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This new critical edition, including Mark Musa’s classic translation, provides students with a clear, readable verse translation accompanied by ten innovative interpretations of Dante’s masterpiece.
Indiana University Press
Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in some dark woods,
for I had wandered off from the straight path.
How hard it is to tell what it was like,
this wood of wilderness, savage and stubborn
(the thought of it brings back all my old fears),
a bitter place! Death could scarce be bitterer.
But if I would show the good that came of it
I must talk about things other than the good.
How I entered there I cannot truly say,
I had become so sleepy at the moment
when I first strayed, leaving the path of truth;
but when I found myself at the foot of a hill,
at the edge of the wood's beginning, down in the valley,
where I first felt my heart plunged deep in fear,
I raised my head and saw the hilltop shawled
in morning rays of light sent from the planet
that leads men straight ahead on every road.
And then only did terror start subsiding
in my heart's lake, which rose to heights of fear
that night I spent in deepest desperation.
Just as a swimmer, still with panting breath,
now safe upon the shore, out of the deep,
might turn for one last look at the dangerous waters,
so I, although my mind was turned to flee,
turned round to gaze once more upon the pass
that never let a living soul escape.
I rested my tired body there awhile
and then began to climb the barren slope
(I dragged my stronger foot and limped along).
Beyond the point the slope begins to rise
sprang up a leopard, trim and very swift!
It was covered by a pelt of many spots.
And, everywhere I looked, the beast was there
blocking my way, so time and time again
I was about to turn and go back down.
The hour was early in the morning then,
the sun was climbing up with those same stars
that had accompanied it on the world's first day,
the day Divine Love set their beauty turning;
so the hour and sweet season of creation
encouraged me to think I could get past
that gaudy beast, wild in its spotted pelt,
but then good hope gave way and fear returned
when the figure of a lion loomed up before me,
and he was coming straight toward me, it seemed,
with head raised high, and furious with hunger—
the air around him seemed to fear his presence.
And now a she-wolf came, that in her leanness
seemed racked with every kind of greediness
(how many people she has brought to grief!).
This last beast brought my spirit down so low
with fear that seized me at the sight of her,
I lost all hope of going up the hill.
As a man who, rejoicing in his gains,
suddenly seeing his gain turn into loss,
will grieve as he compares his then and now,
so she made me do, that relentless beast;
coming towards me, slowly, step by step,
she forced me back to where the sun is mute.
While I was rushing down to that low place,
my eyes made out a figure coming toward me
of one grown weak, perhaps from too much silence.
And when I saw him standing in this wasteland,
"Have pity on my soul." I cried to him,
"whichever you are, shade or living man!"
"No longer living man, though once I was,"
he said, "and my parents were from Lombardy,
both of them were Mantuans by birth.
I was born, though somewhat late, sub Julio,
and lived in Rome when good Augustus reigned,
when still the false and lying gods were worshipped.
I was a poet and sang of that just man,
son of Anchises, who sailed off from Troy
after the burning of proud Ilium.
But why retreat to so much misery?
Why aren't you climbing up this joyous mountain,
the beginning and the source of all man's bliss?"
"Are you then Virgil, are you then that fount
from which pours forth so rich a stream of words?"
I said to him bowing my head modestly.
"O light and honor of the other poets,
may my long years of study, and that deep love
that made me search your verses, help me now!
You are my teacher, the first of all my authors,
and you alone the one front whom I took
the beautiful style that was to bring me honor.
You see the beast that forced me to retreat;
save me from her, I beg you, famous sage,
she makes me tremble, the blood throbs in my veins."
"But your journey must be down another road,"
he answered, when he saw me lost in tears,
"if ever you hope to leave this wilderness;
this beast, the one you cry about in fear,
allows no soul to succeed along her path,
she blocks his way and puts an end to him.
She is by nature so perverse and vicious,
her craving belly is never satisfied,
still hungering for food the more she eats.
She mates with many creatures, and will go on
mating with more until the greyhound comes
and tracks her down to make her die in anguish.
He will not feed on either land or money:
his wisdom, love, and virtue shall sustain him;
he will be born between Feltro and Feltro.
He comes to save that fallen Italy
for which the maid Camilla gave her life
and Turnus, Nisus, Euryalus died of wounds.
And he will hunt for her through every city
until he drives her back to Hell once more,
whence Envy first unleashed her on mankind.
And so, I think it best you follow me
for your own good, and I shall be your guide
and lead you out through an eternal place
where you will hear desperate cries, and see
tormented shades, some old as Hell itself,
and know what second death is, from their screams.
And later you will see those who rejoice
while they are burning, for they have hope of coming,
whenever it may be, to join the blessed—no
to whom, if you too wish to make the climb,
a spirit, worthier than I, must take you;
I shall go back, leaving you in her care,
because that Emperor dwelling on high
will not let me lead any to his city,
since I in life rebelled against his law.
Everywhere he reigns, and there he rules;
there is his city, there is his high throne.
Oh happy the one he makes his citizen!"
And I to him: "Poet, I beg of you,
in the name of God, that God you never knew,
save me from this evil place and worse,
lead me there to the place you spoke about
that I may see the gate Saint Peter guards
and those whose anguish you have told me of."
Then he moved on, and I moved close behind him.
The day was fading and the darkening air
was releasing all the creatures on our earth
from their daily tasks, and I, one man alone,
was making ready to endure the battle
of the journey, and of the pity it involved,
which my memory, unerring, shall now retrace.
O Muses! O high genius! Help me now!
O memory that wrote down what I saw,
here your true excellence shall be revealed!
Then I began: "O poet come to guide me,
tell me if you think my worth sufficient
before you trust me to this arduous road.
You wrote about young Sylvius' father
who went beyond, with flesh corruptible,
with all his senses, to the immortal realm;
but if the Adversary of all evil
was kind to him, considering who he was,
and the consequence that was to come from him,
this cannot seem, to thoughtful men, unfitting,
for in the highest heaven he was chosen
father of glorious Rome and of her empire,
and both the city and her lands, in truth,
were established as the place of holiness
where the successors of great Peter sit.
And from this journey you celebrate in verse,
Aeneas learned those things that were to bring
victory for him, and for Rome, the Papal seat;
then later the Chosen Vessel, Paul, ascended
to bring back confirmation of that faith
which is the first step on salvation's road.
But why am I to go? Who allows me to?
I am not Aeneas, I am not Paul,
neither I nor any man would think me worthy;
and so, if I should undertake the journey,
I fear it might turn out an act of folly—
you are wise, you see more than my words express."
As one who unwills what he willed, will change
his purposes with some new second thought,
completely quitting what he first had started,
so I did, standing there on that dark slope,
thinking, ending the beginning of that venture
I was so quick to take up at the start.
"If I have truly understood your words,"
that shade of magnanimity replied,
"your soul is burdened with that cowardice
which often weighs so heavily on man
it turns him from a noble enterprise
like a frightened beast that shies at its own shadow.
To free you from this fear, let me explain
the reason I came here, the words I heard
that first time I felt pity for your soul:
I was among those dead who are suspended,
when a lady summoned me. She was so blessed
and beautiful, I implored her to command me.
With eyes of light more bright than any star,
in low, soft tones she started to address me
in her own language, with an angel's voice:
'O noble soul, courteous Mantuan,
whose fame the world continues to preserve
and will preserve as long as world there is,
my friend, who is no friend of Fortune's, strays
on a desert slope; so many obstacles
have crossed his path, his fright has turned him back.
I fear he may have gone so far astray,
from what report has come to me in Heaven,
that I may have started to his aid too late.
Now go, and with your elegance of speech,
with whatever may be needed for his freedom,
give him your help, and thereby bring me solace.
I am Beatrice, who urges you to go;
I come from the place I am longing to return to;
love moved me, as it moves me now to speak.
When I return to stand before my Lord,
often I shall sing your praises to Him."
And then she spoke no more. And I began,
O Lady of Grace, through whom alone mankind
may go beyond all worldly things contained
within the sphere that makes the smallest circle,
your plea fills me with happy eagerness—
to have obeyed already would still seem late!
You needed only to express your wish.
But tell me how you dared to make this journey
all the way down to this point of spacelessness
away from your spacious home that calls you back.'
'Because your question searches for deep meaning,
I shall explain in simple words,' she said,
'just why I have no fear of coming here.
A man must stand in fear of just those things
that truly have the power to do us harm,
of nothing else, for nothing else is fearsome.
God gave me such a nature through His Grace,
the torments you must bear cannot affect me,
nor are the fires of Hell a threat to me.
A gracious lady sits in Heaven grieving
for what happened to the one I send you to,
and her compassion breaks Heaven's stern decree.
She called Lucia and making her request
she said, "Your faithful one is now in need
of you, and to you I now commend his soul."
Lucia, the enemy of cruelty,
hastened to make her way to where I was,
sitting by the side of ancient Rachel,
and said to me: "'Beatrice, God's true praise,
will you not help the one whose love was such
it made him leave the vulgar crowd for you?
Do you not hear the pity of his weeping,
do you not see what death it is that threatens him
along that river the sea shall never conquer?"
There never was a worldly person living
more anxious to promote his selfish gains
than I was at the sound of words like these—
to leave my holy seat and come down here
and place my trust in you, in your noble speech
that honors you and all those hearing it.'
When she had finished reasoning, she turned
her shining eyes away, and there were tears.
How eager then I was to come to you!
And I have come to you just as she wished,
and I have freed you from the beast that stood
blocking the quick way up the mount of bliss.
So what is wrong? Why, why do you delay?
why are you such a coward in your heart,
why aren't you bold and free of all your fear,
when three such gracious ladies who are blessed
watch out for you up there in Heaven's court,
and my words, too, bring promise of such good?"
As little flowers from the evening chill
are closed and limp, and when the sun shines down
on them, they rise to open on their stem,
my wilted strength began to bloom within me,
and such good zeal went flowing to my heart
I began to speak as one free in the sun.
"O she, compassionate, who moved to help me!
And you, all kindness, in obeying quick
those words of truth she brought with her for you—
you and the words you spoke have moved my heart
with such desire to continue onward
that now I have returned to my first purpose.
Let us start, for both our wills, joined now, are one.
You are my guide, you are my lord and teacher."
These were my words to him and, when he moved,
I entered on that deep and rugged road.
THROUGH ME THE WAY INTO THE DOLEFUL CITY,
THROUGH ME THE WAY INTO ETERNAL GRIEF,
THROUGH ME THE WAY AMONG A RACE FORSAKEN.
JUSTICE MOVED MY HEAVENLY CONSTRUCTOR;
DIVINE OMNIPOTENCE CREATED ME,
AND HIGHEST WISDOM JOINED WITH PRIMAL LOVE.
BEFORE ME NOTHING BUT ETERNAL THINGS
WERE MADE, AND I SHALL LAST ETERNALLY.
ABANDON HOPE, FOREVER, YOU WHO ENTER.
I saw these words spelled out in somber colors
inscribed along the ledge above a gate;
"Master." I said, "these words I see are cruel."
He answered me, speaking with experience:
"Now here you must leave all distrust behind;
let all your cowardice die on this spot.
We are at the place where earlier I said
you could expect to see the suffering race
of souls who lost the good of intellect."
Placing his hand on mine, smiling at me
in such a way that I was reassured,
he led me in, into those mysteries.
Here sighs and cries and shrieks of lamentation
echoed throughout the starless air of Hell;
at first these sounds resounding made me weep:
tongues confused, a language strained in anguish
with cadences of anger, shrill outcries
and raucous groans in time to slapping hands,
raising a whirling storm that turns itself
forever through that air of endless black,
like grains of sand swirling when a whirlwind blows.
And I, in the midst of all this circling horror,
began, "Teacher, what are these sounds I hear?
What souls are these so overwhelmed by grief?"
And he to me: "This wretched state of being
is the fate of those sad souls who lived a life
but lived it with no blame and with no praise.
They are mixed with that repulsive choir of angels
neither faithful nor unfaithful to their God,
but undecided in neutrality.
Heaven, to keep its beauty, cast them out,
but even Hell itself would not receive them
for fear the damned might glory over them."
And I: "Master, what torments do they suffer
that make such bitterness ring through their screams?"
He answered: "I will tell you in few words:
these wretches have no hope of truly dying,
and this blind life they lead is so abject
it makes them envy every other fate.
The world will not record their having been there;
Heaven's mercy and its justice turn from them.
Let's not discuss them; look and pass them by."
And so I looked and saw a kind of banner
rushing ahead, whirling with aimless speed
as though it would not ever take a stand;
behind it an interminable train
of souls pressed on, so many that I wondered
how death could have undone so great a number.
When I had recognized a few of them,
I saw the shade of the one who must have been
the coward who had made the great refusal.
At once I understood, and I was sure
this was that sect of evil souls who were
hateful to God and to His enemies.
These wretches, who had never truly lived,
went naked, and were stung and stung again
by the hornets and the wasps that circled them
and made their faces run with blood in streaks;
their blood, mixed with their tears, dripped to their feet,
and disgusting maggots collected in the pus.
And when I looked beyond this crowd I saw
a throng upon the shore of a wide river,
which made me ask, "Master, I would like to know:
who are these people, and what law is this
that makes those souls so eager for the crossing—
as I can see, even in this dim light?"
And he: "All this will be made plain to you
as soon as we shall come to stop awhile
upon the sorrowful shore of Acheron."
And I, with eyes cast down in shame, for fear
that I perhaps had spoken out of turn,
said no more until we reached the river.
And suddenly, coming towards us in a boat,
a man of years whose ancient hair was white
screamed at us, "Woe to you, perverted souls!
Give up all hope of ever seeing heaven:
I come to lead you to the other shore,
into eternal darkness, ice and fire.
And you, the living soul, you over there
get away from all these people who are dead."
But when he saw I did not move aside,
he said, "Another way, by other ports,
not here, shall you pass to reach the other shore;
a lighter skiff than this must carry you."
And my guide, "Charon, this is no time for anger!
It is so willed, there where the power is
for what is willed; that's all you need to know.
These words brought silence to the woolly cheeks
of the ancient steersman of the livid marsh,
whose eyes were set in glowing wheels of fire.
But all those souls there, naked, in despair,
changed color and their teeth began to chatter
at the sound of his announcement of their doom.
They were cursing God, cursing their mother and father,
the human race, and the time, the place, the seed
of their beginning, and their day of birth.
Then all together, weeping bitterly,
they packed themselves along the wicked shore
that waits for everyman who fears not God.
The devil, Charon, with eyes of glowing coals,
summons them all together with a signal,
and with an oar he strikes the laggard sinner.
As in autumn when the leaves begin to fall,
one after the other (until the branch
is witness to the spoils spread on the ground),
so did the evil seed of Adam's Fall
drop from that shore to the boat, one at a time,
at the signal, like the falcon to its lure.
Away they go across the darkened waters,
and before they reach the other side to land,
a new throng starts collecting on this side
"My son," the gentle master said to me,
"all those who perish in the wrath of God
assemble here from all parts of the earth;
they want to cross the river, they are eager;
it is Divine Justice that spurs them on,
turning the fear they have into desire.
A good soul never comes to make this crossing,
so, if Charon grumbles at the sight of you,
you see now what his words are really saying."
He finished speaking, and the grim terrain
shook violently; and the fright it gave me
even now in recollection makes me sweat.
Out of the tear-drenched land a wind arose
which blasted forth into a reddish light,
knocking my senses out of me completely,
and I fell as one falls tired into sleep.
Excerpted from Dante's Inferno by Mark Musa. Copyright © 1995 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
|Read It and (Don't) Weep: Textual Irony in the Inferno||253|
|Dante's Beloved Yet Damned Virgil||266|
|Inferno I: Breaking the Silence||286|
|Dante's Inferno, Canto IV||299|
|Behold Francesca Who Speaks So Well (Inferno V)||310|
|Iconographic Parody in Inferno XXI||325|
|Virgil and Dante as Mind-Readers (Inferno XXI and XXIII)||340|
|The Plot-Line of Myth in Dante's Inferno||353|
|Hell as the Mirror Image of Paradise||367|
|Dante in the Cinematic Mode: An Historical Survey of Dante Movies||381|
|Selected Bibliography: Inferno||397|
Posted January 31, 2011
I would compare Mark Musa's Dante's Inferno to Edith's Hamilton's Greek Mythology book.They both are based off of alot of authors and other texts complied into their translation,Mark Musa also includes his notes which really helps with the understanding of historical figures and the reading. Dante's Inferno is about a poet/pilgrim decendent into Hell along with his mentor Virgil,a poet sent to guide him along the way and explain to him while Hell is the way it is.Dante the pilgrim learns about the sins that people did to end up in Hell and what he can do not to end up in Hell.He meets historical figures,people who have helped America and great heros like Achilles.They explain their life and what caused them to be in their spot in Hell.In Hell there are nine circles,the circles get worst the lower he goes based on sins.They also give him their name because it is believed that,while their physcial body is no longer living their soul is,and if they are forgotten their soul will no longer exist.I saw Dante's Inferno as literature as poetry,and it names alot of historical figures.It uses alot of poetic devices,such as similes and rhetorical questions.The similes help with showing the reader how a person looks or feels and the rhetorical questions help to show Dante's learning.Dante's Inferno is a great book and the text it is written in. The Imagery of Dante's Inferno was graphic and very detailed."They sanked their teeth into that poor wretch who hid,they ripped him open piece by piece,and then ran off with his wretched limbs." pg 105.Describes how dogs tore apart a soul trying to escape the circle of Hell he was in.Thoughout the book the imagery is very thorough and you can see what is happening and where they are. The text Dante's Inferno is told in is poetic and interesting."This is he,This is Dis; this is the place that calls for all the courage you have in you."pg.243.Virgil says when Dante is at the greatest point in the book.This is a great way to tell the book was told in a poetic way.Dante's Inferno is a great way to show how a book can refer to references and be so diverse."..So these two left the flock where Dido is.."pg.50.Again Dante's Inferno talks about alot of historical figures,and is diverse with the way it approaches the historical figures.Dante's Inferno is a great book and I only recommend it to people who understand poetry and literature.
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Posted July 7, 2014