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The Divine Comedy: Inferno

by Dante Alighieri (Tr. H.W. Longfellow)












































Coming tot he seconds circle of Hell, Dante at the entrance beholds Minos the Infernal Judge, by whom he is admonished to beware how he enters those regions. Here he witnesses the punishment of carnal sinners, who are tossed about ceaselessly in the dark air by the most furious winds. Among these, he meets with Fracesca of Rimini, through pity at whose sad tale he falls fainting to the ground.

Thus descended out of the first circle 1
Down to the second, that less space begirds, 2
And so much greater dole, that goads to wailing.

There standeth Minos horribly, and snarls; 4
Examines the transgressions at the entrance;
Judges, and sends according as he girds him.

I say, that when the spirit evil-born
Cometh before him, wholly it confesses;
And this discriminator of transgressions

Seeth what place in Hell is meet for it;
Girds himself with his tail as many times
As grades he wishes it should be thrust down.

Always before him many of them stand;
They go by turns each one unto the judgment;
They speak, and hear, and then are downward hurled.

"O thou, that to this dolorous hostelry
Comest," said Minos to me, when he saw me,
Leaving the practice of so great an office,

"Look how thou enterest, and in whom thou trustest;
Let not the portal's amplitude deceive thee."
And unto him my Guide: " Why criest thou too? 21

Do not impede his journey fate-ordained;
It is so willed there where is power to oo
That which is willed; and ask no further question."

And now begin the dolesome notes to grow
Audible unto me, now am I come
There where much lamentation strikes upon me.

I came into a place mute of all light, 28
Which bellows as the sea does in a tempest,
If by opposing winds 't is combated.

The infernal hurricane that never rests
Hurtles the spirits onward in its rapine;
Whirling them round, and smiting, it molests them.

When they arrive before the precipice,
There are the shrieks, the plaints, and the laments,
There they blaspheme the puissance divine.

I understood that unto such a torment
The carnal malefactors were condemned,
Who reason subjugate to appetite.

And as the wings of starlings bear them on
In the cold season in large band and full,
So doth that blast the spirits maledict;

It hither, thither, downward, upward, drives them;
No hope doth comfort them for evermore,
Not of repose, but even of lesser pain.

And as the cranes go chanting forth their lays,
Making in air a long line of themselves,
So saw I coming, uttering lamentations,

Shadows borne onward by the aforesaid stress.
Whereupon said I: "Master, who are those
People, whom the black air so castigates?" 51

" The first of those, of whom intelligence
Thou fain wouldst have," then said he unto me,
"The empress was of many languages.

To sensual vices she was so abandoned,
That lustful she made licit in her law,
To remove the blame to which she had been led.

She is Semiramis of whom we read
That she succeeded Ninus, and was his spouse;
She held the land which now the Sultan rules.

The next is she who killed herself for love, 61
And broke faith with the ashes of Sichcaeus;
Then Cleopatra the voluptuous."

Helen I saw, for whom so many ruthless
Seasons revolved; and saw the great Achilles, 65
Who at the last hour combated with Love

Paris I saw, Tristan; and more than a thousand 67
Shades did he name and point out with his finger,
Whom Love had separated from our life.

After that I had listened to my Teacher,
Naming the dames of eld and cavaliers, 71
Pity prevailed, and I was nigh bewildered.

And I began: "O Poet, willingly
Speak would I to those two, who go together,
And seem upon the wind to be so light."

And, he to me: "Thou'lt mark, when they shall be
Nearer to us; and then do thou implore them
By love which leadeth them, and they will come."

Soon as the wind in our direction sways them,
My voice uplift I: "O ye weary souls!
Come speak to us, if no one interdicts it."

As turtle-doves, called onward by desire,
With open and steady wings to the sweet nest
Fly through the air by their volition borne,

So came they from the band where Dido is,
Approaching us athwart the air malign,
So strong was the affectionate appeal.

" O living creature gracious and benignant,
Who visiting goest through the purple air 89
Us, who have stained the world incarnadine,

If were the King of the Universe our friend,
We would pray unto him to give thee peace,
Since thou hast pity on our woe perverse.

Of what it pleases thee to hear and speak,
That will we hear, and we will speak to you,
While silent is the wind, as it is now.

Sitteth the city, wherein I was born, 97
Upon the sea-shore where the Po descends
To rest in peace with all his retinue. 99

Love, that on gentle heart doth swiftly seize,
Seized this man for the person beautiful
That was ta'en from me, and still the mode offends me.

Love, that exempts no one beloved from loving, 103
Seized me with pleasure of this man so strongly, 104
That, as thou seest, it doth not yet desert me;

Love has conducted us unto one death;
Caina waiteth him who quenched our life!" 107
These words were borne along from them to us.

As soon as I had heard those souls tormented,
I bowed my face, and so long held it down
Until the Poet said to me: "What thinkest?"

When I made answer, I began: "Alas!
How many pleasant thoughts, how much desire,
Conducted these unto the dolorous pass!"

Then unto them I turned me, and I spake,
And I began: "Thine agonies, Francesca, 116
Sad and compassionate to weeping make me.

But tell me, at the time of those sweet sighs,
By what and in what manner Love conceded,
That you should know your dubious desires?"

And she to me: "There is no greater sorrow 121
Than to be mindful of the happy time
In misery, and that thy Teacher knows.

But, if to recognise the earliest root
Of love in us thou hast so great desire,
I will do even as he who weeps and speaks.

One day we reading were for our delight
Of Launcelot, how Love did him enthral. 128
Alone we were and without any fear.

Full many a time our eyes together drew
That reading, and drove the colour from our faces;
But one point only was it that o'ercame us.

When as we read of the much-longed-for smile
Being by such a noble lover kissed,
This one, who ne'er from me shall be divided,

Kissed me upon the mouth all palpitating.
Galeotto was the book and he who wrote it.
That day no farther did we read therein."

And all the while one spirit uttered this,
The other one did weep so, that, for pity,
I swooned away as if I had been dying,

And fell, even as a dead body falls. 142

Footnotes 5

Canto 5

1. In the Second Circle are found the souls of carnal sinners, whose punishment

"To be imprisoned in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world."

2. The circles grow smaller and smaller as they descend.

4. Minos, the king of Crete, so renowned for justice as to be called the Favorite of the Gods, and after death made Supreme Judge in the Infernal Regions. Dante furnishes him with a tail, thus converting him, after the mediaeval fashion, into a Christian demon.

21. Thou, too, as well as Charon, to whom[*]Virgil has already made the same reply, Canto 06. 022.

28. In Canto 01. 060, the sun is silent; here the light is dumb.

51. Gower, "Confession Amantis", VIII., gives a similar list "of gentil folke that whilom were lovers," seen by him as he lay in a swound and listened to the music Of bombarde and of clarionne With cornemuse and shalmele."

61. Queen Dido.

65. Achilles, being in love with Polyxena, a daughter of Priam, went unarmed to the temple of Apollo, where he was put to death by Paris. Gower, "Confessio Amantis ", IV., says:--

"For I have herde tell also
Achilles left his armes so,
Both of himself and of his men,
At Troie for Polixenen
Upon her love when he felle,
That for no chaunce that befelle
Among the Grekes or up or down
He wolde nought ayen the town
Ben armed for the love of her."

"I know not how," says Bacon in his Essay on Love, "but martial men are given to love; I think it is but as they are given to wine; for perils commonly ask to be paid in pleasure."

67. Paris of Troy, of whom Spenser says, "Faerie Queene", III.ix. 34:--

"Most famous Worthy of the world, by whome
That warre waas kindled which did Troy inflame
And stately towres of Ilion whilome
Brought unto balefull ruine, was by name
Sir Paris, far renown'd through noble fame."

Tristan is the Sir Tristram of the Romances of Chivalry. See his adventures in the " Mort d'Arthure." Also Thomas of Ercildoune's "Sir Tristram, a Metrical Romance. " His amours with Yseult of Ysonde bring him to this circle of the Inferno.

71 . Shakespeare, Sonnet CVI.:--

"When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights."

See also the "wives and daughters of chieftains" that appear to Ulysses, in the " Odyssey", Book XI. Also Milton, "[*]Paradise Regained", II. 357:--

"And ladies of the Hesperides, that seemed
Fairer than feigned of old, or fabled since
Of fairy damsels met in forest wide
By knights of Logres, or of Lyones,
Lancelot, or Palleas, or Pellenore."

89. In the original, "l'aer perso", the perse air. Dante, " Convito", IV. 20, defines perse as "a color mixed of purple and black, but the black predominates." Chaucer's "Doctour of Phisike" in the " Canterbury Tales", Prologue 441, wore this color:--

"In sanguin and in perse he clad was alle,
Lined with taffata and with sendalle."

The Glossary defines it, "skie colored, of a bluish gray." The word is again used, VII. 103 and " Purg." 09. 097.

97. The city of Ravenna."One reaches Ravenna," says Ampere, "Voyage Dantesque ", p. 311, "by journeying along the borders of a pine forest, which is seven leagues in length, and which seemed to me an immense funereal wood, serving as an avenue to the common tomb of those two great powers, Dante and the Roman Empire in the West. There is hardly room for any other memories than theirs. But other poetic names are attached to the Pine Woods of Ravenna. Not long ago Lord Byron evoked there the fantastic tales borrowed by Dryden from Boccaccio, and now he is himself a figure of the past, wandering in this melancholy place. I thought, in traversing it, that the singer of despair had ridden along this melancholy shore, trodden before him by the graver and slower footstep of the poet of the Inferno."

99. Quoting this line, Ampere remarks, "Voyage Dantesque", p. 312: "We have only to cast our eyes upon the map to recognize the topographical exactitude of this last expression. In fact, in all the upper part of its course, the Po receives a multitude of affluents, which converge towards its bed. They are the Tessino, the Adda, the Olio, the Mincio, the Trebbia, the Bormida, the Taro;--names which recur so often in the history of the wars of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries."

103. Here the word "love" is repeated, as the word "honor " was in Canto 04. 072. The verse murmurs with it, like the "moan of doves in immemorial elms." St. Augustine says in his " Confessions", III. 1: "I loved not yet, yet I loved to love.....I sought what I might love, in love with loving."

104. I think it is Coleridge who says: "The desire of man is for the woman, but the desire of woman is for the desire of man."

107. Caina is in the lowest circle of the Inferno, where fratricides are punished.

116. Francesca, daughter of Guido da Polenta, Lord of Ravenna, and wife of Gianciotto Malatesta, son of the Lord of Rimini. The lover, Paul Malatesta, was the brother of the husband, who, discovering their amour, put them both to death with his own hand. Carlyle, "Heroes and Hero Worship", Lect. III., says:--

"Dante's painting is not graphic only, brief, true, and of a vividness as of fire in dark night; taken on the wider scale, it is every way noble, and the outcome of a great soul. Francesca and her Lover, what qualities in that! A thing woven as out of rainbows, on a ground of eternal black. A small flute-voice of infinite wail speaks there, into our very heart of hearts. A touch of womanhood in it too: "della bella persona", "che mi fu tolta"; and how, even in the Pit of woe, it is a solace that " he" will never part from her! Saddest tragedy in these " alti guai." And the racking winds, in that "aer bruno ", whirl them away again, to wail forever! -- Strange to think: Dante was the friend of this poor Francesca's father; Francesca herself may have sat upon the Poet's knee, as a bright, innocent little child. Infinite pity, yet also infinite rigor of law: it is so Nature is made; it is so Dante discerned that she was made."

Later commentators assert that Dante's friend Guido was not the father of Francesca, but her nephew. Boccaccio's account, translated from his Commentary by Leigh Hunt, " Stories from the Italian Poets", Appendix II., is as follows:--"You must know that this lady, Madonna Francesca, was daughter of Messer Guido the Elder, lord of Ravenna and of Cervia, and that a long and grievous war having been waged between him and the lords Malatesta of Rimini, a treaty of peace by certain mediators was at length concluded between them; the which, to the end that it might be the more firmly established, it pleased both parties to desire to fortify by relationship; and the matter of this relationship was so discoursed, that the said Messer Guido agreed to give his young and fair daughter in marriage to Gianciotto, the son of Messer Malatesta. Now, this being made known to certain of the friends of Messer Guido, one of them said to him: `Take care what you do; for if you contrive not matters discreetly, such relationship will beget scandal. You know what manner of person your daughter is, and of how lofty a spirit; and if she see Gianciotto before the bond is tied, neither you nor any one else will have power to persuade her to marry him; therefore, if it so please you, it seems to me that it would be good to conduct the matter thus: namely, that Gianciotto should not come hither himself to marry her, but that a brother of his should come and espouse her in his name.' "Gianciotto was a man of great spirit, and hoped, after his father's death, to become lord of Rimini; in the contemplation of which event, albeit he was rude in appearance and a cripple, Messer Guido desired him for a son-in-law above any one of his brothers. Discerning, therefore, the reasonableness of what his friend counselled, he secretly disposed matters according to his device; and a day being appointed, Polo, a brother of Gianciotto, came to Ravenna with full authority to espouse Madonna Francesca. Polo was a handsome man, very pleasant, and of a courteous breeding; and passing with other gentlemen over the court-yard of the palace of Messer Guido, a damsel who knew him pointed him out to Madonna Francesca through an opening in the casement, saying, `That is he that is to be your husband'; and so indeed the poor lady believed, and incontinently placed in him her whole affection; and the ceremony of the marriage having been thus brought about, and the lady conveyed to Rimini, she became not aware of the deceit till the morning ensuing the marriage, when she beheld Gianciotto rise from her side; the which discovery moved her to such disdain, that she became not a whit the less rooted in her love for Polo. Nevertheless, that it grew to be unlawful I never heard, except in what is written by this author (Dante), and possibly it might so have become; albeit I take what he says to have been an invention framed on the possibility, rather than anything which he knew of his own knowledge. Be this as it may, Polo and Madonna Francesca living in the same house, and Gianciotto being gone into a certain neighboring district as governor, they fell into great companionship with one another, suspecting nothing; but a servant of Gianciotto's, noting it, went to his master and told him how matters looked; with the which Gianciotto being fiercely moved, secretly returned to Rimini; and seeing Polo enter the room of Madonna Francesca the while he himself was arriving, went straight to the door, and finding it locked inside, called to his lady to come out; for, Madonna Francesca and Polo having descried him, Polo thought to escape suddenly through an opening in the wall, by means of which there was a descent into another room; and therefore, thinking to conceal his fault either wholly or in part, he threw himself into the opening, telling the lady to go and open the door. But his hope did not turn out as he expected; for the hem of a mantle which he had on caught upon a nail, and the lady opening the door meantime, in the belief that all would be well by reason of Polo's not being there, Gianciotto caught sight of Polo as he was detained by the hem of the mantle, and straightway ran with his dagger in his hand to kill him; whereupon the lady, to prevent it, ran between them; but Gianciotto having lifted the dagger, and put the whole force of his arm into the blow, there came to pass what he had not desired,--namely, that he struck the dagger into the bosom of the lady before it could reach Polo; by which accident, being as one who had loved the lady better than himself, he withdrew the dagger and again struck at Polo, and slew him; and so leaving them both dead, he hastily went his way and betook him to his wonted affairs; and the next morning the two lovers, with many tears, were buried together in the same grave."

121. This thought is from Boethius, "De Consolat. Philos")., Lib. II. Prosa 4: "In omni adversitate fortunae, infelicissimum genus est infortunii fuisse felicem et non esse. " In the "Convito", II. 16, Dante speaks of Boethius and Tully as having directed him "to the love, that is to the study, of this most gentle lady Philosophy.

" From this Venturi and Biagioli infer that, by the Teacher, Boethius is meant, not Virgil. This interpretation, however, can hardly be accepted, as not in one place only, but throughout the Inferno and the Purgatorio, Dante proclaims Virgil as his teacher, " il mio Dottore.

" Lombardi thinks that Virgil had experience of this "greatest sorrow," finding himself also in "the infernal prison"; and that it is to this, in contrast with his happy life on earth, that Francesca alludes, and not to anything in his writings.

128. The Romance of Launcelot of the Lake. See Delvan, "Biblioteque Bleue ":--

"Chap. 39. Comment Launcelot et la Reine Genievre deviserent de choses et d'autres, et surtout de choses amoureuses..... "La Reine, voyant qu'il n'osait plus rien faire ni dire, le prit par le menton et le baisa assez longuement en presence de Gallehault. "

The Romance was to these two lovers, what Galeotto (Gallehault or Sir Galahad) had been to Launcelot and Queen Guenever. Leigh Hunt speaks of the episode of Francesca as standing in the Inferno "like a lily in the mouth of Tartarus."

142. Chaucer, "Knightes Tale":--

"The colde death, with mouth gaping upright."

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