Canto IV


Broke the deep lethargy within my head

  A heavy thunder, so that I upstarted,

  Like to a person who by force is wakened;


And round about I moved my rested eyes,

5  Uprisen erect, and steadfastly I gazed,

  To recognise the place wherein I was.


True is it, that upon the verge I found me

  Of the abysmal valley dolorous,

  That gathers thunder of infinite ululations.


10Obscure, profound it was, and nebulous,

  So that by fixing on its depths my sight

  Nothing whatever I discerned therein.


"Let us descend now into the blind world,"

  Began the Poet, pallid utterly;

15  "I will be first, and thou shalt second be."


And I, who of his colour was aware,

  Said: "How shall I come, if thou art afraid,

  Who'rt wont to be a comfort to my fears?"


And he to me: "The anguish of the people

20  Who are below here in my face depicts

  That pity which for terror thou hast taken.


Let us go on, for the long way impels us."

  Thus he went in, and thus he made me enter

  The foremost circle that surrounds the abyss.


25There, as it seemed to me from listening,

  Were lamentations none, but only sighs,

  That tremble made the everlasting air.


And this arose from sorrow without torment,

  Which the crowds had, that many were and great,

30  Of infants and of women and of men.


To me the Master good: "Thou dost not ask

  What spirits these, which thou beholdest, are?

  Now will I have thee know, ere thou go farther,


That they sinned not; and if they merit had,

35  'Tis not enough, because they had not baptism

  Which is the portal of the Faith thou holdest;


And if they were before Christianity,

  In the right manner they adored not God;

  And among such as these am I myself.


40For such defects, and not for other guilt,

  Lost are we and are only so far punished,

  That without hope we live on in desire."


Great grief seized on my heart when this I heard,

  Because some people of much worthiness

45  I knew, who in that Limbo were suspended.


"Tell me, my Master, tell me, thou my Lord,"

  Began I, with desire of being certain

  Of that Faith which o'ercometh every error,


"Came any one by his own merit hence,

50  Or by another's, who was blessed thereafter?"

  And he, who understood my covert speech,


Replied: "I was a novice in this state,

  When I saw hither come a Mighty One,

  With sign of victory incoronate.


55Hence he drew forth the shade of the First Parent,

  And that of his son Abel, and of Noah,

  Of Moses the lawgiver, and the obedient


Abraham, patriarch, and David, king,

  Israel with his father and his children,

60  And Rachel, for whose sake he did so much,


And others many, and he made them blessed;

  And thou must know, that earlier than these

  Never were any human spirits saved."


We ceased not to advance because he spake,

65  But still were passing onward through the forest,

  The forest, say I, of thick-crowded ghosts.


Not very far as yet our way had gone

  This side the summit, when I saw a fire

  That overcame a hemisphere of darkness.


70We were a little distant from it still,

  But not so far that I in part discerned not

  That honourable people held that place.


"O thou who honourest every art and science,

  Who may these be, which such great honour have,

75  That from the fashion of the rest it parts them?"


And he to me: "The honourable name,

  That sounds of them above there in thy life,

  Wins grace in Heaven, that so advances them."


In the mean time a voice was heard by me:

80  "All honour be to the pre-eminent Poet;

  His shade returns again, that was departed."


After the voice had ceased and quiet was,

  Four mighty shades I saw approaching us;

  Semblance had they nor sorrowful nor glad.


85To say to me began my gracious Master:

  "Him with that falchion in his hand behold,

  Who comes before the three, even as their lord.


That one is Homer, Poet sovereign;

  He who comes next is Horace, the satirist;

90  The third is Ovid, and the last is Lucan.


Because to each of these with me applies

  The name that solitary voice proclaimed,

  They do me honour, and in that do well."


Thus I beheld assemble the fair school

95  Of that lord of the song pre-eminent,

  Who o'er the others like an eagle soars.


When they together had discoursed somewhat,

  They turned to me with signs of salutation,

  And on beholding this, my Master smiled;


100And more of honour still, much more, they did me,

  In that they made me one of their own band;

  So that the sixth was I, 'mid so much wit.


Thus we went on as far as to the light,

  Things saying 'tis becoming to keep silent,

105  As was the saying of them where I was.


We came unto a noble castle's foot,

  Seven times encompassed with lofty walls,

  Defended round by a fair rivulet;


This we passed over even as firm ground;

110  Through portals seven I entered with these Sages;

  We came into a meadow of fresh verdure.


People were there with solemn eyes and slow,

  Of great authority in their countenance;

  They spake but seldom, and with gentle voices.


115Thus we withdrew ourselves upon one side

  Into an opening luminous and lofty,

  So that they all of them were visible.


There opposite, upon the green enamel,

  Were pointed out to me the mighty spirits,

120  Whom to have seen I feel myself exalted.


I saw Electra with companions many,

  'Mongst whom I knew both Hector and Aeneas,

  Caesar in armour with gerfalcon eyes;


I saw Camilla and Penthesilea

125  On the other side, and saw the King Latinus,

  Who with Lavinia his daughter sat;


I saw that Brutus who drove Tarquin forth,

  Lucretia, Julia, Marcia, and Cornelia,

  And saw alone, apart, the Saladin.


130When I had lifted up my brows a little,

  The Master I beheld of those who know,

  Sit with his philosophic family.


All gaze upon him, and all do him honour.

  There I beheld both Socrates and Plato,

135  Who nearer him before the others stand;


Democritus, who puts the world on chance,

  Diogenes, Anaxagoras, and Thales,

  Zeno, Empedocles, and Heraclitus;


Of qualities I saw the good collector,

140  Hight Dioscorides; and Orpheus saw I,

  Tully and Livy, and moral Seneca,


Euclid, geometrician, and Ptolemy,

  Galen, Hippocrates, and Avicenna,

  Averroes, who the great Comment made.


145I cannot all of them pourtray in full,

  Because so drives me onward the long theme,

  That many times the word comes short of fact.


The sixfold company in two divides;

  Another way my sapient Guide conducts me

150  Forth from the quiet to the air that trembles;


And to a place I come where nothing shines.