HELL III

CANTO III

The Gate of Hell; the vestibule; the indecisive; Charon

canto summary and diagram

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1 THROUGH ME IS THE WAY INTO THE SUFFERING CITY; THROUGH ME THE WAY INTO GRIEF ETERNAL; THROUGH ME THE WAY AMONG LOST HUMANITY; inferno iii 4 JUSTICE MOVED MY MAKER CELESTIAL; I WAS CREATED BY THE DIVINE POWER, BY THE SUPREME WISDOM, AND BY LOVE PRIMEVAL. * 7 ONLY ETERNAL THINGS ARE OLDER * THAN I; AND I WILL FOREVER ENDURE. ABANDON EVERY HOPE, YOU WHO ENTER. 10 These words, of color obscure, Above a gate I saw chiselled; At which I: "Master, these words are of a hard nature." inferno iii 13 And he replied, as one experienced and skilled, "Here must every hesitation be left behind, And all cowardice killed. 16 We have come to where I warned you we would find Those wretched souls who no longer have The intellectual benefits of the mind." * 19 And with his hand on mine he gave A glad, comforting smile, Taking me into the secret enclave. inferno iii 22 Here I heard sighs and shrieks so hostile, Piercing the starless sky so pitifully, That I wept at a world so utterly futile. 25 Confused tongues, shrill voices crying angrily, Agonizing groans and words of violence, The sound of hands beating wildly, 28 All of these made a tumult whose presence Whirled darkly through the timeless air like grains Of sand in permanent turbulence. inferno iii 31 And I, seeking to ease my brain's Horror, said, " Master, what am I listening to? Who are these people so defeated by their pains?" 34 And he to me: " The dismal souls who Suffer this condition had lives neither odious Nor commendable; having embraced neither of the two, 37 They mingle now with that chorus Of cowardly, self–serving angels who were Neither faithful to God nor rebellious. inferno iii 40 To preserve its beauty heaven kicked them down here, While deep Hell refused to take them, Lest they be scapegoats for the wicked there." * 43 "Master," I asked, "what is their problem That they moan so grievously?" He answered: " Lament is forever their anthem. 46 With no hope of death, their lives are so piteously Blind and full of degradation That they leer at every other fate enviously. inferno iii 49 In the world they receive no mention; Mercy and justice show them no regard: We too will pass them by with little attention." 52 And I, who glanced at them, saw a whirling standard Which streaked ahead with a velocity Nothing seemed able to retard. * 55 Behind it a queue seemed to stretch to infinity, So that I could hardly imagine How death had undone such a quantity. inferno iii 58 When I'd surveyed several of those in line I recognized that cowardly creature Who, chosen for greatness, opted to decline. * 61 At once I was absolutely sure These were the loathesome cowards neither God nor his enemies could endure. 64 These naked wretches, who had never Been truly alive, were stung angrily By wasps and hornets over and over inferno iii 67 Until blood smeared their faces messily, Mingling with their tears and dripping down below To be slurped by worms greedily. 70 Beyond them a crowd was preparing to go Across a great river, at the sight * Of which I said, " Master, grant that I may know 73 Who these people are, and by what right Or custom they expect to cross the water, As I see they do even in this dim light." inferno iii 76 And he to me: " When we pause later On Acheron's sad embankment Then all these things will be made clearer." 79 My eyes lowered in embarrassment, I was afraid my words had been insulting, And until we reached the river I remained silent. 82 Suddenly an old man came drifting Toward us in a boat, his hair white with decades. * " Woe to you," he began shouting, inferno iii 85 Give up all hope of heaven, you depraved shades: I come to lead you to that other shore Where fire and ice abound, and dark pervades. 88 And you there—the one still alive—stay no more With these others, who are dead." But when he saw me stay and ignore 91 His order he yelled: "Take a lighter boat instead, Leave by another port, cross another way." * " Charon, be quiet," my leader said, inferno iii 94 "Put away your anger and listen to what I say: Our journey has been willed by one up there Who does what he wills, and wills what he may." 97 At these words the woolly jowls were Silent on the pilot of this marshy region, Each of whose eyes sat in a flaming sphere. 100 Naked and fainting from exhaustion, The dead souls had paled and begun to chatter At Charon's fierce words of condemnation. inferno iii 103 They cursed God, humanity, their father, Their conception's place and moment, The day they were born, their own mother. 106 Then, huddling together and weeping, they went To the accursed shore which awaits All those whose fear of God is insufficient. 109 There, with eyes of glowing coal and other traits Demonic, Charon gathers them at his beck and call, Batting with his oar whoever hesitates. inferno iii 112 As in the autumn the leaves fall To the ground one by one, Until at last the branch has lost them all, 115 So the evil seed of Adam was gone From the shore in response to signals, Like birds summoned by an intermittent tone. * 118 Thus they cross the brown waves at intervals, New groups collecting on this side Before the old ones have even made their arrivals. inferno iii 121 "My son," said the master, my gracious guide, " Those who die in Gods' wrathful ire Assemble here from countries far and wide. 124 So fiercely does divine justice inspire Them that they're eager for the other shore, Their fear transformed into desire. * 127 No good soul has ever come here before, So if Charon seems to complain, You know he's just grumbling and nothing more." inferno iii 130 Once he had finished the dark terrain Shook so violently that even now I sweat All over just picturing it again. 133 The tear–drenched earth gave out a wind so great And a light so intensely crimson That my senses were forced into retreat 136 And I fell, like someone sleep has seized upon. *

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NOTES

5–6. Divine Power, supreme Wisdom, and Love primeval are the Holy Trinity –Father, Son, Holy Spirit. ^
 7.   Eternal things are the angels, heavens and original matter, 
which were created on the first day, while Hell was created 
afterward to house the fallen Lucifer and the angels who followed 
him.  Hell does endure eternally into the future, however, for 
there is no hope in sin. ^
 18.   Those souls who have lost sight of God.  According to 
Aristotle, whom Dante cites in the Convivio, the gift of the 
intellect is truth, and God is its source. ^
 37–42.   Those whose actions earned neither merit nor blame, 
among them the angels who were neither for nor against Lucifer 
when he revolted.  These souls are not in Hell itself, but, 
appropriately, in its vestibule. ^
 52.   The first clear instance of how punishments in Hell follow 
the law of contrapasso, fitting the punishment to the sin, either 
by similarity or contrast. The earlier lines 22—30 are not so 
precise in their portrayal of contrapasso. ^
 60.   Most likely Celestine V, who was elected Pope in 1294 at
age 80 and resigned five months later, thus permitting the 
election of Boniface VIII.  Other candidates for this reference, 
due to their  various abdications, are Pontius Pilate, Emperor 
Diocletian, Esau, Vieri dei Cerchi, Giano della Bella, and 
Frederick II of Sicily. 
^
 71.   Acheron is one of the four rivers of the Inferno, discussed 
in Canto XIV. ^
 82.   Charon, in classical mythology, ferries souls across 
the Acheron to Hell.  He is the first of several guardians 
of the circles of Hell whom Virgil challenges and humbles. ^
 91–92.   Charon refuses to ferry Dante across not so much 
because he sees Dante is still alive, but because he  
recognizes that Dante is one of the elect.  Souls destined for 
Heaven leave for Mount Purgatory from the mouth of the Tiber
in a boat piloted by an angel.  This is "the lighter boat" and 
the "other port." ^
 112–117.   This simile, in a similar context, occurs in 
the  Aeneid, Book VI. ^
 126.   This is an example of contrapasso, for the damned, at first 
fearful, become as eager to be punished as they once were to sin. ^ 
 133.   For medieval science, earthquakes came from the eruption 
of compressed vapors. ^ 


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