HELL II

CANTO II

Virgil explains why he's come; Dante takes courage.

canto summary and diagram

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1 The day was fading, dusky shadow Releasing every earthly being From toil but me; I alone had to prepare now inferno ii 4 For the struggle just beginning, The trial of both the passage and the pity, Which memory will now recount without erring. 7 O Muses, O high genius, inform my activity! * O memory, vision's faithful recorder, Demonstate your nobility. 10 I began: "Poet who guides me, leader, Have I virtue sufficient To undertake a journey of such high order? inferno ii 13 You say that Silvio's parent Traveled immortal realms, in flesh still subject To decay, his body fully sentient. * 16 But if the enemy of all evil showed him such respect, Because of who and what he would generate, And what he would produce of high effect, 19 This is something a sensible person can appreciate, For he was chosen in heaven to be father of Rome And all the lands she would dominate. inferno ii 22 Indeed, both city and empire were established as a home For holiness, the seat of glory For Peter's successors in time to come. 25 During this journey, whose story You celebrate in verse, Aeneas learned things which won Rome the Papal mantle and himself victory. 28 Later the Chosen Vessel traveled upon * That same road, to bring us back the surety Of that faith which initiates the way of salvation. inferno ii 31 But I? Why should I come there? By whose authority? Neither Paul nor Aeneus am I equal to; No one, not even I, would deem me worthy. 34 Therefore if I choose to go with you I fear I may be doing something foolish. You're wise, you know what I mean better than I do." 37 And like someone unwishing his own wish, With new thoughts changing his intent So that what he commenced he's ready to relinquish, inferno ii 40 So was I at that dark moment, Renouncing in my mind the project Which at first had seemed so urgent. 43 "If my understanding is correct," Replied the shade of the magnanimous poet, "Cowardice is the reason you reject 46 This honorable test; and in this you let Yourself be fooled, for men often believe illusion, Like beasts scared by their own shadow at sunset. inferno ii 49 To release you from this dread, this confusion, I'll tell you why I'm here now, And what I heard at the first allusion 52 To your plight. I was among the suspended souls below; * A lady called to me, so fair and blessed That I begged her to command and let me follow. 55 Starlight was by her own eyes far surpassed, And she spoke with voice angelic and peaceable, In her own language, softly glossed: inferno ii 58 'O courteous Mantuan, spirit most noble, Whose worldly fame will endure As long as the world itself is durable! * 61 A friend of mine, in Fortune's eyes obscure, Is so impeded in his lonely ascent That in terror he turns back from his venture; 64 From all I've heard of him in the firmament I fear he's gone too far astray To accept the help I should long ago have sent. inferno ii 67 Go now, and with your eloquence say Whatever you must to set him free, Consoling me as well in this way. 70 I am Beatrice who sends thee; I long to return to the place from whence I came; * I speak from the love which always moves me. 73 I shall often praise your name When I am again in my Lord's presence.' When she had spoken, I was moved to exclaim: inferno ii 76 'O lady of virtue, by whose existence Humanity exceeds all that the heaven With the smallest circle holds of excellence, * 79 Had I already done what you've bidden It would still be tardy, so eager am I to satisfy At once every command you've spoken. 82 But if you would, tell me why You're not afraid to come down from the region To which you yearn again to fly?' inferno ii 85 'Since you so desire an explanation,' She replied, 'I will make it clear Why I'm not afraid to descend to this location. 88 One should hesitate to get near Those things which have the power to injure; Otherwise one has no need to fear. 91 By his grace God made my nature Immune to your agony and torment; Even these hellish flames I can endure. inferno ii 94 On high is a noble lady, whose lament * At the distress I send you to arrest Is so deep that she breaks Heaven's stern judgment. 97 It was she who summoned Lucia with this request: * "Your faithful one needs care and counsel; I entrust him to your protective interest." 100 Lucia, enemy of everything cruel, Arose and came to the spot Where I sat with the venerable Rachel. * inferno ii 103 "Beatrice, true praise of God, why have you not Helped him whose love was so profound That for your sake he renounced his worldly lot? 106 Can't you hear his anguished sound, Or see death staring him in the face * Upon that river, raging like the sea unbound?" 109 No one ever sought reward or fled disgrace As swiftly as I descended From that high and blessed place inferno ii 112 Once these words I'd comprehended; I then put my trust in your speech, so sincere That it honors both you and those for whom it is intended.' 115 This said, she turned her eyes away, a tear Hanging in each, yet each, as always, luminescent, Making me even more eager to hasten here. 118 Thus I came to you, as was her intent, Rescuing you from that savage creature Which blocked the mountain's quick ascent. inferno ii 121 So what's the matter? Is your heart so unsure That it can't advance your feet? Why don't you feel free and secure, 124 Especially when, among heaven's elite, Three such blessed ladies attend your plight, And I encourage you not to retreat? " 127 As little flowers, closed by the chill of night And bent upon their stems, begin again to thrive When first touched by sunlight, inferno ii 130 Thus did I feel my wilted strength revive And into my heart fresh courage speed, So that I spoke like one suddenly alive: 133 "Oh she who responded to my need * With compassion, and kind you, who Promptly turned her words into deed, 136 You pour the desire to come with you Into my heart to such an extent That I've regained the purpose I first knew. inferno ii 139 Now let us go, for we have one will, one intent; You are the master, the lord, the guide." Thus I spoke to him, and when he moved, I went 142 On the path through that deep, wild mountainside.

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NOTES

7. It is in the classical tradition of epics to invoke the muses; similar invocations occur in the first cantos of Purgatorio and Paradiso. ^
 13–27.   Silvius was the son of Aeneas and Lavinia.  
See the Aeneid, Book I, in which Aeneas visits Hades, 
the underworld of the dead, and learns that he is to 
found the city of Rome.  While Virgil forecasts the glories
of the Roman Empire, Dante sees beyond this to the glories 
of the Church as well. ^
 28.   St. Paul is called the "chosen vessel" in Acts 9:15;
 2 Cor. 12:2 refers to St. Paul's ascent to the third heaven; 
the medieval Visio Sancti Pauli describes his journey 
through Hell. ^
 52.   The "suspended souls" are those in Limbo, who desire 
to see God, but have no hope of doing so.  See Canto IV. ^
71. Beatrice descended from Paradise for this meeting. ^
76–78. Divine Wisdom, represented by Beatrice, lifts humanity higher than the sphere of the moon, the nearest to earth. ^
 94.   The Virgin Mary. ^
 97.   Lucia is probably the third century martyr from 
Syracuse, the patron saint of sight. Dante may have had 
a personal reason for selecting her to be the symbol of  
Divine Light or Illuminating Grace, for according to the 
Vita Nuova and Convivio he had trouble with his eyes. ^
 102.   Rachel and her sister Leah, both wives of Jacob, 
represent the contemplative and active life.  See Genesis 
 29:16ff^
 107.   This "death" is his possible eternal damnation. ^


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