a gate. Whereat I: “Master, their meaning to me is hard.”
And he to me, as one experienced: “Here must all distrust be left; all cowardice must here be dead. We are come to the place where I told thee thou shouldst see the wretched people, who have lost the good of the intellect.”
And placing his hand on mine, with a cheerful countenance that comforted me, he led me into the secret things. Here sighs, plaints, and deep wailings resounded through the starless air: it made me weep at first. Strange tongues, horrible outcries, words of pain, tones of anger, voices deep and hoarse, and sounds of hands amongst them, made a tumult, which turns itself unceasing in that air forever dyed, as sand when the whirlwind breathes.
And I, my head begirt with error, said: “Master, what is this I hear? and who are these that seem so overcome with pain?”
And he to me: “This miserable mode the dreary souls of those sustain, who lived without blame, and without praise. They are mixed with that caitiff choir of the angels. who were not rebellious, nor were faithful to God, but were for themselves. Heaven chased them forth to keep its beauty from impair; and the deep Hell receives them not, for the wicked would have some glory over them.”
And I: “Master, what is so grievous to them, that makes them lament thus bitterly?”
He answered: “I will tell it to thee very briefly. These have no hope of death; and their blind life is so mean, that they are envious of every other lot. Report of them the world permits not to exist. Mercy and Judgment disdains them. Let us not speak of them; but look, and pass.”
And I, who looked, saw an ensign, which whirling ran so quickly that it seemed to scorn all pause. And behind it came 1101 so long a train of people, that I should never have believed death had undone so many.
After I had recognized some amongst them, I looked and saw the shadow of him who from cowardice made the great refusal. Forthwith I understood and felt assured that this was the crew of caitiffs, hateful to God and to His enemies. These unfortunate, who never were alive, were naked, and sorely goaded by hornets and by wasps that were there: these made their faces stream with blood, which mixed with tears was gathered at their feet by loathsome worms.
And then, as I looked onwards, I saw people on the Shore of a great River. Whereat I said: “Master, now grant that I may know who these are; and what usage makes them seem so ready to pass over, as I discern by the faint light.”
And he: “The things shall be told thee, when we stay our steps upon the joyless strand of Acheron.”
Then, with eyes ashamed and downcast, fearing my words might have offended him, I kept myself from speaking till we reached the stream. And lo! an old man, white with ancient hair, comes towards us in a bark, shouting: “Woe to you, depraved spirits! Hope not ever to see Heaven. I come to lead you to the other shore; into the eternal darkness; into fire and into ice. And thou, who are there alive, depart thee from these who are dead.”
But when he saw that I departed not, he said: “By other ways, by other ferries; not here shalt thou pass over. A lighter boat must carry thee.”
And my guide to him: “Charon, vex not thyself. Thus it is willed there, where what is willed can be done: and ask no more.” Then the woolly cheeks were quiet of the steersman on the livid marsh, who round his eyes had wheels of flame. But those spirits, who were foreworn and naked, changed color and chattered with their teeth, soon as they heard the bitter words. They blasphemed God and their parents; the human kind; the place, the time, and origin of their seed, and of their birth. Then all of them together, sorely weeping, drew to the accursed shore, which awaits every man that fears not God.
Charon the demon, with eyes of glowing coal, beckoning them, collects them all; smites with his oar whoever lingers. As the leaves of autumn fall off one after the other, till the branch sees all its spoils upon the ground, so one by one the 1102 evil seed of Adam cast themselves from that shore at signals, as the bird at its call. Thus they depart on the brown water; and ere they have landed on the other shore, again a fresh crowd collects on this.
“My son,” said the courteous Master, “those who die under God’s wrath, all assemble here from every country. And they are prompt to pass the river, for Divine Justice spurs them so, that fear is changed into desire. By this way no good spirit ever passes; and hence, if Charon complains of thee, thou easily now mayest know the import of his words.”
When he had ended, the dusky champaign trembles so violently that the remembrance of my terror bathes me still with sweat. The tearful ground gave out wind, and flashed with a crimson light, which conquered all my senses: and I fell, like one who is seized with sleep.
A heavy thunder broke the deep sleep in my head; so that I started like one who is awaked by force. And, having risen erect, I moved my rested eyes around, and looked steadfastly to know the place in which I was. True is it, that I found myself upon the brink of the dolorous Valley of the Abyss, which gathers thunder of endless wailings. It was so dark, profound, and cloudy, that, with fixing my look upon the bottom, I there discerned nothing.
“Now let us descend into the blind world here below,” began the Poet, all pale: “I will be first, and thou shalt be second.”
And I, who had remarked his color, said: ‘How shall I come, when thou fearest, who art wont to be my strength in doubt?”
And he to me: “The anguish of the people who are here below, on my face depaints that pity, which thou takest for fear. Let us go; for the length of way impels us.” Thus he entered, and made me enter, into the first circle that girds the abyss. Here there was no plaint, that could be heard, except of sighs, which caused the eternal air to tremble. And this arose from the sadness, without torment, of the crowds, that were many and great, both of children, and of women and men.
The good Master to me: “Thou askest not what spirits are these thou seest? I wish thee to know, before thou goest farther, that they sinned not. And though they have merit, it suffices not; for they had not Baptism, which is the portal 1103 of the Faith that thou believest. And seeing they were before Christianity, they worshiped not God aright. And of these am I myself. For such defects, and for no other fault, are we lost; and only in so far afflicted, that without hope we live in desire.”
Great sadness took me at the heart on hearing this; because I knew men of much worth, who in that Limbo were suspense. “Tell me, Master; tell me, Sir,” I began, desiring to be assured of that Faith which conquers every error; “did ever any, by his own merit, or by others’, go out from hence, that afterwards was blessed?”
And he, understanding my covert speech, replied, “I was new in this condition, when I saw a Mighty One come to us, crowned with sign of victory. He took away from us the shade of our First Parent, of Abel his son, and that of Noah; of Moses the Legislator, and obedient Abraham the Patriarch; David the King; Israel with his father and his children, and Rachel, for whom he did so much; and many others, and made them blessed. And I wish thee to know, that, before these, no human souls were saved.”
We ceased not to go, though he was speaking; but passed the wood meanwhile, the wood, I say, of crowded spirits. Our way was not yet far within the topmost part, when I saw a fire, which conquered a hemisphere of the darkness. We were still a little distant from it; yet not so distant, that I did not in part discern what honorable people occupied that place.
“O thou, that honorest every science and art; who are these, who have such honor, that it separates them from the manner of the rest?”
And he to me: “The honored name, which sounds of them, up in that life of thine, gains favor in heaven which advances them.”
Meanwhile a voice was heard by me: “Honor the great Poet! His shade returns that was departed.”
After the voice had paused, and was silent, I saw four great shadows come to us. They had an aspect neither sad nor joyful. The good Master began to speak: “Mark him with that sword in hand, who comes before the three as their lord. That is Homer, the sovereign Poet. The next who comes is Horace the satirist. Ovid is the third; and the last is Lucan. Because each agrees with me in the name, which the one voice sounded, they do me honor; and therein they do well.”1104
Thus I saw assembled the goodly school of that lord of highest song, who, like an eagle, soars above the rest. After they had talked a space together, they turned to me with sign of salutation; and my Master smiled thereat. And greatly more besides they honored me; for they made me of their number, so that I was sixth amid such intelligences.
Thus we went onwards to the light, speaking things which it is well to pass in silence, as it was well to speak there where I was. We came to the foot of a Noble Castle, seven times circled with lofty Walls, defended round by a fair Rivulet. This we passed as solid land. Through seven gates I entered with those sages. We reached a meadow of fresh verdure. On it were people with eyes slow and grave, of great authority in their appearance.
They spoke seldom, with mild voices. Thus we retired on one of the sides: into a place open, luminous, and high, so that they could all be seen. There direct, upon the green enamel, were shown to me the great spirits whom I glory within myself in having seen. I saw Electra with many companions: amongst whom I knew both Hector and Æneas; Cæsar armed, with the falcon eyes. I saw Camilla and Penthesilea. On the other hand I saw the Latian king, sitting with Lavinia his daughter. I saw that Brutus who expelled the Tarquin; Lucretia, Julia, Martia, and Cornelia. And by himself apart, I saw the Saladin.
When I raised my eyelids a little higher, I saw the Master of those that know, sitting amid a philosophic family. All regard him; all do him honor. Here I saw Socrates and Plato, who before the rest stand nearest to him; Democritus, who ascribes the world to chance; Diogenes, Anaxagoras, and Thales; Empedocles, Heraclitus, and Zeno. And I saw the good collector of the qualities, Dioscorides I mean; and saw Orpheus, Tully, Livy, and Seneca the moralist; Euclid the geometer, and Ptolemæus; Hippocrates, Avicenna, and Galen; Averrhoës, who made the great comment. I may not paint them all in full; for the long theme so chases me, that many times the word comes short of the reality.
The company of six diminishes to two. By another road the sage guide leads me, out of the quiet, into the trembling air; and I come to a part where there is naught that shines.