04
Dante Alighieri - La Divina Commedia - Inferno
Courtney Langdon - The Divine Comedy

The First Circle. The Borderland
Unbaptized Worthies. Illustrious Pagans

A heavy thunder-clap broke the deep sleep
within my head, so that I roused myself,
as would a person who is waked by force;
and standing up erect, my rested eyes
I moved around, and with a steady gaze
I looked about to know where I might be.

Truth is I found myself upon the verge
of pain's abysmal valley, which collects
the thunder-roll of everlasting woes.
So dark it was, so deep and full of mist,
that, howsoe'er I gazed into its depths,
nothing at all did I discern therein.

“Into this blind world let us now descend!”
the Poet, who was death-like pale, began,
“I will be first, and thou shalt second be.”

And I, who of his color was aware,
said: “How am I to come, if thou take fright,
who 'rt wont to be my comfort when afraid?”

“The anguish of the people here below,”
he said to me, “brings out upon my face
the sympathy which thou dost take for fear.

Since our long journey drives us, let us go!”
Thus he set forth, and thus he had me enter
the first of circles girding the abyss.

Therein, as far as one could judge by list'ning,
there was no lamentation, saving sighs
which caused a trembling in the eternal air;
and this came from the grief devoid of torture
felt by the throngs, which many were and great,
of infants and of women and of men.

To me then my good Teacher: “Dost not ask
what spirits these are whom thou seest here?
Now I would have thee know, ere thou go further,
that these sinned not; and though they merits have,
't is not enough, for they did not have baptism,
the gateway of the creed believed by thee;
and if before Christianity they lived,
they did not with due worship honor God;
and one of such as these am I myself.
For such defects, and for no other guilt,
we 're lost, and only hurt to this extent,
that, in desire, we live deprived of hope.”

Great sorrow filled my heart on hearing this,
because I knew of people of great worth,
who in that Borderland suspended were.

“Tell me, my Teacher, tell me, thou my Lord,”
I then began, through wishing to be sure
about the faith which conquers every error;

“came any ever, by his own deserts,
or by another's, hence, who then was blest?”

And he, who understood my covert speech,
replied: “To this condition I was come
but newly, when I saw a Mighty One
come here, crowned with the sign of victory.
From hence He drew the earliest parent's shade,
and that of his son, Abel, that of Noah,
and Moses the law-giver and obedient;
Abram the patriarch, and David king,
Israel, with both his father and his sons,
and Rachel, too, for whom he did so much,
and many others; and He made them blest;
and I would have thee know that, earlier
than these, there were no human spirits saved.”

Because he talked we ceased not moving on,
but all the while were passing through the wood,
the wood, I mean, of thickly crowded shades.
Nor far this side of where I fell asleep
had we yet gone, when I beheld a fire,
which overcame a hemisphere of gloom.
Somewhat away from it we were as yet,
but not so far, but I could dimly see
that honorable people held that place.

“O thou that honorest both art and science,
who are these people that such honor have,
that it divides them from the others' life?”

And he to me: “The honorable fame,
which speaks of them in thy live world above,
in Heaven wins grace, which thus advances them.”

And hereupon a voice was heard by me:
“Do honor to the loftiest of poets!
his shade, which had departed, now returns.”
And when the voice had ceased and was at rest,
four mighty shades I saw approaching us;
their looks were neither sorrowful nor glad.

My kindly Teacher then began to say:
“Look at the one who comes with sword in hand
before the three, as if their lord he were.
Homer he is, the sovreign poet; Horace,
the satirist, the one that cometh next;
the third is Ovid, Lucan is the last.
Since each of them in common shares with me
the title which the voice of one proclaimed,
they do me honor, and therein do well.”

Thus gathered I beheld the fair assembly
of those the masters of the loftiest song,
which soareth like an eagle o'er the rest.

Then, having talked among themselves awhile,
they turned around to me with signs of greeting;
and, when he noticed this, my Teacher smiled.
And even greater honor still they did me,
for one of their own company they made me,
so that amid such wisdom I was sixth.

Thus on we went as far as to the light,
talking of things whereof is silence here
becoming, even as speech was, where we spoke.

We reached a noble Castle's foot, seven times
encircled by high walls, and all around
defended by a lovely little stream.
This last we crossed as if dry land it were;
through seven gates with these sages I went in,
and to a meadow of fresh grass we came.
There people were with slow and serious eyes,
and, in their looks, of great authority;
they spoke but seldom and with gentle voice.
We therefore to one side of it drew back
into an open place so luminous
and high, that each and all could be perceived.
There on the green enamel opposite
were shown to me the spirits of the great,
for seeing whom I glory in myself.

I saw Electra with companions many,
of whom I knew both Hector and Aeneas,
and Caesar armed, with shining falcon eyes.
I saw Camilla with Penthesilea
upon the other side, and King Latinus,
who with Lavinia, his own daughter, sat.
I saw that Brutus who drove Tarquin out,
Lucretia, Julia, Martia and Cornelia,
and, all alone, I saw the Saladin.

Then, having raised my brows a little higher,
the Teacher I beheld of those that know,
seated amid a philosophic group.
They all look up to him, all honor him;
there Socrates and Plato I beheld,
who nearer than the rest are at his side;
Democritus, who thinks the world chance-born,
Diogenes, Anaxagoras and Thales,
Empedocles, Heraclitus, and Zeno;
of qualities I saw the good collector,
Dioscorides I mean; Orpheus I saw,
Tully and Livy, and moral Seneca;
Euclid, the geometer, and Ptolemy,
Hippocrates, Avicenna, Galen,
Averrhoès, who made the famous comment.

I cannot speak of all of them in full,
because my long theme drives me on so fast,
that oft my words fall short of what I did.

The sixfold band now dwindles down to two;
my wise Guide leads me by a different path
out of the calm into the trembling air;
and to a place I come, where naught gives light.


7. A first confused impression of the World of Evil.
21. Specially deserving of notice are the occasions when Virgil and Dante show [[xxvii]] sympathy, or refuse it, for sinners in the lower world.
24. Dante's Hell is physically conceived as being a vast inverted cone extending from immediately below the surface of the earth to its centre, and divided into nine concentric and ever diminishing circles.
25. This outermost circle portrays the spiritual state of the innocent and worthy, but pagan-minded, who, not having attained the Christian conception of life, cannot, while in that state, share in its happiness, and who therefore, though desiring, have no hope.
52. The legend of Christ's descent into Hades, and His removal of the Hebrew Worthies who had believed in the Redemption that was to be - a conception probably based upon consciousness that spiritual apprehension of a truth is the essential saving thing.
68. The light surrounding these illustrious Pagans is only a hemisphere, because their loyalty to Reason was unquickened by spiritual faith.
72. Honor, the outstanding quality in this canto.
79. In spite of Homer's traditional supremacy, Dante probably thought of Virgil as "the loftiest of poets," and hence, as such, greater, and better fitted to be his guide than Aristotle, "the Teacher of those that know."
88. Homer and the three Latin poets whom, with Virgil, Dante thought the greatest of Antiquity, and whom he yet describes as "neither sorrowful nor glad."
97. Dante received among them as an equal, a claim on his part more than confirmed by the verdict of posterity.
106. The Castle of Wisdom and Glory, with its seven walls, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, Intelligence, Learning, and Wisdom; its stream of Eloquence; and its gates, Grammar, Dialectics, Rhetoric, Music, Arithmetic, Geometry, and Astronomy, through which was entered the domain of Knowledge.
121. The military and political Heroes of the Trojan-Roman civilization, with the chivalric Saladin as the only representative of Mohamedanism.
130. Philosophers and men of Science, presided over by Aristotle, the "Teacher of those that know."
139. The qualities of plants.
144. A commentary on Aristotle, followed by the great medieval theologian, Thomas Aquinas.
148. Dante here enters the real Hell of Sin and Pain, whose darkness is nowhere mitigated even by the half light of Reason.

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