Sunday, June 07, 2015

Dante 8

Charon and the Condemned Souls

CANTO III. The gate of Hell.--Virgil lends Dante in.--The
punishment of the neither good nor bad.--Aeheron, and the sinners
on its bank.--Charon.

"Through me is the way into the woeful city; through me is the
way into eternal woe; through me is the way among the lost
people. Justice moved my lofty maker: the divine Power, the
supreme Wisdom and the primal Love made me. Before me were no
things created, unless eternal, and I eternal last. Leave every
hope, ye who enter!"

These words of color obscure I saw written at the top of a gate;
whereat I, "Master, their meaning is dire to me."

And he to me, like one who knew, "Here it behoves to leave every
fear; it behoves that all cowardice should here be dead. We have
come to the place where I have told thee that thou shalt see the
woeful people, who have lost the good of the understanding."

And when he had put his hand on mine, with a glad countenance,
wherefrom I took courage, he brought me within the secret things.
Here sighs, laments, and deep wailings were resounding though the
starless air; wherefore at first I wept thereat. Strange tongues,
horrible cries, words of woe, accents of anger, voices high and
hoarse, and sounds of hands with them, were making a tumult which
whirls forever in that air dark without change, like the sand
when the whirlwind breathes.

And I, who had my head girt with horror, said, "Master, what is
it that I hear? and what folk are they who seem in woe so

And he to me, "This miserable measure the wretched souls maintain
of those who lived without infamy and without praise. Mingled are
they with that caitiff choir of the angels, who were not rebels,
nor were faithful to God, but were for themselves. The heavens
chased them out in order to be not less beautiful, nor doth the
depth of Hell receive them, because the damned would have some
glory from them."

And I, "Master, what is so grievous to them, that makes them
lament so bitterly?"

He answered, "I will tell thee very briefly. These have no hope
of death; and their blind life is so debased, that they are
envious of every other lot. Fame of them the world permitteth not
to be; mercy and justice disdain them. Let us not speak of them,
but do thou look and pass on."

And I, who was gazing, saw a banner, that whirling ran so swiftly
that it seemed to me to scorn all repose, and behind it came so
long a train of folk, that I could never have believed death had
undone so many. After I had distinguished some among them, I saw
and knew the shade of him who made, through cowardice, the great

At once I understood and was certain, that this was
the sect of the caitiffs displeasing unto God, and unto his
enemies. These wretches, who never were alive, were naked, and
much stung by gad-flies and by wasps that were there. These
streaked their faces with blood, which, mingled with tears, was
harvested at their feet by loathsome worms.
Who is intended by these words is uncertain.

And when I gave myself to looking onward, I saw people on the
bank of a great river; wherefore I said, "Master, now grant to me
that I may know who these are, and what rule makes them appear so
ready to pass over, as I discern through the faint light." And he
to me, "The things will be clear to thee, when we shall set our
steps on the sad marge of Acheron." Then with eyes bashful and
cast down, fearing lest my speech had been irksome to him, far as
to the river I refrained from speaking.

And lo! coming toward us in a boat, an old man, white with
ancient hair, crying, "Woe to you, wicked souls! hope not ever to
see Heaven! I come to carry you to the other bank, into eternal
darkness, to heat and frost. And thou who art there, living soul,
depart from these that are dead." But when he saw that I did not
depart, he said, "By another way, by other ports thou shalt come
to the shore, not here, for passage; it behoves that a lighter
bark bear thee.

Charon and the Condemned Souls
Wiki commons William Blake Dante Plate 6

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