Inferno, Dante Alighieri
Dante Alighieri
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Inferno (Italian: [iɱˈfɛrno]; Italian for "Hell") is the first part of Italian writer Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy. The Inferno describes Dante's journey through Hell, guided by the ancient Roman poet Virgil. In the poem, Hell is depicted as nine concentric circles of torment located within the Earth. This version of ‘The Divine Comedy’ is based on the translation of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, an American, who introduced Dante’s literary genius to the New World in 1867. We have had to adapt his sometimes convoluted rendition of the poet’s tercets into simpler, accessible English by consulting several alternative and more contemporary versions of the poem and adding some footnotes. The result is therefore a unique audio/text aligned publication which places emphasis on dramatic reading while maintaining classic turns of phrase suitable to this classic.


Dante Alighieri

Based on the translation of
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Canto I.
The Dark Forest. The Hill of Hardship. The Panther, The Lion, and the Wolf. Virgil.

Midway upon the journey of our life
     I found myself within a forest dark,
     For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
    What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
    Which in the very thought renews the fear.
So bitter is it, death is little more;
    But of the good to treat, which there I found,
    Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
    So full was I of slumber at the moment
    In which I had abandoned the true way.
But after I had reached a mountain’s foot,
    At that point where the valley terminated,
    Which had with consternation pierced my heart,
Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders,
    Vested already with that planet’s rays
    Which leadeth others right by every road.

Then was the fear a little quieted
    That in my heart’s lake had endured throughout
    The night, which I had passed so piteously.
And even as he, who, with distressful breath,
    Forth issued from the sea upon the shore,
    Turns to the water perilous and gazes;
So did my soul, that still was fleeing onward,
    Turn itself back to behold again the pass
    Which never yet a living person left.

After my weary body I had rested,
    The way resumed I on the desert slope,
    So that the firm foot ever was the lower.
And lo! almost where the ascent began,
    A panther light and swift exceedingly,
    Which with a spotted skin was covered o’er!
And never moved she from before my face,
    Nay, rather did impede so much my way,
    That many times I to return had turned.

Time was the beginning of the morning,
    And up the sun was mounting with those stars
    That with him were, when Love Divine
At first in motion set those beauteous things;
    So were to me occasion of good hope,
    The variegated skin of that wild beast,
The hour of time, and the delicious season;
    But not so much, that did not give me fear
    When a lion’s aspect to me appeared.
It seemed as if he were against me coming
    With head uplifted, and with ravenous hunger,
    So that the very air appeared afraid of him;

And then a she-wolf, that with all hungerings
    Seemed to be laden in her meagreness,
    Which many folk hath caused to live forlorn!
She brought upon me so much heaviness,
    That, with affright roused by her aspect,
    I all hope relinquished of the height.

And as he is who at first willingly acquires,
    And time comes then that causes him to lose,
    Weeps in all his thoughts and is despondent,
E’en such made me that beast withouten peace,
    Which, coming on against me by degrees
    Thrust me back thither where the sun is silent.

While I was rushing downward to the lowland,
    Before mine eyes did one present himself,
    Who seemed from long-continued silence hoarse.
When I beheld him in the desert vast,
    “Have pity on me,” unto him I cried,
    “Whiche’er thou art, or shade or real man!”

He answered me: “Not man; man once I was,
    And both my parents were of Lombardy,
    And Mantuans by country both of them.
‘Sub Julio’ was I born, though it was late,
    And lived at Rome under the good Augustus,
    During the time of false and lying gods.
A poet was I, and I sang of that just son     Of Anchises, who came forth from Troy,
    After that Ilion the superb was burned.

But thou, why goest thou back to such annoyance?
    Why climb’st thou not the Mount Delectable,
    Which is the source and cause of every joy?”

“Now, art thou that Virgilius and that fountain
    Which spreads abroad so wide a river of speech?”
    I made response to him with bashful forehead.
“O, of the other poets honour and light,
    Avail me the long study and great love
    That have impelled me to explore thy volume!

Thou art my master, and my author thou,
    Thou art alone the one from whom I took
    The beautiful style that has done honour to me.
Behold the beast, for which I have turned back;
    Do thou protect me from her, famous Sage,
    For she doth make my veins and pulse to tremble.”

“Thee it behoves to take another road,”
    Responded he, when he beheld me weeping,
    “If from this savage place thou wouldst escape;
Because this beast, at which thou criest out,
    Suffers not any one to pass her way,
    But so doth harass him, that she destroys him;
And has a nature so malign and ruthless,
    That never doth she glut her greedy will,
    And after food is hungrier than before.

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