Sunday, March 11, 2012

Inferno 4

Translated into English terza rima by Peter D’Epiro
[Note: A revised version of this translation was posted on 3.23.15]

A deafening peal of thunder broke the deep
Slumber inside my head and made me start
Like someone forcibly aroused from sleep.
Standing, I let my rested vision dart
Around that place, then fixed my gaze to know
What clue to where I was it could impart.
I stood at the edge of a cliff—down below
There gaped the abysmal vale of suffering, where
The blare of countless shrieks gives voice to woe.
It was dark, and deep, and full of misty air,
And though I peered to plumb its vast extent,
I failed to see a single thing down there.
“To that blind world now let us make descent,”
The poet, deathly pale, began to say;
“See that you follow me.” And I, intent
On learning what his pallor might convey,
Said, “How shall I come if you yourself appear
Frightened, who comfort me in my dismay?”

“The anguish that the people suffer here,”
He answered me, “has left my features traced
With that compassion you mistake for fear.
Now let us go—the long way bids us haste.”
He thus moved on and made me enter where
The first wide circle girds the chasm’s waste.
And here, so far as listening could declare,
There were no lamentations, but such sighs
As caused a trembling in the eternal air;
For grief devoid of torment underlies
The sufferings of those crowds—a mighty throng
Of children, women, and men before my eyes.


My worthy master said: “Do you not long
To ask what souls are these that you behold?
I’d have you know, before you move along,
They’re sinless. Though their merits can be told,
They are not saved, lacking baptism’s grace,
Which is the gateway of the faith you hold.
Some lived before Christian times and, in that case,
They did not worship God as was decreed;
Among these souls, I also have my place.
For such defects, not any sinful deed,
We all are lost, and only feel the smart
Of hopeless yearning that does not recede.”
When I had heard, great sorrow seized my heart,
For then I knew that some whose worth had shone
Were suspended in that Limbo, kept apart.
“Now tell me, master, tell me this alone,”
I said to him, wishing to be assured
Of that faith by which all doubt is overthrown,
“Has anyone gone from here who then secured
Salvation, by his own or Another’s fee?”
And he, who understood my covert word,
Said, “This condition still was new to me
When I beheld a Mighty One appear,
Who was crowned with a sign of victory.
He took our first begetter’s shade from here,
With Abel, Noah, and Moses, who did show
The laws to man and how to hold them dear;
King David and Abraham of long ago;
Israel with his father and his seed,
And Rachel, for whose sake he labored so;
And many more, and made them blest indeed.
And I would have you know I can attest
That, before these, no human souls were freed.”
While he said this, we did not stand at rest,
But passed right through a forest that we found
To be made up of spirits thickly pressed.
When we had not yet covered too much ground
From where I slept, I saw a blazing light
That shone amid the darkness all around.


It still was somewhat distant but, in spite
Of this, I could already see in part
That honored people occupied that site.
“O you who honor both knowledge and art,
What souls are these, so honored that they claim
A different lot from those who dwell apart?”
He answered me, “They left an honored name
Resounding through your life above; therefore,
Heaven graces them, rewarding thus their fame.”
And at that point I heard a voice implore:
“Honor the lofty poet! for his shade,
Which had departed, now returns once more.”
No sooner did the voice’s echo fade
Than four great souls approaching us I see;
Their looks were neither joyful nor dismayed.
And then my righteous master said to me:
“Take note of him who bears that sword held fast
And, as their lord, precedes the other three.
That is Homer, sovereign poet unsurpassed;
Horace the satirist is next in sight;
The third is Ovid; Lucan is the last.

Because these spirits share with me the right
To the name that the single voice expressed,
They honor me; in this, they act aright.”
Thus was the splendid school made manifest—
The school led by that lord of loftiest song
That, like an eagle, soars above the rest.
They had not yet conversed for very long
When they turned and greeted me with looks so kind
That my master smiled and did not deem them wrong.
Nor were my honors there to this confined,
For I was made one of their company—
The sixth among those souls of noble mind.
We then walked on as far as the light while we
Talked about things I need not here disclose,
Though they were mentioned there most fittingly.
We came to where a stately castle rose,
By seven lofty walls encompassed round;
All these I saw a lovely stream enclose.
On this we walked as over solid ground;
Through seven gates I entered with the wise,
Reaching a meadow that fresh verdure crowned.

The people there had grave, majestic eyes;
Great authority resided in their mien;
They seldom spoke (and then, in gentle wise).
We then withdrew to a side of that demesne,
Into an open space so high and bright
That all of them could easily be seen.
There, on the lustrous green below that height,
All the great souls were pointed out to me—
My heart exults that I beheld that sight.
I saw Electra with much company,
Where Hector and Aeneas I espied,
And falcon-eyed Caesar, armed as formerly.
I saw Camilla and Penthesilea abide
Across from them; I saw Latinus therein,
His daughter Lavinia seated at his side.


I saw that Brutus who drove out the Tarquin;
Lucrece, Cornelia, Julia, and Marcia, too;
And by himself, apart, was Saladin.
Raising my eyes to gain a higher view,
I saw the master of all those who know,
Amid a philosophic retinue.
All honor him, all gaze upon him so!
Plato I there beheld and Socrates,
Who, nearest him, before the others go;
Democritus who, in Chance, creation sees;
Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Zeno,
Heraclitus, Thales, and Diogenes.
I saw the skilled compiler of things that grow—
Dioscorides; and Orpheus did I see,
Linus, moral Seneca, and Cicero;
Euclid the geometer and Ptolemy;
Hippocrates, Galen, Avicenna, and
Averro√ęs of the great Commentary.
I cannot here portray the entire band:
My lengthy theme so bids me onward fare
That often my words fall short of all I scanned.
The group of six now dwindles to a pair.
By a different way my wise leader goes
Out of the quiet, into the trembling air.
I reach a place where nothing shines or glows. 
Orpheus charms beasts

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