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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. It is followed by Purgatorio and Paradiso. 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; it is the "realm ... of those who have rejected spiritual values by yielding to bestial appetites or violence, or by perverting their human intellect to fraud or malice against their fellowmen".


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.

Many the animals with whom she weds,
    And more they shall be still, until the Greyhound
    Comes, who shall make her perish in her pain.
He shall not feed on either earth or pelf,
    But upon wisdom, and on love and virtue;
    ’Twixt Feltro and Feltro shall his nation be;
Of that low Italy shall he be saviour,
    On whose account the maid Camilla died,
    Euryalus, Turnus, Nisus, of their wounds;
Through every city shall he hunt her down,
    Until he shall have driven her back to Hell,
    There from whence envy first did let her loose.

Therefore I think and judge it for thy best
    Thou follow me, and I will be thy guide,
    And lead thee hence through the eternal place,
Where thou shalt hear the desperate lamentations,
    Shalt see the ancient spirits disconsolate,
    Who cry out each one for the second death;

And thou shalt see those who contented are
    Within the fire, because they hope to come,
    Whene’er it may be, to the blessed people;
To whom, then, if thou wishest to ascend,
    A soul shall be for that than I more worthy;   
    With her at my departure I will leave thee;

Because that Emperor, who reigns above,
    In that I was rebellious to his law,
    Wills that through me none come into his city.
He governs everywhere, and there he reigns;
    There is his city and his lofty throne;
    O happy he whom thereto he elects!”

And I to him: “Poet, I thee entreat,
    By that same God whom thou didst never know,  
So that I may escape this woe and worse,
Thou wouldst conduct me there where thou hast said,
    That I may see the portal of Saint Peter,
    And those thou makest so disconsolate.”
Then he moved on, and I behind him followed.

Canto II.
The Descent. Dante’s Protest and Virgil’s Appeal. The Intercession of the Three Ladies Benedight

Day was departing, and the dusky air
    Released all animals on earth from toil and
    From fatigue; and I alone
Prepared myself for a weary war
    Both of the way and likewise of the woe,
    Which memory that errs not shall retrace.

O Muses, O high genius, now assist me!
    O memory, that didst write down what I saw,
    Here thy nobility shall be manifest!

And I began: “Poet, who guidest me,
    Regard my manhood, if it be sufficient,
    Ere to the arduous pass thou dost confide me.
Thou sayest, that of Silvius the parent,
    While yet corruptible, unto the world
    Immortal went, and was there bodily.

But if the adversary of evil was courteous
    In thinking of the high effect that would
    Issue from him, of the who, and of the what,
To men of intellect it would not seem unmeet;
    For he was of great Rome, and of her empire
    In the empyreal heaven as father chosen;
The which and what, wishing to speak the truth,
    Were stablished as the holy place, wherein
    Sits the successor of the greatest Peter.

Upon this journey, in thy song renowned,
    Things did he hear, which the occasion were
    Both of his victory and the papal mantle.
Thither went afterwards the Chosen Vessel,
    To bring back comfort thence unto that Faith,
    Which of salvation’s way is the beginning.

But I, why thither come I, or who concedes it?
    I not Aeneas am, I am not Paul,
    Nor I, nor others, think me worthy of it.
Therefore, if I resign myself to come,
    I fear the coming may be ill-advised;
    Thou’rt wise, and knowest better than I speak.”

And as he is, who unwills what he willed,
    And by new thoughts doth his intention change,
    So that from his design he quite withdraws,
Such I became, upon that dark hillside,
    Because my thinking undermined the enterprise,
    Which was so very prompt in the beginning.

“If I have well thy language understood,”
    Replied that shade of the Magnanimous,
    “Thy soul with cowardice is tainted,
Which many times a man encumbers so,
    As turns him back from honoured exploit,
    As false sight doth a beast, when he is shy.
That thou mayst free thee from this apprehension,
    I’ll tell thee why I came, and what I heard
    At the first moment when I grieved for thee.

Among those was I who are in suspense,
    And a fair, saintly Lady called to me
    In such wise, I besought her to command me.
Her eyes were shining brighter than the Star;
    And she began to say, gentle and low,
    With voice angelical, in her own language:

‘O spirit courteous of Mantua,
    Of whom the fame still in the world endures,
    And shall endure, long-lasting as the world;
A friend of mine, and not the friend of fortune,
    Upon the desert slope is so impeded
    Upon his way, that he has turned through terror,
And may, I fear, already be so lost,
    That I too late have risen to his succour,
    From that which I have heard of him in Heaven.

Bestir thee now, and with thy speech ornate,
    And with what needful is for his release,
    Assist him so, that I may be consoled.

Beatrice am I, who do bid thee go;
    I come from there, where I would fain return;
    Love moved me, which compelleth me to speak.
When I shall be in the presence of my Lord,
    Full often will I praise thee unto him.’
    Then paused she, and thereafter I began:

‘O Lady of virtue, thou alone through whom
    The human race exceedeth all contained
    Within the lesser circles of the heavens,
So grateful unto me is thy commandment,
    To obey, if ’twere already done, were late;
    No farther need’st thou elucidate thy wish.
But the cause tell me why thou dost not shun
    To here descend, down to this centre,
    From the vast place thou burnest to return to.’

‘Since thou wouldst fain discern so deeply,
    I will tell thee briefly why,’ she answered me,
    ‘No dread detered my entry here.
Of those things only should one be afraid
    Which have the power of doing others harm;
    Of the rest, no; because they are not fearful.
God in his mercy in such wise created me
    That your misery doth touch me not,
    Nor any flame assail me from these fires.

A gentle Lady is in Heaven, who grieves
    At this impediment, to which I send thee,
    So that stern judgment there above is broken.
In her entreaty she besought Lucia,
    And said, “Thy faithful one now stands in need
    Of thee, and unto thee I recommend him.”

Lucia, enemy of all that cruel is,
    Hastened away, and came unto the place
    Where I was sitting with the ancient Rachel.
“Beatrice” said she, “the true praise of God,
    Why succourest thou not him, who loved thee so,
    And for whom he issued from the vulgar herd?
Dost thou not hear the pity of his plaint?
    Dost thou not see the death that him assails
    Beside that flood, where ocean has no vaunt?”

Never were persons in the world so swift
    To work their weal and to escape their woe,
    As I, after such words as these were uttered,
Came hither downward from my blessed seat,
    Confiding in thy dignified discourse,
    Which honours thee, and those who’ve listened to it.’

After she thus had spoken to me, weeping,
    Her shining eyes she turned away;
    Whereby she made me swifter in my coming;
And unto thee I came, as she desired,
    And have delivered thee from that wild beast,
    Which barred the beautiful mountain’s short ascent.

What is it, then? Why, why dost thou delay?
    Why is such baseness bedded in thy heart?
    Daring and hardihood why hast thou not,
Seeing that three such Ladies benedight
    Are caring for thee in the court of Heaven,
    And so much good my speech doth promise thee?”

Even as the flowerets, by nocturnal chill,
    Bowed down and closed, when the sun whitens them,
    Uplift themselves all open on their stems;
Such I became with my exhausted strength,
    And such good courage to my heart there coursed,
    That I began, like an intrepid person:

“O she compassionate, who succoured me,
    And courteous thou, who hast obeyed so soon
    The words of truth which she addressed to thee!
Thou hast my heart so with desire disposed
    To the adventure, with these words of thine,
    That to my first intent I have returned.
Now go, for one sole will is in us both,
    Thou Leader, and thou Lord, and Master thou.”
    Thus said I to him; and when he had moved,
I entered on the deep and savage way.

Canto III.
The Gate of Hell. The Inefficient or Indifferent. Pope Celestine V. The Shores of Acheron. Charon. The Earthquake and the Swoon

“Through me the way is to the woeful city;
    Through me the way is to eternal woe;
    Through me the way among the people lost.
Justice aroused my sublime Creator;
    Omnipotence divine, Wisdom all-high
    And primal Love did rear and raise me.
Before me were no other things created,
    Only eternity, and I eternally endure.
    All hope abandon, ye who enter here!”

These words in sombre colour I beheld
    Written upon the keystone of a gate;
    Whence I: “Their meaning, Master, appears dire!”
And he to me, as one experienced:
    “Here all suspicion needs must be abandoned,
    All cowardice must needs be here extinct.
We to the place have come, where I have told thee
    Thou shalt behold the people dolorous
    Who have foregone the good of intellect.”

And after he had laid his hand on mine
    With joyful mien, whence I was comforted,
    He led me in among the secret things.

There sighs, complaints, and ululations loud
    Resounded through the blank and starless air,
    Whence I, at the beginning, wept thereat.
Languages diverse, distorted dialects,
    Accents of anger, words of agony,
    Voices high and hoarse, with the smiting of hands,
Made up a tumult that goes whirling on
    For ever in that air for ever dark,
    Even as the sand doth, when the whirlwind flies.

And I, with my head with horror girt about,
    Said: “Master, what is this which now I hear?
    What folk is this, which seems by pain so vanquished?”

And he to me: “This is the miserable mode
    Maintained by melancholy souls of those
    Who lived withouten either infamy or praise.
Commingled are they with that caitiff choir
    Of Angels, who have not rebellious been,
    Nor faithful to God, but only to themselves.
The heavens expelled them, not to be less fair;
    Nor them the nethermore abyss receives,
    For the damned would take no pride in them.”

And I: “O Master, what is so grievous to these souls
    That makes them to lament so sore?”
    He answered: “I will tell thee very briefly.
These have no longer any hope of death;
    And this blind life of theirs is so debased,
    They envious are of every other fate.
No fame of them doth the world permit;
    Mercy and Justice do them both disdain.
    Let us not speak of them, but look, and pass.”

And I, who looked again, beheld a banner,
    Which, whirling round, ran on so rapidly,
    That it scorned all possibility of pause;
And after it there came so long a train
    Of people, that I ne’er would have believed
    That ever Death so many had undone.

When some among them I had recognised,
    I looked, and I beheld the shade of him
    Who made through cowardice the great refusal.
Forthwith I comprehended, and was certain,
    That this the sect was of the caitiff wretches
    Hateful to God and to his enemies.

These miscreants, who never were alive,
    Were naked, and were stung exceedingly
    By gadflies and by hornets that were there.
These did their faces irrigate with blood,
    Which, with their tears commingled, at their feet
    By the disgusting worms was gathered up.

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