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Dante Alighieri - La Divina Commedia - Inferno
Courtney Langdon - The Divine Comedy

Introduction to the Divine Comedy
The Wood and the Mountain

When half way through the journey of our life
I found that I was in a gloomy wood,
because the path which led aright was lost.
And ah, how hard it is to say just what
this wild and rough and stubborn woodland was,
the very thought of which renews my fear! So bitter 't is, that death is little worse;
but of the good to treat which there I found,
I 'll speak of what I else discovered there.

I cannot well say how I entered it,
so full of slumber was I at the moment
when I forsook the pathway of the truth;
but after I had reached a mountain's foot,
where that vale ended which had pierced my heart
with fear, I looked on high,
and saw its shoulders
mantled already with that planet's rays
which leadeth one aright o'er every path.

Then quieted a little was the fear,
which in the lake-depths of my heart had lasted
throughout the night I passed so piteously.

And even as he who, from the deep emerged
with sorely troubled breath upon the shore,
turns round, and gazes at the dangerous water;
even so my mind, which still was fleeing on,
turned back to look again upon the pass
which ne'er permitted any one to live.

When I had somewhat eased my weary body,
o'er the lone slope I so resumed my way,
that e'er the lower was my steady foot.
Then lo, not far from where the ascent began,
a Leopard which, exceeding light and swift,
was covered over with a spotted hide,
and from my presence did not move away;
nay, rather, she so hindered my advance,
that more than once I turned me to go back.

Some time had now from early morn elapsed,
and with those very stars the sun was rising
that in his escort were, when Love Divine
in the beginning moved those beauteous things;
I therefore had as cause for hoping well
of that wild beast with gaily mottled skin,
the hour of daytime and the year's sweet season;
but not so, that I should not fear the sight,
which next appeared before me, of a Lion,
- against me this one seemed to be advancing
with head erect and with such raging hunger,
that even the air seemed terrified thereby -
and of a she-Wolf, which with every lust
seemed in her leanness laden, and had caused
many ere now to lead unhappy lives.
The latter so oppressed me with the fear
that issued from her aspect, that I lost
the hope I had of winning to the top.

And such as he is, who is glad to gain,
and who, when times arrive that make him lose,
weeps and is saddened in his every thought;
such did that peaceless animal make me,
which, 'gainst me coming, pushed me, step by step,
back to the place where silent is the sun.

While toward the lowland I was falling fast,
the sight of one was offered to mine eyes,
who seemed, through long continued silence, weak.
When him in that vast wilderness I saw,
“Have pity on me,” I cried out to him,
“whate'er thou be, or shade, or very man!”

“Not man,” he answered, “I was once a man;
and both my parents were of Lombardy,
and Mantuans with respect to fatherland.
'Neath Julius was I born, though somewhat late,
and under good Augustus' rule I lived
in Rome, in days of false and lying gods.
I was a poet, and of that just man,
Anchises' son, I sang, who came from Troy
after proud Ilion had been consumed.
But thou, to such sore trouble why return?
Why climbst thou not the Mountain of Delight,
which is of every joy the source and cause?”

“Art thou that Virgil, then, that fountain-head
which poureth forth so broad a stream of speech?”
I answered him with shame upon my brow.
“O light and glory of the other poets,
let the long study, and the ardent love
which made me con thy book, avail me now.
Thou art my teacher and authority;
thou only art the one from whom I took
the lovely manner which hath done me honor.
Behold the beast on whose account I turned;
from her protect me, O thou famous Sage,
for she makes both my veins and pulses tremble!”

“A different course from this must thou pursue,”
he answered, when he saw me shedding tears,
“if from this wilderness thou wouldst escape;
for this wild beast, on whose account thou criest,
alloweth none to pass along her way,
but hinders him so greatly, that she kills;
and is by nature so malign and guilty,
that never doth she sate her greedy lust,
but after food is hungrier than before.
Many are the animals with which she mates,
and still more will there be, until the Hound
shall come, and bring her to a painful death.
He shall not feed on either land or wealth,
but wisdom, love and power shall be his food,
and 'tween two Feltros shall his birth take place.
Of that low Italy he 'll be the savior,
for which the maid Camilla died of wounds,
with Turnus, Nisus and Eur?alus.
And he shall drive her out of every town,
till he have put her back again in Hell,
from which the earliest envy sent her forth.

I therefore think and judge it best for thee
to follow me; and I shall be thy guide,
and lead thee hence through an eternal place,
where thou shalt hear the shrieks of hopelessness
of those tormented spirits of old times,
each one of whom bewails the second death;
then those shalt thou behold who, though in fire,
contented are, because they hope to come,
whene'er it be, unto the blessèd folk;
to whom, thereafter, if thou wouldst ascend,
there 'll be for that a worthier soul than I.
With her at my departure I shall leave thee,
because the Emperor who rules up there,
since I was not obedient to His law,
wills none shall come into His town through me.
He rules as emperor everywhere, and there
as king; there is His town and lofty throne.
O happy he whom He thereto elects!”

And I to him: “O Poet, I beseech thee,
even by the God it was not thine to know,
so may I from this ill and worse escape,
conduct me thither where thou saidst just now,
that I may see Saint Peter's Gate, and those
whom thou describest as so whelmed with woe.”
He then moved on, and I behind him kept.


1. Dante, representing Man, astray in the Wood of Sin, at the age of thirty-five. Dante having been born in 1265, the date of the Vision recorded in the Poem is 1300.
13. The Mountain of the ideal life of Virtue.
17. The sun, a planet in the Ptolemaic system of astronomy.
32, 45, 49. The three symbolic Beasts: the sensual Leopard of Incontinent Appetite; the arrogant Lion of Bestial Violence; and the greedy, materialistic Wolf of Malicious Fraud and Treachery.
37. Later than the time of line 13, early in the morning of Good Friday, 1300, at the beginning of Spring, when the sun was in the constellation of Aries, where it was believed to have been on the day of Creation.
63. Virgil, Dante's first Guide and Teacher, the symbol of Man's Reason, or of his intellectual, aesthetic and moral faculties, of which the University and State may be the organized collective instrumentalities.
73. Aeneas.
79. Virgil, as author of the Aeneid, the poem of Rome's civilizing mission, acknowledged as the Poet of poets, and as his inspiring Teacher by Dante, who asks his help against the insatiable Wolf of Materialism and Greed.
94. The Wolf, evidently the most dangerous of the three Beasts to Dante, represents the class of sins spiritually the most dangerous to Man.
101. The prophecy of the Veltro, or Hound, a vaguely described future deliverer of Italy, Can Grande (the great Dog) della Scala, of Verona, which lies between two Feltros, being possibly intended.
107. Italian heroes who, on one side or the other, died in the Trojans' war under Aeneas for the conquest of Italy.
111. That the source of the Wolf is Envy, the offspring of Pride, falls in with the above interpretation of the worst of the three animals, Greed.
112. The course of Salvation through Hell, and Purgatory, the eternal states of Disobedience and Slavery, and of the humble Reconquest of Liberty, under the guidance of Virgil, or Reason; and, later, through Paradise, the state of loving Obedience and Freedom, under the guidance of Beatrice, the symbol of Man's Spiritual faculty, whose functions are Faith, Hope and Love, and of which the Church may be the organized [[xxiv]] collective instrumentality.
125. Virgil's incompetence as a Pagan signifies that mere Reason is not qualified to make Man's higher nature spiritually happy.
134. The Gate of Purgatory proper, which ultimately leads to Paradise.

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