Week 8: Dante's Inferno

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Canto 8-9: The Fallen Angels

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 800 words.

Virgil and Dante now move on to the city of Dis, another name for Pluto (Greek Hades). Their way is now blocked by the fallen angels, who object to having someone from the living world (Dante) and someone from limbo (Virgil) entering into their territory. Virgil is not afraid, and he explains to Dante how he has even been in this place before, when the witch Erichtho (a character in a poem by Lucan), compelled the dead Virgil to go into hell in order to bring back a dead ghost to speak with her.

The kind Master said: 'Now, my son, we approach the city they call Dis, with its grave citizens, a vast crowd.'

And I: 'Master, I can already see its towers, clearly there in the valley, glowing red, as if they issued from the fire.'

And he to me: 'The eternal fire, that burns them from within, makes them appear reddened, as you see, in this deep Hell.'

We now arrived in the steep ditch, that forms the moat to the joyless city: the walls seemed to me as if they were made of iron. Not until we had made a wide circuit, did we reach a place where the ferryman said to us: 'Disembark: here is the entrance.'

The fallen Angels obstruct them

I saw more than a thousand of those angels, that fell from Heaven like rain, above the gates, who cried angrily: 'Who is this, that, without death goes through the kingdom of the dead?'

And my wise Master made a sign to them, of wishing to speak in private.

Then they furled their great disdain, and said: 'Come on, alone, and let him go, who enters this kingdom with such audacity. Let him return, alone, on his foolish road: see if he can: and you, remain, who have escorted him, through so dark a land.'

Think, Reader, whether I was not disheartened at the sound of those accursed words, not believing I could ever return here. I said: 'O my dear guide, who has ensured my safety more than the seven times, and snatched me from certain danger that faced me, do not leave me, so helpless: and if we are prevented from going on, let us quickly retrace our steps.'

And that lord, who had led me there, said to me: 'Have no fear: since no one can deny us passage: it was given us by so great an authority. But you, wait for me, and comfort and nourish your spirit with fresh hope, for I will not abandon you in the lower world.'

So the gentle father goes, and leaves me there, and I am left in doubt: since 'yes' and 'no' war inside my head. I could not hear what terms he offered them, but he had not been standing there long with them, when, each vying with the other, they rushed back. Our adversaries closed the gate in my lord's face, leaving him outside, and he turned to me again with slow steps.

His eyes were on the ground, and his expression devoid of all daring, and he said, sighing: 'Who are these who deny me entrance to the house of pain?

And to me he said: 'Though I am angered, do not you be dismayed: I will win the trial, whatever obstacle those inside contrive. This insolence of theirs is nothing new, for they displayed it once before, at that less secret gate we passed, that has remained unbarred. Over it you saw the fatal writing, and already on this side of its entrance, one is coming, down the steep, passing the circles unescorted, one for whom the city shall open to us.'

Dante asks about precedents

The colour that cowardice had printed on my face, seeing my guide turn back, made him repress his own heightened colour more swiftly. He stopped, attentive, like one who listens, since his eyes could not penetrate far, through the black air and the thick fog. 'Nevertheless we must win this struggle,' he began, 'if not... then help such as this was offered to us. Oh, how long it seems to me, that other's coming!'

I saw clearly, how he hid the meaning of his opening words with their sequel, words differing from his initial thought. None the less his speech made me afraid, perhaps because I took his broken phrases to hold a worse meaning than they did. 'Do any of those whose only punishment is deprivation of hope, ever descend, into the depths of this sad chasm, from the first circle? I asked this question.

And he answered me: 'It rarely happens, that any of us make the journey that I go on. It is true that I was down here, once before, conjured to do so by that fierce sorceress Erichtho, who recalled spirits to their corpses. My flesh had only been stripped from me a while when she forced me to enter inside that wall, to bring a spirit out of the circle of Judas. That is the deepest place, and the darkest, and the furthest from that Heaven that surrounds all things: I know the way well: so be reassured. This marsh, that breathes its foul stench, circles the woeful city round about, where we also cannot enter now without anger.'

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • why did the fallen angels object to Dante traveling through their territory?
  • how does Dante react to the hostile words of the fallen angels?
  • when did Virgil make this journey once before?

Source: Dante's Inferno, translated by A.S. Kline (2000). Website: Dante and Others.

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM