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

Introduction to the Inferno
The Mission of Virgil

Daylight was going, and the dusky air
was now releasing from their weary toil
all living things on earth; and I alone
was making ready to sustain the war
both of the road and of the sympathy,
which my unerring memory will relate.

O Muses, O high Genius, help me now!
O Memory, that wrotest what I saw,
herewith shall thy nobility appear!

I then began: “Consider, Poet, thou
that guidest me, if strong my virtue be,
or e'er thou trust me to the arduous course.
Thou sayest that the sire of Silvio entered,
when still corruptible, the immortal world,
and that while in his body he was there.
Hence, that to him the Opponent of all ill
was courteous, considering the great result
that was to come from him, both who, and what,
seems not unfitting to a thoughtful man;
for he of fostering Rome and of her sway
in the Empyrean Heaven was chosen as sire;
and both of these, if one would tell the truth,
were foreordained unto the holy place,
where greatest Peter's follower hath his seat.
While on this quest, for which thou giv'st him praise,
he heard the things which of his victory
the causes were, and of the Papal Robe.
The Chosen Vessel went there afterward,
to bring thence confirmation in the faith,
through which one enters on salvation's path.
But why should I go there, or who concedes it?
I 'm not Aeneas, nor yet Paul am I;
me worthy of this, nor I nor others deem.
If, therefore, I consent to come, I fear
lest foolish be my coming; thou art wise,
and canst much better judge than I can talk.”

And such as he who unwills what he willed,
and changes so his purpose through new thoughts,
that what he had begun he wholly leaves;
such on that gloomy slope did I become;
for, as I thought it over, I gave up
the enterprise so hastily commenced.

“If I have rightly understood thy words,”
replied the shade of that Great-hearted man,
“thy soul is hurt by shameful cowardice,
which many times so sorely hinders one,
that from an honored enterprise it turns him,
as seeing falsely doth a shying beast.
In order that thou rid thee of this fear,
I 'll tell thee why I came, and what I heard
the first time I was grieved on thy account.
Among the intermediate souls I was,
when me a Lady called, so beautiful
and happy, that I begged her to command.
Her eyes were shining brighter than a star,
when sweetly and softly she began to say,
as with an angel's voice she spoke to me:

'O courteous Mantuan spirit, thou whose fame
is still enduring in the world above,
and will endure as long as lasts the world,
a friend of mine, but not a friend of Fortune,
is on his journey o'er the lonely slope
obstructed so, that he hath turned through fear;
and, from what I have heard of him in Heaven,
I fear lest he may now have strayed so far,
that I have risen too late to give him help.
Bestir thee, then, and with thy finished speech,
and with whatever his escape may need,
assist him so that I may be consoled.
I, who now have thee go, am Beatrice;
thence come I, whither I would fain return;
't was love that moved me, love that makes me speak.
When in the presence of my Lord again,
often shall I commend thee unto Him.'
Thereat she ceased to speak, and I began:

'O Lady of virtue, thou through whom alone
the human race excels all things contained
within the heaven that hath the smallest circles,
thy bidding pleases me so much, that late
I 'd be, hadst thou already been obeyed;
thou needst but to disclose to me thy will.
But tell me why thou dost not mind descending
into this center from that ample place,
whither thou art so eager to return.'

'Since thou wouldst know thereof so inwardly,
I 'll tell thee briefly,' she replied to me,
'why I am not afraid to enter here.
Of those things only should one be afraid,
that have the power of doing injury;
not of the rest, for they should not be feared.
I, of His mercy, am so made by God,
that me your wretchedness doth not affect,
nor any flame of yonder fire molest.
There is a Gentle Lady up in Heaven,
who grieves so at this check, whereto I send thee,
that broken is stern judgment there above.
She called Lucìa in her prayer, and said:
'Now hath thy faithful servant need of thee,
and I, too, recommend him to thy care.'
Lucìa, hostile to all cruelty,
set forth thereat, and came unto the place,
where I with ancient Rachel had my seat.
'Why, Beatrice,' she said, 'true Praise of God,
dost thou not succour him who loved thee so,
that for thy sake he left the common herd?
Dost thou not hear the anguish of his cry?
see'st not the death that fights him on the flood,
o'er which the sea availeth not to boast?
Ne'er were there any in the world so swift
to seek their profit and avoid their loss,
as I, after such words as these were uttered,
descended hither from my blessèd seat,
confiding in that noble speech of thine,
which honors thee and whosoe'er has heard it.'

Then, after she had spoken to me thus,
weeping she turned her shining eyes away;
which made me hasten all the more to come;
and, even as she wished, I came to thee,
and led thee from the presence of the beast,
which robbed thee of the fair Mount's short approach.
What is it, then? Why, why dost thou hold back?
Why dost thou lodge such baseness in thy heart,
and wherefore free and daring art thou not,
since three so blessèd Ladies care for thee
within the court of Heaven, and my words, too,
give thee the promise of so much that's good?”

As little flowers by the chill of night
bowed down and closed, when brightened by the sun,
stand all erect and open on their stems;
so likewise with my wearied strength did I;
and such good daring coursed into my heart,
that I began as one who had been freed:

“O piteous she who hastened to my help, and courteous thou, that didst at once obey
the words of truth that she addressed to thee!
Thou hast with such desire disposed my heart
toward going on, by reason of thy words,
that to my first intention I 've returned.
Go on now, since we two have but one will;
thou Leader, and thou Lord, and Teacher thou!”

I thus addressed him; then, when he had moved,
I entered on the wild and arduous course.


1. The evening of Good Friday.
7. Invocation of the Muses, who represent the Arts and Sciences, upon a knowledge of which a poet must draw, as well as upon his own Genius and Memory.
13. Aeneas, who descended into Hades to get the help, which led to his conquest of Italy, and eventually to the glories of Imperial and Papal Rome.
28. Saint Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, who claimed to have been "caught up into Paradise."
32. Cowardice on Dante's part disguised as Modesty.
43. Virgil, the Magnanimous, reproving him for his spiritual Pusillanimity, gives an account of his Mission from Beatrice, sent to Dante's help by the Gentle Lady (the Virgin Mary) and Lucìa, the representatives, respectively, of Divine Mercy and Light.
52. The souls in the Limbo, or Borderland.
53. Beatrice, described with ever increasing emphasis throughout the poem as "beautiful and happy," thus establishing the difference between her and Virgil, who is only learned and wise.
77. The circle referred to being that of the Moon, this new definition of Beatrice means that Man's spiritual, and not his rational, nature is what makes him greater than anything else on earth.
88. A statement which may possibly, though not probably, have been intended to mean (much more sublimely): "Of those things only should one be afraid, that have the power of doing others harm."
94. The Virgin Mary, [[xxv]] the Mercy of God.
97. Divine "kindly Light."
102. Dante thought of Rachel as being Beatrice's counterpart in the symbolism of the Old Testament.
103. Beatrice defined as "true Praise of God," which is not intellectual knowledge, but spiritual appreciation.
107. The river of Sin, which does not flow into the sea.
119. The materialistic Wolf.
124. God's Mercy, and Light, and His Spirit in Man.
131. Fearlessness and Freedom, here as elsewhere, the great spiritual qualities.
140. Virgil (Reason) accepted by Dante as his Leader, Lord and Teacher, titles with which he addresses, or refers to, him appositely in each case. Herewith the two poets enter upon the rough road which leads them underground to the outer Gate of Hell.

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