05
Dante Alighieri - La Divina Commedia - Inferno
Courtney Langdon - The Divine Comedy

The Second Circle. Sexual Intemperance
The Lascivious and Adulterers

Thus from the first of circles I went down
into the second, which surrounds less space,
and all the greater pain, which goads to wailing.

There Minos stands in horrid guise, and snarls;
inside the entrance he examines sins,
judges, and, as he girds himself, commits.
I mean that when an ill-born soul appears
before him, it confesses itself wholly;
and thereupon that Connoisseur of sins
perceives what place in Hell belongs to it,
and girds him with his tail as many times,
as are the grades he wishes it sent down.
Before him there are always many standing;
they go to judgment, each one in his turn;
they speak and hear, and then are downward hurled.

“O thou that comest to the inn of woe,”
said Minos, giving up, on seeing me,
the execution of so great a charge,
“see how thou enter, and in whom thou put
thy trust; let not the gate-way's width deceive thee!”

To him my Leader: “Why dost thou, too, cry?

Hinder thou not his fate-ordained advance;
thus is it yonder willed, where there is power
to do whate'er is willed; so ask no more!”

And now the woeful sounds of actual pain
begin to break upon mine ears; I now
am come to where much wailing smiteth me.
I reached a region silent of all light,
which bellows as the sea doth in a storm,
if lashed and beaten by opposing winds.
The infernal hurricane, which never stops,
carries the spirits onward with its sweep,
and, as it whirls and smites them, gives them pain.
Whene'er they come before the shattered rock,
there lamentations, moans and shrieks are heard;
there, cursing, they blaspheme the Power Divine.
I understood that to this kind of pain
are doomed those carnal sinners, who subject
their reason to their sensual appetite.

And as their wings bear starlings on their way,
when days are cold, in full and wide-spread flocks;
so doth that blast the evil spirits bear;
this way and that, and up and down it leads them;
nor only doth no hope of rest, but none
of lesser suffering, ever comfort them.

And even as cranes move on and sing their lays,
forming the while a long line in the air;
thus saw I coming, uttering cries of pain,

shades borne along upon the aforesaid storm;
I therefore said: “Who, Teacher, are the people
the gloomy air so cruelly chastises?”

“The first of those of whom thou wouldst have news,”
the latter thereupon said unto me,
“was empress over lands of many tongues.
To sexual vice so wholly was she given,
that lust she rendered lawful in her laws,
thus to remove the blame she had incurred.
Semiramis she is, of whom one reads
that she gave suck to Ninus, and became
his wife; she held the land the Soldan rules.

The next is she who killed herself through love,
and to Sichaeus' ashes broke her faith;
the lustful Cleopatra follows her.
See Helen, for whose sake so long a time
of guilt rolled by, and great Achilles see,
who fought with love when at the end of life.
Paris and Tristan see;” and then he showed me,
and pointed out by name, a thousand shades
and more, whom love had from our life cut off.

When I had heard my Leader speak the names
of ladies and their knights of olden times,
pity o'ercame me, and I almost swooned.
“Poet,” I then began, “I 'd gladly talk
with those two yonder who together go,
and seem to be so light upon the wind.”

“Thou 'lt see thy chance when nearer us they are;”
said he, “beseech them then by that same love
which leadeth them along, and they will come.”

Soon as the wind toward us had bent their course.
I cried: “O toil-worn souls, come speak with us,
so be it that One Else forbid it not!”

As doves, when called by their desire, come flying
with raised and steady pinions through the air
to their sweet nest, borne on by their own will;
so from the band where Dido is they issued,
advancing through the noisome air toward us,
so strong with love the tone of my appeal.

“O thou benign and gracious living creature,
that goest through the gloomy purple air
to visit us, who stained the world blood-red;
if friendly were the universal King,
for thy peace would we pray to Him, since pity
thou showest for this wretched woe of ours.
Of whatsoever it may please you hear
and speak, we will both hear and speak with you,
while yet, as now it is, the wind is hushed.
The town where I was born sits on the shore,
whither the Po descends to be at peace
together with the streams that follow him.

Love, which soon seizes on a well-born heart,
seized him for that fair body's sake, whereof
I was deprived; and still the way offends me.
Love, which absolves from loving none that 's loved,
seized me so strongly for his love of me,
that, as thou see'st, it doth not leave me yet.
Love to a death in common led us on;
Cain's ice awaiteth him who quenched our life.”
These words were wafted down to us from them.

When I had heard those sorely troubled souls,
I bowed my head, and long I held it low,
until the Poet said: “What thinkest thou?”
When I made answer I began: “Alas!
how many tender thoughts and what desire
induced these souls to take the woeful step!”

I then turned back to them again and spoke,
and I began: “Thine agonies, Francesca,
cause me to weep with grief and sympathy.
But tell me: at the time of tender sighs,
whereby and how did Love concede to you
that ye should know each other's veiled desires?”

And she to me: “There is no greater pain
than to remember happy days in days
of misery; and this thy Leader knows.
But if to know the first root of our love
so yearning a desire possesses thee,
I 'll do as one who weepeth while he speaks.
One day, for pastime merely, we were reading
of Launcelot, and how love o'erpowered him;
alone we were, and free from all misgiving.

Oft did that reading cause our eyes to meet,
and often take the color from our faces;
and yet one passage only overcame us.
When we had read of how the longed-for smile
was kissed by such a lover, this one here,
who nevermore shall be divided from me,
trembling all over, kissed me on my mouth.
A Gallehault the book, and he who wrote it!
No further in it did we read that day.”

While one was saying this, the other spirit
so sorely wept, that out of sympathy
I swooned away as though about to die,
and fell as falls a body that is dead.


1. As, in descending, the circles grow narrower, the sins they reveal and the pain the latter involve are conceived as growing in intensity.
4. Minos, the classic Judge of the Dead, is grotesqued by Dante, and made the symbol of Man's guilty Conscience.
12. His tail is with grim humor conceived as long enough to girdle him eight times.
19. A suggestion of the danger of contamination in an unguarded examination of Sin.
27. Contrasting with the sighs of the first Circle.
28. Carnal sinners in general; their punishment being merely a picture of their sin, they are swept around in the dark by the aimless winds of sexual passion uncontrolled by Reason.
36. Blaming God, or others, and not themselves, characteristic of those held in Hell.
40. Two more pictures from bird life.
44. No rest in disloyal love.
52. Semiramis leads those who sinned through brutal lasciviousness, or incest.
59. For the usual text succedette "succeeded," the variant sugger dette, "gave suck to," has here been boldly substituted, as being significant, more Dante-like, and in perfect harmony with the context.
61. In marked contrast with Semiramis, Dido of Carthage, who, faithless to her plighted loyalty to her dead husband, gave herself to Aeneas, leads those who weakly yielded to a genuine, though illegal, love for one person.
69. Love characterizes this canto as much as Honor the last.
72. Dante's bestowal or refusal of sympathy differentiates sins springing from good nature from those caused by meanness or ill [[xxix]] will.
73. The pitiful story of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, which has made its fifth canto one of the most popular of the Inferno, is treated by Dante with his utmost poetic charm and sympathy, because though sinful, theirs was the sin of a genuine love.
81. God's name is not used by any one speaking in Hell, except in a case of defiance.
87. Love answers love.
97. Ravenna.
100. Noteworthy is the contrast between the love of the man and that of the woman.
106. When found together, Francesca and Paolo were killed, without a chance of repentance, by her husband, Gianciotto Malatesta, lord of Rimini.
107. The legally justified, but treacherous and murderous husband is here condemned to Cažna Cain's ring in the ice of Cocytus reserved for traitors to their relatives at the bottom of Hell.
123. The Italian dottore is best taken here, as above, as meaning not teacher, but leader.
121. A reference to Virgil's previous happiness on earth, or to his having in the Aeneid made Aeneas say to Dido: "Thou bidst me, Queen, recall a grief unspeakable."
127. The Arthurian legends were the favorite reading of the nobility then.
137. Sir Gallehault, the go-between in the case of Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere.
139. Dante's sympathy not reproved here by Virgil, as it will be on another occasion.

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