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  • 8/18/2019 Dante Aligheri - Divine Comedy - Inferno.pdf


    InfernoTom Simone

  • 8/18/2019 Dante Aligheri - Divine Comedy - Inferno.pdf


    Te Comedyof Dante Alighieri,

    Florentine by birth, but not by character

    C O


    ranslation and commentary by

    om SimoneUniversity of Vermont

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    Copyright 2007 om Simone

    Cover Design by Guy Wetherbee | Elk Amino Design, New England.

    [email protected]

    Cover image: Domenico di Michelino (1417-1491). Dante and his poem.Duomo, Florence, Italy. Scala / Art Resource, NY.

    Interior illustrations by Sam Kimball.

    ISBN 10: 1-58510-113-3

    ISBN 13: 978-1-58510-113-9Tis book is published by Focus Publishing / R. Pullins Company, POBox 369, Newburyport MA 01950. All rights are reserved. No part of thispublication may be produced, stored in a retrieval system, produced on stageor otherwise performed, transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical,by photocopying, recording, or by any other media or means without theprior written permission of the publisher.

    Printed in the United States of America

    10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


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    T C

    Preface vii

    General Introduction xi

    Inferno  1

    Suggested Reading on Dante 253

    Glossary 257

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    Te reading of a major classic text is a great challenge for any seriousreader. Considerations of background, different natures of narrative, allusion,and all the peculiarities of any important text offer major obstacles andrewards to the new reader. Te case of Dante is particularly difficult. Dante’sComedy offers the reader innumerable points of interest that cannot bedivined without the aid of at least basic glossing and commentary. Dante’swork is a central poem in world literature, but also an historical text, full ofreferences to the world of late medieval Italy and the broad history of culture

    and thought of the era. Italian, religious, and classical references abound.And a significant number of references appear only in Dante’s work.Coming out of a period of the New Criticism and maybe further back

    from Protestant belief in the availability of the Biblical text to the unaidedreader, a significant number of classic works have been presented in theUnited States in a deceptively barebones form. While translations of Danteappear with annotation, virtually all the major version place annotation at theend of the volume or sometimes at the end of the canto section. Te result isthat the annotation seems incidental or strangely and awkwardly placed.

    I know from frequent experience that the most used of current editionsof Dante fall short of the practical needs of today’s reader of good willattempting the daunting task of a first acquaintance with the Comedy. Tis isnot to say that important aids and reflection are not a part of these versions,but rather that such tools are inconvenient and all too often neglected by thereader. Last year, while giving a visiting lecture on translating Dante for acolleague, I had the chance to speak informally with a sample of the studentsin the class. Almost none of them had ever even looked at the notes at the

    end of the volume, and some students didn’t even know they were there. Insurveying my own students, I know that without great urging, even studentsof good will are discouraged from significant use of cumbersome endnotes.

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    I have a colleague at the University of Vermont who is a senior professorin French literature and language. She is a woman of exquisite intelligence and

    elegance of scholarship, who was amazed on her first reading of Dante at howdifficult and challenging the project was. If my colleague, who is the modelof the advanced literate and intelligent reader, had difficulty in approachingDante, what must be the situation of the general reader or student whenattempting to learn something of the great poem?

    Te present translation and commentary are founded on the desire toassist in providing sufficient tools to allow the beginning student of Dante toarrive at an informed first reading of Inferno. Te translation attempts to stayas close as possible to the literal meaning of Dante’s Italian text while stillsuggesting that the work is a poem. I have tried to follow the pattern of Dante’sthought and imagery in a way that is clear and reminiscent of the unfoldingnarrative and thought of the poem. A straight prose translation seemed tome to fall short of articulating Dante’s rhetorical and poetic impulse. So,while any version of Dante must fall short in English, I have tried to summonaspects of Dante’s thought and language that will suggest aspects of the powerand range of the Italian. Needless to say, the idea of a terza rima format wasset aside as imposing too violent an effect on Dante’s sense and directness. I

    have also adjusted the translation for more straightforward English sense andaccuracy than in earlier versions, based on the thoughtful comments of tworeaders for Focus Publishing, who are unknown to me.

    Te format of this edition is to preface each canto with a shortcommentary on the narrative and major issues at hand. And most simply, Ihave placed succinct annotation at the foot of the page of the text. As anyperusal of Italian editions will show, virtually every native version of the textis provided with annotation by footnote. I have keyed footnotes with a raised

    circle next to the passage and with line number at the foot of the page givingthe material at hand. In my commentary I have drawn on the Italian editionsof Sapegno, di Salvo, and Pasquini and Quaglio. From English languagematerial I have relied on oynbee’s Dictionary, Lansing’s Dante Encyclopedia,and the commentaries of Grandgent, Sinclair, Singleton, Hollander,and Durling and Martinez in the main. At times I have consulted earlycommentators through the internet web sites of the Princeton Dante Projectand its links to the Dante Dartmouth Project. Of Dante, as of Shakespeare,there is no end to commentary and interpretation.

    I have used drafts of this edition over two years in both introductoryWestern tradition survey courses and senior level majors seminars. I have alsoreviewed the entire text with the assistance of students from the senior levelclass to try to find an appropriate degree of annotation and information thatmeets the needs of today’s students. Tis edition does not claim to provide

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    exhaustive annotation or commentary, but rather to provide a workable levelof information and support to allow for that informed reading that will allow

    the reader to appreciate and then continue study at her or his option.I am grateful for the encouragement and support of many people. Myteachers in Dante were fine guides: David Sices, formerly of DartmouthCollege, and Ricardo Quinones of Claremont Graduate School. A half-yearsabbatical from the University of Vermont in 2004 allowed me the time andconcentration to draft the first version of this edition. And I have receivedmuch support from my students. In particular Alex Spadinger, Peter Quigley,and Andrew Nelson aided revisions. Megan Alderfer provided especiallyextensive help on the manuscript. My editor at Focus Publishing, KathleenBrophy, has been consistently alert and supportive of the project, alwayskeeping an eye on clarity and consistency. My publisher, Ron Pullins, hasbeen a model of patience and support. Any errors or infelicities are, of course,my own.

    Te task has been fascinating and humbling, more extensive, challenging,and involving than I had at first suspected. However, like the narrator of thepoem,

      but to tell of the good that I discovered,

    I will speak of the other things that I found there.

    With good luck and strength, I hope to be able to proceed, however slowly,with pilgrim and guide to visit the next realm of Purgatorio and to see

      those content in fire,because they hope to come to the blessed people whenever that time may be.

    om Simone5 January 2007

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    Dante’s place in world literature

    When Dante composed his Comedy in the early 14th

     century, the poemquickly took its place as a major work of Italian literature. In a world ofmanuscript transmission, hundreds of copies were in circulation in thefollowing century, including an impressive array of detailed commentaries. Bythe latter part of that century, Dante’s importance was recognized far beyondItaly, as seen in Chaucer’s many references to the Italian poet in his work.

    Te appeal of Dante also quickly spread to the medium of paintingand, with the introduction of printing, into many annotated and illustratededitions. In the visual arts, Signorelli’s New Chapel at the cathedral inOrvieto, Botticelli’s hundred drawing sequence illustrating the poem, andMichelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican are threeof the most prominent examples of Dante’s fame and influence. After awaning of interest in Dante in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, fascinationwith the poet and the poem increased in the early Romantic period and hascontinued unabated ever since. In recent years numerous editions, translations,commentaries, scholarly studies, and series of illustrations have appeared inan impressive stream. o this day Dante remains one of the towering figures

    of world literature.What accounts for the immediate and enduring appeal of Dante’s poem?

    Dante tells the story of the journey of an endangered pilgrim through theknown cosmos and the realms of Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise to allowhim to see the spectrum of human reality and the glory of divine origins thatlead to salvation. Dante makes the pilgrim a version of himself and createstwo major voices: the voice of the pilgrim experiencing the journey for thefirst time, and the voice of the narrator shaping and retelling the journey.

    Te fate of the individual pilgrim has its own urgency in the question of hisknowledge, belief, and fate, but as the poem indicates in its opening line, thesingle pilgrim’s fate is parallel to all of human experience:

    In the middle of the journey of our life…

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    Dante is careful from the beginning to emphasize that the journey of thepilgrim is representative of human need in general even though it is interwoven

    so fully with his own historical experience. Consequently he measures thepilgrim’s journey as in the middle of “our life,” that is, at the time of the actionof the poem in 1300, he is 35 years of age and at the center of the biblical humanlife span of seventy years. Te spectrum of all of human life, as portrayed inthe poem, will unfold with breathtaking variety, drama, thought, and beauty.

    Te poem begins in high drama with the pilgrim’s life hanging in thebalance. He finds himself in a chaotic wooded place, and three beasts cut offhis escape up a hill of hope and promise back into the darkness. Te faintfigure of a man appears to console and lead the pilgrim. Tis is the Romanpoet Virgil, who becomes a character of great rational and cultural experiencein the poem, a model of the poet in his own time as well as for later readers likeDante, and now a guide for the struggling pilgrim. Since the pilgrim cannotescape the menace of the beasts, he has to take the dark road through Infernoand the realm of the lost souls before he can return to the mountain of hope,which is transformed into the mountain of Purgatory in the second part ofthe poem.

    Dante’s Inferno remains the most extensive and dramatic portrayal of the

    underworld of the dead in Western literature. While Purgatorio and Paradiso show the recuperation of the human soul and its triumph in the presenceof the transcendent deity, Inferno explores the world of souls remaining inunhappiness and cut off from the primal sources of life and renewal. Te worldof the early 21st century echoes with images and fears of a chaotic existencewith wars, natural disasters, crime, murders, assaults of all kind haunting ourdaily awareness. As I write this, we in Vermont are reeling under a barrageof shootings and murders in a local elementary school while scanning the

    horizon for news of foreign wars and looming hurricanes. Dante’s Inferno,while coming from a far distant time in the Middle Ages, speaks of suchfears and troubling events so full of pain and unhappiness that our sense of ameaningful and orderly life is called into doubt.

    Inferno is full of division, both of kinds of transgression and of one soulfrom another. Here the great personalities cling to their separateness and theirown concepts of reality. We encounter such memorable figures as the amorousFrancesca (Canto 5), the grand general Farinata (Canto 10), the corrupt popeNicholas III (Canto 19), and the bold, ever seeking Ulysses (Canto 26). Teexternal torments of these lost souls are endlessly varied and often fascinatingin their inventiveness and sharpness: souls submerged in mud, fire rainingdown, distorted human figures, and souls frozen in ice.

    But as inventive and varied as he makes the external effects of Infernoon its inhabitants, Dante gives dramatic and even psychological particularity

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    Introduction to Canto 1

    The pilgrim awakes in a dark wood.A hill lit by the sun

    The pilgrim opposed by three beasts

    The appearance of the poet Virgil to be the guide

    Te first canto works as both an introduction to Inferno and the Comedyoverall. Here we are immediately brought into the spiritual crisis of thepilgrim, his fear of death, and his unsuccessful struggle against three beasts toescape from the terrors of the dark wood to the inviting sunlit hill that standsbeyond. Only extraordinary measures will open the future for the pilgrim,the intervention of the great Roman poet Virgil and the prospect of a journeythrough the lands of the dead: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise.

    Tis opening canto seems to take place in a liminal place, on theboundary between sin and salvation, evil and good, water and land, spiritualunconsciousness and an abruptly awakened moral concern. Te mood minglesthe insubstantial images of dreams with the emotional panic and needs of thepilgrim. Te medieval form of the dream vision allows for a sense of inner

    immediacy and a flexible use of symbolic images that suggest a range of otherlevels of meaning. Te narrator will often address the reader, as at Canto 9.61-63, to consider the moral and spiritual meanings of the literal events beingpresented. Tat multi-layered awareness in the poem will become part of thereader’s response and growing experience.

    Te canto opens in a sudden crisis of mortal peril. Te memorable openinglines speak of a spiritual awakening at the chronological and symbolic centerof human life:

    In the middle of the journey of our life,I found myself in a dark wood,where the straight path was lost.

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    Te pilgrim is thirty-five years of age, the middle of the seventy normativeBiblical years of human life. He is both himself and an everyman, who represents

    the pattern of human experience. As he struggles to emerge from darkness, hemoves toward a hill touched by the rays of the sun. Te hill suggests an imageof escape from fear and darkness and the prospective expectation of salvationthat will be explored extensively in Purgatory and Paradise later in the secondand third parts of the Comedy. His desire to climb is thwarted by three beasts,a lion, a leopard, and a wolf, and they drive him back into darkness. Tesebeasts work as external figures of power in the poem but also symbols theinternal images of weakness and sin. Te medieval interest in using animals insymbolic ways permeates the poem.

    In the darkness a shade appears, the image of a man now dead. Tis isVirgil, the poet of the Roman epic, theAeneid. He is the pilgrim’s artistic heroand a representative of the excellence of human potential unaided by Christianrevelation. He bears both the supremacy of the art of language and the exerciseof intellect schooled in the ancient world of human virtue and thought.

    Te time is Good Friday in the year 1300, and the journey to be takeninvolves the Biblical concepts of the individual soul and the pattern of eternalhope in the search for the sources and potential of life. Te danger to the

    pilgrim is great, but the time of the year suggests the hope of renewal.Uniquely among the great epic tales, here the narrator is the experienced

    pilgrim recounting his own story, and the pilgrim yet to make that journey hasa poignant autobiographical experience. In the time of the action, the journeyitself, the pilgrim is the endangered but inexperienced figure whose task is tolearn of the nature of human reality and its consequences, and to apply suchlearning to his own life. Te narrator is the pilgrim returned from the whole

     journey whose task is to retell the story so crucial to his own life but also to

    show how relevant the story is to the lives of his readers. Tis double narrativeperspective, naïve traveler and reflective narrator, establishes a variety ofunderstandings from the very inception of the poem.

    While rooted in the life of Dante and his time, the Comedy lays claims tobeing a universal story. Te fate of one man, the pilgrim, is crucial because of itsreverberating consequences for his soul through eternity. Te absoluteness ofthe state of the soul in Dante’s Christianity and its endurance, along with thereligious and philosophical framework for the story, give the poem an almostscriptural status. Te opening of the work establishes many expectations aswell as immediate concerns and even puzzling elements. In a way, the readerwould ideally make the journey of the poem and then return, like the narrator,to reread, reinterpret, and even retell the story. Te relationship betweenthe narrator and the pilgrim works to establish a method of comparativeunderstanding of the nature of the poem for the reader.

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    Canto 1

    In the middle of the journey of our life°  I found myself in a dark wood,where the straight path was lost. 3

    Oh, it is a hard thing to tell what it was,  that wood was so savage and harsh and strong   that my fear renews even at the thought of it! 6

    It is so bitter, that death is scarcely worse;  but to tell of the good that I discovered,  I will speak of the other things that I found there. 9

    I cannot tell clearly how I entered there,I was so full of sleep at that point

      where I abandoned the true way. 12

    But when I had come to the foot of a hill,º  there toward the end of that valley  which had pained my heart with fear, 15

    I looked up and saw the shoulders of the heights  dressed already with the rays of that planet°  that leads each one straight on every path. 18

    Ten my fear, which had endured in the lakeof my heart, was quieted a little

      during the night that I had passed with such fear. 21

    I was like one with labored breath,  who struggles out of the surf onto the shore,  who turns to the deadly water and gapes; 24

    so my fleeing soul turned back to look againat the treacherous pass that never yetlet any person escape alive. 27

    1 Dante, the character, is 35 years old at the time of the events of the poem. Tis is halfwaythrough the biblical lifespan of 70 years (Psalms 90.10). Te poem begins on Tursday evening,April 8, 1300, before Good Friday. Te pilgrim represents his life, “I found myself ” and the lifeof all humans, “the journey of our life.”

    13 Te valley, hill and sun prefigure Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise.17 Te sun is seen as the brightest planet circling around the earth. See Glossary for Ptolemaic

    world view.

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    When I had rested my exhausted body a little,  I began to make my way along the deserted slope,

      keeping my firm foot always lower.º  30And look, just at the beginning of the rise,  there was a leopard,º light and so quick,  all covered with a mottled skin. 33

    And it did not swerve from in front of my gaze,  but so completely blocked my upward journey  that I was turned back and spun around many times. 36

    It was the time of the beginning of the morning,  and the sun rose up with those stars  that were with him when divine love 39

    first moved all those beautiful things;º  so that from the hour of the day and the sweet

    season there was reason for me to have hope 42

    about that beast with the gaudy skin;

      but not so much that fear did not show me  the sight of a lion that appeared before me.º  45

    Te lion stalked toward me with head high  and with such ravenous hunger  that it seemed as if the air was trembling. 48

    And a she-wolf,º that seemed to be weighed downwith hunger in its leanness and longing,and she had made many people live in grief. 51

    Tis beast put such a burden of fearon me from the very sight of it

      that I lost the hope of the heights. 54

    And like one who is so eager to win,  when the time of his losses comes on him,  and his sudden despair drives him to tears; 57

    30 Te interpretat ive tradition has taken “firm foot” as indicating the left foot, associated withearthly desires. In this interpretation the left foot representing will proceeds more slowly thanthe right foot, which represents intellect.

    32 Te leopard is representative of either fraud or malice, depending on interpreter.38-40 Te medieval belief that the world was created at the beginning of spring, parallel in the calendar

    to the incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus. It is now Easter time in 1300, so that the pilgrim’sdespair is countered by the hopefulness of spring and renewal.

    45 Te lion represents for most commentators either violence or pride.49 Te wolf is representative for most commentators of either incontinence or wrath.

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    An allegory is a narrative that has a literal meaning but also carries hidden or symboliclevels of significance. In the first canto of the Comedy the three beasts that oppose thepilgrim’s journey are literal impediments, but each one symbolizes another meaning.Medieval thinking is full of such symbolic representations, and Dante’s epic involves manyallegorical moments and methods.


    Saint Tomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was the great scholastic philosopher andtheologian of the Middle Ages. He worked to harmonize the classical rational philosophyof Aristotle with Christian belief. Dante has Aquinas appear in the sphere of the sun inParadiso, Cantos 10-12, as the spokesman for the theologians.


    Aristotle (384-322 ...) was the most influential classical philosopher in the MiddleAges. His Nicomachean Ethics forms the most important background to Dante’s structure ofInferno. His writings on the natural world, human society, and logic provided a systematicapproach to the world that influenced Aquinas and Dante in major ways. Except for theBible, Dante refers to Aristotle more than to any other single source. Dante places Aristotleas the most honored philosopher in Limbo (Inf. 4.131) and calls him “the master of thosewho know.”


    Beatrice Portinari (1266-1290) is the idealized woman of Dante’s earliest work, LaVita Nuova or Te New Life. In that work Dante starts with aspects of courtly love poetrybut soon raises the object of his love to theological expectations. Beatrice becomes the idealof Christian belief and beauty as the pilgrim’s guide from the end of Purgatorio throughParadiso. She is introduced in the second canto of Inferno when Virgil explains to the

    reluctant pilgrim that Beatrice summoned him from Limbo. According to Virgil ’s narration(Inf. 2.52-120), Beatrice was encouraged by Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Saint Lucia tointercede on the pilgrim’s behalf to save him from spiritual and perhaps physical death.Beatrice’s Christian knowledge complements and perfects the humanist knowledge of Virgilin the Comedy.

    Black Guelfs

    See entry for Guelf factions: Whites and Blacks.


    Dante names the ten subdivisions of Circle 8, the circle of plain fraud, as bolge (theItalian plural form of bolgia), or pockets. Each bolgia contains a class of souls who have usedconscious reason for evil purposes. For instance, bolgia 7 (Inf. Cantos 24 and 25) containsthe thieves.

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    Tom Simone has taught at the University of Vermontfor more than thirty years. He is the author of books

    on Shakespeare and on the beginnings of the WesternTradition as well as numerous articles on Joyce, Beckett,Shakespeare on film, and the history of recorded classicalmusic. He currently is working on a translation ofDante’s “Purgatorio” for Focus Publishing.

    Tom Simone’s translation is simply superb. Of all thetranslations with which I am familiar, this is the one thatis the most faithful to what’s there in the Italian: no frills,no poetic sallies, no choosing a word because it bringsthe line closer to iambic pentameter -- just unadulteratedDante with good old Anglo-Saxon words and in highly

    readable prose.- Peter Kalkavage, St. John’s College

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