Inferno -- Canto II

Beatrice, the Virgin Mary and Lucia

 

Notes

1 Good Friday evening, the beginning of the descent.

 

 

7 Here Dante is following the poets' traditional invocation to the Muses, but he also adds his reliance on his own poetical power (O memory ...).

 

13 Aeneas is the father of Silvius.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

28 The Chosen Vessel is Paul, who died in Rome; he describes his mystical journey to the third heaven in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (12:2-4)

 

33 Dante, an ordinary human being, is called to be a hero, a new creature in Christ. His transformation into the image of the God-Man is human by means of Virgil and divine through the intercession of Beatrice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

52 Virgil was in Limbo (see Canto IV).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

70 Beatrice is the girl Dante loved in his youth. Dante had written an account of his love for Beatrice in his Vita Nova. She will return later in the poem as the poet's second guide (see Purgatorio XXX).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

94 The Lady is the Virgin Mary; Lucia, the second lady, (l. 100) represents divine light; she was sitting next to Rachel (l. 102) who later in the poem will symbolize the contemplative life. The third lady is Beatrice (l. 103), Dante's love from the Vita Nuova

          Day was now fading, and the dusky air
          Released the creatures dwelling here on earth
          From tiring tasks, while I, the only one,
 
          Readied myself to endure the battle
5        Both of the journey and the pathos,
          Which flawless memory shall here record.
 
          O Muses, O high genius, aid me now!
          O memory that noted what I saw,
          Now shall your true nobility be seen!
 
10       I then began, "Poet, you guide me here:
          Be on your guard lest my power fail me
          Before you make me face that plunging pass.
 
          "You tell us how the father of Silvius,
          While in the flesh, to the eternal world
15       Journeyed, with all his senses still alert.
 
          "But if the Enemy of every evil
          Was kind to him, considering the high purpose
          He performed, and who and what he was,
 
          "This is not hard for us to understand,
20       Since in the highest heaven he was chosen
          Father of honored Rome and of her empire.
 
          "The two — city and empire — to tell the truth,
          Were destined to become the holy place
          Where the successor of mighty Peter sits.
 
25       "By this journey which you praise him for
          He came to comprehend what was to bring
          Triumph to him and mantle to the pope.
 
          "Later the Chosen Vessel journeyed beyond
          To bring back reassurance in the faith
30       Which is the source of the way to salvation.

          "But I, why should I go? Who gives permission?
          I am not Aeneas, nor am I Paul!
          Not I nor anyone else would judge me worthy.
 
          "So, if I surrender myself to going there,
35       I fear the undertaking shall prove folly.
          You are wise, you see more than I say."

          Just as the man who, unwilling what he wills,
          Thinks back over each thing he proposes
          And ends by giving up all he has started,

40       So I acted in that darkened place
          As I undid, by thinking, the same task
          I had so readily right away accepted.
 
          "If I have grasped the meaning of your words,"
          That soul of generosity responded,
45       "Your heart has been beset by cowardice
 
          "Which often places burdens on a man
          To turn him back from honorable deeds
          Like some animal frightened by its shadow.
 
          "Once and for all to rid you of that fear
50       I will tell you why I came and what I heard
          From the first moment I felt sorry for you.
 
          "I was among those spirits in suspense:
          A lady called me, so beautiful and blessed
          That I at once implored her to command me.
 
55       "Her eyes outshone the light of any star.
          Sweetly and softly she began to speak
          With the voice of an angel, in her own words:
 
          " 'O courteous spirit from Mantua
          Whose fame has lasted in the world till now
60       And shall endure as long as does the world,
 
         " 'My friend, who is no longer fortune's friend,
          On a wasted slope has been so thwarted
          Along his path that he turns back in panic.
 
          " 'I fear that he already is so lost
65       I have arisen too late to bring him aid —
          At least from what I hear of him in heaven.
 
          " 'Hasten now, and with your polished words
          And all that is required for his rescue,
          Help him, so that I can be consoled.
 
70       " 'I am Beatrice who urges you to journey,
          Come from a place to which I long to return.
          Love moved me to speak my heart to you.
 
          " ' When I stand once more before my Lord,
          I shall often sing your praises to him.'
75       With that she fell silent, and I ventured:
 
         "O lady of virtue, through whom alone
         The human race surpasses all contained
          Within the heavens to the smallest sphere,
 
          "Your command pleases me so thoroughly
80       That already to have done it would seem tardy:
          Only let me know what it is you want.
 
          "Tell me, however, why you are so bold
          To descend as far as to this center
          Out of the wide sky to which you would return?"

85       " 'Since you wish to know the inmost reason,
          I will tell you directly,' she answered me,
          ' Why I do not dread to come down here.
 
          " 'The only things we really need to fear
          Are those that have the power to do harm:
90       Nothing else should cause us to be fearful.
 
          " 'God in his mercy has so fashioned me
          That I am not affected by your pain;
          The fires burning here do me no hurt.
 
          " 'There is a noble Lady who weeps in heaven
95       For this thwarted man to whom I send you,
          So that heaven's strict decree is broken.
 
          " 'That Lady called on Lucia with her request
          And said: "Your faithful follower has now
          Such need of you that I commend him to you."
 
100      " 'Lucia, the foe of every cruelty,
          Started up and came to where I was,
          Sitting at the side of the aged Rachel.
 
          " 'She said, "Beatrice, true credit to our God,
          Will you not help the man who so loves you
105      That for your sake he left the common crowd?
 
          " ' "Do you not hear his pathetic grieving?
          Do you not see the death besieging him
          On the river which the ocean cannot sway?"
 
          " 'No one in this whole world was ever quicker
110      To take advantage or escape from harm
          Than I — when such words as these were spoken —
 
          " 'To come below here from my blessed seat,
          Putting my trust in your honest speech
          Which honors you and those who listen to it.'
 
115      "After she had discussed these matters with me,
          She turned her eyes, glittering with tears,
          And so made me more diligent to come.
 
          "And I did come to you, just as she wished:
          I saved you from the fierce beast barring you
120      From the short route up the lovely mountain.
 
          "So — what is this? Why? why do you stay?
          Why entertain such cowardice of heart?
          Why not be courageous and straightforward
 
          "When there are three such blessed ladies
125      Caring for you in the court of heaven
          And my words guarantee you so much good?"
 
          As little flowers in the chill of night
          Drooping and shriveled, when the sun lights them,
          Straighten up all open on their stalks,
 
130      So I, with my limp stamina, now bloomed.
          And such good warmth coursed boldly to my heart
          That like a free man I once more began:
 
          "O tender-hearted lady who came to aid me,
          And you, too, so kind to obey swiftly
135      The words of truth that she proposed to you!
 
          "You, by your words, have so filled my heart
          With fervor to go with you on this journey
          That I am turned again to my first purpose.
 
          "Now go — one will within the both of us —
140     You the leader, you the lord and master!"
          These things I said to him. When he moved on,
 
          I entered on the rank and plunging path.
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