1 Dante wakes to find himself in Limbo, where
virtuous non-Christians and unbaptized children go.
53 Christ's harrowing of hell is referred
to here. Old Testament patriarchs, beginning with Adam (l. 55), accompanied him in his return.
Israel is Jacob whose twelve sons were the founders of the twelve tribes
of Israel. His father was Isaac and his wife Rachel (see Genesis 29).
68 The fire is "the
light of nature" (Romans 2:14) that emanates from the seven-walled
castle which encloses the meadow where the good pagans dwell (ll. 106-111).
The seven walls and gates may represent the seven liberal arts (grammar, rhetoric,
logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music) and/or the seven cardinal
virtues (prudence, temperance, justice, fortitude, understanding,
knowledge, wisdom), and the stream, eloquence.
88 Homer, poet of the Iliad, carries a sword; the others are well-known Roman poets.
121 Electra, mother of Dardanus the founder
of Troy, was a forbear of Hector and Aeneas.
124 Camilla was killed by the Trojans in
Italy; Penthesilea, an Amazon queen, by Achilles at Troy.
125 Latinus, an Italian leader, supported
Aeneas, and his daughter Lavinia married the Trojan hero.
127 Lucius Junius Brutus, founder of the
Roman Republic, led the revolt in 510 B. C. against Tarquin, last of Rome's kings.
128 Lucretia (a suicide), Julia (Caesar's
daughter), Marcia (Cato of Utica's wife), and Cornelia (Scipio Africanus' wife) are all
types of virtuous women.
129 Saladin (d. 1193), a Muslim sultan,
opposed Richard the Lion-Heart, but won the admiration of the Third Crusade for his
131 Aristotle, with Socrates
and Plato, were Greek philosophers; Democritus and the others were pre-Socratic thinkers.
140 Dioscorides, a first-century A. D. scientist, is
the father of pharmacy. Orpheus and Linus are mythical poets.
141 Cicero (106-43 B.C.) was a Roman statesman and
author; Seneca (4 B.C.-65 A.D.) was a writer of tragedies.
142 Euclid, a fourth-century B.C. mathematician,
wrote on geometry; Ptolemy, a second century A.D. astronomer, pictured the universe as
earth-centered with nine orbiting spheres.
143 Hippocrates, in the fourth century B.C., began
the study of medicine, practiced by Galen in the second century A.D. and the
philosopher Avicenna (980-1037).
Averroes (d. 1198),
Persian-born Arab philosopher
Avicenna wrote a
commentary on Aristotle.
- A loud
thunderclap shattered the deep
- Sleep in my
head, so that I started up
someone shaken forcibly awake.
looking all around with rested eyes,
I stood straight up with a steady stare,
to discover where I was.
- The truth
is I found myself upon the edge
- Of the
chasm of the valley of salt tears
stores the clamor of unending crying.
- 10 Dark
and deep and foggy was the valley:
- So, when I
strained my eyes to see the bottom,
- I was not
able to discern a thing.
let us descend to the blind world
Below," the poet, pale as death, began:
"I will be first, and you shall follow me."
- And I,
observing the change in his color,
"How can I come if you are frightened,
- You who
strengthen me when I have doubts?"
- And he told
me, "The anguish of the people
Who are down here blanches my complexion
- With the
pity that you mistake for fear.
us go on: the long road makes it urgent."
- So he went
down, and so he had me enter
- The first
circle ringing the abyss.
Here, as far as listening could tell,
- The only
lamentations were the sighs
- That caused
the everlasting air to tremble.
without torments drew these sighs
crowds, multitudinous and vast,
Of babies and of women and of men.
- My gracious
teacher said, "Do you not question
- Who these
spirits are whom you observe?
- Before you
go on, I would have you know
did not sin: yet even their just merits
Were not enough, for they lacked baptism,
- The gateway
of the faith that you profess.
if they lived before the Christian era,
- They did
not worship God in the right way:
- And I
myself am one of those poor souls.
"For this failure and for no other fault
- Here we are
lost, and our sole punishment
- Is without
hope to live on in desire."
- Deep sorrow
crushed my heart when I heard him,
both men and women of great worth
I knew to be suspended here in limbo.
me, my master, tell me, my good lord,"
- I then
began, wishing to be assured
- Of that
belief which conquers every error,
any left here, either through their merits
Or someone else's, to be blessed later on?"
- And he,
grasping my unexpressed appeal,
"I was newly in this place
- When I saw
come down here a mighty One
with the symbol of his victory.
"He snatched away the shade of our first parent,
- Of his son
Abel, and the shade of Noah,
- Of Moses,
the obedient lawgiver,
Abraham the patriarch, King David,
- Israel with
his father, with his children,
And with Rachel for whom he worked so hard,
many others, and he made them blessed.
- But I would
have you know, before these souls
- No human
being ever had been saved."
- We did not
keep from walking while he talked,
But all along we journeyed through the forest
- I mean the
forest that was dense with spirits.
- Our path
had not yet led us far away
- From where
I'd slept, when I descried a fire
overcame a hemisphere of shadows.
We were still a little distance from it
- But close
enough for me to dimly see
honored people tenanted that place.
"O you, glory of the arts and sciences,
- Who are
these souls who here have the high honor
Of being kept distinct from all the rest?"
- And he told
me, "Their distinguished names
- Which yet
re-echo in your world above
- Win for
them heaven's grace which furthers them."
Meanwhile I could hear a voice that called,
"Honor to the most illustrious poet!
shade that had departed now returns."
- After the
voice had ceased and all was still,
- I saw
four lofty shades approaching us,
their appearance neither sad nor joyful.
My worthy teacher now began by saying,
"Notice there the one with sword in hand,
before the three others like a lord:
"That is Homer, the majestic poet.
next who comes is Horace, the satirist;
Ovid is third, and Lucan last of all.
each one shares with me the name of poet,
- The name
you heard the single voice call out,
- They honor
me, and they do well to do so."
- So I saw
that brilliant schola meeting
Under the master of sublimest song
- Who above
all others soars like an eagle.
conversing for some time together,
- They turned
to me with a cordial greeting:
- With that,
my master broke into a smile.
And then they showed me a still greater honor,
they included me within their group,
that I was the sixth among those minds.
way we walked together toward the light,
Speaking of things as well unmentioned here
As there it was as well to speak of them.
came up to the base of a royal castle,
times encircled by high walls,
Moated all about by a beautiful stream.
we crossed as if it were firm ground;
Through seven gates I entered with these sages
we reached a meadow of fresh grass.
People were here with slow and serious eyes,
great authority by their appearance.
hardly spoke, with their gentle voices.
We moved along then over to one side,
an open clearing, bright and high up,
order to view all the persons there.
Straight before me on the enameled green
eminent spirits were presented to me
That I exult in having witnessed them.
- I saw
Electra, with many companions,
- Among whom
I noted Hector and Aeneas,
- And Caesar,
in armor, with his falcon eyes.
- I saw
Camilla and Penthesilea,
- 125 And
on the other side I saw King Latinus
- Who sat
with his daughter Lavinia.
- I saw
that Brutus who banished the Tarquin,
Lucretia, Julia, Marcia, and Cornelia,
by himself, I noticed Saladin.
- 130 When I lifted up my eyes a little higher,
- I saw
Aristotle, the master-knower,
- Seated with
the family of philosophers.
- All look up
to him, all do him honor;
- There also
I saw Socrates and Plato,
- Nearest to
him, in front of all the rest;
Democritus, who ascribes the world to chance,
Zeno, and Heraclitus.
- I saw the
worthy categorizer of herbs,
Dioscorides, I mean; and I saw Orpheus,
Linus, Seneca the moralist,
- Euclid the
Hippocrates, Galen, Avicenna,
Averroes, who wrote the Commentary.
I cannot here describe them all in full,
- For my
lengthy theme so presses me forward
- That often
words fall short of the occasion.
- The company
of six drops down to two.
- My knowing
guide leads me another way,
Out of the quiet, into the quavering air,
- And I come
to a scene where nothing shines.