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Lingering in Limbo: Dante’s Inferno

Lingering in Limbo: Dante's Inferno

Limbo, it turns out, isn’t so dangerous, even when is found within the first degree of Dante Alighieri’s hell. As Dante’s allegory of the journey of the soul continues, it can take him to a ravishing fort inhabited by the great and the good. Removed from suffering the tortures of hell, although they will never depart, they are surrounded by meadows and hand around in erudite splendour. However before Dante will get there he has more adventures.

Beatrice sends Virgil to the Rescue

The ghost of Virgil, an extended lifeless Roman poet, has proven up just in time to tackle the job as Dante’s guide. However what’s in it for Virgil?

In accordance with the orthodoxy of Dante’s time and place, Virgil was ceaselessly consigned to hell. This was as a result of, Virgil, having died earlier than Christ was born, was a pagan and thus never baptised.

Beatrice, Dante’s beloved, who’s in heaven, comes to know Dante is in need of help. Saint Lucia (a logo of light) brings the information after the Virgin Mary herself makes the danger recognized to Lucia. Beatrice descends into hell to commission Virgil to rescue Dante. Beatrice promises to put in an excellent phrase for Virgil every time she is before the throne of heaven and Virgil takes up his activity.

As Dante’s braveness fails, Virgil lifts Dante’s spirits by sharing the words Virgil has himself heard from Beatrice:

I’ son Beatrice che ti faccio andare;
vegno del loco ove tornar disio;
amor mi mosse, che mi fa parlare.
Quando sarò dinanzi al segnor mio,
di te mi loderò sovente a lui”. …

E venni a te così com’ ella volse;
d’inanzi a quella fiera ti levai
che del bel monte il corto andar ti tolse.

For I’m Beatrice who send you on;
I come from where I most long to return;
Love prompted me, that Love which makes me converse.
When once again I stand earlier than my Lord,
then I shall typically let Him hear your praises.’ …

And, simply as she had wished, I came to you:
I snatched you from the path of the fierce beast
that barred the shortest approach up the truthful mountain.

Inferno Canto II, Verses 71-74, 118-120 with Mandelbaum translation

Just like the three beasts who barred Dante’s means, and which could be regarded as representing three vices, the three maidens of heaven are stated to characterize heavenly virtues which assist Dante’s path.

The Gates of Hell

In Canto III, Dante and Virgil strategy the gates of hell and darkish words engraved within the gateway tell them of what’s forward.

‘Per me si va ne la città dolente,
per me si va ne l’etterno dolore,
per me si va tra la perduta gente.

Giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore;
fecemi la divina podestate,
la somma sapïenza e ’l primo amore.

Dinanzi a me non fuor cose create
se non etterne, e io etterno duro.
Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate’.




Inferno Canto III Verses 1-9, with Mandelbaum translation

Hopelessness is the situation of souls which are within. In graphic scenes within the decrease levels of hell, the travellers will uncover that the “punishments” of hell are literally the misdeeds of life.

Nevertheless on this degree we study of two sorts of hopelessness. The hopelessness of those that won’t ever come to heaven (a fate announced to the approaching lifeless by the ferryman Charon); and a fair worse hopelessness of those who won’t even be allowed to cross the river and are rejected by each heaven and hell. These are those that lifeless in life, participating neither for good nor sick, might be deathless in demise. Such are the thoughts that Dante presents to us.

Did Virgil Encourage Dante’s type as he claims?

Although Dante claims in this Canto of the Comedy to have taken his type from Virgil, there’s little in Dante’s poetry (earlier than he writes the Comedy itself) to back up the declare. Dante’s love poetry has little to do with Virgil. Nor is Dante’s famous “terza rima” (three line rhyme) impressed by Virgil, for rhythm not rhyme was the defining characteristic of Roman poetry.

The story of the Comedy nevertheless is partially based mostly on Guide VI of Virgil’s personal Aeneid, which tells the story of Aeneas’ descent right into a pagan underworld. A minimum of Dante needs us to consider that Virgil is his main precedent.

Indeed we will see some familiar pictures from the Aeneid in Dante’s account. Like Dante’s Charon, the eyes of Virgil’s Charon also glow like burning coals. In both accounts Charon challenges the suitable of the dwelling travellers to proceed. In both variations the punishment is made to match the crime. Minos is the decide of the lifeless each for Virgil and Dante. Even the exclusion of pagans from heaven for the absence of the ritual of baptism in Dante’s world, has its parallel in the exclusion of the lifeless who have not acquired pagan burial rites in Virgil’s underworld. They are condemned to remain on the shore of the underworld for 100 years.

With Virgil’s help, who convinces Charon to let the dwelling Dante move, Dante crosses the river Acheron and arrives within the first degree of hell proper. This is Limbo. Here Dante describes the souls of the unbaptised (primarily youngsters) who type an awesome static wood and we’ll quickly come to the citadel.

Within the Company of Poets

As they proceed they see figures who hail Virgil from the space. They’re the good poets of historical past who welcome Virgil again like a conquering hero.

79 Intanto voce fu per me udita:
80 «Onorate l’altissimo poeta;
81 l’ombra sua torna, ch’period dipartita».

82 Poi che la voce fu restata e queta,
83 vidi quattro grand’ ombre a noi venire:
84 sembianz’ avevan né trista né lieta.

85 Lo buon maestro cominciò a dire:
86 «Mira colui con quella spada in mano,
87 che vien dinanzi ai tre sì come sire:

88 quelli è Omero poeta sovrano;
89 l’altro è Orazio satiro che vene;
90 Ovidio è ’l terzo, e l’ultimo Lucano.

Meanwhile there was a voice that I might hear:
“Pay honor to the estimable poet;
his shadow, which had left us, now returns.”

After that voice was accomplished, when there was silence,
I saw four big shades approaching us;
in facet, they have been neither sad nor joyous.

My kindly master then started by saying:
“Look properly at him who holds that sword in hand
who moves earlier than the opposite three as lord.

That shade is Homer, the consummate poet;
the opposite one is Horace, satirist;
the third is Ovid, and the final is Lucan.

Inferno Canto IV, Verses 79-90, Mandelbaum Translation

In an act of poetic chutzpah, Dante has these nice poets enrol him as the sixth of their nice company. Like his declare to have adopted in Virgil’s steps, this can be a promise on which Dante now has to ship in the remainder of the Comedy.

The Fort

They continue on together and come to the Fort and inside is a who’s who of historical past’s non-Christians. The citadel is surrounded by seven walls round which flows a fair stream. He and Virgil cross over the stream as if walking on land. They discover within a place crammed with mild. Dante then begins to enumerate determine after determine. Figures from historic Trojan mythology like Electra and Hector; from Roman historical past like Brutus and Caesar. Saladin is there, set aside from others. Then the good philosophers Aristotle and Plato and the good scientists and docs of historic Greece and Rome. Among them the Muslim philosophers Avicenna and Averroes. The faces of this firm are marked with authority. They converse not often and their voices are mild.

All this is hardly “hellish”, and reads just like the sort of place that Dante himself won’t have minded spending eternity. Partially it adapts Virgil’s description of the pagan Elysian Fields in the Aeneid. Dante’s citadel symbolises a few of the highest achievements of civilisation within the sciences and the arts. Even a determine like Caesar is in Dante’s world view symbolic of excellent authorities (as he believed a robust “Roman” Emperor was the answer to the political problems and battle of his time). Just like the locations of retreat in the physical world during which Dante lives, it posits an exalted existence in an “ivory tower” separated from the ghastly destiny which is the widespread lot of a larger mass of humanity submerged in vices of lack of self-control, violence and malice. The fort, is in some senses, a fantastic phantasm, as Dante has found in the trajectory of his personal life.

The vision is one which no less than some of Dante’s contemporaries saw as heretical for its primarily pagan inspiration and was a source of embarrassment to his defenders.

For Dante the traveller, this place full of light shouldn’t be the top of the journey. To succeed in his true objective he must first travel on via the dark places of human existence: “where nothing shines”. If we’re to comply with the journey such locations have to be traversed, but what Dante wishes to tell us of, is the “good he found within” (Inferno Canto I, Verse 8).

La sesta compagnia in due si scema:
per altra by way of mi mena il savio duca,
fuor de la queta, ne l’ aura che trema.

E vegno in parte ove non è che luca.

The corporate of six divides in two;
my understanding guide leads me another approach,
beyond the quiet, into trembling air.

And I’ve reached an element the place no thing gleams.

Inferno Canto IV Verses 148-151, with Mandelbaum translation


Spiriti magni, Priamo della Quercia (c.1403–1483)


Barbara Reynolds, Dante The Poet, the Political Thinker, the and the Man, I.B. Taurus London, 2006, pp 127-130

John A Scott, Understanding Dante, College of Notre Dame Press, 2005, p 209-210

Amilcare A Iannucci, Dante’s Limbo on the Margins of Orthodoxy, in James Miller (ed), Dante & the Unorthodox The Aesthetics of Transgression, Wilfrid Laurier College Press 2005, p 63-82

Dante Princeton Challenge, Inferno Canto IV

Dante’s History Podcast Mallon Khan