1265-1321 Dante Alighieri.

The Divine comedy of Dante Alighieri (Volume 1) online

. (page 1 of 11)
Online Library1265-1321 Dante AlighieriThe Divine comedy of Dante Alighieri (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook








$fc firtwrjiiDe JSre??,

Copyright, 1891,

All rights reserved.


The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A,
Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Co.


E come sare' io senza lui corso ?

IT is a happiness for me to connect this volume with
the memory of my friend and master from youth. I was
but a beginner in the study of the Divine Comedy when
I first had his incomparable aid in the understanding of
it. During the last year of his life he read the proofs
of this volume, to what great advantage to my work may
readily be conceived.

When, in the early summer of this year, the printing
of the Purgatory began, though illness made it an
exertion to him, he continued this act of friendship, and
did not cease till, at the fifth canto, he laid down the
pencil forever from his dear and honored hand.


1 October, 1891.

The text followed in this translation is, in general, that of
Witte. In a few cases I have preferred the readings which the
more recent researches of the Rev. Dr. Edward Moore, of Oxford,
seem to have established as correct.




Dante, astray in a wood, reaches the foot of a hill which
he begins to ascend ; he is hindered by three beasts ;
he turns back and is met by Virgil, who proposes to
guide him into the eternal world 1


Dante, doubtful of his own powers, is discouraged at the
outset. Virgil cheers him by telling him that he has
been sent to his aid by a blessed Spirit from Heaven.
Dante casts off fear, and the poets proceed .... 6


The gate of Hell. Virgil leads Dante in. The pun-
ishment of the neither good nor bad. Acheron, and
the sinners on its bank. Charon. Earthquake.
Dante swoons 11


The further side of Acheron. Virgil leads Dante into
Limbo, the First Circle of Hell, containing the spirits


of those who lived virtuously but without Christian-
ity. Greeting of Virgil by his fellow poets. They
enter a castle, where are the shades of ancient wor-
thies. Virgil and Dante depart 16


The Second Circle : Carnal sinners. Minos. Shades
renowned of old. Francesca da Rimini 21


The Third Circle : the Gluttonous. Cerberus.
Ciacco 26


The Fourth Circle : the Avaricious and the Prodigal.

Pluto. Fortune.
The Styx. The Fifth Circle : the Wrathful and the

Sullen . 31


The Fifth Circle. Phlegyas and his boat. Passage
of the Styx. Filippo Argenti. The City of Dis.
The demons refuse entrance to the poets .... 36


The City of Dis. Erichtho. The Three Furies.
The Heavenly Messenger. The Sixth Circle : Here-
siarchs ... ... 41



The Sixth Circle : Heresiarchs. Farinata degli Uberti.
Cavalcante Cavalcaiiti. Frederick IL . .46


The Sixth Circle : Heretics. Tomb of Pope Anastasius.
Discourse of Virgil on the divisions of the lower
Hell . 51


First round of the Seventh Circle : those who do vio-
lence to others. Tyrants and Homicides. The
Minotaur. The Centaurs. Chiron. Nessus.
The River of Boiling Blood, and the Sinners in it . . 56


Second round of the Seventh Circle : those who have
done violence to themselves and to their goods. The
Wood of Self-murderers. The Harpies. Pier della
Vigne. Lano of Siena and others 61


Third round of the Seventh Circle : those who have
done violence to God. The Burning Sand. Capa-
neus. Figure of the Old Man in Crete. The Riv-
ers of Hell . , 67



Third round of the Seventh Circle : those who have
done violence to Nature. Brunetto Latini. Pro-
phecies of misfortune to Dante 73


Third round of the Seventh Circle : those who have
done violence to Nature. Guido Guerra, Tegghiaio
Aldobrandi and Jacopo Rusticucci. The roar of
Phlegethon as it pours downward. The cord thrown
into the abyss 79


Third round of the Seventh Circle : those who have
done violence to Art. Geryon. The Usurers.
Descent to the Eighth Circle 85

CANTO xvm.

Eighth Circle : the first pit : Panders and Seducers.
Venedico Caccianimico. Jason. Second pit : false
flatterers. Alessio Interminei. Thais 91


Eighth Circle : third pit : Simonists. Pope Nicholas

in 97


Eighth Circle : fourth pit : Diviners, Soothsayers, and
Magicians. Amphiaraus. Tiresias. Aruns.
Manto. Eurypylus. Michael Scott. Asolente . 103



Eighth Circle : fifth pit : Barrators. A magistrate of
Lucca. The Malebranche. Parley with them . . 109


Eighth Circle : fifth pit : Barrators. Ciampolo of Na-
varre. Brother Gomita. Michael Zanche. Fray
of the Malebranche 115


Eighth Circle. Escape from the fifth pit. The sixth
pit : Hypocrites. The Jovial Friars. Caiaphas.
Annas. Frate Catalano 121


Eighth Circle. The poets climb from the sixth pit.
Seventh pit : Fraudulent Thieves. Varnii FuccL
Prophecy of calamity to Dante 127


Eighth Circle : seventh pit : Fraudulent Thieves. Ca-
cus. Agnello Brunelleschi and others .... 133


Eighth Circle : eighth pit : Fraudulent Counsellors.
Ulysses and Diomed 139



Eighth Circle : eighth pit : Fraudulent Counsellors.
Guido da Montef eltro 145

Eighth Circle : ninth pit : Sowers of discord and schism.
Mahomet and Ali. Fra Dolcino. Pier da Medi-
eiiia. Curio. Mosca. Bertran de Born . . . 151


Eighth Circle : ninth pit. Geri del Bello. Tenth pit :
Falsifiers of all sorts. Griffolino of Arezzo. Ca-
pocchio 157


Eighth Circle : tenth pit : Falsifiers of all sorts. Myr-
rha. Gianni Schicchi. Master Adam. Sinon of
Troy ."'. . ', . . 162


The Giants around the Eighth Circle. Nimrod. Ephi-
altes. Antaeus sets the Poets down in the Ninth
Circle 168


Ninth Circle : Traitors. First ring : Caiua. Counts of
Mangona. Camicion de' Pazzi. Second ring : An-
tenora. Bocca degli Abati. Buoso da Duera.
Count Ugolino 175



Ninth Circle : Traitors. Second ring : Antenora.
Count Ugolino. Third ring : Ptolomsea. Brother
Alberigo. Branca d' Oria 181


Ninth Circle : Traitors. Fourth ring : Judecca. Luci-
fer. Judas, Brutus and Cassius. Centre of the
universe. Passage from Hell. Ascent to the sur-
face of the Southern Hemisphere 188


So many versions of the Divine Comedy exist in
English that a new one might well seem needless.
But most of these translations are in verse, and
the intellectual temper of our time is impatient of
a transmutation in which substance is sacrificed for
form's sake, and the new form is itself different
from the original. The conditions of verse in dif-
ferent languages vary so widely as to make any
versified translation of a poem but an imperfect
reproduction of the archetype. It is like an im-
perfect mirror that renders but a partial likeness,
in which essential features are blurred or distorted.
Dante himself, the first modern critic, declared
that " nothing harmonized by a musical bond can
be transmuted from its own speech without losing
all its sweetness and harmony," and every fresh
attempt at translation affords a new proof of the
truth of his assertion. Each language exhibits
its own special genius in its poetic forms. Even
when they are closely similar in rhythmical method
their poetic effect is essentially different, their


individuality is distinct. The hexameter of the
Iliad is not the hexameter of the ^ffneid. And
if this be the case in respect to related forms, it is
even more obvious in respect to forms peculiar to
one language, like the terza rima of the Italian^
for which ^ it is impossible to find a satisfactory
equivalent in another tongue.

If, then, the attempt be vain to reproduce the
form or to represent its effect in a translation, yet
the substance of a poem may have such worth that
it deserves to be known by readers who must read
it in their own tongue or not at all. In this case
the aim of the translator should be to render the
substance fully, exactly, and with as close a cor-
respondence to the tone and style of the original
as is possible between prose and poetry. Of the
charm, of the power of the poem such a transla-
tion can give but an inadequate suggestion ; the
musical bond was of its essence, and the loss of
the musical bond is the loss of the beauty to which
form and substance mutually contributed, and in
which they were both alike harmonized and sub-
limated. The rhythmic life of the original is its
vital spirit, and the translation losing this vital
spirit is at best as the dull plaster cast to the liv-
ing marble or the breathing bronze. The intel-
lectual substance is there ; and if the work be
good, something of the emotional quality may be


conveyed ; the imagination may mould the prose
as it moulded the verse, but, after all, " trans-
lations are but as turn-coated things at best," as
Howell said in one of his Familiar Letters.

No poem in any tongue is more informed with
rhythmic life than the Divine Comedy. And
yet, such is its extraordinary distinction, no poem
has an intellectual and emotional substance more
independent of its metrical form. Its complex
structure, its elaborate measure and rhyme, highly
artificial as they are, are so mastered by the genius
of the poet as to become the most natural expres-
sion of the spirit by which the poem is inspired ;
while at the same time the thought and sentiment
embodied in the verse is of such import, and the
narrative of such interest, that they do not lose
their worth when expressed in the prose of another
tongue ; they still have power to quicken imagina-
tion, and to evoke sympathy.

In English there is an excellent prose transla-
tion of the Inferno, by Dr. John Carlyle, a man
well known to the reader of his brother's Corre-
spondence. It was published forty years ago, but
it is still contemporaneous enough in style to an-
swer every need, and had Dr. Carlyle made a ver-
sion of the whole poem I should hardly have cared
to attempt a new one. In my translation of the
Inferno I am often Dr. Carlyle's debtor. His


conception of what a translation should be is very
much the same as my own. Of the furgatorio
there is a prose version which has excellent quali-
ties, by Mr. W. S. Dugdale. Another version of
great merit, of both the furgatorio and Paradise,
is that of Mr. A. J. Butler. It is accompanied by
a scholarly and valuable comment, and I owe much
to Mr. Butler's work. But through what seems to
me occasional excess of literal fidelity his English
is now and then somewhat crabbed. " He overacts
the office of an interpreter," I cite again from
Howell, " who doth enslave himself too strictly to
words or phrases. One may be so over-punctual in
words that he may mar the matter."

I have tried to be as literal in my translation as
was consistent with good English, and to render
Dante's own words in words as nearly correspond-
ent to them as the difference in the languages
would permit. But it is to be remembered that
the familiar uses and subtle associations which
give to words their full meaning are never abso-
lutely the same in two languages. Love in Eng-
lish not only sounds but is different from amor
in Latin, or amore in Italian. Even the most
felicitous prose translation must fail therefore at
times to afford the entire and- precise meaning of
the original.

Moreover, there are difficulties in Dante's poem


for Italians, and there are difficulties in the trans-'
lation for English readers. These, where it seemed
needful, I have endeavored to explain in brief foot-
notes. But I have desired to avoid distracting the
attention of the reader from the narrative, and
have mainly left the understanding of it to his
good sense and perspicacity. The clearness of
Dante's imaginative vision is so complete, and the
character of his narration of it so direct and sim-
ple, that the difficulties in understanding his inten-
tion are comparatively few.

It is a noticeable fact that in by far the greater
number of passages where a doubt in regard to
the interpretation exists, the obscurity lies in the
rhyme-word. For with all the abundant resources
of the Italian tongue in rhyme, and with all
Dante's mastery of them, the truth still is that his
triple rhyme often compelled him to exact from
words such service as they did not naturally ren-
der and as no other poet had required of them.
The compiler of the Ottimo Comento records, in
an often-cited passage, that "I, the writer, heard
Dante say that never a rhyme had led him to say
other than he would, but that many a time and oft
he had made words say for him what they were
not wont to express for other poets." The sen-
tence has a double truth, for it indicates not only
Dante's incomparable power to compel words to


give out their full meaning, but also his invention
of new uses for them, his employment of them in
unusual significations or in forms hardly elsewhere
to be found. These devices occasionally interfere
with the limpid flow of his diction, but the difficul-
ties of interpretation to which they give rise serve
rather to mark the prevailing clearness and sim-
plicity of his expression than seriously to impede
its easy and unperplexed current. There are few
sentences in the Dimna Commedia in which a diffi-
culty is occasioned by lack of definiteness of thought
or distinctness of image.

A far deeper-lying and more pervading source
of imperfect comprehension of the poem than any
verbal difficulty exists in the double or triple
meaning that runs through it. The narrative of
the poet's spiritual journey is so vivid and con-
sistent that it has all the reality of an account of
an actual experience ; but within and beneath runs
a stream of allegory not less consistent and hardly
less continuous than the narrative itself. To the
illustration and carrying out of this interior mean-
ing even the minutest details of external incident
are made to contribute, with an appropriateness,
of significance, and with a freedom from forced
interpretation or artificiality of construction such
as no other writer of allegory has succeeded in
attaining. The poem may be read with interest


as a record of experience without attention to its
inner meaning, but its full interest is only felt
when this inner meaning is traced, and the moral
significance of the incidents of the story appre-
hended by the alert intelligence. The allegory
is the soul of the poem, but like the soul within
the body it does not show itself in independent
existence. It is, in scholastic phrase, the form of
the body, giving to it its special individuality.

Thus in order truly to understand and rightly
appreciate the poem the reader must follow its
course with a double intelligence. " Taken lit-
erally," as Dante declares in his Letter to Can
Grande, " the subject is the state of the soul after
death, simply considered. But, allegorically taken,
its subject is man, according as by his good or ill
deserts he renders himself liable to the reward or
punishment of Justice." It is the allegory of
human life ; and not of human life as an abstrac-
tion, but of the individual life; and herein, as
Mr. Lowell, whose phrase I borrow, has said, " lie
its profound meaning and its permanent force." 1
And herein too lie its perennial freshness of in-
terest, and the actuality which makes it contem-

1 Mr. Lowell's essay on Dante makes other writing about the
poet or the poem seem ineffectual and superfluous. I must as-
sume that it will be familiar to the readers of my version, at least
to those among them who desire truly to understand the Divine


poraneous with every successive generation. The
increase of knowledge, the loss of belief in doc-
trines that were fundamental in Dante's creed, the
changes in the order of society, the new thoughts
of the world, have not lessened the moral import
of the poem, any more than they have lessened its
excellence as a work of art. Its real substance is
as independent as its artistic beauty, of science,
of creed, and of institutions. Human nature has
not changed ; the motives of action are the same,
though their relative force and the desires and
ideals by which they are inspired vary from gen-
eration to generation. And thus it is that the
moral judgments of life framed by a great poet
whose imagination penetrates to the core of things,
and who, from his very nature as poet, conceives
and sets forth the issues of life not in a treatise of
abstract morality, but by means of sensible types
and images, never lose interest, and have a per-
petual contemporaneousness. They deal with the
permanent and unalterable elements of the soul of

The scene of the poem is the spiritual world, of
which we are members even while still denizens
in the world of time. In the spiritual world the
results of sin or perverted love, and of virtue or
right love, in this life of probation, are manifest.
The life to come is but the fulfilment of the life


that now is. This is the truth that Dante sought
to enforce. The allegory in which he cloaked it
is of a character that separates the Divine Comedy
from all other works of similar intent., In The
Pilgrim's Progress, for example, the personages

introduced are mere simulacra of men and women,


the types of moral qualities or religious disposi-
tions. They are abstractions which the genius of
Bunyan fails to inform with vitality sufficient to
kindle the imagination of the reader with a sense
of their actual, living and breathing existence.
But in the Divine Comedy the personages are all
from real life, they are men and women with their
natural passions and emotions, and they are under-
going an actual experience. The allegory consists
in making their characters and their fates, what
all human characters and fates really are, the
types and images of spiritual law. Virgil and
Beatrice, whose nature as depicted in the poem
makes nearest approach to purely abstract and
typical existence, are always consistently presented
as living individuals, exalted indeed in wisdom and
power, but with hardly less definite and concrete
humanity than that of Dante himself.

The scheme of the created Universe held by the
Christians of the Middle Ages was comparatively
simple, and so definite that Dante, in accepting it
in its main features without modification, was pro-


vided with the limited stage that was requisite for
his design, and of which the general disposition
was familiar to all his readers. The three spirit-
ual realms had their local bounds marked out as
clearly as those of the earth itself. Their cosmo.
graphy was but an extension of the largely hypo-
thetical geography of the time.

The Earth was the centre of the Universe, and
its northern hemisphere was the abode of man.
At the middle point of this hemisphere stood
Jerusalem, equidistant from the Pillars of Her-
cules on the West, and the Ganges on the East.

Within the body of this hemisphere was Hell,
shaped as a vast cone, of which the apex was the
centre of the globe ; and here, according to Dante,
was the seat of Lucifer. The concave of Hell
had been formed by his fall, when a portion of
the solid earth, through fear of him, ran back to
the southern uninhabited hemisphere, and formed
there, directly antipodal to Jerusalem, the moun-
tain of Purgatory which rose from the waste of
waters that covered this half of the globe. Pur-
gatory was shaped as a cone, of similar dimensions
to that of Hell, and at its summit was the Terres-
trial Paradise.

Immediately surrounding the atmosphere of the
Earth was the sphere of elemental fire. Around
this was the Heaven of the Moon, and encircling


this, in order, were the Heavens of Mercury,
Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jove, Saturn, the Fixed
Stars, and the Crystalline or first moving Heaven.
These nine concentric Heavens revolved continu-
ally around the Earth, and in proportion to their
distance from it was the greater swiftness of each.
Encircling all was the Empyrean, increate, incor-
poreal, motionless, unbounded in time or space,
the proper seat of God, the home of the Angels,
the abode of the Elect.

The Angelie Hierarchy consisted of nine orders,
corresponding to the nine moving Heavens. Their
blessedness and the swiftness of the motion with
which in unending delight they circled around
God were in proportion to their nearness to Him,
first the Seraphs, then the Cherubs, Thrones,
Dominations, Virtues, Powers, Princes, Archan-
gels, and Angels. Through them, under the gen-
eral name of Intelligences, the Divine influence
was transmitted to the Heavens, giving to them
their circular motion, which was the expression of
their longing to be united with the source of their
creation. . The Heavens in their turn streamed
down upon the Earth the Divine influence thus
distributed among them, in varying proportion
and power, producing divers effects in the genera-
tion and corruption of material things, and in the
dispositions and the lives of men.


Such was the general scheme of the Universe.
The intention of God in its creation was to com-
municate of his own perfection to the creatures
endowed with souls, that is, to men and to angels,
and the proper end of every such creature was to
seek its own perfection in likeness to the Divine.
This end was attained through that knowledge ol
God of which the soul was capable, and througl
love which was in proportion to knowledge. Virtue
depended on the free will of man ; it was the good
use of that will directed to a right object of love.
Two lights were given to the soul for guidance
of the will : the light of reason for natural things
and for the direction of the will to moral virtue ;
the light of grace for things supernatural, and for
the direction of the will to spiritual virtue. Sin
was the opposite of virtue, the choice by the will
of false objects of love ; it involved the misuse
of reason, and the absence of grace. As the end
of virtue was blessedness, so the end of sin was

The corner-stone of Dante's moral system was
the Freedom of the Will ; in other words-, the right
of private judgment with the condition of account-
ability. This is the liberty which Dante, that is
man, goes seeking in his journey through the spir-
itual world. This liberty is to be attained through
the right use of reason, illuminated by Divine


Grace , it consists in the perfect accord of the will
of man with the will of God.

With this view of the nature and end of man
Dante's conception of the history of the race could
not be other than that its course was providen-
tially ordered. The fall of man had made him a
just object of the vengeance of God ; but the elect
were to be redeemed, and for their redemption the
history of the world from the beginning was di-
rected. Not only in his dealings with the Jews, but
in his dealings with the heathen was God preparing
for the reconciliation of man, to be finally accom-
plished in his sacrifice of Himself for them. The
Roman Empire was foreordained and established
for this end. It was to prepare the way for the
establishment of the Roman Church. It was the
appointed instrument for the political government
of men. Empire and Church were alike divine
institutions for the guidance of man on earth.

The aim of Dante in the Divine Comedy was
to set forth these truths in such wise as to affect
the imaginations and touch the hearts of men, so
that they should turn to righteousness. His con-
viction of these truths was no mere matter of be-
lief ; it had the ardor and certainty of faith. They
had appeared to him in all their fulness as a reve-
lation of the Divine wisdom. It was his work as
poet, as poet with a divine commission, to make


this revelation known. His work was a work of
faith ; it was sacred ; to it both Heaven and Earth
had set their hands.

To this work, as I have said, the definiteness
and the limits of the generally accepted theory of

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online Library1265-1321 Dante AlighieriThe Divine comedy of Dante Alighieri (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 11)